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Flash Review, 9-6: Too Many Crumbs to Follow
Trim Grimm

By Chappelle Chambers
Copyright 2006 Chappelle Chambers

NEW YORK -- I've begun to think there's a phenomenon I'll call Post-Pilobolus Syndrome. Members of the company get into relationships or have kids, decide to settle down, but can't resist the urge to dance and choreograph. They live somewhere in Connecticut, and they rally all the artistic talent in the vicinity; they make dramatic, narrative stuff with lots of props and masks and scenery. It's very old-fashioned. It has moments of being entertaining. It has a Message. But, like much of the work of Pilobolus itself, it's short on structure and it tends to go on too long.

A new work called "Grimm," choreographed by former Pil Otis Cook and modern dancer Faith Pilger and performed late in August at the Duke on 42nd Street, is an example of this syndrome. The members of the cast are all strong, competent dancers; the music is live, original and abundant; and the set is striking. (Maurice Sendak, who has also worked with Pilobolus, is credited as artistic advisor.) But while its plot is about being lost in space, the whole production gets lost in time.

My favorite part of the work was an opening duet performed by Cook and his son Max, a little towhead, five-and-a-half years old, who's a fearless partner, a wonderful contact dancer, and just a winning stage personality. As a woman of a certain age, I had my heart in my mouth as Dad slung the kid all around, off-balance and out of control, but they're obviously a perfect team, and I'm sure Max was having the time of his life.

But as the story proper unfurled, difficulties presented themselves. The SaReel musicians, of which there were four, were essentially the set, with their many interesting instruments ranged against the back wall. Periodically some of them, particularly Sasha Bogdanowitsch, moved right into the action, singing and/or playing the ney, panflutes, overtone flute, hurdy gurdy, mbira, conch shell, jawharp, metallophone, didjeridu, flipflophone, sheng, dulcimer, mandolin, melodica, koto, and various percussion instruments, including big gongs. I may be jaded, but I found watching them more interesting than trying to keep track of the choreography and the plot.

Based on the story of Hansel and Gretel, but with elements of other tales blended in, the work suffered from the fact that the "children" were just about the same size as the "parents," so it was hard to keep track of the story. Pilger played a sort of disaffected mom-as-witch, Cook the dad, and Derrick Karg and Toni Melaas were Hansel and Gretel.

Three other dancers, Dorian Cervantes, Olivia Leigh, and Matthew Thornton, played a variety of woods-creatures. The two-act work had 24 scenes, which is just too many in a work that runs something under two hours with an intermission. And one kept making comparisons with Sondheim's "Into the Woods," which covers a lot of the same territory in a much more developed, entertaining way.

Every kind of dancing, from swing to tumbling and a little trapeze, was brought into play here. The musicians and dancers collaborated on kecak-like chanting, an Indonesian trope. There were tall puppets with heads made of gourds. At the beginning, the "family" gathered around a big wooden table to dine on three ratty parsnips, creating an excuse for the performers to brandish knives. At the end, when various threats had been dodged and the family was reunited, dinner consisted of three huge daikon radishes; obviously a sign that their fortunes had improved. In between were a lot of adventures in a landscape of nightmare. The piece could do with fewer of these, more focus, and a generally clearer stage picture; various faux "trees" were not quite real but not quite abstract. The "witch" wore a dress with gloves. There were flashing green lights and carnival music and a many-limbed monster. The whole thing is a mishmash of styles. Before the artists bring it back -- I hear there are plans for another run in the future -- they need to prune it.

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