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Flash Review 3, 2-28: Over-40 Plentitude
No Pigeonholing Dancers Over 40

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2000 Chris Dohse

The eight dances presented by Dancers Over 40 Saturday at the Cunningham Studio defied generalization, just as their creators defy pigeonholing. All of the artists on the program enjoyed successful dance careers before they celebrated the specific birthday that qualified them for group membership, careers that show no sign of sagging. Beyond a common bond of age, however, their works were as varied as a concert of undergraduates. Some of the choreographers, like Graham-trained Deborah Zall, chose a narrow compositional focus within which to display virtuosity--in this case a gift for elegant, amaranthine lifts--in her collaborative duet (with Alexander Proia), "Remembering George Sand." Others appeared to challenge themselves with fresh concerns, as did ex-Paul Taylor dancer Elizabeth Keen in her lighthearted, noodley "It Keeps On."

(I should say that I haven't seen Keen's work before; it's purely a hunch that she was working in a style new to her. I base my conjecture on the piece's enthusiasm and its sense of discovering itself. I applaud Keen's courage, if indeed she was experimenting. I'd say the most inspirational of artists is the one who doesn't lazily congratulate him or herself for prior accomplishments. If "It Keeps On" is in her usual style, however, I've put my foot heftily in my mouth.)

Steeped in history, the Cunningham Studio was the perfect site for Dancers Over 40's first "modern" project. The organization, which provides a variety of services for the post-40 dance community, was the brainchild of Broadway dancer Christopher Nelson. It boasts an impressive rank-and-file that includes Shirley MacLaine and Ann Reinking. Audiences at the Cunningham must remove their shoes before taking a seat (in order to protect the wooden floor); this humbling, awkward act has a way of encouraging one to take oneself less seriously, a point of view shared by at least one of the evening's works.

Gus Solomons jr, artistic coordinator of the event, danced his "Gray Study" with life-long compadres Carmen de Lavallade and Dudley Williams. All three served a heaping helping of fierce diva, singeing the stage with understated charm while simultaneously poking just a little fun at themselves and at a certain school of deadpan postmodern high art seriousness. Solomons's brave composition initially limited itself to a simple walking pattern, but an occasional lifted eyebrow or pursed lip hinted at the charisma hidden under each of the trio's trench coats. Judith Ren-Lay's ululating score provided a separate layer of incongruity. The piece's final image of three oddballs letting loose and getting funky dangled as a dare to preconceived "proper" 40-plus behavior.

Wendy Osserman's "Sectors" allowed her cast to improvise timing and attack within a vocabulary like an angular alphabet of bones. Two duets, Andrew Jannetti's "Unforgiven" and Richard Daniels's "Bound Feet," were similar enough to bear comparison. Each conveyed emotional archetypes and the complex energies exchanged between partners, whether romantic, familial or platonic. Jannetti offered a spare, almost ceremonial vision, with clean, sculptural partnering; Daniels and his partner, the acutely nuanced Barbara Mahler, struggled with more urgency, more fortissimo. Artis Smith's trio, "Full Moon Waxing," also communicated humanity and emotion within a lyrical, dancerly lexicon that preserved each performer's individuality. Peter Pucci's solo, "giacomo," danced with impressive polish by Bill Thompson, cross-pollinated Petrouchka and Pierrot.

One tangential, opinionated complaint: eight dances are too many to absorb, at least for this reviewer Saturday night. And too many to which to give justice in this review.


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