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Independent’s Dance

Ikuko’s Alter Ego, Dancenowfest 2001; Liz Gerring’s Sliding out of Reverse
Erico Villanueva’s expanded dance piece Ikuko’s Alter Ego had its late September, attack-delayed opening in the grim scene of downtown recovery that has redefined our times. Security barricades lined Canal Street, with everyone required to show IDs and their names on the Flea Theater’s guest list; tractor trailers piled with mangled girders ground up Church Street from the smoldering site; White St. (the Flea’s address) lay eerily still within the restricted zone, sooted and rank from the nearby catastrophe.

But Ikuko’s audience made it, and as nerve wracked and anxious as everybody was, they were vocally ready to have spirits lifted by Villanueva’s antic dancers. Villanueva dedicated the evening’s opening slot to dancers whose work was postponed along with mid-September’s Dancenowfest 2001. One of his Ikuko dancers, Jimena Paz, presented her sprungredlobby, a solo she’d choreographed for Dancenow. She juxtaposed transfixed transits with fiercely detailed outbursts, as a Miles Davis organ rant scoured the most furious seven minutes of funk imaginable. It proved a timely debut for Paz’s provocative piece: though shock is a natural response to terrorist assault, there’s beauty in any day’s outrage, and witnessing Paz dance was a serious wake-up call.

Villanueva danced in two short pieces before the evening’s main event. For his solo, Sherry (coming home), he carved lighting movements with power and finesse at the edge of a cone of light, as a friend expropriated his answering machine in a torrent of hilarious self-involvement about being misused by a subletter. The piece concluded with Villanueva high kicking to Blondie’s “Hanging on the Telephone.”

The next piece, a duo spoof on dance class promos and spiritualistic bodywork, also ended with cheesy skipping to bouncy music. This tendency to devolve to mere entertainment detracted from Villanueva’s more vigorous resources: balletic rigor, gymnastic strength, and his irreverent humor.

Both skills and humor were abundant in Ikuko’s Alter Ego, as it slipped from laughs to daring to pathos with uncanny ease. The title character, played by actress Ikuko Akari, beamed or fretted her coy monologues, then joined up with (and ran into) her danced desires. The piece could be read as an evocation of the adage “Be mindful of what you wish for, you might just get it.” Petite Ikuko yearned to be tall with tits, and was joined by a dancer with both in a black bodysuit, who frightened her offstage with a lewdly flicking tongue before reiterating Ikuko’s comic turn on the balance beam (a stage length strip of red tape).

This Superbroad would get in a hair-pulling catfight, while Ikuko would romp with the sterling trio of dance muses before exhorting the audience with “You’re never gonna dance!” Not to mention the litany of desirable traits she sought (announced as personal ads), and an adagio synchronized to Ligeti’s music for what sounded like a celestial dental drill.

Villanueva and his performers sorted among these segments with haphazard fluidity. Odd, skilled and vulnerable, Ikuko found its fleeting core in moments of theatrical penetration. Paz was mesmerizing in a floor dance in front of a low fan, interspersing mermaid languor with hideous jerks as Kuok looked on, the soundtrack thinly humming a pop song (with which she’d opened the piece, glammed out in Tokyo chic). This solemn, shadowy sequence concluded with Ikuko’s voice-over repeating “She felt out of love again”: you get what she means, needs, and probably deserves, for better or for worse.

Enhanced from the 10 minute version shown at Fresh Tracks festival last year (reviewed in the May/June Rail), Ikuko is smart, loose and sports a wicked sort of joy. It deserves to finish fleshing itself out to evening length and stand on its own, and not just because it became difficult to distinguish between black outs that ended the program’s preliminary dances, and the blackouts and false endings which enliven Ikuko itself. Keep it up, Ikuko; you’re quirky and substantial at once, and having a weekly source of live laughs is a blessing, not only for these tough times. (Ikuko’s Alter Ego will resume its run at The Flea Theater; call 212.226.2407)

* * * * *

Jimena Paz opened the Friday night show-case of Dancenowfest 2001 (rescheduled into mid-October) with her solo sprungredlobby, a bloom like a boom. In the Flea’s narrow space, she had danced the piece with concentrated interiority. On the larger Joyce SoHo stage, Paz smoldered and burst like the Delphic Oracle possessing Emma Peel (or Lara Croft, for an updated allusion).

