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      Monica Bill Barnes in Dancenow / NYC 2003
      Monica Bill Barnes
    Good things in small packages

    Crammed into the small stage at Joe's Pub, the pieces in one of the Dancenow opening events gain a tense intimacy.


    Joe's Pub is not normally a dance venue. Its tiny stage looks full with three people, so Friday night's two sessions of Dancenow made great entertainment out of solos and duets.

    The first session, hosted by Clare Byrne and Nicholas Leichter, was a masterfully scheduled group of performances, strong throughout. Kudos also go to artistic directors Tamara Greenfield and Robin Staff and managing director Kara Tatelbaum.

    DANCENOW / NYC 2003
    Choreography by: Clare Byrne & Nicholas Leichter, Monica Bill Barnes, Faye Driscoll, David Neumann, Amos Pinhasi Dances, Jimena Paz, Portables/Claire Porter, and ROT8 Dance/Romy Reading & Eryc Taylor.

    Related links: Official site
    Leichter opened the show with a solo to music by Aretha Franklin, with liquid movement in shades of purple and plum. Leichter and Byrne then performed part of their duet "Coalesce," which took on an edgier feel of tense intimacy in the very tight space. The acoustic bass accompaniment by John Sullivan was ideal in Joe's Pub, especially in the pool of deep blue light that lighting designer Kevin Hardy bathed him.

    Romy Reading and Eryc Taylor, who had been vamping up the audience before the show began in matching big black wigs and little black tunics, then peformed "Dirty Laundry." Their Bride of Frankenstein look combined with stiff, campy movement entwined arm in arm much of the time gave the piece a darkly humorous quality that throbbed on to the end with help from music by White Stripes.

    In a completely different flavor, Monica Bill Barnes performed her mesmerizingly wacky solo "Once I was in a Beauty Contest but My Strap Broke." Barnes excels at physical, comic dancing, evoking silent film comedians with coy primping, dramatic pauses and cartoon running, moving supplely from silly to grand.

      Jimena Paz took strangely funny up a notch with "Eau de Toilette," which starts with a French porno noir character on the phone.
    Jimena Paz took strangely funny up a notch with "Eau de Toilette," danced by Pascale Wettstein and Elena Demianenko and Ms. Paz, who opened the piece with a French porno noir character on the phone, while a yellow- and a blue-dressed dancer moved smoothly and violently in unison and not. With the program listing "Exchangeable characters" of Jennifer Jones, Mme. Madame and Interpreter, seemingly all embodied in the M.C./phone character, this was a tough piece to follow but a riot to watch.

    Speaking of which, who knew a poetry reading by a dancer could be hilarious? Claire Porter had people rolling laughing with "Namely Muscles," her farcical ode to various muscles of the body, with each honoree given its own poem. The psoas muscle became the "tender bender," "faschia" was shouted like some fascist exclamation each time it appeared in its own poem, and the diaphragm poem was almost undecipherable because, of course, her diaphragm was violently sucking in and expelling air. The poems were funny enough on their own, but Porter's physical performance and mock-intellectual delivery made them superlative.

    Another surprise performance was David Neumann's dance impersonation of Tom Waits, to Waits' song entitled "Step Right Up," sung by or about the archetype of all snake-oil salesmen / matchstick men. Dancers embodying musicians seems to be a new and fruitful trend, and Neumann's uncanny channeling of Waits and his song did not disappoint.

    Faye Driscoll's stark but captivating presence in "Float and Break" was seriousness after so much levity, an almost necessary break to bring the audience down to earth for a bit.

    But next, what better place to twist and parody burlesque and exotic dancing than the cabaret setting of Joe's Pub? Sara Hook gave a horribly disturbed but happy performance in "Valeska's Vitriol," alternately messy and coy, dancing "sexy" in a frumpy dress. A couple of audience member victims were brought onstage for special attention, with the lap dance recipient treated to a smell-my-finger moment, basically turning any porn aesthetic on its head.

    Kuan Hui Chew and Ying-Ying Shiau gave surprising depth to Amos Pinhasi's usually simply silly "In the Mood for Love," a determinedly corny piece filled with rose petals — on stage, in costumes, being eaten, being thrown into the audience. After the two genuinely Chinese dancers finished strong solos, Pinhasi entered to lip-synch flamboyantly in Chinese and it almost seemed right.

    Finally, to top off a superb session, Clare Byrne danced the same solo Nicholas Leichter opened the show with, in the same costume, lighting and music but with a Byrne touch.

    The second session, hosted by Larry Keigwin and Nicole Wolcott, was also very strong (thanks, Kara), but for brevity's sake, the one piece that really stood out was the demented performance art of Doctor Donut, another undocumented surprise entry, somehow fitting for a terrific Dancenow/NYC evening.

    SEPTEMBER 9, 2003

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