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Flash Review 2, 12-2: Dancing in 'Tongues'
Shepard & Chaikin as Grenke Seez'em

By Philip W. Sandstrom
Copyright 2005 Philip W. Sandstrom

NEW YORK -- "He was born in the middle of a story he had nothing to do with." Thus began David Grenke's production of Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin's "Tongues," seen November 4 at the black-box TGB Theater, on Grenke's ThingsezIsee'm Dance/Theater. This interpretation of the play involved, in addition to the text (delivered by Karl Herlinger), movement, video projection and music. While Herlinger continued with ".... a voice he's never heard," Tyler Gilstrap entered and began a series of reaches and turns punctuated by pauses and poses that repeated while she slowly expanded the movement to fill the downstage area. Her presence was riveting, with sparse, clear and concisely defined movement set on her muscular frame. Topped by Mary Pickford-style brown/black hair, alabaster skin, and Nordic cheekbones and draped in an Art Deco-style black gown by Kevin Woodworth, Gilstrap continued with her slide, step, reach, and turn pattern accompanied by lonely piano music of single notes in a simple tune by Michael Wall. As she moved, the bangs of her hair covered one eye and then the other, evoking Dana Reitz's use of pendulum bangs to accentuate her eclectic head movements.

The evening continued as it began, with the interspacing and combining of text, movement, and video divided into scenes. Throughout, the actor told a story that, although I couldn't follow it in a linear fashion, nonetheless compelled me to hang on his every word. The rhythmic structure of the text, augmented by the simple tunes and at times atmospheric score was an effective and poignant accompaniment to Grenke's engagingly repetitive choreography.

The movement seemed to begin with the right shoulder; somehow the forward motion of this shoulder propelled the dancer through most every phase. The phrases changed subtly, as in Steve Reich's "Fase," in which tiny incremental adjustments eventually bring on major shifts. The movement neither illuminated the text nor the text the movement. They seemed to operate on separate planes with independent agendas. Gilstrap would appear, execute her phrases -- often sharing the stage with Herlinger but not interacting with him -- then exit. In one scene in which Herlinger surrounded Gilstrap with aggressive and threatening hand gestures -- a scenario that might suggest some interaction -- she danced on, oblivious to his intrusion into her space.

Unlike the symbiotic nature of the confluence of text and dance, Andrew Bauer's video peppered the performance as an annoyance. It was projected on the upstage right wall above a door/entrance way and on the stage left black brick wall. The upstage projections -- including a striking image of a propeller-plane strafing a jungle village -- were very small and difficult to see. And although the stage left projections were larger, they provided only mysterious shadowy images, which, at times, appeared to be figures dancing. No added value here.

The language set the tone of the piece from the beginning, helping to imbue it with a haunting nature throughout the evening. In the end we were told: "When you die it's the end of your life," and, in the final monologue, "Today the wind roared through the center of town" and "Tonight, I'm learning its language."

Maybe it was something in the air, maybe it was the pacing, more likely it was the intensity of the two performers, but despite the disparate nature of the text and choreography there was something almost hypnotic about this production. Indeed, my performance companion swears he was hypnotized into a dizzying state and needed a long sit-down in the lobby following the show just to get his bearings.

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