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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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