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Review 1, 2-18: You are so Beautiful, to We
Headlong & Arrow Communicate
By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2004 Maura Nguyen Donohue
This Flash Review
is also sponsored by Lydia Johnson Dance. Want to sponsor a Flash?
here for more information.
NEW YORK -- Philadelphia's
Headlong Dance Theater is, in short bursts, one of my favorite companies.
The seemingly utopian union of directorship among Andrew Simonet,
David Brick and Amy Smith often leads to varied, well-crafted, witty
works. In short. In short they are masters. But when they forge
into evening-length work, usually with a central theme, I find myself
mentally meandering through my to do lists. Something falters in
their usually brilliant formula when they move into longer pieces
and big groups. They never seem to pay off or sustain the promise
that abounds in their shorter works. However, this past weekend
at the Japan Society, Headlong managed to bring both bigger and
longer together in a highly successful collaboration with Kyoto's
Arrow Dance Communication. The companies gathered together a treasure
trove of small gems for a hearty reward titled "You Are So Beautiful."
The work opens with
the sound of running water and I'm back in Kyoto strolling along
the canal on the Philosopher's Walk near Nanzenji Temple. Smith
steps on a small stool while Brick follows her with a tidy stack
of stools. She takes one, meticulously places it down and slides
it forward into a tiny spot of light. The two make their way across
the front of the stage this way and reveal two simultaneous images;
they could be gingerly stepping on stones across a creek or carefully
teetering on the classic Japanese Geta clogs. As the work
progresses, the stools are moved and stacked around the stage to
demarcate different spaces for a series of bright, fleeting dances.
I cringe slightly when
Simonet begins a sequence with Takeshi Yakazi, Arrow's director,
Megumi Matsumoto and Kentaro Satoh with the oh-so-overdone Japanese
bow joke. It's an easy target, that whole bowing thing. Hell, after
six months in Japan my husband and I would catch ourselves bowing
while speaking on the phone. However, it has been done and done
and done. But, ahhh, we are saved because these Headlong folk, they're
smart. Simonet times it perfectly and cuts the whole awkward scene
off with casual aplomb, slapping a bit of American impatience on
in an instant of directorial command: "And we're done." We watch
as Simonet tries to talk the three Japanese dancers through the
choreography for a quartet. They're obviously only catching random
words and the ensuing dance is perfectly outrageous. Later we see
a reverse of the formula when Yakaki tries to do the same in Japanese
with Smith, Brick and Nicole Canuso. Both sequences sent me into
belly shaking, head tossed back guffaws. It's riotous cross-cultural
miscommunication that could only be handled so adroitly by equally
It is overwhelmingly
apparent that the Headlong folk have found their Asian counterparts.
Two years ago the choreographers met through the US-Japan Choreographers
Exchange Residency, co-produced by the Japan Society, Dance Theater
Workshop and the Contemporary Dance Network in Kyoto. Though the
exchange was process-oriented it proved highly fruitful. These two
groups meet each other with similar styles of movement and an uncanny
shared sense of humor and self-awareness. The dancers are equally
smart in physicality and cultural references.
As the show winds down
into a karaoke-inspired lovefest I'm elated to have witnessed this
connection between artists. The kinship between the two companies
is genuine and enviable to someone who spent the first six months
of last year collaborating with artists in and/or from India, Japan,
Cambodia, China and Vietnam and is currently struggling through
a long-distance collaboration with a peer in Vietnam. These things
don't usually go off so incredibly well.
Maura Nguyen Donohue is the artistic director of Maura
Nguyen Donohue/inmixedcompany, and was the Dance Insider's
Asia Bureau Chief from 2001 to 2003.
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