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Flash Review 2, 3-30: Dazed and A-Muzed at DTW
Muz BOB's Her 'Rite'; Boning up on Biology with Brooks

By Faith Pilger
Copyright 2004 Faith Pilger

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NEW YORK -- Wednesday, March 24 found me at the opening of Dance Theater Workshop's split bill presenting two new works by two innovative and altogether different choreographers, Brian Brooks and Julie Atlas Muz. As the Dance Insider had assigned another reviewer besides myself to cover this evening, I was asked to primarily express responses to Muz's work, given my experience researching, viewing, reviewing and performing within the "downtown" scene. Ironically, both Brooks and Muz can be considered "downtown," yet their styles lie on such opposite ends of the spectrum. This reminded me that modern dance is only as modern as the individual who expresses it and that modern is both subjective and relative to history and trend. As in reading Herman Hesse's brilliant novel, "Narcissus and Goldmund," I found myself torn between the passionate aesthete and the compassionate aescetic. I saw Brooks's minimalist modernism as devoted to explorations of physical endurance, technical specificity and a zen-like synchronicity while Muz seemed to tear up the earth from beneath herself and throw it into the face of her rabid fans.

This program presented Muz's take on Stravinsky's classic dance/drama "The Rite of Spring." Muz did not perform but directed and choreographed with her performers, a motley spectrum of dancers, non-dancers, burlesquers and clowns. The music was arranged and performed live by The Butchershop Quartet (Dylan Posa, Rob Bocknik, Dan Sylvester and Nathaniel Braddock), a group which hails from Chicago and dons adorably "downtown" blue-collar worksuits. Costumes for Muz's extravaganza were credited to Steve Epstein, backstage management to Janusz Jaworski and the Tammy-Faye-style make-up to Karl Giant.

Muz led me on a journey the likes of which I had never even dreamed...one of extreme expressionism: bawdy, grotesque, revealing and truly hilarious at times. The opening revealed a tall, blond drag queen in a baby doll dress and blue-green sparkly eye make-up. Topless horned creatures leapt from behind her as more and more characters were introduced. Evoking Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables," the stage was soon flooded with bodies of dirty, shabbily clothed, ill-mannered characters of all shapes and sizes (but with identical Tammy Faye/Baby Jane/drag queen-style make-up). They were angry. They were dirty. They were head-bangin.' They were dancing, sort of. They are all over the map. A classic suburban mother appeared. Detective/reporter/flasher characters with newspapers emerged and disappeared. Chaos ensued.

The choreography seemed to first find clarity after legendary New York cabaret artist The World Famous BOB made an appearance as A dildo-horned Unicorn, breasts exploding from her chest (as always). Her presence was stunningly regal, confident and knowing. A gesture was introduced: something between a forehead jack-off and a heil Hitler. This gesture and some stylized pelvic thrusts, spanks and gyrations were the vocabulary of movement with which we became familiar. At first a bit exaggerated or shocking, the vocabulary quickly became secondary to strong political and poetic imagery. The plastic grins were bone-chilling and the choreography (more honestly than any other "Rite of Spring" that I have ever seen) portrayed the truly uncivilized, nasty, bloody-loving side of sacrificial rites.

The Rite seemed to climax just about when the sacrificial lamb has been chosen. All of the characters become one, the sacrificed. All the performers, donning blond wigs and baby-doll dresses, chased their own reflections, moving in classic Broadway-style lineups, chattering their teeth like angry little dolls. The suburban mother tried to take care of them all and eventually was rewarded with some kind of pageant-like crown and red roses for her hard-earned efforts.

I would have enjoyed more specificity from Muz's story-line and characters, which both felt open-ended. I personally found both Brooks's and Muz's work extremely entertaining, but in ways that appeal to my own oppositions; the one is fascinated by science, spirituality and form, the other blinded by emotion, sexuality and instinct. I can't resist mentioning that Brooks's dancers and choreography left me both dazzled and dazed. I was equally impressed by the four-member company's collective stamina, endurance, technique and precision as well as Brooks's own clarity of vision. I found myself in an "Acre" world (as per the title of the work) which was satisfying in its lack of emotion. On my program I wrote the word "biology" and remember thinking that I might now understand more about the sounds and sights within a living organism. Hmmm.

NYC has become infamous for it's uptown vs. downtown scenes in all categories of the performing arts, with most mainstream reviewers snubbing what many of us consider the most avant-garde of the underworld. Simultaneously, political agendas and economics have in recent years closed down many venues which once presented the most versatile and fearless performance artists, some of whom have been cultivating their styles and techniques for more than a decade and have tirelessly devoted themselves to solo and small group works for little to no money. Julie Atlas Muz is one of those artists who, through perseverance and genuine originality, talent and charisma have risen like the phoenix from the ashes of this underworld. She, like some other artists in the category known as burlesque, has finally found some serious recognition, respect and opportunity...with venues such as DTW (not particularly famous for shockingly edgy programming) now taking a leap of faith.

Brian Brooks and Julie Atlas Muz continue this weekend at DTW.


Faith Pilger is a Juilliard alumnus and past winner of the Princess Grace Award for modern dance. In addition to her professional dance career, Faith has enjoyed choreographing, producing, directing, curating, hosting and performing in NYC and abroad. She hosted the monthly Vim Variety Show at the late, great Surf Reality for several years and performed her solo work at many venues including HERE and Scotland's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Visit her at www.pilger.com/faith.

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