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Flash Review 2, 1-9: Not Altogether Different
Space Cadets & Other States of Beings from Stenn & Co.

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2004 Gus Solomons jr

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NEW YORK -- In 1996 Rebecca Stenn formed her PerksDanceMusicTheatre company, the premise of which is interaction between dancers and musicians in performance. (Stenn is also a contributor to this publication.) As does Momix -- the company that weaned her -- Stenn espouses choreography by committee, usually crediting almost the entire cast of a piece with its choreography.

For her appearances (January 7, 10, and 11) in the Altogether Different festival at the Joyce Theater, Stenn installed her four musicians onstage, so their instruments and monitor lights were a constant presence. Will Knapp's and Jane Shaw's lighting strove to create distinct locales for each dance, but especially in the premiere, where the musicians were largely inactive, the gear distracted from the theatrical magic.

"The Seventh Wave," the obligatory Joyce premiere, was "conceived and directed" by Stenn and choreographed by her along with Faith Pilger, Eric Dunlap, and Trebien Pollard. Performers Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope joined them for this space odyssey, in which three aliens (Dunlap, Pilger, and Stenn) in multicolored unitards by Angelina Avallone appeared, center stage -- lit by hand-held lamps -- and encountered three earthlings in long tunics that perhaps represented some prehistoric epoch.

The usual interactions between "them and us" ensued: mutual fear, curiosity, and defiant confrontation -- played out in generic movement and with surprisingly little passion. People pushing themselves between other people or shoving each other was a recurring motif. The earthlings "zapped" the aliens with flashlight beams, then embraced and partnered them in the now standard man-man, man-woman, woman-woman configuration. The final image, the "birth" of Dunlap, squeezing himself between the embracing bodies of Stenn and Pilger to the sound of a crying baby, was shockingly cliched.

"Left of Fall," the opening dance for Stenn, de la Reza, Kope, and Pollard depicted emotionally abstract relationships among the four who interacted aggressively; the men seemed to be trying to incite the women to combat. The saving grace of the dance was the effervescence of the rocking rendition of Stravinsky's "Sacre du printemps" arranged by bassist Jay Weissman and cellist/keyboardist Dave Eggar.

Stenn and her collaborators' movement choices reflected influences of Momix: crabbed postures and convoluted lifts that melted into one another and moved in limited spatial trajectories. She and her dancers, strong athletes all, performed with oddly inconsistent projection, alternating between postmodern deadpanning and broad facial acting, just as the dances themselves inexplicably veered between abstraction and narrative.

"Embrace" (1996) featured de la Reza and Kope on an invisible turntable that allowed them to spin constantly, while adoring each other to Eggar and Weissman's haunting arrangement of Olivier Messiaen's music. Stenn's 1998 solo "Zimzum," a softly lyrical study with original music by Eggar and Weissman, showcased Stenn's physical strength and control. She danced in a pool of light in a sunny, full-sleeved dress by George Hudacko.

Finally, "The Carmen Suites" (2000) deftly illustrated the company concept: musician-dancer interaction. Stenn, de la Reza, and Kope carried and dragged Weissman and Eggar around in unexpected ways while they played selections from Bizet's opera: Kope bowed Eggar's cello, while Eggar fingered the melodies; the cellist reclined supine on Kope's raised hands and feet and played.Kope took the bow and dueled with the spike of Eggar's cello, and Eggar then ran Kope through with it. The casual abandon with which everyone treated the instruments -- and each other -- made a strong artistic statement. But it would've been more satisfying, had its imaginative premise been more creatively structured.

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