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Fluid Measure Performance Company




at Link's Hall

March 6-8 and 13-15

In Projection, the first piece in Fluid Measure's evening of five new works at Link's Hall, Donna Mandel at times seems to be performing her own personal ritual for her father, Edward Mandel. I felt a bit like a voyeur--in a foreign land where they speak a language I've heard only once before, in a dream maybe.

Projection opens with Mandel and her father watching eight-millimeter black-and-white home movies of themselves. The Mandels have a context for what they see: a newborn Donna in her father's arms, Donna as a toddler bouncing in a swing, Donna at seven or so enthusiastically performing a "ballet" on the lawn furniture, Dad giving his daughter a peck on the cheek. The movies are interesting because they're archetypically American--they could have been taken by anyone's parents, mine included.

But here the two people onstage are the two people in the movies. They're in a very closed, personal world. Donna begins dancing for her father--a continuation of what she did in the movie, but better because now she's a professional dancer. And that seems to be what she's trying to tell her dad--that she's better now, no longer the little girl flailing around in the backyard. Gracefully and maturely she dances with her best technique, every now and then looking to her father for some form of recognition, a sign of approval. He sits with his back to the audience, and there's no telling what he feels.

Their relationship becomes more complicated when he shows up dancing in another movie projected--larger than life--on the back wall. He moves gracefully and knowledgeably, the image looming over his daughter, who stands in front and tries to imitate his every movement. Again, she seems to try to get his approval, only now he seems more distant. Absorbed in his own movements, locked into the film, he doesn't even notice her.

In one of the movements both repeat throughout the piece, they releve to half toe, lift their elbows, and flutter their hands above their shoulders. I don't know what makes it so poignant--maybe it seems something they both remember from her childhood, a little girl's idea of what dancing is.

At the end the film stops and Donna Mandel is alone in a dim yellow light at the side of the stage. She releves to half toe, lifts her elbow, and flutters her hands. But this time she's studying her hands as if trying to understand something. The lights go out. For a moment the audience seems to understand, but as in a dream, that moment flickers and then is gone.

Fluid Measure has a talent for ending on a note that makes the audience let out a surprised and satisfied "hmm." This happened three times that night, at the close of Projection, Out of the Woods, and If You Do. These pieces have different tones and work with different ideas, but Fluid Measure members Mandel, Kathleen Maltese, and Patricia Pelletier all draw the audience into the psychology of their subjects, perform some mental and physical gymnastics there, and arrive at a surprising but somehow fitting conclusion.

Out of the Woods is an elaborate Jungian melange of two stories, deftly told by Pelletier using minimal movements and a rich vocabulary. One is a Kwakiutl myth about a girl walking through the forest who falls under a spell cast by the animal spirits. She sees a handsome man, who is really a bear in disguise, falls in love, marries him, and gives birth to twins. Pelletier weaves this myth into a story of a girl born into a large, oppressive Catholic family. Angry at her father, she throws sugar bowls across the dinner table and runs away, into the woods. Once there she falls under a spell, marries the bear-man, and forgets her family and the angst she'd felt over her blooming sexuality.

Pelletier runs through a list of the girl's forgotten experiences--her horror at the discovery of her first pubic hair and the ensuing developments and reactions. She shaves her whole body in the hope of stopping her pubic hair from growing, until one day, in the locker room at the Y, she notices women with hair on their breasts, curling up their stomachs to their navels, and under their arms. Feeling less freakish, she vows to let her hair grow again.

At this point the past and the present merge, illogically but with complete credibility. Her vow to let her hair grow breaks the spell cast on her in the woods, and she discovers that her husband, she herself, and her children are all bears. Her memory returns. The girl realizes how much she's like her mother and decides "to come clean with this bear thing." The story continues in a fantastical way that conjures up our most uncomfortable subconscious ideas and places them before us like a piece of birthday cake.

The only disappointment of the evening is Kathleen Maltese's solo Open Mind, danced before a backdrop of Eileen Ryan's slides taken at Loop construction sites. A quote from Goethe appears in the program: "Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness." There's an emptiness to Maltese's movements--the only sounds are her breathing and the slides clicking into place. It seems a deliberately unfinished dance performed in front of unfinished constructions, and I believe Maltese improvised much of it. Though it's an interesting experiment in determination and effectiveness, in contrast to the others Open Mind came up emotionally dry.

If You Do, choreographed and performed by Maltese and Mandel, is an amusing study of ensemble choreography and competition. Fluid Measure often works collaboratively, creating dances out of contact improvisation. If You Do opens with Maltese and Mandel in a face-off, slowly poking each other with the intensity of duelists. This evolves into a sort of sumo-wrestling weight sharing, though neither one seems to really want to share. They break apart and dance to bouncy electric music by Lauren Weinger, each going in her own direction, looking at each other as if to say "I'm doing this. What are you doing?" They refuse to cooperate--one woman almost gets knocked down when the other swings her leg and whacks her in the chest. The piece ends when they look at each other and discover, to their horror, that they're both lifting their legs in the same arabesque.

The evening closes with Escape Velocity, a slightly light, slightly serious piece by Maltese, Mandel, and Pelletier. The three rock from side to side on half toe, legs apart, arms sticking stiffly out at their sides, staring ahead with complete seriousness. One stops, leans forward, and loses her balance, and the others run to prop her up. A few beats later these two fall against each other, then slide to the ground in exhaustion. Then they all begin rocking again. "We're wavering here," one announces. "We're not sure where we stand," says another. "Would you just check off the appropriate box?"

They run through their list of uncertainties: "We're wavering over our lives. Our children. Some of them aren't even born. Income under $20,000. Homosexuality." They let out a collective harmonized "Aah" and fall to the ground. The wavering begins again but on a different level. They freeze in pensive positions, lying on their backs with their knees held to their chests or sitting with their legs folded to the side, resting on one hand, staring at the ground. They elaborate on their anxieties, which get pretty humorous in their absurdity.

At the end Pelletier walks away from the others, who are balancing off each other in a casual weight-sharing exercise. "What am I supposed to be doing? Is there something I'm supposed to be forgetting? The kids?" She rambles on. The other two continue moving, one on all fours and the other leaning over her sideways with one arm sticking up in the air. "Patricia, this," one of them says. The arm up is an awkward, childlike motion, deliberately unspectacular. Pelletier looks, not understanding. "This," and she repeats the movement.

Pelletier understands and joins the dance. The lights dim. It could have been a funny moment, a clever moment, or one that makes you go "hmm." Instead it was a bit warm and gushy. After an impressive evening of performance it's not necessary to reiterate that performing together is what Fluid Measure does best.

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