The final piece, The Way of Five—Fire (an excerpt from a longer piece by Nai-Ni Chen) draws on Chen’s background in Chinese traditional dance and martial arts, although she formed her company in the U.S. in 1988 and modern dance is also part of her heritage. Three women wield large fans, but not always with delicacy. A certain fierceness creeps in via Tan Dun’s music and a fiery, slashing combat between one of the women and Noibid Licea excites the crowd.

Peter Kyle in Murray Louis's Frail Demons
Kanji Takeno
Peter Kyle in Murray Louis's Frail Demons

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American Dance Guild Performance Festival
Dance New Amsterdam
September 11 through 14

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Some of the pieces on the program reveal the kind of craftsmanship that informs Louis’s work but seldom match his powers of invention. Pooh Kaye’s 1983 The River Sticks, however, began the evening on a very smart note. In making it, Kaye employed considerable skill to shake up the idea of predictable craft. She has been a maverick imp in dance and film dance since the 1970s, and maturity hasn’t dimmed her adventurousness. Catherine Kernan’s set is a playground of slender boards, gathered into tottery tunnels and tepees. Kaye sets herself tasks that often misfire. Order and disorder go to war. She adjusts. What? A bunch of short painted sticks that she’s manipulated into a fan shape won’t conform? She takes one of them and whips it around. Boards falling on her head don’t faze her. Intrigued by one, she rubs it against her face (leaving smudges), and gives it a lick. The tunnel she’s attempting to crawl through collapses on her. Never mind, two boards make skis. One of the tepees topples when she’s nowhere near it, and she’s still—with an occasional squeal—trying to gather up all the fallen wood when the lights dim and a hoop rolls across the stage. Lucky she doesn’t see it.

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