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Flash Review 3, 10-31: Released from Release
Cheng and Harrington Go "Against Type"

By Tony Silva
Copyright 2000 Tony Silva

"Against Type," seen Sunday at the Merce Cunningham Studio, presented the work of Anita Cheng and Heather Harrington. These two emerging choreographers both rebel in their own way against the "Release Technique" type of dancing that is so in vogue in the Downtown scene these days. Both are deeply involved in developing their own voices. Those voices, which are quite different from each other's, found themselves comfortably juxtaposed in this concert.

In general, Harrington's solos are stronger than her group work because of who she is as a performer. She brings an intensity to her dancing that is gripping, but it gets a little lost when other people are on stage. In her fist solo, "Lucille," I was intrigued by recurring gestures of awkward reaches and waves, often directly out at us, and sometimes projected upside down through her legs. With Harrington dressed in a black bra and pants and sporting a page boy hair cut, there was a slightly erotic and almost comic feel to the dance. Cam Millar's funky soundtrack of New Orleans-style trombone and piano was the highlight of the program's original music, but it soon shifted at the end of the first section to a more ambient sound that set the tone for the rest of the evening's music.

A large orange canvas created by Greg Kessler and hung on the back of the stage showed a woman holding a snake (Eve?), but the canvas was disturbingly split down the middle. Half-way through the dance Harrington pulled off her short-haired wig to reveal a long pony- tail, and her character took on a more somber demeanor. The dance ended with Harrington's back to us, the performer close to the audience, perched on one leg like an egret and reaching back as if we had something she needed.

In her solo "Fractured," Harrington danced in front of a large projection of herself skating. She moves like liquid on the ice. Millar's music, which incorporates the sounds of skating, heightened our kinesthetic response to the images. The live Harrington seemed a little trapped on the dance floor in front of the screen as if she was remembering the freedom she experienced gliding on ice. She stretched and pulled her body like taffy, at one point rolling on the floor propelled by giant and extreme leg circles.

"Ruth and Judith," Harrington's duet with Kelly Grigsby to music by Millar, had its share of interesting moments. The dance presented two young women that were a reflection of each other. Both in black dresses, they could have been twins, sharing the same gestures and interacting as sisters would. Every so often they would look out at the audience cheek to cheek like they were posing for a photograph. However, like the dance, Millar's score of piano, synthesizer and ambient sounds meandered like someone on a journey with no map or particular destination.

"Line Uncrossed" was Harrington's group piece, performed by Harrington, Grigsby and veteran dancer/choreographers Jennifer Chin and Sarah Lewis. Beautiful maroon, brown and tan costumes helped set the tone for this cryptic quartet. There was something mysterious happening from the beginning. The four dancers sat with their heads thrown back and mouths open gaping at the ceiling. Turning slowly to the audience, they spoke to us with exaggerated silent speech. The dance had some lovely duets and some of the most satisfying large and open movement of the entire evening.

Cheng's partnering style in "Duet for Now" showed her interest in physics and architecture. Yet, this dance, performed by Erik Kaiel and Victoria Tobia, came closest of all her work to eliciting an emotional response from her essentially abstract vocabulary.

Cheng's "Forecast," excellently danced by Erika Bloom, Katie Sue Brack, Ariell Javitch and Stacy Sumpman, featured a live broadcast of the National Weather Service. A computerized voice spoke of "gail force warnings" off the coast of Long Island as the four dancers swept across the stage in geometric patterns. A video by Ronaldo Kiel showed planet Earth with whisping clouds on a large screen behind the dancers. A wide variety of idiosyncratic vignettes punctuated by abrupt shifts characterized this choppy dance. It was as if Cheng had lots of little good ideas and she put them together in this dance. Again, I felt that I was on a journey to no place in particular, but many of the sights along the way were nice and sometimes very interesting.

Cheng's solo "Home of the Gesture" was actually a duet between Cheng and herself as a life-sized video projection (created by Cheng and Kiel). The dance explored shape-based movement that never strayed from it's geographic location on stage. By this time in the concert I had become accustomed to Cheng's style of creating phrases in chunks. The soundtrack of George Benn recounting memories was chopped and spliced much like the choreography. This dance required clarity and consistency to stay synchronized with the video image. Cheng had both. However, the abrupt and arbitrary ending left me with the feeling that the dance was unfinished.

"Daybreak" was the most successful of Cheng's work choreographically. This well-rehearsed quartet with Bloom, Brack, Sumpman and Renee Smith was an ambitious piece that lasted close to 15 minutes. From the moment the dancers took to the stage clear ideas were appearing. Dressed in different pastel-colored unitards, they created moving sculptures that formed then reformed across the stage. Between the unitards, the unabashed synthesizer music by Carl Landa, and Kiel's background video of simple white lines moving in geometric patterns on a black background, this dance reminded me of Merce Cunningham's work from the 1970s.

"Against Type" was a significant body of work by two artists who are clearly diligent about their approach to dance-making. All the dances were well rehearsed, excellently performed and professionally presented. Both choreographers insisted on original music and it all had pristine sound quality (which is rare for music made in home studios). The entire show was masterfully lit by Dance Theater Workshop's Jay Ryan.

Cheng's work showed a Cunningham influence which included geometric patterning and a chance sound score, but clearly demonstrated her own individual style. My hat is off to her for having the guts to work in the lineage of such a master. Harrington's work was consistent yet diverse. It honored her personal movement signature and still provided a wide range of material. Both choreographers experimented in multi media and both insisted on original music. However, I would say to them that to really reach people, there is more that they can squeeze out of their work. My suggestion would be to look into how the dances could be structured more dramatically.

 

Tony Silva is a choreographer based in New York City.

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