Dance

SWINGING SUMMER

At Swing 46, Thursdays and Fridays this month, Argentine tanguera Mariela Franganillo and many-time West Coast Swing champion Robert Royston present their new blend, Swango, as a West Side story: She tangos, he swings, and in alternating numbers mutual attraction draws them inexorably together. Setting Astor Piazzola compositions next to pop songs by Teena Arena seems cruel, but not much more so than contrasting these dance forms. Tanguera Mariana Parma fixes her eyes on her partner's as he draws her in tight circles around him. Her legs dart between, behind, and through his, snaking up to his waist; even when she looks away, she seems to hold his gaze. The macho tango men lean toward caricature but remain dignified. The swing dancers, in contrast, are smooth, polished, and empty. The form, derived mostly from Country Western dancing, is not only misnamed—it doesn't swing—but its borrowed label masks a missing soul. A trio matching Royston with two women strives for sensuality, but despite imaginative partnering—daisy-chain turns, a double dip—the bared midriffs and his porn-actor stubble generate no heat. It's swing for swingers.

The excitement of Swango's fast-paced 40 minutes lies not in risqué behavior but in physical risk. The men toss the women, who tilt backward toward the ground until the men catch them, underhanded, at the nape. Yet the finale, when the lovers unite and the two forms merge, is anticlimactic, the experiment misconceived. A tanguero wags a finger in the air, jitterbug-style, and his conciliatory gesture drips with tension. One form is slumming here, and it's not the one born in the brothels of Buenos Aires. With its mixed heritage, tango's already a potent blend. If it needs a new partner, it deserves a better one. —Brian Seibert


Postmodern dance originated in the 1960s when a group of disaffected modern dancers began showing their experiments at Judson. The latest tribute to those romping days of protest and innovation is "Marking Dance: Documents from Judson Memorial Church, 1958-1968," an exhibit of documents, graphics, and film at NYU's Fales Collection (third floor of Bobst Library) through October 18. Fales recently acquired the Judson Church archives, and this show, curated by M.J. Thompson, reveals how alternative arts meshed with the church's mission of community outreach and activism during those volatile years. Programs, photos, scripts, and designs recapture the orgies, the improvs with outlandish props, the minimalistic, anarchistic, often dadaistic doings of Carolee Schneemann, Trisha Brown, David Gordon, Lucinda Childs, Steve Paxton, and lots of others. Also on view: a film collage by Elaine Summers, and Yvonne Rainer's antediluvian Wollensak. —Marcia B. Siegel


"CalArts Dances Downtown" (Danspace Project, June) abounded in dreamscapes, dances of ideas, and romantic duets; the most interesting pieces messed with these genres. Former CalArts teacher Donald Byrd's White Man Sleep, performed by members of his now defunct company, is an Invisible Man of a dance in which an imperious suit stamps his feet, cuts skyscrapers into the air, and impassively surveys the result—the terror of the people bent to his will. Byrd, like Ellison, creates in a surreal key—not to imitate the unconscious (or European dance theater) but to convey the senselessness of certain indelible American facts.

Multimedia mavericks Troika Ranch have created an oxymoron: warm, glowy conceptual art. The movement of the dancers, who are wired to a computer, releases both music (insect swarms, quasi- Gregorian chants, a splatter of rain) and a beautiful idea—that whole cities of sound are immanent in the air, and human motion makes them visible.

Ever since slippery-smooth release technique came to dominate downtown love duets, they've been hard to believe: Has romance really become so easy? So it was a relief when, shortly into Lisa Townsend and Kate Weare's Clearing, Diana Mehoudar's top fell off (to reveal a transparent bra). The strong, supple dancer let out a mortified giggle and, bravely relinquishing herself to the hapless, topless moment, won the audience's heart. —Apollinaire Scherr


Choreographer Joanna Haigood (Dancing in the Streets, August) lets us see familiar landscapes and buildings in new ways. In a wooded area around Jacob's Pillow she unearthed safe houses used on the underground railroad; her performance Invisible Wings took audience members on an imaginary slave's journey from house to house and sent the dancers soaring through the sky. In her new Picture Red Hook, three collaborators and her Zaccho Dance Theater explored an abandoned 12-story grain terminal in a part of Brooklyn formerly troubled by drug violence but now in transition. The terminal rises up like a hulking pack of worn cigarettes; Haigood used it to explore the area's industrial and human history. Evoking the heyday of the grain terminal's operation, in an opening vignette she sent a dancer soaring overhead on a cable, creating a breathtaking tableau. Mary Ellen Strom's film, projected onto the 12-story facade, let us see the grain terminal's activities with a kind of X-ray vision, revealing the machinery housed inside. As the woman ascended, she struck a funny stoic walking pose. The juxtaposition of this determined person against the giant terminal and its heavy-duty equipment let us feel complexity, massive scale, and human effort. The sound score, recorded at a working grain elevator in Minnesota by Lauren Weinger, let us imagine the operational terminal in all its ferocious glory.

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