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Flash 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? Click 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 adept peers.

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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