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Flash Review 1, 10-2: Brahms in the Mix
Brendel & Friends & Gorgeous Music

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2000 Susan Yung

Janie Brendel and Friends' "An Evening of Brahms" was aptly titled because the live music really stole the show, despite a strong slate of choreographers and some admirable dancing. Seen on Sept. 30 at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, the program featured works contributed by Zvi Gotheiner, Ze'eva Cohen, Doug Varone, and Peggy Baker, the last of whom was most unfortunately unable to perform one of her solos due to an injury. Both acts began with gorgeous pieces by Brahms, performed without dance.

A duet by Varone, which he performed with Brendel, was the one piece on the program without musical accompaniment. It was also the most remarkable, showing Varone's terrific acting skills. Titled "Care," it featured Varone as a bespectacled, needy, bumbling partner to Brendel's supplicating care giver. They communicated a tenderness and poignancy in small gestures that captured a long-term relationship of mutual dependency, evoking the little sigh-in-the-heart you get when you see a very old couple holding hands. His occasional tantrums, which looked improvised until one was repeated precisely at the end, created rifts between them, yet resulted in simply reinforcing the unbreakable bond between them.

Ze'eva Cohen's "Two Songs," a world premiere, featured Gerald Casel, Roxane D'Orleans Juste, and Suzanne Gardner dancing to music performed by John Gavalchin (piano) and Ivy Frenkel (soprano). Cohen created powerful drama by mixing movement dynamics, alternating between gentle, soft phrases and outbursts of ardent angularity performed with appropriate urgency by Casel. The second part was a beautiful solo by D'Orleans Juste, whose combination of strength and lyricism matched the music.

"Andante, ma moderato," a world premiere by Zvi Gotheiner, illustrated the music without becoming too literal. Gotheiner, known for his musicality, sometimes traced the rhythm with step-for-count segments, and other times flagrantly counterposed the quick beat with two of the dancers walking very slowly downstage, then upstage, while the third teased them by dancing around them in circles. I wished the dancers had more fully developed the movement in this piece; it seemed to call for a lusher, more aspirated reading.

Brendel danced the rest of the program solo. Stefa Zawerucha's world premiere of "White Ginger" featured a pose, a gesture, a turn, a glance, in variations. While Brendel was clearly enjoying each moment, she seemed intent on conveying that to us, and that negated the unselfconscious focus that might have better suited the work.

Finally, Brendel danced Peggy Baker's "Her Heart" (1993), to four intermezzos for piano. While some basic, well-executed moves were eloquent -- such as a punctuated tendu naturally evolving into an elegant floating leg -- they were linked with a great deal of running. The several costume changes were puzzling for a work of such modest length, though one was cleverly scheduled midway through an intermezzo so that her entrance coincided with the next piece. A moment of high drama (and the probable explanation for the unusual lengthwise orientation of the performance space) came when the stained glass windows of the sanctuary were lit from behind -- a Brahms light and laser show!

Brendel cites Lar Lubovitch's "A Brahms Symphony" as inspiration, though his fluency in Brahms -- it's as if they spoke the same unique language, or breathed the same refined air -- was merely hinted at in this program, only making me wistful to be watching the Lubovitch masterpiece. The music held up its end of the bargain though, like a perfectly brewed cup of hot coffee -- sensual, aromatic, adrenalizing, yet sensible. The other skillful performers were David Bursack and Kirsten Johnson (viola); Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim (violin); and Alberto Parrini and Pitnarry Shin (cello) under the music direction of John Gavalchin. Lighting was designed by Clifton Taylor.

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