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Flash Review 1, 6-12: All the Sad Young Choreographers
Food for Thought: Posing Pain, Transcending Loss

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2002 Chris Dohse

NEW YORK -- Last weekend, the Food for Thought programs at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, benefitting local food programs, passed a dance torch. From veterans like Homer Avila, Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer and Marta Renzi through a sampling of iconoclastic, emerging voices to seven-year-old Maia Sage Ermansons, whose enchanting "The Leaf" was on Sunday's program of solos, three curators presented a rich, inclusive miscellany.

Friday night, curated by Cathy Zimmerman

The title of this program, "An Evening of Dances by Young Adults," is somewhat misleading. Teenagers from Rockland County's Coupe Theatre Studio are featured as performers, but most of the choreographers hold college degrees. Some are mature, prominent professionals. Works by parent choreographers Bridgman/Packer, Renzi and Deborah Tacon are placed alongside works from Sara Rudner's composition class at Sarah Lawrence. The result is a refreshing and surprising evening -- inventive, theatrical and deeply felt. My favorites are the droll and leggy "From Hour to Hour," choreographed by Abby Block and Aaron Mattocks, and Sara Smith's "Always Never Except After," but Renzi's "A Hug for Two Tomorrows," danced by Jennifer Tortorello, shows that Renzi hasn't lost her ability to capture the feeling of a lump in the throat while laughing.

Saturday night, curated by Amanda Loulaki

Miguel Gutierrez directs the Powerful People in the improvisational "I want to understand (what is happening to me)!" Wearing1980s bridesmaids' or prom dresses, the five dancers form a soccer scrum while Jaime Fennelly composes a painful, computer-generated throb. Then they proceed to thrash in a scooting, polymorphous, heaped clusterfuck, humping each other's available surfaces until their gowns are shredded. Obscene, uncomfortable and violent, this throwaway Fluxus is a kind of "Meat Joy" for a new generation of post-Vandekeybus, button-pushing, adrenaline-fueled corporeality.

I wonder several things while watching, the same things I wondered while watching the similarly violent "Hit," choreographed and performed by Luciana Achugar and Levi Gonzalez last week at the Kitchen. Is this flagrant fetishization/glamorization of violence irresponsible? Is catharsis its goal? If so, for the doer or for the watcher? Or is it Brechtian? Is it influenced by, and the next permutation of, reality television/extreme sports?

These dances make me see myself as a middle-aged fuddy-duddy. I can't relate to the new generational malaise I see reflected in this severely limited, deliberately uglified, awkward downtown trend. I see despair in these vocabularies and I don't understand what could make these beautiful, healthy young people feel so hopeless. Of course September 11 made us all realize our mortality in an ugly new way, but this movement was popular before then. Now it's just more violent, reflecting accurately a world where well-being has become disposable. I find myself alienated, not moved, not amused, and not particularly interested. But it certainly gets a rise out of me, and I guess that's the point. Both works are at least ingeniously crafted.

Jennifer Nugent is a bold, bald androgyne in "speakease." With a Three Stooges sense of rollicking, slapstick physicality or WWF bravado, she gobbles space, falling repeatedly to try cramming her foot into her mouth. Then she beams a surprisingly girlish, shy smile as she bows, before skipping off to the dressing room.

"Without" looks somewhat traditional compared with the loose, unorthodox body images of the previous dances. Perhaps unraveling a scene of domestic abuse, the strongest moments are after the choreographer/performers (Mark DeChiazza and Kristen Hollinsworth) reach resolution, urgency abated in a tender, seated duet.

Maria Hassabi becomes a broken-necked ragdoll or spastic uber-marionette who will need a chiropractor when she's my age in her "late night future."

In "Sung," Osmany Tellez and Astrud Angarita embody a simian, fidgeting agility. It's somewhat canoodly, but with a sense of design and intellect that keeps the improvisational vocabulary from collapsing into narcissism. Angarita's costumes are sly and fabulous. I hereby commission her to make a pair of pants for me any time. Ah, then some recognizable phrase material plays with the presentational confines of proscenium-ideated space (they dance at the edges of the floor). But too long alas, it kind of craps out at the end.

Sunday night, curated by Anna Glass

Selected highlights only: Rachel Shao-Lan Blum, in her "Winter in New York, 2002," dances with a tai chi-attentive energy to David Darling's elegiac score. Her sensitivity to phrasing and translucent costume create an image of raw emotion, with contortion and line functioning as feeling.

Agonizing yet empowering to watch, Homer Avila's "Not/Without Words" (his first solo since having a leg and hip amputated) is both a manifestation of will power and the product of a fierce choreographic mind. When Avila lists all the things he's lost, ending in "I lost my fear" while standing tall and proud, he's simply beautiful; nothing less than stunning, eloquent spirit.

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