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The first dictionary definition of the word tattoo is “a rapid rhythmic rapping,” and that sense dominates Pat Graney’s magical Tattoo (at the Kitchen, May 16 through 19). To be sure, there are elegant processions of nude or barely covered female bodies adorned with George Long’s swirly designs, but the main vocabulary of the piece is the intricate footwork by the same women, in buckled vintage shoes with small heels.
While Amy Denio’s lush, complex accordion music provides an important tonal element, Tattoo‘s impact is primarily visual, an accumulation of subtly modulating images of prim women entranced by rhythm. They’re naked at first, then half-dressed, then garbed in Frances Kenny’s sheer dresses, demure black skirts, and sweetly tucked white blouses; further along, the shoes and skirts are goosed with color, the blouses gleam with rhinestones, and the tapping gives way to spinning. Later the women emerge in tutu-like skirts wired for sound that function as drumheads and are connected to boots with strings the dancers pluck, their bodies becoming space-age bass fiddles. Graney’s work has the associative logic of poetry rather than of narrative progression, taking us clear to the future before it lets us go.
Bill T. Jones has spent the past three years in residence at Aaron Davis Hall, and his May concerts, in addition to showcasing repertory works for his terrific ensemble, unveiled a collaboration with members of the Harlem community that blew the packed house away. On and around Bjorn Amelan’s big orange table topped with fixed blocks, six middle-aged guys in loose white clothes (Jones the only professional dancer among them) paced through simple choreography, most of it demonstrating shifting relationships between members of a group. Out of this very basic material they drew laughs and sighs of recognition from the audience; at the back of the stage, violinist Daniel Roumain, cellist Tahirah Whittington, and pianist Ho-Jeong Jeong played Schubert’s trio “Notturno.” Next, six little girls, ranging in age from seven to 12, performed the same movement sequence on the same structure to the same music, imbuing it with their own fly style but revealing the essential clarity of the steps and postures. Jones’s Table Project is monumental in a literal sense, but also in a philosophical one, exploring ideas about demagoguery, community, and trust.
Completing this program were three works to music with words, including Arnie Zane’s 1987 The Gift/No God Logic to selections from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, Jones’s 1996 Love Re-Defined to the haunting songs of Daniel Johnston, and the 1996 Some Songs to music and lyrics by Jacques Brel. For seven dancers, the last of these brimmed with lush undulations, same-sex partnering, and other classic Jones tropes. But by then I was suffering from “lyric fatigue,” and longing for dancing in simpler frames.