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Flash Review, 3-29: Janis Brenner: Lover or Loser?
From rat-tat-tat to cutesie-poo at the Y

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2000 Chris Dohse

Which "L Word" did Janis Brenner have in mind when she named her new piece? The photo of Brenner advertising her concert at Playhouse 91 (part of this year's 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Project), mid-leap with both thumbs and forefingers forming "L" shapes, comes laden with unfortunate baggage. Nobody in this sitcom-savvy decade sees that particular hand gesture without thinking, "Loser." But she probably meant "Love"--or better yet "Limerance." Her earnestly heartfelt but imperfect premiere, called "The 'L' Word" and bowing last night, captures the essence of all three words by swirling and struggling in and out of them.

The work's score--half Bach, half Björk--overpowers Brenner's clear, strong grasp of composition and her generous movement invention. Brenner herself dances with spitfire ability, a thoughtful presence and a fluidity that can stop on a dime. Many of her dancers, however, perform the piece hesitantly, as if they only learned the phrases yesterday. The dance doesn't seem to know itself yet, whether it was born from the Limon-to-Varone swoon-within-gravity lineage or from MTV's percussive exhibitionism. Dancers sport idiotic smiles during the first episode between jazzy crotch grabs.

"The 'L' Word" rallies in its ending, a duet limning the agony and thrill of romance performed by Brenner and Kun-Yang Lin. Scrunched against the stage's back wall (and spectacularly, against a dropped ceiling), the two are oblivious of the remaining cast, busy rat-tat-tatting an angry, doll-like unison that seems to declare affairs of the heart are for dopes.

In 1998's "heartSTRINGS," Brenner fills the space with lush partnering and striking tableaux, vibrantly performed yet dwarfed by the score's soaring arrangements of classic pop tunes. An updated version of 1999's "The Memory of All That" looks ill at ease on a proscenium stage. Compelling moments and performances struggle to distinguish themselves within this meandering, process-heavy exercise in recollection, only to be diminished by cutesie-poo and goody-goody parodies of dead relatives and banal reflections.

Brenner's program repeats tonight through Saturday at 8 PM, and Sunday at 5 PM.

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