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Flash Review 2, 5-5:
Mixing it up with Sean Curran
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000 The Dance Insider
In 1993, the singer Sheila
Chandra told me that we were in a new era without musical boundaries.
One in which, for instance, she, an Indian-born, London-raised singer,
could move across borders and give her voice to recording Irish
dirges and English folk songs. A couple of years later, Chandra
became fascinated with a musical form, the drone, which can be found
in the musics of many cultures, including the Indian and the Irish.
The results, her album ABoneCroneDrone, would go on to be exploited
as the soundtrack for many a modern dance. But only one choreographer
I've seen has really, really probed the music -- going beyond just
using Chandra's lush river of a voice for an exotic palette. Sean
Curran reprised his 1999 "Symbolic Logic" last night at Danspace
Project at St. Mark's Church, and also presented some other attempts
at blending, some more successful than others.
On first viewing in 1999
at the Joyce, what I noticed most about "Symbolic Logic" was how
Curran really got inside the mathematics of the music. Or rather,
found a mathematical system, which he expressed as a lot of arm
angles and overall group patterns forming within and without a circle
painted on stage. Where he went really deep, actually, is a section
done to what sounds like a remix of one of the Speaking in Tongues
songs from an earlier Chandra album, Weaving My Ancestors Voices.
You may have heard this. "Takata Takata Takata ding ding" is one
of the repeated phrases, in various permutations. I'm listening
to it now and, in fact, Chandra follows it with an Irish dirge,
a drone in the background. Ooh, that's cool; she suddenly switches
to a more Indian sound.
This time around, I noticed
that, in fact, Curran does incorporate traditional Indian dance
gestures -- or at least what I from my minimal exposure to these
recognize as such. In particular, there's a lot of the sideways
movement, with the arms jutting out at right angles, the fingers
pressed close together, the bodies tilting on one leg. Then there's
that shifting of the head from side to side, particularly by Marisa
Demos. An ethnic Indian choreographer friend who's seen this work
tells me that to her mind, this is not stereotypical; Curran's done
the research and shown 'nuff respect to the source. Last night,
it didn't seen overblown. And, Curran and his ten dancers in their
execution shifted seamlessly from this movement inna Indian style
to a more traditional modern dance vocabulary.
The final section, to
Speaking in Tongues, is the kick-ass one. Nine or ten of the dancers
are arranged more or less in a circle around the circle, all looking
at us stony-faced. (Or should I say, serene-faced!?) The vocalese
starts, and more than dancing synchronized with it, they're really
responding -- with their arms jutting, occasional bending at the
waist, suddenly a jump, all ending with a couple of dancers in the
center hoisting Demos, who arches her head and stretches her arm,
fingers still clasped together, skyward. I'm not really capturing
this, I'm sure. It's quite intricate and complex. When I was making
my notes on this one, I was afraid to look down at my pad, lest
I miss a single phrase picture. Plus, I almost couldn't look away;
it was that mesmerizing. This is probably the most riveting section
of a dance I've seen all year, captivating and not puzzling me with
It was unfair, really,
to follow this dance with "The Nothing That is Not There, and the
Nothing that is," a pretty standard old-school modern quartet, set
to Leos Janacek. What sticks in the mind most from this one, made
in 1998, is a male duet performed by Tony Guglietti and Peter Kalivas,
each dressed in pleated slacks and dress shirt. I'm going to betray
my own prejudice here in the service of explaining what, at least,
this straight reviewer found refreshing about this duet: This is
more of a grappling, assessing match between two straight guys than
what used to be referred to as a homo-erotic love duet. Oh what
the heck, let's reveal even more prejudice at...6:47 in the morning....
Newcomer Guglietti especially, who also performs with Ben Munisteri
and Peter Pucci (he was one-half of the hockey love duet in "Pucci
Sport"), might be called the Great Straight Hope as far as male
....Where was I? Oh yes:
The women, in this case Heather Waldon-Arnold and Demos, danced
beautifully as well, but overall, it was almost unfair to place
this dance after a masterpiece like "Symbolic Logic." This one is
more the evening opener, I think, the easy dance you put out there
while the audience is still making the transition from their working
world to suspending that and opening their minds to receiving the
dance. It also doesn't really do full justice to "Symbolic Logic"
to present it first; this is a dance that really demands one's full
attention and concentration to get the full effect, and take in
all the intricate details.
