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1, 3-18: Fusion
Mixing it Up with Trinity at the New Victory
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000 The Dance Insider
Fusion is a
funny thing. When it works, it's a marriage made in heaven. When
it's a mismatch, you know right away. Examples of both results--as
well as some in-general winningly high-spirited dance vivacity--are
on view at the New Victory Theater, where Trinity Irish Dance opened
a 10-day run Friday night.
But first, a
disclaimer. This Flasher is definitely mismatched when it comes
to adequately reviewing the traditional Irish step dancing which
is the base for Trinity's creations. I can't even claim a dilettante's
expertise. So if I focus on the two most adventurous fusion experiments,
it's not because they took up most of the program, but because they
best match my dance knowledge. In particular, my awareness of the
Pilobolus/Momix/Iso line, and of that constant surprise of a polyglot
that is Sean Curran.
Momix-y, Iso-y contribution came from Ashley Roland, a co-founder
of Iso, former Momix star, and most recently co-founder of Bodyvox.
You'd recognize the Momix from the get-go even if you didn't know
Roland was the choreographer, when her 1999 "O'Reely" begins with
a soundscape of radio channels being switched, intercut with other
sounds like laughter. A screen drops upstage, and a smaller orange
curtain drops about halfway downstage. The curtain ripples with
life, and veteran Momix watchers will know what's coming: Suddenly
some pairs of hands appear from beneath the curtain, step-dancing
like feet. This is clever, but not as successfully executed as it
might be by Momix; we can clearly see the dancers behind the curtain,
somewhat diminishing the magic. (This may be more an effect of inexact
lighting management, but don't quote me on that.)
Then the curtain
comes up, and we're feted to a run of Pilobolan intertwining of
limbs and Pilobolan lifts (the meathook among them, for you authorities
out there), in colorful Pilobolan body suits, no less. The oh-so
modern dance costumes seem artificially and awkwardly placed on
these bodies, which have previously been skirted. Then come the
droll expressions. Pilobolans and Momixians are just droll enough
to carry these ultimately inane facial experiences off; in less
clowny hands, the facial phrasing seems inanely cloying (cloyingly
inane?), the dancers not entirely comfortable with such gestures.
(Important distinction: I'm NOT saying the dancers were cloying-they're
VERY honestly joyful, these performers-just that it seemed that
way, probably because this more fluid facial style is unfamiliar
to them.) More important, their bodies don't seem at home in the
Pilobolan-Momixian phrases overall. Or it may be that it was too
much to ask them to absorb this, while at the same time/in the same
piece step-dancing. The two don't naturally meld, at least not as
Roland has concieved this piece.
Enter the 2000
"Curran Event," choreographed by Curran with the dancers. Can I
just say, when it comes to fusion, Sean Curran is THE man. When
most people aim their choreographic chops at fusion, I--being a
world beat man--yell, "Stop that man/woman!" or "Quick Mamie, hide
the children!" But when Curran's at the fusionary helm, it becomes
a visionary magical mystery tour, and instead I shout, "Everybody!
Quick, come see! Alchemy is afoot!"
my trust in this respect a couple of years back with "Symbolic Logic,"
a piece created on his own company to the music of Sheila Chandra.
This voice of this Indian-born, London-residing artist has been
used as shorthand for exotica by other choreographers, notably Stephen
Petronio, and I was expecting the same from Curran. But far from
a generalized piece of exotica generally set to the music, Curran
found the universal patterns of the music--simply put, the math--and
explored that geometry very specifically with angles and patterns
he put his dancers through. In the Trinity piece, working to match
original percussive Afro-Celt Sound System-like music by Kila and
body percussion, Curran has built onto the dancers' step dancing
lower bodies upper bodies mobilized inna modern dance stylee. We
see this particularly in the right angles shaped by their arms.
We also see it in the longitudinal and diagonal patterns, and in
the street-tough "Yeah--ya gonna do something about it?" facial
expressions with which he replaces their previously glistening smiles.
