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What's My Line?

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ZEPHYR DANCE ENSEMBLE

and CONVERGENCE DANCERS AND MUSICIANS
at Wilbur Wright College, October 29 and 30

When I look at a dance, I don't ask myself whether I liked it or whether it was good. Instead I imagine walking up to the choreographer and asking, "Who are you? What are you doing about it?"

In my imagination Convergence artistic director Janaea Rose Lyn answers, "I have a new idea about how dance and music should relate, and I've been putting my idea into practice for six years." Zephyr artistic director Michelle Kranicke looks at the ground for a minute and then mumbles, "I'm a choreographer and a woman. It may not be unique, but it's who I am." And Peter Carpenter says, "I'm a gay man in the age of AIDS. I'm going to show straights my anger and show them that men can love one another."

Lyn's idea is to put musicians onstage and have them interact with the dancers--not exactly original, but her classically trained company, Convergence Dancers and Musicians, is a pleasure to watch when they have good pieces to perform. Lyn's idea can be taken too literally, however, as Gray Veredon does in You Are the Music While the Music Lasts. Each dancer embodies an instrument: she may tuck herself between the legs of a cellist, hiding behind his cello, or carry the violinist as he plays. These are clever ideas, but Veredon doesn't develop them. Each section turns into noodling, both musically and choreographically, and then is abruptly cut off. Only an ensemble section at the end shows what could have been achieved, but it too is suddenly cut short.

Satan in Goray, created by Polish Dance Theatre, is a better piece. It barrels through its story, based on the Isaac Bashevis Singer novel of the same name, about Satan seducing a woman in a Polish shtetl. The dance takes us through all the steps: the woman's squeezing desire when Satan is near, her revulsion the next morning, her neighbors' fears of succumbing to desire themselves, and Satan's eventual victory. Choreographer Ewa Wycichowska's movement is telegraphically simple yet still danced rather than mimed; desire is shown as a sudden contraction of the gut with clenched fists and taut neck tendons. Krzysztof Knittel's music is excellent, driving the action forward without becoming a simple sound track. The dance's fearful fascination with sex seems characteristic of a repressive society, marking this piece as Polish rather than American, as does the expressionistic stage design of Roman Wozniak. The dancers and musicians perform well; I swear I could see Satan's eyes glittering.

Kranicke is more tentative about being a choreographer than Lyn; as Zephyr Dance Ensemble's artistic director, she has commissioned as many dances by other choreographers as she's made herself. With her two newest pieces, Kranicke seems to be getting a handle on her identity. The entertaining The State of the Art is about being a choreographer. It starts with a voice-over, reading from a survey of choreographers done by the NEA: the average income from choreography is $7,000 a year, for example, but the average annual expenditure on choreographic projects is $13,000; it's no surprise that 80 percent of choreographers have other jobs. As the survey is read, five women dancers fight over three chairs, the sitting women snapping their fingers as if summoning a waitress. In the next section, a voice-over describes several nightmares of waitressing, including having to move between tables in a gondola rowed by a nasty gondolier. In the next section the snapping fingers become a movement motif: one dancer enters crawling on her knees, slapping the floor and her chest. As each dancer enters at a different time, the slapping becomes a rhythmic fugue for a few moments. All the dancing was strong; the movement is rounded shapes often leading into turns.

Kranicke's Des Femmes is a more musical piece, set to the tribal sound of hard-edged female voices, the Finnish folk group Varttina. We first see three women dancers in silhouette against a green-lit backdrop, one of many fine moments in Charlotte Rathke's lighting design. The restless movement of the first section, a trio, in which movement motifs are passed quickly from dancer to dancer, crystallizes in the second-section duet, which shows friendship between women in the most structurally elegant form I've seen. At first Jill Dema and Ceci Fano don't seem to be paying attention to each other, then one starts to echo the movement of the other but puts a new spin on the movement, making it a new thing; it was like watching two women talking who are just getting to know each other. The dancers touch briefly, then go on with their dance conversation, imperceptibly falling into unison. A solo in which Caroline Walsh runs her hands all over herself seems to be about female sexuality, but the clearest statement of that theme is in one of the final images. Fano is center stage with her legs spread in second position--the "spread eagle" position that many women dancers hate. But Fano has one leg bent, with her hand resting lazily on it; she is sexy without being a sex object--forthright and fertile.

LOVE ME, LOVE MY HEAD: AN EVENING OF DANCES BY PETER CARPENTER

at Link's Hall, October 28-30

One of Peter Carpenter's dances is also about femininity, as a gay man sees it. In Three Days and Twenty-Five Years After Stonewall he removes his orange mechanic's coverall and backward baseball cap to reveal a lemon yellow evening dress and sheer black veil. Femininity seems to be an ideal for Carpenter, a heaven he will never reach.

Carpenter describes the hell in which he actually lives in two dances built around blisteringly angry political speeches. In the speech in When I Say That I'm Queer Does It Frighten You?, from David Wojnarowicz's Close to the Knives, a man discovers that he's HIV-positive and fantasizes about dipping a blow dart in his infected blood and shooting it into the exposed necks of politicians. The screaming text in Amen Baby, from an anonymous pamphlet, directs straights not to show any more baby pictures around until TV commercials show gay couples shopping at the supermarket. Both dances are effective settings of powerful speeches.

Carpenter's other dances are not as effective. Fire in the Center of Your Name seems to start with the same political issues but meanders away from them. Symmetry Over Time, a new version of a student dance, is a hash that has no discernible themes. He Thought He Saw the Man Smile, a movement piece for five men who aren't dancers, goes on too long and doesn't give many clues about its purpose, though Jeb Bishop's improvised sound collage is a pleasure. The Shaman Slips is a mysterious duet with text about the urgent need that leads to addictions; its motif is Carpenter walking slowly across the room, on tiptoe or on collapsing feet, with his arms slowly flailing. Oh Mary!, shown in three parts, is a spoof of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in which Mary finds her one true love: a man in a see-through nightie, black fishnet stockings, bikini underwear, and Elvis glasses. Carpenter's dancing has been engaging in other works I've seen, but these pieces have too many undigested ideas.

Identity is a mysterious force, sort of a modern version of fate. Some people, like Carpenter, have their identities thrust on them because they're members of a pariah group. Others, like Lyn, choose their identities and live them out. People like Kranicke discover their identities slowly, filling in the details as they grow older.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Mark Ferri, Suz Szucs.

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