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Flash Review 2, 1-28 Bang-Bang
Visual Assault with Cohen' s "New Gun"

By Terry Hollis
Copyright 2002 Terry Hollis

SEATTLE -- Whenever a choreographer decides to base a work on visual artists and their creations he or she usually stresses the visual. And why not? It's hard to tackle Jackson Pollock as the subject for a dance and not drip all over the stage. Now, most of what I know about Pollock's work is by way of Ed Harris but I do know that they were all blank canvases before he splattered his life all over them and that's what gets me excited. Sheri Cohen's "Love of the New Gun," presented at Freehold Theater on Friday, is inspired by the art and life of Armenian American artist Arshile Gorky. The audience enters at the back of the theater and crosses right through a living Gorky painting. Dancers dressed in bright costumes (by K.D. Schill) rush back and forth, three red panels form wings on one side, bright yellow curtains hang down, and green fabric is spread across the front of the stage (visual design by Erin Shie Palmer). The whole thing creates this crazy, random energy that could go anywhere and according to the program notes on Gorky we received, that was one of the great things about his work: he was a revolution waiting to happen. "Love of the New Gun" supplies us with lots of visual stimulation and plenty of landmarks to guide one through the piece, but something in me wanted to rip away the panels and fabric and see what was really there, or better yet, where it came from.

Most of the movement seems to come from lots of improvisation and brings out the individual strengths of the performers: long elegant movers, spitfire dancers, and quirky dramatic performers are all represented and they work well together. During the pre-show, dancers whisper into each other's ears, move behind curtains, and run into the walls of the theater to Andrew Drury's sound collage, but there was order in the chaos. We see the same movements pop up in different parts of the stage and change from dancer to dancer, so that without knowing much about Gorky and his work we can assume that he is into moving shapes around and Ms. Cohen generously lets us do the same. Sitting there watching the action you start to think; what if I put the running girl there and the whispering girl behind the curtain? Then the whole thing becomes a giant canvas with you as the artist and somewhere out there, there's the possibility of creating a form. But, once the piece officially starts the haphazard nature stays; with the house lights down, it's out of our hands and it's up to the choreographer (and the performers) to provide us with a mission, or at least a point of control. There's a beautiful section towards the middle of the piece that separates each dancer (either alone or in pairs) in a geometric shape of light (by Jason Meininger). The action has stopped and we get to see them internalizing or relating to each other as more than abstract forms. For a moment, the visuals are not so important and we get a peek at the source.

The piece doesn't totally rely on a breaks in the action for landmarks. At one point a dancer rushes on with the giddy, playfulness of a little girl, bursting at the seams to tell us a secret, and one by one the other dancers follow. Did Gorky have children? I don't know, but it makes me think about the people that might have been in his life and what they gave to his work. The notes do mention that his own childhood was close to perfection but cut short by violent aggressions by the Turks. Near the end of the work the back curtain opens to reveal a smoky, black void. The dancers run in and around this new space but don't stay for long, which is a shame. In a piece that relies so much on perception and sight I was hoping this big blank canvas had shown up earlier. The effect was strong, but it happens too late.

The performers were: Corinna Befort, Vanessa DeWolf, Marisha Doan, Beth Graczyk, Alice de Muizon, Amelia Reeber, and Emily Stone. "Love of the New Gun" continues through February 3 at Freehold Theater.


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