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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
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.
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
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
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.
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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