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Flash Review Journal, 9-12: Davids and Goliath
Plenty to See at Dancenow Base Camp; All Lec., no Dem. from Professor-Promoter Tharp

By Tom Patrick
Copyright 2003 Tom Patrick

NEW YORK -- Charged from another week of the creation of Doug Varone's version of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" at the Met, I got out to a couple more dance evenings recently and I wanted to pass along some impressions. Still experiencing beautiful weather here, intense blue skies, and the City's streets and parks are full of people. My curiosity led me to two events, performances of the Dancenow/NYC festival and of Twyla Tharp's "The One Hundreds," and both were heavily attended, but that's just about all they had in common, so I'll begin with the their scant parallels.

I approach the venue for a dance event and encounter a long line of people waiting. Many are dancers. They are patient, but seem expectant, chattering about what they are about to witness -- friends who are involved and the other work they have seen by these creators. A nice build-up, right?

But the similarities largely end there.

In the case of this past Monday night's performance, I was on Mercer Street, about to enter the 7 p.m. showing of the Base Camp series at Joyce SoHo, which is only a slice of the wide-ranging Dancenow/NYC Fall festival. You probably already know that Dancenow was initiated eight years ago by Tamara Greenfield and Robin Staff. The festival annually showcases the work of hundreds of artists in a variety of surroundings, from theaters to cafes to a[n empty] swimming pool and beyond. This is the ultimate modern dance sampler, where you'll always see someone you know, something new, and something you'll want to see more of.

My little slice Monday evening would consist of eleven pieces -- eleven! The stipulation for these programs seems to be Brevity -- also known sometimes as the soul of wit, but more about that later -- and lean technical needs. Honestly, with about a half a minute between the dances, it was a barrage, over in an hour and twenty, before house crews recycled for the next set at 9 p.m....whew.

Tiffany Mills contributed an excerpt from "Elegy" with a spooky feel, a trio of whispers and conflicts, while Hannah Spongberg's "Pairing" held us in a different sort of suspense, as groupings of her septet came in and out of phase unexpectedly, tugging my focus to all corners. Millicent M. Johnnie (and Dancers) showed some fierce emotion, a gorgeous slow backfall and great Horton-esque influences as a woman whose man has been beguiled away from her (in the opening moments of the dance). As Nina Simone sings of the "plain golden ring," I wondered if she was really alone the whole time.

Charmian Wells's "Facing Avoidance" took mirroring and refraction to a cool place. A pair of brunette Gemini (Sarah Donnelly and Kimberly Petros) seemed to be different sides of the same page, definitely linked, almost identical, but never quite in the same place at once. I thought the dance (or was it an excerpt, with that clipped ending?) was terrifically composed and beautifully performed.

The Red Hill Project brought Dana Ruttenberg's "Escape the Cookie-Cutter" to life, in a wildly zombified ride that packed a huge dance into the scant (eight?) minutes allowed. Wearing shredded gauzy mini-clothes -- and occasionally a stripey shirt with 10-foot sleeves -- the sextet touched on masturbation (as a bit of "The Hokey Pokey" played -- wow, that's kinda punny), straightjackets (accordianly,) an edgy humming tango, and wrapped it up with a blast to a track from Blue Man Group's AUDIO. It was a strange, smudgey-eyed dream indeed.

Jeffrey Duval brought things back to a sort of balance in his solo "It's never easy when you are driven by passion" -- so true! -- but his perpetual falling might've represent waking from the previous piece's scenario. Perhaps referencing Sisyphus's continual efforts or evolutionary steps into new terrain, Duval's twisty pliancy saved and damned him over and over, never quite rewarding him with equilibrium (or is that a reward?). He's pretzelly!

"Temporary Heat" (choreo by Stephanie Lazzara) was a subtle and abstract (I'd even say cool) women's quartet, a work of lazy neck-circles and pelvises like pendulums. The dancers' contact was fleeting, pairings of ambivalent unison, culminating in an evocative look-over-the-shoulder finish.

I was fascinated by Eric Bradley's "Untitled February," which Bradley performed with Leila Zimbel. I loved this odd and humorous piece, never knowing where it was gonna go. To a gamelan-sounding score (not credited in the program), Bradley's quirky duet certainly seemed the most complex piece in the line-up, full of surprises and deftly performed by he and Zimbel with deliciously serious countenances. I hope there are other untitled months in their repertoire.