The long uniformly curly hair pieces of the more traditional dances
are gone, too, replaced by the dancers' varying natural hair; the
exception being spunky soloist Sinead Kimbrell, who has greenish
dreads threaded through her mane.
You can clearly
see Curran's body in the phrases, yes, but more important, the dancers'
own bodies seem utterly and totally engaged here. Where their upper
bodies were more or less immobilized (on purpose, by the way) in
the previous numbers, here Curran has mobilized them. With the confidence
that comes from Curran's letting them keep their step-dancing base,
they have been able to sally forth into modern territory, and make
it look natural for them. There's even a very cool entrance by four
dancers which nicely suggests, in the ferocity of the foot stomping,
snakiness of the hands, and even witty turns of the heads--Flamenco.
The most brilliant
example of fusion, tho, comes with a musical tour de force by percussionist/flautist
Stone. He starts this solo interlude by playing the flute and bongos;
then takes a mouth break to take a swig of water, only to turn that
bottle into another wind instrument. Next he expands the mouth contribution
by blowing, didgeridoo-like, into a lengthy tube. At one point he
is at the same time blowing a wind instrument as playing a foot
drum and symbol. Think Grateful Dead drum set.
With the caveat
stated above, i.e. that I don't feel equipped to judge the more
traditional Irish dance (I use 'judge' on purpose, because, from
what I understand, a lot of this is world championship-level competition
dancing, and I don't say that in a derogatory sense), let me perhaps
offer a general spiritual response to the less fusionistic dance
which comprised most of the program.
It's about 25
degrees in Manhattan as I write this. Yesterday it snowed on the
short-skirted high school band performers making their way up 5th
Avenue. They must have felt a chill. But in the New Victory Theater
last night, these 20-odd mostly female dancers were on fire--to
the point where I thought their feet were going to make the stage
combust--ultimately warming us up. So many feet, so many legs, beating
the stage floor at the same time--and yet, in a very controlled
fashion, those torsoes remaining poised--become mesmerizing after
a time. The champion of mobile legs and feet and static upper body
was Darren Smith. His torso, face, and even smile were so isolated
from his lower limbs, they really could have been someone else's
legs. And what legs they were: loose and tight at the same time,
from the knees down so fast and sharp they left a trail in the air,
jet-plane like. If I have one complaint here, actually, it's that
we did not see enough of Smith. No Cortez or Flatley he--he's content
to be an in-between course for the women.
kids. Last night's performance also featured six young women from
the Lynn Petry School of Dance in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, one
of several area schools, the New Victory publicist tells me, which
exist solely to produce championship-caliber Irish (step?) dancers.
Ranging from 10 to 15, they were Dorothy and Teresa Bailey, Caitlin
(love that name) and Meghan Floyd, Annie Hager, and Elizabeth Newman.
in attendance last night scoffed (okay, slight exaggeration) when
I asked for the names of the kids, "If you name all the kids, you'll
have to name all the company, and that's as large as Church County."
I love a challenge.
Here comes the rest of the county, which I list not to goad that
reviewer but because they all danced with a vivacity to deserve
the mention. They are, in addition to those already cited:
Norine Holleck, Sarah Irwin, Diandra Jones, Patricia Mahon, Deirdre
Mahoney, Shannon Malee, Ryan Marie Morris, Ashley Purl, Alisa Ranum,
Colleen-Kate Robinson, Meagan Therese Rohan, Maureen Shea, Marie
Short, Natalie Sliwinski, Joe Smith, Cathy Sobieski, Sadie Stotmeister,
and Katie Wright. Heck, lets also give a shout out to the other
musicians: Brendan O'Shea on guitar and vocals, Paul Woodiel on
fiddle, Christopher Layer on flutes and pipes, and Sean Ryan on
Dance continues at the New Victory through March 26.
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