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Flash Review 2, 7-1: Oceans of Motion
Swanson Cubed

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2003 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- Wil Swanson's kinesthetic sensibility still shows signs of his Trisha Brown heritage; he danced with her troupe for ten years. But his concert "Wild Human Poetry" at Danspace Project at St. Mark's (June 26-29) demonstrated that his choreographic voice is his own. A dedicated abstractionist, he lets the movement speak for itself, arranged formally with skillful control of its dynamic arc.

Swanson's new "cubic legroom" is set to music by Bang on a Can founders Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon, Kodo drumming, and John Adams, engineered by Devin Carey. It begins with an upright phrase of fluid gestures sprinkled with high extensions, done in strict unison by a revolving trio: as one dancer exits to one side another replaces her or him from the other. These first four dancers wear salmon pants and lilac tops. The percussive music adds emphasis to the continuous stream of relaxed, active motion. Twitches, head bobbles, and semi-collapses that impel bodies in unexpected directions are Swanson's vernacular.

Unison becomes mirroring with a new group of four, whose camisole tops (on men and women) are turquoise or black over the same pinkish pants. The music changes to strings, equally rhythmic, but less strident. The quality of the movement remains the same, but different musical texture changes its inflection.

In a serene adagio section for a line of four women along one side and a single woman in the opposite corner, the agitated music contrasts their deliberative slow motion. They lean, sit, and lie prone, always in unison, but gradually changing their facings. It feels Cubist, seeing multiple facets of the same phrase.

A pitch forward on one foot that collapses into a side fall is the most striking motif of the group section for eight that follows. Here, for the first time dancers make physical contact. They support, then drop one another or pull each other from behind, spilling to the ground in reclining couples. Human vulnerability finally projects although the dancers' faces still give nothing away.

As dancers cascade in close canon from the side of the stage -- a favorite device of Brown's -- the music suggests springtime, moving water. And a quick duet coda closes the half-hour long dance. The dancers' neutral faces don't intrude on the movement. Swanson's own angular face, however, framed by an abundant blond mop in a bowl haircut, intrinsically implies drama. Flickers of emotional intention make Swanson the odd man out in his own company. Perhaps his extra presence is simply the result of Swanson's lengthier experience as a dancer. But were the other dancers similarly coached, the work might gain additional resonance.

Joshua Epstein's lighting introduced welcome surprises with abrupt changes from bright washes to stark downward spots to intense side light, molding bodies in space. Swanson is his own costume designer, probably for reasons of thrift, but his choices for "cubic legroom" seemed a bit retro. Guest performers Elizabeth Hazelwood and Mariah Maloney joined company members Felicia Ballos, Jonathan Bastiani, Candice Schnurr, Uta Takemura, Flora Wiegmann, and Ian Van Voorst.

Last year's "Naked Singularities" completed the program. With vigorous music by 1-900-GET KAHN and Arnold Dreyblatt, vigorous movement, and shiny old gold and copper costumes upping the entertainment ante, "Singularities" had greater impact, though structurally, "legroom" nourished our appetite for abstraction with greater thoughtfulness.

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