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Flash Review 3, 4-9: Headlong Despite Disaster
Troupe Forges Through Premiere After Injury

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- Headlong Dance Theater performed its opening night of "Subirdia & Other Works" in the face of adversity Thursday at the Duke on 42nd Street, as part of Dance Theater Workshop's spring season. One of Headlong's three founders, Andrew Simonet (the others are Amy Smith and David Brick), injured himself just before intermission and was unable to perform in the program's title work, a premiere. The piece was performed nonetheless, earning the company an unwanted merit badge.

"Gracelessness," another premiere, started the program on a serious note. Clad in fashion-forward costumes by Christy Lee -- crinkled transparent tunics or red velvet pieces -- the dancers sprawled on the floor amidst foil-wrapped boxes and mesh tubes with sodium vapor light bulbs that increased in intensity as they warmed up (lighting by Phil Sandstrom). For quite awhile, the dancers performed movement not on their feet, but on all fours or lying down, scooting and crawling across the floor. Eventually, they clustered around a sightless Simonet, consoling and petting him like members of a tribe. Nichole Canuso gave him guidance, shouting commands which became his choreography, injecting welcome verbal hooks to a previously amorphous work. I don't know if "Gracelessness" was a direct reaction to 9/11, but it wouldn't surprise me. The atmospheric soundtrack was by City of Horns.

In contrast, "Impossible Dance" was made in 1997 and I suspect will be (if it's not already) Headlong's signature piece. Canuso and Brick simply describe in words a dance, playing "Can you top this?" while Simonet does his best to act out their moves. It is seeded with dance jokes (the Q&A set-up and painfully earnest tone) yet is just as accessible to non-dancers (the Monty Python delivery of physical jokes). It addresses the power of imagination and ideas, and yet is a slapstick farce of the seeming absurdity of modern dance.

As the title conveys, "Subirdia" was about life in the suburbs, but with birds in the people role. Set in the 1960s to music by Martin Denny, its recurring appearance of an astronaut signalled unlimited human potential, yet an untouchable, taunting ideal. While it is not possible to fairly discuss "Subirdia" since it was not performed as intended, it is worth noting that Headlong devised a language of flitting, wing-flapping, and air-pecking -- descriptive, but somewhat limited in terms of expressiveness. Kudos to Headlong for forging ahead without Simonet, a key figure in the company.

Also performing were Niki Cousineau, Christy Lee, Heather Murphy, and Peter D'Orsaneo. Hiroshi Iwasaki designed the sets.

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