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Flash Flashback, 1-18: It's Chemical
Frankincense and Surveillance with Troika

(Editor's Note: The Dance Insider has been revisiting its Flash Review Archives. This Flash originally appeared on June 16, 2000. Troika Ranch's latest work, "16 [R]evolutions," opens tonight at the Eyebeam Art & Technology Center in New York.)

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2000, 2006 Chris Dohse

Dawn Stoppiello and Mark Coniglio, the artistic directors of Troika Ranch, complement each others' brains with beauty and brawn. "The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz," which opened last night at HERE Arts Center, begins in a cloud of frankincense and ends in a barrage of technological surveillance. Troika Ranch's signature innovations in media slice through the story of a 17th Century alchemist with aleatoric text, humor and a fully realized dance language.

First on the program is 1994's "Red People," which reunites choreographer Stoppiello with fellow Bella Lewitzky alumnae Nancy Fields and Diane Vivona. The two performers trouble Susan Hamburger's saturated color and Coniglio's lush soundscape with eddies and funnel clouds of violent physicality. The dancers' amplified breath and fragments of vocalization weave into Coniglio's staccato as they run and stumble, pausing to repeat secretive gestures. When Stoppiello chooses unison she remembers for us their shared dance lineage.

In the years since "Red People," Stoppiello's movement vocabulary has evolved, become denser, more organic, more ambitious, more complicated. A duet early in "Rosenkreutz" for Anthony Gongora and Michou Szabo crumples into and through their individual musculatures to describe the fragility of the body central to this work. As performed by Gongora and Szabo, weight exchanges and arm weavings attend to shades of gray that get lost in some of Stoppiello's full-out, space-eating phrases.

"Rosenkreutz" is less a history lesson than a fantasia of imagined physics -- chimerical, alchemical gigabytes. Coniglio narrates. He captures a characterization that is more than a little creepy. His stream-of-consciousness verbiage trapezes from childhood memories to hypothetical biologies. His constant companions, two video projections of himself, dangle like monstrously intimate voyeurs. They leer at his onstage attendants, at us, at himself.

One thread emerges from the dancers' interactions: the delicate heeby jeeby and willy nilly of human biology.

Another thread inquires into technology's medical interruptions and future possibilities. Leaving us, the audience, somewhere between the two, reminding us that performance happens in the imagination, reminding us of the uncomfortable marriage of the body and science, the inside and outside on the cusp of 2000.

Perhaps this work-in-progress version has a bit too much in it. It's not always clear exactly what's happening to this cast of eight, but it doesn't really matter; they remain compelling due to their uniform strength and clear commitment to the material, and their ease with the demands of dancing and speaking. The plot make more sense after reading the program notes.

 
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