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Flash Review 1, 9-19: Keep it!
Cortez & Company on 9/11, Yeats, and More

By Anne Zuerner
Copyright 2002 Anne Zuerner

NEW YORK -- Cortez & Co. Contemporary/Ballet plunged into the sanctuary of Danspace Project at St. Marks Church last weekend, as part of Dance Access, with a lush and varied program. This lively company managed to summon images as disparate as a spring forest and desktop graphics. In the world of Modern Dance, constantly reinventing itself, Hernando Cortez's vocabulary is traditional while also stretching the boundaries of ballet. Although Cortez's style is not entirely new, he works within set boundaries to create dances of varying aesthetics.

In "The Man and the Echo," Cortez derived his theme from the W.B. Yeats poem of the same name. Dancers wafted onto the stage, with blue chiffon pouring from their limbs, courtesy of costume designer Edward Sylvia. They pranced like deer and billowed like clouds to the flourishes of Edvard Grieg's Holberg Suite. I saw a forest buzzing in springtime, the struggle for survival momentarily gone with the disappearance of winter. Amidst the commotion, Francisco Graciano danced a solo of deliberation, like a fairy tale prince asking the trees for guidance ("Should I marry the woman I love, or the woman my parents have chosen?"). A moment of repeated jumps in place, arms thrusting for the sky, revealed the troublesome burden of gravity, like a lasso yanking him back into his life. In the end, the prince dies, and his chorus of women bows and sways like weeping trees at his resting body, until they echo his fall, dropping one by one in his shadow. When he rises, chest skyward in their wake, we see that death has freed him from the burden of life.

Cortez appeared next, a gentle warrior adorned with a lei of fresh flowers, which I could smell from my seat. The solo, "Ku'u Home O Kahalu'u," by Earnest T. Morgan and staged by Rachel Berman, with music by Jerry Santos and the Olomana Group, had Cortez moving like a storyteller, leading the audience through stomping tales of fighting a wild boar, enjoying the company of a butterfly, or rowing his boat through the choppy ocean water. Cortez's smile is what I imagine Hawaiian sunshine would feel like; his kind face is so genuine, watching him dance is like talking to a friend.

In "Bang," by Cortez, the performers traded in their gossamer fabrics and benevolent expressions for slick, color block unitards, by Gino Ventura, and steely, intimidating glares. Dancers were tied together in small unison duets, like sets of colorful clones dispersed in a Salvador Dali landscape. The music, by David Lang and Bang on a Can, drove the dancers like machinery in a factory, prodding them into space with utilitarian boldness. Movements alternated between virtuosic and a simple yet strange, soft motion, reminiscent of the bouncing Internet Explorer icon. These dancers were containing something eruptive, an intensity that boiled below a deliberately cool exterior, like a covered, stainless steal sauce pan with bubbling water within. Two images remain clear in my mind. One is Joan Chiang's simple yet earnest moment of transcendence, as she yearned for the sky, arms waving like seaweed, quieting the landscape for just a moment. The second is of the dancers standing single file stage left, legs wide apart, while their right hands, tapping their thighs nervously, revealed the anxiety behind the composure. I can just see Cortez saying, "Keep it!"as a dancer stood listening to a comment in rehearsal, tapping her thigh unknowingly.

I was apprehensive about seeing a dance made in response to 9/11. Luckily, Cortez's "Two Hours That Shook the World" read more like a loving memorial than a response to something unspeakably tragic. Two white panels of fabric hung from the tall ceiling of the sanctuary, like ghosts. As women in solid colored dresses and men in business suits moved urgently around the towers, a black and white projection, beautifully fractured between the fabric and the wall in the distance, played a video recording of the same dance in rehearsal, with dancers in pants and leotards, white walls and barres for their backdrop. The simultaneous images revealed two worlds that are at once utterly divided and intertwined. On stage, men and women ran, at times in slow motion and at times with a speed that only a disaster can inspire, while on screen, dancers poured their sweat over the insular task of creating a work of art. The video illustrated just how powerfully context can transform a dance and how dance can transform a situation. With business suits and references to a cityscape, a dance about something ambiguous becomes a moment we all can recall in our own lives, whether it is September 11 or the office we go to every morning at 9:00, what it smells like, how we sit down at our desk. By recalling a shared experience, we are comforted by our unity. In difficult times, dance is both frivolous and necessary.

Cortez and Co. is a solid group of dancers with a strong leader. My only reservation is that the performers come off as too determined. I missed a feeling of abandon. I wanted to see more calm, confident dancing, or real moments of vulnerability. At times, the physicality felt forced. I also missed a calmness in the choreography. Sometimes, the phrasing was so dense, and the movement patterns so swift and constant that I was overwhelmed by the demand on my attention.

Anne Zuerner is a freelance writer and graduate of Barnard College who lves in New York City.

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