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Review Journal, 5-6: Follow the Bouncing Critic
Spinning Atoms with Matteson & Co.; Spinning Streams with Ramos, Young,
& Berger; Spinning out of Control with Zawerucha & Pals
By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2004 Maura Nguyen Donohue
This Flash Review
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NEW YORK -- Paul Matteson
& Friends presented an amiable evening at Symphony Space last Thursday
night. Matteson's fellow David Dorfman member Joseph Poulson opened
the program with "Rusytime," an exploration of the pain of an Average
Joe. Heather McArdle calmly throws names like loser, white
trash, asshole, dingleberry and piggy piggy
piggy at Poulson as he dances. The work is at its most interesting
when it gets a bit sloppy near the end; otherwise the appreciatively
acrobatic movement doesn't reflect the central idea of Poulson's
Chris Lancaster is the
hardest working cellist in modern dance -- although I didn't find
out until the following night that he was pulling double duty, rushing
from a performance with Ann Liv Young at Dance Theater Workshop
to jump onstage with Matteson, Jennifer Nugent and Allison Leyton-Brown
for "Step Touch." Matteson and Nugent begin with enough slow motion
partnering to incite a minor panic for me. "Oh-no-no-no-what-r-u-doing?
No-no-no-u-r-better-than-that." But it doesn't take long for the
mischief and mastery to begin. Soon Lancaster starts strumming and
then singing a duet of "Close to You" with Leyton-Brown on the piano.
The two are so enthusiastically committed that I'm pulled to take
my gaze off of the dancing to watch them sing. This is quite a feat,
as Nugent and Matteson are a partnership to pay attention to. They
are a very compatible dance pair, a couple of Sundance kids even
when they aren't tossing themselves at one another or dropping each
other to an invisible wrestling mat. These two are great just dancing
together. They are like a couple spinning atoms; their combined
energy is explosive and contagious. The exuberance takes full flight
after they begin counting from 1 to 10 and then add "more times"
and go for round after round after round of kamikaze jumps at one
Peter Schmitz choreographed
a solo for Matteson called "I simply live now" and in honesty and
fairness, I don't think I can respond to the work artistically right
now. There are references to someone who is dying and there are
crutches on the side of the stage. It isn't about him, but seeing
the work just days after Homer Avila's passing made it impossible for me to view
it with objectivity.
There was a very clear moment for me while sitting at Dance Theater
Workshop's Splitstream last Friday night that felt as familiar as
if several years of planning, fundraising and construction had never
happened and I was sitting in the old garage. It was during the
second intermission of the evening and, though I am definitely not
a fan of these breaks, I felt filled with the old spirit of hanging
out in anticipation of 'whoknowswhat' with, essentially, a bunch
of strangers. I barely recognized anyone in the audience because
the artists on this bill -- Antonio Ramos, Ann Liv Young, and Jonathan
Berger -- are still early enough in their creative careers to be
bringing in a livelier mix than the standard 'dance audience.' Here
I was in a bizarre configuration of gay Puerto Ricans and older
Jewish folk. And we were all getting along just fine.
Antonio Ramos presented
an indulgence of himself in "Me! Me! Me!" As the work opens, Ramos
appears in iconic glory as he sticks his face through the hole of
a large oval portrait frame strewn with red tulle that has been
hanging on DTW's curtain as the audience enters. As the curtain
parts we see a rolling scaffolding with clear plastic shower curtains
hanging on the front and back. A group of white-clad dancers roll
out from beneath it. They exit and return pushing small rolling
dollies of grass around with their heads, baaaing like sheep and
attempting to eat the grass. Ramos dances briefly on a sheet of
reflective mylar cut like a little pond as dancers echo his opening
saintly image by sticking their faces into moving frames lined with
lights and red fabric and gazing benevolently at the reenactment
of his childhood near-drowning experience. Arthur Aviles and Ramos
hold afro-wigs over their crotches and giddily giggle out "He loves
me. He loves my bad bush" before cart-wheeling around in strobe
lighting. A clear plastic backdrop with red smiley faces is raised
across the back wall and Ramos comes out to play with his Barbie
while an uberlimber Todd Williams mimics the extreme stretches Ramos
puts the doll through. Aviles and Ramos duet too briefly. But the
rest of the dancers enter in afro-wigs and "Jesus is my homeboy"
tee-shirts, the mania drops and we are finally able to join the
party as we watch a group of superfine dancers do their thang.
During the first intermission,
box office manager Joe Reid wanders through the house offering earplugs.
I will soon regret not accepting but gut out the abrupt shift from
the feel-good NYC in the '70s ending of "Me! Me! Me!" into a harsh
dose of over-amped '80s from Ann Liv Young's "Melissa is a bitch."
These two choreographers experienced adolescence in significantly
different ways. We pop out of our break straight into a single bright
light cue that will remain for the duration of Young's work. This
is what it is and how its going to be. Several naked people walk
quickly to the front of the stage and sit down while a voluptuous
dancer in a green bikini manages to keep her breasts in place despite
ferocious shaking to extremely loud Lionel Richie coming from an
onstage Powerbook. Two blonde women walk to center stage and deliver
what reminds me of text from my own diaries, with a violent undercurrent.
