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Letter from New York, 11-17: Gotham Grapples
Betontanc Wrestles Dostoyevsky; Bryan Tackles Movement

By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2006 Darrah Carr

(Editor's Note: Today the Dance Insider introduces a new feature covering performances and dance news from New York, to be written by leading national critics Darrah Carr, Chris Dohse, Gus Solomons jr, and guest stars. To celebrate this enhancement of our coverage of the New York scene, of vital interest to New York, national, and international dance audiences, we have introduced new low advertising rates for this feature. For more information, please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak.)

NEW YORK -- Though the first in a new series of "Letters from New York" to be featured on the Dance Insider, this may well read like a "Letter from Russia," so intimately does Betontanc's evening-length work, "Wrestling Dostoyevsky," draw upon the Russian novelist's masterpiece "Crime and Punishment." Since 1990, the Slovenian theater group has produced highly physical performances based on a self-described "meticulous dramaturgy." Its interpretation of Dostoyevsky, which ran at Danspace Project October 19 - 22 as part of the citywide European Dream Festival, was both highly provocative and completely disturbing, given Betontanc's careful and clever sourcing from the original text.

The first step in the dramatization was to transform the echoing sanctuary of Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church into an intimate, softly-lit living room. Four carpets covered the dance floor and small lamps were scattered throughout the seating area. A lone actor, Branko Jordan, who played the role of "wrestling Porfirij," the investigator, implored the audience to, "Please, turn on the light. Please. Please turn on the light." Other performers offered cookies and directed viewers to the nearest lamp. As the small bulbs clicked on around all four sides of the performance space, they promised to shed some light on the psychology of a crime and the perpetrator's descent into madness.

Primoz Bezjak made a compelling protagonist as "wrestling Raskolnikov." With spastic gestures, violent flailing on the ground, and a frenzied expression, he alternated between delirium and denial. At times, his body convulsed in an epileptic fit -- an allusion to Dostoyevsky's own ailment -- while in other moments, he scrambled furiously under the carpets in a frantic search while muttering, "The blood. Where is blood?"

Bezjak's intensity was matched by the explosive pairing of Irena Kovacevic as "wrestling Dunja," Raskolnikov's sister, with Branko Potocan as "wrestling Svidrigajlov," her former employer who is infatuated with her. Their power struggle was condensed into a degrading duet. Potocan repeatedly shoved Kovacevic, pushing her head to her ankles, lifting her dress overhead, and exposing her ass to the air. He wantonly grabbed her neck, thigh, and ankle, whipped her to the ground, and then tumbled on top of her. She finally stumbled awkwardly away, on just one high-heeled shoe, and then collapsed in prolonged, gut-wrenching sobs.

While this duet was the most sexually explicit of the evening, it was not the only violent moment. Rather, the plot unfolded through harsh partnering, extreme contortions, and the performers' unchecked collisions with each other's bodies, the carpets, or the hard floor underneath. These riveting confrontations flared up like sparks against the otherwise bland groupings of the performers, who often moved through pedestrian gestures in unison.

A gentler, though equally complicated pair was made by Bezjak and Dasa Dobersek's "wrestling SonIa," Raskolnikov's lover. She was the first to know his crime and is convinced to stand by him, even chiding him lightly, "Now you've finally done something. How does it feel? How does it feel when you do something?" Under Dobersek's watchful, yet loving eye, Bezjak made the ultimate confession to a double murder. "I killed the old lady and her sister. I did it. I killed her. I did it," he repeated, almost giddy with physical and emotional exhaustion. Dobersek curled around his feet as the rest of the cast abandoned him.

Nearly as soon as the truth was revealed, Branko Jordan returned and asked the audience, "Why don't you turn off the lights? Please. Turn off the lights." And, in the silence and darkness that followed, the audience was left with their own unquiet.

Research Finds Dew Directors

Movement Research, whose activities include the popular (and still free) performance series Movement Research at Judson Church and publishing the highbrow Movement Research Journal, has found a heavy-hitter to replace executive director Carla Peterson, who left earlier this fall to become artistic director of Dance Theater Workshop: Barbara Bryan, the former associate director of Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, current curator of Jacob's Pillow's Inside/Out series and the Lexington Center for the Arts's LEX/Dance, and fleet administrator for Sarah Michelson, John Jasperse and others. Joining Bryan as managing director will be Kim Doelger, who has worked with Bryan for Jasperse as well as Jennifer Monson and Wally Cardona, and managed the Donna Uchizono Company since 2001.

"Kim and I are deeply honored to be selected as the new directors of Movement Research," Bryan told the Dance Insider. "We look forward to engaging the dance community, in all its breadth, through Movement Research's programs. Movement Research has reached a new level of stability recently, and I believe that this is an ideal time for us to take the lead at this organization. We welcome this opportunity to bring our expertise to Movement Research in order to continue to build on the legacy of this vital organization."

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