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Flash Review 2, 5-3: Flag-Wrapping
Carlson Doodles Yankee

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2002 Chris Dohse

NEW YORK -- Ann Carlson tells us toward the end of her "too beautiful a day" at Symphony Space Wednesday night that she had intended to use the venue to premiere a new evening-length work. Instead (drat the ornery nature of creative juices), she ends up showing a "re-investigation of issues and themes" from two previous dances, "Blanket" and "Flag," both from 1990. What a serendipity for us. These truncated versions of pieces created on the eve of the Persian Gulf War couldn't be timelier. Carlson's provocative, wise, guilelessly political, multidisciplinary theatrical creations make oblique references to American history at a time when many of us are questioning our stake in "e pluribus unum." Clothed in a voluminous dress made from the U.S. flag, Carlson sits quietly at one point center stage, as the lights chillingly fade to black.

The centerpiece of the evening is what apparently used to be "Blanket." Remarkably transformed by posture (and the subtle aid of costume and wig) into something like Ruth Buzzi's purse-wielding frump from "Laugh-in," Carlson simply, slowly traverses the stage from left to right, like words on a page. She begins by bawling like an infant, an uncomfortably raw, incongruous image. She mumbles and mutters, recites the Lord's Prayer and riffs from random newscasts. She seems haunted by voices, a lifetime of memories. She asks the audience what time it is. The whistled theme from "The Andy Griffith Show" and Vietnam-era headlines place her in the USA of my own childhood. With the lucidity of a panic state, she finally places the bouquet she's grasped throughout on a grave and collapses.

A short opening solo, wherein Carlson dances simply to a recording of a child reading a list of "rules" about dance-making (Doris Humphrey's "All dances are too long" brings a laugh), is a treat. Carlson's movement is simultaneously gooey and precise, with something of the inspired beneficence of Harpo Marx. A Greek chorus made up of Bennington students punctuates the solo material. Dressed in white skirts like a gaggle of bridesmaids or homespun angels, they join in a recurring martial chant and fall repeatedly to the floor, huddling together in the same direction like fish in a grocer's case. Carlson's final auctioneering preacher act puts a healing on innumerable anxieties.

"Too beautiful a day" repeats at Symphony Space's Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater at 9 p.m. Wednesday May 8. Please visit the Symphony Space web site for more information.

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