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Flash Review 1, 4-28:
Liederbach: The Best Night of Dance I've Reviewed All Year
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000 The Dance Insider
Last night at the Joyce
SoHo, I was transformed. And it made all my Flash Reviews of the
past few weeks look like just so much niggling. I.e., I analyzed,
I praised in some cases, damned in others, but all the ideas were
capturable in words. Good or bad, I was able to analyze it. Last
night, in the season of Marijeanne Liederbach Choreography, I was
reminded, perhaps for the first time since seeing Pina Bausch last
November, that dance shouldn't be something you can break down in
words. It should and CAN be something that breaks you down.
I have to say, I was
shocked, in more ways than one -- the shock of surprise, the shock
of recognition. The surprise was that Liederbach, well.... Hmmm.
What do I want to say here. As the director of research and education
of the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, Liederbach has her hands
full with her day job. Having interviewed her last fall, I was aware
that she was a dancer before she became a pioneering physical therapist
for dancers. I was also aware that she had taken some time off from
P/T for her art. But frankly, her job at Harkness seems so all-consuming,
that I couldn't imagine she'd have the time to develop her craft.
I presumed -- not from anything I'd seen, but just from her profile
-- that Liederbach's choreography was sort of a side thing, a love
she didn't want to give up, a way to stay involved in the artistic
side of the field. In a word, a sort of vanity project. Boy, peoples,
was I ever wrong!
The transformation started
with the theater. I've talked a lot in the past couple of months
of what a difference the theater can make in the artistic experience;
this was that paradigm in reverse. Through technical factors such
as low lighting in the lobby, to what we were given on stage --
all top caliber dance with top caliber dancers -- I saw for the
first time, really, the potential for elegant presentation of the
Joyce SoHo. Although there had been some exceptions (most recently
Sara Hook, see Flash Review, 4-20: Over the
Top), for the most part I considered the Joyce a venue for untested,
younger choreographers - dancemakers not quite ready for prime time,
still working things out.
But what I saw last night
was a program whose tight, taught, varietel pace didn't let up until
the final moment, as Liederbach, Amy Cox, and Ted Johnson swung
from cranes from which they hung on pulleys.
Not anticipating such
an evening, what had initially drawn me to the theater was the announced
appearance of Valerie Madonia, longtime Joffrey Ballet ballerina.
Y'all know that first and foremost I'm a fan, so you'll understand
the significance of this rare appearance to me when I say that Madonia
was one of my early favorites, from when I first saw the Joffrey
in 1991. I hadn't seen her perform since 1994, when I caught her
with Alonzo King's LINES Contemporary Ballet. Her appearance last
night was her first performance in a year, but you wouldn't have
What I remember most
from that LINES performance was Madonia's acute pointework. It would
be the first thing you'd notice about her, except that her face
also has a mystical, magical, fairy-like quality to it.
Pristine pointework and
fairy-quality were in evidence last night, in the 1991 "Good Apprentices."
First, Madonia is essentially aloft for the whole dance, as is her
partner, Meredith Rainey. They take their positions in the dark
on two two-foot long, two-foot tall wooden boxes, with much of the
illumination coming from the clear glass/plastic tops of the boxes.
They stay on those boxes or above them for the entire dance, never
touching the floor. The impact of pointe can be big enough done
on a stage in a 3,000 seat opera house; imagine the effect when
it's ten feet away from you, and the dancer is barefoot. You see
the muscles, you see the veins, you see the strength it takes. The
friezes here were eloquent; here are some that I jotted down: Madonia
balancing on Rainey's haunches, both looking forward; he droops
her over one shoulder; she crouches on her box; she hangs upside
down basically attached to him only by her feet on his shoulders;
she drops backward over his shoulder. The only fault here was that
the lighting was a little blocky; we could see the transitions/switches.
After an expressive,
virtuosic recital of Chopin's Mazurka No. 2 in C Major, Opus 56,
and Valse Brillante, in E-flat, Opus 18 by Byron Janis (he also
wrote and performed the piano music for the first piece) -- woe!
The woe is for the recital, but also for what came afterwards: Leslie
Ann Cardona of Dance Theatre of Harlem and Ricardo Gomez in "Two
to Tango," with largely percussive music by Richard D. James. Tango
here meant passion in restraint, taut. (This is where the shock
of self-recognition came in!) You know, that erotically and romantically
charged time when you know you're going to end up with her/him,
so you're just enjoying and digging the foreplay. It's restraint
when you don't need to restrain. Their eyes never leave each other.
She places a leg over
his neck; then dangles from him and climbs over him, by the legs;
he spins her; there's a sort of tango. This is the heat of slow
restraint. Then he carries her over his back, twisting her 'round
him. I love the way Gomez's hand caused ripples in Cardona's naked
chiseled back, cinching her skin together. Now she slides down his
frontside; he lifts her; she's upside down, then rightside-up, her
knees folded over his shoulder. They are melting into each other,
and I'm melting too.
