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Jack Anderson

Dorfman Among the Weathermen


Karl Rogers, Patrick Ferreri, Molly Poerstel, Jennifer Nugent, Whitney Tucker, Joseph Poulson, Lindsay Ashmun, Heather McArdle, Francis Stansky. Photo by Jack Vartoogian

David Dorfman Dance: "underground"
Next Wave Festival
BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Nov. 14-18, 2006
Evenings at 7:30, $45, $40, $30, $20
Tickets: (718) 636-4100 or www.BAM.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, Nov. 17, 2006

Although David Dorfman's "underground" lasts less than an hour, it could be debated for hours on end. At the same time, it must be said that the questions it asks might be raised equally well by newscasts or ethics textbooks. However, in this case, it is, unquestionably, Dorfman's dance-theater work that provokes thought, even though his creation does not abound in revelatory theatrical images: "underground" is more important for what it suggests, than for what it shows.

Still, "underground," as choreographed by Dorfman and directed by him and Alex Timbers, did hold attention with its scenic designs by Cameron Anderson and smoky lighting by Jane Cox. And its hordes of dancers moved energetically to music and sound designs by Jonathan Bepler, Broken Social Scene, Bart Fasbender, M83, and the Wellwater Company.

Dorfman is recalling the Weather Underground, a protest group of the late 60's and early 70's often familiarly known as the Weathermen. Just as these young agitators' extremist stances aroused controversy then, remembering them will surely do so now.

Churning ensembles move with great speed and force, and a dancer portraying a reporter occasionally asks such questions as "What do you do to make a difference?" and "Is violence ever justified?" Groups surge across the stage, raising arms, clenching fists, and seeming to throw invisible objects: stones, bottles, or bombs, perhaps. After wondering "I don't know what to do," an anxious trembling woman has such a violent fit that I, for one, would be loathe to entrust her with any social policy. But other, comparably fervent, individuals shout, "I'm apathetic."

David Dorfman. Photo by Jack Vartoogian

What may be the production's most striking moment does not primarily involve dance. Instead, this is a speech in which Dorfman admits that as a teenager he idolized the Weathermen as being "really cool" for "the risks they took" in blowing up 30 buildings without killing anyone except a few of their own members. (Of courser, this may have been only a perverse stroke of luck.)

The monologue makes us wonder what good, if any, the Weather Underground actually did, whether it was in any way more effective than the era's non-violent protests, and whether its extremist tactics were only tantrums (though possibly lethal ones). It is depressing to recall how often intellectuals, possibly because they can regard themselves as powerless (which they can indeed be), find themselves drawn to violence and tyranny: just consider the writers and artists seduced by Mussolini, Stalin, or Mao. So, too, it is horrifying to contemplate how idealistic zeal can inspire suicide bombings.

In another sequence, a woman wonders if it might be justifiable to kill three people in order to save ten, or 15 in order to save 45, or 67 in order to save 189. On and on her numbers escalate. Throughout history, such calculations may have been made in planning many combat strategies, and we hear a variation of them today when some people argue that the extreme interrogation techniques (aka torture) at the Abu Ghraib prison are permissible because they may force prisoners to reveal plots that might have led to untold deaths. Although Dorfman intensifies the cold-blooded arithmetic by having dancers collapse and roll on the floor, this scene's impact, like that of his own monologue, is essentially verbal.

With some exceptions, including those noted, his work's action focuses on repetitions of surging, marching, and bomb-throwing, and all this can grow slightly monotonous. Yet, undeniably, it can set people thinking.


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