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Flash 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 Journal is sponsored by Eva Wise. Want to Sponsor a Flash? It's easy, and it's affordable. For details, please click here.

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 identity crisis.

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 another.

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 does next.

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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