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Flash Fringe Review, 8-28: Shiney & Soulless
Shua No Shuah Thing

By Tara Zahra
Copyright 2001 Tara Zahra

In the intimate space of the Lower East Side's University Settlement, Shua! Dance Group gave its audience all the elements one might associate with "fringe," for better or worse. There was the visible energy of a group performing its first evening-length work in NYC, in this case called "Shine Down On Us." Moments of innovation or at least deliberate unease. A warm, community feeling in a small friendly audience of like-minded folks. But also, in this entry to the NYC Fringe festival, choices that felt at times like parodies of fringeness: a seemingly random slide show projected onto a white screen. A dancer who sat in the audience with us during the Pause (and not for us to question!). A cacophonous synthesizer score, and slightly too self-indulgent sequences with no score at all. Overall, a hard sell for anyone not already taken by modern dance.

The choreography, by Joshua Bisset, carried echoes of Cunningham and Cage, with movement (often minimalist and repetitive) itself as the subject, and partnering sequences full of playful manhandling (and at times self-abuse), carried out in androgenous polyester gray tunics with crayon orange panels. This is, personally speaking, an aesthetic that somehow leaves me empty, but I was glad to finally figure out why: Thrift-store gray androids dancing to synthesizer music simply don't ring true to me as a statement on or expression of modernity. Maybe it's meant to be an anti-statement, a deliberate attempt not to entertain or edify. Maybe it works as a kitschy way of poking fun at someone's 1970s futuristic fantasies, the dance equivalent of a bell-bottom revival. But that's not enough to sustain me for an hour.

The most interesting moments of the work to me were therefore when the dancers endowed their android vessels with unexpected moments of selfhood. Bisset speaking in the middle of his own solo, for example. Nothing seems to evoke the self more than a voice, even when it is simply chanting something deliberately cryptic and nonsensical, like, "Actually, it is quite hard to stand up." I was also taken by the partnering sequences performed by Bisset and Geok Tin-Tay and Rachel Cohen, in which moments of real facial expression and communication disrupted the glazed feel of much of the work. Finally, there was a sequence near the end of the second movement in which four of the dancers crawled on their hands and knees while Rita Bezalel sang in Hebrew (a little too much soul, too suddenly, too jarring, perhaps, but still an interesting moment of contrast). The work seemed at its best as well when the choreography was fast, intricate, and loud (lots of foot stomping) -- when it looked a little like work rather than the coincidental movements of vessels-not-in-control-of their-bodies. But that's again a bias toward entertainment, for those were also moments in which the dancers' (considerable) technical skills were most blatantly on display.


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