featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers;
New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review Journal, 4-30: Double Helix
Big Scope Dance from Dodge and Tap Fusion

By Tom Patrick
Copyright 2003 Tom Patrick

NEW YORK -- An interesting couple of weeks, and I'd like to tell you about two performances I've been to recently.

Saturday April 19 I was happy to return to the Cunningham Studio (been a long time!) to see Dodge Dance Company's "At the corner of." Not affiliated directly with the motor-car people, the company's concert was a repertory evening, with a great range of material and some really great dancers. The "Dodge" refers to Susan Dodge, whom I just barely knew as my Taylor Co. days drew to a close. Since then, she's certainly been busy, now leading her own group and making a lot of work.

After kicking off the shoes -- de rigeur in Merce's house -- we were treated first to a film. As human Ms. Dodge boards the subway, she is joined by a puckish animated character who I thought looked a little like Fred Astaire. They scrutinize each other in the empty subway car, and converse in the language of dance -- the whole thing, with an infectious score by Tin Hat Trio, was utterly charming! The spell dissipates when the owner (?) of the original sketches re-boards the train to reclaim his creation, but the charm had taken root by then. As the flip-side to this setting, the dancers soon took over the space for "Train of Thought," an exploration of the train-culture so entwined in our NYC experience. I found this piece a little tough to figure (maybe I'm out of practice?) in its directional shifts, which I thought were cinematic effects: as the camera had just been directing our field-of-vision, steering our viewpoint from many different angles, the dance seemed to be trying to do the same for an audience rooted in one place. Also perhaps Dodge is here referencing the fact that subway riding takes away our fragile grasp of points-on-the-compass, not really knowing which way we're facing. Interesting, and full of archetypes we know from our daily forays in the concrete jungle.

I particularly enjoyed a piece called "Path," which -- to the music of Rachel Portman -- has five women tracing, yes, a path from one corner of the stage to another. I found it mesmerizing the way the dancers' unison would fray and a yummy solo would emerge before the dancer would submerge again into the quintet. The rhythmic interplay was very subtle, and several times I thought 'Yikes, they're off,' only to realize a second later that Dodge was shaving the music across the bar-lines to blend sensuous phrases into her own kind of architecture. These skilled five, all shining in turn and as a unit, were Jaqueline Podence, Annie Boyer, Meg Van Dyck, Vanessa Lynn Campos, and Elena Demianenko.

"TANG the HUMP" was another such dance: Stanton Moore's strongly rhythmic music (lotsa reeds, reminding me of Lenny Pickett and the Borneo Horns) facilitated lots of surprise eruptions from the dancers, thrilling split-offs of dancer sub-groups in a very energetic opening. Another sophisticated structure that was very satisfying to behold. Also loved the Gemini-ish duet for Demianenko and Campos, real poetry. This was a full-company work that really pushed the performers, and in which they looked like they were enjoying the hell out of it!

On a smaller scale, Dodge works just as well. "Varmints" was a cute comical duet for Joseph Gallerizzo and Bryan Schuman as adorable big lugs, to the I'm-already-giggling sounds of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man." We all loved it. Conspicuously absent from most of the performing was the lady herself, Susan Dodge, who chose (wisely, I think) to choreograph and direct this concert instead of simply starring in her own work. But two solos did put her on show, and they were both delightful. Danced to infectious bluegrass stylings of Bela Fleck, "My Picnic" was a flurry of Dodge, quaking, flickering, shuddering in her exuberance' she barely slowed or stopped, and our smiles continued to grow. "Below the Beat" also embraced the subway theme (accompaniment was recordings of various subway performers) and this was an opportunity to put Susan's dancing more in focus for us. In a strong down-pool of light, this was more about a moving sculpture, energy flow -- it reminded me of those great parts of David Parsons' "Caught" that are exclusive of the strobe light -- moments of solitude and reflection. Nice work here. Hey, I swear I'm not gonna dissect every single thing -- as you know I can! -- but I wanted to dwell on the positive ... 'cause that's what I came out feeling. Why should I dwell on the fact that I found the lights a few points too dim on several of the pieces -- or that I got totally lost during "Add+ick=shion," which was dense and dramatic, but perhaps too far a leap for me to take into that spooky world? But I did love the morphing partnering, and the superb solo work of Ms. Demianenko. And yes, I AM a big proponent of live music for dance, but the evening's closer "UNSPOKEN" (beautifully accompanied by the Echelon Brass Quintet and their gleaming silver horns) lost me completely.

