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Flash Review 2, 1-8: Movement Cocktail
Elkins Gets a Lock on Pop Culture

By Anne Zuerner
Copyright 2003 Anne Zuerner

NEW YORK -- After seeing Doug Elkins's "The Look of Love" on the Doug Elkins Dance Company Friday at the Joyce, I have hopes that the Hollywood Musical might return, with Doug Elkins's wit and humor lighting up movie screens across the country. I would love to see Wes Anderson and Elkins pair their love for pop music and offbeat, intelligent humor in a grand revisit to Hollywood escapism (and with the current political climate, escapism may be making a comeback sooner than we think). Choreographing to songs by Burt Bacharach and Daniel Johnston, Elkins mixes up a tasty concoction of kitsch, irony, sophisticated dance making, pop culture, and fun. He knows not to take himself too seriously, a quality all too rare in the somber world of modern dance.

A series of pop-y vignettes, "The Look of Love" examines a number of choreographic love cliches that are so popular in musical theater choreography. These sappy embraces, gentle caresses, and soaring lifts are reinvented in the Elkins context. When a romantic dip is thrown next to a body wave we not only see the dip as a comment on a movement cliche, we see the dip reinvented. Elkins is not afraid to use the rich tools that popular culture has given us to create a new language, filtered through a more thoughtful voice. Elkins links duets (both same same sex and opposite sex), a delightful men's trio ( "Fancy Free" reset in Cancun, Spring Break 2003?), a sensual solo for the ravishing Sharon Estacio, and group sections that twist and gyrate better than any rave dance floor, yet with a softer, cooler touch. The lighting, by Roma Flowers, and costumes (designer not credited) filled the stage with paisley patterns, psychedelic sunbursts, and flashy hues of orange, pink, and blue. The ambiance was truly florescent.

On a slightly less comical but just as fun note, for "I Hear Mermaids Singing," a premiere to Polynesian and South Pacific chants, hymns, and songs collected by David Fanshawe, Elkins shifted his focus to seaside rituals. With the sound of the ocean weaving in and out between songs and the occasional gaze out to some sort of expanse, he created a dance of celebration, moving toward a different kind of popular dance, a place where the community comes together to dance in honor of nature, instead of Hollywood Romance. The movement took on a more traditional aesthetic, looking more like West African dance and less like something you might see in a club, although it maintained Elkins's signature hybrid style.

Despite my thorough enjoyment, with two pieces following the vignette format, the stop and go of so many scenes grew tiresome as the evening progressed. The company, a slew of fresh young faces, is not as tight as an ensemble as it could be. At times, the performers fell out of unison so much that one questioned whether or not sections were in canon. Yet the dancers' individual ability is such that in no time they should become a well oiled machine. They are all masters of the effortless cool and wit that is Elkins's style. And they manage to let their personalities peek through while being drunk on Elkins's movement cocktail.

Elkins kicked off the Joyce's Altogether Different festival, which continues tonight with Keely Garfield and runs through January 19. For more information, please visit the Joyce web site.

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