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Flash Review 1, 6-11: Emotions in Motion
O'Brien Opens up

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2003 Chris Dohse

NEW YORK -- Watching Mollie O'Brien's recent program at Joyce Soho makes me think that when Doris Humphrey codified the craft of choreography (in 1959's "The Art of Making Dances," she lists design, dynamics, rhythm, motivation and gesture, words, music, sets and props, and form) she ignored the important fact that a dancer is more than a sculptural form in space, but a person, with a person's attendant frailty and possibility of emotional context, affect, and behavior. In her work, O'Brien (like several others in recent concerts: RoseAnne Spradlin, Fiona Marcotty, Aviva Geismar) unfetters an ephemeral emotional (NOT emotive, which might be more in line with Humphrey's "motivation") presence in a truer way than many of her contemporaries, allowing nuance of the emotional moment to be a choreographic element.

"Swimming Lessons," a solo for O'Brien, showcases her long limbs, articulate torso, and mysterious, separately intentioned fingers, in a beautiful layered dress by Naoka Nagata. O'Brien allows each of her thoughts the time it needs to be fully stated, swimming through space and personal history, but in no stroke that you can recognize exactly. For example, a sideways-careening crustacean port de bras above complex footwork, tango-like. Severn Clay creates an underwater effect by cleverly lighting two vents high up on one wall until they shine. O'Brien establishes an uncanny balance between human presence and dancerly, technique-based loveliness.

"Triptych" contains three episodes from an evolving (or perhaps unraveling) relationship, the movement in perfectly balanced interaction with sound (Shawn Onsgard plays live from the side of the space) and lights (Clay again) to create an entire world. Sci-fi and mod at the same time, Clay's projected light transforms Joyce Soho's monolithic back wall into a sectioned trompe l'oeil. A sequence of overlaid colored squares permutes the color wheel for a lighting effect I've not seen anything quite like before.

In part one ("Faster Than Dark"), the two equally compelling performers (Jennifer Dignan and Gina Jacobs) dance with a unique sense of rhythm in phrasework and occasional playful partnering while Onsgard's soundscore pops and buzzes. But more noticeably, they parade a sequence of inexplicable affect. I think they mouthed repeatedly, "Fuck you!" at one point. They're not in unison but they're in synch, two bees caught in the wrong hive. Perhaps their hair is pulled back too tight? These two are completely unlike O'Brien in body (compact, pelvic floor squarely connected to the earth) but remarkably capture her same uncanny aforementioned balance. Where O'Brien seems a shy, languorous presence, these two are not at all afraid to be looked at; they're wired, alert. One seems to be angry most of the time, stalwart, a pigtailed droid, while the other worries a lot.

Part two ("Crushed Raspberries") spins out phrases that start with recognizable dancerly values but devolve and dissipate into stutters and tics, just as Onsgard's tuneful plunking stumbles around itself. Dignan and Jacobs examine each other's intimate nooks and crannies after attacking each other with smooches, then try to climb into each other.

Part three ("Summoning the Delicate") looks at first like it needs pruning during an episode of floor roly-poly. Then the two lovers/playmates/enemies stand and offer a perfect ending. There's no resolution to their struggle, more like a sense of "to be continued" where two fighters pause at a point of equilibrium, exhausted for the moment and leaning on each other to keep themselves from falling.

Dancer and choreographer Chris Dohse is The Dance Insider's senior critic. To read more Dance Insider Flash Reviews by Chris Dohse, click on the search engine button on our Home page, then enter "Chris Dohse" in the search engine window.

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