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Review 2, 1-25: 'Tenderenda'
Having a Ball with Karinne Keithley
Copyright 2005 Chris Dohse
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NEW YORK -- Karinne
Keithley wears a lot of hats. In "Tenderenda" (seen January 14 at
Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church), she also wears a kerchief.
She has choreographed this work (in collaboration with the performers),
has written the overarching script that holds within it fragments
from Hugo Ball's novella "Tenderenda der Phantast" and has composed
or collaged the soundscore. Keithley, who has written for this publication,
performs in the piece and has created a small 'zine holding some
of its texts.
Keithley bewitches in
an opening solo, "Wooded Place." Her love of words is immediately
clear; repetitive fragments from Dante are recited by a woman's
voice on tape. There is an ineffable quality to this dance and a
delightful one. Dowdily clad in chocolate browns, including knee
socks, Keithley fills her gesturally driven material with specificity,
as if she's telling a story. She wholly embodies the mysterious
narrative that emerges.
During a short break,
a house manager encourages us to read something from the 'zine.
She tells us that Keithley believes "sometimes dancing is better
"Tenderenda" is a fantastical
dance-play. Three urchins (Keithley, Chris Yon and Katy Pyle) live
in an Abbey, deep within a Germanic wood. Also living there is a
bear (Jeff Larson). Inside the bear's belly resides Saint Tenderenda,
who emerges from slumber episodically to deliver nonsensical liturgies
(Ball's original language). The children document and archive these
sacred, yet unintelligible, texts between frolicsome pinching and
goosing of each other like the Three Stooges. All characters also
cavort in the forest, which is represented by a chorus of female
dancers. In the balcony above sits a narrator (Peter Schmitz).
Five large painted canvases,
designed by Chris Protas and executed by a group of artists, hang
from the church's balcony, defining the edges of the performing
space. They depict woodsy scenes, rich with color and playful forms
that recall the murals of Duncan Grant. Kathy Kaufman's lighting
design often soaks the canvases in light, and their color reverberates
in dirndls worn by the "trees," designed by Swati Argade.
Keithley conflates Ball's
absurdist language with her own childlike Gesamtkunstwerk into something
that seems like a kindergarten Edda. My favorite moments are a duet
for herself and Pyle, wherein they sing a ditty while hobbling side
by side on their knees; many of the tree's stately Eurythmy interludes
(one striking canon in particular); and the bear's cantankery. The
story gets a bit muddled toward the end, and the pace of vignettes,
vaudevillian and skit-like, runs aground. There is such fecundity
of imagination here, such a rich torrent of language, such delightful
playfulness. There's also a certain tone, an aloofness or a sort
of post-modern detachment, that becomes monotonous, sort of leeches
out some of the fun we could be having. It's perplexing to like
all the ingredients of the piece so much but to feel that it somehow
needs a little more cooking. Or a little more craziness? I miss
the hooliganism and social abrasion of Ball's Cabaret Voltaire that
I've read so much about, but then I admit to coming to these texts
with my own agenda.
transforms into a tree. Pyle's naive countenance is canonized. Yon
becomes a dipsomaniac. So is this a creation myth or a cautionary
tale? Keithley clearly follows a skewed muse. Where exactly she
is going is unmapped. Following her is often captivating, sometimes
bewildering, always unusual. When she knows the way, she realizes
the possibility of enchantment.
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