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Henry Baumgartner

Summers, Solomons, Soto, and Chuma Show Their "60s Snapshots"


"Red Carpet 1967" by Yoshiko Chuma and The School of Hard Knocks, part of "60s Snapshots" at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, August 23, 2007, in which choreographers evoked the open-air theatricality of that era. Dancers (L-R): Christopher Williams, Yoshiko Chuma, Ursula Eagly. Trombonist: Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

60s Snapshots:
Choreography by
Gus Solomons Jr.,
Merián Soto,
Yoshiko Chuma and
Elaine Summers.
Lincoln Center Out of Doors
Lincoln Center, South Plaza
August 23, 2007

All right, not all the choreographers represented in "60s Snapshots"--Gus Solomons jr., Merián Soto, Yoshiko Chuma, and Elaine Summers--are really of an age to represent the Sixties. Of the four, two were, I believe, still in school during the decade, and only one (Summers) was already prominent as a choreographer in that faraway time. But I'm not complaining very loudly, because these four and their dancers and collaborators put on a wonderful show. And the price was certainly right: this program was part of Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, the culture behemoth's free outdoor summer performance series. The unusual setting and the strangeness of some of the work created a certain sense of occasion on an evening likely to stand out in memory.

Solomons, Soto, and Chuma each contributed a 20-minute-or-so piece, each one performed twice; these were followed by Summers's work. None of the choreographers represented actually danced, though Solomons followed his dancers around with a video camera. As each piece occupied a slightly different slice of the center's South Plaza, the audience was kept on its toes too, moving from one spot to another. All the works were commissioned by Lincoln Center for the festival.

Gus Solomons jr.'s title, "Random Funny Walks," is actually a pretty good description of his piece, set to some real '60s snapshots, the songs of Frank Zappa. The six men were dressed by Oana Botez-Ban in long, bright-colored, oddly cut, hooded robes that made them look like a troupe of medieval jongleurs; they would march about in the midst of a little grove of trees, waggling their arms, hopping, crawling, or whatever, then suddenly they would be dancing. The result was actually rather lovely.

Merián Soto's "What Is Love" is described in the program as "part of a series of works with branches." This threw me for a second--branches? Subsidiary dances in different places? But no, these were real branches, as in pieces of trees. The five women, clad by Christine Darch in woven or homemade-tribal-looking outfits, each held several long branches as they executed ritualistic movements with calm slowness. The effect was like watching some shamanic rite from the dawn of civilization. Maurice Wright's score, while clearly not from the Neolithic, used plenty of flutes and tinkly percussion and helped enhance the mood.

Yoshiko Chuma gave a nod to the Sixties theme with "Red Carpet 1967-." "Dancers will pass by in 1967 fashion garb," said the program, though (not having read this at the time) I noticed nothing particularly out of the ordinary. The dancers strolled back and forth on a red "carpet," usually unperturbed, occasionally breaking into a complex twitching dance; I was particularly taken by Ursula Eagly's contribution, which looked as if she were about to shake loose of her arms and legs. The dancers were wearing large earphones, through which, I presume, they were receiving instructions of some sort. One of the happiest aspects of this piece was the live musical accompaniment, ignored by the dancers--Anthony Coleman on piano, William Parker on bass, Richard Marriott and Christopher McIntyre on trombones. But with dancers and musicians strung out all along the length of the plaza, it was difficult to watch them all.

The high point of the evening was the last piece, Elaine Summers's "Hidden Forests." A member of the storied Judson Dance Theater and a pioneer of what she prefers to call intermedia, Summers has indeed been at work since the Sixties. As we sat expectantly staring at that little grove of trees in planters, we began to hear faint scraps of what sounded like singing, as dimly seen dancers seemed to flit about in the growing darkness. The singing was like that of birds, and oddly atonal. Here and there, as the dusk grew deeper, bits of light revealed obscure figures rushing through the forest--for that is what the small collection of trees began to seem like. Now and then scraps of sound reminiscent of gamelan music came to our ears. We became aware of moving lights beginning to weave among the trees. Everything remained just on the edge of perception, visually and aurally. The atmosphere brought to mind "A Midsummer Night's Dream," with maybe a little extra magic from "The Tempest." (I am told that the lighting, other than that provided by the fading daylight, came from a film of a previous Summers performance projected over the scene--hence the flickering quality of the light.) A lady passed by in front of the audience, walking a small dog. Did she even realize there was a performance going on? Was she actually part of the performance?

After this came the speeches, and Jenneth Webster, the festival's director, gave Summers some sort of award. And well deserved, I'm sure. I couldn't help but wonder how many younger choreographers would be able, or would dare, to put on a performance so barely perceptible, yet of such magical subtlety?


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