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