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    Photo by Angela Jimenez

    The drama all around us

    Melissa Briggs captures the solemn intensity of New York life and beyond in "citySTORY", a thought-provoking program of poignant dance.


    The vast metropolis of New York City has consistently proven fertile ground for great art. From anonymous bohemian enclaves to elaborate star-studded openings, New York attracts creative talent with a magnetism that is unequalled anywhere else in the US, if not the world. It's not surprising therefore that the intense characteristics that distinguish New York life would be inspiration for many such artists. Choreographer Melissa Briggs is one of this breed as she casts her gripping new "citySTORY" into the eclectic trove of urban expressionism.

    Choreography by: Melissa Briggs.
    Dancers: John Beasant III, Kelly Bartnik, Donna Costello, Stephanie Liapis, Toni Melaas, Mindy Nelson, Katie Swords, Molly Wilson.
    Merce Cunningham Studio
    55 Bethune Street, 11th Fl
    May 2-4, 2003

    Before revealing her latest endeavor, however, Ms. Briggs treated the audience to three thoughtful compositions. "Trio part 1" features Toni Melaas, Mindy Nelson and Molly Wilson in an eloquent, cyclical journey of life, death and rebirth. Set to Bach's Violin Partida No. 2 in D Minor, the sophisticated score caught moments of gestural clarity then propelled the dancers like pollen through the air, stopping and starting with the flow of the wind. "Armistice", poignantly performed by Mindy Nelson and John Beasant III, captures the strained reverberations of a couple at a crossroads. Based on a scene from Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead", Ms. Briggs crafts a theatrically powerful exchange that alludes to tortured emotional depths, the context for which remains ambiguous.

    Four women slowly rocking in mesmerizing unison is the opening image of "Epilogue". Uniformly adorned in creamy, lace-lined dresses, Melaas, Nelson, Stephanie Liapis & Katie Swords meander through an eerie, antique dusk in search of elusive solace. Once again solemn in tone, Ms. Briggs has a penchant for depicting troubled souls who stumble into pregnant pauses, pauses that in turn lure the audience into the story. The pull is almost irresistible, the need to fill the empty spaces with emotion, the temptation to project one's own demons and let them be swept away by the dance. This freeze-frame effect, however, becomes predictable after a while and the viewer's captivation lessons as the choreographic device becomes recognizable.

    Photo by Angela Jimenez  
    The device appears yet again and very prominently in "citySTORY" but here, Ms. Briggs takes her vision a step further. She orchestrates a mix of elements so engaging that they transcend themselves individually toward the grander scope of the piece.

    There is a certain magic that occurs when live music accompanies live performance. The synthesis of two dynamic energies in the same place and the same time, intimately connected, can be like a shot of adrenaline creating heightened sensations, heightened perceptions. This electricity was abundant from the first note stuck by the Cat Martino Band who played their original compositions live for "citySTORY". Amplified to gritty perfection, the lead singer's earnest voice cascaded over the stage immediately locking any stray audience focus into rapt attention.

    Melaas, Nelson, Kelly Bartnik & Donna Costello appear as urban vampires in macabre attire with blackened eyes, ready to tackle the world. Alternately stilted and aggressive, the dancers weave amidst the shadows and each other, immersed in the intensity of their existence. A square of light transforms into a boxing ring containing a brutal clash between Costello & Bartnik. Their desperate, mosh-pit struggle for solitude betrays an inward ache for connection. A continuous, underlying base drone creates an ominous, almost surreal quality that pervades the piece. Thoroughly committed, the dancers are grounded and focused with a concentration that is hauntingly familiar. With the utmost care, the dancers unzip bossom pouches and extract something delicate, something precious, something totally alive. Almost without pause, they pass around their beating hearts in a touching exchange of shared pain, shared struggle, shared hope.

    MAY 6, 2003

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