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Flash Review, 8-11: Performance-O-Rama
Deli Dances in Times Square

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2000 Chris Dohse

Through a lobby full of feverishly gaping tourists, a line of extravagantly painted, half-undressed dancers winds from display window-improv to theater entrance. A withered white-haired gent asks a female performer as she passes if he can look up her skirt. To nobody in particular he squawks, "I was going home to bake a cake! But now I think I'll cook a chicken! These things excite me!" This scene captures a Times Square nearly invisible today, a place Nancy Lemann characterized as "populated by wino lunatics, pornographers, born-again Christians, public monologists, insane maniacs, etc." where "everyone...was screaming epithets or quietly sobbing...or having strained conversations with transvestites." God bless Deli Dances in Times Square for reminding me in more ways than one of the NYC I moved here to be part of.

This brainchild of Anita Durst, Despina Stamos, Tony Silva and Julie Atlas Muz packs the kind of creative TNT associated with the East Village in the 1980s. A roster of 40-plus "downtown" movement artists invades a tidy black box theater incongruously near the Conde Nast building for two weeks of FREE performances, Mon-Fri at 12:30 PM and Wed-Sun at 8 PM (through August 18, at 135 W. 42nd St.), with a first-come, first-look Open Stage event on Tuesdays. A preliminary viewing, limited by the nasty rhinovirus that plagued me this last week, suggests similarities between the body-centered performance art of the frenetic 1980s and today's emergent choreographies.

A carnivalesque grotesquerie, with its ambivalent Bakhtinian laughter, pervaded Sunday evening's program. A plenitude of props, costumes, transformations, semi-nudity, clowning and muckraking. Nixon Beltran and the astounding Claudia Munoz compulsively and compellingly haunted the heart's dirty dark noplaces. Just when I was wondering if her hair was real it fell off. Over the top and around the bend, the hilarity of despair. Jordana Toback, with a bag over her head, defied categorization -- singing, mopping, revealing frailty, with nipples to the wind.

Tuesday afternoon the theme was purity and its fall from grace, maybe. Emma Hogarth's delicate duet with a beam of light made embryonic shadow puppets, peopling the shadows. Geoff K.'s nihilism, apparently meant to scare little children and piss off old ladies, did neither. Rather, a small boy in the audience giggled into his mother's ear and an old lady fluffed her bangs with a hairbrush. Thrashing and flailing like he was trying to take an artful crap, Mr. K. became a Burroughsian goat-boy with a dark wisdom of disturbing, anti-ethereal design.

Choreography doesn't seem to be too popular with many of these artists. Instead, their works rely on charisma, pastiche and visual impact to deliver fast, loud and funny. An exception was Wednesday's Le Minh Tam, whose work for eight dancers featured luxurious, space-gobbling phrases within its somatic/spiritual sensibility.

With eight more days of showcases, Deli Dances promises many additional thrills. The finale of the series, a ten-hour marathon on August 18, repeats most of the above works and many more. For a schedule, visit the Deli Dances web page.

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