What's the Story?

Film Noir, Suburban Bird Lore, and Bad Manners

The hard-boiled sleuth has "a cleft in his chin that women wanted to touch." One of the women in question possesses "legs like freshly sharpened scissors." Jack, the hero of One and Only You, created by Susan Marshall and her writer-husband, Christopher Renino, is trying to write a detective story while recovering from the critical failure of a book about his dead brother.

What's interesting about the piece, which opened Symphony Space's "Face the Music and Dance" series, is not so much the collaboration between Marshall and the sizzling electronic-acoustic group Liminal, but the way she and Renino attempt through movement and text—sometimes brilliantly, sometimes unsatisfyingly—to interweave the writer's struggles with the story he's concocting. He becomes Hudson the detective, his wife one of three glamorous sisters who've reported a missing manuscript (aha!). We unravel the real story long before Jack (Mark DeChiazza) does: He's too wrapped up in his creative slump to see that his marriage to Sara (Jill A. Locke) is falling apart.

Self-censure causes scenes to be rewound and tried again, or repositioned. The action stops whenever the detective reverts to writer mode and feeds his characters new lines. As he vaguely describes one sister's sexy walk, Krista Langberg obliges with some hilariously improbable alignments of hips and torso. It's not the detective who removes some of her clothes, but the writer re-envisioning her (I thought I'd never see costumes by Kasia Walicka Maimone I didn't like). The characters rush around, moving furniture and looking for the manuscript (or hiding it) in the seats of various identical chairs. The dancing—especially effective for Petra van Noort as the third sister, and in duets with the ambiguous tough, Lucky (Steven Fetherhuff)—limns the tempestuous feelings and furtive alliances.

Sister act: Locke and Van Noort in Susan Marshall's One and only you
photo: Ellen Crane
Sister act: Locke and Van Noort in Susan Marshall's One and only you

DeChiazza (excellent) does most of the talking, live and on tape. In an on-target parody of a talk-show interview, he is victimized by a charmingly malign host (real Symphony Space host Isaiah Sheffer), whom he eventually bombards with pages of the book he's started tearing up in defeat. The end of Jack's banal plot gets appropriately mixed up (who cares anyway?). What isn't clear are the last stages of the husband-wife saga, partly because a sequence (possibly a dream) about the fantastic success of the book is weakly set up and oddly positioned, and partly because the identification of wife Sara with sister Stella doesn't resonate powerfully in the Case of the Missing Marriage.

Headlong Dance Theater—the brainy, witty Philadelphia creation of David Brick, Andrew Simonet, and Amy Smith—also deals with more straightforward narrative than usual. Their Subirdia, part of Dance Theater Workshop's Duke season, has the dizzy idea of showing two '60s suburban couples and a divorcée at play—picket fences, lawn chairs, and all. Except that they're birds. That is, they sleep perched on chairs, and communicate with little pecking head moves. They swoop over the fences into one another's territory, and the males (Brick and Peter D'Orsaneo, subbing for the injured Simonet) puff out their chests and shake their shoulders when pursuing each other's wives (Christy Lee and Nichole Canuso). This is all rather beguiling, but their urges to fly free don't register strongly, and the emblem of their dreams is an astronaut, who seems more constricted than they are, although the sight of him pas de deuxing with Heather Murphy has its charms.

Gracelessness, set to a dramatic score by City of Horns, is an unusually dark piece for these people. The choreography uses some of their improvisational strategies to create powerful moments, but doesn't bind those moments together. At first, Canuso and Brick can't quite touch; inches of air separate every urge to get closer. Then they can touch. Sometimes three women (Lee, Cousineau, and Heather Murphy), who spend time crawling in and out of Hiroshi Iwasaki's silver boxes, act like bad dreams intervening between the couple, sometimes like facilitators. Suddenly Brick is blind, and Canuso leads him by gentle verbal commands. The strength of the images induces cravings for logic, or logical illogic, to make them hit home.

You never know what you're going to get at one of Movement Research's no-frills Monday concerts at Judson Church (through May 6), but they're free, the place is usually packed, and there's always something to admire. One evening in late March, it was a work in progress by Nancy Bannon, a featured dancer in Doug Varone's company for seven years. The piece is, on one level, about criticism. The six dancers toss not-too-nice remarks at one another, like "They make a cream for that"; everyone gasps in mock horror at each dig. Paired, they fix each other up, then become brutal. They even comment critically on the work they're in. Ryan Corriston gets screamed at by Stephanie Liapis, a mom from hell. But Bannon has other kinds of violence in mind for this community. Three have to brace themselves when the other three charge into them with a hug in mind. Netta Yerushalmy gradually becomes a victim; the touching song she sings makes the others want to laugh at her and stuff her shirt in her mouth. Dancing eloquently expresses unanimity and dissent. I look forward to the finished piece.

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