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Flash Review 1, 7-13: Dance Trek,
ADF Charts the "Emerging Generation"
By Byron Woods
Copyright 2001 Byron Woods
DURHAM, North Carolina -- The last
"Emerging Generation" concert at the American Dance Festival celebrated the works
of Bill T. Jones, Molissa Fenley, Johanna Boyce and Charles Moulton: up-and-comers
all, in the summer of 1981. The ADF's latest predictions for the common era were
unveiled Tuesday night at Reynolds Theater at Duke University, in a concert of
new works by ChameckiLerner and Mark Jarecke. If the third work was not a world
premiere, at least the company was -- sort of -- as the same dancers who performed
"Monument (for Viola)" at the Guggenheim Museum this spring with Open 24 Hours
Dance Company gave its first public performance here as the choreographer's newly
renamed group, Pam Tanowitz Dance.
Of course, the future is a moving
target -- one of the main reasons why prognostication's a tricky business. A host
of other choreographers could just as easily have been tapped for vanguard nomination.
But generalizing from these particular choices, when this emerging generation
showed up, it had a lot of things on its mind.
Still, it's arguably easier to see
some semblance of the future in the first two works of the evening. In some ways,
Tanowitz's "Monument" more aptly constituted a window on the recent and not so
ChameckiLerner: "Hidden Form"
Co-choreographers Rosane Chamecki
and Andrea Lerner returned to disturbing but familiar ground in the premiere of
"Hidden Form," the strongest of the evening's three works. While it's not the
first time this pair has charted the realm of disabling relationships and self-sabotage,
the visceral extremity of earlier works (including the truly horrifying "Antonio
Caido") is somewhat tempered here by a slightly more stylized, more distanced
approach to the subject matter.
In the surreal initial tableau, we
see Christina Latici as a woman surfing, none too steadily, on the backs of three
dancers making their way across the stage on their stomachs. That trio begins
its turn to the sinister once Latici tries to get away from them, grabbing at
her heels or shoving her legs in ultimately successful attempts to make her fall.
Both spirit and body are partially
disabled in the aftermath. From one disturbing step to the next, Latici's right
leg and foot orient a full 180 degrees from an extreme inward step to one as extremely
outward. In this choreography, though, the character seems determined to turn
hip dysplasia into a manifesto, a fashion statement, or an overt come-on in places.
The two men from the initial trio
ultimately become competing pursuers, while the other woman (co-choreographer
Chamecki) becomes a dark mirror for Latici's character. In one particularly discomforting
sequence, one of the men grabs Latici from behind, forces his left leg in between
hers, and lifts her off the ground so that her torso is mounted on his leg, just
above his knee. He holds her body there, as her legs whip around, just off the
ground, as they attempt to find purchase and escape. Through it all her face conveys
no emotion, in a powerful physical allegory for coercion, if not rape -- one all
the more nightmarish for its dispassionate air.
Latici's character then becomes the
passive object of competing men who settle their contest over her body on her
body. Each man repeatedly, rapidly and none too gently manipulates her head, arms
and torso, only to have the other immediately change it. The choreographers have
explored this territory before, but here Latici's passive character learns complicity,
ultimately manipulating the others to maintain the dynamic of manipulation in
this dark trio.
In the telling final sequence Latici
continues the rough turns and twists of the men, even after they have left her.
The abusers have left the stage, but they clearly linger on, internalized, as
the abuse continues in the body and psyche of the woman. They're hidden, absent
-- and undeniably still there, very much in the flesh.
Mark Jarecke Dance: "Faraway Nearsighted"
Mark Jarecke uses his brother Kenneth
Jarecke's war photography (featured in this week's U.S. News and World Report)
to make "Faraway Nearsighted" a timely meditation on the mediated disconnect between
the viewers and the viewed.
For a sea change has taken place
since the 1960s, when television and photojournalism brought the Vietnam War back
home each night in time for dinner. In large part that vivid testimony fueled
the war resistance stateside, moving people to act, and precluding (if Dr. Kissinger
can be believed) the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia.
We have since found that media reinforces
the distance between people as easily -- and perhaps more easily -- than it breaks
distance down. Perhaps it's not surprising then that Jarecke's dancers spend a
significant portion of this work with their backs turned to us, as they watch
the rectangular video image of war footage projected on the upper left section
of the black backdrop. In short, it's a disconnect within a disconnect: we watch
them watch the war or, alternatively, look upward towards the far opposing corner,
still away from the audience.
Starkly staged by performers in varying
combinations of black and white, Jarecki's dance and dancers maintain clean lines
and precision-crafted movement, but here they seem more in touch with the realm
of the human than in some of his earlier work.
Here Jarecki convincingly displays
five alonenesses on stage, five estrangements -- at the very least. In some ways
the dancers remain as isolated from each other as they are from the war whose
images stay in the far too convenient -- and transient -- frame downstage. And
they are isolated from us -- a point eloquently made in those rare but telling
occasions when an individual turns to make eye contact with the audience.
In those moments, each dancer looks
at us for a long take, at mid-stage or at its edge, even out beyond the lights.
They don't cross over; they can't. And since we in the audience won't, the walls
stay up -- as they always do these days, it seems. The dancer then circumnavigates
the performance space, returning to her unique isolation, observation and individual
Jarecki may well intend for us to
become impatient with this state of affairs. Beyond a point the dynamics of the
work do not develop as it extends through similar iterations, allowing each dancer
in the quintet to make individual eye contact with the audience. We start to hope
for something -- or someone -- to finally connect, with anything. But then, these
years, that goes against the grain.
Jarecki's critique arguably remains
too abstract, and it goes on at length. But the malady it diagnoses is real.
Pam Tanowitz Dance: "Monument (for
I came up with an admittedly uncharitable
subtitle for Paul Taylor's "Dandelion Wine" after Taylor's ADF appearance last
week: "Dancing to Prozac." It seemed to sum the dubious virtues (and the technical
lapses, on the night I saw it) of a work so relentlessly cheerful that it might
well have initially inspired Alan Greenspan's immortal phrase "irrational exuberance."
Having seen Pam Tanowitz's "Monument
(for Viola)," I'm afraid I've similarly dubbed it "The Corelli Stomp."
I'm joking, of course. And so was
Senta Driver, when she started plumbing the absurdity of misjuxtaposed music and
movement -- and a number of human frailties -- with deliberation and art, some
twenty years ago.
But if Tanowitz is joking here, she's
playing it awfully close to the vest. And if she isn't, perhaps she ought to be.
For as it stands, "Monument" comes
off as a painfully earnest and certainly lengthy mismatch of balletic styles and
jarring, awkward -- but allegedly postmodern -- influences. In this catalog of
arguably worst-case accompaniments to the trio sonatas of Archangello Corelli,
dancers are, occasionally, visited by moments of unlikely grace. Meanwhile, in
the rest of the interval, they audibly clomp around on stage and indulge in fluttery
hand gestures and similar focus-pulling marginalia that repeatedly cross the line
between dubious dance and just bad performance art.
The only thing they never do is crack
Artists have deliberately spliced
music and movement from two different worlds before now, of course. When they
go public with these experiments, it's usually because the contrasts say something
profound, amusing, novel or unexpected. This sober mishmash claims to be a monument
-- but to what, exactly, is never clarified.
Too bad they never smiled. For if
"Monument" were clearly a joke, it would in turn qualify as some serious art.
But in its present guise as far too serious art, I'm afraid it's pretty much a
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