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Flash Review 2, 4-16: The End
Last Days and More from Lucy Guerin

By Vanessa Manko
Copyright 2003 Vanessa Manko

NEW YORK -- The Lucy Guerin Company was featured as part of Dance Theater Workshop's World Wide Works Series this past week at the Bessie Schonberg Theater. Though Guerin's company is based in Australia, she spent quite a bit of her early career as a dancer in New York, working with Tere O'Connor, Bebe Miller, and Sara Rudner. Her company's spring schedule at DTW included the premiere of "Melt," an abstract work which takes for its theme changing temperatures and emotions. "The Ends of Things," created in 2000, was the second work on the program and it is a narrative piece, dealing with a man coming to terms with the end of his life and subsequently the end of his relationship with the very things that make up life itself.

"Melt" is not only an interesting exploration into physical and psychological states of being, but it is also a fine example of how technology can enhance rather then inhibit choreography. The use of motion graphics in "Melt" is subtle and in no way detracts from the actual movement. Stephanie Lake and Ros Warby, wearing long white skirts and strap tank-tops, stand back-to-back in front of a screen onto which a series of blue and gray blocks is projected. The lighting design is cool and calm and invokes a chilly atmosphere both literally and within the emotions of the dancers, who appear to be frozen within a block of ice. They shiver and shudder, thawing bit by bit as they move first one finger then the next. They stand rigidly as each movement is painstakingly delivered; the effect is robotic, isolated and precise movement. And because each movement -- each isolation or flick of the wrist -- is so small, the audience is drawn into the intensity of the dancing.

As the piece continues, Lake and Warby begin to interact, their hands interlacing, forming odd shadow-puppets on the screen behind them. They eventually embrace for warmth and the tone, little by little, begins to change. Computer-generated snowflakes even begin to fall, adding a bit of whimsy. But there is a psychological bent to "Melt" as well. As we are brought through varying "degrees" of emotion, red lights begin to appear and the piece warms up. Gone is the rigid precise dancing of the first part, and in its place is more raucous, spirited movement. Warby and Lake pull off both moods quite well and their physiques -- Lake is tall and lanky while Warby is petite and sinewy -- create a pleasant contrast which underlines the work's competing states of emotion and nature.

"The Ends of Things" is not as full of dread as its title might indicate. Actually, while dealing with rather grim subject matter, it has some comic moments, though it is more tragicomedy than unabashed silliness. The 'ends of things' Guerin grapples with concern the end of life, not on a large, metaphysical scale, but within the intimate, day to day, ubiquitous tasks that make up a life. A one-room, miniature house sits center stage and it is within this diminutive space that we follow a man (Trevor Patrick) through the routine of his day: waking up, stretching, brushing his teeth, going to the bathroom, drinking coffee. While these are quite humorous moments, Patrick also elicits sympathy, with a geeky likability and humility delivered through extremely readable facial expressions that would make even the most hard-hearted feel compassion for him. When he receives a telephone call from a telemarketer selling life insurance, one can only wish to embrace and comfort him. While his day plays out, other performers -- Lake, Warby, and Byron Perry -- mirror his daily routine in a dance vocabulary which resonates with Patrick's actions. They eventually infringe upon his life and take over his personal and psychological space. For instance, as he awakens, the others perform a series of abstracted stretches. When he quite obsessively folds his clothes, they in turn fold and refold each other into human sculptures.

And, while Patrick is the central focus here, the movement on the other performers is not to be ignored. They whip and lash across the stage, arms pin-wheeling and arching across the space. As we move further on through this man's life, recalling memories, losses, hopes and desires, the piece takes on a nightmarish, surreal tone. The walls of the man's house are stripped down, leaving a ghostly structure, bleak and foreboding, with a small Patrick lying vulnerably inside. He emerges into a solo of desperation, his bare body shivers and twitches and he begins a series of jerky, isolated movements which seem to bespeak his neurosis and fear of death. He interacts with the other dancers, but as the piece plods on towards a conclusion the relationships between them and Patrick is indeterminate and uncertain. Here the piece seems to struggle for an end, which is ironic considering its theme deals with endings. And so while "The Ends of Things" deftly conveys the pathos and uncertainty of the final, penultimate end -- death -- it struggles to reach its own conclusion, as if Guerin herself might have had more to say.

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