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Jack Anderson

Stravinsky Reassembled

Sourcing Stravinsky-- "Track 11," Dayna Hanson and Linas Phillips. Performer: Dayna Hanson. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.

Sourcing Stravinsky
Closed April 22, 2006
Dance Theater Workshop, 219 West 19th Street, Chelsea
(242) 924-0077 or www.dtw.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson April 25, 2006

Almost ever since there was music by Stravinsky, dancers have danced to it. That the choreographic possibilities of his rhythmically supple scores have not been exhausted was demonstrated in "Sourcing Stravinsky," the program of new dances and theater pieces Annie-B Parson curated at Dance Theater Workshop.

To their credit, participants refused to be constrained by familiar dance conventions. Nevertheless, two offerings seemed only curiosities.

"Tsimtsum," choreographed, composed, and danced by Cynthia Hopkins, took its inspiration from a never realized apocalyptic science-fiction opera, on which Stravinsky and Dylan Thomas were to collaborate. Hopkins entered in a space suit, removed it, and sang deliberately naïve little ditties. She also kept drinking, in an acknowledgment of the alcoholism that eventually killed Thomas.

Text, video, movement, and a Stravinsky potpourri made "Track 11," by Dayna Hanson and Linas Phillips, simultaneously a tribute to the composer and a documentary about homelessness. What linked these subjects was the notion that Stravinsky's émigré status for much of his life somehow paralleled the rootlessness of homeless people. But the comparison seemed strained.

Three choreographers proved especially imaginative. Rennie Harris's "Heaven," danced by The Collective, an ensemble organized for this engagement, allied hip-hop with excerpts from "The Rite of Spring." Hissing oddly as they moved, the dancers could have represented wild creatures ganging up on their prey. Hip-hop's off-kilter balances and acrobatics intensified the sense of strangeness and, unlike many choreographers of "Rite," Harris made the sacrificial victim a man, rather than a woman.

David Neumann's "hit the deck. (studies and accidents),'' for his Advanced Beginner Group, was a rambunctious comedy to songs and piano music, performed live by Nicole Cherniak-Hyde (mezzo-soprano) and Carol Wong (pianist). Neumann's performers resembled overgrown children enjoying gamelike activities involving racing, parading, tossing folding chairs about, and crashing into the wings.

The most eagerly anticipated presentation was surely "AG Indexical, with a little help from H.M.," an idiosyncratic tribute to the Balanchine/Stravinsky "Agon" by Yvonne Rainer, one of the leaders of the Judson Dance Theater in the 1960's who has more recently devoted herself to film-making. Although, at Judson, Rainer danced persuasively to Satie, she has also expressed a dislike of music for dancing. But her version of "Agon," for four women, was intelligent and witty, and in no way a parody. Rainer did her homework well. Many steps and poses echoed those of Balanchine's "Agon" and the production contrasted several ways of performing: some sequences were done full-out, as usually happens at performances; but there were also less intense moments of "marking," as when Rainer coached a dancer, and also when a dancer presumably learned her material by watching a video monitor. Yet because its back was to the audience, you couldn't be sure just what she was watching. Rainer blended choreographic process and product.

Moreover, her interpretation of Balanchine's sturdy abstract style had some of the sturdy athleticism associated with her own dancing. When, at the work's conclusion, Stravinsky unexpectedly gave way to Henry Mancini's theme from "The Pink Panther," the dancers' jauntiness resembled that of the opening and closing of Balanchine's ballet. Yet these strides looked at home in their new musical context.

Now I fear I may sound grouchy. In her curator's program note, Parson states that she first became immersed in Balanchine's abstract choreography in the 1980's, whereas "Before this, I had associated Merce Cunningham with the beginnings of plotless work." Because Parson has shown herself to be a cultivated choreographer, I was surprised by such hazy dance history. Plotless dance did not begin with Balanchine, no more than it did with Cunningham (Balanchine, though glorious, did not invent everything): early examples of the genre include such famous ballets as Michel Fokine's "Les Sylphides" (which received its definitive shape in 1909) and Léonide Massine's architecturally monumental "Choreartium" (1933).

I say this not to cackle pedantically, but to urge choreographers to learn as much as possible about their heritage. They would then have at hand a multitude of forms and styles that, in their own productions, they could revere, reject, juxtapose, deconstruct, or reassemble as they wished. Knowledge enriches.


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