But hey, I grade this dance outing a winner. I found Dodge's assemblage of works very potent, and touching on a wide spectrum -- very ambitious, and satisfying. The concert concluded with deserved solo bows for the cast, each backed up by huge projections of their caricatures (as drawn by Michael J. Smith, the talent artist with whom Ms. Dodge collaborated on the opening film).

My second concert was much different, yet had some coincidentally linking features. Barry Blumenfeld's company, "Tap Fusion," takes on the unique mission of "marrying" modern dance and tap... an improbable match, at first glance. But take a look at the simplest of worldwide dance forms: isn't rhythm the elemental thing, and isn't tap all about the rhythm? I am always delighted by dancers and dancing that take advantage of the opportunity to contribute to the music's form, subdividing the sounds further and further; tap dancing is a realm where this exploration is the rule. (There is so much there, even if we limited tap to its most familiar format, the old-style hoofing or "musical theater" way.... But look at all the subdivisions in THAT field, and then go beyond to Gregory Hines, Savion Glover, and a host of others breaking the boundaries -- can you say STOMP?)

Blumenfeld's vision for Tap Fusion is also stretching the membrane we wrap around our conception of tap, and while his newly-premiering "Seven Blessings" might be a repertory program too, he, unlike Ms. Dodge, has chosen the themes of the Jewish wedding celebration as the concept that connects. I was quite enthused to enter the Duke [theater] on 42nd Street this past Friday and see the elaborate set-up for the musicians -- live again, woo-hoo!! -- comprising many drums and bowls and mysterious items.

Once the [capacity] audience had taken their seats, the tone was set with some wonderful glass-y and water-y sounds, a musical vapor as the dancers entered in the near-darkness. As a tiny circle of light appeared centerstage, the seven dancers began a slow and subtle dance around it, receiving the light's reflection as their only source of illumination. It was tantalizing and a little eerie, as if we were viewing a group dancing around a fire. Theirs was a slow and hypnotic dance, which imperceptibly expanded outward as the light-pool doubled and tripled in size, with only glimpses of the performers themselves. It was a very controlled accumulation, linking the beginning to the end.

As the work progressed, the themes sharpened, from the creation metaphors to our experience as humans IN the world. The third blessing, "recognizing and appreciating the blessing of being human" was perhaps my favorite part in dance terms. Jennifer Uzzi performed a riveting solo clad only in a primitive bodysuit with nary a tap-shoe in sight. With her body as the only accompaniment, she crouched and stomped, drummed her fingers on the floor and slapped her skin in a terrific interlude. There was even a touch of capoeira influence as Uzzi vaulted around low to the ground. All was rhythmically wonderful, compelling.

"Seven Blessings" even linked to the DDC concert with the inclusion of video sequences, in which Melanie Aceto danced with John Zullo in the subway, and also in some picturesque NYC locales! Following this was an extended section featuring this couple (the Betrothed) choreographed by Mr. Zullo. While their dancing was clearly quite skillful, I felt that perhaps the focus of our journey was blurred a little, as the section seemed to have (to me) departed from the tap-fusion we'd enjoyed up until then. Maybe I was thrown by a momentary sense that I was in a different concert, veering away from all that context that had been set up... but then again, here we were, seeing these soon-to-be-newlyweds actually alone together, out of the arranged social framework, more tenderly. Ultimately Ms. Aceto's skirt unfolded into a huge parachute canopy, and the work seemed once again on a clearer path toward wedded bliss. The group's accumulation of energy along these lines comes to full flower here and the excellent musicians were absolutely jammmming! The celebration took over, and as the cast danced with the bride's dress and wound into circles, they brought us into it with a big "hora," pulling scores of audience members onto the stage. It was quite joyous, and the music pulled everybody higher.

Another unconventional concert ending! I savored the juxtaposition of other factors, too, in the two concerts I'd seen this week. Whereas Susan Dodge had presented a far-ranging repertory program and had mostly eschewed dancing herself, Barry Blumenfeld opted to knit the evening's works together in a long arc and also appear in quite a bit of the program. It was clear that other of the dancers depended on him for their cadence (small margin for error in tap, as I can attest from my college days!). I wondered, at a couple of moments, if that had prevented BB from sitting out a bit more and editing the work from the front (as SD had obviously done). Undoubtedly, he will tweak it a bit in places. The great scope of this subject --Blumenfeld dedicates it to the marriages which have inspired his own, and of course to HIS bride -- is obviously at work in him, and it's all a journey, right? To be bluntly critical, I wasn't too fond of most of the costuming, but perhaps I am missing a lot of the references... just thought there were some strange choices there. The music, by Katie Down and her talented performers, was terrific!

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home