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Flash Review 1, 2-15: Quiet Provocation
Station-surfing with Mark Jarecke

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2005 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- Entering Danspace Project at St Mark's Church on Thursday, February 10, each audience member was handed an individual portable radio receiver and headset, tuned to a spot between stations. The static became its own music: part of Jon Moniaci and Chris Peck's computer sound score for the Mark Jarecke Project's new "Dendron," the last of a trilogy -- along with "Auto.Publik" (2001) and "Endo" (2003) -- that, according to Jarecke, explores "the dynamic relationship between our architectural environment and our emotional one."

The customary chairs were absent, and the audience sat directly on the carpeted risers surrounding the dance floor. A small note in the back of the program claimed that we should feel free to move around the space to watch. But apparently not having read the obscure notice beforehand, no one moved around, though many headsets did come off, because their wearers, depending on location, were getting talk radio instead of modulated static.

Mathematical explorations, worked out in collaboration with his cast, produce Jarecke's dance phrases. Though cerebrally conceived, the movement is anything but; it's entirely visceral. The dancers lurch into deep side lunges and spiral into falls; hinge upward with their hips and roll over the tops of their arches; their arms grab at the air, wracking their torsos diagonally and pulling them off their equilibrium. When they stop to wait impassively for their next encounter, they breathe heavily, revealing the actual exertion of their deceptively fluid motion.

Jarecke's repetitive dance motifs are like patterned fabric, which he distributes in space and time to modulate mood and tone. His movement palette then becomes one of putatively equal elements in the architecture, sound, and video environment. The images created by the interaction of elements can be interpreted freely. Although the dancers' faces remain expressionless, the intensity of their kinesthetic connection is palpable.

Matt Gagnon's architectural installation comprises fabric-covered rectangular frames that hover ten feet above the dance floor to form a low ceiling. Michael Gottlieb's dramatic lighting from above these canvas clouds casts angular shadows: a grid of streets or hallways, and lights just below make them opaque, boding an impending storm. Sean Brown's abstract video designs, projected on the clouds as well as the walls and floor of the sanctuary, resemble the fleeting shadows cast by headlights on interior walls, as nighttime traffic speeds by.

Even though there's minimal dynamic variation within the phrases, Jarecke builds dynamic tension by varying the durations of activity and stillness, the locations of the dancers in the performing area, and their relationship to each other; and by his skillful interweaving of unison, counterpoint, and canonic arrangements of the movement.

The three dancers add dramatic dimension to Jarecke's smartly designed patterns. Stately Andrea Johnston, who has performed in all three installments of the trilogy, stands at rest with a Renaissance S-curve but moves with animal power. Athletic Netta Yerushalmy dances with refreshing directness that combines fierce physicality with cool confidence. Her presence is shy, but Molly Poerstel's resilient musculature can melt softly into the ground and rebound effortlessly. All three have an intimacy with gravity that prevents their turbulent motion from becoming either violent or aggressive.

Occasionally the women exit the space, only to return and resume as if nothing had changed. Maria Cornejo's beige costumes at first swathe them in fitted bodices over blousy skirts and knee pads. After a while the bodices come off and allow the loose dresses to hang freely.

In the closing passage, each pair interacts, one on one, in passively confrontational duets. Finally, Yerushalmy leaves, then Johnston, and Poerstel -- who has been kneeling throughout their duet -- slowly collapses onto her back, and the lights fade out. Jarecke's hour-long work leaves us with a thousand provocative implications to ponder.

A different version of this review was also published in Gay City News.

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