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Flash Review 2, 12-2: Grappling with Tragedy
Classic Theater Dance from Mary Anthony

By Ursula Eagly
Copyright 2000 Ursula Eagly

Since Sophocles's plays first graced ancient Greek amphitheaters, tragedy has been a great theatrical genre. Last night at the Theater of the Riverside Church, Mary Anthony Dance Theater performed two dances that grappled with great tragedies of world history. The reconstruction of Anna Sokolow's 1961 "Dreams" was dedicated to the Jews murdered in the Holocaust and the New York premiere of Kun-Yang Lin's piece "From the Land of Lost Content" paid homage to the Tibetans persecuted in China.

The Sokolow work -- which was the concert's strongest piece -- carefully intertwined reoccurring movement themes with spare use of text, percussion, and props. Classical and abstract jazz music accompanied the dancing intermittently, abruptly abandoning the performers in silence. These unexpected elements were meticulously woven into the harmonious whole.

"From the Land of Lost Content" was also choreographed in a traditional style, complete with movement motifs, dances in unison, and symmetrical formations. This style of work fit nicely within the context of the concert, but was surprising coming from a younger choreographer.

Because of their parallel themes, these two works shared a certain movement vocabulary: mouths open in silent screams, sharp exhales, hopeful looks to the ceiling, dejected gazes at the ground, and sudden collapses to the floor. Evidently, and perhaps even understandably, different choreographers have similar movement responses to suffering.

Periodically, certain writhing passages wore the barrier between drama and melodrama precariously thin. The unavoidable kitsch value of the more cliched moments was a bit embarrassing given how seriously the performers, choreographers, and audience members bear the gravity of persecution and murder.

Mary Anthony's 1956 "Songs" presents a similar aesthetic, albeit not political question to the viewer: sweet or saccharine? Inspired by a time when she was young, in love, and living in Paris, Anthony created the work especially for young dancers. "Songs" is a lovely, balletic piece replete with lyrical devellopes and pirouettes. The dancing is classically arranged -- for example, a circle of performers execute the same movement in cannon. Such youthful romanticism exudes a sense of aesthetic innocence, which feels both indulgent and refreshing in turns.

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