Paz’s roving transits unified the Joyce’s broad box and electrified its audience, as the music swirled and raged (sprungredlobby’s Miles soundtrack is titled “Rated X”, make no mistake). Determined, detached, explosive, she fixed the piece’s abstract drama with abrupt precision: her head and a hand hurled in the audience’s direction, her other hand tracing rapid filigrees while her leg sliced up in a backstepping numeral 4; lofty leg extensions when she faced downstage mirrored kicks she’s made while coolly facing forward. The solo’s single floor move of rippling harem arms was a delicious and short-lived oasis, then Paz was on her feet again, assertive, feral, commanding the dramatic space with challenging body language.

Two romances followed, balms after Paz’s red alert. The first was a trio to a Dusty Springfield song, the dancers sporty in white, moving sharply and comically, the audience laughing to their fillips and defections. A duo followed, the pair utilizing each other’s body and the rear wall in synchs that continued to be impressive but began to lose impact, as the piece accumulated these adroit moves rather than utilizing them in internal construction. One knew the final posture (the dancers knit in a convoluted woman-superior position) would be particularly impressive, but knew it for too long before it arrived.

Through the program, what was danced earnestly depended on its earnestness: an expressive, nature-esque solo by Elizabeth Higgins, performed by Ashley Searles; Jule Jo Ramirez, in a Lennon/McCartney vignette, danced stationary in shoes nailed to a plank that she concluded by stepping out of; Elke Rindfleisch’s supple and expansive movement in No Fear evaporated when she halted for a declamation of personal transparency within the air of existence.

The audience was told that Assumptions, a trio danced with vigor, was being danced in order to show that it was neither a dance nor a lot of other things, but was a prayer. Another trio, Fragments of a Dreamplay, was a sequence of mise en scènes (one performer’s dancing shoulders, her back to the audience; various interlockings of the trio on a beach) that gradually involved crystal pellets, dropped onto a prostrate dancer, or into open mouths, or plopping into a lap from drooping lips. The pellets were fascinating, and the mis en scenes were strikingly lit, but when the dancer who’d opened with her shoulders was involved in a rigorous trio, her flickering limberness made one want to see her get more spotlight for the exciting quality of her dance.

For In the Deep End, Rachel Cohen’s grand finale, the bright stage was packed with beaming bathing beauties, synchronizing circles then swimming upstage to a Loewe showtune. Graciously camp, it left everyone in stitches and finished the evening off with the equal and opposite verve to that with which Ms. Paz had opened the proceedings. Start and finish were dual programming coups for Dancenowfest directors Tamara Greenfield and Robin Staff, as they displayed the smorgasbord of downtown dance.

* * * * *

Liz Gerring inaugurated her midtown studio, Diapason, over November’s first weekend, presenting a new work, Sliding out of Reverse. In the prelude, Gerring soloed with firm figures in a Cunningham mode, witnessed by Philip Gardner who knelt along one wall. A duet ensued, and Gerring led a diagonal sequence with Gardner in tow, staunching her progress.

Gardner took a similar role behind each of the two dancers who joined him in Sliding’s fluctuating trio. Gerring’s advancing conjunctions of poses or figures are guileless, non-virtuosic movements that require exceptional physicality and precision to reach full impact. “Anti-rote” could be a way of describing the language, though when it was best realized it had to appear least sophisticated, and that’s no mean feat even for her technically able dancers. At once primal and indicating discretions of the future, they repeated backward and forward athletics, then the two women diversified a tandem passage while Gardner assumed his impassive, seated role.

Sliding limns creation, or perhaps that’s but an interpretation of its time-straddling atmosphere. On propagation: sexual tropes come abruptly in this abstract work, with Gardner on toes and heels of hands over one or the other female, or retreating having lifted Hope Mohr in a split on his chest that may (or may not) be a back-glance at the pas de deux in Balanchine’s Agon. Or it could be that Gerring’s work helps to locate, rather than placate, the viewer’s need for explanations ulterior to, and therefore distracting from, the dance itself.

The prelude’s video projection, by Ursula Scherrer, gained a fine melding of seared or rusted timbres, though it began with pale contrasts indistinguishable from Diapason’s long wall. Michael Schumacher’s music, played live during the performance from tapes the composer had made of other musicians (a fading drone, percussive sounds like pellets on a gong in a bunker), maintained a compelling distance from the dance, and added an aural entelechy that enhanced Gerring’s choreography, complementing yet startling it.

Gerring spoke of developing Sliding out of Reverse into an installation at Diapason (where Schumacher and Scherrer present their own work and curate exhibitions of other sound and video artists, info at 212.719.4393). That’s a promising proposition, having seen her multi-hour Inside at Trisha Brown’s studio some years ago, a persistent and affecting solo she danced to Schumacher’s eerie, ambling music.


Alan Lockwood


The Brooklyn Rail

JAN-FEB 2002

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