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Flash Review 1, 5-6: Dances for Grownups
Growing Older with Buglisi-Foreman

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000 The Dance Insider

"And I've just gotten older
I've just gotten older
And the little ones call me
A grownup."

--Carly Simon, "Grownup"

When are you going to grow up and get a REAL job?

How many of the dancers among you have heard this...? Mmm-hmm! I thought so. Newsflash: There's now a whole genre of dancers for whom this question must wring especially hollow: Men and women hovering a few years on this or that side of 40. (Hey! That's me!) While much of the dancing we see is oriented towards young performers -- people who can do extraordinary things with their bodies -- much of what moves me these days seems to come from the more weathered souls and bodies. Midway through my usual cataloging of steps last night, this time for Donlin Foreman's "Field of Loves," being reprised in Buglisi-Foreman's concert at the John Jay Theatre, I threw up my pen and realized that I was missing the point. Buglisi-Foreman dances -- like many of those of Martha Graham, for whom Jacqulyn Buglisi and Donlin Foreman danced and with whose company many of their dancers still perform -- are not so much about acrobats of god as pyrotechnics of the psyche. These struggles -- even when exaggerated to the level of melodramatic angst, as they were sometimes last night -- resonate with us because the folks up there are not so much showing off their bodies' prowess as showing us their minds' and hearts' physical processing of feelings. These are less acrobats of God than mortals, exploring how we cope with the travails of that mortal coil.

Thus, Foreman's 1992 "Field of Loves," which at first seemed to me built on the pretty one-dimensional theme of men and women drawing together, than falling apart, ultimately resonated because hey, this is what adult men and women do. We want to be two as one, we want to be alone. We want to be alone, we want to be two as one. We want to live together, we revolt and insist on our space. So the oomph here is not so much in the cleverness of the outward design of the steps, but rather in the overall effect as permutations of this come-together/come-apart pattern are repeated, slightly varied.

Nevertheless, some analysis of Foreman's ability to design dance for depicting these relationships is in order.

When I first saw this then-young company in concert, in 1996, they did a piece called, I think, "Runes of the Heart." By "they" I mean Foreman, Buglisi, their associate directors Christine Dakin and Terese Capucilli, and I believe Kevin Predmore was the fifth. Very Noguchiesque reedy sort of bare tree branch forest shaped the stage. (Marthaism, by way of Mark Dendy: "I defy anyone to get a good night's sleep in a Noguchi bed.") For the first half hour, it was wonderful -- a dreamy excursion into the labyrinth of relationships. But then it seemed to go on. And on. And on. Seeing this dance back then helped me formulate my editor theorem, as in, if there's anything more frustrating than a bad dance, it's a dance that was good for the first half hour but overstays its welcome. (With good intentions, I might add: The choreographer is just being TOO generous.)

There was a little bit of this over-writing in evidence in "Field," which is set to Brahms's Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 100, rhapsodically played by pianist Brian Zeger and violinist Gil Morgenstern, who themselves took us on a reverie. We started with three couples doing something like I've described above. Then they vamoosed, and one couple returned. Oh no, I thought; are we now going to get three duets?(Oh no not being a comment on the dance, but more to say, I'd gotten the point already. Caveat emptor: Yesterday was a long one and I was working on my third Flash night in a row, so this tiredness had left me a bit impatient, not to mention a tad unmovable! Today is Saturday and a day before I get a year closer to 40, so I am feeling all the youthful buoyancy you might expect from a 38-year-old boy critic.)

Where was I? Oh yes: What a difference eight years means! Not in my age, I mean, but in Foreman's development as a choreographer. From something that was essentially a Graham shoot-off ("Fields"), we moved to something that was almost a different animal altogether. "Suite: Arms Around Me," receiving its premiere last night, is from the get-go as real as it gets: No longer in flouncy white dresses and shirts and pants, the dancers are now in more or less street clothes, as envisioned by Elena Comendador. The men -- Foreman, Predmore, Stephen Pier, and Adam Hoagland -- wear button-down long-sleeve shirts and pleated slacks. The women areáwell, if memory serves, their wardrobes go something like this: Nancy Turano, choreographer, teacher, and longtime diva ballerina at Ballet Hispanico (I mean diva in the good sense, i.e. reflecting the magnetism of her presence and personality), has a sort of chocolate brown velvet dress; Capucilli a long, old-fashioned grey ginghamish number; Christine Dakin (with Capucilli, the reigning diva at the Graham company for going on something like 20 years) a Flamenco-esque dress; and Rika Okamoto, also a powerful presence in Graham and the young'un of the group, is in mod tight green velvet bell-bottom slacks and matching bikini top.

The stage is also real. Noguchi is gone in favor of... well, the stage, lit sparely by Clifton Taylor. Lighting rigs revealed at the sides; ladders for mounting lighting rigs aligned at the upstage wall. A couple of musicians, cellist Crispin Campbell and Daniel Roumain, deployed in chairs at the side.

A note in the program says this suite is both inspired by the Epic of Gilgamesh and "for the embraces of our friends lost to AIDS and time." And indeed, I didn't quite get this at the time, but re-reading that description, the opening of this dance seems to be people drifting at a party; the atmosphere is warm and bucolic, but there's a sense that someone's missing. In a male quartet, preceded by a Foreman improvisation with the musicians, the dancers literally start dropping towards the end. The most memorable passage in this segment was when the men (or three of them, maybe; I believe Hoagland's character was already far-gone) link hands and do a sort of shell game, switching places but always joining hands again. Eventually they drop like flies, writhing on the stage to conclude the section.

