Since 1990, Dan Froot and David Dorfman have created three wise and witty duets in which we see them as buddies, rivals carrying the baggage of their lives and male roles in our culture. Shtuck, their contribution to this month’s “Altogether Different Festival,” is subtly dissimilar. They’re “Dan” and “Dave,” baggy-pants comedians forever stuck in their shtick, unable even to leave the stage. Like squirrels running in a wheel, they perform soft-shoe routines to Ross Levinson’s circusy music and play their saxophones (wonderfully). Tirelessly they promote themselves, each other, and their show. As we enter, they keep up a ferociously ingratiating dialogue with us—”What’s your name?” “You look great tonight!” “You have the best seat in the house”—which gets sillier by the minute. “Jimmy? My mother’s name is Jimmy!” But when one decides to ask the other, “Where are you from?” all he can answer is “downstage left.”
Dorfman and Froot (directed here by Dan Hurlin) are brilliant actor-dancer-musicians. “Dave” and “Dan” are semi-losers who’ll never give up. They explain the concept of center to us, but “center,” a white cross, keeps being pulled askew by invisible forces. They offer to interpret any word we throw out, but their responses are either “happy” or “sad”—not the word, but how it makes them feel. They “give” recruits in the house “remotes” that, if they’re talking too much or too little or aren’t funny, can activate the guys’ “shock collars.”
They also fight, even coaching two game volunteers to lob the insults for them. And then they repent—”Dave” lacerating himself so wildly that he has to be stopped before the “show” can go on. They need each other, and the stage is their only home. When Dorfman carries a prop into the wings and doesn’t return, Froot screams in terror. Dorfman sits chatting in the house (visible on an onstage screen) until he realizes with horror where he is and hightails it back to safety.
Shtuck doesn’t have one controlling image like the pair’s previous duets. But that’s the nature of shtick. You try it; if it doesn’t work, you try something else. If it works, you’re stuck with it forever.
Non sequiturs are a way of life in Dwight Rhoden’s From Me to You in About Half the Time, shown at the Joyce as part of “Altogether Different.” The super-dancers of Complexions (the company Rhoden runs with Desmond Richardson) kick high, smack the floor, turn, clap, whirl one arm, look to the right—that kind of thing. If Rhoden were working with words, a phrase might read snowfall, songbird, pit, chisel, scatter. Flashing their limbs extravagantly, vaulting and spinning like maniacs in an atmosphere charged with irritable beauty, the performers emit interestingly skewed steps with a speed and drive that make audiences scream with pleasure (Uri Sands, wow!). The ambience is reminiscent of a William Forsythe ballet, right down to From Me‘s tricky title, highly theatrical lighting (by Michael Korsch), and crashing electronic score (by Antonio Carlos Scott).
Rhoden’s articulate, but what’s his drift? Now Meg Gurin dances surrounded by four men; now a small group watches Richardson and Miho Morinue perform a brief, fevered duet. At the beginning, Richardson and tall, knockout redhead Heather Thompson are leaning together. Why? Never mind, you’ll never see that again. Thompson, Gurin, and Sabra Perry are on point; Morinue is not. Don’t even think about it. A watcher can gradually tire of what once seemed striking. But performers love doing this pressurized movement. Edwaard Liang, ex-New York City Ballet dancer, looks thrilled by (and thrilling in) the demanding steps of From Me and the new Quartet (music by Joshua Redman). Mucuy Bolles emerges as a sensual powerhouse. Michael Thomas unleashes his tense, packed style, and Solange Sandy-Groves has never seemed so drop-dead vibrant.
Rhoden also has a pop side. The magnificent Richardson ripples to Prince in a solo that’s almost spiritual in its sensuality. Christina Johnson and Meredith Rainey dance an Adam-and-Eve jungle duet to Caccini’s “Ave Maria.” That sophisticated wonder, Sarita Allen, plays the cliché vamp in stiletto heels, primed to lure and cast down mesmerized Marc Mann, and Higher Ground, to Earth Wind and Fire, ends the show with what amounts to a display of sexy wallpaper.
Merián Soto begins her company’s “Altogether Different” program with a solo, Prequel (a): Deconstruction of a Passion for Salsa. Soto, known for her pomo approach to her Latino heritage and community, spins platters on an old phonograph, swaying dreamily on a white square that’s like a street dancer’s patch of pavement. A gold-framed mirror on the wall flickers with old films of salsa dancers, with now and then a flash of The Red Shoes. Sure enough, when Soto dons red high heels, we know she’ll never take them off. Or the dress with the big red roses. Cleverly, she demonstrates rhythms on a mic’d floor; picked up and fed back, they create counterpoint.
Her Así se baila un Son juggles no such ironies. Here her subject is the Cuban “son,” with its intricate rhythms and big sound (piano, vocals, brass, and percussion). Collaborating with her dancers and composer Adalberto Alvarez, Soto has essentially created a club scene. Sonny Allen, mambo master, reminisces with charm and shows off his deftly slithering feet. People sprawl on chairs and watch the action. Luscious Gina Benitez shakes her hips, and the temperature goes up. Antonio Ramos does nimble stunts (and parades in a dress and heels). All—including Ivan Rivera, Noemí Segarra, and Sita Frederick—look great in Amy Tarachow’s bright costumes.
Soto likes informality, with little events forming out of nowhere. But Así is strangely aimless. It falls somewhere between a party and a boldly structured piece of art.
I first noticed Mari Kajiwara years ago in a concert of Glen Tetley’s work. Praising her in the Voice, I got her name wrong. Her parents wrote me a polite letter; they were so proud of their strong, beautiful daughter. I didn’t need the letter to engrave Mari and her name on my memory. How luminous and pure she was in Alvin Ailey’s company, how wonderful in quite a different way in works by her husband, Ohad Naharin. Fierce, earthy, she appeared indomitable. That she should die of cancer at 50 is unthinkable, unbearable.
We all knew Carl Wolz’s cancer could kill him any day, but still we said to one another, “I just saw him! He seemed fine.” He bridged East and West in so many ways. His is the definitive book in English on Japanese court dance. He was a founder of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and its first dean of dance. He helped establish the Hawaii State Dance Council and important festivals. He was a power in the World Dance Alliance. A teacher, leader, scholar, and true gentleman.