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Review 2, 4-1: Melanging
New Steps, Some Stumbling from Carr
By Vanessa Manko
Copyright 2003 Vanessa Manko
NEW YORK -- Two moods
of Darrah Carr Dance were on display this past weekend at the Merce
Cunningham Studio, where the congenial "Passage" and the premiere
of the more bold, brazen "Melange 445" were presented. Darrah Carr
seems to be quietly making a name for herself in the New York modern
dance world with her singular blend of Irish-step-infused modern
dance. In fact, she has explored her interests in dance in general
and traditional Irish step dancing through a variety of vehicles
-- presenting her research on Irish step dance at Congress on Research
and Dance conferences and as a freelance writer for Dance Magazine
and contributor to this publication. Yet, it is her spirited, inventive
choreography that has garnered her much praise. Filled with open,
daring jumps as well as more touching, tender moments and always
presenting a dash of the Irish charm of step dancing, Carr's works
both brim over with ebullience and pay sincere tribute to her heritage.
"Passage" is a true
testament to the choreographer's increasingly signature style. A
somber and reflective work which premiered last year (when it was
here), it is inspired by the traditional Irish song cycle
of goltrai, geantrai, and suantrai songs (sad, happy, and sleep
songs respectively). It also highlights the swiftly vanishing Irish
traditions of keening to mourn the dead and mouth music. This is
reverent and ritualistic piece, particularly in its more serene
moments. As dancers emerge from the wings, walking slowly onto the
stage, a sense of community is established as they perform tender
lifts: a dancer curled into fetal position and carried by another,
for instance. This same sense of levity is also apparent in the
mournful grand plies that become a movement motif in this work;
dancers' hands slowly push their knees open, reifying the power
of this particularly poignant pose. The dance's moody and dreamy
character is underscored by Amanda K. Ringger's lighting design
of lace-work patterns across the floor and the watercolor-inspired
costumes by Cindy Capraro. Carr has also built a sense of passing
or travel into the piece, as dancers move upstage or walk over each
other, a leg softly skimming over a dancer on the floor, representing
the dead or the past.
The dancing for "Passage"'s
happy (or geantrai) songs is celebratory and energetic. Dancers
spring and flock with an infectious joy and radiate a surety and
confidence throughout the intricate fast-paced pure modern dance,
which is interspersed with the fancy footwork of Irish jigging.
And the acrobatic, traveling jumps send the dancers splaying out
in fantastic leaps and helicoptering, whimsical twirls across the
stage, conjuring up images of wood sprites. To see a work like "Passage"
first at WAX and now in the larger Cunningham Dance Studio is to
see it transformed. The Cunningham's cavernous, deep stage space
lends credence to the piece; Carr's choreographic structures sparkle
with a new clarity and the dancers, ever more precise and exacting,
relish the open space. They are compact, strong and capable performers,
each impeccably trained and able to emote the range of moods expressed
in the choreography.
The new "Melange 445"
is an amalgam of step and tap dancing set to French Canadian and
Cajun music, a feisty work that marked an aesthetic shift in the
evening's performance. With its bold black and white costumes of
pantsuits and slitted skirts, along with boxes and chairs set up
in the vein of a cabaret review, there is something decidedly 1930s
about this piece. It even invoked the air of a French film noir
and had a touch of the racy, bawdy dance review a la "Chicago,"
all of which can be deliciously fun. The fluorescent green flourishes
that accented the costumes were a sly wink to the Irish influence
on the work. Ultimately, Carr is experimenting with or grappling
with the idea of rhythm as something that is both heard and seen
-- that is, heard in the step and tap dancing rhythms and seen in
the pure modern dance sections of the piece. Such an idea is compelling
and offers an interesting theoretical jumping off point from which
to create a dance, yet, somehow, the "melange" or "blended" aspect
of this piece gets lost precisely because the step and tap dancing
sections are so distinct from the modern dance sections. These in
turn are injected with a vigor that seems to squash or squander
Carr's skill at delivering up more luscious, calming movement like
that seen in "Passage."
"Melange" opens to the
sound of stepping as two dancers work out rhythms through some intricate
heel and toe stomping and scuffling. Like the call and response
of a jazz duo, these two play off each other and attempt to outdo
each other, eventually falling back into rhythm. But, beyond the
stepping that takes place on the boxes, pure modern dance also infuses
this piece. And this is more adroit, vigorous and sometimes overly
aggressive choreography. At times the movement is harsh and fast
and the shapes presented get muddled. When a dancer scrambles, stomach
to the floor, crawling upstage, it's hard to make a connection between
the step and tap dancing that precedes and follows this moment.
Yet, the piece is not without its fine moments and witty sections.
The sharper more jagged-edged aesthetic Carr seems to be striving
for here certainly comes across. As dancers dressed in black evening
gowns line up three chairs and sit on them like bored, easily displeased
spoiled Southern debutantes, they criss-cross their legs in a snotty,
stuck-up series of staccato poses which are perfectly choreographed
and in sync. This is Carr being cheeky and saucy and such moments
take the squeaky cleanness of Irish stepping to a new, fun level.
Carr's stepping solo is quite good as well; her lightning-quick
feet and coy, flirtatious looks at the audience, which are emphasized
by the whipping of her large ponytail, are a delight to watch.
In short, "Melange 445"
has a sexy, sleek tone and while certainly stemming from a commendable
idea, loses its punch a bit at times. The fine cast of dancers in
each piece included Breezy Berryman, Amanda Callahan, Carr, Kristina
Kirkenaer, Claire Malauias, Jennifer Singer, Tehri Miller, Tara-Marie
Perri, and Cara Surico.
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