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Flash Review 1, 3-5: Free Range
Monson & Zambrano Find Their Natural Habitat; Archibald & Owens Serve It Up; Wade Rants & Raves

By Lisa Kraus
Copyright 2004 Lisa Kraus

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NEW YORK -- Movement Research at the Judson Church played host to a substantial spread of works on Monday. The series, which is free, draws a large, lively audience that comes ready for fun. It wasn't disappointed.

As it progresses, I'm never sure how seriously to take "The Finger of Isolation" by Jeremy Wade and Marcos Rosales, with its central rant and allusions to "transgressive desires for each other" and "gay pornography degradation." Wade and Rosales seem to be tongue-in-cheek and then again, not. The beginning of the piece sets us up for a send-up. From two wriggling human-sized black bags in the space, miked human sounds emerge -- a burp, some nasty farts -- uh-oh. More thrashing around and the occupant of each bag cuts his way out; we see first one masked head in gray wig, bushy beard and black hat. The two sit, identically costumed, puddle-like, lost characters from Beckett with macho gold chains and medallions. From there they take turns spewing text -- changing accents and moods from Gaby Hayes Western to raging diatribe. The unanchored shifts are fun and Wade plants himself in angular shapes to underscore the proclamations. He's a piston, he plays air guitar, he's a swivel-hipped disco king, having a burlesque moment. The piece never stays on one note for long.

It's fun when the text becomes aural texture, when the ridiculous getups and shifts of accent and mood seem intended as plain old over-the-top and we just relax. But when it seems there's some real message to be heard, it's a strain to get it and it grates. In the end both men take on a weepy tone and refer to the young men who "mysteriously die on or near their 21st birthday" and it's over, leaving me befuddled but bemused.

Wade's second appearance on the program was unambiguous. Billed as "Work-in-Progress March First," with raspy live amplified guitar and bass by Loren Dempster and David Beardsley, it lets Wade go deep into a transporting physical research. Wade takes a minute to hit his stride, starting with improvisational tentativeness, but as he sinks in, taking himself through a kind of birthing of flailing out arms and legs, he becomes compelling and convulsive. No moment is without struggle. Wade places himself clearly in space and makes clean trajectories but his moves are cyclic, manic, shaking. The limitations Wade places on himself makes for peculiar and intriguing coordinations -- walking three-limbed, one hand held behind the back, or on one knee and one foot. Each action repeats like a physical stuttering, as though he is testing each one out, and building -- letting the speed break into a trot, a run, a wild flailing. All nerves gone haywire and stunning force. I have never seen anyone move his head so fast and wildly. Wade has found a kind of autistic virtuosity with clawing hands and noodly hunchback deformity. He's a cartoon man, he's a jello man, his body caves in, his mouth hangs open on an impossible journey. At the finish, the audience hoots, happy and perhaps relieved too.

In the one easy-to-read narrative on the program, Renee Archibald and Daryl Owens in "After Hours Order Fire" offer us the message that working in a restaurant is a bitch. In their thoroughly-worked choreography, they dance their way through a demonstration of how chaotic, stressed and unreasonable it really is to give an illusion of seamless service. They begin with a familiar but off-kilter picture in cutaway server garb, swooping into the near-miss traffic patterns of a busy establishment. Later they edge toward Chaplin with stiffly held shapes. The dancing is mostly easy spirals and twists, and big leg swoops and stretches.

Moments in the customer/waitperson exchange are highlighted. One poignant exchange has the server guessing out loud what a silent customer is requesting. The customer's departure is described in another clever piece of visual theatre, an endless string of near miss contacts. The intrepid servers put on a show, dancing Latin style and flourishing their Spanish. Yep, the customer's king.

It's all clever and solid enough. But I'd like to see this affable duo's strengths stretched to some further extreme. My favorite moment, which comes close to the finish, is all too brief -- a Fellini-esque swirl of flying receipts, leaping waitresses and circus music. Archiblad and Owens anchor themselves swiftly again within their story in a leaden way, not allowing the ridiculous to transform into the sublime.

Maybe it's because I know about Jennifer Monson's Bird Brain project that I view her "Improvisation" with David Zambrano as akin to animal behavior. The two share a territory: the open space of the church. In it they run, collide, play, ignore, fly, groom and spat. Like monkeys whose attention shifts are lightning fast, they could be drawn anywhere at any time and seemingly natural events deflect their trajectories unpredictably. Headed that way? Oops -- fly zings by, catch it!

Simone Forti, an elder in Monson's lineage, spent lots of time watching animals at the Bronx Zoo and bringing their captured motion to life in performance. Monson expands the brief. She and Zambrano in their habitat revel in their dancer/animal range of possibilities. Watching's like a pleasurable afternoon at the zoo. And not. Sure a hand becomes a claw and yes some animals move just for the sake of it, but these two propel themselves attracted by nothing so much as wanting to see how different parts of the body will kick in to a longer stream of moves. It's a field of surprise, just as this moment's a new one -- this itch, this urge, this wish to contact is just for now.

Monson's hands turn her, exploring the space within range, feet stepping on all surfaces -- toe pads and squishy heels. She breaks at an elbow, does an easy crashing slide into floor, grounded. She's become so fine tuned, she plays anywhere on the range of tension. Nothing is here because it's flashy. Her movement sentences just tumble out. Zambrano fires off rapid streams of easily springy movement, often starting from a feet grounded incline. We hear him think too -- snippets of talk and offhand comment; "They have to fix the floor," he says, sliding a playing card, and as it gets caught on the floor's unevenness adds "See?"

Zambrano and Monson have the easy familiarity of friends whose bodies are comfortable together but not sexually charged. Flying fingers say "Here I am!" A look says "Coming at you!" They make satisfying space pictures, arm calligraphy and tappy rhythms. The music is by Doug Henderson using all manner of soundmakers -- tossing coins, rubbing cards, swishing hands in water -- and Guy Yarden, who provides electronic hum, vibrations, and throbs. We have a windy tunnel, a whale, a secret corridor, all evocations of another kind of real world, perfect to play in.

Speaking of play, it seemed hard for the four to find a clear end, just as kids having to drag themselves in on a summer night straggle back. We forgive them -- it's so much fun out there.

Lisa Kraus will perform at Movement Research at the Judson Church on March 29. Her ongoing web log is "Writing My Dancing Life."

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