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Letter from New York, 3-15: Back on the Block
Time Negotiations at DTW; Latin All-Stars at Joe's Pub

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2007 Maura Nguyen Donohue

NEW YORK -- So, I'm in graduate school these days. Pursuing mastery in the fine art of dance so I can get a job molding young minds. Honestly, I just needed a fiscally responsible way to continue my devotion to this field while finding a way to feed my children and provide them with adequate healthcare. The molding young minds track is compelling, but more often than not equally as daunting. It's too long a discussion to enter into at this moment (midterm week for me and for my students) but I included this preface to say that a quick reading of Dance Theater Workshop's press release for Anna Sperber's "The Tiger Situation" left me wary simply because it mentioned an all-female cast, with Sperber cast as a young choreographer. There's just something about a stage full of young women that screams COLLEGE to me. And, trust me, college-land is like an underdeveloped, foreign country when it comes to the arts.

However, the performance I attended on March 2 reflected a level of investigation, experimentation and development that proved Sperber entirely worthy of this evening-length debut. To say she exceeded my expectations would diminish the impact of her work. To say that my enjoyment of it was somehow elevated in relation to work I had just seen a week before (at an MFA concert) would be unfair as well. "The Tiger Situation" stands solidly as sophisticated work, demanding and providing equally of and for younger and seasoned artists and audiences alike. Sperber is a choreographer who deserves more consideration. As a member of Dance Theater Workshop's board and a long-time Dance Insider, I realize this is completely self-laudatory but I have to speak some proper respects for these organizations who note and support artists who might not be on many official radars.

Sperber's choreographic choices speak a kinesthetic language with great fluency. Her negotiation of time, in particular, was highly satisfying as she kept the performers, and audience, engaged in an examination of collapsing bodies and crumbling limbs for what moved beyond interminable into something bordering on ecstatic. In one sequence, two women tumble and fall (hard) repeatedly around the space. The effect is dynamic and invigorating. The simple task of falling, or dragging someone down with you as you fall, is presented as a thorough study during which we are able to scrutinize the various colliding forces of gravity, momentum, weight, release, contact, space, duration and speed. By staying with this at length, and escalating the experience through accumulating bodies and increasing sound volume -- from a fantastic sonic landscape created by Peter Kerlin and Jon Moniaci -- as well as stunning lighting design by Joe Levasseur, she feeds us a veritable feast of sensual input. Sperber arranges "The Tiger Situation" with deliberate repetition and compelling bursts of energy. She employs a deft hand in crafting our pathway through the work, and her dancers -- Julie Alexander, Maureen Damaso, Chalotte Gibbons, Danielle Goldman and Noopur Singha -- perform wonderfully.


A week later, I was back in the city for more infusions of real world art, which isn't what I might normally call a DancemOpolitan at Joe's Pub. DancenOw/NYC's partnership with Joe's Pub at the Public Theater makes for lively and light fare. The cabaret-style venue -- small stage, people eating and drinking -- establishes a level of playful informality that implies the work will tend towards levity and brevity, and thereby perhaps not profundity or deep investment. This is the series's strength, though. DancemOpolitan is where one can take a dance novitiate, where work is accessible without being dumbed down. Today, this is overwhelmingly crucial as I wonder how to bring audiences to dance and how to give young artists places to pay some performative dues. Maybe I am even more high on this downtown venture now than when I lived here because in my pursuit of a family friendlier life -- via graduate work in western Massachusetts -- I recently had to suffer through an almost debilitating faculty dance concert full of (with only two exceptions) works that were so derivative and droll or compositionally, conceptually or politically horrid that this latest DancemOpolitan, "Mojito: Dance with a Latin Twist," seen Friday, worked like the lime chaser after a rough shot of cheap tequila, refreshing and palette cleansing.

The line-up of 12 (yes, 12!) works included one by Clare Byrne and Amy Larimer, who, dressed as iguanas, hosted the evening. The thematic link of scores from traditional and contemporary Latin music made for a little bit of repetition in energy and style for a couple of pieces, but several stood out in execution and idea. Sara Joel and Kevin Gibbs performed "Una Cita a Oiega," a dance created through the support of a Cirque du Soleil Parade grant. It was clearly developed within their patron organization's aesthetic and seemed easily transferable to any cirque nouveau program. The pair added a spicy, sexy twist to what could have otherwise been a typical strongman/counterweight balance act by performing most of the dance blindfolded. Rhumba Tap upped the ante with a ferocious bout of Afro-Cuban dance. Max Pollak, joined by Chikako Iwahori and Lynn Schwab, sang, slapped and stomped through a stylistically satisfying blend of polyrhythms and percussive landscapes. Pollak was infectiously charming throughout, moving his torso fluidly while attacking the floorboards with assertive zeal. Amber Sloan's "A Taste for Delusion" began with Andi Clegg licking what I imagined to be a tequila bodyshot off of Hanna Kivioja-Honeycutt's shoulder and followed along those lines at length until Kivioja-Honeycutt finally grabbed Clegg's tongue and dragged her around the stage. It worked like a clever expansion on a basic Contact Improv exercise (finding contact points beyond the obvious) with a noticeable "The L-Word"-inspired aesthetic. Sita Frederick's "Maletumba II" (excerpts from her longer 2004 work "Transaje") had Abraham Salazar and Tina Vasquez improvising rumba, casino (salsa) and contemporary dance to live conga drums played by Angel Rodriguez. The dancers' powerful performances fed off of one another until the room buzzed from their electric chemistry. The effect was positively energizing. Lindsey Dietz Marchant's performance of an excerpt from Tami Stronach"s "The Maid and the Marmalade" (previously reviewed by my DI colleague Philip W. Sandstrom) was a lyrical, winding pleasure to watch. Marchant maintained an exquisite connection with the floor while also managing an expansiveness of motion that wouldn't seem possible in such a limited space. Julian Barnett, a DancemOpolitan regular and previous collaborator of mine, rocked out to Carlos Santana in "Soul Sacrifice," a potent explosion of abandon and chaos. Barnett's athletic, audacious performance quality married with his flair for dramatic timing made this union (like his past ones) with rock music constantly satisfying to watch. Donlin Foreman performed a finely crafted exploration of the tango with Jennifer Emerson, as part of his excerpt of "Talk to Me." Foreman exuded a level of studied finesse which Emerson matched in panache and grace. Anthony Rodriguez began "Amor Recognized" singing an original tune with luscious zeal before he was joined by the La Santa Luz Dancers for a fervent spell of dancing. The attack, control, shifts, rocks and speed all accumulated for a rousing finale. The show was hot, like I mean 'hot' from the days before Paris Hilton slayed the word.

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