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Letter from New York, 5-3: Uuungh Hop My Mine There Yes Scratch Smell Neck Go
Empty and Fidgety Loulaki

By April Biggs
Copyright 2007 April Biggs

NEW YORK -- Sunday, April 15: Isn't it prudent, at least on occasion, to attend a Sunday performance at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church? And so I chose this day to attend the final evening of Amanda Loulaki and Short Mean Lady's newest work, with the compelling title: "Delirium, or that taste in my mouth." The stage is split up by odd props and scattershot scenery: a vinyl floor stretches along upstage in a chopped up polygon shape and a bench stands near the spectators at the center of the stage's edge on top of a small emerald putting green. A glow encircles a gothic Pedro Osario, entranced (by what, I don't know) and trying to get up off the ground in fits near a column where a plant stands. As the lights fill in a stark atmosphere, the shadow of a topless woman in black underwear, Carolyn Hall, rises to the chapel ceiling. Another dancer, Rebecca Serrell, is perched on the bench in front, observing. Next to her sits a hatbox. Loulaki emerges near Osario, as if climbing out of the same estranged sphere, arching to the sky with a pulsating torso. Serrell makes her way towards Hall and then slips Hall's limbs into a black dress similar to those the other women wear. A score for violins, composed by Georgios Kontos, starts and stops in random bursts; a man sitting next to me writhes ecstatically in his chair -- I seriously consider the possibility that he is the composer. I mean, what is he getting that I'm not?

Loulaki pulls a mic from offstage and whispers into it something indistinct and breathy. She makes her way to the back of the stage, which is encircled by a suspended cloth partition, and whistles into the silence, which is interesting but, like most of the other more tangible moments, is swallowed by the wide mouth of the piece. The other dancers roll and fidget about, 'experiencing themselves.' I feel like I'm watching an improv jam staged at a Cure concert, quintessentially private and self-indulgent (which can be sublime in one's bedroom, but of what use is this to us?). In a shining moment, Loulaki and Serrell present a short duet, each stationed in a different location on the stage. Serrell runs her hands and forearms through a drooping plant while Loulaki sits in the back doing the same movement without the plant, drawing the quiet and emptiness into focus. In the press packet, she notes in italics, "I am so afraid that I have nothing left inside me that the only thing I can do is keep moving and moving and moving and hoping that in the end the pattern of my path will reveal a reason for existence.... I can see all of you looking at me, waiting for something out of me...." In a more direct explanation of "Delirium...," she clarifies that this work is "a platform for experiencing movement... derived from meditations on the fear of emptiness. The impetus of the process for this piece is to reveal what is in the body initially before the brain makes decisions about the content of the movement." Although this accounts for the omnipresent divorce from any narrative, what do we do with all of this erratic movement? There is a drag, tremble, stare and then do-something-unexpected motif present throughout the work, and while I can appreciate the approach, "Delirium, or that taste in my mouth" dwells too long on its ideas at the expense of its audience.

To my relief, and perhaps that of the restless rustling audience, mid-piece Serrell purrs into the mic, "I know this is difficult. I know you don't want to be here. I wouldn't want to be here either." I laugh. She goes on: "Look longer," repeating it as a sort of mantra. As the piece develops, Serrell stands out as authentically engaged in the risk-taking. She comes closest to the ideal of moving before the brain intervenes and distracts me from what has become a toe-tapping waiting game. Hall poses downstage center, shaking. Am I being tested? I start to think about post-modern dance and feel trapped.

As a reviewer, I have access, straight from the horse's mouth, to what the piece is all about in my special press packet. Personally, I could do without the spoon-fed story or disclosures, and with "Delirium...," it leads me to a singular conclusion: Without this information, the intent, as defined by Loulaki, would have soared straight past me -- which is to say the work was not well-delivered or crumbled beneath the weight of its length. Assessing it on stand-alone terms only, I am saturated by the lack of compression; I am bored by the excess we must endure to get to the matter of "Delirium, or that taste in my mouth." These are the times when I think dance has much to learn from poetics.

After some half-acrobatic, half-sexual intertwining of Loulaki and Osario, we plummet towards the close of the piece. The four dancers start mounting each other, in a sort of sludgy game of Twister, and then break out into more odd disconnected solos. The music, which has continued to come and go, makes its last exit. Indistinguishable, almost meditative noises ooze from the dancers in the silence. Hall picks up the hatbox and spills out its contents, styrofoam pellets, onto the stage. Osario then turns on a fan which was placed upstage earlier. The breeze nudges the styrofoam around, the lights dim and the whirr replaces the quiet. It's a perfect finish to an exhaustive lesson in observation, the disengaging kind.

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