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Flash Review 1, 6-22: Cornered
Give that Site-Specific Work a Cigar Store!

By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2004 Darrah Carr

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NEW YORK -- Downtown New York City is a sight to be seen this Summer, as the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council launches SiteLines, a new initiative to bring performance to a variety of public spaces, ranging from steps, to atria, to historic buildings. The roving festival's goal, says curator Nolini Barretto, is "to alter, in not-so-subtle ways, the downtown urban landscape. By situating their performances in the high-traffic public spaces, and often in work-a-day costumes, site-specific artists are going to make people on Wall Street, Chase Plaza, Broad Street and other places do double-takes and experience weird, wonderful, perception-changing moments. We'd like to make downtown more fun, bring people back downtown to experience it, make them look at the usual everyday space in a new way, and help generate work for site-specific artists."

As business settings go, the smoke-filled bar may be a thing of the past in Michael Bloomberg's New York, but you can still find the occasional lingering cigar store, and one such nook, the shuttered J&R Cigars at One Wall Street Court, is the setting for Andrea Haenggi's SiteLines contribution, "Under Whose Control," seen Friday, June 18, and continuing through Saturday.

To discover the faded grandeur of the Cocoa Exchange building housing J&R is reason enough to attend this free, hour-long event. The lofty, two-story space with its marble floor, curved balconies, and elegant mahogany shelves provides an intriguing setting for Haenggi's multi-media spectacle. She and her company AMDaT (Andrea Maria Dance art Technology) have been creating what Haenggi calls "visual motion constructions" since 1998. Driven by the question "What happens to the experience of a digital image if it moves like a dancer?," Haenggi's installations include dance, video, audio, and set components. Her latest work is inspired by philosopher E.M. Cioran's reflection, "To be is to be cornered" and revolves around one of the most common, yet least considered, architectural points -- the corner of a room. Haenggi's stated goals for the piece seem a bit overblown. "Does a corner offer imprisonment yet also liberation?" she wonders in the program and press release, as she aims to put the audience "in the position of being cornered, trapped, pinned, restricted" in order to imply that "we are in some way being dominated by our everyday reality -- but under whose control?"

These interesting questions get diluted in translation to performance. The work does not feel extreme enough to engender such powerful emotions. What does read is a clever exploration of the space and a striking juxtaposition of video projection and dance that, nevertheless, goes on way too long. There are only five women in the work (including Haenggi), but, at times, it feels like a cast of 50. Haenggi skillfully anticipates the audience's gaze. Dancers slide deftly in and out of view, behind columns, glass doors, and the staircase. Just as our attention wanes, another woman appears, seemingly out of nowhere, moving across the space. And, as the audience turns away again, several others weave in and out of view elsewhere. The effect is both delightful and mysterious. The audience moves with the dancers and, at times, moves for them, as the dancers roll or slice through a cluster of onlookers.

The mood alternates between exploratory and sinister, strongly aided by an electronic sound score by Erin McGonigle (with additional piano compositions by Henry Cowell). The long history of collaboration between Haenggi and McGonigle is evident in the close marriage of the work's visual and audio components. McGonigle and fellow composer David Linton expertly create the audio installation during the performance. Complexly structured costumes by Karen Young, complete with tight caps and thick socks, heighten the work's angular geometry. With bent necks, or hooked feet, the dancers try to fit their bodies into corners -- both of the actual walls and of miniature 2 foot replicas of walls that they carry, push, and manipulate. The video is projected on a much larger wall replica and features close-up shots of brushing hair and washing hands. Here too, what seems sensuous becomes ominous as dancers move in and out of the projection. Haenggi's stated intention is most clear when the video changes dynamic -- speeds up, repeats, or shifts from horizontal to vertical alignment -- just like a dancer.

"Under whose Control" runs June 23, 24, and 25 at 5:30 and 7 p.m. and June 26 at 7 p.m. at the former J & R Cigars Store, in the Cocoa Exchange Building, One Wall Street Court. Admission is free to all events for SiteLines, which runs through August 16 at various downtown locations. For more information, please click here.

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