But the most entrancing section of this suite was the finale. Hmmm... how to describe this? Okay: We're at some sort of school dance -- signified rather obviously by the disco ball lights now cascading the upstage wall. Foreman and Capucilli are sort of the baseline couple, dancing most of the time traditionally, she in his arms, they holding hands - your normal slow dance. Oh, and musically, I should mention all of this is to a sort of sad, last-dance slow Roy Orbison, David Lynch-y western slow dance, by Josh Haden. (Indeed, in the program here I see it's called "Last Call.") One of the many deliciosities in this dance -- and where I note how sophisticated Foreman has become since "Fields" -- is that the putative main couple, Foreman/Capucilli, is not doing the most interesting things. This falls to the other couples. Their dancing is sort of canonic but not really; they're not doing exactly the same thing. Turano stood out here, mostly for her feathery lightness. I don't mean "lightweight," but rather, light-spirited.

We see a sort of in-between Foreman -- still your basic male-female thing, but this time with a more refined/defined vocabulary -- in "From Pent-Up, Aching Rivers," a 1998 duet for Miki Orihara (let's call her the Graham princess who would be diva, also a compliment) and Pier. This is introduced by the Walt Whitman poem of the same name, performed last night (and tonight) live on stage by Claire Bloom, herself redolent in scarlet top and slacks. "The oath of the inseparableness of two together" is one telling line. Another: "Only that we willingly enjoy each other and exhaust each other... " Tho Orihara is also from the Graham fold, she's of a more recent generation than Dakin and Capucilli, perhaps one reason why, tho still intense, the intensity seems particularly organic and less heavy. The articulation in her legs is firm and definite. (Orihara is also great at freezing in awkward positions as she's being lifted by a partner, as she does here, upside down, legs and arms outstretched with joints bent, as he hoists her above him when they exit.) But again, I was more impressed in my heart than my eyes by this dance, set to Sergei Rachmaninoff's Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 4. At its conclusion, I wrote: "Longing, when the one you long for is there all along."

Buglisi's 1998 "Red Hills," which opened last night's program, is also pretty basic. Dakin performs what the program describes as "Opening Landscape" -- this dance being inspired by Georgia O'Keeffe's The Red Hills with Sun. (Only adults even MAKE dances to Georgia O'Keeffe. Does Christopher Wheeldon even know who Georgia O'Keeffe is? Is he familiar with Sarah Bernhardt, the subject of Buglisi's sensational solo for Capucilli of last season?) Dakin disappears after a few, leaving the stage occupied only by Jennifer DePalo, clinging to a sort of marbleized red rock. And also clinging, at times, to her costume: A many-skirted, many-redded collaborative creation by Buglisi and the legendary A. Christina Giannini (brownie points for anyone who can tell me what the 'A' stands for). This ruffling dress is a big factor in the dance.... DePalo writhes around the cube on the floor, and eventually rises. Grahamian angst here, but still, a hint of innocent celebration.

For the evening's finale, the premiere of Buglisi's "Suspended Women," the choreographer posits a more subtle anti. The press release says this is about "the spaces in between," and Buglisi physicalizes this by having the women move haltingly (to Ravel, in "Interpolations composed and played by Daniel Roumain") pretty much throughout, in a variety of extravagant, opulent ball gowns. Did I say... variety? Did I say... women? As previewed in my Flash Review, 4-26: Fire, the "corps" of women Buglisi has assembled here make those rock diva concerts seem like a kindergarten recital. Capucilli, Dakin, Turano, Orihara, DePalo, and Okamoto are joined by Virginie Mecene and Elizabeth Roxas, the former Alvin Ailey star and co-founder of the new company, Rhyth MEK, making its debut next month at Jacob's Pillow. (Social note: Elizabeth will wed the well-known lawyer Robert Dobrish on June 27, the day after the Pillow gig finishes.) In addition to these, we also have Jennifer Emerson, Emma Stein, Theresa Ling, and Elizabeth Mikautadze. Can you say... Feminine FIRE?

Folks, we're talking 12 gorgeous-on-the-inside-and-outside women coming at you, in a line, at the start, slowly, their dresses ruffling, looking right at you. I almost feinted! It's a miracle I didn't have to be rushed to Roosevelt Hospital for palpitations and am still here to tell the tale. (Note: The four men mentioned above showed up briefly, but to me their inclusion, choreographically, only diminished the dance. Which is not to say what they were doing with and to the women wasn't interesting, but rather, that their presence introduced the ol' guy-girl theme to what had been a more intriguing dance about internal female excavations. It diluted the effect.)

I've put all that about the men in parenthesis because I think the mere fact that all these divas showed up for the dance -- in which, notwithstanding some strong solos and duets involving, variously, Roxas, Orihara, Okamoto, Turano, Capucilli and Dakin, none of them "star" -- is a testament to the choreographer. They obviously love to work with her. I sense that Liz (a friend) had her fill of the slam-bang of Ailey, and is now more interested in examining internal movements, and I'm guessing that for her and some of these other veterans, that opportunity, provided by the incisively probing and investigatin' Buglisi, is what drew them to work with her.

For her part, it must be said that I don't think Buglisi was just going for headliners to sexy-up the appeal of the new dance. I think for all their demonstrated star durability, Buglisi sees the depth of these women. Indeed, she commented afterwards that she has known most of them for a long time. This dance concludes the feeling of grown-ups dancing, and being given grown-up movement in which their maturity can shine. And maybe give us some insight to our own growing up. I've just gotten older, indeed, and the little ones call me... a grown-up.

Buglisi-Foreman -- and stellar company! -- perform again tonight at 8 p.m. and tomorrow afternoon at 3. For more info, go to www.buglisi-foreman.org.

 

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