Cynthia Hopkins, Terry Dean Bartlett, Leigh Garrett, Julie Atlas Muz, David Parker, Cintia Chamecki, Paul Matteson and Katie Workum

by Shanti Crawford

June 22, 2003 -- Joe's Pub at the Public Theater, New York

Three years ago, Terry Dean Bartlett and Lisa Leann created the totally charming Danceshow, a monthly performance series. Held at various bars and venues in Manhattan and Williamsburg, it was a plucky way to combat the dwindling number of theaters available for dance. Expertly curated, Danceshow’s eclectic mix of downtown dance scenesters often heralded the latest and greatest in performance.

Since then Lisa Leann, champion bareback bronco rider, has departed to Texas to pursue a career in rodeo competition. Those of us fearing that Danceshow would follow suit by riding off into the sunset have been pleasantly surprised. The series still continues—though now called Dance Off!, and Katie Workum, a longtime Danceshow staple joins Bartlett as co-producer.

The first performance under the new management kicked off at the swank Joe’s Pub with a variety of works. The atmosphere was decidedly not serious but clearly the artists had created some seriously imaginative, beautiful, and experimental choreography.

A number of the works were sober in tone. Cynthia Hopkins, accompanied by Phillipa Thompson on violin, offered three haunting songs from her one-woman show Accidental Nostalgia. Dressed in a suit accessorized with neck and knee braces, she alternately mused about memory and whether she should “seek revenge or fuck revenge.” Bartlett created a spectacular dance about all the ways to fall down in 9 to 5, a piece rife with bone crunching thuds. His last moves—straightening his tie before falling flat on his back sent a gasp through the audience. Bartlett draws on Elizabeth Streb’s stunt man vocabulary but instead of presenting abstract moves he employs them for theatrical effect, in this case evoking workplace abuse. In another quiet interlude, Leigh Garrett offered a meditative solo with an overhead spotlight to a Duke Ellington ballad.

These works were balanced by pieces that wanted to entertain. Julie Atlas Muz sparkled in her burlesque tongue-in-cheek interpretation of the goddess Kali the destroyer as she transformed a prosthetic penis into a tongue. David Parker’s Rainbow Down, a duet for Jeffrey Kazin and himself recalled the Western musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers—without the brides. The movement, somewhere between line and ice dancing, perfectly captured the romance and the kitsch. Cintia Chamecki’s robust tap choreography for Jenai Cutcher, Michelle Dorrance, and herself emphasized the many rhythms embedded in the lyrical Brazilian guitar accompaniment of Billy Newman in Qui Nem Jilo.

A few of the pieces were self-conscious performances about performance. Paul Matteson’s stream of conscience monologue let us in on the difficulties of the dancers’ life and told of frequent injury, “I’m in a coma but I can still talk,” and fear, “I’m really nervous.” Garrett and Workum in their work, Dance Makers, performed an interview-format duet that scatted and spoke to the question, “Why do you like dance?” Answers included, “I like to prance,” from Garrett decked out in enormous 70’s styled glasses. Their movement punctuated dialog, in turns earnest, ridiculous and joyful, hit just the right tone and reflected the love-fest that is Dance Off!, which is above all, a venue for artists who are passionate about performance.

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