"Six Laments" might at
first glance -- or rather, first hearing, as in the original Seamus
Egan score -- be dubbed the requisite Irish dance of the evening.
But Mr. Curran, he of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane as well as Stomp
lineage, doesn't like to be pigeon-holed that way. So he introduces
another element: three slat-like portraits by Kieren McGonnell.
They're blinds, really. After each visage's story has been told
-- this is my take, anyway -- a dancer removes to behind the blinds
and twists them so that, gradually, the face fades. An echo remains,
only to fully disappear once Philip W. Sandstrom's evocative lights
come up more fully.
There are three standout
performances here. First of course there's Curran. His solo is jolting;
we don't realize until he's spun -- literally -- to the front of
the stage that he's been lurking quietly at the way way upstage
corner all the time. I'm thinking "trickster" here, because Curran
turns with a speed -- more than speed, really, it's like a hurricane
-- that seems inconsistent with his girth. I hesitated to use that
word, "girth," because he's not "overweight" or anything -- maybe
stocky is a better term. But each time, the super-human spinning
becomes poignantly human when he suddenly stumbles, falls, and looks
behind him for a moment, almost as if he's been struck, not just
with the pain and shock of the fall, but an inner, remembered hurt.
I'm getting a shiver in my chest as I write this the next morning
-- it becomes clear to me, in memory, that this whole solo is mourning
a lost loved one: Just as he starts to forget, carried away with
the dance, he gets hit from inside, falls, and remembers the blow,
Curran as choreographer
really goes to town with Donna Scro Gentile, who's got to have one
of the most poignantly melancholy faces I've ever seen. You've maybe
seen her with Murray Louis/Nikolais Dance or with Pucci, but none
of these explores her depth of hovering sadness like Curran. When
he made this solo on her last summer, Gentile was pregnant, and
Curran used that rather than trying to pretend it wasn't there.
Indeed, the slat she dances in front of is of a baby. Assuming (from
the title) that he was lost, the tragedy is signaled from the beginning
of the whole dance, when she stands there holding her stomach, ache
on her face and in her haunted, remembering eyes. It's there in
the dance, too, when she reaches out for some leg lifts and moves
around a little, but never really travels too far from the slat,
and always returns to stroking her stomach, remembering.
Demos is the final essential
link in this tapestry of mourning, weaving and spinning throughout
in short black skirt, until she rests, prostrate, in the end.
Curran could easily make
a living as "that Irish guy" with sad wakes of dances like this,
or jiggy dances like "Folk Dance for the Future." And, unfortunately,
I think to a degree presenters expect at least one Irish dance on
a Curran program. I say unfortunately because it's clear to me,
from talking to him and watching his dances, that when it comes
to choreographing, Curran likes to mindfuck himself. As soon as
he adds another success, he doesn't rest on that laurel, but trips
Last night's risky business
was "Approaching a City," a solo receiving its premiere. Actually,
it's not totally a solo. Seven mini-mannequins in various poses
and dress, arranged by Curran in a manic hurly-burly scramble at
the dance's beginning, serve as demonstration models for Curran.
Dressed in pin-striped suit, Curran then becomes a sort of Runyanesque
tour-guide. "The residents of the city are to a large extent strangers,"
he tells us at the beginning, going on to rhapsodize "the city"
in words by E.B. White, Galway Kinell, and Andy Young. Dance-wise,
it starts off winningly, as he does a sort of scat dance-zoot suit
dance to a swift "Harlem Nocturne." Things get comic when, after
noting that everyone in New York complains their apartment is too
small, this very white guy belts out the "Shakey Flat Blues" by
Curran, er -- let's not
mince words -- can't sing, and this is where the final number leaves
me flat. Singing "Laughing Matters," he is neither good enough or
bad enough (as a singer) to give it punch, making for a flat ending.
(To be fair, this WAS a premiere, and the dance and Curran's performance
of it could very well evolve.)
After the concert, my
choreographer companion and I played that popular game "re-arrange
the program," and came up with this order:
The Nothing that is Not
there, and the Nothing that is
Approaching a City (Premiere)
Six Laments (1999)
If you'd like to test
our theory out -- or, more important, just see some experimental,
high-caliber choreography and deep and charming dancing -- Sean
Curran Company continues tonight through Sunday, and Thursday through
Sunday next week.
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