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Flash Review 2, 8-20: Summertime, and the Living is Fringy
Globe-Trotting in Lower Manhattan

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2002 Chris Dohse

NEW YORK -- It's August, insufferable August, so the New York International Fringe Festival careens into the neighborhoods of Lower Manhattan with its Fringy pastiche style. This is 16 days and nights of what Brian Rogers calls, in the festival's in-house paper, Propaganda, a "circus of the bizarre, the extreme, the innovative, the -- whatever." This year I look for traveling things I'd not get to see otherwise (from London, Heidelberg and Boston) and fill in with something local that fits handily into a time slot. It occurs to me as I write this that all five of the pieces seen engage the struggle for human connection on some level. Maybe this perception is due to the heat, maybe the godawful August heat has boiled my brain like it's salted my skin and sizzled various noxious stinks from my sidewalk, and maybe I'm delirious.

One Fringe pleasure is discovering offbeat performance venues that aren't usually used for dance. For instance, La Tea, on the second floor of the building at 107 Suffolk Street now called CSV, makes a beautiful box-shaped dance stage. Likewise the basement of the Culture Project, at 45 Bleecker Street, with its hulking support columns edging a glowing wood floor, though the ceiling is too short for lift work.

Of the things I see, a collaboration between Heidelberg choreographer Mario Heinemann and videographer Sophie Jallet (MS-Tanzwerk) called "Blind Date -- Body Theater," at La Tea (closed) becomes my favorite.

Heinemann's movement vocabulary is as angular as a mathematical theorem, cool and spare. It sometimes recalls Beppie Blankert, sometimes Alwin Nikolais. In the first of many duets, Florian Eckhardt is connected to Anne Poncet-Staab at the elbow like a spider's spinaret to its web. The two bodies find multiple ways to fit together but none of the positions seems to produce pleasure. Meanwhile, on the screen behind the dancers, a figure runs in freedom.

A second couple replaces the first, Helene Chevrier and Berit Jentzsch. The newcomers dance equally dispassionately, with the precision of gymnasts, always positioned concretely in a space that takes on an almost clinical sterility. There's something so essentially Teutonic about these people; I dig their reserve, their tireless energy. Words are projected on the back wall: "Everything is related to everything else."

The first couple eventually heats up, becoming almost competitive, and their final repetitive duet is quite lovely, against a stunning visual of video projection and light. The episodic structure of alternating duets is too dry though, interfering with the emerging flow. Perhaps the text proselytizes too loudly about the beauty of integrated connection, insists too much that geometry = groovy.

London's Perpetual Motion Theatre, performing at 45 Below, makes text/movement hybrid chamber theater collage and it doesn't always work. It rotates two pieces, "One -- (the Other)" and "Perfect." Their pop music referent choices are particularly lame: Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" (the Marilyn Monroe version, not the Princess Diana version) is sung at one point. Even so, there's something so agreeable about this group, I don't care so much. Who they're being is interesting; I'm happy to watch them do whatever they want to be doing. I guess that's because the quartet of creator/performers, Karin Heberlein, Toby Hughes, Leticia Santa Fe and Philippe Spall, are fully engaged in the work. Their style resembles Chicago's Goat Island, just not as dire and with less sense of ritual.

"One" presents variously marginalized types, like a bungling tourist lost in the Underground, a spinster language teacher, an awkward, thwarted kind of closet-case homo and the victim of his seduction in a ballroom dance lesson. All are perhaps targets of English bigotry.

For a frustrating, overwrought ending, Laurie Anderson's "White Lilies" plays while the four figures sway, drenched in a patterned video-projection. This visually effective but unnecessarily inscrutable moment is followed by each performer pouring bottles of water over his or her head and flailing in the corresponding puddles.

Overall, "Perfect" is the more realized, more mature of the two works from Perpetual Motion Theatre, though it relies on some hackneyed mimed disco for movement invention. Audience members are asked at the beginning of the show for their definition of perfect, and many speak about relationships, love, and sexual union. When represented later onstage, this longed-for connection looks mockingly crude and hopeless and frighteningly real. The actors foxtrot like drooling zombies or stand frozen and aloof. How banal our dreams (the painful longing for an ideal moment, then nostalgia for same) sound when played back to us. Disconnection, miscommunication, or a polyglot nightclub Babel is more likely to stand in for contemporary romance.

"One -- (the Other)" repeats Thursday at 7 p.m., and "Perfect" Friday at 9:30 and Saturday at 4:30.

Dagmar Spain's tensile movement for "Appearances," seen at 45 Below(closed), contains just the right filigree of gesture (detail of scratching or pointing fingers, hand on hip) from both the loony bin and the dance studio. Spain's multigenerational cast embodies it fully. For Spain, dancing is a language, and the use of text and live singing add depth to a community of disparate personalities.

Gregory Dolbashian, soon to be a dance major at SUNY Purchase, has a great career ahead of him. His training in Ailey and Corvino techniques has created a crystalline line, which he employs as a tool of communication with none of the empty showmanship or blank arrogance of many young technicians. He is humble enough to be committed to his characterization.

The three choreographer/performers of Boston's Monkeyhouse make "droll, dramatic dances of desire and desperation." Okay, I stole that line from the company's press release, but I like its alliteration. Monkeyhouse's program of seven duets and solos, "Aspic" (45 Below, closed), opens with two Constructivist chorines, dressed in what the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven would be wearing if she were alive. These demented June Taylor dancers each wear one glove, one stilt, and an ingratiating smile. Their off-balance urges -- to please their audience and upstage each other -- set the tone for the ensuing rapid-fire pageant.

Equal parts burlesque and "The Price Is Right," Monkeyhouse's dances act as spunky costume-based self-revelatory movement journals, a feminist vaudeville. Sure they might have read Judith Butler (they definitely get it that "female" is a kind of performance or disguise), but these Powerpuff vixens still want to rifle through toy chests and play dress up. Except when their hearts are broken. Then they do cartwheels while wearing halters made of nails.

The New York International Fringe Festival continues through August 25. For more information, please click here.

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