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Flash Review 3, 11-25: "Dancer's Night Out"
From the Self-congratulatory to the Abandoned with Westwater, Siegal, and Bartosik

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2002 Chris Dohse

NEW YORK -- Dance Theater Workshop's "Dancer's Night Out," seen November 15, features the work of three choreographers: Kathy Westwater, Richard Siegal and Kimberly Bartosik. All three works are dense with movement ideas and visual images and share a dream-like intensity. All three also stall at times, either bogged down in self-involved content or structural drift. In a program like this, placement is crucial. Bombast that is forgiven in the first piece seems intolerable in the third.

The four characters in Westwater's "Dark Matter" (Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede) are astronomically known as the Galilean moons of Jupiter. The mysteries of Westwater's subtext, though, are better unlocked by recalling the Roman myths from which these names were drawn. In mythology, all four (Io, a river nymph; Europa, a Phoenician princess; Callisto, another nymph; and Ganymede, a lovely Trojan boy) were duped and seduced by the God Jupiter. Europa and Callisto bore Jupiter children and Ganymede became his cupbearer. Now, due to some astronomer's whim, these darlings are doomed to circle their duplicitous rapist for eternity. Westwater curiously genderswitches her cast, leaving her only male, Aaron Mattocks, to dance Callisto, while Ganymede is danced by Rachel Lerner. They are joined by Abby Block and Westwater.

During Part 1 ("Frontier"), the dancers' specific gaze, simultaneously direct and blank, connects what might otherwise look like simultaneous, unrelated solos. Never engaging the audience or connecting with each other, they stare intently at the unseen. Two scoot on their butts across the stage backward, as if rowing Charon's boat across the river of dark wisdom. The others narrowly miss each other while focused on the rafters. Westwater's first solo is a portrait of someone trapped in a recurring, unpleasant challenge. Her composition is spare and academically informed, with surprisingly satisfying use of canon. Arms are drawn to the earth in heavy gravity against staccato-legged accuracy. She explores virtuosity within a limited kinesthetic range.

Suddenly, the dancers acknowledge that they're being watched and soften, waving their wrists and arms rapidly before them. This ado might signify flames, or rain falling, or the urgent threading of a loom. Their change of affect suggests the welcome coming-to-consciousness after nightmare.

For Part 2 ("Dynasty"), the quartet adopts a more traditional proscenium intent and their dancing warms up. They flop on their bellies like copulating frogs and join hips for a Rockette kickline, still as if fenced into a repetitious, ill-fitting reality. Their upward gaze in a final square suggests some kind of epiphany, as in "a comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization."

Richard Siegal has worked to great acclaim with and for William Forsythe at the Ballett Frankfurt for many years. His "X=X" shares certain elements with their collaboration, "Woolf Phrase," seen last year at the Brooklyn Academy of Music: the intersection of dance and text within a highly stylized visual sensibility. Siegal and ex-Frankfurt dancer Crystal Pite preface the formal beginning of the piece by chalking text across the apron of the stage floor while composer Diane Labrosse sets up her equipment behind a rolling mirror. Siegal embellishes the scrawled words until they resemble a fussed-over mathematical theorem, a notated musical score or an obsessive proofreader's marks. This palimpsest is read aloud by Siegal a few moments later, to initiate an odd story of chance meetings, reminisced emotion and surreal leaps of logic.

Pite dances while Siegal narrates. Her movement -- quirky, squirming and playful -- is often the least compelling element of the composition. Siegal's intimate, thoughtful presence and rich voice, Labrosse's growling score, and reflections caught haphazard in the mirror overshadow her action. When Siegal joins her briefly, his flurried, abbreviated attack flings into itself. The story diminishes into a sort of philosophical dangle and the work, as impressive as it is technically, is ultimately too self-congratulatory.

Kimberly Bartosik is returning to choreography and performance after a two-year break. In that time she seems to have stored up a lot of ideas. Her duet with Derry Swan, "The Mechanics of Fluids," contains the evening's most inscrutable barrage of images and meanders compositionally. It also contains the evening's lushest dancing. The two figures begin isolated in pools of light, one underneath what might be a giant Native American dreamcatcher. Fractured forms pulse on a television monitor like during REM sleep as the dancers shake. Are they invoking or warning away demons? One solo approaches liturgical flagellation. Another is juxtaposed against environmental sounds, birds whistling and amphibians croaking, as if at the dawn of the world.

Both dancers, Bartosik a Merce Cunningham alumna and Swan a current Cunningham member, are eerily feminine, perhaps sensing genesis in their wombs. They alternate between wonder and abandon. Ancient, violent, elemental and scary energies wear each of them out after possessing her.

Chris Dohse is the Dance Insider's senior critic, and has also contributed to the New York Times, Village Voice, and Dance Magazine.

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