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      oh oh oh
    Now you see it, now you don't

    Susan Rethorst's "oh oh oh" quietly does its business and then disappears into the ethers.


    Susan Rethorst's recent "oh oh oh" at Dance Theater Workshop passed quickly and impeccably. The nearest experience I could think of was eating soufflŽ. Ephemeral as they come, "oh oh oh" was a quintet of small, quick changes, performed with quiet, untrumpeting virtuosity by the all-star anti-star cast.

    OH OH OH
    Choreography by: Susan Rethorst.
    Dancers: Susan Brahamm, Jeanine Durning, Steffany George, Taryn Griggs, Sam Kim, Jodi Melnick, Jeremy Nelson, Susan Rethorst and Vicky Shick.
    Lighting design by: Michael Gianitti.
    Dance Theater Workshop
    219 West 19th St.
    Feb. 18-28, 2004

    Watching Rethorst's work, I find that I float around the outside of it until I reach a saturation point, at which time I can enter fully and immediately. There is dance, doing what dance does. It enters and exits. It moves this way and that. It sees something then does this. Events unfold without a performative guide, per se, without an empathetic anchor. Things tend to have, at least from the outside, fairly equal weight, even if their timing is varied and specific. The point at which I slipped into the work was a gesture-sized unison passage for the four women — Jeanine Durning, Taryn Griggs, Jodi Melnick and Vicki Shick. Perhaps it was the clarity of the passage, a little visual relief from so much small detail, opening my eyes then to that detail when the more individual, interactive order returned.

    "oh oh oh" unfolds sometimes in silence, sometimes with instrumental snatches of Gershwin's "Summertime" playing (by various, uncredited artists). The absence of vocals in the music struck me as an apt mirroring of the performance feel. So too with its occasional disappearance. The words are there — the detailed articulations of movement direction, the verbal process of rehearsal — but the tasks as performed go unspoken. It's almost a gravitational mechanism, functioning to draw the watcher into the orbit of the dance. Come closer.

      Simply doing what they do, they gain your rapt attention without ever demanding it.
    Rethorst's dance mind strikes me as a zoom lens. Although there is an elegant construction to the piece, the stuff of it is very moment by moment, and the assemblage guided by an attention to small things. In a way, the choreography is an invisible frame for the extraordinary dancers (the four women plus Jeremy Nelson). Although they create a varied palette of types and energies, they none of them push themselves on you. Simply doing what they do, they gain your rapt attention without ever demanding it. This was a standout aspect of the show, both in "oh oh oh" and also in the first work, an excerpt from a 1998 piece, "Don't go without your echo." What an amazing crew.

    In an article passed out with the press packets, Rethorst writes about dailiness inside of the practice of dancemaking. "Dailiness requires a simultaneous tuning in to time and the absence of time... You have to spend time... placing the foot somewhere, tossing an arm, shifting the balance, shifting a limb, adding a curl, a tic, teasing out the answers to how fast and how tense and what next, when join, when exit or pause... watching and allowing the mind to roam and consider and take inventory..." Watching her dances is much like reading her words- they both proceed with the same intellect and curiosity, tuned both to the thing as you can speak about it, and the thing which completely escapes words. Completely temporal, unavailable for capture.

    I wonder a bit if it takes a dancer to watch this work. Is it visible otherwise? It's so infused with love for the form, and even though there are ideas clearly guiding it, it is work totally without a message. Not only the making of but the watching of these dances is a commitment, a practice.

    FEBRUARY 29, 2004

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