Raw to Cooked

A Critic Roams the Island

I get the impression that Garrison's devoted most of her creative life so far to establishing a movement language. Her style is a wily and wonderful fusion of West African, hip-hop, jazz, and postmodern dance. Her terrific women— Kristin Carpenter, Jeneen Cleare, Omagbitse Omagbemi, Alethea Pace, and Kemba Shannon— can move from undulating and stamping to crisp kick steps to an easy pomo fling into the air, integrating the flavors into a tasty stew.

A solo, Cypress Said, shows that Garrison can modulate her exuberant vocabulary to show pensiveness, sudden outbursts, and an elastic kind of lyricism. And Cleare's performing typifies all that's best about the company's style. When she looks at us, her calm gaze seems simply to say, "You're there, I'm here." There's no attitude, no gloss. These women focus deeply into their dancing yet take us with them. At the end of a boisterous display, the smiles they flash at us radiate pure pleasure.

In her group works, Garrison experiments with bouts of sisterly acrobatics, breaking up unison and contrasting power dancing and freeze poses. There's an appealing rawness about her choreography, but her creativity with structure hasn't quite caught up to her movement imagination. When it does, look out!

Twyla Tharp's fundraiser for the Hunter College Dance Department, where she is in residence, proved both terrifically entertaining and rife with irony. The centerpiece of the event was her 1970 The One Hundreds. Originally Tharp and Rose Marie Wright performed in deadpan unison 100 11-second phrases. Five people then simultaneously performed 20 phrases apiece. Finally 100 recruits each executed one, in an 11-second melee. The piece, I think, was about disintegration.

At Hunter, the performers came attired à la the '60s. The stage was awash in fringe, tie-dyed shirts, beads, and go-go boots. In a best-costume contest, engagingly judged by Isaac Mizrahi, I rooted for the middle-aged couple in chinos and white Ts, who said this was how they actually dressed in the '60s, fashion be damned. While in 1970 Tharp and her dancers were serious about not going out of the way to be entertaining, the capable Hunter students (Kettye Voltz and Eryn Mayfield) who performed the first 50 (someone counted) flirted with the audience at every hip swing.

Nostalgia may have been the theme, but the fallibility of historical memory was a potent subtheme. In a video made prior to the performance, Tharp and stellar early company members Wright and Sara Rudner revisited The One Hundreds, stumbling and laughing, and Tharp queried participants on their vision of the wild decades. However, this is the '90s, and she knows it. Onstage she taught a 100 to André Gregory and engineered an applause-meter contest between dancers Gabrielle Malone and Andrew Robinson. Celebrities and competitions are where it's at.

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