Theater archives




At Swing 46, Thursdays and Fridays this month, Argentine tanguera Mariela Franganillo and many-time West Coast Swing champion Robert Royston present their new blend, Swango, as a West Side story: She tangos, he swings, and in alternating numbers mutual attraction draws them inexorably together. Setting Astor Piazzola compositions next to pop songs by Teena Arena seems cruel, but not much more so than contrasting these dance forms. Tanguera Mariana Parma fixes her eyes on her partner’s as he draws her in tight circles around him. Her legs dart between, behind, and through his, snaking up to his waist; even when she looks away, she seems to hold his gaze. The macho tango men lean toward caricature but remain dignified. The swing dancers, in contrast, are smooth, polished, and empty. The form, derived mostly from Country Western dancing, is not only misnamed—it doesn’t swing—but its borrowed label masks a missing soul. A trio matching Royston with two women strives for sensuality, but despite imaginative partnering—daisy-chain turns, a double dip—the bared midriffs and his porn-actor stubble generate no heat. It’s swing for swingers.

The excitement of Swango‘s fast-paced 40 minutes lies not in risqué behavior but in physical risk. The men toss the women, who tilt backward toward the ground until the men catch them, underhanded, at the nape. Yet the finale, when the lovers unite and the two forms merge, is anticlimactic, the experiment misconceived. A tanguero wags a finger in the air, jitterbug-style, and his conciliatory gesture drips with tension. One form is slumming here, and it’s not the one born in the brothels of Buenos Aires. With its mixed heritage, tango’s already a potent blend. If it needs a new partner, it deserves a better one. —Brian Seibert

Postmodern dance originated in the 1960s when a group of disaffected modern dancers began showing their experiments at Judson. The latest tribute to those romping days of protest and innovation is “Marking Dance: Documents from Judson Memorial Church, 1958-1968,” an exhibit of documents, graphics, and film at NYU’s Fales Collection (third floor of Bobst Library) through October 18. Fales recently acquired the Judson Church archives, and this show, curated by M.J. Thompson, reveals how alternative arts meshed with the church’s mission of community outreach and activism during those volatile years. Programs, photos, scripts, and designs recapture the orgies, the improvs with outlandish props, the minimalistic, anarchistic, often dadaistic doings of Carolee Schneemann, Trisha Brown, David Gordon, Lucinda Childs, Steve Paxton, and lots of others. Also on view: a film collage by Elaine Summers, and Yvonne Rainer’s antediluvian Wollensak. —Marcia B. Siegel

“CalArts Dances Downtown” (Danspace Project, June) abounded in dreamscapes, dances of ideas, and romantic duets; the most interesting pieces messed with these genres. Former CalArts teacher Donald Byrd’s White Man Sleep, performed by members of his now defunct company, is an Invisible Man of a dance in which an imperious suit stamps his feet, cuts skyscrapers into the air, and impassively surveys the result—the terror of the people bent to his will. Byrd, like Ellison, creates in a surreal key—not to imitate the unconscious (or European dance theater) but to convey the senselessness of certain indelible American facts.

Multimedia mavericks Troika Ranch have created an oxymoron: warm, glowy conceptual art. The movement of the dancers, who are wired to a computer, releases both music (insect swarms, quasi- Gregorian chants, a splatter of rain) and a beautiful idea—that whole cities of sound are immanent in the air, and human motion makes them visible.

Ever since slippery-smooth release technique came to dominate downtown love duets, they’ve been hard to believe: Has romance really become so easy? So it was a relief when, shortly into Lisa Townsend and Kate Weare’s Clearing, Diana Mehoudar’s top fell off (to reveal a transparent bra). The strong, supple dancer let out a mortified giggle and, bravely relinquishing herself to the hapless, topless moment, won the audience’s heart. —Apollinaire Scherr

Choreographer Joanna Haigood (Dancing in the Streets, August) lets us see familiar landscapes and buildings in new ways. In a wooded area around Jacob’s Pillow she unearthed safe houses used on the underground railroad; her performance Invisible Wings took audience members on an imaginary slave’s journey from house to house and sent the dancers soaring through the sky. In her new Picture Red Hook, three collaborators and her Zaccho Dance Theater explored an abandoned 12-story grain terminal in a part of Brooklyn formerly troubled by drug violence but now in transition. The terminal rises up like a hulking pack of worn cigarettes; Haigood used it to explore the area’s industrial and human history. Evoking the heyday of the grain terminal’s operation, in an opening vignette she sent a dancer soaring overhead on a cable, creating a breathtaking tableau. Mary Ellen Strom’s film, projected onto the 12-story facade, let us see the grain terminal’s activities with a kind of X-ray vision, revealing the machinery housed inside. As the woman ascended, she struck a funny stoic walking pose. The juxtaposition of this determined person against the giant terminal and its heavy-duty equipment let us feel complexity, massive scale, and human effort. The sound score, recorded at a working grain elevator in Minnesota by Lauren Weinger, let us imagine the operational terminal in all its ferocious glory.

Cables conveyed aerialists seated on window-washer platforms up the front of the terminal. As they scaled the heights, they executed abstracted work tasks, adjusting and repairing machinery. Their actions were amplified by a live video feed projected onto the building, making us aware of the delicate balance required to perform their duties. Less deft adaptations of work reduced the six performers to miming activities like shoveling, pitching, and lifting.

Woven into Haigood’s exploration were portraits of Red Hook’s human history. A film collage of passenger ships, trains, and the Statue of Liberty highlighted the waves of immigration to the area. Current residents discussed their affection for their “small town,” and concerns about encroaching gentrification in filmed interviews projected onto the building. Haigood brought us full circle, from transport, processing, and shipping to shots of the grain’s origin in the flat plains of the Midwest, surrounding the dancers as they ran, twisted, and flipped, playing in endless fields. —Shanti Crawford


There are lots of small contemporary ballet troupes around, but none has quite the impact of the Chamber Dance Project (Kaye Playhouse, June). Director-choreographer Diane Coburn Bruning brings a lusty vision to the stage, demanding gutsy, good-humored dancers, live music, and an intimate atmosphere. Her Suspended sent a red-and-black-clad Peter Boal, for whom it was created, into a Gorecki-fueled centrifugal plunge around the compressed point of his fifth position, then into a pensive wrestle with John Welker. A bounding Welker joined three winning women in Bruning’s breezy Ode, and her two sensual duets easily outmaneuvered Stanton Welch’s Kisses. The company’s renditions of Ann Carlson’s Four Men in Suits and Adam Hougland’s Stand 9 revealed its gift for wry drama. Two interludes by the CDP’s own string trio and pianist filled out a true “chamber” evening: a couple of hours in the company of fascinating strangers who, by evening’s end, were strangers no more. —Alicia Mosier

A wooden basement floor surrounded by risers and flowing white sheets set the stage for seven pieces by members of Amanda Selwyn’s choreography collective Notes in Motion (45 Bleecker Theater, July). A highlight was the charismatic Johari Mayfield’s Women’s Fib. Mayfield made a quick change from folding laundry and gospel singing to become a white-wigged, bulimic ballet dancer with pom-poms. She’s ready for a one-woman show. Polished and promising was Selwyn’s Hold On, an experiment in partnering and human connection that had unusual interactions and coordination between dancers—leaning against hips, shoulders, heads, and ankles. The exploration of different ways to hold, touch, and carry, combined with Grace Kang’s meditative digital composition, conveyed the influence of September 11. Dancer Susanna Kim shone in her solo section and with the ensemble. For the collective, the challenge is how to balance the everything-goes workshop motto with a seamless final product. —Shannon Brady Marin