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Flash Review 2, 9-8: She's Nobody's Puppet
Hanne Tierney's Subtle "Salome"

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2000 Maura Nguyen Donohue

Having long been fascinated with sacred harlots and other kinds of 'exotic' dancers, I thought sending me to review "Salome" was a suitable assignment. Being the lost soul (I prefer recovering Catholic) that I am, I find great titillation in the tale of that most famous of stripteases that lost John the Baptist his head. It's a story that addresses the relationships of voyeur & performer, as well as power and sex. A blatant tribute to (or warning against) the erotic nature of the dancer. Hanne Tierney's ghostly staging of Oscar Wilde's adaptation, which opened last night at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, explores this internal landscape well but with more subtlety than I'd expect for this tale.

The cast starts with the royal family of Salome, her mother and her uncle (now step-dad) King Herod, all played by sequined pieces of cloth. The palace guards resemble large lemon twirls in a martini, the palace eunuch resembles a spectacular slinky and John the Baptist, or Yokanaan, is like a steel tornado rising out of the ground. I was initially wary that this cast would result in a cold or dry performance but Tierney adeptly succeeds at animating the lifeless. The objects -- I admit I'm having trouble even thinking of them as puppets -- take on fantastic characteristics and easily fill in the gap I thought human absence would leave. The fluttering slinky softness of Salome's cloth against the slicing curves of Yokanaan is striking visual for the battle of wills between them. Herod's ability to expand and shrink heighten the appearance of an old man blustering about, and the corps de ballet of palace guards move as if part of "Swan Lake." Trevor Brown's lighting design aids greatly in the shifting of moods and allows a more fanciful spectacle to unfold.

The design and execution of the work was excellent but the narrative would have been better aided by separate voices for some of the eight characters. With only Yokanaan's voice played by Balero "Pope" Chambers and the rest by Tierney, following the dialogue was difficult on more than one occasion. Saxophonist Sabir Mateen and double bassist Jane Wang do manage to offer helpful color for the various scenes, especially Wang's song during Salome's dance, which was uninspired movement but fantastic music.

"Salome," part of the Jim Henson International Puppet Theater Festival, runs September 7-9 and 14-16 at 8 PM with additional 10 PM shows on September 8 and 15.

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