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Review 2, 5-12: Contain Yourself, Choreographer
Stronach Needs a (Real) Editor
By Philip W. Sandstrom
Copyright 2005 Philip W. Sandstrom
NEW YORK -- There was
a distinctly British air to the office romance created by Tami Stronach
in her dance-theater work "The Maid and the Marmalade," seen this
past Saturday at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church. In this
late 19th-century portrayal of office life, a maid, actually a secretary
in maid's clothing, and her boss, the editor, a round-ish man in
a suit complete with bowler hat move from intense detachment to
obvious attraction through the abandonment of the routine and the
embrace of the super-ordinary (or at least the more than ordinary).
The dance opens with a sensual solo featuring Lindsey Dietz Marchant,
dressed in a red dress, swinging her hair in voluptuous loops while
crawling about the blond dance floor accompanied by bird songs.
(Only in retrospect do we realize that this dance may represent
the inner soul of the maid who so adoringly serves her editor.)
The next scene opens
on the office, just a desk, chair, and stand-up coat rack, managed
by the maid and overseen by three dancers positioned like statues
perched, above the stage, on ledges surrounding the St. Mark's altar.
The maid (Adrienne Kapstein) awakens from slumber and begins her
daily office duties of hanging up the boss's coat and hat, opening
the mail, and serving tea and toast. The editor (Richard Crawford)
reads the letters, signs them, and places them in an envelope, which
she licks and prepares for posting. This routine repeats itself
until the end of the workday, marked sonically by a buzzer. At this
juncture the boss dons his coat and hat and leaves; the maid falls
asleep on the desk. This pattern is repeated in a day in and day
out routine until the "Red Letter" arrives. Ah, the red letter day!
As the editor reads, and re-reads, this letter the routine slowly
changes, and so does the relationship. The alterations are subtle,
silly, yet exciting. The toast now is served with marmalade; the
tea is served with sugar! Finally the big change has consequences:
the editor misses a day of work! He belatedly arrives the day after
half-dressed. Protocol is abandoned; the maid becomes more empowered;
she dictates the changes; the editor likes it! Finally, the metamorphosis
becomes complete and we see signs of a budding romance; a passion
that has been hidden in the subtext emerges. The characters appear
happier in their new roles and with their new relationship.
This developing drama
is interspersed with dance provided by the three "statues": Stronach,
Kate Weare, and Isadora Wolfe; Marchant (the woman in red) and Adrian
Clark (a man in white). Whether situated eerily on the altar or
on the main stage level, these dances provide us with an insight
into the emotions the characters have been trying to suppress. Although
each dance appears to reflect or foreshadow the changes in the characters,
the dancing here is decidedly more aggressive and angst-driven than
the altar-office scenario. From a vigorous, almost violent, in-your-face
duet to a painful, anguished, yet sensual quartet danced to a tango,
the dance segments are the soul of the piece. The dance is the subtext;
it reveals the passionate undercurrent that the characters are unable
to completely express, even by the end of the drama.
As if this tension were
not enough, Act II of the program, "Contain Yourself, Darling,"
continues the pressure. From the opening solo by Monica Bill Barnes
(lit in an exquisite floating fashion by Kathy Kaufmann), that cuts
through the air with the intended precision of a smart bomb, to
the head swoops of Marchant, reminiscent of Jennifer Muller, trapped
in a bathtub on the church's altar under a painted sky by Kelly
Hanson, to the violent duet followed by the trio of women on the
verge, we are pushed to the edge. After Stronach's tour de force
spastic arm solo mirrored by Barnes, we are overwhelmed; we have
been carpet bombed. Finally, when Marchant begins shedding feathers,
like a pillow that has had its stuffing beaten out of it, we finally
realize the we're experiencing audience overload. The continued
intensity of the material has created a numbness that has overshadowed
the evening's works.
We are privileged to
experience some of the best performances, by some of the best performers
that downtown modern dance has to offer; but by the middle of the
evening's second part we are wishing that the show ended with the
first part. We could have gone home complacent, knowing we had seen
a complete and moving work with tremendous subtext and exquisite
execution. Instead we have been overwhelmed with material that is
too dense to digest in one sitting. Either piece would have made
a complete evening of performance; together they are too similar
and too much to absorb. The sum was less than equal to the addition
of the parts.
Stronach is a choreographic
doctor of the human condition, who knows what she is saying and
who is worth following. Her medicine is potent; she just needs to
limit the dose.
Sandstrom and Laurie Uprichard, the executive director of Danspace
Project, have had a near-familial relationship for a number of years.
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