Fall Festival - 'From Byzantium to Brasilia, With Love,' 'Suserrer,' 'Crushed Velvet,' 'Subtext,' and 'Interiors'

by Jenai Cutcher

September 9, 2003 -- Base Camp Series at Joyce SoHo, NY

New York’s Dancenow Festival consists of several showcase performances at various venues around the city. If Tuesday night’s concert at Joyce SoHo was any indication of the overall 10-day presentation, the Dancenow Festival could use some dance. Now.

Not that dance was nonexistent, but surprisingly, it played similar secondary or ineffective roles in most of the seven pieces on the bill. Whether suffocating in gimmicky bells and whistles, stuck in textbook technique class choreography, or relying on pantomime and facial expressions to expound on one simple idea or stereotypical character, these choreographers allowed certain creative tactics to get in the way of their true expression. Watching these solos, duets, and trios was like looking at those weird 3-D pictures-- you know the hidden image is there, you can even get a sense of what it is, but unless you’re able to look through the external patterns, it will never pop out at you. The sad difference is that in the pictures, that which is flat appears to have dimension, while dance-- which is fundamentally a three dimensional art form-- becomes flat and stagnant when artists’ talent, originality, and authenticity are buried under commonplace patterns.

Choreographers Jo-Anne Lee and Eleanor Bauer are yet two more New York artists who seem to have fallen prey to the “kitsch is cool” mentality. The tongue-in-cheek humor and cartoon-ish character portrayals in their trios were like cheap knock-offs of Tere O’Connor’s popular work. The flight attendant characters in Bauer’s "From Byzantium to Brasilia, With Love" found some nice moments of interaction during an interesting segment of floor work, but the elements did not gel as a whole. Mimicking gestures made during a flight instruction speech or acting out lyrics to the accompanying Brazilian music called for more performance skills than these dancers had to offer. And why Brazilian music? Joao Gilberto has been on every lounge CD released lately, so he must be hip, right?

Jessi Scopp probably has wonderful facility as a dancer. Unfortunately, the solo she performed, choreographed by Sharon Estacio, was upstaged by the props of her woeful waitress character. Chris Isaak sets the tone for her to stagger around with some dollar bills, kick and turn, stagger around again with some empty beer cans, kick and turn again, and collapse in a lawn chair. Would you like "Toast With That?"

"Suserrer" and "Crushed Velvet" looked like transplants from a college undergraduate concert. Maybe they were-- the former was choreographed by Pippa Frame four years ago and reworked this year, according to the program. The latter did exhibit some movement patterns not directly extrapolated from technique class, but the voiceover of dramatic memoir text gave whatever happened a juvenile quality. It was performed by Daniela Hoff and Sarah Lewis and choreographed by Christina Briggs and Edward Winslow for Incidents Physical Theater.

The most comprehensive piece of the evening was "Subtext," a solo for a dancer in a white ballet costume and mask, suspended from a rope, and lit by a blacklight. Although choreographed by Elise Knudson, it could have been Tim Burton’s version of a ballerina inside a child’s jewelry box once the lid has been closed. On another level, looking at the external set elements as providing subtext for the movement within (swinging and turning from the rope, tipping upside down, broken leg extensions), this could also be read from a metacritical perspective. One could take this as literal manifestation of the original idea of concert ballet: elevate women to make them seem mystical and fantastical. Indeed, the dancer’s costume made it look like she was on pointe, the rope implied that her elevated state was beyond her control, the mask hid her true expression, and the blacklight just made it eerie.

ZviDance was featured as the concert’s finale. Choreographer Zvi Gotheiner presented solo and duet excerpts of his "Interiors," danced by Brian McGinnis and Roger C. Jeffrey, Mucuy Bolles, and Ying-Ying Shiau and Todd Allen.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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