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Flash Review 3, 1-16: Storytellers
Tales of the Unbidden, the Unhinged, and the Ladykillers from Geismer and Wilberg

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2002 Chris Dohse

NEW YORK -- From two dance concerts seen serendipitously in the same week, can generalizations be made about female choreographers in New York? In this specific case (Aviva Geismar/Drastic Action's "The Unbidden and Unhinged," just closed at Here, and Kriota Willberg/Dura Mater's "Ladykillers," running through January 20 at Axis Company), simple similarities can certainly be drawn. The two choreographers are post-emerging, not yet mid-career. They both currently work with all-female casts. Their dances tell stories. Both Geismar and Willberg make important, hybrid tanztheater, dances full of ideas.

Geismar first appears alone onstage in 2001's "Three Scenes from 'Vanya.'" She makes an elegant Yelena, in maroon pantsuit, earrings dangling. This solo and its companion fragments are not danced for pleasure, but are character studies, fraught with meaning. Shostakovich reinforces the timeworn quality of private, fin de siecle gladrags worn after the party guests have gone home.

The strong central character drawn by Geismar in "The Unbidden and Unhinged" stands in some relationship to Graham's heroines. Surrounded by her own psychodynamic feminine mythology, Geismar adapts her affect to match her attendant demons, from the accusatory to full-bodied slapstick. A dream-like surrealism's odd rationale pervades the piece's nonsensical elements. Two innocents in vestal white face their tribunal. A wild bacchante in red is engulfed by the gray drudgery of mechanized compulsion. Annabelle Chvostek's lunatic soundscore accompanies a bruising briefcase ritual with the gestural force of Joos's "Green Table."

Kriota Willberg's movement looks like nobody else's. Her figures are rather static, isolated by their design in space. Often oddly initiating phrases from the wrist or developped leg, they fold in on themselves like continuous engines. Then she throws these somewhat contorted, pretzel-like Twisters sur les pointes. How awkward, unnatural, and yes, violent, the rat-a-tat of their little feet becomes.

The live dances of "Ladykillers" (subtitled "Dances about female violence") are interspersed with Willberg's video collaborations, notably a series of vignettes called "Kill Vicky" wherein Willberg and the elfin Vicky Virgin engage in knock-down, drag-out fisticuffs. Played mostly for laughs with the larger than life hyper-violence of the World Wrestling Federation, each episode features a male dance celebrity (David White, Neil Greenberg, Douglas Dunn, Eliot Feld and Keith Sabado), whose response to the brawl -- or lack thereof -- begins to posit a trope about the invisibility of female violence in society.

In a solo for the choreographer, "Siren," Willberg becomes a puce-colored tasseled lampshade, percolating against her thrown shadow. A trio for Stasia Blyskal, Kate Kennedy and Tomiko Magario, "Wili," is the strongest, clearest moment of Willberg's pastiche. Here movement invention and characterization become one. Magario is impossibly tall, an imposing viper. A cathartic finale for a multigenerational cast of 15 women, "Housewife," shifts the focus from largely internalized violence by women, as evidenced by eerie nurses, to violence against women, perhaps by an unseen man.

One feature shared by both works is of questionable intent, and I think a failure -- the appearance of a female dancer playing a man. Vanessa Adato's masterful solo as Vanya for Geismar is beautifully danced, and only her trousers reveal her gender. Willberg as a hooker's John in her "Prostitute" is simply unconvincing as drag.

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