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Flash Review 2, 11-12: Spirit Centers the Bones
Stories from Harrington, Hayes, and Morris

By Catey Ott
Copyright 2002 Catey Ott

NEW YORK -- Voices of women, the spirit of generations past, and the journey towards an awakened life led the way to a thought-provoking and inspiring evening of theatrical dance in "House of Jasmine and Bone," seen Friday at Williamsburg Art neXus. The show began in the lobby with a grand art installation. The audience entered the theater by passing under an archway made of a rib cage and other bones with hanging dried jasmine, snippets of photos, and pieces of flip-books, making for a time capsule theme. The arch and other pieces were designed by Zach Morris and Chris Cummings. Morris, who presented the program, was wise to prepare such a transition into this evening of time passage, myth, and archetypal women.

Aleta Hayes's "For the Love of the Dark One -- A Tale of Meera" opened the performance. The magnificent Hayes, a stalwart with Jane Comfort for many years, stood in traditional Indian garb of a rich and shiny pink fabric. Hayes's grounded power, centered spirit and fullness of self allowed the story of a 16th-century princess/wandering saint to flow out of her. She sang the tale with her clear and enchanting voice. Her movement, taken from Indian tradition and her personal variations on its themes, was danced out seamlessly. The music was composed by Khalil Sullivan and Joshua Geisler, who played live along with Phil Kester to the lyrics of Sullivan, Hayes, and Mirabai. The story, divided into three parts, unfolded quickly as Meera (Hayes) took great leaps of faith in her personal maturity on her personal journey. The complexity and layering of music and rhythm heightened with her. The dance built as well, from the subtle waver of an arm and foot arch to the rebellious quick hips of the wild one seeking the love of Krishna, the blue god. As a resolve, the firey Meera finds her inner voice and her imagination to guide her with grounded grace. Hayes is an amazing story- teller. Her voice, text, music, movement, and choice of musicians worked very well. The piece clearly needed Gestalt psychology eyes -- the whole being much greater than the sum if its individual parts.

We emerged from Hayes's triptych into Morris's "Parched," another three-part story, constructed by Andrea Lepcio, Nikki Berger, and Morris, to Lepcio's text. Morris's gift is in the directing of dance theater, with simple sets, solid simple black costumes and simple tonal music setting a plain field in which text and crystal-clear movement to do the work. Three lovely dancers, Nikki Berger, Taifa Harris, and Marissa Neilson-Pincus choreographed the story with Morris. The roles of mother, daughter, and ghost were successfully inter-woven as these dancers each played all of the roles interchangeably. This technique gave no single face to the voices in the text, and made phrase repetition haunt and resonate. The tempo of the story, flow, and mood remained pretty even in all three sections. This worked because of the broken up nature of the show, but may have seemed rather flat next to the vibrancy of the other pieces on the program. The text had an engaging, rich rhythm. The simple props -- an empty bowl and a purse of sand for planting seeds -- set up a timeless and ritualistic scene that any culture and era of woman could reflect on. Props and text together created images that flowed through the sections:

bowl bone dry
get off me so I can live
left with nothing (upon the mother's death)
fight for survival
beauty present and lost
a need to wash clean yet having no water.

These deep-psyche cries were powerful and uttered in a simple and soft way which essentially worked, but which needed more contrast. Yes, the psyche reveals sometimes softly, but other times power and embodied emotion charge these fearful, lonely, lost and instinctive stages of maturity. This aspect could have been brought out to increase the awareness of the reality and vulnerability of the women depicted. The piece ended with a fading out, a sense that the spirit and cycles of the women would keep on evolving without comment. I left WAX feeling inspired and awake to ideas and voices and had a renewed sense of honor and respect for women present and past.

A highlight of the evening occurred mid-show and was the only tale shared in just one part. Heather Harrington's "Ruth and Judith," danced by Harrington and Kathleen Flynn, gave a fresh sense of story and character told by the body and energy alone. Cam Millar's music provided a simple melodic reverie that looped through the entire piece, changing pitches and speeds to mirror the tale of the relations of the women. These two characters contained the guidance and trust of a mother/daughter relationship but also evoked, at times, the simplicity and childlike quality of a sister relationship, in which the two do not even need to acknowledge each other to love each other and be together. Harrington communicated a wisdom and spirit, twirling yet unshaken. Flynn displayed eyes with a bit more innocence, yet never got lost in the wind. The flicker of a solid hand, a strong quirk of an elbow, and a smooth yet direct glide to the floor made Harrington's work very honest, mature, and revealing. The two dancers remained deeply present and surrendered without blind faith as they bent, fell, and recovered without crash, comment, or hesitation.

Flynn's character was called upon to ground a whirling Harrington and center her as she walked into the shadows. These two truly are impressive women in body, spirit, and truth.

Catey Ott is a New York City-based choreographer, dancer, and writer.

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