Pleasure Principles

Those Feet Were Meant for Dancing

The Charles Atlas video compilation that serves as overture here features heard rhythms: tap dancers' feet, Mary Wigman pounding the floor in her Witch Dance, Watusi warriors, Nijinsky's Rite of Spring, etc. Ironically, the five introspective solos featured in Move's modern dance revue use very little footwork. Feet planted, Sandra Kaufmann sways and dips her body in a dramatically compelling if physically light performance of Doris Humphrey's 1931 Two Ecstatic Themes. Lance Gries, in an excerpt from a longer work to be performed at Danspace next week, makes his arms and legs snake around him and between his legs; his back to us most of the time, Gries makes his very silkiness disturbing. In Hope's Play, Hope Clark also begins with her back to the audience and gradually works her way around the tiny stage, the dynamics altering in response to her fascinating vocalizing— now sweet and low, now squeaking, a small creature in distress. Like Gries, José Navas offers his butt, but his Aurora is an intriguing and arduous voyage, shaped by something like anger. I'm struck by how ongoing all these solos are. In the New York premiere of her Tala, Molissa Fenley, as is her wont, never stops the muscular, curving press of her arms against space, the fling of one leg, the soft tread of her feet. Martha makes her gracious appearances through a coincidental minefield of ordeals.

Viola Farber's dancing, I once wrote, looked as if it might have been flung onto her from outer space; she absorbed it and transformed it. During her years with Merce Cunningham's company (1953­1965), he mined her unique combination of elegance and instability. However gently her long legs and beautifully arched feet probed the air, her limbs seemed to conspire against one another. When calm, she could look like a wading bird picking its way along a strange shore.

Her works for the company she founded in 1968 were fields of dancing so fevered and difficult that the dancers often looked as if they were having beautiful fits, punctuated by small eruptions of tenderness. She challenged everyone she came in contact with: her company members, dancers who took her classes during the years she taught regularly in New York, those who worked with her in Angers from 1981 to 1983 when she headed the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine, students who knew her at the London Contemporary Dance School between 1984 and 1987, students at Sarah Lawrence where she was teaching at the time of her wholly unexpected death.

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If she was occasionally fierce to people about dancing, it's because she was fierce about dancing— wanting it to be uncompromising, as full or high or fast or serene as it could be. But how she lit up with wonder and sweetness when life or people or dancing delighted her! Those grieving for her will remember that.

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