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Flash Review, 2-7: Rhythmic Understanding
Nicoll and Oreck Stay Within Limits at St. Mark's

by Susan Yung
Copyright 2000 Susan Yung

(Editor's note: Flash Reviews of Saturday performances are posted Monday. Even Flash Reviewers need to sleep in on Sunday!)

Jessica Nicoll and Barry Oreck presented "Collected Duets," an ambitious evening of work at St. Mark's Church that pushed them to limits they wisely chose to stay within. Seen Saturday, the variety of the selected duets by four choreographers allowed them to show their individual and collective strengths as intelligent, capable dancers, though the chosen works seemed to employ theatrics and gesture as much as visceral movement. The pair has been collaborating for about 20 years, and their familiarity with each other is evident in their symbiotic manner of movement and well-syncopated timing.

Though the evening's topics touched on social dance and baseball, it was not completely bound by predictable themes. "Down, Dog, and Kennel!", a 1979 work by Pamela Harling (who also created the sets and costumes) is set against a projected, upside-down background of a pebbled beach. A pile of satin beanbags, umm... cornbags, symbolized the material world--as camouflage, ammunition, property, playthings. Harling's inventiveness extended to the movement, alternating between aggression and tenderness.

Ann Carlson's choreographic contribution, "Untitled #1," charts the course of life "from birth to death in 12 minutes," according to the press material. She employs gestures or vignettes to encapsulate whole stages of life, from adolescence to old age, in competition or sickness. Nicoll and Oreck's performances, particularly in this piece, show a concentration on nuance and interpretation that are commendable.

Two works by Beth Leonard were performed: "Ain't That A Kick In The Head?" and "Escucha Me," both keying off of social dance. The first piece, to old pop songs such as The Ink Spots' "If I Didn't Care," set a romantic premise off of which bounced the many insecurities felt at the start of a relationship. Though funny and upbeat, the slapstick vocabulary and the length of the piece (four songs) wore thin quickly. Leonard's second work, to music by the Gipsy Kings, was more subtle and clever in its reduction to minimal gestures the complexities of social maneuvering.

Gerrie Glover's "Play Ball" sounds better on paper than it is in person. Glover researched baseball reporting in newspapers and films from the 50s and 60s, selecting many players' key stances, poses and actions, and linked them together. The result--one frozen pose after another, complete with grotesque facial expressions--is devoid of the art and athleticism of the sport itself. None of the beauty and skill of the original kinetic purposes depicted--such as pitching fast or skillfully sliding to beat a tag--were conveyed in the boiled-down vocabulary. An elaborate tinker-toy set by Jim Jacob, assembled in dutiful seriousness by the duet as part of the show (it was like watching "This Old Set") merely served as a distraction.

Nicoll and Oreck have a rhythmic understanding; despite their 13" height difference, they have a very compatible way of moving, even seeming to breathe at the same pace. Though long pauses between pieces are probably unavoidable in a program of duets performed by a cast of two, the breaks interrupted the flow of the program established by the well-rehearsed pair. This program was part of the self-produced Dance: Access series at the church.

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