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Flash Review 1, 7-3: Dunn, Receiving
Douglas Dunn's Most Wanted

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2000 Susan Yung

Approaching Douglas Dunn & Dancers' program, "The Common Good: Dance Made with Advice from Others" can be like confronting a conceptual artwork. There are two approaches: simply viewing the performance the way it is presented to the audience, with little background information, and considering its merits; or immersing oneself in the ideas and the reasoning behind the creation of the piece, and placing it in this context. Taken the first way, the work is an opaque collage with engaging moments that seems to ramble and wander. However, viewed in a broader context, "The Common Good," seen Friday at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, takes on a different, more authoritative aura.

Dunn, after a decades-long pursuit of his unique vision, in 1998 was awarded a New York Dance and Performance ("Bessie") award, but during the presentation, in a back-handed compliment, was described as somewhat of a loner. In response, he solicited his mailing list for movement ideas to compose this piece, eventually incorporating input from more than sixteen advisors, in an ultimate expression of teamwork.

The resulting dance contained moments of serious, elegant movement, as in the beginning when Dunn did a beautiful solo to twangy guitar music by David Lindley, featuring his sweeping, long armspan, while four women (Kate Cross, Monica Olsson, Beth Simons, and Waka Watanabe) slithered across the stage between Dunn and Grazia Della-Terza, who slept on a rug downstage. Other moments were giddy; pathetically endearing, like the "dream sequence" where Dunn gambols with the women, who occasionally carry him around like a prince. Other resonant images: a tendu to the side with the pelvis tipped upward, and a fourth position with the rear leg bent and the front straight so that the pointed foot is flat to the floor.

Taken as a complete dance, on the surface "The Common Good" was confusingly unspecific in style and theme. But its form evoked the game played by the Surrealists -- "The Exquisite Corpse" -- where different artists would draw a third of a figure before seeing the rest of it in a controlled game of chance. In that exercise, there was never a good or bad drawing, only fascinating collaborations that were each completely unique and could not be bound to the prevailing aesthetic standards. Thus, each drawing had merit on its own terms. And so it was with "The Common Good," which is probably best viewed in a similar way.

[A contemporary parallel is Komar & Melamid's "Most Wanted" and "Least Wanted" series of paintings, in which the artists commissioned polls to see what characteristics were most preferred by a given nationality. The concepts were integrated into paintings, so that the United States's most wanted painting would include water, animals, foliage, a respected historic figure, etc. Art by popular vote. For more on this project, visit Komar & Melamid's web page.]

The music selection for "The Common Good" was correspondingly pan-stylistic, ranging from R&B to funk to Handel, and ending with a section performed to music by the Buena Vista Social Club, in which Dunn and
Della-Terza seem to have made the transition to a brighter, aloha-shirted world after an angst-ridden episode performed in prison jumpsuits and cells. The excellent lighting was by Carol Mullins.

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