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Flash Review 1, 1-14: Mind Games
Quick (Anita) Cheng Artist

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2003 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- The Cunningham Studio was an appropriate venue (January 9-11) for Anita Cheng to present her evening of miniatures: nine dances ranging from 2'30" to 11'00" long, with the timings listed alongside titles in the program. Besides structuring her dances around duration, Cheng's work shows Cunningham's influence in movement style and abstract content as well.

Louise Burns, a Merce Cunningham Dance Company alumna, opened the concert with the first of four solos for women that led it off. She danced "Improvisation off Shore" to Gordon Beeferman's firm-handed but sensitive atonal piano improvisation played live. In typical Cunningham style, Burns's movement comprised long lunges, arched back attitudes, and sweeping leg extensions, spiked with jagged arm gestures. The simplicity, maturity, and joyfulness of her dancing set a promising tone for the evening. And when the time (2'30") had elapsed, the lights faded with unsettling abruptness, leaving us wanting more.

Janet Charleston, another long-time Cunningham-trained dancer, followed with the technically tough "Six of One" to original music by Carl Landa. Wearing an iridescent unitard by Yukie Moen, Charleston moved deftly through wide, deep plies, parallel jumps and balances. Next Erika Bloom in "Unravel" showed a softer, almost dramatic facet of Cheng's creative thinking. In a brown dress, Bloom stirred her limbs; her back rippled sensuously; her focus implied an unspecific but definite intention.

Charleston returned for "Prelude," a work-in-progress, set to original music by John J.A. Janonne, which Meg Harper, another Cunningham alum -- sidelined by an injury -- was meant to perform. The dancer skirted the perimeter of a circle of rippling, overlapping words (video by Ronaldo Keil) projected on the floor like a reflecting pool and on the wall behind, so we could see it. When she stepped into the circle, her footsteps made the words ripple and eddy as if she were treading on water, thanks to the live technology of Mark Boutros.

Several of the dances featured interactive video by Kiel and Boutros, which enhanced the dancing but did not distract from it -- no simple feat. Notably, in "Home of the Gesture" Victoria Lundell danced beside a real-time, life-size projection of herself. At times the live video would freeze briefly while the real Lundell kept moving. The adjacent matching images illustrated subtle differences between the live and electronic versions of the dancer. Video muted her dynamics and seemed to change slightly the expression on her face.

Cheng parcels out her choreographic devices sparingly, turning her short pieces into etudes rather than essays. In "Close-Up," a 1992 duet danced by Lundell and Cary McWilliam -- whose physiques match nearly identically -- lifting prevails. The women hoist each other into the air with agility and surprising upper-body strength.

Cheng's group dances show her playful intellect at work. In "Daybreak," against Kiel's video backdrop of animated vertical and horizontal lines, Bloom, Katie Sue Brack, Renee Smith, and Stacy Sumpman shift into puzzle-like tableaus, interweaving bodies and limbs. They do canonic merry-go-rounds, with all but one taking the same pose, then copying the fourth's deviation. They rotate three moving in unison, while the odd one out solos. The action stays lively for its eleven-minute duration -- not so long as to grow tiresome or predictable.

The premiere "City Shore" employed a similar formula and began with the only jumping passage of the concert. Natsuki Arai, Bloom, Elyssa Byrnes, and Marcie Munnerlyn danced ably, but the delight of "Daybreak" eclipsed it. Christopher Mahlmann provided nicely varied illumination of dancers and space without obscuring the video effects. Cheng's dances -- more visually graphical than kinetic, technically precise, and relentlessly abstract -- won't give you an emotional charge, but they're fun for the mind: inventive little puzzles.

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