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Flash Review 3, 1-7: War, What is it Good for? Dance!
Tamar Rogoff, "Daughter of a Pacifist Soldier"

By Peggy H. Cheng
Copyright 2002 Peggy H. Cheng

NEW YORK -- Thursday I attended the opening night performance of "Daughter of a Pacifist Soldier," conceived and directed by Tamar Rogoff, at La MaMa E.T.C.'s Annex Theatre in the East Village. The piece used a great deal of words, taken from interviews with Rogoff's own father (a World War II veteran) as well as five other veterans. A character representing Rogoff, and played by Onni Johnson, reads the letters of her father, Bernard Rogoff, to her mother back home. In these words there is a great deal of romance and passion, prompting Rogoff to go in search of the young man who wrote those letters.

Dance solos were performed (by Jennifer Chang, Billy Clark, Rob Laqui, Paulo Pimentel, and Abigail Rasminsky) to the words of each veteran. Each solo is a short journey, begun by an approach to the audience down a lit runway (lighting by David Ferri), and an introduction of the veteran whose words we will hear next. Here, at the end of the runway, the performer sheds his/her combat boots and then disappears into darkness. As the words begin to play over the speakers, we receive them in a darkened theater, until slowly lights come up to reveal a dancer in movement. The solos were touching in their simplicity, each one relying on the words of the vets for emotional coloring. The dancers serve as some kind of apparent and available sign of beauty. All of the veterans, save Rogoff's father, were in attendance at this opening night performance, heightening the emotion felt by the audience as the words played out through the theater. The veterans are: Anfelt Albertsen (Korean War), Ron Brown (Vietnam War), Jaime E.Concepcion (WW II, Philippine Commonwealth Army), John J. McCarthy (WW II), and Thomas Rivera (Vietnam War).

On the other side of the more slow and meditative dance solos were a series of skits that played on ways to expose society's callousness and blindness to the war veterans' experiences. Everything from the filming of a Hollywood war movie to a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Convention (during which the panel of doctors quickly breaks down into an odd, twitchy, dream-like palette of movement), reveals and replays to us the ways in which we "deal" (or don't) with the reality of changes wrought by war.

What struck me is the evidence of the relationships which were developed between each performer and the veteran with whom he or she was "buddied" during the process. This seemed to inform the structure of the piece and made the section where each performer approaches a video image of his or her buddy up on the screen, overflowing with their very own words and questions of concern and caring, especially poignant. "Please don't give up" says Pimentel to his veteran partner, Thomas Rivera.

To be honest, as I sat in the audience at the end of the performance, there were simply words whirring through my head. There was emotion, and there was concern. I had questions (can I approach the video screen and ask a few questions myself?) which were not so much directed at these war veterans, as provoked by the whole state of things. I cannot honestly say that I sat and watched the whole piece -- I heard it. There is a natural instinct, I think, to let those things that ring the truest with you resonate in your bones. If nothing else, I came to hear the voices. In the very end Rogoff/the daughter says to her father's image up on the screen: "We're at war again."

Video is by Harvey Wang, costumes are by Elizabeth Bourgeois, and set design by Sam Tresler. "Daughter of a Pacifist Soldier" runs through January 20, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sunday at 2:30 and 7:30. The box office can be reached at 212-475-7710. This piece is presented by La MaMa Experimental Theatre in association with Tamar Rogoff Performance Projects and Painted Bride Arts Center.

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