Graham Redivivus

Stories That Make the Heart Quake

Pearson doesn't buy any of this easily. "So what's so bad about Sodom?" she asks. And, pouring salt from Morton's boxes onto a table, she has trouble seeing her husband as special. She makes many appearances in different clothes; so do two doorways erected on stage, wallpaper, a table, a Venetian blind, and an ironing board. Once, she acts as both judge and defendant, banging the gavel while pleading her case.

This lady questions dogma. Why the hell not look back? And, taking into consideration that the piece was begun just before 9-11, why not return to rebuild the city, and why not keep asking why? Not fully in sync are the passages of dancing, performed wonderfully by Widrig, Katherine Fisher, Lindsay Gilmour, and (occasionally) Pearson. In their organized hurtling about, their collapses, their stares at us, they resemble a kind of Greek chorus, but what are they commenting on? They could be refugees or victims or survivors. But their behavior and BurwelI's occasionally drowsy music don't link them irrevocably to anything. I get brain fatigue trying to connect down-to-earth Pearson with these busy figures in their gray pants, shirts, and suspenders.

Kitchen table dance: Sara Pearson
photo: Richard Termine
Kitchen table dance: Sara Pearson

My apologies for misidentifying Maria Earle as Stephanie Earle last week.

SPECIAL TO THE WEB: The notion of an alphabet of bodily gestures has fascinated dancemakers in different ways. The lexicon of classical ballet is one such vocabulary. In the 1920s Michio Ito used his "Ten Gestures" for arms alone as the basis of his choreography. The "air mail dances" that Remy Charlip began sending to dancers in the '70s consisted of lively sketches of human figures offering ingredients for the recipient to structure into a dance. In Merce Cunningham's experiments in the '50s, he sometimes created a lexicon of possible movements and determined the order by chance procedures. Setting limits can be comforting and liberating. No need to consider every movement in the world before you start to make a dance.

I assume that all the nine succinct little works Anita Cheng showed at the Cunningham Studio in January were based on her 26-poses "alphabet." Most of the poses are Cunningham-esque—turned-out legs, straight spine—and the phrases she builds from them are spare, cool in tone, and, as you might expect, extremely legible in space. Instead of tumults of movement, you see metamorphosing body designs linked by steps. Her dances engage the mind, please the eye, but don't rock the emotions.

They vary interestingly, though, depending on what "letters" Cheng focuses on. The movement for Louise Burns, former Cunningham dancer, in Improvisation off Shore (accompanied by a piano improvisation by Gordon Beeferman) looks muscular and curving, studded with pauses. Janet Charleston in two other solos is more deliberate, delicately taut. Cheng's choreography for Unravel, to original music by Arlene Sierra, emphasizes Erika Bloom's lusher presence.

Cheng makes astute use of video. In the work-in-progress Prelude, videographer Ronaldo Kiel creates circles and pools of words on the floor for Charleston to run through. In Home of the Gesture, via Mark Boutros’s live technology, Victoria Lundell dances beside a screen that imprisons her simultaneously videotaped self—a self that freezes, then catches up.

A duet, a trio, and a quartet show that Cheng is skilled at combining and juxtaposing moves, at linking the dancers together. It's interesting to watch, in her new City Shore, how Natsuki Arai, Bloom, Elyssa Byrnes, and Marcie Munnerlyn escape from the closely bound group into solos and are spooled back in, while behind them, projected on the wall, lines dance to Beeferman's music.

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