Dance Companies Save Money
featured photo

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review 2, 6-17: The Sublime, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Spoke the Choreographer! (Well, One of them Anyway)

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000 The Dance Insider

In June of 1990, at a small real estate office on a corner down the street from where I went to elementary school, a business associate of one Mr. Friedman walked through the door and shot him to death. In the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco, it was a rare murder. A couple of weeks later, a colleague and I learned that one of the 11-year-olds in our acting class, Julie, was Mr. Friedman's daughter... We eventually decided to write a play with the kids about heroes. I asked them to bring in photographs and a few remarks on people they considered their heroes. Julie brought a photo of her dad. She had barely showed us the photo before she broke down in tears. I took her aside and suggested she write something about her dad. She wouldn't have to read it to the class; she could just show it to me. Six weeks later, we concluded our play about heroes with a monologue written and performed by Julie, about her dad. The only dry eyes in the house were Julie's. I remembered Julie, and how she had bravely, with quiet dignity, transformed her trauma into art, after seeing Sunhwa Chung perform "Paralysis," her memoir of the ramifications of her childhood kidnapping, on a mixed program last night at Spoke the Hub in the Gowanus Arts Building in Brooklyn.

As we approached Gowanus, I noticed a woman ahead of us in a flowered print dress, sandals, and a blouse that revealed a back that could only belong to a dancer, it seemed so expressive. Unique about this back was a rivulet -- almost scar-like in its contours -- that rippled down the middle of her spine.

That back emerged again when Chung entered the theater for her piece, performed in a somber and haunting light and to a haunting, melancholy soundscape of George Winston-ey piano and rain sounds. The cupped hand is a central element here, both in how Chung clasps it over her mouth to suppress and abort a series of small screams, turning them into yelps, and in how, kneeling, she dips it in an imaginary pond, swirling the water. Everything got quiet all of a sudden, and I noticed the sky and the bright splashes of street lights outside the window. I noticed the swan-like ripples and undulations of her arms, too. In the end, Chung yells something in Korean, a plea, really, whose intent and tone I understood even if I couldn't understand the words. Then she stands, walking slowly, steadily forward, arms in a circle above her, swimming while standing.

My (cynically) instinctive first reaction, especially when Chung started yelping, was, "Oh great, another piece with an angstful dancer screaming in pain about something inchoate, that I'm supposed to believe, but I don't." But her subdued, restrained manner of presenting all this was, well, not so much like she was forcing her pain on us, but more re-living a powerful dream. Okay, I'm cheating a little because I now write this after looking at the program, which noted that Chung was indeed kidnapped at age 12, and afterwards dreamed of calling out and looking for her mother, and of not being able to reach her, even tho she knew where she was, because she was paralyzed. But reading this I say, "Aha! Yes, this was not your run-of-the-mill automatic pain that I was supposed to feel as acutely as the performer." This was genuine.

Also subdued, out of the chute anyway, was "Round 3," in which choreographer/performers Veronica Dittman and Faith Pilger go from contemplative to combative. In the beginning, a still Dittman, framed like a picture in Hank Williams's "I'm So Lonely I Could Cry," starts swaying/swinging an arm at her side... Pilger is across the room in a corner. They regard each other. A bottle of red wine is uncorked. A few moments later, Dittman removes the bottle from Pilger's blouse, pours a glass and lodges its bottom between Pilger's teeth. She clenches it for an inordinately long time, in control, even as she reclines on the ground, back on the floor, limbs in the air in a sort of fish-like position. Dittman insinuates her head into a Pilger chokehold, then flounders her legs. Matters get a little more violent.... They go to their corners and a bell rings. Pilger, crouched, arms in a scoop, gives that "Come on, gimme all you got" motion with her hands. This rumble metamorphosizes into a slow dance, but with violence always lurking. Looking at my notes.... At this point a sort of Tiki Lounge music goes into effect in Duncan Nelson's mix.... I liked how these two slowed down accordingly. Pilger chugs more wine (directly from the bottle).... Dittman collapses, essentially, to end the piece.

I sense I haven't fully captured this piece. So let me give one more overall note on the choreography: It seems to draw from many styles, which I liked. A sort of Doug Elkins-style capoiera was in frequent effect, with Pilger, in a crouch, whipping a leg over a ducking Dittman. (A musical note here: The Hank Williams, played in its entirety, should have been credited in the program, in my opinion, an omission not so much the choreographers' responsibility as the mixer's, as he did list other artists who he sampled.) Thematically, I sense that while the dance language is solid, it is just beginning to hint at some of the intellectual ideas this pair have, and that in terms of what's communicated to the audience, this piece will grow even deeper over time.

