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Jack Anderson

Sampling SummerDANZ


Guest Artist Series, through July 19, 2008
Dance Theater Workshop, 219 West 19th Street, Chelsea
Paradigm, July 8-10 (closed)
Zenon Dance Company, July 11-13 (closed)
$25, schedules and information: (212) 924-0077 or www.dtw.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson July 14, 2008

Dance closes down in some places during summer, only to flourish in festivals elsewhere. But New Yorkers don't have to leave town for festivities. For instance, there's SummerDANZ, the 2008 Guest Artist Series at Dance Theatre Workshop. Curiosity drew me to two groups, each celebrating an anniversary: Paradigm, now 10 years old, and Zenon Dance Company, from Minneapolis, now 25.

Paradigm, directed by Gus Solomons Jr., is unusual, for it's a troupe of seven mature dancers who make no attempt to disguise their maturity: Carmen deLavallade, Dudley Williams, Hope Clarke, Valda Setterfield, Keith Sabado, Michael Blake, and Solomons himself. They're all seasoned artists, skilled movers, and great theatrical presences.

But Paradigm got off to a bad start with "Stayin' Alive," in which Kay Cummings's archly eccentric choreography made Setterfield, Williams, and Solomons hobble about like patients in hospital gowns. These dancers are too good to settle for such cuteness.

Fortunately, everything else was more substantial. "Three Scenes from Archy & Mehitabel," to live saxophone music by Jane Ira Bloom, was a dance-theatre piece collaboratively devised by Solomons and deLavallade and inspired by Don Marquis's comic newspaper sketches about a philosophical cockroach (Solomons) and a saucy scrappy alley cat (deLavallade). Reciting texts and moving with admirable timing, both performers appeared to be creatures defying adversity in ways both funny and poignant.

Solomons's "Three of Clubs; Three of Hearts," to music by Michael Nyman, was even more remarkable. Wearing ornate robes by Oana Botez-Ban, all seven dancers paraded in stately formations like a fancy pack of cards.Gradually, however, hints of drama broke through the formal patterning that recalled classic dramatic conflicts in both theatre and dance: thus, intrigues suggested those of "The Moor's Pavane," while at one point Solomons could have been a King Lear dividing up his kingdom between deLavallade and Clarke. Here was an intensely dramatic work, yet one without a plot.

Robert Battle's "Stages," to a score by Amanda Kapousouz, was similarly plotless, yet with its own dramatic implications. Blake, Clarke, and Sabado resembled strange creatures, possibly from the beginning of time or the end of history, whose movements were compelling both, technically, for the way they often made separate bodily parts seem dissociated from the rest of the body and, emotionally, for their evocations of anxiety. And "Player & Prayer," choreographed and composed by Jonah Bokaer, sent deLavallade, Setterfield, and Solomons, moving, often in dim lighting by Burke Wilmore, in what ultimately seemed a quiet tribute to dance itself.

Over the years, Minnesota's Twin Cities have nurtured several enterprising small companies and Zenon, which Linda Z. Andrews directs, has been especially long-lasting. On this occasion, it presented four works, choreographed by four choreographers between 1991 and 2007, all featuring blustery movements performed with athletic gusto.

Five women danced beside five large wooden buckets in Bebe Miller's "Sanctuary." Choreographic phrases came in sharp bursts punctuated by slaps against the floor, the buckets, and the women's own bodies. There were also occasional bursts of a potpourri of recorded music. Every action looked as sturdy as a bucket, and at the end when the women bent over the buckets and splashed water, they appeared to be finding some sort of spiritual as well as physical refreshment.

Wynn Fricke's equally assertive "Figure Ground" visually contrasted verticality and horizontality. As fine white powder rained down from on high into a golden bowl, Gregory Waletski swiveled on the floor to thumping percussion by the Kodo Drummers of Japan. Christine Maginnis and Tamara Ober joined him, and these three dancing figures were soon twisting, hunching up, and keeping close to the ground until Waletski let the powder pour across his body and the women scattered it about.

Torso twists abounded in Seán Curran's "Coda," to music by Thom Yorke and Radiohead, and there was an especially vigorous leaping sequence for Bryan Godbout and Stephen Schroeder.

Colleen Thomas invested vigorous steps with emotional distress in "Catching Her Tears (44N, 93W)." Some sequences of this grim production occurred beneath a dangling light bulb, and Clare Brauch designed funereally black costumes. The dancers' incessant comings and goings appeared to have little purpose, and the work eventually became miscellaneous agitation. However, Chris Lancaster's score for live, but electronically enhanced, cello, played by Loren Dempster, did much to establish a sense of somberness by letting melancholy sounds reverberate imposingly through space.

Zenon puzzled. Here were four works created at different times by different choreographers, yet the result was kinetic sameness. Do Zenon's high-energy dancers inspire all choreographers in the same way? Or was the monotony the product of unfortunate programming choices? Does Zenon have any slow, sustained, and lyrical pieces it could show? Or, being an infrequent visitor to New York, does it feel it has to make a slambang impression to get noticed? These questions deserve investigating, and I would be curious to see Zenon again to discover what else it can offer.

Other SummerDANZ events are Nicholas Leichter Dance, Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company, Nicholas Andre Dance Theater, and a program called Emerging Artists.


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