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Flash Review 3, 10-9: Mirror, Mirror
Brooklyn for Loveliness

"I used to live in a room full of mirrors
Where all I could see was me.
Well I took my spirit
And I crashed my mirrors
Now the whole world is there for me to see."

-- Jimi Hendrix, as sung by Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders

"She wore lemon."

-- U2, from the soundtrack to "Pret-A-Porter"

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000 The Dance Insider

BROOKLYN -- I know, I know, the borough of Brooklyn is part of New York City, so it's as ridiculous to make that the dateline for this Flash as it would be to make it "MANHATTAN." But living in Manhattan -- GreenWich Village, no less, to para-tone Bob Dylan in "Talkin' New York" -- I've tried to ignore the increasing number of dance flyers with a Brooklyn venue that have flooded the DI inbox. That's not from snobbery, it's from fear of getting lostery. As anyone who's ever accompanied me to an event where a subway is involved will tell you, when I emerge from the station I can't even figure out which way is uptown and which way down. So the prospect of trying to find my way to a hidden theater in a strange town has always been daunting. Only a friend or an artist I know and REALLY want to see will get me there, and even then only if there's someone to hold my hand on the way. But when I heard Chase Dance Theater was in the house with "an Evening of Beauty and Madness," including a reprisal of D. Chase Angier's mostly-new-to-me riff on female image consciousness "Lemons for Loveliness," I was tempted. And when I heard the house was a spanking new space, Williamsburg Art NeXus (or WAX), it seemed my duty, as we've been ranting here about the shrinking space for dance in this town, to check it out. And finally, when I was told WAX is right on the L line -- folks, this is a ten-minute ride from downtown Manhattan, half the time it takes you to get uptown, and you're in the company of a way cooler Boho crowd -- this young man had no excuse not to go east.

As I write this now, it's about 11 Saturday night, the basses are pumping on 8th Street outside the Gray's Papaya (single question I didn't ask and should have when I looked at this apartment five years ago: Is it true the Gray's Papaya is open 24 hours?). Let's put it this way, peoples: On Saturday night, I live in the middle of a great big party of hormone-crazed teenagers and immediate post-teenagers.

Now Brooklyn on the other hand -- or, more specifically, Williamsburg -- is just nicely populated on a Saturday night. If you reading this are not a New Yorker, you might not know what every legit Boho artist has known for the last couple of years, namely that the new East Village is, indeed, congregating around the area of 7th and Bedford. The difference is -- shshshshshshsh! -- the bridge & tunnellers haven't discovered it yet, so that even on a Saturday night, it's possible to spread your wings without poking someone's eyes out. This was even so outside WAX at a few minutes before 8 Saturday night, as a couple of dozen of us waited to be admitted to loveliness.

The doors opened and -- splash! Lemons! Loveliness! Women ready to spritz us with perfume! Women ready to give girls and guys manicures! Shots of vodka in little plastic shot glasses, with lemon wedges to increase the pucker factor! A woman, visual artist Merry-Beth Noble, ready to throw a wig on us, snap a Polaroid, and tack it on the wall to join the rest of her Lemon-Loveliness related exhibit. Shower curtains with impressions of yellow lemon halves and red lips. A wall of five & dime store mirrors with plastic gold handles. The idea here, it had to be explained to me later, was that before we even enter the theater to join the odyssey of three women obsessed with how they look and how they might improve on the situation (this is where the lemons and other beauty secrets come in), we have to look at ourselves repeatedly.

Once we get into the theater -- well, this IS a nice theater. An intimate black box, the seats descending on the proscenium, but not a nappy one: clean and simple, with about the most comfortable wooden chair backs I've ever sat in in a theater. It seats about 64.

As G-Love and Special Sauce croon on tape, "My baby got sauce/Your baby ain't sweet like mine," Angier, Veronica Dittman (disclosure: a friend and colleague), and Faith Pilger squeeze their tummies to bunch up what might be considered the fat. They are considering it in mirrors. Oh -- we're the mirrors. "Isn't it a pity that I'm not the prettiest girl in the world" seems to be the answer, a refrain sung first by Dittman and successively by the others. Next scene: On stage left, Angier delicately lays out a bowlful of Twinkies, and then savages them; on stage right, Dittman is trying to be good and fill herself with rice cakes, covered with a Palmolive-colored green goo. Things are restrained for about, oh, 30 seconds, and then Stravinsky kicks it, with, you know, the big percussive section from "Rite of Spring," and Angier and Dittman square off against their nemeses: the food. The edibles are to them kinda like von Rothbart is to Odette, casting a spell that is evil and irresistible at the same time. They have met the enemy, and it's what they eat. They recoil; collapse on the ground; crawl towards the foodstuffs, stretching out their arms for it yearningly. The piece ends when, between them from upstage, Pilger emerges, smugly and triumphantly hoisting a can of Slim-fast.

