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Review 2, 1-20: ADHD Dance
Playing Mix 'n' Match with Munisteri
By Susan Yung
Copyright 2004 Susan Yung
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NEW YORK -- I enjoyed
Ben Munisteri Dance Projects' performance in the Altogether Different
festival at the Joyce, seen January 14, and yet I came away feeling
vaguely unsatisfied and a bit guilty, as if I'd just eaten a Twinkie.
It stirred some curious sensations: I enjoyed the music, and I often
felt the pieces should've gone on longer. (Or were incomplete.)
Munisteri makes dances -- let's just say it, entertainment -- for
people with limited attention spans and a taste for rhythm and melody,
and in this regard, he stands in contrast to many of his peers.
Munisteri (who has contributed
to this publication) regularly enlists some terrific dancers as
guest artists. This year, David Leventhal (of Mark Morris Dance
Group) and Larry Keigwin (of Broadway, Dendy Dance, and other companies)
joined in. Of Munisteri's current company, Christine McMillan also
dances with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. Additional performers
are Lisa Wheeler, Eric Sean Fogel, Danica Holoviak, Kyle Lange,
Devon Fitchett, and Munisteri. Leventhal danced in the first half
of the program, which began with "Muse of Fire," featuring suitably
flame-hued costumes, and set to an excerpt from the film soundtrack
"Run, Lola, Run," driven by a pulsing rhythm and breathing sounds.
The four dancers performed 90-degree arabesques flat to the audience
or upstage, jeted with their arms angled in 'V's, and shuffled across
stage, their arms dangling from their shoulder sockets like a rag
doll's. Munisteri packed the choreography pretty densely into the
music, but his dancers still managed to look relaxed in it.
Keigwin joined Leventhal
for "Smash Through to Sunlight" (1999), a duet dramatically lit
by Kathy Kaufmann, company lighting designer and co-creator of this
work. Keigwin moved sharply within a blue rectangle of light, repeatedly
twisting his torso and whipping his arms about. Munisteri's mix
and match movement phrases mirrored the choppy original score by
Evren Celimli. Comical jumps with both legs bent alternated with
beautiful, lush sequences featuring arms in opposition balancing
the lower body. The two ended up lying on their sides, spinning
in a sunburst of light shards, like clock hands counting time. Keigwin
is a physically smart dancer who can always convert a phrase into
a sensible equation. Leventhal lands amazingly softly from jumps,
like a feather floating to earth; his levity contrasts with Munisteri's
other more earthbound (but not ungraceful) dancers.
"Late-Night Sugar Flight"
(1998) featured five dancers, including Munisteri, who seemed less
comfortable onstage than the rest of the company. The music moved
from a Donizetti soprano aria (and all its evocative baggage), to
a Bollywood dance track by Tjinder Singh, to Satie. Some dance segments
evoked Dunham floor-crossing exercises, and mixed with ballet and
odd partnering phrases. "Earthly Perch" (2003) featured clever interactions
between dancers and began with a tableau featuring Munisteri peeking
out from behind a stage leg, leaning at an angle onto the stage.
Later, two dancers supported a third by creating a sort of human
armchair; Lisa Wheeler, held upside-down, lowered her legs slowly
to the ground. The piece was set to excerpts of Benjamin Britten
The evening's premiere,
"Turbine Mines," was the most satisfying work. Munisteri set it
for six dancers to an excerpt of Vangelis's soundtrack for "Blade
Runner," so it began with Harrison Ford's voice intoning directions,
while two pairs of dancers performed bursts of movement to spacey
music. More flowing phrases followed -- skipping, jetes and sautes,
and jazzy bent leg turns. (My inner technophile likes how Munisteri
always uses proper balletic arm positions, no matter how wacky the
mix.) The group lifted Wheeler across the stage, and caught her
at the zenith of a frog-like jump. McMillan gave the ensemble its
high-gloss sheen, her high extensions and finely pointed feet showing
off each position to best advantage, backed up by an internal ferocity.
Munisteri makes clever
choices when selecting music. His often breezy choreography takes
on an instant gravitas when accompanied by opera or a film soundtrack.
He may not reinvent the wheel, but as modern dance goes, it's plain
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