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Flash Review 3, 10-8: Making "Whoopee"
Salisbury Spins Stories of the Dark

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2002 Chris Dohse

NEW YORK -- Dana Salisbury's"Whoopee in the Dark," seen last week at University Settlement, is a series of seven solos with a short trio that acts as a denouement. Salisbury doesn't dance in the piece, but it evidences her acute consciousness, her keen multi-disciplinary attention to detail. As in one of the solos, "Dog Story," wherein the sound of a plastic ball farting, squealing and gasping, caught by Karrie Wood's weight against the floor, becomes Wood's partner. And her punching bag: the air escapes as the ball deflates, pinned under her.

There is a strong poetic storytelling aspect to the work, as Salisbury is heard narrating odd milestones in her life to initiate entrances -- moments of realization during which perhaps she felt connected to the beyond. The dances evolve inexorably, like sand through an hourglass, allowing stasis, with gestural specificity and aural design (recordings of trombonist Brian Bender and soprano Karen Smith Emerson). Inscrutable actions are propelled by the mindful presence of the dancers: Wood, Christine Bodwitch and Paul Langland.

Each solo's focus balances between two qualities. Sometimes the performers dance with a rich, magnified awareness of their present moment and of the subtlety of their experience, which is absorbing. Sometimes though they get lost, absorbed into their interiority, which is more interesting to do than to watch and which can simultaneously look familiar and self-indulgent. These moments linger longer than necessary. Intensity and self-revelatory clarity, like anything else, can become monotonous.

Langland, as "Storyteller," winces through an urgent tongueless Babelogue, utterly committed to his character and variations of fractured ululation. Wood, a s"Camel," stutters on hinged legs, gamine and awkward. Bodwitch turns the 1970s"vulvic space" of Carolee Schneeman's "Interior Scroll" into a prize fight in "Red Cord." The centerpiece of the evening, Langland's "Self-Erasure," is partly a tenacious, inexplicably connected, sometimes Chaplinesque exploration of props.

Similarities might be drawn to Deborah Hay's landscapes of the ordinary. The separate vignettes of "Whoopee in the Dark" become aspects of a single consciousness trying to look unflinchingly at her surroundings. The final tale of a disfigured woman on a subway platform contains the kind of brutal images and hesitant compassion that are the fabric of life.

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