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    Jon Beasant III and Mindy Nelson in Armistice in Briggs + Yamamoto
    Jon Beasant III and Mindy Nelson in "Armistice"

    Still books and falling tubers

    A shared program by melissa briggs dance and Nami Yamamoto extracts portraits from novels and illuminates short absurdities.


    BAX Artists-in-Residence melissa briggs dance and Nami Yamamoto gathered a powerhouse cast of performers for performances April 2-4, 2004. Each choreographer presented an intriguing series of small works that left me satisfied, but wanting to reexamine some basic questions about the art of dance.

    Choreography by: Melissa Briggs, Nami Yamamoto.
    Dancers: Toni Melaas, Thad Wong, Marika Chandler, Molly Wilson, Lawrence Casella, Mindy Nelson (Briggs); Ryutaro Mishima, Darla Villani, Nami Yamamoto, Jean Vitrano (Yamamoto).
    Music by: : Nagisa-Nite, John Philip Sousa, La Musica Della Mafia, Reiko Kudo, Hide, and Rosanna (Yamamoto).
    Sound design by: Karinne Keithley (Briggs).
    Costumes by: Mindy Nelson (Briggs).
    Stage Hand: Kiyoko Kashiwagi.
    Video: Toki Ozaki.
    Brooklyn Arts Exchange (BAX)
    421 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn
    April 2-4, 2004

    Melissa Briggs' "Book Dances" is a series of duets based on well-known novels: East of Eden (Steinbeck), Anna Karenina (Tolstoy), and The Fountainhead (Rand). The first duet, "Salinas, 1912," immediately and clearly creates an environment of stillness, tension, and forced smiles. We are made aware of the gun concealed in Toni Melaas' dress before Thad Wong enters, backlit, from a door stage right. They stare at each other, struggle to be in the same room, yet far away, and forcefully manipulate each other until the gun is drawn. Wong takes the gun away initiating a less "proper" wrestling match. After this brief interlude, they return to their frozen, stuck, tense manner, indicating that this battle may take place everyday.

    Ryutaro Mishima and Darla Villani in The last word was PAPIREPOSE in Briggs + Yamamoto  
    Photo by Nicolas Goldberg  
    Ryutaro Mishima and Darla Villani in "The last word was PAPIREPOSE"
    "I, that girl with the red hands" begins with a flurry of movement. There is a definite status difference between the two characters in this duet, whether in age or in class. The taller Marika Chandler in her elegant black dress keeps the red purse on her wrist away from Molly Wilson in her more simple dress. (Beautiful costume design by Mindy Nelson for all of Briggs' work).

    Despite the initial flurry of quick turns and jumps, this duet switches into the still, gestural movement of the first duet. Does dance have to be slow, tense, and gestural to tell a specific narrative? The piece does erupt into rolling and grabbing under fading lights at its conclusion. But by then, it seems too sudden, and maybe even superfluous.

    "Armistice," danced by Lawrence Casella and Mindy Nelson, had a bit more of a story behind it. The characters meet. She is very composed in suit, coat, hat, and briefcase but allows herself to fall apart in his presence, losing her hat, her shoes, and her facade. Upon leaving, she gathers her things and recreates herself to reenter the world and presumably not see the man for quite some time. The movement here is still slow, for the most part, but is made interesting by the manipulation of costume pieces.

    Until the third duet, I was becoming a little frustrated with the portrait nature of these duets. Nothing was really changing. But, perhaps, this was deliberate. The relationships portrayed are static and habitual. The characters involved are working very hard to perpetuate the tension they live under and prevent any revolutionary change of routine.

      The first barking vocalization was shocking, humorous, and also somehow profound.
    In watching Nami Yamamoto's "the last word was PAPIREPOSE," and then hearing her discuss the work afterward, I feel it's a shame that I must review the product of her work and not the process. She was interested in exploring the point where the impulses of the dancer meet with the vision of the choreographer as a way to invent new movement.

    There were some wonderful moments. Ryutaro Mishima enters eyeballing the audience, as if looking to start a fight. The first barking vocalization was shocking, humorous, and also somehow profound. Prior to "a red tongue on a green leaf," the stage hand spends an excessively long time setting up a scene of miniatures downstage center only to have it destroyed by a dropped tuber within the first few moments of the section.

    In the final duet, (everything else is a solo), Darla Villani wears a simple white T-shirt and black pants, but the back of her legs are covered in white fur. A couple of video game characters or extraterrestrial animals, they have an overwhelming desire to communicate, but no actual means to do so.

    The pieces were very quirky and silly, but also choppy with lots of stops and starts. I felt I was always waiting for something to happen. Is it enough to titillate the audience? Is it art to present a string of silly situations that make the audience giggle?

    The work illuminated the absurdity of the world we live in, but to what end? I felt it was most successful in duet form when the characters were interacting with each other. The solo material became too confrontational to the audience. I would be interested in seeing this material develop into something larger if Nami Yamamoto can find an intention beyond experimentation.

    APRIL 9, 2004

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