Two naked women, Jillian Pena and Nancy Forshaw-Clapp, climb on
swings, drop ice cream cones at Young's shouted "Go!" commands,
hang upside down and recite together their love of butch dykes,
trust funds and a "fucked up mother-fucker who fucks up." Women
chew on tampons and then French kiss. A woman offers her tips on
masturbating with tiny turtles and Young sings (off-key) an Oasis
song with Chris Lancaster, the coolest naked guy to ever play a
cello naked. By description the work sounds similarly manic to Ramos's
but in performance it is entirely its antithesis. Beyond the work's
full frontal absurdity is a defiantly rigorous tour de force. This
is tightly orchestrated and heavily directed. There is nothing sloppy
here; it's Annie Sprinkle meets PJ Harvey. Young's vision is unmuddled
and riotous. If I could have I would have returned the following
night with everyone I know. I can't wait to see what this woman
Where Ramos's parade
of props and costume changes came through frantic and unfocused,
Jonathan Berger's specifically object-based "Souvenir" maintains
a single-minded air of intrigue with a mysterious procession of
images. As I said earlier, I'm not a fan of intermissions, but even
without serious changeovers we would have needed to clear the air
just to be fair to Berger's vision and "Souvenir"'s pacing. Watching
the set change at intermission felt like a glimpse into an elf workshop.
Several of the cast members and crew have painted on beards and
dangle pipes from their mouths. As the work begins, dancers in a
row behind the audience stomp and whistle before two young prospectors
slowly make their way down the steps in the audience seating, carrying
a rusty, old-fashioned sled. They disappear underneath a large brown
stained cloth lined with tinkling silver bells, from which they
will crawl out for each of their scenes. They set up a camp, attack
a large bear that is hanging on the side wall, reappear in fur coats
and thrash and billow clouds of dust to piercing music. At the end
one of the trekkers drags his dead friend back up the stairs. This
work demands imagination. We must transform the concrete stairs
into a mountainside or a large bear suit into a living creature.
To me that is the fun of even minimally site-specific and object-based
performance works. We are afforded the chance to view muted structures
as imbued with magic. But "souvenir" implies a vague narrative that
is never compelling enough -- primarily because of a series of disjointed
interruptions by some secondary plot line happening behind the cloth.
There, shiny silver suited researchers sweep and gather materials,
mostly marching in a circle and occasionally making some kind of
uninspired lunge or gestures. They appear to be on some kind of
archeological dig on the moon. I understand from the press release
that there is something about the Bermuda Triangle or Atlantis here
but I can't find it. In the end the work moves like clips from two
different silent movies edited together.
Stefa Zawerucha also offered a "stuff-fest" Saturday night at Danspace
Project at St. Mark's Church with her installation/performance "Deal."
The audience enters through the balcony where we see Brittany Reese
dancing across the way, as KJ Holmes sings. Looking down at the
first floor, we can see what I would call a huge "stuff pie" with
one piece consisting of oranges, another wedge of the circle made
up of Twix bars, and a third with old issues of the Village Voice.
Paper fish, plastic snakes, and large coffee bags are also involved.
One wedge is filled with live dancers crowded together. After passing
through the dressing room where Randall Parsons is crying in front
of a pile of flowers, we encounter Mike Voytko, who spins the Wheel
of Fortune to decide in which section we should be seated. There
are small sections of seats all around the church, and each one
has been named after the slice of the stuff pie it corresponds with;
my group gets the marshmellow sector.
As the lights dim, we
hear the wheel spin and slowly lights come up on Zawerucha lying
on a red pad in front of the section of the audience seated at the
church's altar. She rolls and then crashes repeatedly into the floor.
Voytko spins the wheel and begins calling out wedge names like "coffee"
or "grains." Zawerucha jumps into the oranges wedge and surfs across
the oranges' tops. She fills her costume with oranges before jumping
into the people wedge where she is turned upside down and shaken
loose of all of her booty. She duets with Sally Silvers, who has
been ruling the Village Voice roost. After they jump across stacks
of papers like stepping stones Silvers continues to nest amongst
her papers while Zawerucha moves onto a playful duet with Holmes
among the Twix bars. After making contact and rolling around they
begin tossing chocolate bars into the air. Zawerucha, a devlish
pixi, continues in this vein and tosses lentils and coffee grounds
into the air. Jennifer Allen buries her head into a bag of coffee
and Amanda Loulaki rolls among the paper fish before all hell breaks
loose in a final burst from all the performers.
It seemed this final
missive was meant to trash the place and despite my own glee at
witnessing an adult playgroup out of control I spend most of the
time wondering and worrying at how they ever were given permission
to do this in the church. When I catch the look of horror in Danspace
Project executive director Laurie Uprichard's eyes during the curtain
call, I decide it's time to leave the party. Mom just got home and
she is not happy.
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