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Flash Review 2, 2-28: Courage, Too
Sinister Slapstick with Nuts from Keely Garfield

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- Watching Keely Garfield and her company Sinister Slapstick in "Free Drinks For Ladies With Nuts" felt like watching creative, mostly well-behaved, hyperactive eight-year-olds at play... serious play. Besides a set of plastic model ponies, toys included big, grown-up costumes, lights, and even live music. Not just any live music, but Rachelle Garniez and the Fortunate Few, a bluegrass band playing a sweet set of eight songs, and earlier, Phillip Johnston intoning on his soprano sax. The performance of three premieres, seen Saturday, was presented by The 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Project at The Duke on 42nd Street.

Garfield doesn't as much choreograph dance as script physical drama played out in shorthand. She began a movement and stopped it short, as if interrupted, but my mind fleshed it out anyway. She and her dancers exchanged looks, sometimes implying complicity, at other times confusion, as if to ask one another what they were in the midst of doing. They danced with a carefree demeanor, displaying physical familiarity to the point of indifference, like a basket of puppies crawling over one another. And they showed a youthful innocence which, while initially cloying, evolved as genuinely optimistic.

"My Sister Was a Refugee" paired Garfield with Rachel Lynch-John, dancing to a set of four songs. They behaved only as family could, mixing moments of tender affection and familiarity with snarky fits of competitiveness and plotting, where Pippi Longstocking braids became lethal weapons. Garfield danced "Good Girl Daddy - Part I" with Lawrence Goldhuber, the veteran performer who is three times Garfield's size. As he crossed the stage, Goldhuber mimed hiding himself, and fired loaded hand signals at Garfield as an airport gate traffic director might give a taxiing pilot, or a trainer might give a boxer. They exuded a camaraderie, evidence of many previous collaborations.

The live country/bluegrass songs performed by Rachelle Garniez and the Fortunate Few (with Garniez on accordion and lead vocals, Marc Daine on guitar and banjo, Kenny Kosek on fiddle, and Mike Weatherly on bass) during "Free Drinks For Ladies With Nuts" was almost an embarrassment of riches. Though Garfield, Lynch-John, and Lisa Townsend wore wedding gowns, they may as well have been children playing dress-up, kicking their legs to be free of the crinolined skirts, looking under their skirts for hidden things, running around barefoot, and playing air guitar. The dancers toyed with gender/role-playing issues, brushing dirt from their dresses, pinching their cheeks and snugging up their bustlines as if they suddenly realized they had to be presentable.

Later, after disrobing to cream slips and unfastening their hair, the women placed delicate little toy horses about the stage and carefully posed beside them, tossing their manes artfully. It underlined an affinity between a tamed horse and a betrothed woman, both checking wilder impulses in order to follow orderly societal expectations. The smallest movements seemed magnified, helped by the intimate proximity of the seats to the stage in The Duke (a real gem of a dance venue in an improbably commercial location). "Free Drinks" was unquestionably entertaining, but what lingers are the savory nuances of Garfield's implication-filled, scatalogical vocabulary.

The effective lighting was designed by Susanne Poulin.


(Editor's Note: To read more about Keely Garfield's unusual challenges leading up to this concert, please click here.)



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