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Flash Review 1, 12-4: Bye-bye, Zvi
Mesmerized at Offspring

By Jill Emerson
Copyright 2000 Jill Emerson

"We've been dot-commed," said the emcee of The OffSpring Festival. She was referring to the demise of dance at 550 Broadway, the venue for this annual non-curated festival. This year's December 1 and 2 event was the tenth and last, as Zvi Gotheiner has been forced to close his studio at the end of December.

The OffSpring Festival has been a blessing for choreographers facing the battle to find a venue and an audience. The biannual event displays a cross-section of the dance community: first-time choreographers and veterans wishing to test out new pieces; technical, "dancey" pieces and more pedestrian performance art. The folding chairs are always full or over-flowing in 550's ballet studio. No need for lighting. All the better to expose the energy and invention of the performers. In between sets, have some wine and soda. We in the audience feel like this is family. We pull for the performers as if we knew them all. We are twice as pleased when a piece is spectacular than we would be if we saw it at, say, the Joyce. After all, we're in a training ground. A dance studio.

December 2's lineup was of a quality especially high for a non-curated performance. Veterans Raymundo Costa and Maxine Steinman choreographed and danced in "Tide," in which the smallest gestures and inclines of the head were most powerful. The dance was a journey of two people whose irregular, breathy path was driven by a current of energy that allowed no poses. They traveled their path as if riding the crests of waves, finding the ecstasy in each moment along the way. Jill Spiewak Eng's piece was danced to the music of the waves, literally. She began with a tremor on the floor, as a gasping fish out of water. Staying in the center of the stage for much of the dance, Eng appeared to be trapped in an uncomfortable world under the control of someone or something else. She was pulled at the neck and whorled around in the confining space with desperation, and at times, a defeatist's resignation.

Kim Gibilsco was a doll or circus performer or panther; something magical. Her virtuosi showcase matched the dynamic music and raised the oft-asked question in modern dance: What's in that corner? Ashley Gilbert gave us Tchaikovsky with a twist in "Out of the Loop." A full introduction of the famous Nutcracker music played with no one on stage. Then comes Ashley prancing out of the audience, morphing from a ballerina into an extremely animated modern dancer. Gilbert played with the associations we had with the music, switching from the held ballet lexicon to an African-based contraction in one beat. It was hard not to revel in how much fun Gilbert was having. Vanessa Paige-Swanson gave a tongue-in-cheek liturgical show in "What God Really Wants." What does God want? Lots of apples. Leah Kramer and three other dancers yoga-grooved in her dance, which evolved from stripping out of disco boots to suspending in arcs on each other's legs to the music of their own breathing and giggling.

Kuan Hui Chew and Ying-Ying Shiau provided a show-stopping performance in their untitled duet. In the audience, we breathed a sigh of relief as the next song came on because we knew the dance would continue. Chew and Shiau's finely-nuanced choreography and performance showcased a tight interplay of limbs and the phrasing of mercury. Looking like little boys in their Gap clothing, these small women dance huge. Chew stormed in on Shiau, we held our breath trying not to miss a second of the dancers' dodges and flicking, and, too soon, the dance was over as Chew stormed back off the stage.

After the show I talked with a newcomer to modern dance who was in the audience. She highly enjoyed the performances and had even been taking notes. Her goal was to learn more about the form. Finally, she said, she thought she understood what it's all about. "The purpose is to be mesmerized!"


Jill Emerson is a New York-based dancer, choreographer, and writer. This Wednesday through Sunday, she appears with Mark DeGarmo's company at Tribeca Performing Arts Theater.

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