Dance Companies Save Money
featured photo
Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review 2, 7-13: Asphalt Dance/Opera
Comfort & Co. Bring the Street into the Theater

By Peggy H. Cheng
Copyright 2000 Peggy H. Cheng

"You're a New Yorker now," a childhood friend from
out-of-town said to me a few days ago. I thought about the quiet, peaceful, rural nature of Western Massachusetts where she and I grew up, and then the yearning we experienced when her mother brought us to "The City," where we walked up and down Broadway tirelessly, drinking in the overwhelming sights, sound, and movement. Her comment resurfaced in my mind last night as I sat down in the Ohio Theater, a loft space in Soho, for a performance of Jane Comfort and Company's dance/opera "Asphalt." The loading dock doors were open, letting in the street and the remaining summer daylight. People mingled, drinking beers and sodas, and Manchild, who plays the character Racine, DJ'd while guests danced in the stage space. It felt like one of the New Yorks that I know and love -- a summer evening spent not too far from the sidewalk and its sights, and music and sounds always with a beat, a beat that is entirely urban when it crosses my mind and enters my body. This is the scene that ushers the audience into the first act of "Asphalt," where we meet Racine (Manchild), an aspiring DJ. A rousing club scene ensues (strobe lights and club moves included), and then out of the crowd emerges Couchette (Aleta Hayes), an aspiring dancer with whom Racine develops a relationship.

As the dance/opera continues we begin to meet Racine's ancestors -- predecessors that we discover through songs and text rich with many layers and information about people and things of the past; book and lyrics are by Carl Hancock Rux, vocal score by Toshi Reagon, instrumental score by DJ Spooky with additional music by Foosh, and the dramaturg is Morgan Jenness. These people from the past appear and speak to Racine in the dark condemned tenement building where he has decided to squat along with Couchette as she leads him through the building with a flashlight. The ancestral "ghosts" are Emma (Irene Datcher), Eddie (Julius Hollingsworth), Lilly (Elizabeth Haselwood), Frederick (Stephen Nunley), Geneva (Nakia), and the Woman in the Flaming Dress (Cynthia Bueschel). Along with Racine's ancestral stories, there are the memories of Couchette and her jazz musician father who killed himself in the apartment where she squats now. She tells us that she always goes back to where she came from. Perhaps with this impetus, Racine's memories begin to surface and we begin to understand that "Asphalt" is about remembering, or "Remembrances of Things Past" - the music which was playing when Couchette's father killed himself.

"Walking, dancing, remembering... this is city living." That is the beat-induced mantra as we enter Racine's world. We are invited into Racine's world and then brought in deeper with each voice which sings us a story. But this world has much to tell us about the here and now as it brings together the stuff of the sidewalks, the movement which surrounds us in big metropolises like New York, the artists and artmaking, and how one can be moved forward by remembering memories both sorrowful and joyful as well as by the movement around us in the present. The imaginations of the members of Jane Comfort and Company, as directed by Comfort, have served as the fertile ground for these "remembrances," and the big city serves as the asphalt canvas from which this dance/opera has sprung. Costumes were designed by Liz Prince and original lighting design by David Ferri with the Ohio Theatre's lighting designed by Jennifer Mejo.

Please note: These performances are billed as a work-in-progress; Act I is performed in its entirety, the following act in excerpts, and a third act is yet to be developed. Showings continue through Saturday, at 7 PM. For more info, call 212-966-4844.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home