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