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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.