Promises, promises! Not all the props mentioned in the press release for Yoshiko Chuma’s AGITPROPS: The Recycling Project appeared at La MaMa’s Club. Collaborating with four far-out younger choreographers and/or performers (Taryn Griggs, Karinne Keithley, Jeff Larson, and Chris Yon), Chuma, a wild one herself, was probably editing and rearranging down to the wire. She ended up molding what could have been a string of peculiar skits into a shapely and entrancingly nutty show, punctuated and enhanced by Jacob Burckhardt’s sound score. Who’d miss an extra megaphone?
The props—relics from works by Chuma, Keithley, Larson, and Yon—are housed in a wooden wall of different-sized doors designed by Tom Lee. Performers open the doors to retrieve what they need: chairs, a little red airplane, a megaphone, a pile of newspapers, a banana peel, a soccer ball, and so on. At one point, a window-sized door opens on a blender roaring; another time it reveals Keithley playing a ukulele.
Each brief piece segues right into another. Among the more memorable is “Je N’Attends Plus Personne.” Keithley undresses, screened by opened copies of the New York Post that her pals hold up. Then, tearing off strips of duct tape, they fashion the papers into a dress for her, while she convincingly lip-synchs the recorded French lyrics. When the tailors finish their work, they help her out with air guitar and percussion. One of the guest artists, Anthony Phillips, after having been wounded on a split-second quiz show, Whom Done It?, carries on (in a “blood”-stained shirt) with a megaphone, asking us such important questions as “Can you hear me?”—telling us we needn’t panic, and doing wonderfully giddy dancing. I also especially enjoyed, in “Another Suitcase Duet,” the spectacle of Larson and Yon, their heads stuck in open luggage and their legs thrashing helplessly to the tune of “Greensleeves.” Chuma provided a fine finale, in which obstreperous behavior and precise unison mate in highly satisfying ways.
Even though Fernando Maneca’s Today I’m Feeling a Little Bit Less Cynical includes six women as well as himself, it seems to be mostly his story. Maybe that’s because, although he and the women wait restlessly together for a subway to take them to work, it is he who describes one of them, he who reveals a fantasy, he who sings while they dance, he who dances while the women freeze.
In this and in Just Like a Man: personal anecdotes, confessions, the world outside himself is shown in part via others on video (he’s on video, too). For the small space at HERE, the talented Maneca designed a wall of translucent folding screens that hold the projections or reveal silhouettes. The visual effects are intriguing, and Maneca is a strong actor-dancer. However, Today‘s parts don’t fully cohere—the women’s dances, the wrapped bicycle, the video of rhythmically jiggling hips, the edifying bum who triumphantly identifies tiny letters he tears from newspapers, as if this were a skill deserving of payment . . .
Just Like a Man is an assemblage of dances and monologues, performed by Maneca and punctuated by video clips of people answering the question, “What is a real man?” Karen Bernard, Aviva Geismar, and Liam Clancy each create a section. Some of these solo vignettes are tough, some are tender, some are powerful—notably “In a Dark Wood,” an almost primeval shoving, stamping solo choreographed by Maneca that involves strange growly song. Video functions in a variety of ways. Clancy’s “Bringing Down the Hammer” features two monitors that show pictures of Maneca as a child; “Mama,” his computerized opening mouth seems to say, while Maneca himself lays tape on the floor to frame squares of space.
It’s difficult to tell where Maneca is coming from, especially in “All the Girls,” co-written with Wayland Quintero. He recounts in a very confidential and relaxed manner his experiences—mostly his sex life—with a string of women. In the middle of the colorful details, he mentions a wife who died, and his courting of the wife he has now. Is he being sardonic with this focus on getting laid? Or is he just telling it like it was? There’s no single answer to “What is a man?” but Maneca lets himself off too easily, leaving us wondering what the message of Just Like a Man really is.
Tina Croll has finally done it! In love with Balkan music and dance, she’s found a way to blend her contemporary style and traditional dances so that her own choreography stands up to the zesty footwork and complex rhythms from Bulgaria and Romania. Throughout Balkan Dreams, St. Mark’s Church rings to the music of Zlatne Uste Balkan Brass Band, Izgori (who play traditional instruments), and Goli Teli. The male folk dancers, linked by arms on shoulders or hands holding belts, move very little through space as they build their stunning permutations of heel-and-toe, twist, kick, and stamp. Croll counters this with dances for a small group of women who keep their upper bodies serene as they skim the floor and bound into the air, creating weaving patterns that are the vigorous yet airy equivalent of the men’s dancing. Like the bracing, close harmonies of the women singers, their steps suggest calling across great distances. Occasionally Croll’s dancers join the traditional performers, male and female, the age-old lilt infusing their steps. And at the end, spectators spring from their seats to be part of it all.