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Flash Review 3, 9-19: Downtown Delights
Dancenow Downtown = Decidedly Delightful Dance

By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2000 Darrah Carr

Friday night's showcase at Joyce Soho, part of the sixth annual dancenow downtown festival, offered an eclectic mixture of works from a wide range of choreographers. Of these, the most compelling was a quartet choreographed by Mark Jarecke. Described as a work in progress, it was nevertheless extremely polished and well rehearsed. Jarecke demonstrated a flawless grasp of spatial design. The dancers barely locomoted through space, focusing instead on tight unison movement and level changes in the vertical plane. In the midst of such precise unison movement, however, even the most subtle shift toward making a given spatial pattern more asymmetrical was extremely visually arresting.

By contrast, Elizabeth Higgins Dance Theater presented "Rio," a work which reveled in broad, sweeping, individual movement. Giada Ferrone displayed her noteworthly technical prowess during the opening solo. She moved flawlessly from a deep, perfectly placed, attitude penche, to a side attitude, to a suspended side extension. The emotional subtext of the piece was a little unclear, however. Ferrone's impressive command of movement made me feel exuberant, but I was unsure of how she felt. Her face was as composed as her incredible balance. Once joined by Jennifer Chin and Higgins, however, her presentation became warmer. The trio filled the stage with long, luxurious lines -- moving as if it felt good to do so.

Several other trios were featured on the program, including Mollie O'Brien's "Believe" and Michelle Pritchard's "What Remains." O'Brien's work seemed more like a duet and a solo that were performed simultaneously, rather than a trio, however. At one point, O'Brien shuffled across the upstage with minute steps, while Gina Jacobs and Jennifer Dignan faced the audience downstage, performing a variety of clever tricks, such as drinking royal blue water from viles and gurgling, or flapping their arms wildly, until one "wing" fell off. The duet then turned to watch O'Brien's journey across the stage, offering words of encouragement, intermingled with criticism. Their insistent, urgent delivery of these messages made them seem to be external manifestations of voices within O'Brien's mind.

Michelle Pritchard's trio had a similar compositional structure, of appearing to be a solo and a duet performed simultaneously. In "What Remains," two dancers would move in close proximity, with one maintaining a constant hold on the other's back, while the third dancer moved independently in another area of the stage. At times the constant hold would develop into a manipulation of the other dancer's limbs, by pushing the shoulder, hip, arm, etc. Such an interaction was very interesting and revealed a subtle, yet precise articulation of the joints. The final image was particularly striking -- one dancer moving with wild abandon in the upstage right corner, while another watched, and the third lay flat on the ground.

Friday's program also included several solos. Amos Pinhasi offered "Two Sentimental Love Songs," a piece which alternated delightfully between moments of melodrama, sarcasm, and genuine sentiment. Proving himself to be as versatile an actor as a dancer, Pinhasi's character seemed obsessed with the sentimental value of red roses. He dropped petals from his mouth at the beginning of the piece, pulled them out of the pockets, the apron, and the underskirt of his extremely well crafted black dress, and ripped one rose completely bare.

Ashley Gilbert performed "OutoftheLooP" with similar moments of sarcasm and melodrama. Dancing to Tchaikovsky's "Waltz of the Flowers," a score which resonates with childhood memories of the "Nutcracker" for so many dancers, Gilbert captured perfectly the underlying angst and overarching exaggeration of the music. To me, it read as not just another "make fun of ballet piece," but more as "poke fun at both the music and the traditional ballet choreography which accompanies it" for always presenting the Waltz of the Flowers scene as a one-dimensional happy dance of butterflies and rosebuds. Gilbert showed us a variety of dimensions and interpretations of the music -- ballet student, on-stage diva, hip hopping stud, and frustrated performer.

Satoshi Haga also chose a classical score for his untitled solo. Dancing to Chopin's lilting, chirping piano music seemed very appropriate as Haga circled the stage with big, bird-like jetes, flapping his arms as if desperately trying to fly. He alternated between stillness and repetition of certain themes, demonstrating the choreographic value of both. A particularly striking image occurred at the end, as Haga backed away from the audience, moving all the way upstage by constantly jumping, even as the lights faded.

Last, but not least, the only large group piece on the program, "Sharpening the Shadow" by Athena Malloy, certainly deserves mention. I always enjoy seeing group works, especially when so many showcases are comprised primarily of solos and duets. Given today's funding climate, it is difficult as an individual artist to gather a group of dancers together and find a space big enough in which to rehearse them. I applaud Malloy's success in doing just that. The piece was constructed as a series of four vignettes, some making use of a variety of household props, including a folding table, chair, place setting, and broom. The six dancers, dressed in pedestrian clothes, seemed to create a family portrait as they posed around the furniture, at times alternating places. Moving individually, often within their own kinesphere, they created an ever-changing, complex visual landscape.

By the end of the concert, I realized that the applause, while of course well deserved by each performer, should also go to the festival's directors, Robin Staff and Tamara Greenfield. For the past ten days (indeed the past six years) they have provided the opportunity for numerous choreographers to present their work, and for that work to be made accessible to the general public through the incorporation of non-traditional performance spaces, such as the Carmine Street Recreation Center and the OK Harris Gallery. Overall, it was an inspired evening representative of an inspired festival.

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