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    2018-2019 reviews:


    Berger + Young + Ramos

    Choreographers gone wild

    DTW's semi-annual shared bill delivers three artists who have no need of the envelope.


    Dance Theater Workshop's most recent SplitStream represents quite fairly the venue's curatorial goal of presenting work that "pushes the form". For better or for worse, this phrase has been rumored as the guiding mantra of Fresh Tracks panel discussions, which leads to reasonable belief that this interest influences other artist selection processes as well. In this SplitStream, Antonio Ramos, Ann Liv Young, and Jonathan Berger throw a boisterous middle finger at "the form" with three pieces that diverge from the conventions in a way that leaves each voice defined, yet somehow connected. "ME ME ME!" "Melissa is a bitch", and "souvenir" are entrÄes into very different worlds, and yet they strengthen one another with their unapologetic coexistence.

    Choreography by: Antonio Ramos, Ann Liv Young, J. Berger & Sons.
    Dancers: Miguel Anaya, Arthur Aviles, Lara Benusis, Noemi Cecarra, Mei-yin Ng, Marian Ramirez, Antonio Ramos, Todd Williams (Ramos); Nancy Forshaw-Clapp, Chris Lancaster, Isabel Lewis, Jillian Peľa, Malin Thun, Sarah Vancaster, Ann Liv Young (Young); Judith Anderson, Drew Bonnadio, Trudi Cohen, Nathan Davis, Clare Dolan, Kelly Horrigan, Phantom Louise, Salley May, Jennifer Miller, Martha McDonald, Karen Ostrom, Ellen Van Weiss, Cathy Weis (Berger).
    Lighting design by: Eric C. Bruce, Emily Stork.

    Related links: Official site
    Dance Theater Workshop
    219 West 19th St.
    April 29 - May 1, 2004

    In the parody of epic proportions entitled "ME ME ME", Antonio Ramos spares no one. He stuffs metaphysical pies in the faces of Ballet, Modern (with a very capital "M") and contemporary dance, Puerto Rico, male homosexuality (in and out of drag), the Virgin of Guadalupe, and Barbie. By exploiting all of these parts of his personal history, Ramos demonstrates the absurdities of his perspective in an irreverent sort of celebration of them all. Ramos competes with Todd Williams for the center of our attention, making himself the dance captain of his Corps du Hedonism. His outright narcissism isn't laugh-out-loud funny, but makes me chuckle at the possibility that vanity is what has so often compelled choreographers to put themselves at center of a huge chorus. In a giant run-on dance that hops from one outlandish scenario to the next, "ME ME ME" has no straight man and never lets up. I have to watch this dance like I had to watch the movie Zoolander; by forcing myself not to adjust to the heightened level of ridiculousness, I am able to remain entertained. This hodgepodge of scenes and routines is clearly not about structure or composition, and I get the feeling that any larger social commentaries are inadvertent, but I think with a little scrutiny in these areas Ramos may be able to convince a wider audience to take him seriously — and then stick a pie in our faces too. The suspension of disbelief could prove inviting.

    Even if you don't love Jay Z, or you can't accept the choreographic value in a repetitive shimmy step-touch in a bikini, you are still affected and can't walk away from it.  

    ANN LIV IS FUCKED UP AND CRAZY, or so she makes her dancers proclaim. She also makes her dancers rub live turtles against their crotches, hang naked on wooden swings reciting poems about nothing and everything, make out with tampons in their mouths, and sing at the top of their lungs where their voices crack. All the meanwhile Ms. Young and any cast members not being prompted by her generic dance commands like "ready, and here-we-go" sit along the front of the stage (some naked), supportively watching the goings on (some also naked). Young's utter absence of reservation is totally liberating, and the lack of privacy is seductive. By holding nothing back, she occupies a loud vulnerability that deflects criticism. In "Melissa is a bitch" Young's theme of corporeal and emotional bareness is underlined by her design aesthetic: as usual, the space is unadorned, the lighting is bright and never changes. The original costuming, all green, exposes both seams and skin. Whatever her whim or impulse, she lays it out before us without question of purpose or value. There is 100% sincerity and commitment in every part of the work, making each outlandish situation ten times more fascinating because it's not phony, flimsy, or calculated. Even if you don't love Jay Z, you can't accept the choreographic value in a repetitive shimmy step-touch in a bikini, or you don't understand the brilliant irony of Chris Lancaster and Young's arrangement of Oasis' "Wonderwall," you are still affected and can't walk away from it. Whatever she's doing — and it's hard to pin down — is truly magnetic.

    Comatose in comparison to the first two pieces, I actually don't mind the change of pace brought about by Jonathan Berger's "souvenir". The sensory information comes on slower and is absorbed through hypnotic repetition in both the music and the movement. I am immediately struck by Jesse Jackson's original score and John Wilson's sound deign: Reich-ian structures infused with experimental edge and a strong sense of atmosphere and surroundings. As though the sound is a part of the set, I'm convinced I am seeing with my ears. The surreal sequence of event-motifs has something to do with the epic adventures of two stranded journeymen from the first half of the 20th century, and their adventures involving sledding, bears, airplanes, and prehistoric artifacts. All of this seems couched in the good old romantic man-versus-nature theme. The cult of sequin-coated archaeologists circling outside the mosquito-netted archivist's tent made me the most convinced that the piece was a bit "all dressed up with nowhere to go", yet the lack of forward motion in the piece successfully dislocates me in time, to an unusual effect. There is a truly excessive amount of drama caked upon every action, further emphasizing the maximalist rendering of something that seems much simpler — or even emptier — at its core, and I can't decide if this is clever or annoying. A huge curtain covered in bells hangs close to the audience and obstructs view of the stage. In each episode, it lifts slightly to swallow or eject the two straggling adventurers, and then rises completely to reveal the next scene. If I am supposed to experience suspense or mystery, the broken-record structure sends me into a more passive state of viewing, where I know whatever I see, I'll see again, or see for a long time.

    Ramos and Young examine a hyper-awareness of the choreographer and his/her role in the performance. Young and Berger deny the presence of choreography in favor of obsessive repetition and monotone ambience, respectively. Ramos and Berger both maintain a heightened state of drama. All three transform the space to house their pieces, and all three have something, be it a 2-D Catholic saint with the face cut out, a row of people, or a curtain between us and them. In this Venn diagram of experimental performance tools, the three artists reveal similarities that supercede aesthetics or situation. To curate a group show that does not resemble a variety show nor become monotonous from lack of variety, and manages to make an evening in which each dance presents a different thread of a similar experience is the ultimate challenge, and I think that this SplitStream does its name justice by jumping these hurdles in an unprecedented way.

    MAY 24, 2004

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