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Flash Review 2, 6-8: Wanting
Scratching the Surface with Lydia Johnson

By Diana Crum
Copyright 2006 Diana Crum

NEW YORK -- While Lydia Johnson Dance gave a polished performance at the Ailey Citigroup Theater this past Sunday, the company never delved deeply enough into an idea -- physical, emotional, or thematic -- to make a lasting impression. Each aspect of the performance, despite its potential, was left unfulfilled.

The program began with "In Conversation," a quartet set to the first two parts of Philip Glass's "Violin Concerto." Jessica Sand entered the stage first and performed a short sequence of movements. She threw an arm up into the vertical space. The arm seemed short, held. It did not strive to reach into the impressive height of the theater. Nor did it resonate within Sand's core. Instead, a line from shoulder to wrist flung itself upward. This arm movement was repeated several times in the evening. Each time, the performers held their motion in the same way. Accompanied by the rhythmic drive of Glass's score, the movements seemed accidentally unfulfilled.

"The End of the Movie," the second work on the program, presented three women in two forms -- posing sultrily or flopping into a pretty state of despair. The sexy poses faced forward, while the moments of fatigue took place behind the scenery (benches) or facing upstage. The contrast between the public and private side of a woman holds a wealth of potential for exploration, yet Johnson's portrayal stopped at the surface. "The End of a Movie" never investigated the reasons for or consequences of the women's characters. The movement vocabulary stayed within the range of "pretty." The audience saw only superficially developed characters.

"Coda," a premiere set to the third movement of Beethoven's String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, displayed an understanding of formal composition. Spatial arrangements included clear lines of people and a trio of triangles. Canons and unison wove in and out of one another. Yet the clarity of composition did not add much to the meaning of the work. In the middle, when seven children entered the stage for a brief moment, the nine present adults welcomed them with caring, concerned faces. Program notes led the audience to believe that "Coda" dealt with loss and the associated grief. However, the faces onstage expressed merely a somber caution. Such displays of emotion were disconnected from the movement. The physicality and the sentiment never merged.

The closing piece, "Falling Out," another premiere, consisted of one solo dancer, one male-female duet, and a quartet of women. All seven dancers were onstage the whole time. All seven had an accompanying chair to dance on, away from, or towards. Sometimes only one group of performers moved; other times, they all moved simultaneously in different rhythms. While the music choice of Philip Glass mirrored the rhythmic interest, the score's momentum once again overshadowed the dancers' movement.

Given more development and deeper investigation, each of Johnson's four works seen on this program could fulfill tremendous potential. A choreographer's challenge is always to go further.

I should confess that the long pauses in between each work gave a bad flavor to my overall experience of the show. In between each of the 10 - 20 minute works was a 10 - 15 minute break, during which audience members were asked to remain in their seats. The audience sat patiently in the theater for almost two hours, with only one hour of activity on the stage. Needless to say, I left the theater a little cranky.

Diana Crum holds a B.A. in Dance from Columbia College of Columbia University. She currently directs and choreographs for Diana Crum and Dancers, a contemporary dance company based in New York. She also teaches and administrates dance education programs.


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