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Flash Review 2, 7-10: She Feels 'Pretty'
Action Heroines from Monica Bill Barnes

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2002 Chris Dohse

NEW YORK -- Imagine an all-female, multigenerational, Elvis-crazed dance arena wherein hearts are broken but dreams come true and abiding love conquers all. Monica Bill Barnes's "When We Were Pretty" (seen June 30 at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church) is such a place. The very last performance of Danspace's exemplary season, "Pretty" uses the spaces of the church in ways not quite seen before and is filled with muscular, funny, poignant dance episodes. Barnes's work is neither as angry as that of Ellis Wood, with whom she has danced, nor as deadpan as that of Keely Garfield, with whom she shares certain concerns, like a fondness for brides' veils and fey, courageous heroines. Et voila! Just in time for Gay Pride weekend, a female superhero (Hilary Easton) bursts through the door in a star-shaped spotlight!

A teenaged fuchsia-clad mermaid lineup (Sherri Hellman's Creative Arts Studio Company) convenes the proceedings. In the first of a handful of solos, Barnes, in a pink party dress, dances with the athleticism of a ragdoll pugilist. A trio in prom gowns (Heather Johdos, Gina Leone and Rebecca Mehan) appears. Three Tweedledees, they execute a synchronized wobbling; some might consider their connection to the physioballs atop which they happily and canonically bounce somewhat naughty.

Strong performances abound. Matriarch Ursula Caspary Frankel imbues her uninflected gesture with a power lit from within. Lindsey Dietz's hesitant, plucky bride is heartbreakingly open; her solo against a pubescent movement choir pierces the heart in a hundred places. Better than a bra burning, this is unapologetic, inclusive, baseline feminism. The mysteries of certain female texts are suddenly revealed, like Plath's "a living doll, everywhere you look, will you marry it?" and Joni's " the ceremony of the bells and lace still veils this reckless fool here."

Barnes's images have a David Lynch lucidity. In a finale, soap bubbles float from the church's altar where the remarkably cool Lydia Martin, in a surreally long red gown, sings a plaintive a cappella (words/music by George Weiss/Hugo Peretti/Luigi Creatore), "Take my hand, take my whole life too, for I can't help falling in love with you." Meanwhile, individual red roses splat from the rafters to clutter the floor on which Barnes dances her gladrag adieu.

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