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Flash Review 1, 5-26: Soaking Wet
Immersed in Dance with a Bang, Uptown

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 -- David Parker and the Bang Group has been the first and only residency dance company at the West End Theater since 2003. As part of the residency, Parker has been curating "Soaking Wet," a series allowing artists to experiment and refine their work. To borrow from Parker's remarks (which he borrowed from Spencer Tracy) before the May 23 matinee, concerning the afternoon's small but supportive audience: the petite uptown venue might not have "a lot of meat on her, but what's there is choice." Pursuing his two-fold commitment to furnishing artists a space for experimenting with new work in front of an audience as well as refining their repertory work, Parker put together a dynamic, engaging program at a venue that could serve as a valuable working space for the growing number of dance artists being driven to the upper uppers in search of affordable living.

The program began with a revival of the early Parker work "Under." It is a delightful blast from the past, a pure Bang Group triangle of tension that culminates in a witty sequence of shifting partners who, in the end, all pick one another. Marta Miller is the black evening-gowned woman, Jeffrey Kazin comports himself half-dressed in boxer shorts and tails and Parker spends much of the dance prone in boxers and a tee-shirt.

In "Scent of Mental Love," a work-in-progress by Keely Garfield that will premiere at Dance Theater Workshop next January, Rachel Lynch-John and Paul Hamilton engage in a darkly wry seduction of sorts. They move toward one another in slow stalking steps while pulling at an imaginary rope, pounding fists lightly on the ground and hopping on one foot while tossing their arms in the air. Even when the partnering gets rough 'n' tumble with the dancers rousting and kicking one another, there is a kind of enticement at work. One just can't ignore Lynch-John when she's dancing; she captures Garfield's choreography absolutely in all of its lanky, gawky grace and you catch delightful glimpses of Hamilton just trying to keep up with this pokerfaced pixie's antics. Rachelle Garniez lends her delicious songs to the work, blending beguiling lyrics with rich vocals and lush arrangements.

"There's No Business" features Emily Tschiffely performing in a frothy light blue dress to Ethel Merman's "There's No Business Like Show Business." This dance had appeared as "Inter 2" during Parker's recent run at Dance Theater Workshop. It is a blissfully short and easy work. Tschiffely is charming and cute like a baby beauty queen being paraded by one of those "Showbiz Moms & Dads" on the Bravo Channel.

I found myself examining the challenge of repertory during "Critical Mass." The duet was originally created and performed by Parker and Sara Hook and while I haven't seen the original I did enjoy an excellent remounting of it by Parker and Kazin. This time around the duet feels like it is missing a deeper level, some kind of additional interior subtext that compels the viewer. It is a very different skill inhabiting someone else's part with ease. This particular dance requires that the performers go far above and beyond simply mastering the physical choreography. The grand entrances and exits, the hustle, the opera, the flourishes are all wonderful but this piece only cooks if the performers can either channel the initiators -- here Luc Varnier is a younger Parker recaptured as he performs with great delight -- or explode the original until it is really their own. Elizabeth Johnson is a lovely dancer and puts forth a plucky effort but Hook via Kazin is a hard road to travel.

Garfield's "My Father was a Spanish Captain" begins with strains of Eddie Fisher crooning "Oh my Pa-Pa" while Lynch-John and Garfield gently pulse in place. As they move through a series of gestures with feet rooted to the floor we catch an image of a shot glass tossed back and then easy breaststrokes. The two women could be sisters, dressed in matching dresses that evoke 1930s swimsuits and occasionally pulling each other's hair. In this dance the seams are invisible, as both performers shift from dependent to naughty child with great ease. Garfield dredges up a restrictive kind of love when the dancers begin grabbing each other and struggling through escape attempts while "Don't Fence me in" plays. I am reminded more of my own sometimes cloying big sister/little sister moments than my strict dogmatic father but when Garfield squats next to Lynch-John and holds her hand she achieves a beautiful gripping image of dependent childhood without any syrupy sentimentality.

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