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Flash Review, 2-12: Grass/Bird/Rodeo
Carlson Rounds 'Em Up at P.S. 122

By Peggy Cheng
Copyright 2000 by Peggy Cheng

The audience is greeted with a small astro-turf topped stage (centered on the actual PS 122 stage between a platform set up for the Sunrise String Quartet and the costume rack), looking much like a cross-section of some grassy hillside, and a rectangle of white clouds on blue sky hanging above it. "Grass" is performed on this set, and then the stage is peeled away, layer by layer, as the solos progress, to reveal a bare white stage for "Bird," and then a dirt pit for "Rodeo." It is this ability to create striking images which riveted my attention in "Grass/Bird/Rodeo," an evening of three inter-related solos by Ann Carlson, seen Friday.

Throughout the evening Carlson not only dances, but also talks with us, discussing her personal memories and motivations for each solo. The breaking of the fourth wall is equated, by her, to the ruptures which occur in memory and expectation. This is characterized in the solos by breaks in the structure through movement and music. I found this idea compelling since even now, as I write, more breaks and segmentations are being added to my memory of the evening: "Grass" -- the image of a body in a suit of grass lying, almost hidden save the back of a blond-haired head and the chunky black heels of shoes, upon a grassy hill; "Bird"--the fallen and plumed dancer, her Vegas feathers fluttery and fallen over the edge of the stage; and "Rodeo"--a whooping cowgirl suddenly sucked into a warp in time--or memory?--where she weeps instead of hollerin' as the lasso circles her head. The skill and command with which Carlson steps off the (little) stage into comfortable dialogue with the audience, and then re-enters the stage/solo in character is wonderful to watch. Without any exaggeration, she manages to convey the yearning and expectation of "Grass," the mix of vulnerability and vanity in a Vegas showgirl in "Bird," and the feeling of something painfully lost in "Rodeo." Although I am not convinced that the three solos within the evening reflected all the concepts about images, memories, and expectations discussed verbally throughout, I do know that the thoughtfulness and caring given to the images within the solos gave me a sense of the sudden breaks, questions, and uneasiness that are discovered as one attempts to recover the past.

On Friday, as the "Rodeo" character ran into and out of the audience, calling to people backstage to come out, there was a growing sense of worry and embarrassment that came with waiting for people who were never going to arrive. One audience member finally asked, "What's wrong?" Carlson paused before answering, "I can never do the end." And then she exited the stage, leaving the scene before us empty and very quiet. Slowly the lights began to dim, and the quartet struck up one last, short musical piece. Impromptu or not, I found this ending fitting as there is no last memory when the past is always changing.

"Grass/Bird/Rodeo" continues through this Sunday and then Thursday, February 17 through Sunday February 20.

Editor's note: Peggy H. Cheng is a member of Maura Nguyen Donohue/In Mixed Company. She is currently completing her M.A. in Dance & Dance Education at New York University's School of Education.

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