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Flash Review 2, 6-2: What's Black and White and Re[a]d All Over?
Muller Lets Dancers Shine as Choreographers in Program B

Jennifer Muller/The Works, Program B
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By Tom Patrick
Copyright 2000 Tom Patrick

At last, at last...another opportunity to fill in some blank areas in my exposure to work that I know I should be more familiar with. Jennifer Muller/The Works celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, which in the current funding climate (actually, the past decade's, at least) puts her/the company in an esteemed circle of longevity. Wow, a quarter-century, a score-and-five...damn.... Happy to [at last] see what I've been missing, I left my cave of solitude and trained downtown to take a look at this company framed in the Joyce. I was aware that another Muller program was Flashed earlier in the week (see Flash Review 2, 5-31: Whacking With Jennifer) and it was soooooo tempting to read it, to catch a glimpse beforehand, but I managed to arrive with "fresh eyes" last night....

Before an encouragingly-filled house, JM/TW presented a concert of three acts, which ran pretty-painlessly-close to three hours. The opening act consists of three works under the umbrella of "The Alumni & Company Creations Project" (a catchy heading if there ever was...uh, not.). This third of things seemed to indicate the origin of "The Works" in the grand word-play of things. Personally, I salute Ms Muller for nurturing those in the ranks to choreograph in a greater capacity than simply "with the assistance of..." or "thanks to X for their contributions to the work...". After all, DanceInsiders know the dancers' contributions are a given, like gravity.... Some of the other decorated generals of dance companies aren't so secure with in-house "competition." Starting the program with such a mini-collection was a treat and tease for me. On the one hand, here were three other visions in motion, in addition to the one whose I came to see... On the other hand, my dance-educational quarry would elude me a little longer....

Opening things up was "Other Love," by current company member Leonardo Smith. Solo guitar music fills the air, a rapturous piece by Carlo Domeniconi, and we see a figure crumpled motionless under a sheet of sheer gauzy fabric. An imposing fabric-piece across the way ascends from the floor to the heavens. Lithe Petra van Noort enters, bound by an umbilicus of thick elastic. She pulls, protests, and at last frees herself in this new domain, unbound. This intrigued me, as I enjoy seeing experimentation with materials and their physics (I tell ya, Momix's "Skiva" tickles me every time, but that's another story -- promised I'd get this Flash in on time. Ahem!) Thus freed, Ms. van Noort slinks across, and there is some meaningful exchange of another elastic piece, an armband I think. Another couple arrives, and there is -- as I recall -- some very unbound quartet work. Sleek dancers all, the foursome is completed by Tania Repinec, Anne Kochanski, and Mr. Smith (this work's choreographer, who is also to be credited with the slate-gray costumes and decor designs -- nice job!) The four dialogue a lot, break into couples. It was at the two-couples point that I wondered: do I need more herbal supplements for concentration, or should I be put in the position of choosing? The relationships of the participants here were all so watchable, but I couldn't see it all at once. When trio configurations dominated, I saw wonderful things happening (after all, three is "public") and I felt less like I was channel-surfing between two conversations. The choreographic code was interesting, alluding to lot of stories of "other Loves," and I found myself enjoying it precisely because it got non-literal. The dancing was full of smooth daring, particularly the partnering between Ms. Kochanski and Mr. Smith. I appreciate the creator's guts in employing some scenery so, and for the resistance to just lay out all the "relevant" facts. This was weird terrain, and I liked it.

The "middle child" of this act also evoked place and relationship, but more conventionally. Transpiring in a bar or club (minimally indicated by tables/chairs/water-glasses) Leda Meredith's "Lullabye Lane" was a bittersweet flashback by the lone Anton Wilson, a leggy dark man in everyday clothes who seems a little dangerous at times, and then vulnerable, as a visit to a club (his former workplace?) has him reminiscing about a certain beguiling lady he knew once (yes, in the Biblical sense) way back then. He dances a solitary meditation, or is it an incantation? Right on cue, Ms. van Noort enters in a blue silk dress, stockings, heels (an impressive quick-change, in the two minutes she had) and memory takes over. She easily establishes herself as femme fatale, a leg emerging from said dress's generous slit. Their dancing-for and regarding each other was enticing, but when they made contact their grappling obscured the magic. Aside from a fair amount of excusable reliance on the pirouettes and upstage-facings, I felt that this premiere was hindered by the partnering work, which had me on the edge of my seat for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps unintentionally, these characters' convergence was doomed. Yes, the hiding of her wedding band gave this tryst a tang of scandal, but the mismatch was more obvious in the jarring effect of inorganic twinings of all four of their hands. Incidentally, the music was blues, nice stuff composed by James Sasser (who is married to Ms. Meredith, the choreographer) and very well sung on the recording by our dancing man-in-black Anton Wilson.

