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Flash Review Journal, 2-27: Bunhead Games
Tanowitz Re-tools, Lavagnino Balances

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2004 Susan Yung

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NEW YORK -- Danspace Project recently offered two fresh takes on familiar dance forms at St. Mark's Church. "Love Storyless," a premiere by Pam Tanowitz, re-tooled the Cunningham style into a polished 45-minute precis, a scaled-down major work with flats by painter Cecily Brown and John Adams piano music played live by Molly Morkoski. And Cherylyn Lavagnino balanced rigorous ballet on pointe with shoeless modern in a solid program of six works.

Tanowitz, who studied with the late Viola Farber, set "Love Storyless" (seen February 21) to Adams's thrilling "Phrygian Gates" and "China Gates." The piano sat upstage center at the crux formed by Brown's six paintings, staggered in a 'v' that allowed the dancers space to enter and exit. The dancers' costumes, by Yukie Okuyama evoked parfaits, all frothy, ruched peaches and creams; they later changed into stretchy reptilian pieces. They wore warrior's makeup throughout, vivid colors framing their eyes. The combined effect of the grand piano, the paintings, and the costumes and makeup created a highly formal setting for the movement.

The well-rehearsed and skilled Sally Donaubauer, Anne Lentz, and Rashaun Mitchell danced. Tanowitz's style blends ballet and Cunningham with her own distinctive movements. Lentz stood right in front of the piano in a rigid attitude, while Mitchell (who joins Cunningham's company shortly) framed her from behind, lunging with his arms in fourth. A preparation for a cartwheel dissolved into a body folding in half and dropping to a fetal pose. Stock barre-exercize degages gave way to flat back arabesques. The dynamic was frenetic, darting quickly and then languishing in stillness; every single move and position, down to the angle of the head felt extremely deliberate.

The dancers articulated their arms in angled interpretations of classic positions. This impression, combined with legs locked in attitudes, reminded me of Piet Mondrian's early paintings of trees -- suspended between organic shapes and geometric logic, making complete sense. Mondrian aside, Brown's paintings proved a good fit. She painted the downstage panels of flowering trees and limbs at a larger scale than her gallery-exhibited work, yet they contained more detail than those upstage, in which the colors melted into serene grey fog banks. The sets contributed immensely to this highly finished evening which showcased Tanowitz's unflagging eye for detail. Carol Mulllins designed the lighting, evoking a range from a hothouse to the Everglades.

Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance performed Encounters, seen February 15. The six works by Lavagnino formed two programs in one -- works featuring dancers with bare feet alternated with pointe shoe/slipper-clad casts. Lavagnino doesn't use ballet to prettify her dances; rather, she works the form to emphasize its more aggressive aspects and the satisfying geometries the tapered shoe can create. A pitfall faced by every pointe choreographer is finding dancers who are proficient enough technically to do justice to the material. "Suite" featured just such dancers in Coco Karol and Shylo Smith, who repeatedly stabbed one of her shoed feet into an extreme arch so that it looked as if her shoe might crack, and executed a curious version of a moon-walk on pointe, rolling through her toe boxes. The statuesque, fresh-faced John Sorenson-Jolink partnered them.

"In a Moment," another pointe work, presented a cast of eight moving sharply in pairs and groups. The work featured Christine McMillan (recently seen at the Joyce with Ben Munisteri), who elevates the level of any cast she's in, and this was no exception. McMillan is the physical embodiment of dance on pointe -- a willowy refined line, feminine, strong, intellectually rigorous. She also danced in "Verge," a trio with Melissa McCarten and TaraMarie Perri featuring an impressive digital projection of a rose blooming and closing (by Andrea Ackerman).

The dancers in bare feet held their own. Suzanne Troiano's movement quality is solid, velvety, and pleasingly open. Her noble and emotionally committed expression was just right for the context of St. Mark's Church, among the most intimate dance venues in the city. The premiere of "Fragile Entanglement" was particularly moving, as Troiano paired with Lavagnino in a tender duet section. Todd Allen and Troiano, clad in hot pink, performed the brief but satisfying "Duet #3." The evening's variety prevented the audience from growing tired of one style or the other; it will be interesting to see how Lavagnino scales up her work, and if she ever reconciles her two styles into one.

The cast comprised Todd Allen, Telly Fowler, Coco Karl, Cherylyn Lavagnino, John Sorensen-Jolink, Eliza Littrell, Merceditas Manago-Alexander, Melissa McCarten, Christine McMillan, TaraMarie Perri, Shylo Smith, and Suzanne Troiano. Scott Killian composed much of the evening's music; Kathy Kaufmann designed the lighting, and TaraMarie Perri, Katherine N. Irish, Jennifer Paar, and Deborah Black designed the costumes.

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