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Flash Review 2, 7-26: Eco-Art
Oil Spill Dance Doesn't Quite Stick

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2000 Chris Dohse

Fears of a rainout or of West Nile mosquitoes weren't enough to keep a healthy crowd from attending "Erika," j mandle performance's free outdoor project at the Cooper-Hewitt Tuesday evening. These uptowners, with their casual, lawn-sprawled elegance and selective inattention, seemed inoculated from the economic and ecologic impact of an oil tanker polluting the coast of France. (Last December, miles of the Brittany coast were drenched with oil when a tanker named Erika broke up offshore.)

The sharp contours of Julia Mandle and Said Mahrouf's pigment-saturated costumes didn't capture the hopelessness of the local population, as reported by Suzanne Daley recently in the New York Times. In fact, the Cooper-Hewitt's immaculate lawn seemed an entirely inappropriate venue for this work. Sight lines were impossible if you were seated, for one thing. The static, ritualized, repetitive gestures of Brendan McCall's choreography wanted to communicate the soul-deadening work of ecologic reclamation, and might have in an installation-type setting, where viewers would be free to circulate and contemplate. The idea of this material, so dominated by its design, performed at a museum of design, sounds right. But my guess is "Erika" looked better at Brooklyn's Old American Can Factory last weekend.

After an all-female chorus in Yves Klein-blue gowns (blue for the sea, the sea) consecrated the space (downcast gaze, time-hung tread), three female couples in black (for tons of crude) seated themselves and engaged in hand and arm semaphore, weaving, tarot-shuffling, mirrored, sibyl-like. All of them wore headgear that recalled both the wimples in Gauguin's "Vision After the Sermon" (also set in Brittany) and the Playskool funnelheads of Alwin Nikolais's "Imago." Paul Geluso's score of industrial stringsynth managed to be lush and stark at the same time. Face masks, that had been stapled to our programs, were meant to protect us from the pigmented powder shaken out of hand-held extensions by both blue- and black-clad figures, but the powder didn't carry very far, perhaps due to the pre-shower humidity. McCall's simple yet intricate structure suited completely the geometry of Mandle/Mahrouf's constructions, yet due to an awkward site, their three "landscapes" didn't carry very far either.

 

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