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Flash Review 2, 2-4: Stop That Train, I Want to Get On
A 'Triple Play' at Symphony Space

By Tom Patrick
Copyright 2000 by Tom Patrick

Welcome back Symphony Space! In the last year, some great improvements there in concert with a growing commitment to contemporary dance: a new rake to the house for better sight-lines, a "virginal" new dance floor, and a juicy agenda of performances in the days and months ahead....

Tonight was the opening--well- and enthusiastically-attended--of the first program, Program 'A,' of Triple Play Dance, a three-way-split program of distinct voices that combine like a good meal. (I think Yogi Berra said that.)

Creach/Company gave us the premiere of "A History Of Private Life." (It was also my first opportunity to see this company's work.) Choreographed by Terry Creach (and presumably Company, from the intricacy of it all), 'History' was commissioned by Symphony Space. It is a condensation of many stories, many private lives. Through the simple placing of the translucent screens--designed by Sue Rees, they initially surround the stage--we are given the impression of an array of rooms, which were infiltrated very nicely indeed by the lighting of Roma Flowers. The screens were sometimes light-filled cubicles or larger spaces with glowing windows throwing shafts of diffused sunlight or moonlight upon the occupants. The dancers were marvelously calm as they cascaded through story after story, moving sculptures whose posture and gesture connected them dramatically in their situations. They were having physical conversations, as well as sharing deeply-felt soliloquies. Sometimes they were seen through windows, through gaps in walls, around the corner, and sometimes two-deep in the juxtaposed scenes of neighbors(?). A lone man in a small enclosure seems to be in a true reverie, as a piano tune repeatedly begins but never gets going, always interrupted.áWhat is he thinking about? Moments later an office-sounding telephone-ring pierces the air, and it suddenly feels that he is all-to-aware of the outer world, and when his movements repeat he appears instead to be struggling with the oppressive intrusions of an office. There is the loner inside another room, while several men tumble and tussle sociably "outside." All of the dancers--Maurice Fraga, Olase Freeman, Paul Matteson, Lionel Popkin, Raymond Robinson, and Peter Schmitz--are very articulate, and their sophisticated partnering had a musicality and momentum that was pleasing to me. I will see more....

After a pause, three legends took the stage...Paradigm: Carmen de Lavallade, Gus Solomons jr & Dudley Williams. They would perform two pieces, the "formal" premiere of "Gray Study" and "A Thin Frost"(1996). Both works were choreographed by Mr. Solomons jr, and they were enlivened by these three--another triple play--wise and practiced magicians of the stage. My word, those six feet of theirs have covered the globe! "Grey Study" emerges from shadows: Three taut figures wearing long grey top-coats slowly separate and approach us, sometimes gliding and then tilting subtly to suggest the stateliness of Samurai. As Judith Ren-Lay's edgy vocal score intensifies, the lighting suspends these figures in a sphere of light, and there is a quick glimpse of bright color under the hem of a long coat; is that a jewel on the cuff? A times they are a little sinister, some trench-coated triumvirate of ominous power. In time their coats part, revealing brightly-hued linings over their breezy-looking white clothes, evoking a much warmer situation. The performances were responsible for the breath of the work. These are real interpreters, who've taken a strong visual situation and some simple structures to a higher place. Individually and collectively, they ARE someone, strongly so.

"A Thin Frost" was again this regal trio, and they did it 'a capella'. At first seated in three chairs at points of a triangle, they size each other up, ceremoniously trade corners, and experiment with some interactions, at-times poignant or silly. Mme de Lavallade and Mssrs Solomons jr and Williams captured my attention through their strong individualities, and personal timing as they hissed, moaned, called, fretted, and sighed their own accompaniment. Gradually their seats draw closer, and their proximity naturally affects them, agitates and stimulates like another gravity. So well done (though maybe a bit stretched-out in a spot or two choreographically) and a great bonus to see these wonderful dancers interpreting so wonderfully.

After intermission (still snowing!) Doug Elkins Dance Company gave "Last Train To Philly" its New York premiere (in revised form, having been presented "en route" in Philadelphia this past September and now completed through a commission from Symphony Space). Four chairs provide the barest suggestion of a train platform perhaps, on which one man reads, another contemplates a Coke. Between them sits a woman, who declares a theme, a few sharp gestures in a kind of semaphore. Something is eating away at her it seems; a train trip always bridges two places, and there are all kinds of reasons for coming or going, and sometimes travels put us in a different head. While not being so literal about any of it, this "Train" has passengers that yield--and sometimes do not--to each other's travel motifs, and ultimately come together for a time of kaleidoscopic jamming all over that train station. There was a really enviable ease about it, punctuated by daring syncopations and deft partnering. These dancers were all compelling to watch in their fluidity and great range of texture. Exemplary in this I found Fritha Pengelly's solo (after capturing the Coke) where she pops and locks up like a breaker, then melts into creamy helixes, exhibiting a powerful mobility in any direction and seeming to have a cat's wisdom in her movements. But that's not only her terrain.áThey all six--Tony Agostinelli, Brian Caggiano, Rebecca Chisman, Kristen Daley, Luis Tentindo, and Ms. Pengelly--are a half-dozen VERY watchable cats, whose rhythmic clarity only reveals Mr. Elkins's skill in manipulating the pulse of the music. Musically, this piece had me bobbing around in my seat, feeling pulled to get up and dance just like them...and that's definitely one indication of success to this viewer! Kudos to Symphony Space's dance curator, Kay Cummings, for a very good "meal": well-planned, well-shopped, well-served.

The 'A' program repeats February 5 (at 8 PM), and the 'B' program of different works by the same companies plays February 4 (8 PM) and February 6 (3 PM).

P.S. Say, wasn't it also Yogi Berra who said, "Dance is 99 percent mental. The other half is physical"???

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