(Note: My dancer companion
referred to this as plastique, i.e. the use of the body for sculptural
purposes, and suggested that the success of these pictures depends
on the dancers, and their investment in the movement. I see her
point. Which is to say, skilled as the choreography was, Liederbach
was very blessed to have these particular dancers interpreting it
with their smoldering temperaments and pliant bodies.)
The next piece (arghh!
He's being linear for once! There's a method to my sanity: This
was also a well-structured and ordered program, as a whole.) was
Pilobolan, and, again, Liederbach was fortunate in her vehicle,
the sinuous Barry Wizoreck. I still remember Wizoreck from a piece
with a title something like "Flight," by Michele Elliman of Neo
Labos. This is a beautiful male dancer whose ardency fairly drips
from his pores. In Liederbach's "Black Box," a premiere, his sphere
was circumscribed by, you guessed it, a sort of upright black picture
frame. The gimmick here was the holes punctured in the underside
of each plank of the frame, enabling Wizoreck to enter the frame
itself. For example, at one point he hangs upside down by his feet;
from the knees down (or rather up!) they disappear into two holes
above him, and he seems to have stumps for legs. The position he
always reverts to is hunching, ape-like, on the bottom side of the
frame, arms dangling. There's a faint tho not desperate sense that
he's trying to escape, probing the contours of his cage with all
his limbs. His performance in "Flight" -- I remember a sort of dying
bird, indeed struggling to fly -- still in my mind, it occurs to
me that Wizoreck's gift is his adeptness at metamorphosizing into
magical but struggling creatures. He may appear to have the body
of a human, but it's just the outward form; in fact, he's an eagle
or a gorilla or something else. Wizoreck danced with Paul Taylor
and indeed, his torso is Tayloresque, but it's a bit more rubbery,
reflecting perhaps his ISO lineage. (ISO being a branch of the Pilobolus-Momix
For the final piece of
the evening, "A Spring Waltz," we had the treat of seeing the evening's
star herself, Liederbach, harnessed like Cox and Johnson to a sort
of small scale leaning crane.
Robed in black-grey tights
and pink mesh tops, they sway from the cranes, arms loose, their
gray shadows on the theater's white walls swaying too. They swing
around the cranes. They stand, but still anchored by the pulleys.
Now they release and fly with their backs parallel to the floor;
now they pivot around the cranes and return to the front, presenting
themselves to us, arms spread wide, feet barely planted on the ground,
bodies leaning slightly backwards.
The music helped here
too: a waltz by Johann Strauss, Jr., which set just the right tone.
In fact, I have to note
here that the music throughout the evening was attentively chosen.
Attention is the operative
word here. I am so OVER generic release-contact improv choreography,
where the choreographer seems to have just set the dancers loose
on a general style but without a specific blueprint, that it's a
relief to see someone who evidently takes care to sketch out every
single phrase. There is no fat here, folks. You can see the work
and thought, in both the overall schemes of each of the works and
the moment-by-moment details. Every cornice is painted carefully
and lovingly. And the dancers, too, respond to this high craft by
etching every movement decisively; there's no blurring here, no
rushing over a phrase.
Even the purpose for
the evening was carefully chosen. It's not unusual for companies
to have evenings to benefit themselves, and one might even expect
it from a company that performs rarely. But this evening benefited
the SoHo and TriBeCa Partnerships, and their services for the homeless.
And even the evening's
cause was made tangible. In a company gala benefit, you might see
the board chairman come out before the show and make a speech, or
the company director come out and thank all the sponsors. But when
these soft house lights dimmed, along with Liederbach and partnership
benefactor Henry Buhl, there stood Raymond Yancy, the Custodian
of the Joyce SoHo.
Yancy, Buhl noted, was
a graduate of the partnerships' programs. "I lost my job because
I was homeless through alcohol addiction, and was fortunate enough
to get into the partnership," Yancy reported, also sharing that
he was coming up on four years clean.
So there you have it:
Those fortunate enough to be in attendance last night got tangible
results in seeing where their dollars went, tangible results in
a dinner afterwards at Buhl's ornate Prince Street loft, and tangible
dance. Dance that this toney and NON- dance insider crowd could
grasp and heartily applaud and take with them out of the theater.
The only disappointment which it grieves me to report to you is
that, due to circumstances beyond Liederbach's control, this season
was one-night only. I hope Liederbach and her fine company return
soon. Dancers will probably tell you that in her work as a physical
therapist, she's indispensable. I selfishly say the body dance needs
her as much as the dancers' bodies do.
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