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Flash Review 1, 6-13: Deconstructing Doris
Carlson Pays Homage to Humphrey to Open ADF

By Byron Woods
Copyright 2000 Byron Woods

DURHAM, NC -- Over the decades, Doris Humphrey's prose and pointed aphorisms have helped generations enter and analyze modern dance. "Premiere," choreographer/performance artist Ann Carlson's new, commissioned solo for the American Dance Festival, may well mark the first time Humphrey's words have been used, in real-time, to actively prevent such activity.

Perhaps it's not so surprising: Carlson's Sunday evening performance, the season-opener for this year's festival (following the cancellation by the besieged Martha Graham Dance Company), repeatedly explored and celebrated the postmodern element of disruption. Ironic, then, that "Premiere" proved little more than an object lesson in its hazards.

The source of interference in this five-minute abstract solo was the soundtrack, a tape of the choreographer's nine-year-old son attempting to read the "Checklist" chapter from Humphrey's 1959 book, "The Art of Making Dances."

At length we listened, as the child tortuously sounded out the individual, unfamiliar words while his off-mike mother occasionally corrected or encouraged him. Even with active, close listening it was difficult to understand what the child was trying to say.

And therein lies the rub for this frustrating performance: since the audio takes so much work decrypting, the audience is constantly distracted from the dance. Though Humphrey's famous axiom that the eye is quicker than the ear is included in the spoken text, Carlson's work here seems determined to negate it. The dubious lesson of this irritating work is if you keep the ear busy enough, the eye -- and the attending mind -- will slow to a disconcerting crawl.

Of course, discontiguous and dissonant texts are a familiar staple of postmodern performance, but the antagonistic audio and visual elements here largely cancel each other out. Humphrey's vocally deconstructed words effectively lock us out of the movement: strange -- and short -- homage to one of the founders of modern dance.

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