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Flash Review 3, 10-20: The Mind-Body Connection
Barnard Dances

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2000 Maura Nguyen Donohue

One wouldn't necessarily expect much from an Ivy Leaguer dance concert such as Columbia U's Barnard Dances at Miller Theater last night. I'd expect this lack of expectation to be fed by a general impression of tedious college-level work mixed with an idea that these particular students would be spending more time in their heads than in their bodies. However, like their NYU/Tisch Îneighbors,' these dancers get the splendid benefit of their location, location, location. Even all the way uptown, this department benefits from the input of Downtown NYC in the form of emerging and established choreographers. This year's concert included works created or inspired by Anna Sokolow, José Limón and Rebecca Stenn.

I'll admit I was wary. To attend a college-level concert without any prior personal or artistic history with the participants is a significant challenge to my patience level. It's difficult enough to emerge from most concerts fully satisfied. The questions are the same but the grade curve is usually lowered. It's about challenge, it's about risk, it's about safety, interest, desire and love. I'm asked to weed through all the students who dance "cuz it's fun or whatever" for just a glimpse at those who sincerely revel in what they're doing. Of course, when that does happen it's refreshing and exciting to think we might possibly be witness to someone who may eventually inhabit that most exhausting mantle of 'professional dancer.'

Last night, I saw those sparks in Sarah Samis and Mara Torres especially. Samis breathed confidence into Kathryn Sullivan's premiere "Islands, Bridges and Highways." The work started off shaky. Gilles Obermayer's original score, performed live, seemed overpowering for the dancers. Obermayer is an accomplished musician and his presence on stage was much livelier than the nine women en pointe began with. It seemed that the music and the dance were going to end up in competition. But as the second section began and Samis claimed our attention, the entire group seemed to settle into the work. Sullivan's choreography, particularly in the port de bras shapes, demanded a kind of self-assured ease of the cast that wasn't wholly achieved. I'd say it was beyond their years, except that Samis seemed perfectly at home with the material.

Risa Steinberg reconstructed excerpts from José Limón's "Dances for Isadora." How's that for rich: Three dance history icons for the price of one. Torres's performance of "Primavera" was playful, buoyant, articulate, warm and engaging. She is a dancer so fully present and alive that I'm reminded of someone in love. She glows. Liz Pearlman's fiery "Maenod" and Meaghan Daly's matriarchal "Naiobe" were also noteworthy performances.

A point of pride for Barnard College's department of dance should be it's inclusion of work by emerging New York choreographers. "Valeska's Vitriol" by Sara Hook was a high point of last year's concert for me, and as a work Stenn's "Stride" was thrilling. I'd seen Stenn's PerksDanceMusicTheatre at La Mama a few years ago, when her clever style still seemed very connected to her six years with Momix. "Stride" used none of the conventions of set or props from her earlier work, but it was still innovative in a deliciously filmic manner. Think cotton or Levis commercial for the opening: oil slick grey -- flash -- a woman striding slowly forward -- dim -- flash -- a group striding slowly forward -- dim -- flash -- the woman stands alone amidst the group. One becomes many becomes alone again. Stenn handles the very large group relentlessly. There are a lot of bodies to manage and she keeps them moving. Their accumulations and the brief moments of contact that resemble a desperate tag game maintain a sense of urgency that is heightened by both music and movement vocabulary. "Stride" is an enthralling dance full reeking of seductive danger.

The program also included Lorry May's "Rooms Etude" from Anna Sokolow's "Rooms," which continued the original's sense of isolation, with 13 dancers straining from their chairs. Sandra Genter's flowing "Fado!" was well named after it's overwhelmingly enjoyable and memorable Portuguese music.

Performances continue Friday and Saturday, at 8 p.m. at the Miller Theater, Columbia University, B'Way & 116th.

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