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More Flash Reviews
Review Journal, 11-23: The Journey Home
Proto-Synthesis from Stenn & in the Bronx
Copyright 2005 Chris Dohse
NEW YORK -- As I watch
Rebecca Stenn's new "Blue Print," November 10 at Danspace Project
at St. Mark's Church, I find myself projecting memories of other
dances on it. I know this isn't the best way to evaluate the real
thing that is happening in front of me in real time. But Stenn (who
has contributed to this publication) shares thematic concerns and
an attention to nuance that remind me of things I know intimately,
that I've danced myself. A whole line of humanist dancemakers and
friends of mine have tested these waters: Marta Renzi, Nancy Havlik,
Kathy Wildberger, Sean Curran. Because I remember these dances in
my body, it's easy to enter the skin of Stenn's intimate peopling.
A sense of community
is immediately clear. A collection of visually polyglot bodies --
short and tall, male and female, racially diverse, trained and "nondancers"
-- crowd into a circle midstage. A man in his skivvies joins this
group; as he collapses repeatedly into their arms he is dressed
by them. Others begin to ready the stage for a tale to be told,
a playing field ringed by wooden chairs and sculptural elements,
designed by Jodi Kaplan, that suggest buildings.
Elizabeth Marvel recites
excerpts from T. S. Eliot's "The Four Quartets" in voiceover. I have trouble connecting
Eliot's text to what I see happening. This isn't exactly an easy
jumble of words to digest. A phrase that gets repeated often enough
to resonate is "Home is where one starts from"; this nicely complements
a later recording of the cast's voices finishing the phrase "I am
from ...." Jay Weissman, Dave Eggar and Tom Chiu's score for cello,
electric bass guitar and violin is dark and full of moods; its recorded
and live elements cascade over each other.
My usual complaint lately:
I wish the dancers would slow down and let me see them, just be
instead of doing so much. The part of my mind that reads dances
wants to savor each word on the page, not gobble paragraphs in a
rush to the ending. The men squabble at one point; I can't tell
why. Probably something in the text set this up and I missed it.
Stenn has a wide reach in movement invention: she can toss off full-throttle
physicality as easily as the gestural or pedestrian, character-driven
interactions that much of this piece is built from. Recognizable
phrasework that could be a technique class exercise is less successful
-- meaning it doesn't serve the evolution of the characters -- than
moments of caretaking, simple acts like carrying chairs or performers
watching each other from the edges of the space. The way the dancers
carry their bodies is too perfect somehow, too well aligned, their
faces too composed, to accurately portray the dramatic narrative
Stenn intends. These bodies work best when in abstract action, like
during a quartet near the middle of the piece where characterization
falls away and flesh blurs in pure physics and rebound, jumping,
falling and getting up as urgent and necessary acts. Eliot's haggle
with the passing of time in this seminal poem calls for flawed people,
bodies that reflect apology and compromise. He (the voice of Marvel)
talks about love at one point, making me wonder if he had converted
to Catholicism yet, if he means eros or agape.
Stenn is known for the
way she inserts live music and musicians into her dancing, and this
creates remarkable moments, visually and physically. A duet for
dancer Eric Jackson Bradley and cellist Eggar is unlike anything
I've seen. It's a trio really, two men and a cello. The men's ebb
and flow, weight exchanges with each other and the instrument that
seems almost to play itself at times, or to initiate the movement,
are impeccably timed.
Another type of community comes together in Pepatian's Bronx Artist
Spotlight, "Fall Into It2005," seen November 4 at Lehman College's
Lovinger Theater. It has to be oversimplifying to say that ten artists
whose similarities are living in the same borough and sharing Latino
heritage make up a trend. But I see a vivid dialogue in these works
that sheds a light on multicultural performance that I haven't seen
As I understand it,
multiculturalism's nature has always been synthesis and fluidity,
at first under the fist of Colonialism, now on its own steam. I've
always felt undereducated to appreciate this syncretism. In the
dances in this showcase, I see flecks of what I think I recognize
as source elements: folkloric forms like capoeira and Afro-Caribbean
dance, Flamenco or salsa, but I know there are influences that I'm
missing. I also see traditional, Eurocentric, historic "modern"
dance and its current concert "post-modern" styles, lyrical and
Broadway jazz, and contemporary music video influences (hip-hop),
all grafted together in rhythm and plenitude.
But it's not only movement
vocabularies that are intermingled. Framing devices also collide,
what the movement means, what it communicates. Movement that might
have evolved from earth-based utility with meaning, steps and gestures
shared by entire communities and performed to communicate to a creator
or to strengthen societal relationships, now carries embedded messages
of private and social identity, celebration of cultural heritage
or defiance of oppression and inequity.
From an evening of nine
strong works, four share a liminal hybridity, a true melting pot
of new dance. Two solo choreographers collaborate with media artists.
Noemi Segarra and Marlon Barrios's "No E(s) Mi/Si E(s) Mi" uses
present-time, computer-aided sound and video generation to project
a delayed and manipulated golem on the back wall. Derived from Segarra's
anxious, taut movement exploration, her projection is compacted
and textured into a moving wallpaper that sometimes overshadows
her, sometimes complements her as it blares her intimate gasps and
moans. In "Bittersuite," Jose Ortiz inserts Sita Frederick's figure
into documentary footage from Frederick's recent trip to the Dominican
Republic. As Frederick references the actions of the bodies on-screen,
her several selves, both onstage and projected, seem caught in a
dialogue across time and space, witnessing and questioning the past.
In Paloma McGregor's
"Totems," a community of women in browns and red-oranges mourns
the death of an elder. Each of the dancers begins by touching the
earth, signaling that their actions are aimed at the sacred. Their
dancing, built from the grounded pelvis and strength of Africanist
movement, luxuriates in the natural contours and organic elegance
of their bodies. Marion Ramirez and Alicia Diaz's "Mar Adentro,"
a duet accompanied live by Sebastian Guerrero, looks to my eyes
familiar at first, like the downtown dance vernacular I spend so
much time watching. Still, this vocabulary that I recognize, framed
by the women's sensitivity to phrasing as something very necessary,
approaches the simplicity and transcendence of ritual.