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Review 2, 12-16: Welcome to the Ontological, Zoological Garden
(PLEASE DON'T PET HEDEWIG'S DANCERS)
By Faith Pilger
Copyright 2004 Faith Pilger
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NEW YORK -- Menagerie:
a zoological garden or zoo, public or private park where living
animals are kept for exhibition and study. The menageries and aviaries
of China, Egypt, and Rome were famous in ancient times. From the
late medieval period many rulers had private menageries, some of
which later formed the nucleus of public exhibits. (encyclopedia.com.)
I thought it appropriate
to consult an encyclopedia before framing my opinion of Guta Hedewig
Dance's "Menagerie," which premiered at Danspace Project at St.
Mark's Church December 9-12. Why? Because the work itself was surprisingly
more cerebral than visceral, particularly for a dance performance
whose press release promised "drama and hilarity" in its depictions
of "tail-wagging bees...Egyptian Plover birds...and the mysterious
symbiosis of crocodiles" among other misadventures.
Hedewig, who founded
her company in 1992, collaborated with composer/multi-instrumentalist
Edward Ratliff and his Sirius String Quartet as well as video and
set designers to present this inventive evening of multi-media performance.
Anja Hitzenberger's video images opened and closed the evening with
a witty water mammal who seemed to be having more fun than any of
the other animals depicted on screen or off throughout the evening.
There was a seriousness
and almost sad stillness to the quality of the entire presentation,
reminiscent of visiting a zoo in which one wonders how well the
animals have been treated. But passion did not seem to be the goal
of the choreographer's exploration. Rather, it was "instinct and
internal logic" (to quote from the company bio) that reigned supreme.
Hedewig's vision seemed human in its perspective on other animals,
logical and honestly curious, while at the same time vaguely sterile.
Perhaps this is how menageries have always been.
Hedewig created a vocabulary
for her dancers and herself to express different modes of travel
and succeeded in keeping this interesting, but I still felt that
I was missing something. Moments stood out when a lightness prevailed
over the methodology: a mischievous smile from Kristi Spessard during
a solo, a scurrying of the dancers together on all fours, a section
in which books become hooves for the dancers to slide and move upon,
a floating underwater moment in which dancers balanced, suspended
on their bellies, atop two stacks of books.
In one bold interactive
moment the lights brightened and the dancers walked through the
audience handing out flash cards with pictures and descriptions
of animals such as the Red Admiral butterfly, who not only "...uses
many different wing strokes, but uses them on successive wing beats.
Rather than progressing from one sort of wing stroke to another
as flying speed changes -- the way horses go from walk to trot to
canter -- the butterflies behave more like Olympic gymnasts doing
floor exercises. If human beings moved like the Red Admiral, sidewalks
would be filled with people progressing by hop, skip, jump, cartwheel
and back flip, in no particular order."
Fascinating though this
information is, the whole thing seemed a little contrived. Or maybe
I just wanted a little more warmth from the animals and the people.
Dancers Theresa Duhon,
Rachel Lynch-John, Kristi Spessard and Hedewig displayed beautifully
articulate and expressive bodies dressed in colorful, abstract textiles
with fitted layers created by designer Reiko Kawashima, assisted
by Reiko Tomita. The Sirius String Quartet, a talented and versatile
crew, played throughout while perched up in the balcony, unfortunately
partly blocked by a hanging video screen (not the best view).
Overall, the choreographer
was successful in creating a specific mood and further developing
her quirky release-based movement style. Still, a friend in the
audience put it well when he said that he felt a bit like he had
stepped into a library or opened up an encyclopedia. Is this REALLY
how we view animals? If so, I'd like to know a little more about
Faith Pilger is a professional dancer, choreographer, producer
and overall art-whore. She performs with various choreographers
and creates her own work whenever possible. She also trains some
wonderful clients at Crunch. Visit her at www.pilger.com/faith.
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