Christopher Pilafian was a founding member of The Works, and his "Artifact" came next. Under a [modified] set of overhanging vertical fabric, a roof of sorts (or a floor?), a creepy mood is established via Jeff Croiter's lighting. In this moody place, a solid man begins a delicious solo: Bradley R. Lundberg was world-class, expressive, explosive as he captured my guts with his bravery and fluency. No tension. Aaaahh. It's hard for me to encapsulate this piece, but it seemed to be a dreamscape -- spoken text(by the choreographer; later I discovered it is indeed the record of a dream he'd had) overlaid with Robert Een's eerie music had the hair standing up on my neck. I felt recollections of sections of Paul Taylor's "Speaking In Tongues," where the literal characters' dreamtime relationships are suspended outside the everyday. Allusions to buildings and finding "artifacts" therein also made me recall the film "Stir Of Echoes" and its allegations of persons and their stories inhabiting sites post-mortem. Choreographically-speaking, I appreciated the way Pilafian indicated to us that the stage-space was just the crossroads for these spirits, and there was no cramping and squishing -- the work had room for breathing, and my poor little mind got to really experience something instead of just ingesting. I'd like to see more of Mr. Pilafian's work someday.

And at last the time came for my Dose of Muller... and a Premiere at that! "Time Treading" has its roots in our ever-present relationship to this thing called time. Well, that should be easy to throw a lasso around, right? Harharhar. Well, damned if she doesn't. Upstage we see a thin trickle of sand falling from the heavens, an elemental illustration of time's flow. As dancers tread toward us, evolving in numbers, complexity, and pace, they take turns as onstage narrators with cordless microphones. Their "script" is by Ms. Muller, a series of meditations giving voice to our anecdotes and vexations over the ever-forward flow of Time. Quite an ambitious concept to tackle, sometimes with sly irony, as we all know we're better-off some nights leaving those realistic thoughts outside the theater. We're dancing folks, theater people -- we bend time and space, eat 'em for breakfast, right? Yet in "Time Treading" we are constantly, soberly, and humorously reminded of time's damned irresistibility. The initial few dancers evolve and multiply in numbers and society emerges. The musical overlay holds clues to our mileposts on this journey: waves, fanfares, a minuet, the Machine Age, and the dancers continue to increase in numbers. Societal considerations increase as each dancer's available square-footage decreases (yo, this must be the NYC-apartment era!). I felt the choreography was medium-compelling, but loved the thought-provoking text, keeping the mind dancing too, from the anecdotal to the conceptual. If only I had the time (nyuknyuk) to touch on the many salient points she makes! (A fave is Leo Smith saying that "the present is between three and twelve seconds in duration.") This piece has "Film Me!" written all over it. I'd love to see it again, for the theatrical construction of it. (One last thing here: though the dancers seemed perfectly poised during their spoken asides, I think they should do another soundcheck with the microphones. A bit of a sound-level war going on there, with the musical tracks bullying the voices at times.)

The final work was Ms. Muller's "Interrupted River," which premiered at the Joyce in 1987. Reading...hmmm...Keith Haring, cool...hmmm, Yoko Ono...uh-oh. Until tonight I've not been an appreciator of her sound, but I've got to say it works very well here. And note please, gentle readers, that "Interrupted River" is a collaborative project among Jennifer Muller, Yoko Ono, Keith Haring, and Ken Tbachnick(original lighting). Youch, heavy hitters. Honestly, choreographically I thought it was the more recent of these two Mullerographies -- there was a tautness and high level of precision composition-meets-concept that I supposed would be in line with an "inevitable" curve of refinement. But this is an error of mine, as the pieces tonight are simply Different.

"Interrupted River" begins with a shaft of bright light cutting diagonally across a dark stage. Suspended from offstage, a woman leans precipitously into the space. She's startling, pale and sensuous, wearing just white short-shorts and matching bandeau bra (seatmate Kerstin and I simultaneously whisper "I'm gonna love this piece!," giggle.) But beyond more evidence of the fineness and utter photographablity of these great dancers, there is instantly a harmony invoked. The woman's tether, her male partner, enters too, then another pair, etc, in a continuum along the diagonal. Their mood is not-quite-serene, not-quite-yearning, as the couples steadily progress through many and intricate lifts towards the other end of their lit path. The couples are all M-F. This atmosphere chills a little in time, and a solitary woman backs toward her offstage origin, defying the "natural" order of things?

Upstage a drape parts to reveal a huge Haring backdrop, covered with those wonderful pictograms of his, that simple irony. Dancers re-enter again, a bit more confrontational in tone and gradually-more-clad in shirts and/or pants printed with sections of lines, text. The text proves to be those huge 60-point headlines from newspapers, an intrusion on all that original harmony, reminders of intrusions. Yoko moans in ecstasy as tense music fills the air, the dancing becomes a little anxious, and then suddenly all stops. Dancers frozen looking offstage, a subway car sounds its approach. A wind picks up, and swaths of newspaper blow in, engulfing the dancers' feet and giving a shabby realism to a site that was so pure so recently. River Interrupted indeed. From here all things seemed to disperse, as dancers careened around and suddenly were characters in relation to the group. There were some great passages, and again I was struck by the deftness, the power and sensitivity of Brad Lundberg and Anne Kochanski. Yumiko Yoshikawa is a gifted dancer too, but she seemed too enamored of the Yankee-Stadium-Scale end of her dial. They are all great dancers, really. They do it all, and "Interrupted River" requires it: this modern time and place turns red and more intense, approaching some unseen critical mass. At last, there is...what? Surrender, victory, regression? The cast unceremoniously strips down to the original tighty-whities and heads back to the Garden. Good luck....

The performance tonight was followed by Q&A with the choreographers, which was quite enlightening.... Happy twenty-five-and-counting, to Ms. Muller and The Works!

For ticket and schedule info on Jennifer Muller's Joyce engagment, go to http://www.joyce.org/muller2k.HTML.

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