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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,
Clip: 1.1MB. Click here
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
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.
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
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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