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Flash Review, 1-22: Emotional Roller-Coaster
Costa Gets at CORE Emotions at the Bridge

By Kate Garroway
Copyright 2000 Kate Garroway

Ah, the hazards of studio performance: skipping CDs, changing costumes in non-existent wing space, finding yourself a bit too close to the audience. Throughout these trials, Skip Costa and the seven other dancers of his COREmovement Project, seen Friday at the Bridge, remain intent on performing with tangible presence. Costa's choreography aims to embody the emotions of fear, loss, violence, and surrender. Sometimes this aim leads to painfully literal interpretations, or frustratingly elusive ones, but there are sparks of physicality that evoke pure emotion in both the choreography and its execution, making segments of this studio performance captivating.

Entering the Bridge's unusually uptown location at 2726 Broadway (and 104th), I was struck by how informally "downtown" the space felt. A dancer in warm-ups strolled through the lobby and the rest of the company could be glimpsed through partially closed blinds in a small studio close to the entrance. The performance space was an oddly long and shallow studio with black cloth mirror and window curtains, minimal lighting options, and a boombox. Yet, the stage was covered with three rows of white candles which made me tread carefully to my seat, respecting the nicely delineated stage. The program I saw, "The Movement Within," repeats January 23 and 30 at 3 PM, and January 29 at 8:30.

My initial reaction(s) to Costa's opening solo, "Transmission VI: 'Leaving Hurts me too'" made me fear I was displaying signs of multiple personality disorder. Costa lay in a hollow of space between the burning candles and as his body began contracting, expanding, and turning inside then out, I thought "Oh no, he's going to convulse the whole time to show the pain of loss--I hate being hit over the head with this stuff." Then I became distracted by his tenderly arching and stretching hands and feet. The sensitivity and clarity of movement in every joint of Costa's extremities is breathtaking. As he rose into crouching panther-like movements, I really started to enjoy it; the juxtaposition of discomfort and relief as his limbs stretched taut before gliding to a new position was liberating. Then it was over; a brief solo ending with Costa's arm still distortedly reaching, still groping for what was lost.

Suddenly Costa was stagehand as well as director and dancer: He and another dancer scampered to blow out candles and install yellow gels before six of his female dancers appeared in "Fear." It was a strong, young group. Each of them displayed the same grounded, sensitive feet as Costa, and articulate technique. The best moments featured ensemble work of virtuosic dimensions spanning rapid hurtling leaps, floorwork that both glided and crashed, and sustained legs floating to and from the ground with the patience of the most serious martial artist. Also notable were partnering segments in which one dancer stiffened in fear as the other pummeled into her body, sliding to the floor just to hurl her weight again. The worst sections were, unfortunately, at the beginning and the end, consisting of predictable gestures of fear.

The dancers were clad in tight cropped shirts and Capri-length cargo pants with a sheen. This stylish garb was consistent with the rest of the evening's costumes. "Fear" and the last dance on the program were both costumed by dancer Amiti Perry, exuding a decidedly contemporary aesthetic.

As noted on the front of the program, the ideas and music were also "contemporary." I have not yet mentioned the music because it was complimentary, but not noteworthy, in both of the previously mentioned pieces. The final, and longest, work on the program, however, owed some of its difficulties to the musical choices. Opening in silence, "Surrendering" soon melted into a solo for Perry to a Tori Amos song. Perry, a redhead wearing a silver slip, slid her body around, face-down in a puddle of plastic snow. The stage was framed by four swaths of sheer gray material attached to the walls (one went straight into the "fourth wall" of the audience), with rumpled white fabric on the floor in back, conceivably representing a snow drift. It started to look like a great concept for a Tori Amos music video. I had plenty of time to consider and reaffirm this notion, since the work contained another Amos tune as well as a reprise of the first song. I tried to consider the work as a live dance performance, but I kept envisioning how much more apt it would look at a distance assisted by video technology and real snow. Using contemporary music, especially songs with lyrics, is a formidable challenge for any choreographer. In this case, the music overwhelmed the choreography, turning the movement into a visualization of the music.

The rest of "Surrendering" was disappointing as a cohesive work. There was a brief foray into vocalization in the middle as Costa and Perry hissed at two other performers, then shouted phrases like "Amber I know you can hear me!" and "Jennie, all you have to do is move!" Although I previously bemoaned the sometimes too literal gestural representations of fear and sorrow, I found myself missing the familiar clarity as the symbols in "Surrendering" became less and less connected. By the end the silvery dress Perry wore had been transferred to another dancer, a music box had been placed on stage as accompaniment and Jennie Sussman (an intern with The Dance Insider) concluded the work by winding herself in the gray lengths of material which had been the set, reaching away from her trap while dancing within its confines.

Sometimes our emotions betray us in life; I felt this happen on stage in COREmovement project's four dances devoted to fear, violence, surrendering, and sorrow. There certainly were moments in which I saw, and felt, pure physical experiences of those emotions and other instances when the emotion seemed artificially distanced by a performatory device--as in the symbol of the cloth binding Sussman in "Surrendering." I entered the evening afraid of too much literalism, and left confused; I had felt a natural balance in Costa's solo and at several other points across the works, but how to keep that balance?

In the end, I remember the dancing most. That this performance was at a space called The Bridge seems apropos--it is a company of strong dancers in varying stages of bridging the gap between fresh and talented to accomplished performers. Costa himself is an experienced choreographer continuing to experiment and evolve. His brand of release technique is simultaneously smooth and energetic, a pleasure to watch. His bio notes that he is "currently: formulating [a] new technique called COREmovement." Formulating a technique is an ambitious goal--one that requires continuous experimentation. Regarding experiments: "Surrendering" was the only premiere on the program, and while not my favorite of the evening's works it signified a vast departure and improvement in terms of the use of space compared to the other pieces. While "Transmission VI: 'Leaving Hurts Me Too'" was arresting, the movement was trapped in a circle of space between candles. "Surrendering," by contrast, featured many journeys across the stage and used more entrances and exits than any other work. Seeing the space filled with movement was refreshing, but also calls for a larger stage with real wings to disappear into. Again, the hazards, and challenges, of studio performance.

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