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Flash Review 2, 5-15: Time-Lapse
Back to the Future with Fuller and Sperling
By Vanessa Manko
Copyright 2003 Vanessa Manko
NEW YORK -- Though Loie
Fuller, the turn-of-the-century dance innovator, secured a patent
for her legendary fabrics and wands -- tools with which she created
imaginative and transformative dances -- her invention is now within
the realm of public domain. And thankfully, for this fact allows
Jody Sperling an opportunity to create dances fashioned after Fuller's
works. Her work was on view this past weekend when Jody Sperling/Time
Lapse Dance presented a series of Fuller-inspired solos and other
duets at Williamsburg Arts Nexus (WAX). In the spirit of a 19th-century
vaudevillian review, where Fuller herself got her start, Sperling's
evening was a mix of comedic, acrobatic, and most of all transporting
works. Such a range of styles -- bridged and conceived with equal
amounts of polish -- points to Sperling's artistic strength and
"La Nuit" is a treasure.
A la Fuller, Sperling in black, billowing cape transforms herself
into a creature of the night; she emerges as a dark and foreboding
presence with her black cape draped over her body, her white face
peering out like one of Macbeth's witches gone astray. As the billowing
increases, the fabric is folded and refolded, and manipulated with
a magical dexterity, eventually revealing a stunning tulle evening
gown that shimmers and sparkles. Its almost as if costume designer
Michelle Ferranti had cut a swath of starlit sky for Sperling to
don. But more than just costume-as-transformation, Sperling moves
with intrinsic grace and command, conjuring the essence of evening.
"Bunhead's Back!" is
a farcical little piece, set to Ponchielli, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky.
Here, Degas's immortal "Petite Danseuse" comes to life, though not
in the way one would imagine. Instead, the dancer, performed here
by Melissa Rodnon (who is incidentally co-founder and director of
WAX) is literally backwards: Rodnon's face is covered by that famous
pulled back ponytail while the back of her head is covered by Joshua
Baker's beguiling mask. Confusing? Not half as much as watching
the dancing -- and this is not a put-down. It's fun to have one's
sense of what is normal get all convoluted. This whimsical piece
inverts all the classical ballet poses -- barre exercises, port
de bras, epaulement -- so that we cannot tell the dancer's front
from back, or at least the dancer's real front and back. In order
to create this effect, Rodnon must distort her body. To place her
arms in first position port de bras, for instance, Rodnon bends
her arms back so that -- freakishly -- she is able to create the
illusion of the otherwise proper arm movements. Just imagine the
Next we venture into
a bawdy physical comedy routine with the acrobatic and witty "Cheaper."
Sperling and Ashley Sowell, clad in Ferranti's bold pink and purple
striped gymnastic tunics, perform a series of rather daring physical
feats. They also manage to tie themselves and each other into knots
-- and these are not the kind of knots into which Balanchine wished
to tie his leggy dancers. Sperling is highly experimental here,
and tests the limits of the body, bending a leg up as high as it
will go, cranking limbs every which way. Quentin Chiappetta's music
provides hilarious sound effects for the physical antics -- a creaky
door, popping, whistling, sirens, plates crashing. Sperling and
Sowell also one-up each other. When Sowell performs her "strong-man,"
or should I say, "strong-woman," routine -- holding her body weight
up on her arms, curving her legs up and over her body so that they
touch the top of her head -- Sperling performs a bit of pointe shoe
toe tapping. To say Sowell is strong is an understatement. The piece
is witty and fun and rounds out Sperling's movement style.
a stark change in tone and mood and deals with the body's vulnerability
in the face of the Western medical establishment. It's austere,
cold, and infused with the sterility of the hospital ward. Rodnon,
in white hospital gown, lies on the stage. A bright, blinding spotlight
pours down, and from behind a draped curtain, the shadow of a doctor
(Sperling) looms over the scenario. A booming, authoritative male
doctor's voice asks calm, pointed questions and adds an unnerving
element to the work -- no bedside manner at work here. Rodnon moves
frantically, as if trying to escape her ailing body. A series of
rigid, repetitive movements bespeaks the humbling and, at times,
humiliating tests and trials that are the patient's lot. All the
while, Sperling stands poised with her clipboard. Sperling has created
an interesting blend of movement to convey the ordeal of the patient.
Rodnon's desperation shows in each moving flail and shake.
works bookend the performance, and if "La Nuit" was a fine, enchanting
opening, "Dance of the Elements," in which the choreographer transforms
herself with fabric and wands into Earth, Water, Wind, Fire, and
Ether, is just as mesmerizing. Beginning with Earth in large billowing
white swaths of fabric, Sperling transforms herself into mountains
and hills. With an ever-commanding presence, she then morphs into
rippling water. In Wind, Sperling portrays both gentle and fierce
winds, while turning into violent flaming fire and serenely closing
with Ether. What is so striking about using the fabric in this way
is that while only one large swath is manipulated, as Sperling spins
and whirls around, layers and layers seem to unfurl from the spectacle,
which results in the large flowers and orchids that Fuller herself
created. Jeffrey Middleton's music adds to the illusory effect.
Sperling has displayed
a range of styles here -- from serene, moving works, to the more
comedic, exhibited in "Bunhead's Back" and "Cheaper." Yet, by far,
the Fuller-inspired works take the cake here and Sperling is a fine
interpreter, exuding the wily, confident, knowing surety that one
imagines Fuller herself might have performed with.
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