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Flash Review 2, 6-28: Dendy Rocks On
Bad Boy Goes to His Room to be Cool

By Byron Woods
Copyright Byron Woods 2000

DURHAM, NC -- Rock and roll has always been about very visible, physical expressions of social, sexual and political identities -- the open, public display of circumscribed feelings, beliefs, and individual characteristics. That's why rock has always been controversial at its best. By definition, it's acting out and acting up; not merely stating truths that someone somewhere isn't ready to deal with yet, but defiantly embodying them. Even though a generation falls between Elvis, the early activism of Tom Robinson, and the current fury of Sleater-Kinney, in its time each constitutes a necessary public manifesto concerning sexuality, identity, and freedom.

With that said, rock has always also been about excess. Given unlimited freedom to explore, its artists have just as regularly disappeared into self-indulgence, narcissism, and narcosis.

We see more than a little of these in Mark Dendy's work, "I'm Going To My Room to be Cool Now, and I Don't Want to be Disturbed," which opened Monday evening in Reynolds Theater at the American Dance Festival. Calling this work a world premiere stretches the term, since significant portions of this uneven omnibus of works set to classic rock and rhythm and blues songs were taken from earlier work at New York University, and featured in Dendy's "Rock and Roll: Classic Sweet," which played Central Park's SummerStage last year.

Perhaps it's inevitable that such a patchwork project shows in places unevenness in stitching. Hurriedly assembled when it became obvious that the previously commissioned "Bible Stories" would not be done in time, "Room" repeatedly veers between sexual stridence, celebration, silliness and self-absorption. It doesn't always appear to do so intentionally.

Frank, full-bodied gay desire, defiantly mapped out in Alexander Gish and Timothy Bish's sinuous pas de deux to Rufus and Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good," is undeniably one of the strong sections of the work. But the workmanlike, unimaginative reiterations set to Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" add little to our knowledge of the pogo or classic headbanging -- much less other modern dance. In this and other sections, if you take the music away, what's left doesn't always stand on its own.

In the initially promising section set to Janis Joplin's rendition of "Summertime," Ashley Gilbert's technique was marred by odd little choreographed seizures, unsuccessful quotes from James Brown's legendary stage shows. An abrupt descent followed: Bish's lengthy, incongruous solo to Led Zep's "Black Dog," here an absurd exercise in manic autoeroticism. Despite the histrionics, crotch grabs and affiliated hand jive, Dendy's movement here and elsewhere remains so much smaller than the music. Laughably so in places: Chippendales on a bad night, I'm afraid.

Lawrence Keigwin's self-choreographed solo for "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" was spare, tasteful, and pensive. The dramatic mid-show sequence to Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" featured leather-clad dancers on an imaginary turquoise catwalk. The characters traded moments in the spotlit center of the stage in brief solos that barely scratched the surface of characterization.

Further on, Christalyn Wright convincingly convulsed with the news of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," and Nicole Berger and Gish movingly enacted the vulnerability and awkwardness contained in Patty Smith's pensive "Wave." Steven Ochoa's shaking arms and hands remained irritatingly stylized, kvetching writ large throughout Joni Mitchell's "Blue." Earlier, though, he distinguished himself as the histrionic lead dancer of what appeared to be an all-gay Vegas act set to "Proud Mary."

(Editor's Note: For more on Mark Dendy, see Flash Review 2, 4-28: Double-teamed and Flash Review 2, 2-28: Broadway Dance Un-shrunk.)

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