ZEPHYR DANCE ENSEMBLE
and JOEL HALL STUDENT DANCERS
at the Blue Rider Theatre
Jimi Hendrix always had a different program than other rock musicians in the 60s. While the Beatles were shaping the blues into classical dimensions and Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, and many others were giving the blues a hammering intensity, Hendrix was moving away from genre forms. Instead he used noise--feedback or the sound of a pick--to push toward concrete music; the howl of feedback was just as good as F sharp on a violin.
Interest in concrete music is also strong in contemporary classical music. So it's more natural than it might seem at first for the Kronos String Quartet to cover Hendrix's "Purple Haze." Choreographer Winifred Haun, recently of the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre, uses the quartet's music for Haze, performed by the Zephyr Dance Ensemble at the Blue Rider Theatre last weekend.
The Kronos Quartet camps up "Purple Haze" on a grand scale. The first section is Gregorian chant, for which Haun outfits the Zephyr dancers (Tammy Cheney, Michelle Kranicke, Margaret Reynolds, and Caroline Walsh) in monks' robes. They follow each other in a line, hunched over, mumbling prayers and stamping their feet. The monks bump into one another, take pratfalls, and even play leapfrog. The music changes to wind whistling, and as a dancer mimes closing the door a voice says: "Shut that door. It's freezing in here." Haun's comic business works well. As the "Purple Haze" theme comes in, the monks take off their robes, revealing themselves to be women in flesh-colored unitards; the tone shifts from comedy to camp sensuality. The dancing becomes very quick and physical, filled with leaps and attitude jumps. Haun's choreography is a bit beyond the Zephyr dancers' abilities, but its physicality is a satisfying expression of Hendrix's music.
Physicality is also the focus of Altered Egos by Keith Elliott, a dancer currently with Joseph Holmes. Although the plot is murky, a pistol shot that causes the music (by Georges Delerue, Beresford Romeo, Simon Law, and Paul Hooper) to shift from trilling electronic bird sounds to a driving rhythm seems crucial. The dancing involves fast-moving leaps, partnering, and lifts, and one woman falls to the floor when she's shot.
Michelle Kranicke's Men Don't Have Hips is a more satisfying piece: it uses text to establish a clear theme that's developed in the movement. Kranicke, Reynolds, and Walsh each walk out from behind one of three boxes painted with women's faces; the boxes resemble changing stalls at the beach. Each woman puts lipstick on, using the audience as her mirror. Then each talks. Walsh says, "Twice I thought I was in love. One of those times I was drunk." The other time she and the man were both just too busy. Reynolds talks about wanting to eat when she's alone and anxious. Kranicke says, "I want to call you and have every word come out in a nice, linear fashion, instead of sounding like a crazed grocery-store-novel heroine." These monologues, written by Kate Wrobel, establish the theme clearly, and Kranicke finds gestures, such as arms crossed tightly across the chest, that embody women's anxiety. The second section develops the themes; the movement includes wide hip circles that seem to emphasize that men have neither hips nor the fears that go with them.
Zephyr is a fairly new company working hard to find an identity, discovering good choreographers like Haun and starting to define a physically and technically demanding style of movement performed with speed. Its next few years may be rewarding to watch.
On the same program were six dances choreographed and performed by students of the Joel Hall Studio. Of course success for these students is a few years further off than for Zephyr. The dancing was generally good, but the choreography was spotty.
The choreographic highlights were Albert Williams's solo Lost Without You and his group piece Oxygen/ H2O. Williams creates generous movement in great dollops, and he has enough sense of dance structure to move his dances along. Lost Without You is set to gospel music by Walter Hawkins and Family, and is dedicated to a friend who recently died. Williams begins kneeling, as if in supplication, and ends kneeling, his hands raised in prayer. The movement in between has the intensity of sorrow. The gospel music is a perfect accompaniment.
Oxygen/H2O is a lengthy dance with a large cast (Bryan Burroughs, Sheridan Baily, Mishel Filisha, Donica Johnson, Donna Limper, Jacki Sinclair, and Hope Sullivan). In the third and final section, Williams breaks the dancers into three groups, each of which performs a separate routine. A tricky sequence of barrel turns and leaps was splendidly performed by one of the groups.
The most visually striking piece was Kirby Reed's Aftermath. Four men are bathed in red light; two of them (Darnell Phifer and Leivery Van Williams) have shaved heads and wear bright red trunks and torn red shirts, while the other two (Darryl Howard and Burroughs) wear red pants and necklaces with a male symbol over their bare chests. As the men make strange wavy motions with their arms, a woman (Erika Glass) wearing a red unitard slides sensuously among them. The intended effect seems to have been postnuclear devastation, which the strange, out-of-sync movement portrays but doesn't develop.
Kirby's other two dances, Beginnings and Ororo (Beauty), are duets marred by an emphasis on shapes rather than movement. Movement is dynamic; a sequence of shapes is not. Both duets were danced well and sensuously by Vanassa Truvillion and Howard.
Deanna Cato's Infinity, also a romantic duet, with Truvillion and Merrick Mitchell, uses slow shifts of weight reminiscent of contact improvisation. The entire dance was performed at the same slow tempo; a change in tempo or movement quality would have improved it.