to you by
New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women
and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a
list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always performance at its best.
Go back to Flash Reviews
Review 1, 10-20: Common Ground
High-end Haga, Funky Buddha, & Sheathed Sharon (Estacio): I saw it
all at Mulberry Street
By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2004 Maura Nguyen Donohue
New! Sponsor a Flash for just $15!
NEW YORK -- Where would
the Asian-American dance world be without HT Chen? There is a small
joke in New York that every Asian modern dancer to come through
town has worked with HT at some point. Though not truly a statistical
fact it is an anecdotal reality. I've done it, several of my friends
have done it, many of the other Asian or Asian-American artists
I know in town have done it. Because even if you haven't necessarily
danced for HT's company, if you are a young dance or performance
maker then there's a damned good chance you've danced in his theater.
This is a legacy not
easily constructed. HT's commitment to increasing opportunities
for Asian-American artists is unparalleled in the dance world. He
has been working in this city for decades and maintains not only
a professional touring company and theater but a school for children,
is an active member of the New York State DanceForce and serves
beside me on Dance Theater Workshop's board. At his delightful little
Mulberry Street Theater, nestled in the heart of Chinatown, you're
likely to witness artists just wetting their feet in the creative
arena at his showcase series, "Newsteps," or more established Asian-American
artists sharing a program for his semi-annual commissioned dance
series, Ear to the Ground. There is a feeling that you really have
to be in-the-know to find it and once you do you just might catch
an early spark of brilliance, like your favorite college band before
they got radio play.
Launched in 1995 with
the support of the Jerome Foundation, Ear to the Ground is dedicated
to supporting those Asian-American artists developing innovative
and risk-taking works. This, of course, means you can expect a mixed
bag. I've found that innovation and risk are subjective ideas to
many artists, new or veteran dance makers alike, and a recent Ear
to the Ground confirmed it. There were glimpses of dynamic, striking
originality and there were not.
Akim "Funk Buddha" Ndlovu's
work ranks pretty high on my 'not' list. Thankfully Ndlovu's "Seasons
of Buddha: An urban odyssey of ancient times," created in collaboration
with musician Felix Chen and dancer Tomomi Arai ran shorter than
the amount of time it took to read all of his program notes. Now
I'm all for succinct work. If you can get your point across in a
clean 10 minutes then I'm an even greater champion of your work.
But something that looks like a last-minute composition class assignment
isn't fair to the audience even in brevity.
The work begins with
a video projection of slowly moving, animated trees. Chen enters
wearing pants covered in dangling brown bamboo pieces, like a walking
wind chime. The costume, by Yuki Nakajima, piques my interest but
nothing comes of it. Ndlovu begins a noble attempt at throat singing
but can't achieve the trademark overtones. In the second section
he goes deeper into the throat and reaches some of the powerful
drone I'm familiar with coming from Tuvan artists I've met, while
dancer Rosse Mary Taveras-Gamboa mimes a birth. Ndlovu begins the
third and final section crying like a baby. I suddenly fear I've
been cast in a Hollywood movie as "dragged-your-brother-to-bad-performance-art-audience-member."
But he liked that they included capoeira movement, having just returned
from a couple of months in Brazil. I find it poorly executed and
shoddily stuck in between samba-esque turns and gyrations. The relationship
to a spiritual journey was lost somewhere between intention and
action. Chen's percussive sound score is insultingly simplistic
and I find myself seething in consideration of the multitude of
struggling artists who would have taken whatever modest amount of
commissioning funds and space grant this program offers and rehearsed.
On the high end of the
spectrum, Satoshi Haga, a.k.a. binbin, offered a lengthy, deeply
investigated, well-crafted and entertaining work. The press release
tells me that "iro-iro," the title of the piece, means "of various
kinds, all sorts, motley." While on paper it sounds like Haga too
is drawing from a great range of movement sources and cultural signifiers,
as the Funk Buddha group claims it is, Haga actually manages to
turn his motley crew into a cohesive whole.
