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Flash 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.

Disclosure: Philip 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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