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Flash Review 2, 6-22: Notes from the Underground
Lafrance's "Noir" Flirts with the Lower East Side

By April Biggs
Copyright 2004 April Biggs

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NEW YORK -- It's May 22, a warm, stuffy night in the Delancey and Essex Municipal Parking Garage. We keep hearing car doors slamming and this red-headed tomato dressed in an old fur coat and vintage pumps roams from the concrete stairwell to disappear around the bend at the top of the ramp. Why not? This is "Noir," Noemie Lafrance's most recent site-specific work, co-presented by Danspace Project's Out of Space/Site series and Sens.

We settle into seats of parked cars, also warm and stuffy. It seems that maybe the dance has begun. But then, it's difficult to discern the true opening because the woman in the heavy fur coat scurries by again. This time she is looking over her shoulder, pursued by a stalker in trench coat, hands stuffed in pockets. The incident repeats -- with more than one man, with other women, with a bicycle even. But now, instead of slamming car doors, a shrill sound pierces the garage. This is dangerous. And then, like a bad melodrama, the redheaded tomato climbs into an empty car and tries to start the engine. It won't turn over. Will he catch her? She meets him with the aim of a silver revolver -- dread softens into an emblematic noir-esque kiss.

Things shift tone. The men in trench coats lift and twist women in fitted black dresses, chic with sleek hair and dark lips. The bodies are flung fast in windmill-like movements where arms, then legs, then arms again bring their heads within inches of the cement floor. In a fight scene, men crawl across one another to vault and lunge in all directions. The voice-over montage of film dialogue excerpts, heard amidst the score of violin screech and big band, is barely audible and enigmatic at best. In film noir, this device hands us the plot; "Noir" attempts nothing of the sort. The changes in costumes, mostly in black and white hues, make it seem as if we are watching a chorus of 20 dancers instead of ten, a welcome deception in the typical five-member-company downtown dance terrain.

Lafrance, recipient of a Bessie award in 2003 for her work "Descent," is no stranger to taking her choreography out of the theater and into ordinary places. But a less lengthy "Noir" may be more here, as the piece again and again disarms itself. The playbill makes the effort to name each player, yet the absence of any coherent narrative leaves us adrift. The atmosphere is impressive, though. Floodlights beneath the cars emulate headlights. A man is shut into the rear of a car and left there to kick and beat on the trunk from the inside. Smoke and whispers fill the air and shape the illusion of a dark alley. A rolling yellow barrel acts as a curtain between scenes; a blonde femme fatale saunters from one end of the garage to the other with her acoustic guitar. The first and only smile we see in the piece comes in the ballroom scene. A chandelier hangs from a hook in the center of the garage and the couples twirl blithely to the song "I Got It Bad." Soon after, blinds drop from the ceiling and the dancers thrash about in what could be romantic or violent passion -- a thin line often exposed in this genre.

The dames in "Noir" are heavy smokers with a lusty appetite for the provocative. I find myself wondering, "Is she his prize or target?" She has done her job. We are deceived.

April Biggs is a poet and dance artist who has performed with Silverbrown Dance and Vandance, and has studied with Bebe Miller, Ron Brown, Mark Haim, Myra Woodruff, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Joe Goode, and others.

The Danspace Project season concludes this Thursday through Sunday with Kimberly Bartosik. For more information, please click here.

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