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Flash Review 1, 9-30: Salon Dances
Intimate "Liaisons" from Edisa Weeks & Co.

By Alison D'Amato
Copyright 2008 Alison D'Amato
Photography by Julie Lemberger

NEW YORK -- Edisa Weeks is a dance nomad, bringing her company, Delirious Dances, and the portable piece "Liaisons" to private homes scattered across New York City. The version I saw was mounted September 19 at the Geraldine Page Salon, which, despite its performance-evoking title, is actually someone's home. And that's the first of many pleasures you'll find in "Liaisons": the rare opportunity to snoop into a stranger's apartment. This particular host's welcome was warm and unequivocal. Walking up to the Chelsea venue, I was astonished to find the door wide open. I climbed a narrow, slightly curving staircase and found myself in a lovely, softly lit entryway that led into the performance space, a book-lined room ringed with chairs. After checking out the hosts' reading habits, I took a seat, joining a group of about 20 spectators.

Weeks arrived and greeted us, then sat down to play DJ. She cued the easy listening sounds of Mantovani & his Orchestra, and the performers crept out of an adjoining room. The piece began with some soft social dancing, easy foot patterns and gently draping arms. The four performers switched partners and recombined, sliding in and out of interactions noncommittally but genially. Soon, though, the audience was brought into the action. Melissa Guerrero and Maxx Passion whipped around the room, pausing in front of audience members one at a time. They lifted their hands directly in front of our faces, staring at us through gently spread fingers. It got one's heart beating a bit quickly, waiting for one of them to approach, then confronting the performers' wide open eyes from only inches away.

The piece isn't exactly site-specific, as Weeks herself mentioned in the talk-back, but, as she put it, "interior specific," designed to unfold in a landscape that's somehow both cozy and intense, with very few places for either the performers or the audience to hide. Indeed, the most memorable moments of the "Liasons" involve the audience. The charismatic Solomon Bafana Matea instigated a series of stunning moments, first coaxing spectators out of their chairs only to guide them through the space to new seats. Once you got used to that pattern, Matea unexpectedly subverted it, taking a woman into his arms, or rather, easing himself into her arms. Once entwined, he nudged her into leading a dance, which she did gamely. Then he turned his attention to two men next to me, extending his hands to them. Rather than pulling the pair out of their seats, he simply offered his hands, shifting strategies by dropping into that point of contact, using the new partners to support his weight.

Solomon Bafana Matea and Maxx Passion of Delirious Dances perform Edisa Weeks's "Liaisons" at Hell Lab. Photo by and copyright Julie Lemberger.

"Liasons" offers moments enough, though, to simply sit back and take in the visuals, including some lofty, unexpected -- considering the scale limitations of the space -- partnering. Also in the talk-back, Weeks explained that her personal movement choices tend to be expansive, and that comes across in the more tightly choreographed sections of the piece. Much of the movement feels airy and bright, not shrunken as one might expect from a work that was made in studios then transplanted to smaller, non dance-ready spaces. Because space is such a constant and well-worn obstacle, more and more choreographers have taken to simply sidestepping it: notably the recent Bessie award-winner Susan Rethorst, who took a piece created in her living room to Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church. And why not? Creators like Rethorst and Weeks should be inspirations to us. Make dance where you can. And take it where you can. There's no reason work that's thoughtful and created on a human scale can't thrive in smaller, more personal spaces that lack the constraints of a proscenium.

Another standout scene in "Liaisons" certainly capitalized on the fraught closeness of the domestic environment. The effortlessly expressive Guerrero removed one pair of underwear, then another and another. She slithered through an audience member's legs into an unseen corner, from which she catapulted loads more. After she gathered them and scurried away, Benjamin Asriel wandered out wearing only underwear -- one pair in the usual way and one over his head like a blindfold. He was taunted by the other dancers and left alone grasping into empty space, unaided by his witnesses. As he finally ripped the blindfold off, the sense of vulnerability and trespass was palpable. In moments like these, Weeks takes us beyond the circumscribed and well-worn dimensions of the living room and shows us dance as it should be, even in the grandest auditoriums: something intimate, unbearably sweet, and even a little scary.

"Liaisons" may be coming soon to a living room near you. For details on upcoming events, visit the Delirious Dances website.

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