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Letter from New York, 10-11: Dancetomorrow
Futur-o-scope from Dancenow/nyc

By Alison D'Amato
Copyright 2007 Alison D'Amato

NEW YORK -- The UpClose program of the Dancenow/nyc festival at Dance Theater Workshop began, on the afternoon of Saturday, September 8, with a machine. It was small, sat on a podium, and featured a slim silver rod poking up toward the ceiling of the studio. A young woman came out and approached it cautiously. As she adjusted the position of the podium, she looked at us, smiled sheepishly, and delivered the assurance: "This isn't part of it." Fair enough.

"It" was part of a shared bill of ten short works, all duets and solos, beginning with this piece, "An Ten Eye," choreographed by Christine Doempke. Doempke was listed as a performer, along with Jeff Prout, although nobody else appeared. Maybe Jeff Prout is the name of the machine (the an-ten-eye)? The little rod ended up being at the heart and soul of the work, which was a short sketch that gestured at the potential of motion-sensitive, sound-generating devices. As Doempke moved, the rod responded with noise. Although I have no idea what formula controlled their correlation, she imbued the relationship with comedy and warmth. Her emotive, reacting face lent the interaction some drama, if only for the few moments that it was developed.

Of all the ten short works on view, more than enough relied on female bodies that seemed to be manipulated, compelled or controlled by forces outside of themselves. That kinetic theme is not unfamiliar, but I was struck by it here because it played itself out almost pathologically -- in different ways, under the guise of different themes -- over the course of this packed program. Into that category squarely fell the next piece, "The Hypocrisy of Celebrity Profiles," a collaboration between Adam Scher and Kate Atherton. A lifeless, mannequin-like woman (Atherton) primped and prepped herself for a big night. An equally plastic, yet somehow slightly more self-possessed and autonomous, boyfriend/handler (Scher) entered and lifted her up by the breasts. He struggled, literally, to keep her engaged, instigating a violent, crashing pas de deux while his partner alternately drooped lifelessly and looked vaguely like she wouldn't mind escaping his grip. I get the humor of the piece, and I also get that it's a commentary on the abrasive falsity of celebrity culture, but a part of me wonders if this commentary faces the risk of becoming no more than an unconscious reiteration of the actual thing.

In "This Connected," a work choreographed by Emily Harper, a television set was wheeled into the space. The TV seemed to channel surf on its own, skimming from commercial to commercial at an increasingly rapid pace. Two dancers entered with cell phones; they appeared to be text messaging. At some point their attention was drawn to the flash of the TV and they stopped with their backs to us, staring. One of the dancers began to move around the TV and got rid of her cell phone. She was suddenly and inexplicably liberated, and spent the remainder of the piece trying to get her partner's attention away from one or the other of the fetishized devices. Clearly, this was a piece about trying to "connect." It was about -- literally -- choosing the virtual over the real. The movement material, though, was ambiguous and hung lifelessly on the theme of unhealthy fixation. The shred of narrative was not enough to give us any sense of what agency (i.e. physical actions deriving from a real live human being's desires and impulses) might look like up against the force of mechanization.

Things lightened up a little after this. Ashley Browne performed a breezy, lyrical solo accompanied by a recorded Aretha Franklin song, and Justina Gaddy presented "Mr. Woman," a quirky duet for a cross-dressing guy and girl team. Gaddy's performers were clearly having fun, and although the gender bending was superficial and didn't really do anything to enhance my experience of the work, the movement choices were complex and unexpected. Live accompaniment by the group ICELU was a bonus. Kim Goldman and Stephanie Oakes choreographed and performed in "Terrain," a stately work that made liberal use of unison. Cory Nakasue delivered a fraught solo for the talented Kristen Revier in which her Revier's heart (a paper cutout, hid in her bodice) ended up -- literally -- broken. In "Little Wonder," Kelly Hayes bounded around to the David Bowie song of the same title.

Two remaining works stood out: "Furies are Circuitous," by Jillian Sweeney with Tara O'Con, and "Hands/Self-Portraits," by Yo-el Cassell. These works seemed to sit in a different register in part, I think, because they didn't point outside themselves to generate meaning. Sweeney's work was charming without being insubstantial, and the logic she developed using a series of movement events was coherent without being derivative. O'Con in particular used her eyes as much as any other part of the body, and this gave us a sense of considered embodiment, the projection of a commanding persona behind the architecture of the movement. Cassell's solo work was by turns meditative and strenuous, yet the true dynamism of the piece was his own utter absorption into the evocation of a personal, inner landscape.

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