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Flash Review 1, 3-11: Drama and Mystery
Siegel's Family Plot; Gonzalez's Plotless Dance

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2005 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- Popular New York dancer Richard Siegal, who expatriated himself to Germany and danced with William Forsythe's Ballett Frankfurt from 1997 until its swan song last year, joined with Levi Gonzalez for a split bill at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, March 4-6. Gonzalez is perhaps best known as a member of Donna Uchizono's company, though he's worked with many downtowners, including ChameckiLerner, Jeremy Nelson, and Dennis O'Connor.

In the opening solo "If" Siegal -- a remarkable dancer who can pull off extraordinarily difficult technical feats with a seemingly casual air -- checks his notes on a sheet of paper, taped to the shank of a bare-bulb floor lamp, and pulls the chain to turn the bulb on or off between actions. He hops onto a wooden table and like a demented mime measures his body parts with his hands; he flexes his joints, testing to see if everything's in working order. He stands on the side of his foot, picks it up in his hands and drops it; he twists between his outstretched arms like a figure in an Egyptian frieze.

Siegal builds emotional intensity with carefully crafted gestural phrases, painting specific characters in poetical situations. Wearing sweat pants, a goofy stocking cap, and sock gloves (each toe has its own chamber), he displays a demeanor which combines that of a method actor with that of an athlete at practice. Mitchell Bogard's lighting, which sometimes consists only of the naked bulb of the lamp, enlivens the space in a purposely non-theatrical way.

In "If/Then," the ensuing duet, Janice Brenner and Jeanine Durning as a mother and daughter, respectively, sit at the table and play patty-cake, knock on wood, and slap the table in dark variations on childhood games that become anything but childlike. They frantically rearrange the chairs between rounds of their games. Siegal lurks in the shadows at the rear, playing Douglas Henderson's sound score on a laptop.

Although Siegal ritualizes the women's actions, his adept modulation of dynamics creates drama without resorting to dance-acting. Petite Brenner in a sweater and skirt -- and sometimes pearls -- flicks and twitches like a tiny bird. Wearing a sleeveless sweater and slacks, Durning moves with calm, grounded power; she's a head taller than Brenner, yet their legs are nearly equal in length.

Seated in a facing chair, Durning crosses, sits in Brenner's lap, and gets comforted. Brenner recites snatches of text and crouches inside the upturned table, as if it were a runaway auto, crying, "Help get me out!" She kneels behind the table, hauled upstage and tipped on its side, and sings in a lustrous soprano, while Durning pronates her foot and pokes her head through entwined arms, reprising material from Siegal's solo.

Brenner shouts, "That's mine; that one's mine!" pointing angrily at each new spot Durning moves to. Finally, the table forms a headstone for Brenner, who lies supine before it, completing the circle of her life.

In between the five scenes that comprise the piece, the women matter-of-factly move the props around, change clothes, and add kneepads, and after the last scene, all three performers exit nonchalantly, as if to say, "It was just a dance" -- a powerful one at that.

Gonzalez creates kinetic textures with pedestrian action, finding what he calls "experiential states of being rather than a formal or codified vocabulary," and he lets us draw our own conclusions about meaning. At the start of "the whole world has disappeared" -- which he conceived and directed with choreographic input from the performers -- piercing white light spills from three corners of the space. Jonathan Belcher's imaginative lighting emanates from unexpected places like along the altar floor and offstage rooms.

The four performers enter from the light sources and stand in the beams. They wear black sweat shirts over dress shirts and skirts made of bath towels wrapped around their waists. Gradually, they start to move: Hristoula Harakas staggers around; Heather Olson gyrates with her pelvis; Luciana Achugar collapses to the floor; Gonzalez sits on an altar stair. To Corey Tut's score of rhythmic pulses sprinkled with cell phone ring tones, the dancers line up and twitch: nail biting, shoulder shrugging, finger twiddling. Gonzalez and Olson fight. Everybody marches back and forth with shopping bags.

Facing the back wall, they wave their arms to the Latin beat of Richie Midnight's "I Love America." Olson, pinned in a harsh spotlight, pulls back her clothes to show us portions of her porcelain skin: her forearm, her belly, her thigh; her three compatriots lift her aloft like a martyr. Then they walk off and it's over. It's hard to find coherence in Gonzalez's seemingly random continuum of activity, however intriguingly performed by his proficient cast.

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