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Flash Review, 9-12: Phrenic
New Ballet Skews Ballet
By Anne-Marie Mulgrew
Copyright 2000 Anne-Marie Mulgrew
PHILADELPHIA -- Five
knockout Pennsylvania Ballet dancers, Christine Cox, Amanda Miller,
Kelly Moriarty, Matthew Neenan and Meredith Rainey command the stage
at National Warehouse in Phrenic New Ballet's two premieres: "Fly
on the Wall, " choreographed by Cox, Miller, Neenan and Rainey;
and Risa Steinberg's restaging of Bill Cratty's tour-de-force "Kitchen
Table." Directed by Cox, Miller, Neenan and film maker Tobin Rothlein,
both works exemplify Phrenic New Ballet's willingness to explore
new vocabularies, take risks and pump the envelope.
I felt like a voyeur
Sunday watching "Fly On The Wall." The alternative theater space
is preset with a TV, chair, Cratty's signature kitchen table, and
a blue bench. There's talking in the dark: "Excuse me...I don't
understand this... " and other words I cannot decipher. The opening
image is Rainey on the chair in front of the TV, Neenan reading
the newspaper and Cox lying on the floor.
"Fly On The Wall" is
an in-your-face series of solos and duets built on an intimate view
of the dancers' private lives, through live performance and eye-popping
video by Tobin Rothlein. I recognized pools of material from an
earlier concert at the International House in August, such as the
opening solo by the striking long-limbed Amanda Miller. Framed by
the formality of a black intimate space and with the dancers forming
a tableau, Miller's solo served as a wonderful introduction to the
30-minute work. Dressed in black dance bra and trunks, exposing
a sleek articulate body, Miller performs an introverted solo. One
hand is draped across her forehead, the other holding her breast.
I notice Miller's tattooed ankle and abdominals, adding a personal
aesthetic to the piece. There's a wonderful moment when Miller does
a back to the front ronde de jambe, her leg extending beyond the
horizon. The solo ends quietly with dignity as Miller takes off
her top, exposing her back as if she's undressing for bed, and a
I wasn't prepared for
Rainey's arresting (or should I say arousing) solo of a man watching
himself watching TV in pajamas. He sits. He eats. He picks his nose,
scratches his private parts and more. All this functional movement
is interspersed with a contemporary vocabulary of floor work, double
turns in the air, flops into the chair and wacky zoned out facial
expressions. As audience, I'm torn: Do I watch the real physical
him, the him on TV or the bigger projected image of him on stage
right. I question which is more real. Rainey answers by clicking
off the remote and ending in darkness.
There's more talk in
the darkness, two female voices. I sense fear of being alone. Cox
and Neenan's duet begins innocently, the two seated on the blue
bench. Neenan is tapping his feet as if bored and restless. Cox
flirtatiously rubs her foot on his. What ensues is a touching coming
of age duet-- with some fabulous partnering. Cox does a straddle
handstand, and is picked up and by Neenan. He carries her like a
Chrysler hood ornament. Graphic moments of young lovers playfully
experimenting with intimacy ensue.
The final section features
Kelly Moriarty revisiting mirror themes and projected images that
question our perceptions as to what is real. All in white, Moriarty
looks at his own image projected on white fabric held by Miller.
There's a wonderful, delicate duet between Miller and Moriarty,
based on mutual understanding and support that employs the white
fabric. It becomes for me a metaphor - of binding, tying, stretching,
and transforming their view of themselves and their relationship.
There's a hauntingly poetic moment that sends chills up my spine,
when Moriarty, hologram-like, crosses into his own projected image.
Later, the image disappears, leaving him at home alone in the bathroom
Instead of a pause, the
narrative continues. Rainey reads a series of words - 'crime,' 'sickness,'
etc. What? What will happen? Moriarty continues in an "all out'
expressive dance responding to the words. Music for "Fly On The
Wall" is by Medeski, Martin & Wood, and William Orbit after Henryk
Gorecki, Maurice Ravel and Rufus.
In August, Phrenic New
Ballet teased the audience with an excerpt of Bill Cratty's poignant
dance theater work "Kitchen Table" to music by Baby Dobbs, leaving
many of us hungry for more. Cratty performed with the Limon Company
and Anna Sokolow's Players Project, and died a year ago. I asked
Cox Why this work? She answered that she danced the part of the
wife for American Ballet Repertory Company about eight years ago
and loved it. The work has four major characters and would be a
perfect point of departure to build a repertory for this new company.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago had the set and costumes. According
to Cox, "The lead into it was a calling from God and it took a lot
"Kitchen Table" requires
state-of-the-art acting and dancing abilities. Phrenic goes over
the top and takes the audience with them. Cox plays the mother;
Miller the daughter; Neenan the lover and Rainey the father in Cratty's
timeless narrative masterpiece based on a family in the 1950's.
The set is a striking kitchen-size see through wooden table (designed
by Jack Neveaux) and chairs.
Cox's opening solo is
a show stopper. She's cooking, cleaning, daydreaming, talking on
the phone with such finesse, totally absorbed in her domestic world
only to be interrupted by Rainey's entrance as the stern all-demanding
husband returning from work. He reads the paper. Paces back and
forth like a hungry lion. He throws the paper onto the floor, to
have Cox retrieve it like an obedient dog-wife. There's wonderful
marching band music that pushes the action.
With the birth of their
child (Miller) the table, now a crib, is the center of their life.
It's a thrill to see this drop-dead gorgeous creature in a short
red dress dance/play a small child. She rocks, screams with her
body, slowly floats as if entering sleep. The young happy couple
do a charming spoofy waltz-like dance around the crib. Miller grows
into a despondent teenager -- nothing is right. Her parents don't
understand her and she's miserable. Family dinner hour is hell.
Mom is cooking but no one is talking. Dad eats like an animal devouring
its prey. There's a fight. Mean Rainey punishes Miller with a spanking.
The audience gasps. Caring mom Cox is freaked out and torn between
protecting the daughter or holding onto dad. Neenan the lover enters.
There's a scene reminiscent of "The Moor's Pavane" where there's
conflict, characters moving close and away, exchanging places and
stances and long quiet pauses. It's so delicious to see Phrenic's
clarity, characterization, tenacity and focus at close range. These
dancers have the audience in the palms of their hands.
The scene culminates
with Neenan leaving with the daughter. There are some sublime moments
where Miller does a handstand into the table. Her legs land on Neenan's
back as he lifts her out of the table and leads her to a new place.
Cox and Rainey are so disturbed. We see them lower themselves in
slow motion and silence, slumping to the chair, numbed by the departure
of their daughter forever.
Lights out. Lights on.
The daughter is now cooking, cleaning, becoming the mother. Neenan
is seated on the chair where Rainey sat reading the newspaper. Dad
Rainey is not around and mom is slumped on the middle chair, her
back rounded by years of carrying the family burden. In a compelling
tell all moment Miller looks at Cox (who now appears to be 80 years
old) with a knowing look that brings tears to my eyes.
"Kitchen Table" worked
for me as a powerful piece that crosses time, generations and traditions.
See it. It repeats Thursday at 9:30 PM and Saturday at 1:30 PM and
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