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Review 2, 11-24: Hurricane Ellis
Wood Storms Manhattan
By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2004 Maura Nguyen Donohue
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NEW YORK -- Ellis Wood
is a tempest. Her recent premiere, "Hurricane Flora," seen this
past weekend at Dance Theater Workshop, where I am a member of the
board, pounds like a furious gale. Nine women toss themselves through
the theater with thrilling virtuosity and a seething sensuality,
shifting quickly from wounded waif to raging banshee. Wood's choreography
is both rant and rapture, moving in a moment from exposed to authoritative.
"Hurricane Flora" is
performed in two rousing sections, "Air" and "Earth." "Air" begins
with eight dancers, Julie Alexander, Lauren Beale, Claire Benton,
Leslie Johnson, Samantha Lazzaro, Jennifer Philips, Gayla Marie
Stiles and Kristine Willis, whispering and gasping in the dark.
I have to admit that the sight of a large group of women dressed
in variations on the same costume causes me to panic. It just looks
too much like way too many unfortunate college dance works. (Granted
any project titled "Mandance" still ranks higher on my cringe-o-meter
than my fear of all-collegiate ensembles.) Of course, Wood surpasses
these initial superficial trappings with demanding choreography
and a company of determined dancers. And in view of today's dance
making economy, not to mention the choreographer's additional duties
as a new mom, it is a pretty impressive feat that she can manage
and maintain such a large group.
Johnson leads the group,
capturing Wood's style of awkward gestures, rapid-fire direction
and balance changes and raw-ness with complete confidence. She balances
upon her left knee as she developes her right leg up and away from
her torso before falling back like the gently drifting leaves projected
on the back screen. Later in the work as she inaudibly pleads in
frantic, manic twitches the feeling is so painful and lonely, like
those dreams in which your best friend betrays you, I find myself
emotionally overpowered and openly weeping. It came suddenly in
the moment after I dropped my critical examination of the overall
composition and zoomed in on Johnson. Wood shifts skillfully here,
taking us from an active group sequence into a kind of choreographic
zoom shot of one woman's anguish.
"Earth" begins with
six dancers, each holding a large platter covered in flowers. Daniel
Bernard Roumain, who has been accompanying his own recorded compositions
with live violin, shifts into an Arabian scale. Coupled with the
women's slowly opening legs the second section slowly wafts over
you like an exotic perfume. Philips and Benton are held and tossed
between the others. They are alternately dangled over the flowerbeds,
trampled and caressed. The dance reaches a feverish pitch in a sumptuous
bout of anarchy as the dancers finally let the flowers fly. They
throw them at one another and in a whirlwind storm spew them out
into the audience. Then in a flash of light and quiet, as in the
aftermath of a tornado, the dance ends.
Wood pushes her dancers
to emotionally charged places. Her familiar vocabulary of tossed
back heads and reaching arms perfectly embodies the uneasy terrain
between release and recklessness. Her exhaustive choreography, filled
with pointed feet, legs kicked high and falling bodies demands athleticism
and great technical skill. She's working in a clear arena of dance
that sometimes gets tinged by the performers with a little too much
jazziness. But those who get what she's getting at can capture the
sexuality and forcefulness in her work without the cliche. Beale
in particular stands out in the ensemble.
The program also included
"Stella," a gorgeous solo for Wood, and an older group work, "Timeless
Red." In "Stella" Wood ripples through incarnations of playfulness
with the same audacity I remember from when I saw her first solo
in DTW's "Fresh Tracks" almost 10 years ago, but with a more seasoned
assuredness. I decide during this luscious solo that she's my favorite
dancer in the world to watch. Okay, it's usually Desmond Richardson,
but every couple years I catch up with Wood again and find myself
floored. Seeing the progression from the older "Timeless Red" to
the new "Hurricane Flora" I see her strengthening skill as a choreographer
and would expect, would insist even, that her work reaches wider
audiences in the coming years but I still find her juiciest dances
are served up solo.
Maura Nguyen Donohue is artistic director of Maura Nguyen Donohue/In
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