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Flash Review 1, 12-12: Blah Blah Blah
Will Power Outage at Improv Fest/NY

By Anne Zuerner
Copyright 2002 Anne Zuerner

NEW YORK -- Modern Dance improvisation is a hit or miss genre. Because the strictures of Modern and Post-modern dance demand that there be no strictures (or at least fewer than there are in ballet or jazz dance, for instance), when an open dance form is opened up even more, it can cause a flood, as it were, of nothing. Dancers are not trained, as actors are, to know what they want on stage, to express the desire of their will in conflict with others. When they have choreography, dancers clearly want to perform that choreography to the best of their ability, and that desire is exciting to watch. When dancers are left to their own devices on stage during improvisation, some retain decisiveness, pushing along within a structure that they create for themselves. Others lose all sign of their will, the very thing that makes performance interesting, until all that it left is a body noodling about on stage. It can look a bit like a plastic bag being blown around by gusts of wind, which could be rather beautiful, yet when it's a human body up there, we know there is a mind behind the facade, and we miss its activity.

After seeing Monday's performance of Improvisation Festival/NY at the Judson Memorial Church, I was tempted to submit a review that went something like this:

"I like to write. Writing is fun. I'm glad I get to write for all of you. Aren't you glad I get to write for you? Write, write, write, write, write................................. I like to write. Writing is fun. Writing feels good. I think I'm a good writer. Don't you think I'm a good writer?"

A lot of what happened this Monday said nothing more than, "I like to dance." That is not to say that all of it was so self-indulgent, and some may say that the point of improvisation is not to achieve incredible performance all of the time; sometimes half an hour of noodling can be worth five minutes of incredible interaction. However, I believe that it is important for dancers performing improvisation to at least make clear choices and follow through with them.

The evening's first piece, "Rooms and Buildings," created by Wendell Beavers, Paul Langland and Mary Overlie, had a clear structure going for it. As performed by the two men and Marga Guerge, we could at least detect its shape, if not its contents. The trio began holding poses with humorously tense faces, looking a bit like gargoyles as they lay and squatted on raised blocks and on the edge of the altar space. They proceeded to dance to "Rooms" by Gertrude Stein and then an untitled poem by Beavers and Langland, before sitting and having an indecipherable conversation, also written by the two men. The poem was well-written and cleverly read off of a laptop. A Laptop's mobility is useful not only for e-mailing at your local coffee shop, but also for dancing and reading aloud at the same time. At the end, the three dancers emerged with large hollow replicas of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler building and the Citicorp Building resting on their shoulders, covering their heads. As they moved about slowly, they were lit only by flashlights.

When the performers were dancing, the piece became less interesting than what their intriguing choices seemed to promise. It appears they spent more time creating the structure of the dance than working out what would actually happen while they were dancing. The buildings section was beautiful to watch for the first minute, but for the last few, it lost its magic.

Helen Walkley and Marc Boivin spent most of their time in a state of indecisiveness. A handful of memorable moments managed to emerge out of the rubble. One was Walkley impulsively flinging herself onto Boivin's shoulder and then swinging around and sliding to the floor. At another point the pair began running back and forth across the stage, facing each other as if they wanted to be running toward each other, but something, whether it be fear or confusion, was holding them just feet apart. It was a fascinating illustration of how we sometimes try to run after something or someone, but we only end up running alongside them. Most of the time, Walkley and Boivin lost me.

Polly Motley's "Field" had a promising beginning. A string of red lights lined the back of the stage glowing like many small fires. But as soon as Motley entered the space, the fire burned out, so to speak; she barely moved, for no clear reason. Perhaps she was looking out at a field. Perhaps she was experimenting with stillness and trying the audience's patience. Whatever they were, her intentions were unclear.

Patience was an audience member's best friend this Monday at the Judson. For those of you out there with reservoirs of it, you might have enjoyed this performance.

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