Pilger riffs on this for a while, in a sort of Slim-fast commercial; but she is not aloof from the body insecurities. The kick-ass solo in this piece, previously essayed by Angier, is this time carried off -- in a different flava, one might say -- by the kick-ass Pilger. When Angier took this role, as I recall, the humor was black and white over the top. Here, in a few minutes we get a whole journey: When Pilger emerges with a bundle of clothes-stuff, it's at first in excited anticipation: Let's play dress-up! But the more things she tries on, the more her confidence drops: a tight black dress isn't quite right; an elegant white gown seems sublime until she turns to look at her profile, and discovers the side slit looks more like a side rip. Then she dons a hot pinkish thing first on her head -- it's a hat!; then pulls it over her chest -- it's a brassierey thing!; then over her waist -- it's a short-short tight-tight skirt! She throws a bright lemony yellow t-shirt on and this seems to work, but -- not quite. Did I mention she's in lipstick-red stilettos? Then! Aha! She ties the white gown around her waist like a sweater, which has the effect of de-slutifying the pinkish hat-brassiere-skirty thing -- ah! she smiles, that's it! Finding her look at last, she slips her arms into a hooded sweater, throws a knitted cap over her head - and, presto, gangsta gal! Then Pilger declaims, arms sanctifying, in a hip-hop mode: "Isn't it a pity/that I'm not the prettiest/girl in the world?" before hobbling off on one stiletto. The trio seems to dance one-stiletto'd for the rest of the piece.

There's a tea service section here whose humor eludes me, tho it evoked titters in many in the audience. Angier and Dittman enter, er, stacked, basically. It soon becomes clear that an entire tea set is responsible for this effect, as they one by one remove the cups and saucers from their bosoms and shoulders. There seems to be a competitive oneupwomanship thing going on here, reaching its lemon crescento when Angier tilts her head and squeezes her real-lemon wedge earrings to juice the tea, and Dittman answers by stirring hers with her hair.

The slam-dunk section is the penultimate one, which starts with the trio wheeling on three of those make-up tables with lights in the table tops. At first, this is the only illumination, making even more ghastly (and anything but pretty) the women's proceeding immolation in various beauty treatments: Pilger's involves honey, flour, and milk (the, er, flour face pack); Dittman's, Pepto-Bismol for the face and olive oil, an egg, and honey for the hair; Angier's, I'm not sure, but Palmolive seems to be involved, and the net effect is that she emerges with a light-green goo on her face, appearing, in the ghostly light, the most ghoulish of the three.

Suddenly all lights are on and the aesthetic effect of these various beauty treatments is, well, in a word -- hideous. But the women have apparently passed the test, as the Sousa music kicks in, each is crowned, and accepts the applause of the audience.

This is rigorous work, not the least so in the titling of the company as Chase DANCE THEATER. These two forms are titularly combined rather freely these days, and I'm not sure with how much careful consideration. I think there's a -- sometimes vague -- sense that by dubbing themselves at least in part "theater," the companies are saying that their dances are stories. But, in fact, not all of them are, and the vocabulary is still basically a dance one, with the theatrical elements, in terms of story, often simplistic; and in terms of craft, often involving nothing more than poor, very limited miming.

What's interesting about CDT's results is that Angier's company really is a dance, and theater, company. If not for the fact that it's all set to music and that I happen to know her performers are all trained dancers, I wouldn't know which form in which to classify "Lemons for Loveliness." The drama is textured -- as much of a romp as it is, it's not simple and black and white. Except that all the music not sung by the performers was by men -- implying that the women are dancing to the men's tune -- I didn't feel, as a man, attacked or insinuated against. The blame for the grueling and sometimes grisly (and gristle-ee) routines the women put themselves through was not all placed on my doorstep. Indeed, in a little lemon-colored hand-out inserted in the program, those of the beauty recipes demonstrated last night that are attributed to anyone, are attributed to women.

There are some moments in the piece of frantic tooth-brushing, and that beauty tip comes from Angie Dickinson, who says: "I hate being overweight, even if it's only by a few pounds. When it reaches the point where I feel I've just got to eat something, I brush my teeth instead. It takes my mind off food." Yup, that'd do it!

Angier puts one's mind on all these issues, but you feel you're being entertained, not preached at. Angier went to school in the Carolinas, and I'm reminded of a story told me by another Carolinian. It's from Mark Dendy, who related that teaching legend Martha Myers once advised him: "If you really want to get somebody on your side, you don't always go to the door and bang it down. Sometimes you have to come in the back door with a key lime pie." Or lemon meringue!

If you want to get your serving, the program returns Oct. 21, at WAX. Noble's exhibit is on display 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. For more info, please call 718-599-7997.

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