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Jack Anderson

Gabrielle Lansner's Human Scenery

Dancers from Gabrielle Lansner & Company perform at South Cove Plaza in Battery City Park. Photo by Douglas Back, 2009, courtesy of Lower Manhattan Cultural Council

River to River Festival
Lower Manhattan Cultural Council: Sitelines 09
Gabrielle Lansner & Company: "Turning Heads, Frocks in Flight"
August 3, 4, 6, 10, 11, 13 at 12:30 p.m.; August 5, 12 at 6:30 p.m.; free
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, August 4, 2009

South Cove Plaza in Battery Park City served as the stage for Gabrielle Lansner's "Turning Heads, Frocks in Flight," and her dancers became part of the scenery, thereby enhancing the attractive scenery already there. A wooden jetty, approached by a curving bridge, curved into the Hudson River, and overlooking the area was a little belvedere reached by curving stairways. Although pedestrians were ceaselessly passing, the plaza was a peaceful spot; the river lapped at the jetty, and one could enjoy both patches of sunlight and soothing shade. Lansner's dance for twelve women was agreeably peaceful in its own way with, appropriately enough for this setting, many curves.

Wearing brightly colored costumes by Caterina Bertolotto, women paraded onto the jetty to a song expressing a desire for freedom, then made their way to the bridge, making gestures suggesting striving and determination. But movements gradually softened and curved as the women turned and let their arms swing. Some dancers mounted the steps to the belvedere, some posed on benches, some ran breezily back and forth, and still others swung hoops (yet another curving image).

At site-specific productions one never knows what unforeseen events will affect one's impressions. At this one, I was delighted when graceful recorded music for strings and piano unexpectedly heralded an elegant white sailing vessel on the Hudson; later, when tempos quickened a bit, a New York Waterways boat sped smoothly by. I presume these occurrences were lucky accidents, and quite magical ones they were. The music included a new score by Nancy Magarill, with additional music by Dave Eggar and Gregor Heubner and a song by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas.

The dance, "Turning Heads, Frocks in Flight" reflected the harmony of the dancers' movements with the architecture curves of the plaza. Photo by Douglas Back, 2009, courtesy of Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

It's impossible to predict how audiences will react to outdoor works. Some people were at this one because it was precisely where they wanted to be. Others passed, glancing inquisitively around them; others just hurried along, apparently oblivious to the dancing. A few, surprised by what they saw, paused to see more.

Lansner gave us a gentle dance, lasting barely twenty minutes. To speak bluntly about it, nothing much happened in it. Yet, in its charming setting, it had a calming effect and called attention to the beauty of that setting. I went away feeling what a nice place Battery Park City is, and what a wonderful place Manhattan itself can be. So thanks to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and its Sitelines 09 series for bringing this bit of peace to the River to River Festival.

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