The references to process anchor Dear Emissary in 2010. The music and lighting evoke the 1970s, and a number of the costumes allude to the 1920s. How Dundervill sees these decades relating, beyond his interest in them, is one of the evening’s provocative mysteries.

Jody Oberfelder is a survivor, celebrating her company’s 20 years of existence and, by extension, her own longer career performing, teaching dance, making films of it, and choreographing for opera and theater. Pondering her relative longevity on the scene, you might posit that this small, wiry, onetime gymnast has upended herself in headstands and flips so many times that her blood circulates more efficiently than most people’s. But I tend to think that something more than her fast-twitch muscles and brain keeps her going: her evident love of dance and her enthusiasm for every aspect of it.

Walter Dundervill’s "Dear Emissary"
Frank Mullaney
Walter Dundervill’s "Dear Emissary"
"Rock Me Mama" by Jody Oberfelder
Julie Lemberger
"Rock Me Mama" by Jody Oberfelder


Walter Dundervill
The Chocolate Factory
March 10 through 13

Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects
Abrons Arts Center
March 11 through 13

Oberfelder isn’t into mystery. She makes bright, clear, gutsy, often very funny pieces. She’s not afraid to be corny. In planning her 20th anniversary season at the Abrons Arts Center, she winnowed out bits from some of her best works, re-vamped them, and wove them into a fast-moving show, prefaced by Nic Petry’s elegant montage of film clips. You can follow through the evening how milestones in Oberfelder’s life and career affected her work. Here she is in “Tabula Rasa/Midlight” from her 2006 LineAge (the piece in which she announced her age by chalking five groups of five lines plus 2 on the floor), treading a lifeline chalked on the floor, erasing as she goes. In “Id on a Grid” from the same piece, she’s joined by original cast members Elise Knudson, Rebekah Morin, and Carlton Ward, along with Aditi Dhruv and Jake Szczypek, in a repeating group of images that involve a fallen person, with another rushing in to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and yell, “Call 911!” People are lifted and dropped. Maybe that’s what you get if you walk on your hands and head a lot. But when the four hold hands and walk upstage, one of them just happens to be upside down.

Luke Gutsgell and Brandin Steffensen reprise a lusty, acrobatic duet from the 2008 Heavy Light. Brynne Billingsley and Szczypek recreate Hansel and Gretel’s plight from Oberfelder’s The Story Thus Far, inspired by the stories by the Brothers Grimm (2004), their lifting and clinging to each other the product of fear. Knudson and Ward perform a fine duet from The Title Comes Last (2006). However, some of the evening’s most charming passages focus on women. In a revival of the 1994 Wanted X Cheerleaders, Lynn Neuman, Cydney Pullman, Jule Ramirez, and the choreographer twitch their red-skirted butts and shake their boobs. They also have to remind one another that they can no longer identify themselves proudly as being over 40; that number has gone up by ten. They mock college cheerleaders (“virgin sluts”) and their flirty, rah-rah routines, while chanting their championship of lusty age and reminding us of real female workouts (Oberfelder, lifted by her friends, grimaces and groans in mock childbirth).

In the early 1990s, Oberfelder made a film (with Ben Ben Speth) of her pregnant naked self dancing, and followed that, in 1996, with Expectant Tango for six extremely pregnant women. We see them on film in red gowns; then with a bit of theatrical slight-of-hand, they’re replaced in a dim glow (Kathy Kaufman designed the masterful lighting) by six figures in green, their backs to us. When they turn, they reveal teen-aged kids in front of them. Some of these parents are the women in the film, although they’ve been joined by others, including a father, Lynn Brown. The parent-child duetting is loving, but tough, with the occasional child (Cate Hurlin, for instance) already showing dancerly chops. Then to the continuing taped song Rock Me Mama (lyrics written and sung by Tine Kindermann and Oberfelder, guitar by Steve Houseplan), five dancer-mothers perform holding their infants. Simple movement, yes, but very skillfully choreographed, and the babies are downright professional; one front and center wins hearts by clapping its tiny palms together and flashing numerous smiles.

In recent years, Oberfelder has branched out into choreographing and directing opera. Based on the excerpt she showed at the Abrons from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (staged in 2008 for the Orchestra of St. Luke’s), I wish I’d been able to see the whole work. As in The Story Thus Far excerpts, the musicians are onstage (in the Hansel and Gretel episode, Kindermann, singing the role of the Fairy Godmother, interacts with the two dancers). Kamala Sankaram sings Dido’s part in the Purcell opera, and the superbly expressive bass-baritone Andrew Nolen plays Aeneas. Melody Fader handles the keyboard, and the remarkable Malina Rauschenfels switches back and forth between cello and violin, while also voicing the Sorceress. The most imaginative scene features Ward on stilts as the Sorceress. When he swings his subordinate witches (Billingsley, Dhruv, and Szczypek) into the air and drops them, they look like munchkins.

By the time the evening is over, the final event, Crash Helmet Brigade (a re-mix of Oberfelder’s 1986 solo) has brought a horde of dancers and musicians onstage. No wonder Alice Teirstein looks as if she’s been caught in the middle of a traffic onslaught while crossing the street. Wearing helmets and bright-colored jerseys, scrimmaging to music by X, Le Tigre, and the Slits, the performers have at the air, the floor, and one another’s skulls. It’s kind of a mess (under-rehearsed maybe), but it captures the zest for headlong, endearingly human dancing in an upside-down world that Oberfelder has cultivated for 20 years.

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