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Flash Review 1, 11-29: Ticket to Torture
Sydney Dance Company: Don't Believe the Hype

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2000 Maura Nguyen Donohue

Considering the size of the Sydney Dance Company and the scope of the media attention its six-day run at the Joyce Theater is getting, I know how little this review means to the company. However, I also know how much it could mean to a Dance Insider considering spending his or her last $35 to see the NY premiere of "Air and Other Invisible Forces" based on those features in Time Out/NY, the Sunday N.Y. Times or on National Public Radio. But I'm here to tell you, dear downtown constituency, don't believe the hype. Or, as the stranger sitting next to me said when the house lights finally came back on after a half hour of false endings, "Well, that was torture."

I requested this assignment after hearing from a lighting designer friend of mine that the company was making great use of fans, silk and the shakuhachi. I'll forgive her because Damien Cooper's lighting plot, as reproduced by Charles Wiles, is exquisite. Production values aside, I was there mainly for the shak, having been around it quite a bit the past few years. Company member Brian has appeared in a couple of my works playing his most valuable possession and partner Perry makes the Japanese end-blown bamboo flute at home. His are the $200 version, not the $1800 kind seen on stage last night in the masterful hands of Riley Lee. The first note blew through me like a revelation. I may hear a LOT of air blowing through bamboo each day but it's rare that I hear it from a dai shihan (grand master). The subtle breath and the powerful intermingle even while Lee sails across the stage being pulled by various dancers. Percussionist Alison Low Choy aids in bringing composer Michael Askill's intriguing score to the stage.

Unfortunately, the music became a minor part of the overblown spectacle of "Air." As with Cloud Gate's rice at BAM in its recent appearance there, though lavishly beautiful at moments the billowing silk commanded more attention than the live action on stage most of the time. The evening played out like a series of fantastic publicity shots, great visuals backing up mostly mundane choreography and disengaging performers. This is hardly the height of athleticism that it was touted to be. A few cartwheels does not an athlete make. Bradley Chatfield's solo was one of the few choreographic highpoints. He equally meets and then beats the drums he moves between in a commanding dance full of sinewy precision and striking movement vocabulary. His trio with Christopher Harris and Simon Turner is a science fiction power-play. The three morph from man to 3-headed god to serpent. SDC's artistic director and choreographer Graeme Murphy's men are admittedly hot. His movement for them is lively and virile. His women unfortunately pale in comparison. And it would seem, based on lighting and costume choices, by choice. The only flicker of individuality and interest sparked was with an all-too-brief solo for Sally Wicks before she's intercepted by what look like runaway Jedi Knights with illuminated leaf blowers on their backs. Like most of the visuals, they were striking but entirely gratuitous.

I left feeling like someone had thrown a book of modern dance cliches on stage: from the single dancer rising out of the clump and then engaging in what looked like a classroom weight-sharing exercise, to the tedious group work (my guest called it "filler" movement), to the endless false endings, to the melodramatic responses to the blaring composition that makes up the second half of the work, to overplayed gender roles. I guess the pathetic use of the women shouldn't be a surprise coming from a man who, in the Times story, blames the women's movement for America's puritanical response to nudity. And by the way, you can see more skin, created by women who'd likely consider themselves part of that movement, any given weekend at P.S. 122 or La Mama, ETC. And the tickets are usually cheaper.

Sydney Dance Company plays through Sunday, with shows at 8 p.m. and matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. For more information, please visit the Joyce web site.

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