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Jack Anderson

Mandance Plus Women Plus Horse

Mandance Project
Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, Chelsea
March 25-April 5, 2009
Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. (except April 1 at 7:30 p.m.), Sundays at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; $49, $35, $19
Tickets: (212) 242-0800 or www.joyce.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, April 5, 2009

Eliot Feld, ever restless: since the 1960's he's explored countless choreographic styles, with results ranging from the wonderful to the woeful, and he's reconfigured his company several times. He calls his present organization Mandance Project. Yet its season included women and separate performances by Horse, an all-male Taiwanese group.

Mandance Project at Joyce Theater. Photo by Chang Chih Chen.

Feld created three solos and a group piece, "The Spaghetti Ballet," a comic melodrama to some of the extravagant music Ennio Morricone composed for those Italian movies known as "Spaghetti Westerns." Like many thrillers and Westerns, this one had an incomprehensible plot, which Feld peppered with choreographic jokes, most of them corny, but not all of them very funny. I smiled at the contrasts in height between an enormous figure on stilts and three tiny girls from the Ballet Tech School. And it was amusing to watch a dancer being lowered into a bowl of spaghetti. But a chase through streets represented by revolving panels was more strenuous than inventive, and a supposedly comic execution scene involving an electric chair struck me as unpleasant.

Ha-Chi Yu, featured in "The Spaghetti Ballet," also danced the solo "Radiance," which emphasized circling steps, with one of her feet entangled in a purple costume (by Loie Delft), while the other was free. Laraaji's music (produced by (Brian Eno) steadily gained momentum in a progression reminiscent of Ravel's "Bolero." In "Proverb," a solo to Steve Reich, Wu-Kang Chen moved repetitively in semi-darkness with tiny lights attached to his palms. Both solos, though pleasant, seemed obviously gimmicky.

Mandance Project at Joyce Theater. Photo by Chang Chih Chen.

hBut there was another, and far more spectacular, solo for Wu-Kang Chen: "Dust," which took place inside a cage, designed by Mimi Lien and Feld, that prevented things from blowing into the audience. There was much that might do that, for the stage was covered with shredded paper that was set into motion by wind machines.

The paper swirled to music by John Luther Adams that seemed all sirens and drums. Wu-Kang Chen walked through the on-stage debris, picking up bits of paper and letting them drift from his fingers and float about the cage. He built a mound of paper that recalled the ruins of an ancient civilization. The wind machines grew stronger, and the resultant maelstrom sent debris flying everywhere, smacking the cage bars, and covering the dancer's body until he was finally laboring to stand erect amidst a cyclone. "Dust" may have had its own gimmickry, but Feld let these theatrical tricks suggest impressive struggles for existence.

Mandance Project at Joyce Theater. Photo by Chang Chih Chen.

Wu-Kang Chen, a founder of Horse, danced the collaboratively-choreographed "Bones" with his fellow Horse-men Shu-Yi Chou, Tsung-Lung Cheng, Wei-Chia Su, and Yu-Ming Yang. It began well. The men, all amiable in manner, entered through a door at the back of a bare white-walled room designed by Jih-Chun Huang and. looking at ease, they huddled and smoothly grouped in acrobatic formations, during which they fell to the floor as if they had not a single bone in their bodies.

At times, there were martial arts poses, competitive and combative moments, and a few comic bits (one dancer lost his pants). Much happened. Yet as nothing appeared to be connected with anything else, this hour-long effort began to seem endless, although the dancers remained likeable.

Here was a season of decidedly mixed quality. Yet Feld remains both admirably adventurous and solidly rooted in dance tradition. A memorable offering on his opening night was a special demonstration by students from the Ballet Tech School who paraded on stage to provide a theatricalized version of a ballet class. There was no spoken commentary, just a steady, logical, and beautiful progression of steps danced with dignity and concentration. A fifth-grade student was quoted in the school's brochure as saying, "Ballet lets you go into another world and lets you be free." Eliot Feld certainly knows that, and he wants young people to know it, too.

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