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    2018-2019 reviews:


      Theresa Duhon,Kristi Spessard in Menagerie
      Photo by Anja Hitzenberger
      Theresa Duhon,Kristi Spessard

    Dancers connect in multipedal force in Guta Hedewig's "Menagerie," a gentle cautionary tale of nature's variety and vulnerability.


    Watching Guta Hedewig's "Menagerie," is a bit like going to the zoo, sans the sordid sights associated with animals kept in captivity. This is a humane zoo where we can marvel at the grace and delicacy with which animals (danced by Hedewig, Therese Duhon, Rachel Lynch-John, and Kristi Spessard) move. There are even two small inclines that recall elements built for caged environments. On one, Lynch-John jumps on all fours; her hind legs leave the ground.

    Choreography by: Guta Hedewig.
    Directed by: Guta Hedewig.
    Dancers: Theresa Duhon, Guta Hedewig, Rachel Lynch-John, Kristi Spessard.
    Music by: Edward Ratliff.
    Production design by: Reiko Kawashima, Reiko Tomita.
    Art direction by: Reiko Kawashima, Reiko Tomita.
    Set design by: Illya Azaroff.
    Costumes by: Reiko Kawashima, Reiko Tomita.
    Lighting design by: Kathy Kaufman.

    Related links: Official site
    Danspace Project
    St. Mark's Church, 131 E. 10th St.
    Dec. 9-12, 2004

    Anja Hitzenberger's video glows from a large polygonal screen, and another closer and smaller one. Painter Jasper John's axiom, 'If it doesn't work once, do it again,' seems to explain how the space of the stage is enlightened and enriched with these two points of reference. Two of Hitzenberger's dead crow images are twice as jolting. But a deep and rhythmic tableau is created with the video image of a turtle navigating The Sheep Meadow. A backdrop of pedestrians speedily traverses the Central Park South sidewalk and the Danspace floor is a pop-up of real-time movement in the foreground.

    A hulking elephant butt image contrasts humorously with the dancer's delicate yogic postures and animal inspired locomotion. There is a duet of elephants with encircled arms dangling like trunks; crustaceans scamper belly up, and statuesque giraffes shift their weight. In this abstracted conflation of animal dances, transitions are invisible and every move is imagistic. Small stacks of books stand at opposite corners. Tipped they resemble groupings of flat rocks. And in Hedewig's hands they are skates for the dancers who slide on four of them or languorously lie on a downed stack. Above, Hitzenberger's image of a domestic cat pertly looks out at us while lounging on a similar stack of reading material.

      Kristi Spessard in Menagerie
      Photo by Anja Hitzenberger
      Kristi Spessard
    Animals in the wild do dance. But watching their movements learned by thinking human dancers on the concert stage is curiously unnatural. It is this dichotomy between 'in the wild' and 'on the stage,' life and art, that we respond to in this dance. We are reminded of our own asphalt jungle, and perhaps cautioned to consider the grace and fragility of nature in Hedewig's danced images of the animal kingdom.

    "Menagerie" coalesces to Edward Ratliff's fine composition. The performers, live on the balcony, are considerable collaborators in this pleasurable dance. Joining Ratliff on trumpet and accordion are Meg Okura (violin), Lara Lynne Hicks (viola), and Mary Wooten (cello). The trumpet inspires a tango of crustacean-like creatures near the floor.

    The polygonal space of the stage is filled with yellow, faun, orange light filtered in through a rack of twigs in a balcony prop made by Illya Azaroff and Ziggy Galazka. The costumes too are a slinky pattered cloth of natural and unnatural colors by Reiko Kawashima with Reiko Tomita. In Kathy Kaufman's lighting design, the video screens' illumination is factored in defining the warm but generous performing area.

    With interpretive head movements the dancers case the unfamiliar setting. Kristi Spessard's quizzical smiles sparkle in an evening of measured moves. Highlights of "Menagerie" are doubled dancers and three in unison connected like segmented arthropods. Fact cards on animal behavior are given to us at a midpoint pause: butterfly floor exercises, flies' inborn flying skills, bee dances, deer democracy. In a cogent ending, the dancers have disappeared leaving only the poignant image of a polar bear underwater dancing with a barrel of oil.

    DECEMBER 17, 2004

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