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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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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