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Flash Review 2, 9-9: I'll take a cosmo with that contraction
Dancenow/NYC Brings it to the (Joe's) Pub Crowd

By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2003 Darrah Carr

NEW YORK -- A woman bereft of love, a tap dancer, a raunchy Dorothy, an a capella singer -- all these and more took to the tiny stage at Joe's Pub Thursday for a cabaret-style event that marked the opening of the ninth annual Dancenow/NYC festival. As food, drink, and conversation flowed between pieces, the evening was part performance and part party, achieving the organizers' admirable goal of building greater audiences for modern dance by making programs fun, accessible, and diverse. For nearly a decade, Dancenow artistic directors Robin Staff and Tamara Greenfield have brought dance to communities across the city, adding both traditional and site-specific venues each year. In addition to the new downtown cabaret setting at Joe's Pub, the festival stretches to Washington Heights this year with a performance at Highbridge Park. Staff and Greenfield have continued their signature programming style throughout the festival, mixing established and emerging choreographers to create fresh, eclectic performances. Thursday's cabaret featured everyone from the well-known Gus Solomons jr (a contributor to this publication) and Carmen de Lavallade of Paradigm, in a riveting duet choreographed by Dwight Rhoden, to relative newcomers Anthony Rodriquez and Jimena Paz, performing ambitious works of their own.

Among the delights in a program entitled "Treats, Treasures, Little Pleasures," was Wallie Wolfgruber's "Apres L'amour," a wistful solo in which Wolfgruber balanced on her coccyx, arms and legs waving slowly, eyes closed, as if remembering a tender embrace. Monica Bill Barnes recalled happier shades of love in "Once I was in a Beauty Contest, but My Strap Broke," bobbing and weaving with playful abandon to Beatles songs. Paul Taylor veteran Mary Cochran, in her return to the New York stage, gave an electrifying portrayal of performance artist Valeska Gert in Sara Hook's "Valeska's Vitriol." Conjuring Gert's obsession with the grotesque, Cochran drank and spat out an audience member's wine and pulled another unsuspecting gentleman on stage to fondle her. Jimena Paz offered an excerpt of "Eau de Toilette," a new work that began strong, but then unraveled halfway through. Perhaps the compositional structure is more clear when the piece is seen in context.

The program also included a tightly structured duet by Romy Reading and an excellent rendition of three sections of Meredith Monk's "Songs from the Hill" by Janis Brenner. Ying-Ying Shiau mesmerized in an excerpt from Zvi Gotheiner's "Chairs," and tapper Barry Blumenfeld ended the program on an upbeat note. Hosts Keely Garfield and Lawrence Goldhuber presided over the evening with witty clips reminiscent of the smashing job they did emceeing last year's Bessie Awards.

Although the eight minutes allotted to each artist is not enough time to make a definitive assessment of the overall quality of the work, the Dancenow/NYC festival provides definition in other ways. Not only does it herald the beginning of New York City's Fall dance season, but, more importantly, as the packed, enthusiastic audience at Joe's Pub proved, the festival defines the modern dance community as a vital, brewing force in the city's arts scene.

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