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Review, 3-13: Back to the Future
Head first with Headlong into a Bad Year
Copyright 2006 Maura Nguyen Donohue
NEW YORK -- Headlong
Dance Theater is consummately clever. Its directors -- Amy Smith,
David Brick, and Andrew Simonet -- are my favorite makers of dances
short and sweet. In response to the miserable 2005 we collectively
endured, the Headlong collective has returned to its roots by creating
a collection of small, simple works without sets or involved technical
elements. Mixed Tape for a Bad Year, which received its New York
premiere earlier this month at the Ailey Theater as part of the
92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Festival, reflected on war, resistance,
murder and the Bush Administration. In their program notes the directors
stated that these were just the dances they felt compelled to make
to take their minds of the natural disasters, bitter politics and
The program opened with
"Swinging," an unassuming study of copycats in cadence. Nichole
Canuso began standing alone on stage, creating a movement phrase
using accumulating gestures while continuously bouncing. She was
joined by Heather Murphy, who sometimes mimicked and matched her
before deviating and altering the pattern. Smith then joined them
and the dance became like a game of telephone. The winsome trio
maintained the playful bouncing while shifting through compositionally
satisfying variations. I was reminded of games played by girls at
recess and the hypnotic perpetual motion toys that seduce my children
into submission on Baby Einstein DVDs.
"Thrash" is a kind of
home movie, a video record of an experiment Headlong conducted in
late 2005. In an effort to find a way to express their reactions
to the Bush Administration's actions, the company listened to speeches
by the president and then videotaped their own physical responses.
When they screened the videos at dance showcases, audience members
began asking to be included in the experiment. The resulting work
-- or work-in-progress as Headlong calls it -- is a record of one
pissed-off population, both young and old, dancer and civilian.
It was at once witty and sad.
David Brick and Andrew
Simonet joined Canuso and Murphy in "Yonder," a quartet set to a
collection of traditional Southern murder-ballads. Bodies were carried,
bodies fell as the tone shifted quickly back and forth from one
set by coy flirtations to one infected by malicious violence. At
one point Simonet dangled Canuso off his neck, rested her on his
knee and then dropped her to the floor as if into a river, creating
beautiful visual storytelling.
"Hippie Elegy" was a
light-hearted lament for the good old days when folks knew that
war was wrong. A riveting, and twitching Jeb Kreager and Smith shook
and frolicked just like ma and pa during their crazy days. Not mine,
mind you -- my parents were actually active participants in their
own Miss Saigon drama. Regardless, this much excellent Joni Mitchell
and Neil Young goaded me to get back to the garden and turned my
general malaise into a more active need to act.
The program also included
a sneak preview excerpt from "Shosha," inspired by the 1978 novel
by Isaac Bashevis Singer set in pre-WWII Warsaw. Simonet (who has
written for this publication) spoke casually to the audience before
directing Brick and Canuso into ridiculous physical postures from
which they had to enact a scene from the novel. The work played
with structure and informality in a typical and successful Headlong
manner. The timing and silliness is such that you are never quite
sure how much is orchestrated and how much is spontaneous, so natural
and comfortable are the performers.