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Flash Review 3, 1-2:
Long Ago and Far Away
J. Mandle Performance Returns Time and Again
By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2001 by Darrah Carr
NEW YORK -- Attending
a performance directed by Julia Mandle, as I did December 22 at
GAle GAtes in Brooklyn, is to be invited in by a host who has arranged
every detail with extreme forethought and utmost care. Such attention
entails Mandle's combining contemporary choreography, original music,
and innovative video with visually stunning costume, sets, and lighting
designs. The end result is so well integrated that the performance
becomes not just multi-disciplinary, but interdisciplinary. Such
seamless work is a testament not only to Mandle's impeccable eye,
but also to the skill of her J Mandle Performance collaborators
in these various disciplines: Stacey Napoleone, Paul Geluso, Randy
Zwirn, Johanna Bartha, Adrian Jones, and Aaron Copp, respectively.
The company's latest
work, "Return." is inspired by an 84-year-old relative of Mandle's
named Walter, who was a fighter pilot in WWII. Today, Walter struggles
to maintain clarity of thought in his advancing age, and to reconcile
his regret at not marrying his true love when he returned from the
war. The piece effectively draws parallels between navigating an
airplane through cloudy, smoky skies and navigating one;s thoughts
through drifting consciousness and murky memories.
Given the interior nature
of the subject matter, it seems fitting that this is the company's
first indoor performance (in the past, it's worked in site-specific
outdoor locations). GAle GAtes is a vast, cavernous space that Mandle
makes clever use of, carving out pathways, delineating sections
for different scenes, and exploring interesting sight lines. A guide
is on hand to lead the audience from place to place. Her initial
function, however, is to welcome us, provide a few details of Walter's
life, and pose the following open-ended questions, "Does regret
give loss a life of its own? Do we regret the things we do or those
we do not do? Thus, the themes presented are not only specific to
Walter's life, but they are also open to the audience as a vehicle
to examine the bittersweet edge where memory and reality meet in
our own lives.
Indeed, it is not difficult
to make associations or become personally engaged in Mandle's work.
"Return" is both rich in symbolism and densely layered -- the kind
of thoughtful work that would only grow more interesting with repeated
viewing. A surreal video tableau in the beginning foreshadows themes
that return throughout the piece. The color red, for example, is
assigned multiple meanings. It is seen in images of burning planes,
in the costumes of the Red Cross nurses, and as the bright love
letters that drop by the dozens at the end. Props, too, have multiple
functions. Parachute straps float through the video. As props, they
literally pull Walter backward and into his memories at the beginning.
Later, they bind him to a dancer portraying his younger self.
Multiplicity not only
in meaning, but also in form, haunts "Return." At one point, Walter
sees multiple incarnations of his beloved stretching down a narrow
corridor. In another scene, he is surrounded by numerous nurses
who cage him in with red chairs. In the midst of these thick, well-crafted
layers, the choreography shines through with clear, straightforward
lines that perfectly complement the elegant panels and folds of
the costume designs. It is this combination of complexity and clarity
that makes Mandle's work so engrossing. At the end, I was surprised
to find that the guide had led us right back to where we started.
The space had been so transformed, and the labyrinth of Walter's
mind was made so real, that I could have been six blocks away, if
not 60 years back in time.
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