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Flash Review 1, 9-23: Traction
Bishton's Got Legs

By Nancy Dalva
Copyright 2002 Nancy Dalva

NEW YORK -- Last Thursday night, part way through the premiere of a duet called "From a Life Together," Jamie Bishton pulled Stephanie Liapis into a tight ballroom embrace. As they step-step-stepped, I thought, "Ooooh. Do it again." I couldn't have been the only one, because the Joyce Soho was packed for the first New York season of Jamie Bishton|Dance, with a line down the block, floor cushions creating extra rows, and an audience full of presenters, funders, press, and -- yes -- dance insiders. Bishton mustered an impeccable evening. His eight years with Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project showed here. (They showed, too in Bishton's suavity, which is reminiscent of the dancer who has long since cornered the market on that property -- namely, Rob Besserer, another White Oak original member.) This debut evening boasted production values suited to any main stage -- Aaron Copp designed the elegant lighting -- and, on a program of five pieces, two numbers that have real legs. That the choreographer's own legs are so fabulous did not, of course, hurt one bit.

With his good looks and kinesthetic intelligence, Bishton has always been a real pleasure to watch. As my insightful companion remarked, he is a secure dancer. This is a greater tribute than you might at first think, for it's really unsettling to sit through a performance worrying. With Bishton you never did, and you never do. (Nor do you worry about his partner, when he has one, because he's an excellent partner himself, with to-die-for focus.) In his own thoughtful work, Bishton throws off the boyish persona that so enlivened Twyla Tharp's dances during his fourteen years with her. He slicks back his hair, and he ramps up the glamour -- he's all grown up and then some, and he's ready for his close-up. In "From a Life Together," for instance, Bishton wears a summer dinner jacket and evening trousers (memo to Ralph Lauren: no shirt) to devastating effect. Reader, he was really beyond divine, but I can hear you saying, "Get over it-- what about the choreography?"

Well, all in all, the choreography was better with Bishton in it, but can get along without him, which is no small matter when dancers become choreographers. In this respect the last number was the greatest success. Called "Things That Cannot Be Painted, version 2," it is an ensemble work for six angelic women and one man. It could be seen as a kind of reverse Rite of Spring, or some other ritual. (Here the choice of music was interesting: Greg Hale Jones's "She Began to Lie" is an insistently propulsive score which sounds faintly Brazilian, but turns out to be a mix made from recordings of cotton field workers and prisoners, presumably singing at work.) The sweep of this piece and its spatial arrangements belied the perhaps over simple choreographic devices of the first half of the program (three brief pieces), though certainly Bishton's opening solo, comprised of postures inspired by photos sent to him by friends, had a certain allure, what with its maker togged out only in a long slit skirt (no, no, there were shorts underneath) and a gnomic abdominal tattoo.

The most complex dance, a kind of little modern ballet, was Bishton's duet with Stephanie Liepis, and it was there you saw that captivating bit of ballroom I mentioned before. The piece was, like all of the work, explained in ample program notes. According to these, the dance is not only set to music by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hansel, but is also about the composer's "very close personal and musical relationship" with her well known brother, Felix. What with their racy evening attire, the duo looked to have been inexplicably transplanted from their day, which was in the nineteenth century, to a summer night in the twentieth century, somewhere in the vicinity of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but small matter. The notes notwithstanding (I could have done without them, despite their faintly icky interest) the relationship could have been any interestingly fraught romance, if people danced instead of talked. (Marriage, for instance, comes immediately to mind.) She was, as the notes stated, frustrated, jealous, affectionate, and admiring. He was controlling, but ardent. The dance did not remind me at all of my own actual brother, who has never so much as frugged with me, never mind swooping me up in a flying overhead lift that could take your breath away, just from looking at it. I think I'd like to see that part again, too. Just like nineteenth century novels, moments like that can ruin your real life, if you're a romantic, but they make a dance.

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