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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
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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