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    Joe Poulson and Jennifer Nugent in Light Bulb Theory
    Photo by Jason Akira Somma
    Joe Poulson and Jennifer Nugent

    Flickering on

    David Dorfman Dance meditates on death and joy in ways both playful and vulnerable their new "Light Bulb Theory."


    Presented by the 92ndStreet Y Harkness Dance Project, David Dorfman Dance premiered two new pieces at The Duke on 42nd Street: "Lightbulb Theory" and "Impending Joy," comprising an evening of dance, music and text that addressed issues of death, loss, tragedy and how these experiences are endured by the living who remain. In exploring the gamut of emotional responses to these broadly defined issues, Dorfman oscillated between literal and loosely associated manifestations of them. With movement that is as compelling physically as it is emotionally and concepts that are poignant to everyone, a major strength of Dorfman's lies in his ability to reach an audience of varied perspectives. The work is inviting, impressive, and nobody leaves feeling like they didn't "get it".

    Choreography by: David Dorfman in collaboration with the performers.
    Dancers: David Dorfman, Paul Matteson, Heather McArdle, Jennifer Nugent, Joseph Poulson..
    Music by: Michael Wall, Chris Peck.
    Costumes by: Heather McArdle with Adele Twig, and Naoko Nagata.
    Lighting design by: Josh Epstein.

    Related links: Official site
    The Duke on 42nd Street
    229 West 42nd St.
    March 24-28, 2004

    The dramatic legibility of Dorfman's work is supported by his emphasis on the dancers' individual personalities, and in turn, their personal availability and contribution. In an uncontrived way, they reveal their processes of physical problem solving, and their triumphant satisfaction when gracefully succeeding. While their facile bodies are at work — as if it were not eye candy enough — their faces are telling us what they think or feel about it. Each dancer's personal approach to the movement makes for a physically polyphonic unison in which their togetherness is of situation and intent, rather than in a forced shape, allowing simple compositional choices to become meaningful. There is a vulnerable and playful ouvre that tends to underline his dancers' performative choices. This concert season, Paul Matteson, Heather McArdle, Jennifer Nugent, Joseph Poulson, and Dorfman himself take on an especially youthful air.

    Lightbulb Theory begins with a solo by Dorfman in which he probes the space around him with curious hands and starry-eyed fascination. Sliding from joyful clownish posturing into weighted moments of confrontation, Dorfman's prelude foreshadows the tension between the somber reverence of loss and it's happy, manic diversions. After Dorfman's journalistic poem dealing with a father's death, the four company members appear suddenly on the catwalk above the stage and burst into an exuberantly floppy kicking and jumping pattern of perpetual tossing side to side. This fanfare knowingly yanks us from emotional engagement in the sadness of the previous moment, priming us to feel bittersweet and curious. The poem continues to resonate throughout the quieter moments in the piece, with Michael Wall's pop compositions and live piano scores carrying us back and forth between upbeat denial of and bluesy indulgence in this meditation on death.

    This fanfare knowingly yanks us from emotional engagement in the sadness of the previous moment, priming us to feel bittersweet and curious.  

    The meditation is as follows: "Do you think it's better for a life — light bulb to flicker before it goes out, or do you think it's better if it just goes out?" Each time this question is repeated (once as a group, and once by each dancer alone), the same Freudian slip is demonstratively stumbled over. Introduced early in the piece, the question's metaphoric relevance is immediately established, causing me to feel at first a little beat over the head with each repetition. But in the end, I am able to accept the obsession over this basic question as a symptom of coping with loss.

    In "Impending Joy," the more narrative of the two pieces, Joe Poulson is repeatedly sent-off by the other three dancers, with humorously generic expressions of support. They load his arms full of wooden sticks pulled from within a tangled pile of wire and wood that appear to have once been a white picket fence. Poulson loafs about the stage and returns, unable to pull himself out of his unexplained slump. In a precariously virtuous duet with Matteson, Poulson reveals his bitterness towards the group and resistance to their efforts to cheer him up. With an aggressive group energy and a series of more tender duets, "Impending Joy" emphasizes the interpersonal aspects of loss over the introspective that were highlighted in "Lightbulb Theory."

    Lighting by Josh Epstein splits the stage down the center and singles-out Poulson from the rest of the group early on. Electronic music by Chris Peck immediately establishes a level of seriousness and emergency, making his choices of when to be silent as artful as when to play. When the dancers plow through Peck's driving pulse, and half of the stage is flooded with red, it is made clear that despite the piece's intermittent humor, something is very much awry. At the end of the piece, Nugent reads from the sticks that had been written on by audience members during intermission, asked to complete the sentence "This is where ... ______." The variety of responses offers a very open ending to the piece that relates only vaguely to the specific relationships established prior. Interestingly, Nugent reciting "This is where it ends" is not actually so. In this way, Dorfman shines a ray of hope onto heavy subject matter.

    APRIL 7, 2004

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