Spring Bouquet

All Kinds of Dances Bloom in April

Cohen is in her fifties now; two 1996 works make use of her maturity. In Negotiations, she plays Sarah to glamorous Aleta Hayes's Hagar —showing us their changing relations, from Hagar as maidservant copying her mistress's steps to Hagar as Abraham's concubine, who's in a position to say no. In If Eve Had a Daughter: Mother's Tongue/I Love You, exasperated mama Cohen teaches the Hebrew alphabet and the use of kitchen utensils to balky "modern" daughter Jill Sigman, talking via gestures and shrugs and looks. Cooking tools become weapons and toys, but once the klezmer music and Yiddish songs on the radio get Ma dancing, matters improve.

The betrayal of women by men is the subject of two works. In the haunting and beautifully performed Ariadne, made for Caryn Heilman in 1985, Heilman poses like a toppled statue; her distant looks and rushes to the edges of her territory, her desperate turning this way and that, express her desolation over being abandoned. More enigmatically, Cohen turns the terrible biblical tale of Jephtha's sacrifice of his daughter into a duet for two women (Regina Nejman and Angharad Davies). Having "Jephtha" speak as a recorded remembering voice, while gypsy music from Rajasthan plays, Cohen is free to build images of impending danger, which Davies sees and Nejman denies, of desire stillborn and the violence of men.

But Cohen ends her program with the optimistic new Women and Veils II. Nine performers, in lovely silks and velvets by Deborah J. Caney, dance to music by Zakir Hussein and a commissioned score by Michael Keck. Here, too, Cohen shows watchfulness and ominous forces, but in their finely designed patterns these women are a tribe, breathing together, challenging one another, stepping into the same river.

Based in Brussels, Meg Stuart rarely visits New York. The only group work I've seen is one she made in 1997 for Baryshnikov's White Oak Project. Her solos always create mesmerizing and disturbing images of vulnerability. In soft wear (first draft) at Judson, to a sound design by Bart Aga and Stefan Pucher, she stands, waifish and ill at ease. At first only her shoulders move, as if she were contemplating a workout or shrugging tentatively around in constricting clothes. "Can you smile for me, please?" commands a woman's voice. She works her face into grimaces. As she begins to wind her arms, stretch her neck, thrust her hips obsessively, she seems compressed by the space and by whatever is driving her.

On the program with Stuart, Laura Staton demonstrates her smart, controlled recklessness in Hit Parade and in the beguiling I wanna be Kathie Lee. In this duet, uneasy vamps in puffy wigs (Staton and Barbara Mahler) are caught and manipulated by two anonymous male handlers, who stand at the ready in case the women, in their clumsy preenings and dazed self-involvement, get really out of hand. Opening the show, eight committed and strong Connecticut College dance students do choreographer Jeremy Nelson proud in his very fine Ayu.

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