In Close Quarters, a Smart Preview of the Fall Dance Season

Where is it written that dancing requires a clear, well-lighted space? Dancenow/NYC—designed to get more people to see more dance—inaugurated its ninth annual fall festival with a cabaret in Joe's Pub, the dark, crowded watering hole of the Public Theater. The brevity of the dozen pieces on the bill matched a dancefloor only a tad roomier than a king-size bed. If one or another item was dopey, flimsy, or ramshackle, overall the program racked up a remarkably high worthiness quotient.

My favorite number by far was Valeska's Vitriol, choreographed by the resourceful Sara Hook and astutely performed by Mary Cochran. The piece evokes Valeska Gert, a "grotesque dancer" of the Weimar period in Berlin, whose sexual and scatological impudence onstage reads as a cry for freedom. Notable, too, was Dwight Rhoden's It All, with senior artists Carmen de Lavallade and Gus Solomons jr playing a couple with a long-term history that's had its share of emotional ups and downs. (I was watching this on the 43rd anniversary of my marriage and, hey . . . ) Offering remarkable performances of their own choreography were Monica Bill Barnes, gorgeously swift and fluent, proposing naughty behavior in vintage virginal underwear; Anthony Rodriguez, all staccato sharpness in a flamenco fusion solo; and the debonair Barry Blumenfeld, proving that tap has a pomo future. Combining acerbic, funky, and ingenuous humor, Keely Garfield and Lawrence Goldhuber hosted—in the guise (don't ask me why) of a pinafored, ruby-slippered Dorothy and a luxuriantly fleshed, designer-suited Wizard of Oz.


Clare Byrne/Nicholas Leichter, Joe's Pub
photo: Hiroyuki Ito
Clare Byrne/Nicholas Leichter, Joe's Pub

Pallid Mysticism, With Ties to the East, at the Fringe

Seraphita takes its title and theme from a philosophical novel by Honoré de Balzac operating in his Swedenborgian mode. The mystical tale concerns a young man and woman, each in love with an androgynous angelic figure who reveals to them the spiritual path mere gendered humans might aspire to, and is then transfigured into an ineffable creature. The Treaders, a female trio of New York-based dancer-choreographers born and initially trained in Japan, respond to their subject with techniques drawn from both East (traditional Noh drama and contemporary butoh) and West (lyrical modern dance). It's an awkward mix, and the women's apparent desire to remain delicate, pure, and obliquely suggestive produces tepid, vague results. The piece makes its meager theatrical impact through costume. Seraphita's inky hooded shroud, with its long swaths of fabric rooted at the shoulder and extending halfway across the stage, becomes the palpable medium through which the human figures connect with the godhead. Naeko Shikano (responsible for the choreography), Megumi Onishi, and Mana Hashimoto (who, the house program reveals, is blind) are all expert performers in the hypersensitive vein that reminds you of creatures sensing their world through quivering antennae.

 
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