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Kay Wendt LaSota

and Christy Munch

at Link's Hall, June 17-19

I like to watch dance partly because I like to watch people, and I understand people best when I see them move. Performances give me license to stare. As in any form of people watching, the attraction is difference, so I was grateful for the contrasts between Kay Wendt LaSota and Christy Munch in their joint show at Link's Hall. LaSota's like a collage artist, someone who uses found objects and combines them in her own way, while Munch is more the traditional painter, the artist who wants to communicate her own vision in every detail.

Their differences were distilled in two unrelated solos they performed simultaneously, I Don't Want to Fall on My Head Anymore: each does her own thing in her own little square onstage for about two minutes while Jefferson Airplane's "Embryonic Journey" plays. Munch's square, marked with tape in an upstage corner, sets her apart from the audience and focuses our attention on her: it's like the frame around a painting. The lighting, her costume, and her careful opening pose--all curves and counterbalances--establish that she is the art. When she moves, her undulations and retreats are the meaning. LaSota is closer to the audience, in a downstage corner marked by a cloth on the floor, and she's not the only thing in her square: she crouches behind a box and manipulates paper, fire, little plastic figures, like Mr. Wizard demonstrating a science project or the unmoved mover at work. There's something unmediated and matter-of-fact about her "performance," which focuses on the world outside herself.

LaSota's 6 Men, a 1992 dance reworked for this concert, reminds me of a piece of clothing worn inside out, displaying its origins, its structure, its seams and transitions. In the program LaSota credits the cast's contributions to the movement, and we can see that in the dance. The men come out one by one and essentially introduce themselves in short, odd, telling movement phrases: sliding into a shape on the floor, then flipping; wiggling into a crouch, then jumping; spinning on the butt, then bowing low; swinging the arms with a mock bashful grin. LaSota combines and intercuts these phrases later, in various permutations done by all six men; they also form a chain gang, and they play Duck, Duck, Goose. If 6 Men has a meaning, I'd say it's about men's contradictory impulses toward solidarity and independence--but the fun lies in the simple but varied structure and in watching six often untrained but musical and inventive male dancers: good people watching.

6 Men ends with five of the men manipulating the sixth through the dance's movement motifs, pulling back his head for a dive into the floor, swinging his arms for him, lifting him into a "jump." Was this help or coercion? I couldn't decide, but that ambiguity only enriches the dance, which begins and proceeds playfully, then takes a sudden turn into territory both brutal and tender.

LaSota's new piece, Floating Cage, also focuses on bodily manipulation, and with the same often creepy results. Bryan Saner and LaSota enter through the audience, holding Cynthia Reid by the arms. She struggles as they wrestle her, but they hold her down; she finally rests quietly on her back. I couldn't get it out of my head that Saner and LaSota were parents and Reid their only child, whom they coerced or ignored at their pleasure. Maybe, maybe not. What's clear is the unthinking collusion between the couple and their matter-of-fact control over a third person.

The movement throughout is plain, everyday stuff: runs, cartwheels, walks, somersaults, crawls. There's no music, until LaSota plays a few bars of "Shall We Gather at the River?" on a piano at the end. And she clearly encourages undancerly performance, a 60s kind of focus on merely completing movement tasks (she and Saner--both former members of the archly naive Sock Monkeys, now defunct--have this style in their bones). Such straightforward choreography and performance give the impression that we're seeing real people doing real things, not dancers in choreographed movement. With LaSota, who makes no bones about relying on her dancers' input, I think that impression is true. When Saner cups his hand, looks at it, looks at us, and draws it passionately around his head, we know that what we're seeing is him. That kind of directness and immediacy fuels the emotional fires, which in Floating Cage are considerable. When Saner folds Reid into his body and rolls with her, we not only see their reconciliation, but feel it.

Watching Munch's dances, we feel her controlling hand, we feel that her dancers are her instruments just as her own body is her medium. Fortunately she's a person of intelligence and wit, someone we're happy to have as our guide.

She's also a person who ranges easily from silliness to tragedy. Her new duet, For Penelope, and new sextet, Hey!, are both short, sweet jokes bolstered by Munch's inventive costumes and her magpie ability to snatch and transform movement. To my taste, the piece she did for the Zephyr Dance Ensemble in 1993, Fit to Be Tied, is a better, more sustained, gentler joke, though it shows the same wry, riotous sense of humor, the same ironic twists on familiar movement. Munch's melancholic 1993 quartet Hot Dry Blue, with a text about the difficulties of fitting in and songs by Meredith Monk, held my interest more than it did the first time I saw it--I was drawn in by the women's passionate partnering, particularly the abandoned way they dropped into each other's arms. Munch uses light-handed repetitions to create meaning: a line of women holding hands bursts apart twice before finally, at the end, managing to pull together and stay together.

There's also a line of four women in the foreground of Munch's new septet, Landscape of Destruction, but they're lying on their sides or face down, wrists draped over ankles, to form a chain of pretty, dead flowers. If this dance is tragic--and Munch says it was inspired by Lanford Wilson's Balm in Gilead--then it's an impersonal urban tragedy in which nothing definitive happens and people come together only to part. There's something both tough and timid about this world, in which the women might lounge off to the side like bored hookers watching the action or cross their arms protectively over their middles or hold them overhead as if warding off some threat from above. David Pavkovic's subtle sound score is filled with far-off jets, distant conversations, muffled traffic noise: the insistent backdrop of city noises. Painting a bleak world that's intense despite its anomie, Munch both recalls and comments on the real world: I saw in her work, as in LaSota's, art, artist, and world in one.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yony Cifani.

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