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Flash Review, 9-29: Pump down the jam
Munisteri mines; Dendy studies; I reach for my earplugs

By Philip W. Sandstrom
Copyright 2009 Philip W. Sandstrom

NEW YORK -- Deadly kicks and the cudgel-like arms of Lisa Wheeler kicked off the August 15 Lincoln Center Out of Doors performance at the Damrosch Park Bandshell of the premiere of Ben Munisteri's "Catalog" on Munisteri's company, of which the powerful and assertive Wheeler is a founding member. Her solo moments in this aggressive yet humorous dance were marked by Bruce Lee-like motions that appeared threatening even from the audience. Accompanied by the music of Radiohead, this near-martial dance in three sections started out the evening, shared with Dendy Dance Theater, with a body blow. "Turbine Mines," a subtly nuanced dance to the music and text of the Ridley Scott film "Blade Runner," featured the mesmerizing music of Vangelis, and the near robotic movements of the cast. Their reserved and restricted maneuvers mimicked the movement patterns of the Replicants from the film.

"Tuesday, 4 a.m.," accompanied by Stravinsky's "Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra," was a thematic work spanning an entire day, revealed with stunning aplomb by the lighting designer, Kathy Kaufman. It was a visual sensation that helped propel the dance and clarify the theme.

The humor in Munisteri's work is often cerebral to the point were I must concentrate on the performers' every move to try to be in on the joke. His dancers are some of the best and most precise in the business, but the laconic delivery that he requires sometime does his work a disservice. Only in "Turbine Mines" does the taciturn nature of the dancers contribute to and enhance the work. "Catalog" and especially "Tuesday, 4 a.m." were ill served by this unforthcoming approach.

A seemingly endless phalanx of dancers, extending into the wings, stretched, on the diagonal, from upstage right to downstage left to open the premier of Mark Dendy's "Preliminary Study for Depth: The Upper Half of High and Low." With this foreboding assemblage resembling Centurions massing for the attack, I felt we were in for some combative dance. And I wasn't far from wrong. The group work throughout this performance presented an overwhelming tour de force which examined the possibilities of mass formations in motion providing an exciting journey to the other side of depth perception and yielding an adventure into an ever-changing three-dimensional optical illusion.

'Preliminary Study' was inspired by Dendy's research into the works and vast repertory of graphic illusions created by M. J. Escher. By allowing us to see the repletion and undulations of an Escher in motion, Dendy succeeded in delivering on his premises. It is evident in his dance that his examination into Escher's subliminal messages, contained in the eye-bending pictures, was as important as the images themselves as reflected in his choreography. As I roamed through the Escher catalog of works, I found some obvious similarities that may have influenced and inspired Dendy's insightful group choreographic arrangements. Some examples that jumped out were: the continually marching lines of dancers, which bear some resemblance to Escher's "Encounter" (1944); the militaristic formations and aggressive nature of certain phrases, evoking "Horseman" (1946); the complex and tight intermingling of dancer bodies, echoing the "Sun and Moon" (1948); the merging of the performers and their shapes, mimicking "Plane Filling" (1951); the simian movement patterns that re-occurred throughout the dance, mirroring "Predestination" (1951); the swirling transformations of dancers as they fold in upon themselves, harkening "Swans" (1956); and the metamorphoses of the performers from one shape to another, recalling, in this viewer's mind, the series of prints entitled "Metamorphosis III"(1967-1968).

Between his masterful group sections, Dendy inserted marvelous solos and duets, which were powerfully and precisely performed. But within the structure of his human portrayal of Escher's concepts, these smaller works did not ring true. The group work was the main event, the part of the dance that clung to the back of my eye and continues to haunt my memory.

Despite its obvious ingenuity, the dance was too long for the material presented and the limited vocabulary revealed obvious repetitions that, when seen more than three times, became predictable. Dendy may still be working on this opus, as well he should be. He's presented some fantastic work that needs editing in some areas and fleshing out in others. I look forward to any reworking which would accentuate the ingenious group work and reduce the smaller parts.

Other elements conspired against Dendy, notably the music by Apocalyptica, which was just too loud. I wore my earplugs for at least half of Dendy's performance. This overly loud phenomena seems part of the nature of the outdoor festival; the same problem occurred at Summer Stage in Central Park for Dayton Contemporary Dance's recent gig -- too much volume and too much bass or low-end frequencies.

The overwhelming bass and sub-bass (subwoofer) sounds are part of our modern sound technology that caters to rock 'n' roll. These over-amplified deep bass sounds blur the distinction between the notes in the higher ranges. The lower the frequency, the further sound travels; it's the higher frequencies that need the most amplification. I think that it's about time the sound engineers mix the music for a dance show, to serve the dance and not the aurally abusive rock 'n' roll aesthetic. But I can't blame the engineers exclusively; part of the problem stems from the delivery system. Typically the sound emanates from onstage speakers and is cranked up to a level high enough to be heard in the far reaches of the audience, which can extend for hundreds of feet. A more nuanced approach would be to position additional speakers along the entire depth of the audience and, through the use of digital delays, provide more moderate sound levels that sonically appear to be coming from the stage.

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