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Flash Review 1, 10-27: Twirling & Swirling with Dave
Dorfman, Paying Tribute and Subverting

By Asimina Chremos
Copyright 2000 Asimina Chremos

CHICAGO -- Damn fine! The David Dorfman crew last night kicked off the inaugural season at our city's newest, sleekest dance space with a kick-ass show that paid homage to the old Dance Center of Columbia College and gave us plenty of inspiration for further sweating and grooving, onward and ever. The first piece on the program, "The Move Project," employed a community cast of over 20 performers who represented "the extended Dance Center family" (program note). The second half of the evening was filled to the brim with "Subverse," the swelling, flying, twisting, falling, and floating new work by the Dorfman company, which will premiere in full length in December at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

The Move Project started subtly as the audience entered, with a video projection on the back wall of the stage area. Views of architectural details of the old Dance Center on Sheridan Road (a former movie theater from the 30s or 40s) were edited together with views out the window of the surrounding sidewalks and streets. As Dance Center executive director Phil Reynolds gave his welcoming curtain talk, he was interrupted by various members of the audience claiming to be him, approaching the stage, and horning in on his announcement. We were treated to a little of Phil's charming dance stylings as the stage filled up with performers, and The Move Project commenced in earnest.

A rangy, adorable, organic composition of memories, movements, images, and groupings, the project drew on the participants' individuality and creativity as movers, personalities, and storytellers. Most poignant was an extended section where the stage was filled with couples doing duets that included one standing, one crawling, like a person and his/her dog, together with contact improvisation sequences including body surfing, rolling, and perching.

Apparent in this work was Dorfman's eye for material that is human, honest, and bittersweet. In the big group movement sections, we saw unison dancing that was never quite unison. There was always someone going the other way or doing something else, composed in a totally casual way that seemed so easy and free, presenting us with an image of community where there is a lot of agreement but zero conformity. Right on! This in itself was deeply satisfying and touching.

Now, "Subverse" was something else entirely. The dancing by the fab-u-lous dancers of somewhat androgynous proportions, all big-armed women and ripple-spined men, was masterful, lush, momentum-ous, inverted, and emotional. It was really hard for me to sit still. I so wanted to dance. It made me love dancing, want to eat dancing, and be grateful for now and ever that I am a dancer. I can't wait to get into the studio today! "Subverse" is a world of sweaty, driven, energized and sometimes collapsing superhumans in big white angel-floaty full pants and sexy apron/tunic tops in earthy colors (by Naoko Nagata).

The program notes said something about how the piece is rooted in memories of 70s/80s club culture, so as I watched I flashed back to Rosy Co., the Japanese group that had a similar theme. I didn't quite get the club thing in "Subverse," except for the music (by Hahn Rowe) and some of the lighting (Jane Cox). The set (Paul Clay) consisted of three square columns hung here and there, made of red fabric and chrome, giving a sense of vertical space up/down and the dangerous glow of red light. There was a geometric patch of grass downstage center, a little yard (what, I thought, is the green grass doing in a world with no sun?). One thinks Subverse, Sub = under, universe, some gentler form of hell we are in, maybe. Red and green are very life-lively colors, the colors of christmas, of blood and springtime.

David Dorfman starts out "Subverse" with a very accomplished talking-moving solo around the grass about a new suit that was expertly performed -- but I think I'd have to see the work again to draw any conclusions about the relevance of this story, or any of the other verbal moments in the work. All were well done but somehow left me with more questions than information of any sort.

But who cares? Many dancers in the audience were raving afterwards about the duets, the partnering that they found exquisite and intense. I found my eye was more drawn to other things: the committed solo dancing, the loose but cohesive group patterns, the loose powerful arm movements and hand gestures, the wide stances and open eyes. I loved also the odd theatrical images, like when one male dancer repeated an image of running with his pants falling down, and a repeated theme of many laughing at one.

While the dancers of David Dorfman Dance all seem to come from the same planet, there is distinction in each of their interpretations. I can't attach names to faces with this group, but I will say that Jeanine Durning, Curt Haworth, Paul Matteson, Jennifer Nugent, Lisa Race, and Tom Thayer are all totally remarkable and unique. Dorfman himself was often lurking in the shadows of the piece, watching, pointing, entering and flurrying around. His role was the only one significantly differentiated from the others.

There is something in Dorfman's presentation and style as a choreographer that reminds me of Bebe Miller's and Doug Elkins' works -- a kind of transcendent physicality. It has to do, I think, with a postmodern technical dance style that has been deeply infected with contact improvisation and, yes, that club/street thing, but with the emotion and passion passed down from Martha and Isadora and Doris. It's something we don't really have here in Chicago, where most of the contemporary dance we see is based in ballet and jazz that is hegemonic, working away from gravity, and exalting romance rather than deeply rooted desire.

That about says it. Except: Maybe the suit story has to do with the devil. Dorfman thinks the suit is free, it's made for him and it fits like a glove but then he has to pay for it after all? The suit is the agent of descent? There was for me a very clear heaven/hell kind of place in "Subverse." At one point Dorfman holds a pose center stage and all the dancers come out one at a time and do an odd jump and pop-on-toes kind of thing right next to him and then start twirling and swirling around him; they are now wearing black silky shifts over their tops. The angels have gone dark and the humans have gone ghostly.

This piece is worth more than one look. Dance Inisder, bring me to NYC to see it again!

Peace out.

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