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Letter from New York, 6-14: Fog over Downtown
Voices from the West Provide Food for Thought

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2007 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- What drew me to the Saturday installment of Food For Thought, Danspace Project's annual three-concert event to benefit, this year, the AIDS Service Center, was the fact that Jonah Bokaer curated it. Bokaer's unparalleled dancing in Merce Cunningham's company, his co-founding of the Brooklyn performance space Chez Bushwick, and his well-crafted yet cutting edge choreography that moves dance into the new century, have made him a convincing advocate for the dance community.

As part of his plan to "dissipate the idea that there is one central metropolis for dance in America and recognize that there is alarmingly original choreography happening in San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis..." Bokaer invited six choreographers and a video artist to represent San Francisco's "downtown" dance-performance scene. The program, titled Force Majeure, ranged from the indulgent to the poetic.

In "Choreography, an Improvisation," Keith Hennessy, in red warm-up pants and a shirt emblazoned with a shiny maple leaf, cavorts like a flamboyant cheerleader, walking on the outsides of his feet and falling into splits. Changing into a backless leotard and "Scary Movie" mask, and finally into ruffled bloomers, he screams his voice raw, and complains about how he sometimes really "fucks up" his voice in these one-shot performances. He calls to lighting designer Carol Mullins, "How are we doing on time?" -- he's been allotted 11 minutes. His graceful galumphing with soundless cat-like jumps, funny verbal commentary, and carefree personality are highly entertaining.

"Your Move" by Scott Wells pairs the choreographer with New York dancer Gabriel Forestieri for a testosterone-laden combat, ostensibly over a chess game. But the infrequent chess moves are incidental to the guys' raucous tumbling over, under, and around the table, karate maneuvers, and contact moves like a spectacular foot-to-foot handstand. When one of the table legs unexpectedly falls off, the dancers' adrenaline spikes, and they spontaneously revise, leaping and diving over the disabled furniture. They wind up crawling underneath the lopsided table to continue their game like two cherubic boy scouts in a pup tent.

The title of Mads Lynnerup's video, "Untying a Shoelace with an Erection," aptly describes the short and sweet vignette. A still camera watches the untying of a sneaker shoelace with a string that's tied to it. It's a visual haiku.

"Anicca," choreographed and directed by Eric Kupers, whose Dandelion Dancetheater likes to tackle social and political issues, achieves eloquence with its "naked" honesty. Four bodies of various shapes, from a skinny guy to an obese woman (Nol Simonse, Lucia August, April Taylor, and another unidentified woman), all wearing tighty whities -- or not wearing them -- acclimate us to their nudity and odd bodies by walking, running, and falling down -- all but the big woman, who just rolls her eyes at it -- in a circle.

The women perform some puppetry with Simonse's penis and his eyeglasses while he's out cold. Then follows a poignant duet by the smallest and the largest, Simonse and Taylor, in which she lifts him and he climbs on her, while August recites Kupers's text about self-acceptance, "Why do I care if it's pretty?" and mortality, "Our first breath is a commitment to the fact that we're going to die."

In Mary Armentrout's "California (the new life)," she wanders around the stage strewn with trash -- water bottles, a mop, assorted dishes, pillows -- in a T-shirt and panties, improvising (one assumes) to a recorded score that recycles repeated romance-novel-type phrases like, "he championed the good, the bad, and the money," and "her hand brushes her breast." Simonse naps on the floor nearby, occasionally shifting position. The point of the piece remains obscure.

In "Sleep," Paige Starling Sorvillo dances delicately with her eyes closed, while George Cremaschi in a business suit walks to and fro, also with closed eyes until he picks up his bass violin, lying on the floor, and plays. The premise of exploring space sightless is an interesting one for self-exploration in the studio, but not necessarily for public presentation, at least not until the exploration has yielded some artistic conclusions.

Kathleen Hermesdorf however, in "Fractal," accompanied by Albert Mathias playing electronic keyboard and looping her comments into a microphone into a canonic cantata, makes improvisation-as-performance intensely convincing. Tall, yoga-toned, and tanned Hermesdorf starts out imitating poses of audience members she espies. Her movement develops with both control and abandon, ping-ponging between slow sensuous stretchiness and vibratory frenzy, until finally, pinned in a spotlight, she shudders her body and whips her blond mane like a trapped animal, while Mathias turns an inverted water-cooler bottle into a conga drum.

Overall, the concert showed that the San Francisco audience, for better or worse, is more patient than New Yorkers about leisurely pacing and improvisational performance, but just as enamored of nudity -- gratuitous and otherwise.

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