The program's Featured Finale -- there is someone so-designated for each of the sets in Base Camp -- was Paul Matteson, performing an excerpted solo from Peter Schmitz's "I simply live now." In this inner/outer monologue, the formidable Mr. Matteson added to the accompaniment with snatches of text describing a circle of friends, slipping easily between comfortable monologist and ultra-comfortable dancer. I can't say I was on board with the piece entirely, but Matteson's interpretation was great stuff; enviably relaxed, with an un-self-consciousness I'd equate to an animal's, his dancing reminds me of jazz: many parts finding common intersections, seemingly improvisatory and confidently daring.

(There are still plenty of events left in this New York rite of Autumn, with shades of great things to come all over the place! Try to catch some; you're sure to find something that tickles you too. For info on the festival, please click here, or call 718-850-2488.)


So I said there were two, right? (And brevity as the soul of wit? We're almost there....) The next night, Tuesday, I went back to Battery Park for the closing perf. of the Evening Stars series. (Recall I'd been there Friday for a mixed program.) I was really really curious to see Twyla Tharp's "The One Hundreds"[sic] and for better or worse I knew basically nothing about it, beyond the relative infrequency of "performances" of the piece, and that there would be a lot of guest artists but one core dance phrase, based loosely on the timing of a baseball pitcher doing his thang.

There was a very large crowd waiting for this freebie, and it must've been gratifying for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council folks producing the event to see throngs pouring into the park to plunk down on the ground before the stage and large video screen. I glanced at the program's credits, noted with pleasure the performance participation of Deborah Jowitt (Ah-hah! The tables are turned, hahaha) and waited for things to get cranking. At the stroke of 8 p.m., Liz Thompson again gave brief and rousing opening remarks and thanked the generous sponsors of the performances (and many others involved).

....And then she turned the mic over to Twyla....

Well, Ms Tharp is indeed a powerful presence. At first she explained to us what a "hundred" is in her terms, how the piece came to be born in the nineteen-sixties. There was a skeletal demonstration by the lady herself of the/a basic structure, and soon She and the hundred assembled dancers were joined by a few of Twyla's current dancers (as I recall, Charlie Hodges, Whitney Simier, and that smoothie Jason McDole). Hodges and Simier were relegated to sort of being go-go demo-dancers then for the next half hour, as the prolific Ms. Tharp went on a spiel that just wouldn't end.

I was convinced she had her own mic-volume control, as shortly the sound of Ms. Tharp eclipsed all else....She harangued the crowd because they weren't practicing enough, and that only seemed to send her on further flights of dizzying explanation. We were being indoctrinated, smothered with process, and if only I'd had a second headset with me I would've plugged into my "Catherine Wheel" mini-disk and joined my companion in another soundscape, watching those tremendously talented back-up dancers of Twyla's. I tried to behave -- really I did....

....But when TT brought out the big cover-art of her upcoming book ("from Simon & Schuster, that's Simon & Schuster... and I'll be signing them too!")....

....And THEN a poster from "Movin' Out" ("Go see it, and support dance!" [please see ABOVE!])....

....AND THEN when she listed a dozen or so of her company's upcoming tour-dates, I really started to tire of it.

Intensely.

By now it was past 8:45, and Twyla was only now headed (microphone firmly in hand) toward the first (!) costume judging.

That I was not the first nor last to flee this "event" was really evident at the subway station, judging from the influx of people with [sponsor] AT&T hand fans, rolling their eyes and making other plans. Wow, and I had wanted so much to see this! I really love some of TT's work -- especially "The Catherine Wheel"! -- and hoped this too would be a cool event. But it was too little show and way too much tell... and hey, I'd had access to a chair! There were hundreds hunkered down on the ground back there, and the lecture still had yet to yield to the demo. Alas, my head couldn't tough it out. I wish circumstances had allowed the work to speak for itself, and the Aren't-I-clever parts had been left out.

(I do happily recall, however, that in prerecorded video footage of the afternoon's rehearsal Deborah Jowitt demonstrated great grace and economy in her speech and her dancing.)

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