Haga begins by walking
slowly upstage, silhouetted against a blue wall, while we hear children
singing softly as if from outside or in a distant memory. As he
turns and exits left another dancer enters at the same pace, stops
part way across and shakes repeatedly. As she exits another enters
and stops along the way to laugh and exit. Yet another follows.
This cinematic opening is effective, although it could have used
a heavier directorial hand, or more Butoh workshops. Haga maintains
an intensity in his walk that only Mina Nishimura can match. Janice
Lancaster and Katie Swords make a noble effort but as the work progresses
it becomes apparent that they need a few years of real life experience
before they can achieve a heftier performance quality to match their
obvious technical skill.
The women waddle into
the space, becoming a bizarre collection of birds. They freeze in
a beautiful downlight tableau from designer Joe Doran while Haga,
or here he really probably should be called binbin, enters from
the wings and settles in downstage left for a good pout. His hair
is spiked, his shoulders drooped and his expression dour. While
the women begin playfully tossing their chiffon scarves into the
air he begins a frenzied, rant of movement. This frustrated penguin
will never fly no matter how often he flaps his wings, I mean arms.
Haga's clowning skills bring this odd duck to life so thoroughly
he transcends himself as a human performer and truly seems to be
channeling a neurotic creature.
Haga will return again
and again to brood while each of the women performs brief interactions
with a very cool, mod-styled chair. The chair becomes a space for
each character to play out a kind of childhood recollection. Nishamura
stumbles and laughs, knocking herself around in a precocious and
lithe manner. She captures the girlish woman thang perfectly, as
many Japanese women I've seen in Tokyo do, but excels beyond parody
and captivates us. When binbin returns for a final solo he is a
living muppet, shifting from ape-like squats to flapping bird amidst
Butoh-inspired twitches and bouts of furious gesture. He reminds
me of my favorite Sanrio character, Bad Badtz Maru, the grumpy,
smart-ass foil to the ever-cheerful Hello Kitty. I want to take
him home and give him to my daughter for her first birthday.
Sharon Estacio's "Sheathe"
reveals itself in three sections: a duet, a solo and a trio set
to a great collection of music, including Filipino folk dance tunes.
Karen Love begins leaning up against the back wall as we hear the
beginning of a pulsing, tribal music. Clare Byrne and Estacio sit
together facing upstage towards the wall. Their backs are revealed
in exquisite silk tops designed by TaraMarie Perri. They dance interweaving
into one another's space and twitching with laughter. As they move
downstage still connected I see an image of twins in some ancient
creation myth -- until they separate and present themselves, fierce
and majestic. The duet continues with expansive lusciousness. The
two women meet one another equally on a playing field. They are
playful like tigress cubs testing their strengths. Downstage, they
interweave their legs, contract their torsos and smile deviously.
Love follows the duet
with a solo that reaches and sweeps through the space and then Estacio
tries her hand at group choreography. Unfortunately, her trio for
Jessi Scopp, Camille Brown and Nadia Abji doesn't expand much further
from something off a collegiate dance concert. Understandably, she
is facing the challenge that daunts many choreographers: to create
work for other dancers that can hold its own against work generated
and performed by its creator. This isn't to say that Estacio doesn't
link movement together in an appealing way but the trio is generically
dancey without the original movement invention or noticeably dynamic
performance that she and Byrne accomplish in their duet. That is
until the very end, when two of the women return to movement from
the opening duet. As they sit side by side on the floor with their
backs to the audience they gaze over their right shoulders, draw
hands across their faces leaving a red streak and drop back, dangling
their legs upward and gazing back at us like demented, warrior rag
dolls. The rest of the trio may have washed right over my memory
banks but that final image will be sitting in my hard drive for
a while. It's good to end strong.
Maura Nguyen Donohue is the artistic director of Maura Nguyen Donohue/In Mixed Company.
Go back to Flash Reviews