In honor of Dance Theater Workshop's 40th anniversary, DancenOw/NYC's Robin Staff revived her "40Up" series for the first evening of the organization's 10-day festival, presenting a host of agile, mature choreographers with ties to DTW. Male-female duets ran a provocative gamut. Heidi Latsky and Jeffrey Freeze's uneasy contacts and energetic semi-unison in a sequence from Latsky's Disjointed (to premiere in May) counterpointed a sung conversation (from the score for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) between former lovers. David Grenke's Vespers, to Tom Waits's heart-rocking "Tom Traubert's Blues," tackled a classic trope: the duet with a dead partner. Yet as Grenke slung Wallie Wolfgruber around in sensationally desperate maneuvers, this gorgeous ghost seemed more alive than he. Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer were gentler partners in their ingenious Under the Skin, but at times their video images, projected onto their white hoop skirts, wheeled and spun as if in passion's gusts. Grenke's nudging of an inert form was echoed by something profoundly real in the female duets of the 1994 Victoria MarksMargaret Williams film, Mothers and Daughters.
In two pas de deux, suavity was under siege. David Parker of the Bang Group and Sara Hook reprised their hilarious number from Parker's NutCracked, making the most of one cocktail plus their fingers, lips, increasing drunkenness, and Tchaikovsky. In I Thought You Were Dead, those inimitable old smoothies Alice Teirstein and Stuart Hodes turned a genteel rendezvous of onetime flames into a deliciously comic struggle between rekindled ardor and good sense. Laurie McLeod made her DTW debut with a witty scene for two women from her Twelve Incantations. Seated and wearing huge bundles of white net, Bettina Montano and Antonia Small escalated vowel sounds and primping gestures into a rhythmic frenzy of non-sense.
Other choreographers explored the solo form. Megan Williams's Bottles traced a circuit of quiet desperation; every outward stretch seemed to curl back into misery. Spooling out Zvi Gotheiner's Solo for Dirk to the husky Spanish singing of Shakira, the magnificent Dirk Platzek (too long absent from the stage) transformed a journey past oft repeated signposts into a rich tapestry of meditations. Doug Elkins barely moved from one spot in his Mouth's Cradle, Bj eerily lovely singing a perfect companion to his complex, liquid moves. His early work in hip-hop has graduated into an amazing metaphor for a man slipping around in his skin, in his head.
Two small group works completed the program. An excerpt from Sara Pearson and Patrik Widrig's Thaw suggested cultivating a garden, with Pearson the gardener. After lively, vigorous tumbling about by Widrig and three others, flourishing bamboo replaced potted grass. In Claire Porter's subtle Knitting Orders, a chain of women knit and purled a litany of moves and instructions for supplying helmet liners to troops that perhaps dates from World War I.
The DancenOw/NYC festival continues at Joe's Pub and gratis at Highbridge Park in Washington Heights on Saturday.
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