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Flash Review 1, 7-13: Dance Trek, Next Generation
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 recent past.

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 (dis)engagement.

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 Viola)"

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 a smile.

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 joke.

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