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Flash Review 1, 9-8:
The Downtown Season Opens
Dancenow: See it Now, See it Often
By Vanessa Paige-Swanson
Copyright 2000 Vanessa Paige-Swanson
A shower of rose petals
falls from the sky.... An astronaut poses for pictures.... A frieze
of women passes an invisible object back and forth.... A billowing
white cloth is both a sail and a shroud.... And a woman dances a
private paean to loss as home movies of children flicker, flicker,
flicker in the background. Welcome to the Dancenow Downtown festival
Directors Robin Staff
and Tamara Greenfield have done it again. Judging from last night's
opening at the Joyce Soho, Colloquium Contemporary Dance Exchange's
signature festival will live up to its promise to showcase "the
tragically hip, the cool old pros, (and) the as-yet-undiscovered."
Towards this goal, Staff and Greenfield have selected more than
150 choreographers/dance companies, presenting them in traditional
and alternative venues throughout Soho and the East Village. But
the sheer magnitude of the project is less important than the meticulous
care and daring artistry with which it was assembled.
Last night's program
opener serves as a touchstone for the entire festival. Jeanine Durning's
"A Good Man Falls" mixes unpredictable theatricality with choreography
that is at once seamless and punishing. Following an angular, disjointed
duet, two cocktail-clad women are joined by a friendly astronaut,
who disrobes to reveal another elegant woman. Against a backdrop
of gushing interviews with old-time Broadway stars, the women dance
an elegant, roundabout parody of the public vs. the private self.
They at times appear almost as show ponies, following patterns repeated
so often as to be robbed of their original meaning. They finish
by bowing endlessly as the lights fade.
Oddly enough, this struggle
between the public and private self recurs in some of the evening's
other works. "Ikuko's Alter Ego," created by Erico Villaneva, includes
a dead-on satire of Olympic gymnastics, with dancer after dancer
prancing stone-faced on a makeshift balance beam. "I can't dance"
the voice on the soundtrack exhorts as the dancers arch, flip and
preen, "I can only tumble." This piece is for everyone who has ever
wondered "What are those gymnastic girls THINKING?" I won't tell
you what Ikuko's alter ego wishes for, though, only that it starts
with the letter "T" and rhymes with "bits." As with Durning's "A
Good Man Falls, " the duet and group work in Villaneva's dance is
less compelling than the solo turns; the material in both works
is strong enough to make the extra duets superfluous.
"She's the Rowan Atkinson
of modern dance" my companion observed about choreographer Ariane
Anthony. Indeed, Anthony's sharp, innocent features and deliberate,
loose-jointed movement vocabulary build a quirky, tragic and altogether
human persona that is impossible to resist. In "Best Foot Forward,"
Anthony dances what seems to be a female version of Eliot's "The
Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock." Dressed as an office worker and
confined to a rectangle of light, Anthony seems to relive her life
in all of its glory and embarrassment in front of an invisible mirror.
Fascinated by her own humanity, she appears to ask if her whole
is truly the sum of her parts -- if her actions are germane to her
intentions. She finishes in a striking balance on one leg, constantly
moving as though soaring above us, finding the divine in the mundane.
Speaking of poetry, Le
Minh Tam is a choreographic e.e.cummings, a maker of dances that
are so precise, concise, and emotionally evocative that you don't
even register how creative they are until they are over. In "Boat
Project," he juxtaposes a group of people who are simultaneously
victimized by and dependent upon a group of white clad furies who
are wielding a long white cloth. Images of suffering and poverty,
death and resurrection are brought into sharp relief through movement
phrases as menacing and beautiful as the sea.
Sara Joel's "Will (Wake)"
is equally haunting. With her incongruous ringlets bobbing away,
Ms. Joel uses her articulate, limber body as a conduit for emotional
longing, while singing a plaintive version of Red River Valley.
She abruptly exits, and we are treated to an authentic home movie
of children, which, if the ponchos are any indication, dates from
the 1970s. Ms. Joel reappears and dances a heartfelt, subtle solo
of longing and loss; she spins as though attempting to turn back
time. Her shadow appears as a wraith, a presence in a past that
she cannot revisit.
Though the theatrical
works are compelling, the curators have wisely included some more
movement-based dances to round out the program. Naomi Goldberg's
"Fisherlid" is a gorgeous dance for four women who (call your orthopedist
now!) never rise above their knees. Goldberg's work fuses ritualistic
underpinnings with Duncanesque ecstatic lines. The gestures are
lush, and the choreography transitions fluidly between ensemble
and solo work, though the piece is a bit too predictable in its
relation to the music. "Quintet No. 1," choreographed by Kara Tatelbaum,
is another movement-based work, giving a nod to Cunningham, Graham
and Balanchine. Reminiscent of college choreography class, the dance
is nevertheless shockingly well-rehearsed and flawlessly executed.
"Mergers and Acquisitions,"
choreographed by Jon Zimmerman, closed the show on a strong note
and is perhaps the most memorable and organic piece. Out of nowhere,
a shower of rose petals falls on a man in a business suit. He is
joined by another man, who stands on his prone body for an excruciatingly
long time. Eventually, the lovers rise and gently lift one another
as the lights fade. The direct, brutal yet tender choreography reminds
us that beauty is found in the oddest places.
In 1997, I attended every
single show in the Downtown Dance Festival. Every single show. I
was new to NYC and unemployed. (I had an apartment but no job --
have you ever noticed that people move here with one or the other
but not both?) Granted, that was a lot of shows, but it was a vast
improvement over my usual pastime, which was watching X-Files re-runs
and drinking beer out of cans. Regardless of your employment status,
I urge you to take advantage of Staff and Greenfield's considerable
efforts in curating this wonderful festival. See one, see them all,
fall in love a little -- it's September, after all.
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