The other reason I haven't fully captured the piece is, well, I actually came to last night's performance not to Flash but as a friend and colleague of Veronica. I didn't even bring a pen! But a pencil mysteriously appeared on the chair in front of me and when the high level of dancing of the very first piece became apparent, I sensed that this was an evening that needed to be recorded for posterity, or at least as much as would be allowed before the pencil point dulled.

That first piece, choreographed and performed by Lindsay Gilmour, and called "Missing," started unpromisingly, the presence center-stage of a couch indicating this might be just another gimmick piece. But Gilmour was fleet in the way she whipped around it, and she did leave its orbit, the most fascinating of her flights of fancy being the way her arms spun around, vertically, windmill-like. It was a very hot night last night, the air in the studio very still and almost acrid, leaving me to believe that Gilmour's windblown movement found its locomotion from within.

Next, someone named "Rembrandt" proffered that he was performing in a style whose impetus typically comes from within but, I'm sorry, I don't care if he calls himself Yukio Mishima, when I look in a program and see the words "(a) performance piece in the style of Butoh," I want to run the other way, in the style of the Road Runner. This performance bore that out; "Rembrandt" is to Butoh like Speed Racer is to Yurtle the Turtle. I don't care if your body is beautiful, and if you do smear it with white, black, and then red paint, and if you tantalize us by slowing dropping the sheet around your waist to reveal your pubic hair and the hint of what's right below -- Butoh is a craft where 60-year olds who have been doing it all their lives are considered rookies and, well, the term shouldn't be so cavalierly invoked.

I also found myself resisting Carlo Adinolfi's piece at first, when he said it was an audience involvement piece and we were all going to get involved. His idea: For us to make an air band of sorts. If we didn't know how to play any instruments, no problem; neither did he. Telling us musicians' performances were all about body language, he explained that we would basically be reproducing his untrained idea of how a bass guitarist, lead guitarist, drummers, keyboardist, and horn section might move while they play. Well, Adinolfi's winningly innocent personality so charmed me that by the time he was asking for a lead guitarist, I volunteered! Joe Pete Townsend.

Audience involvement on the other extreme was instigated by Eva Silverstein, and I've got to put this bluntly: What was she thinking? What was she thinking when she asked all of us to raise our arms, make fists, and then shake out the tension at the beginning of the show, and then wouldn't accept that some audience members were there to watch and not do? What was she thinking when she insisted, insisted, that we move to the front row? And, what was she thinking when, having pleaded with us to move to the front row at the beginning of the concert, she then, in her piece, had one of her dancers smash a bowl of raw eggs downstage center, splashing them over many in the...front row? A member of our group asked Silverstein this question after the show, and if I heard her right, she indignantly protested, as if it should be obvious, and with an implied "Duh," "It's part of the show."

If this is entertainment by provocation, it's a cheap way to assault the audience, because it lets the choreographer off the hook of actually making IDEAS which would assault and unsettle them. And hey, you know me, I'm game; when Sara Hook spat at me during a performance of her "Valeska's Vitriol," I had no problem with that because she backed the action up with a solidly developed character. But here, Silverstein's ideas were as scrambled as the shattered raw eggs, which I still found myself slipping over after the performance.

After the egg business, I became more concerned with the sanctity of my own personal sphere, especially beholding, still standing, another bowl of eggs and a row of pickle jars. "Please don't hit me with a pickle," was all I could think as the performers struggled to open the bottles.

As for the piece as a whole, I can't quite decide if it was Pina without the Bausch or Bausch without the Pina. How about this: Props without the Pina or the Bausch. Plenty of props do not alone deserve plenty of props.

But seriously: Pina Bausch works not because of her inventive use of props, but because there's a solid choreographic vision and scheme behind it. Too often -- and I'm over it, big time -- choreographers don't understand this and use props not as an expression of their choreographic vision, but as a replacement for it.

Oh, all right, there are two things I can give Silverstein props for: 1) Her curating of the entire evening. And 2) The use in her sound canvas of "Joseph Joseph," the Andrews Sisters tune we all know from Paul Taylor's "Company B," the employment of which caused the two Paul Taylor notators flanking me to give each other a "What the?!" look of (I think!) mild delight.

The New Works program at Spoke the Hub continues through Sunday, with differing programs. "Paralysis" repeats Sunday at 5 p.m., and Chung's "of love and memories" is performed tonight at 8:30. "Round 3" was performed last night only, but Pilger brings a different show to HERE in Manhattan, this Monday at 7 p.m. For tickets and info, call 212-647-0202.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home