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Flash Review 1, 11-21: Few More Things
Barkey Finds a New Answer to Turandot's Riddle

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2002 Maura Nguyen Donohue

NEW YORK -- Having missed Grace Ellen Barkey & needcompany's performance of "Few Things" in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago, I was eager to get back to New York just in time to catch Barkey's newest take on a classic. "[And]," running at The Kitchen through Saturday night in its North American premiere, is a fun and ferocious re-envisioning of Puccini's opera "Turandot." And as Puccini essentially created a Chinese opera with barely a hint of Asian sounds, Barkey has created a compelling, grrl-friendly punk-rock musical with only a trace of its original melodrama.

Barkey, a resident choreographer for the renowned Brussels-based needcompany, offers this newest work as a sequel to "Few Things." I saw the latter in its original form at PS 122, when it was still "The Miraculous Mandarin," just before a ridiculous battle with Bartok's heirs over performance rights. Though riveting, I found the overall vision of that work unclear. But with "[And]" Barkey throws it down solid. As a director, she's found a great look, pace and sound that brings her performers, choreographic style and punk rock sensibility into one satisfyingly hot and heady package.

Kosi Hidama opens the show with a dance performed on a raised stage, framed like a puppet theater. Angelique Wilkie appears as Liu, the loyal slave girl who cares for Timur(Benoit Gob), an exiled king of the Tartars. Wilkie sings us the back-story of Princess T., who demands that any suitor must answer 3 riddles or lose his head. T., played by diminutive dynamo Tijen Lawton, appears in pieces first, revealing only a bit of leg and arm before slinking into the puppet theater space to deliver a 'decisive imperious gesture' demanding the execution of the last unsuccessful suitor. Calaf, played as a budding rock star (or is it by a budding rock star?) by Maarten Seghers, drums out his sudden desire for the Princess and sings, dances and plays guitar as he attempts to win her hand. Timur recognizes Calaf as his son and begs him not to pursue certain death.

Gob, Hidama and Julien Faure portray the ministers Ping, Pong and Pang in a brilliant sequence that resembles a Chinese Three Stooges. They frantically bumble their way through bits of Chinese gibberish amidst frenetic movement in a raucous scene where, in the opera, they would be telling Calaf to flee. Throughout the work there are repeated images of floundering fish, gaping mouths that gasp for air, and bodies that wriggle helplessly. But Lawton performs a solo on the floor in which she looks more like a grounded mermaid. Like the princess she portrays, Lawton is an entrancing character. The more time she's given on stage, the deeper we all fall for her. She moves with a keen sensuality and speaks in lush, seductive tones, even while dancing with yellow gloves on her feet and accompanied by amplified fan and bells. Faure is a robust dancer, exploding through fleeting dances and monologues, while Gob commands the stage with an electric intensity during turns as a decrepit king and a homesick minister. Wilkie and Seghers, credited along with Rombout Willems for the music, set it off with ripping vocals and grinding guitars.

Barkey comes up with her own riddles and saves T's intentions to remain "as free as men" from getting befuddled in the revenge-driven plot of Puccini's princess. And, though T.'s tale ends tragically, she is at least exempted from being transformed from icy, virginal bitch into bitch-in-heat who discovers love in the forceful kiss of a man. For Barkey, love's overrated and rock rules as she lets the men and the loyal, lovesick slave die in a new ending. Befitting, since Puccini never actually finished the work himself but passed away before its completion.

Maura Nguyen Donohue, the Dance Insider's Asia bureau chief, is a choreographer, dancer, and the artistic director of Maura Nguyen Donohue/ In Mixed Company.

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