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Flash Review 1, 11-12: Studs, Slatterns and Pasolini Angels
The Vandalized Lovemaps of RoseAnne Spradlin

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2003 Chris Dohse

NEW YORK -- RoseAnne Spradlin has such a singular choreographic intelligence, she can dare to irritate. Steadfast to her own inquiry, she manipulates the figures of her magnificent dancers in an architectural space that evidences her background as a visual artist. Sometimes their collaborative commitment to the material allows it to morph into scenes that are unpleasant to watch. But even when their behavior is inexplicable, their presence beguiles.

Spradlin's program at the Kitchen, seen this past Thursday, begins with "Rearrangement (or a Spell for Mortals)," a new duet for Walter Dundervill and Athena Malloy. With the first November chill in the air, this spell sings to me like an Earth ritual, a Samhain invocation. Maybe this is due to Malloy's rather fabulous Halloween-striped dress in oranges and blacks. Or Dundervill's kiltish rags. Throughout, simple activities, interspersed with clearly bracketed danced phrases, are inseparable from the strength and oddity of these performers.

Microphoned tanks of water burble along the sides of the space, part of Kenneth Atchley's installation/soundscore, lit in antiseptic glare by Jason Marin. The tanks at first sound like tranquility, but there is no serenity in the dancers' repetitive persistence, even when they settle into interior activities like writing in their journals. Instead, the sound of the water begins to evoke the relentless violence of hydrolysis, the process whereby a compound is cleaved into simpler compounds by interaction with H2O. Dundervill and Malloy are eventually cleaved into gesticulation and tantrum. Increasingly fractured and isolated on the white rectangle of floor, their bowing, genuflecting, machine-like flagellations seem to contain simultaneously the malignant sweetness of the pomegranate and Demeter's wrath at losing Persephone to Hades.

I found the premiere of Spradlin's "under/world" at Squid to be the most deeply moving dance I saw last year. It loses a certain intimacy in the Kitchen's warehouse-like cavity, but retains brilliance. Engined by its Bessie-rewarded cast (Dundervill, Malloy and Tasha Taylor), the dance captures the real essence and power of fetish: not its naughtiness, but its necessity. The only perversity here is Spradlin's Prussian imposition of order on her assemblage of studs, slatterns and Pasolini angels. From a duet for Dundervill and Taylor built around tickling and suckling (knowing that Taylor has a four-month old son makes this section a bit unnerving) to sections that delight in the naked body's authentically awkward tangle with gravity, "under/world" never condescends to suburban mockery of fringe sexuality, but rather groans with its urgency, its sweetness, its legitimacy. Only a fool with an unexamined libido could find this material "racy." A recurrent motif in both sections of the piece -- a trio of pretzelly swaying and interweaving -- ain't no Botticelli "Spring." Even the blase downtown audience seems assaulted by some of these images (Spradlin places two tiers of seating in an L shape, so you can see the other half curl into flinches). Yet for someone familiar with Dr. John Money's research into the source of what he calls "vandalized lovemaps," this raw swoon -- all meat, no joy -- nails something dear, something real, something poignant, sly and sad. I get choked up at the same place this year as last year. After a remarkable, prolonged, trance-like hootchy-koo facing away from the audience, Dundervill saunters forward and rather grandly bows to the conclusion of Gavin Bryar's divine "Intermezzo." Guess I'm just a sucker for that kind of thing.

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