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Flash Review, 5-15:
Hunkering Down with Sean at the Church
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000 The Dance Insider
When I go to a dance
concert, it's work. It can certainly be fun, it can impress me,
it can make me laugh, it can even move me, but always in the back
of my mind I'm thinking, How will I explain this to you? I'm always
taking notes, to make sure I can remember at least a couple of details
to demonstrate my points. Mind you, I'm not at all complaining;
hey, nice work if you can get it! Just saying that, as much as I
love dance, I don't receive it quite the same way a normal audient
does. Namely, because I'm not just receiving it, but am aware I'll
have to respond in some organized fashion. Sort of a folly, in a
way, because when you think of it, dance's non-verbal appeal is
not always something that can even be responded to verbally. As
dance itself is visceral, so often is one's response; you know it's
affected you, but you can't always articulate just how. This is
not accidental. Choreographers are not always working in a linear,
regurgitable way; if they could, they'd make speeches instead of
dances! And dancers, too, are not so much interpreting an intellectual
idea with their minds as a purely kinetic idea with their bodies.
Even where a choreographer has a narrative in mind, choreographers
and dancers have often told me, he/she doesn't want the dancers
to think about it because he/she knows in simply dancing it, that
narrative will get across.
After seeing and Flashing
Sean Curran's program at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church when
it opened May 4 (See Flash Review 2, 5-5: Blending),
I had the feeling there was more left for me to experience from
these dances. And perhaps that I couldn't fully experience when
I was pre-occupied with having to explain. So I checked the show
out again Saturday night, intending to do so purely for my own personal
nourishment. But, of course, even tho I left pen and paper at home,
I've returned with some new observations, critical and personal,
worth recording I think because even in my mostly glowing previous
Flash, I underestimated the impact of this artist.
Let's start with the
fact that, even viewed again just a week later -- and for the fourth
time overall -- there remained more to be seen in "Symbolic Logic,"
which opened the program. I've already commented at length on that
Curran has gone where no other choreographer working with the Sheila
Chandra music has gone before -- namely that, far from just using
the music by the ethnic Indian Chandra as exotic background, he
has really probed its structure and then deconstructed it mathematically.
The new things I noticed this time around include that the dancers
all have their eyes shut at the beginning; and that the final taka-taka
section is actually divided, musically and dance-ically, into three
sections. Also that there's a point about two thirds of the way
in where the dancers, lead by Marisa Demos, start smiling, puckishly.
But most of all -- merely in being able to find new things AGAIN
in this dance -- it occurred to me that it affects me like Fitzgerald's
"The Great Gatsby" in that I can re-read and re-read it, and always
find something new. In other words, it's a masterpiece, Curran's
"Agon" (Balanchine) or "Day Two" (Pilobolus).
Another reason I wanted
to officially, in Flash form, revisit this program is that on second
viewing, I realized I was unfair to and underestimated the quartet
which followed this piece, "The Nothing That is Not There, and the
Nothing that is," by calling it "a pretty standard old-school modern
quartet." I think it's just that this piece to Janacek is a different
sort of dance from "Symbolic Logic" that left me unprepared for
its smaller-scale gems. If "Symbolic Logic" makes it impact on a
grand scale with larger patterns, the revelations here are more
nuanced, having to do more with relationships between individuals
than spatial relationships. And they are complex relationships.
The two men, danced again Saturday by Tony Guglietti and Peter Kalivas,
have some sort of a father-son or brother-brother thing going on.
The women have some sort of relationship to them, but it's not necessarily
romantic. There's some sort of hinted-at rapport, indicated by subtle
glances, and I liked the mystery here. I also liked that everything
is under-played. Too often in a dramatic dance we are asked to believe,
from the get, that the dancer is experiencing some kind of intense
emotion -- conflict, hurt -- and I don't buy it. Here the dancers
are not necessarily showing us everything; there's some room for
us to fill in the blanks. Amy Brous in this cast added to the overall
subtlety and depth.
Demos was fine again
in the quartet and overall I'm a great fan, but I'm not so sure
about casting her as the sort of central woman in black (she concludes
the piece by sort of dying) in "Six Laments." Demos's physical strength
is her clarity of line, her emotional strength her vivacity. In
'Laments,' I don't get the same sense of deep sorrow, suffering,
and even tragedy I do from, say, Donna Scro Gentile as a woman who
has lost a child. My guess is that the challenge here is just one
of maturity; Demos probably does not yet have the life experience
from which to draw a real memory of sorrow and loss -- at least
not that she is able to project. I trust she'll grow into the role.
It was about now, during
this dance, which opened the second act, that something extraordinary
started to happen to the audience. During the intermission, we'd
discovered that it was storming outside; we were all hunkered down
in the church. (And not just any church; this one holds the bones
of many a city-founding Stuyvesant on its grounds.)
New Yorkers are rather
wary folk; we are so crunched into this tiny island, we guard our
individual space carefully. I rarely get the feeling that an audience
has bonded with itself. But I started to get that during "Six Laments."
There was a feeling of being around a campfire with strangers; the
isolation of the setting made us discard the boundaries. And Sean
and dancers were telling stories around that campfire, creating
a whole 'nother world for us. I noticed the people on the cushions
in the front three rows getting comfortable, stretching on the floor
or resting their heads on the laps of neighbors.
By the time the final
piece, Curran's new solo "Approaching a City," started, Curran had
us transfixed. From the moment he appeared in a sort of pre-amble,
rushing around to cartoonish hurly-burly music arranging his seven-mini
mannequins, we were his, captivated. The thunder from outside, not
to mention the lightning that occasionally lit up the stained-glass
windows, made it seem like we were truly on a journey, with Curran
the magical time-travelling host. "The residents of the city are
to a large extent strangers," he told us at the beginning, quoting
E.B. White, but by the end of this dance, we weren't. During the
dance, I noticed that people weren't clapping at the junctures where
one usually would -- after the completion of a dance number or a
song. I thought for a moment this was the dreaded dead-audience
syndrome. But it wasn't that. You wouldn't clap during a church
service, and this was that same experience -- or, at least, what
it should be.
The first time I saw
a performance in this space, I wondered about the appropriateness
of performing in a church -- whether it wasn't sacrilegious. But
Saturday's performance had at least one effect that a church service
perhaps should have, and that I know a dance experience should have.
We left feeling different than when we arrived. I have even dreamed
differently in the two days following the performance. Truly a transformation.
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