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Flash Review 1, 1-17: Parable for
Comfort & Crew Make Gold from Asphalt
By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung
NEW YORK -- Jane Comfort and Company
Tuesday at the Joyce performed the New York premiere of "Asphalt," a work referred
to by the company as "an urban dance/opera work," a description that carries too
many qualifiers -- a contemporary opera would be fine. Choreographed and directed
by Comfort, with book and lyrics by Carl Hancock Rux, vocal score by Toshi Reagon,
and instrumental score by DJ Spooky, "Asphalt" is an enchanting work guided by
wonderful music and fleshed out with dance. It moves between memory, hope, loss,
The story revolves around Couchette
(Aleta Hayes), a daydreaming dancer, and Racine (Manchild), a DJ, whose past follows
him like a shadow. Racine's ancestors manifest themselves as spirits singing Reagon's
beautiful gospel-infused songs, often in small groups, aided by offstage vocalists.
The songs are mixed with recitations of Rux's elegant, accessible text. The choreography
takes on the role of a Greek chorus, with groups of performers repeating quiet
gestures in a line, or carrying out the duties of an invisible character. But
it plays a primarily supporting role to the excellently produced music, which
filled the small house. Comfort, by nature a companionable collaborator, cannot
be faulted for wanting to give extra breathing space to her gifted artistic partners.
Manchild and Hayes were appealing
in their respective roles. They were ideal companions in this thoroughly modernized
opera. Hayes was exuberant and liquid with her movement, and her long limbs and
big, expressive hands added punctuation when warranted. Loose and rubbery-jointed,
Manchild's signature move was miming a DJ at work. As you might guess from his
name, he was the perfect cipher as a both a lost child and smart survivor, and
he delivered Rux's text with the right tone: "Music = evidence: living, dying,
and everything in between."
The movement is a mix of club dance,
hip-hop, and modern. The larger ensemble numbers give the opera some kinetic snap
the same way they do in Broadway musicals. When performed by singers as well as
dancers, the choreography is simplified to gestures, yet retains its intensity.
Comfort has a sense of the composition of the stage at any given moment, and finds
the right visual and aural equilibrium. In that regard, "Asphalt" is an appropriate
parable for the city, a refined balancing act among groups with different demands.
Sets/props are kept to a minimum.
To chants of "what a building has seen... what do you remember from before, Racine?,"
the performers throw flashlit spots around the stage. A mirrored ball appears
for a dance club scene, which goes on a few minutes too long, an exception to
an otherwise well-paced evening. More handheld lights, this time multi-colored,
scrawl the dancers' gestures in the night air. Most effectively, three rolling
door frames provided rich metaphors and a simple, moving ending involving an ethereal
Reagon song. At the end, Racine was encouraged to "just take a walk around," and
stepped through the door into another world. The audience drew in its breath collectively.
"Asphalt" is repeated Friday night
at 8, and Saturday afternoon at 2. For more information, please visit the
Joyce web site.
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