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Flash Review 3, 11-21: "Mother" Wit
Hedewig's Savvy Sad Clown

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2002 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- German-born, Amsterdam-trained Guta Hedewig has been making dances in the U.S.A. since 1991. Her fifty-minute trio, "Stabat Mater/Mother Stood" (November 14 - 17 at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church) juxtaposes quirky dancing to 18th century composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's stately setting of the sacred text. Set designer Illya Azaroff arrays the sanctuary with two slatted walls, framing the dancing area. Kathy Kaufmann's brilliantly conceived lighting back lights the slats, casting stark shadows on the floor that melt into pools of white light, washed by a ruddy glow. A white scrim hangs opposite the audience, upstage center -- though it's used only once to project a red square, it shrinks the apparent space, lit from the front, and expands it, lit from behind.

Hedewig, Monica Bill Barnes, and Kristi Spessard, three matching physiques -- small and compact -- wear black pants and sleeveless jerkins, identical in all but their shades of red: salmon, ruby, and fuchsia. They run in a circle to the music, then stop short in a pool of light, when it stops. They twist and turn imperceptibly at first, then add twitches and glances. The dancing reveals Hedewig's mime training. Arm and torso gestures, punctuated by big postmodern lurches and falls, are puckish. Hedewig is smart enough to let Pergolesi's musical persistence knit together the astute sparseness of the movement.

Hedewig introduces her witty vocabulary in revolving duets with non sequitur interruptions by the odd woman out. She and Spessard both do short solos, later juxtaposing them in counterpoint. Then, Hedewig introduces some narrative insinuations. Spessard dances with the red suitcase that, till now, we've barely noticed sitting in the shadows. She and Barnes both slip into the big black sweater-coat that's inside, becoming a two-headed creature with four hands -- you can't tell which hands are whose. They button two buttons at a time, pull two oranges from the coat pockets, juggle, and snack on them.

A bundle of chiffon also emerges from the valise. Hedewig uses it to cushion her headstand, then undoes the black ribbons it's bound in. Spessard and Barnes wind themselves into the two red tutus, of which the black ribbons turn out to be waistbands, and dance a bouncy, joyful, deadpan duet. Barnes's piercing focus gives her neutral expression a riveting pungency. Hedewig's subsequent solo, intense and moody, looks like a sad clown's lament, as the women somberly doff their fluffy skirts in slow motion behind her. As the chorus sings "amen," two women flap their arms like birds, while the third remains in the background.

Hedewig is a witty, stylish miniaturist, whose work is mounted with a theatrical knack that adds substance to a modest movement style. Manipulating familiar movement cleverly in contrast to classical accompaniment creates intriguing dramatic tension that captivates you while it's happening. Savvy Hedewig seduces your eye with smart visual choices and teases you with a gentle kinetic sensibility.

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