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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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