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Review 2, 12-8: Rubik's Cube Meets its Own Personal Jesus
Understanding Kim; Puzzling Achugar
By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2004 Maura Nguyen Donohue
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NEW YORK -- Shared programs
can be a challenge or a boon for an audience member. Having been
assigned a fair amount of shared evenings for my own company, I've
often wondered what connection presenters have made mentally to
bring me into the same space as another artist. Different from the
showcase situation, a shared program implies that there is some
underlying connection that pulls my work into the same creation,
technical, production, performance schedule and, perhaps, dressing
room as an otherwise foreign entity. While perusing the program
notes for a recent shared concert between Sam Kim and Luciana Achugar
at Dance Theater Workshop, I could understand why these two artists
were considered a good match. However, while watching the program
I suffered the realization of my usual expectation. Two distinctly
different visions don't always cohabit easily, even when the artists
in question have a prior history of working together.
As a member of DTW's
board of directors, I acknowledge bias. But not having participated
in developing the program notes, I think I can safely salute the
introduction to and questions for the artists posed by DTW's artistic
director. Cathy Edwards writes about artists in a highly informed
and articulate manner and her questions reveal some deeper glimpse
into the work of artists without giving up too much about the artist's
work. For Kim and Achugar, I didn't get to the notes until after
viewing their work but Edwards's comments about them clarified my
vague response to the two women's pairing. I had been trying to
define some kind of vague 'generational' difference between us.
This was brought on very clearly by Kim's choice of music but was
heightened by both women's relationship to movement.
Kim's dryly playful
"Nobody Understands Me" takes us back to the '80s -- yep, bad blazers,
big hair and lots o' synth pop. Duran Duran's "Planet Earth" bursts
from the speakers as a roving spotlight moves across a back curtain
of shiny mylar strips before settling on Kim, Anna Azrieli and Tracy
Dickson standing upstage right. Kim slowly makes her way across
stage over the course of the song simply shaking her hips and head,
as if easily avoiding eye contact while walking down the high school
hallway jamming to her Walkman. While Kim's choreographic style
is full of post-modern understatement, she can't totally squelch
the unavoidable bounciness of that decade. As the women make their
way diagonally across the stage with a kind of cross-country skier
spring and jog and waving hands, I catch glimpses of marching bands
and aerobics classes fleeting briefly across the landscape of each
The mylar curtain absorbs
and reflects Michael Stiller's lighting design in luscious moments,
as when the stage suddenly goes Bubbalicious blue or when the gobo
rotators start sending spinning lights across the back to Depeche
Mode. The scenic elements and songs serve as a kind of antithesis
to the almost laissez-faire repetition of Azrieli and Dickson tapping
their feet and punching their hands into the air like stoned cheerleaders.
Somewhere along the way I realize that it is actually a hypnotically
satisfying compliment to the square pulse of "Personal Jesus." A
group of very big-haired, sparkling tunic clad women burst forward
from behind the mylar to simply bounce like aerobic fembots and
then recede. I'm reminded of Wonder Woman's Amazon sisters from
Paradise Island and recall my own teen fantasies, which led to covering
my white lace junior prom dress with, and fashioning a skinny forehead
band out of, many golden sequins.
My companion, fellow
Dance Insider Peggy Cheng, laughs with guilt when Yaz's love ballad
"Only You" comes on and tells me later that she still knows all
the words. It sets me to thinking that though much of this music
was part of my youth and subsequent social identity, it was a fleeting
flirtation and didn't settle in enough for me to understand why
anyone would ever want to go back. Somewhere in there though Kim
has a pretty raucous solo that makes me think that though we were
probably just far apart enough in age to have never mingled if we
had hung out then, she would have been the very witty and wry friend.
The one with a wild streak who only served martinis, extra-dry.
Near the end of "Nobody
Understands Me," a couple of dancers run at each other and fall
down together repeatedly. While dramatically compelling, it never
develops beyond a kind of movement study, which is what Luciana
Achugar's "A Super Natural Return to Love" feels like throughout.
Or rather, it did after Kim's piece and an intermission. Artists,
though placed with limitations of time and space on their work for
the sake of the split bill, are still going to make their work with
a kind of tunnel vision. It isn't their job to manage how well the
evening runs and in DTW's position of producing premieres no one
has any idea how the show will feel. Here I find the program notes
helpful in creating a greater empathy for the artists when fatigue
and other discomforts have started to descend.
To be fair, Achugar
clearly did a lot of work on this piece. It is a thorough investigation;
it's just that it feels extensively thorough. A group of six women,
including Achugar, Azrieli, Willa Carroll, Jennifer Kjos, Kim Osterberger
and Beatrice Wong will interpret variations on drudgery, repetition
and group dynamics. At times I'm reminded of Fritz Lang's film "Metropolis,"
and then Rudolf Laban's movement choirs. When the women first gather
in a corner of where two wall set pieces meet they appear to be
loitering service ladies. All are clad in blue uniform dresses,
hairnets and stockings, a clearly industrial image that when matched
with a Go-Gos remix by Pierre de Gaillande and Gary Greenblatt transforms
them into clearly female images of industry like a group of Rosie
the Riveters or synchronized Esther Williamses.
Achugar blends into
the group seamlessly; it is testament to her process and staging
that the choreographer's onstage presence doesn't dynamically overwhelm
the other performers. She achieves a group integration very effectively,
painstakingly making these striking women interchangeable in the
same careful way that mass production has done to the workforce.
The work wanders but remains constantly unrelenting, much like a
problem that your brain insists on resolving while you try to sleep
until it's suddenly 3 a.m. and bleary-eyed you finally succumb,
letting the images roll over you.
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