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Flash Review 3, 9-12: Kinetic 'Kaleidoscope'
With a Little Help from Some (Graham) Friends, Dankmeyer Emerges

By Vanessa Manko
Copyright 2002 Vanessa Manko

NEW YORK -- A kaleidoscope, by definition, can be a "continuously changing set of colors" or a "series of changing phases or events." Erica Dankmeyer's evening of new choreography, seen last weekend at Danspace Project, was appropriately named Kaleidoscope, and the evening was not only colorful and protean, but well conceived. Although the work of this Martha Graham dancer is no doubt influenced by the Modern Dance doyen, no one style or mood dominated, resulting in a nice amalgam of Dankmeyer's choreographic works thus far. Although the season, part of Dance Access, was Dankmeyer's first foray into self-presenting, the evening's air of professionalism and aplomb would have made anyone attending believe the contrary.

As the audience meandered into to St. Mark's Church, they were confronted by Andrea Haenggi's "Fallen," one of two works by guest artists featured during the night. This multi-disciplinary work was inspired by Haenggi's trip to Istanbul and features images of a Turkish woman swathed in a blue traditional head scarf projected onto the series of long horizontal stairs at the back of the church. Haenggi lies face down, plank-like, folds over, around and through the filmic images, and continually repeats the same movement phrase. The constant yet subtle movement is serene. The even keel tempo lends the piece its hypnotic yet soothing quality.

Contrasting this was Dankmeyer's "Ocean." An athletic and energetic work, "Ocean" makes for a super-charged opener. A duet for Dankmeyer and Martin Lofsnes, the work begins with the two draped over each other, softly contracting and releasing. What ensues is a technically demanding series of extensions, lifts, and vigorous partnering. What this duet best displays is Dankmeyer's skill as a dancer -- she is a petite powerhouse capable of lyricism one moment and dynamism the next. The bold red and black costumes by Ricky Lizalde helped to magnify this piece's dramatic flair. In such a work, it is easy to see Graham's influence on Dankmeyer. Present is the earthiness and signature contractions of the Graham technique, and Dankmeyer has found a way to extend the vocabulary for her own choreographic interests.

"Fire in the Mind" displays Dankmeyer's more serene choreographic capabilities. Less athletic than "Ocean," "Fire in the Mind," performed last weekend by the lovely Alessandra Prosperi, is a kind of trio made up of cellist, dancer, and one long, graceful piece of fabric. The dance evokes Graham's Noh-play-influenced works, the fabric becoming a main element of the choreography as Prosperi roles up in it and curls it around her body, making full fleshed-out shapes. In one moment, she drags the white and red material across the floor as if sketching a pattern. While fabric can accentuate a dance, one can also rely too much on such a tempting prop. Here, it seems at times that Dankmeyer's enthusiasm for movement possibilities made available through the use of this fabric is overkill. This is particularly the case when Prosperi stands above the cellist with the long piece of fabric draped across her shoulders. This bold move almost infringes upon the rest of the rather quiet and lyrical movement.

Prosperi is a fine performer; she has an engaging, almost magnetic stage presence, not to mention dancing that displays quite a bit of pluck and attack. At one point, rolled up in the fabric, she untangles herself gracefully and with an added bit of nonchalance. I was impressed.

Guest artist Deborah Zall brought "Amanda's Solo," an excerpt from her "Shards," influenced by Tennessee Williams's "The Glass Menagerie." The psychological complexity of the play is apparent in the dance. Seated at a dressing table, Zall grasps a hand mirror, contracting and whipping herself around, all the while gazing into the mirror questioningly. One of the most touching moments in this emotional work is when Zall waltzes with an imaginary partner, her body swaying and face rapt with delight. It was a quite moving and memorable performance by a veteran of the Graham technique.

"Likings for Shadows," set for three dancers -- Dankmeyer, Prosperi and Elizabeth Auclair -- is a somber work. A haunting knocking begins the piece as the three women trace steps around each other, dancing, it seems, in their own worlds. Yet they are connected in their movements, mirroring or shadowing each other. When the three women form a tripod, the red, turquoise, and navy blue dresses by Karen Young form an interesting triangular color effect. The piece concludes with Dankmeyer and Properri framing Auclair as she quietly spins round and round to fading lights.

A stylistic shift in the evening's work emerged in Dankmeyer's "The Distance Within," a redemptive and reflective work, performed by Lofsnes with song and text by the sultry-voiced Morley. Morley claps out rhythms and sings as she follows the languid dancing of Lofsnes. She seems to confront him or spur him on as she sings out "carry the weight of it all" repeatedly. The intense exchange between dancer and singer is interesting to watch here, and perhaps the most powerful of movements comes at the end, when Lofsnes walks downstage, extending his hands in an offering.

Perhaps the most ambitious work of the evening was the premiere of "Tree Line," set to John Williams's "Five Sacred Trees." With Leslie Myers's costumes of earthy maroons, browns, and greens, "Tree Line" evoked a natural landscape or forest. But rather than directly mimicking trees, Dankmeyer uses only their impression, making her dancers rock, sway, and careen. In the first movement, "From Seedling to Sapling," the dancers move in one large protean mass, rolling over each other to center stage. "Forest Incantation," a duet for Dankmeyer and Prosperi, is a feisty section, filled with quick jumps and spirited dancing, while "Redwood Canopy" is a more traditional adagio duet for Auclair and Lofsnes. Although each section had its own unique facet, "Brushfire" was the most fun. The Puck-like tree sprit dancing of Christophe Jeannot was infectious. From the moment Jeannot rolls out on stage he exudes the air of a meretricious troublemaker. Here, Dankmeyer has even found a way to show the danger lurking in the world of the forest. Jeannot and Lofsnes engage in a sort of battle, dancing out their territories. Throughout this work, Dankmeyer has subtly portrayed the beauty, grace, danger, and magic of the forest.

With a fine cast of dancers such as Auclair, Jeannot, Lofsnes, Prosperi, and Yuko Suzuki, Erika Dankmeyer's first self-presented evening of dance is not only a testament to her skills as a dancer, but shows her promise as an emerging choreographer.


(Editor's Note: To read more about Erika Dankmeyer or any of the dancers mentioned above, please return to the Dance Insider Home page and enter the name in our Ohio State University-sponsored search engine.)

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