Go back to Flash Reviews
Flash Review 1, 10-14:
Headlong's Many 'Uses' for Ulysses
By Anne-Marie Mulgrew
Copyright 2000 Anne-Marie Mulgrew
PHILADELPHIA -- At first,
I was daunted by Headlong Dance Theater's conceit to build an evening-length
piece on James Joyce's "Ulysses." David Brick, Headlong cofounder,
assured me that "the dance work should be seen on its own terms
and that 98% of the audience hasn't read the book." I would beg
to differ. The Friday, October 13 crowd who attended Headlong's
"Ulysses: Sly uses of a book by James Joyce," presented by the Modernist
Studies Association at Iron Gate Theater, was deep into the Joycean
consciousness, bordering on fetishism.
The Iron Gate Theater
has undergone renovations. The wings and black box structures have
been removed to expose the church-like architecture. The stage is
visible from all sides. Headlong covers the 40' by 40' floor with
a floating white fabric that serves as movable set, wearable costume,
and place, designed by David R. Gammons. Chairs draped in cloth
and filled with assorted props and costumes by Lisa Leaverton are
around the perimeters. Music is by Andre Popp, Les Paul & Mary Ford,
City of Horns, Tony Martin, Column Mac Oirechtaig, John MacCormack
& Reginald Werrenrath, Beethoven, and Francis Lai, in a soundtrack
designed by Rick Henderson.
In the opening scene,
Andrew Simonet questions a dancing Christy Lee (at the same time
revealing to the audience snatches of a narrative) about a relationship
between a husband (a florist), his wife, and the wife's lover. Brick
enters dancing with Lee and the text; a hilarious awkward athletic
duet ensues, based on styles of lovemaking. I wonder how much is
written and improvised? Simonet asks, "How did the fireman enter
the house?" Lee replies, "Through the open window." Questions abound
-- "What song is the fireman listening to?" "What does the florist
really want to do with his wife?" "When making love, who comes first?"
"Who's lonely?" "Who does the wife really love?" As the scene builds,
the audience realizes there are multiple answers to these basic
questions, depending on who answers them, and this realization sets
the tone for the evening.
During this opening,
I feel as though I am in someone's house, perhaps a living room
watching a domestic scene, a perfect place to see Headlong's charming,
intimate, accessible, text-driven, tongue-in-cheek theatrical and
very human Ulysses. The playful dancer/performers (Nichole Canuso,
Heather Murphy, Amy Smith, Simonet, Lee and Brick) are people first.
They live, talk, share secrets, tell little lies and dance with
abandon as if no one is watching (yet they know everyone is.) Headlong
slyly sets up physical jokes and replays them with aplomb and mature
innocence. I love Brick and Smith's cool straddle lifts morphed
into bulging butt hug/lifts.
Choreographed by HDT
founders/collaborators Brick, Simonet, and Smith with contributions
from the dancers, "Ulysses" borrows devices from the book such as
the question and answer structure, use of repetition (expect lots
of it) and the episodic nature. Skits are seamlessly and effortlessly
woven together, connecting the audience to the circuitous subject
matter -- meaning, understanding, misunderstanding, how one sees,
remembers and reproduces an event.
For instance, one clever
motif shows a dancer dancing a dance, as another dancer talks (like
a sports announcer but more matter-of-factly) the language of the
dance while a third dancer stands on stage with a bucket over the
head. After the dancer finishes, the dancer with the bucket on the
head attempts to dance the dance that was only heard, to the same
dialogue or music. The situation is incongruous, much like life
and events. The audience experiences this motif repeatedly.
Each time the end result
is the same -- it is not the same dance.
As observers, we know
the dance is never the same (even if the vocabulary, such as leaving
downstage with a leap, is more generic dance vocabulary). It's fascinating
because it becomes about the journey and one's willingness to try
again and again for better, to gain information (even if it's the
same). In "Ulysses," Brick's solo followed by Simonet's interpretation
of the words and music brought down the house last night. Brick
interpreted "stag leap" as an athletic dance leap with the front
leg bent exploding into the air. Simonet's "stag leap" was that
of a timid deer. We saw the same words bringing radically different
results. Please keep in mind that even the term "stag leap" is one
one-hundredth of this particular dance. This gimmick continued,
culminating with three people under one large bucket listening to
the talking dancer as a solo dancer danced and then all three under
the bucket gallantly attempted to dance a solo as a trio.
Then there's the magical
duet turned trio for Brick, Simonet, and Smith. Here, Smith and
Brick begin with a smooth ballroom dance reminiscent of French court
dancing. In a heated moment, Brick manages to take off Smith's green
satin jacket, revealing some arms. Brick's so totally smitten by
holding/smelling/rubbing his face in the jacket, he doesn't realize
that Smith's costume is unraveling down to her knickers. At the
same time, the rascal Simonet enters fully dressed in red, undresses
to expose red underwear and dances passionately with Smith while
Brick is still holding onto the jacket. Brick allows himself to
be rused, preferring a piece of clothing to the real thing.
A personal favorite is
an ensemble section showing very simple walking and running, stopping
and pausing. The dancers gather, collect, make diagonal lines, straight
lines. At first, Brick is not part of the group. He's the outsider.
The action builds to include him -- only to have him disconnect
before the entire two-minute section is repeated. I appreciated
the fierce honesty and clarity of this section. I was surprised
(after seeing so much repetition as to that choice). Why the instant
replay? However, I found myself obsessed with looking for the same
actions, such as how Brick is admitted into the group, how he is
expelled and the placement of the dancers in their varying spatial
formations. What a delicious little personal quiz on memory and
Another notable skit
features the four woman doing a spoof on Irish Step dancing to honor
(?) Joyce's roots -- sort of like Sean Curran meeting the Trocks.
Lee, Murphy, Smith and Canuso deliver the suds with fancy foot work,
bopping up and down on all fours, with "to die for" facial expressions.
There are some magical usages of the white fabric, such as when
Lee is lifted by Brick a la bridegroom carrying the bride-style,
Canuso's joie-de-vivre approaches during her language of dance solo,
and the incredible playful child-like ending where the fabric turns
into a swimming pool complete with the cast diving, yelping, floating,
and belly flopping. It made you want to join in! All this made for
a very satisfying evening.
was commissioned by the Rosenbach Museum and Library, where it premiered.
It repeats tonight in Philly, and opens at New York's Dance Theater
Workshop Thursday. For more information on that run, please visit
the DTW web site.
back to Flash Reviews