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      Dura Mater
      Photo by Ellen Crane
    For better or for worse

    Dura Mater's ten-year anniversary gala showcases the good and the less-so of Kriota Willberg's repertory.


    After the fight, this reviewer's scorecard reads: Eastern European dances — good; comic interviews — bad. Kriota Willberg used this 10th anniversary celebration performance to show why she has made it ten years in NYC making dances and also possibly why she hasn't gotten much further. The evening's several high points were unfortunately pulled down by too many dull or insufficient moments, leaving the viewer feeling full from plain mashed potatos rather than some of the delicious dressing or piquant cranberry sauce he'd tasted earlier. The entire audience actually was offered tiramisu after the performance, payoff for the interviews.

    Choreography by: Kriota Willberg.
    Dancers: Julie Betts, Beth Simons, Katya Vasilaky, Kriota Willberg, Kindra Windish, with guests Katie Diamond, Diane Dittrick, Nuria Divi, Elena Lopez Sans, Maja Lorkovic, Daniela Rapp, James Urbaniak, Katrina van Zee, Sophie Weber .
    The evening began with an 'Inside the Actors' Studio'-type interview of Willberg, conducted gamely by James Urbaniak, which was a strange combination of reading-lines-from-a-teleprompter, ultra-informational responses and the type of deadpan "humorous" exchanges that work for Bebe Neuwirth on Cheers but fell flat for Willberg on stage. Later variations of this interview between pieces with other dancers in the company, with the winsome exception of Julie Betts', didn't advance the performance either and pulled any choreographic momentum to a stop.

    However, first came the excellent "Folkdance" and "Khlysty Orgy," a two-in-one piece of strong choreography inspired by Eastern European dance, costume and story, backed by the energized live music of The Wharton Tiers Ensemble and danced with gusto by Julie Betts, Beth Simons, Katya Vasilaky and Kindra Windish. Think peasant women stomping and spinning to hard-rocking dissonant music with a subtle Batman-Gunn theme (Folkdance) devolving into a lose-the-dresses orgy of choreographic debauchery (Khlysty Orgy from the full-length "I, Rasputin" of 2000).

      "...take supplies from the dead and wounded, amputate...clean that saw..."
    Willberg's "Doggie Style" was a cute and fairly unexpected "doggie" striptease with cabaret-style dancing over a chair and character-specific prosthetics, light but satisfying.

    "Plasticine Adolescent" was an odd '80s-music-video solo with Vasilaky wrapped in an electrical tape/spider web costume, combining Fosse and ballet in an awkward and precious style, performed to music by Aphex Twin.

    "Four Cygs" (as in swans) flew back to Eastern Europe in white dresses, accompanied by softly chugging music by Scott Westerfeld, danced beautifully by Betts, Simons, Willberg and Windish. This, too, was a transcendent piece of work, with all elements working together harmoniously, taken from the full-length "Waterbirds" of 1998.

    "Housewife" was a piece meant to address domestic violence against women, but danced solely by women, this was not readily apparent. In brief, half the women smacked themselves and fell down and the other half comforted them, and then all the women slapped themselves, fell down and writhed. Overall, the piece was disturbing but obscure, as in the ending when all the women walked toward the audience offering both hands but then stopped and drew one back into a fist.

    "Michelle's Solo" may have been interesting when Michelle Dortignac danced it in its 1993 debut, but Windish did little with it other than give a ghostly, other-worldly presence in her wispy white dress and glowing red hair.

    The style of "Danci," performed by Willberg, Simons and Windish, had much of the awkwardly self-conscious and precious feeling of "Plasticine Adolescent," though otherwise the pieces shared nothing. Glittery costumes from Baum's, beautiful really, and an odd but appealing assortment of music by Mohammed Rafi weren't enough to propel the choreography.

    "Untitled Fight #3" was essentially a lame, slow-motion swordfight, inspired by Willberg's professed fascination with fight choreography, not really a dance piece and not really a swordfight.

    Thankfully, an in-progress excerpt of "Civil War" ended the evening on a wacky but amusing note, as the company joined by Katie Diamond, Maja Larkovic and Katrina Van Zee performed a spirited square dance with called instructions based on actual Civil War-era "calls" staged to inspire people by turning war into square-dance theater. Some examples: "...take supplies from the dead and wounded," "amputate...clean that saw," and "decapitate...disperse." Action on stage swung from apparently normal square dancing to cartoonish choking and bayonetting, all in good fun.

    "Gala Lite" left some strong impressions but too many weak ones as well. The informational interviewing device made the evening feel more like a documentary than a dance performance, but the evening did start and end with very good pieces.

    DECEMBER 4, 2003

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