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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
"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?)
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
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.
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!
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