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Dance COLEctive

at Link's Hall, September 27-29

By Mitchell Kupferberg

Margi Cole calls the Dance COLEctive, her new company, a cooperative venture of new and emerging choreographers under her informal artistic direction. Mixing and matching choreographers as needed for each concert, she intends to foster a spirit of creative collaboration among the dancers and choreographers of an ever-changing troupe.

The friendly confines of Link's Hall were an ideal venue for the group's debut concert, which relied exclusively on duets to weave a thought-provoking collage of meditations on the themes of voyeurism, self-disclosure, and intimacy. The tight spacing and sparse conditions brought the audience almost eyeball to eyeball with the dancers, as if the participants were invited to reflect, even before the performance, on the thresholds of feeling that must be crossed before taking the stage and on how close that threshold is for each of us. In this context the performance became a metaphor for the degrees of emotional reality, relatedness, and intimacy available to each of us on the public and private stages of our lives.

The strength of these five duets was the consistency of vision exhibited by the four current choreographers--Cole, Dardi McGinley Gallivan, Colleen Halloran, and Douglas E. Woods. Their vision is humanistic, emotional, and empathic. It's also frankly optimistic, even buoyantly celebratory.

In Cole's clever The Naked Truth, dancers Edna Radnik and Laurel Moore begin by sitting on the floor naked to the waist, their backs to the audience. Looking demurely around, they recite the opening lines to a poem that wittily details the disproportionate impact of clothing on perception, including self-perception. Then they cover up, stand up, and don thigh-length smocks made of thick sheets of clear plastic. A swirl of mutual lifts, runs, and bent-kneed slides on the floor to the beat of a synthesized jazz-funk-blues rhythm evolves into a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of a 90s postpunk go-go-girl routine incorporating hints of the tango and cancan as well as occasional pauses to continue their recitation of the poem. "Then there are those who come along / And say that beauty is only skin deep," they intone in synchronized deadpan. "Those are the ones who are allowed / The privilege of a peep." With that the dancers bend forward from the waist and look between their legs as the startled audience examines their suddenly elevated behinds.

This was not pornography--the dancers were wearing shorts--but it was humorous, revealing the essence of Cole's vision. Caught up in the satire, the pastiche, and the dancers' free-spirited execution, the audience laughed, in effect becoming part of the performance by consenting (did we have a choice?) to being seen in the act of seeing. A supercilious moment of eye contact between the dancers and audience comically highlighted the full impact of the wanted and the unwanted gaze.

Although The Naked Truth could easily be interpreted as a feminist critique of looking--and Pushing In, the closing duet, is billed as a "simplistic look at how society treats women"--the concert's portrayal of the hazards of voyeurism and the morally ambiguous power of seeing seemed to transcend gender issues. The motif of the sought and unsought gaze and its impact on both viewer and viewed--represented interchangeably as male and female--came up again and again. In Halloran's Caught, Cole and Krenly Guzman cannot at first meet each other's eyes. Instead they circle and evade each other until Cole covers the stage in a long run and leaps sideways into Guzman, who catches her in a neat package against his chest. Cole's technique and accuracy are showcased in a series of athletic, mercurial exchanges with Guzman in which they charge and slide over, around, and under each other in a whirlwind of rolls and counter-rolls. The light-footed Guzman distinguishes himself with a series of running leaps and spirals that contrast elegantly with Cole's muscular, more earthbound moves.

The potency of sight (for good and evil) is expressed once again in Woods's A Duet for a Peach, a Blindfold and Two Persons. Woods opens the piece by gripping Tracee Westmoreland's wrist and walking backward, a black blindfold knotted over his eyes. Alternating roles, first one, then the other takes the lead as they revolve slowly around each other and across the stage. As if to emphasize the felt but incompletely seen bond between them, the dancers alternately shape each other's motions by lightly cupping and pushing the other's head, throat, wrist, hip, or back as they navigate together the recesses of the performance space. Westmoreland presses a peach into Woods's mouth, and then, gazing directly at the audience, she gently rolls the bitten fruit toward the front row. This gesture lends texture and dimension to the dancers' mutual jockeying, which distances them from each other and from us, suggesting a sensual but ephemeral bond between Westmoreland, Woods, and the audience.

What follows may be the most explicit and vivid statement about vision in the concert. After a flurry of slides and rolls on the floor, the dancers come to a tentative halt and Westmoreland deliberately removes Woods's blindfold. The immediate impact is shock, confusion, and symbolic death. This is followed by a brief "rebirth" in which the dancers leap freely and fluidly across the stage, each shadowing the other. The piece ends with both sliding to a seated stop, their backs to the audience. Slumping backward on the palms of their hands, they gaze in horror at their own shadows starkly outlined on the back wall.

As in Cole's Naked Truth, the dancers' act of looking has a transformative effect on both themselves and the audience. In Duet for a Peach, Woods's final image creates an intriguing hierarchy of illusion (or is it embodiment?) extending from the shadows flickering against the back wall of the theater and passing through the bodies of the dancers to the audience itself.

Two other pieces complete the program. Gallivan's Recant (performed by Gallivan and Cole) opens the concert, and Halloran's Pushing In (also performed by Gallivan and Cole) closes it. Both are harmonious, shrewdly balanced pieces made delightful to watch by the dancers' artistry: Gallivan and Cole seem ideally suited to perform together. As in Duet for a Peach, Recant begins with one dancer setting the other into motion with a gentle push, a motif that's continued in Pushing In as each dancer alternately helps the other to begin or complete a roll or turn with a timely touch. Both Recant and Pushing In feature sequences in which one dancer leaps over the other, who seems to hug the floor while moving deftly across it. At one point in Recant, Cole stops aggressively in front of Gallivan as if demanding to be seen before spinning away. And in Pushing In, Gallivan transitions out of a sequence of rolls by squatting meditatively on Cole's reclining hip, precisely mirroring Cole's earlier reflection while seated on Gallivan's hip in Recant. These lyrical, seductively ambiguous duets are enriched by intermittent musical interludes. Lou Harrison's questioning, melancholy violin composition pervades Recant, while the energizing, synthesized drumbeat of Oval: systemische provides a scintillating rhythmic backdrop for Pushing In.

In keeping with the optimistic nature of the current Dance COLEctive, this concert began in the minor key of Recant but closed with the more upbeat and vivacious Pushing In. Perhaps this means Cole and her cohort will continue to explore the interior spaces to which their intuition has drawn them and do more than merely peek at the dark and luminous secrets of the human heart, bringing us news of the unexpected connections between our outer and our inner "eyes," our shadows and our acts, our willed and unwilled seeking that shades, deliberately or not, into disclosure, intimacy, and its attendant intrusions.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Dance COLEctive photo.

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