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Review, 11-23: Monkishness
For Monk's 40th, a Birthday Chorus of Choreographic Royalty
By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2004 Chris Dohse
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NEW YORK -- In honor
of the 40th anniversary of Meredith Monk's creative output, Laurie
Uprichard, the executive director of Danspace Project, assembled
a stellar group of post-modern choreographers to create new works
set to Monk's music. If you traced these choreographers and their
influences and resumes and their similarities to other dancemakers,
then connected those names, lineages, mentors and proteges to Monk,
you'd have the material for a fabulous avant-garde drinking game.
Each choreographer in
the "Dance to Monk" program, seen November 20 at Danspace Project
at St. Mark's Church, did what he or she is known best for doing.
Like flavors in a broth that has been reduced for thickness, the
qualities of their choreographic minds were magnified in unpretentious
works that existed primarily to celebrate Monk's genre-defying compositions.
But in each dance, an appreciation of Monk's person also abided.
Aligned with the generosity and humanity of Monk's own works, any
sense of one-upmanship was absent. These ended up being minor works
for these major artists, but each was significant as an historic
record of the kind of impact one mind can have on her peers. Infected
by Monkishness, the choreographers allowed rare sides of themselves
to come to the surface. So for instance, we saw an uncharacteristically
humane Molissa Fenley, a positively humble Bill T. Jones.
In Fenley's trio, "Piece
for Meredith," we saw the impassive, somewhat chilly gaze, the imperturbable
carriage, bird-like arms and crab-like legs, and formally formal
forms that Fenley has built a repertory from. But set against the
ethereal voices of Monk's work from "mercy," we also saw three lovely
women who looked at times like figures on Golgotha in a liturgical
dance: supportive, caregiving and reverent. When they bowed to the
three sides of the seating area separately, a kind of depth to their
spatial relationships became present that had been hidden within
the material. Fenley's style was suddenly lit in a much different
Ann Carlson's "Flesh,"
a previous commission for Oakland's mixed-ability Axis Dance Company,
questioned the quality of the inert body as two women in electric
wheelchairs stacked able-bodied dancers in a heap downstage like
so much firewood. Wearing nondescript jumpsuits and goggles, the
cast might have been spelunkers or skydivers or explorers on an
Three solos were performed
by their creators. Sean Curran was light in his loafers in "St.
Petersburg Waltz." Curran's explosive aerials and petit allegro
belied in some way his characterization of a hesitant, avuncular
Eastern European folk dancer. But his snapped-to gestures, bowler
and wistful shrug quickly revealed his storytelling heart.
Dana Reitz rocked from
foot to foot like an obsessive rebirther or Trager therapist in
"With Meredith in Mind," and her white tunic glowed in the space
with the purity of a healer. Kathy Kaufmann's lighting rose to the
challenge of Reitz's history of innovation with designers. Tai chi
simplicity gave way to immediacy, and Reitz's gestures began to
look like urgent sign language. With her arms chattering against
the assured rhythm of her weight changes, her direct, rather shining
demeanor cut through. The piece became not about what she was saying
but about who was doing the talking, and why, and why we wanted
Jones ended the program
in a haunting video projection made by Janet Wong. Equal parts whimsy
and sadness and edited into the form of a duet with his ghostly
naked self, the manipulated and halted shots began to suggest absence.
When Jones tipped his hat and smiled, we could realize that his
entire dance had been based on a simple bow, the signal that something
has reached fruition. The impulse of that bow radiated through the
audience when Monk came out to receive our gratitude (and to listen
to us sing "Happy Birthday").
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