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    Complete archive, 1999-present

    2018-2019 reviews:


    Plan B

    Of pawns, plans and Taiwanese torch songs

    Big Dance Theater's Plan B braids strange and disparate sources to send an idiot pawn into free flight from a plan devised by none other than Richard Nixon.


    Often interpreted, age-old themes, and references to dance can endlessly fascinate. Big Dance Theater fills the bill using varied source material. The Nixon tapes may never before have been considered as inspiration for a dance. In pushing the envelope, Plan B takes abundant stock in the pleasure principle too. The effect stays with you, even deepening in the afterglow. The narrative involves the pawn in the big game according to the plan of a figure in power. But the central theme emerges cogently from far-fetched elements that are seamlessly melded in a complex fabric; viewers can't always identify the sources unless they've read the program notes.

    PLAN B
    Choreography by: Annie-B Parson.
    Directed by: Paul Lazar and Annie-B Parson.
    Dancers: Tymberly Canale, Molly Hickcock, Paul Lazar and Kate Johnson.
    Music by: Gary Lucas.
    Sound design by: Jane Shaw.
    Set design by: Joanne Howard.
    Costumes by: Claudia Stephens with asst. Wendy Yang.
    Lighting design by: Jay Ryan.
    Dramaturgy and additional direction: Molly Hickock.

    Related links: Official site
    Dance Theater Workshop
    219 West 19th St.
    Sept. 23 - Oct. 9, 2004

    Len Jenkin's script fills in around text from 19th century wild child Kaspar Hauser's diary, the Nixon tapes, and The Bible. Composer and songwriter Gary Lucas re-imagines a Taiwanese torch song. Archived films of Japanese dances come to light at Jacob's Pillow. Plan B's potency stems from the unifying choreography of Parson and top-notch collaborators.

    The set by Jane Howard consists of a small house of clear plastic over a framework, a pearly curtain at the center of the backdrop, and various moveable props. Director Paul Lazar plays a succession of 'power figures'; Kaspar Hauser's warden, Richard Nixon, and other presidents or patriarchs may come to mind. Molly Hickok's Rose, though based on Nixon's devoted secretary Rose Wood, also recalls Kaspar's captor. She sings the lilting 'Taiwanese' song in a dance with small plastic parasols. Lazar wears a reversible coat that doubles as a kimono. The hand picked costumes inventively multitask by Claudia Stephens' design. The faux Japanese dancing, the 'pretend' singing, is juxtaposed against weighty desperate scenes of Nixon at his worst moments in which his 'tortured poetry' (as his expletives are noted in the program) is captured on tape.

    Hickock moves to center stage for her Taiwanese fantasy, and in a sunny Japanese fan dance, all dream of a brighter day.  

    Tymberly Canale characterizes the extreme suffering of Kaspar Hauser with great eloquence, dignity, and best of all dance. A wealth of inventive movement creates a portrait of a largely immobile figure, imprisoned in a basement for all his childhood; suddenly released, he was necessarily created anew. He struggled to adjust for just four years before his mysterious demise. Balancing on her sea legs, Canale is at first supported like a marionette, legs bent in second position. Later she dances, swaying her military coat like a heavy scarf, finally wrapping it around herself and holding the sleeve up like a noose.

    Jay Ryan's lighting sets night and day on the minimal dˇcor. In a fascinating solo of the emerging wild child, bright flashes are timed so that her movement is broken into a series of stop-action poses. In another 'progression' civilization is enacted with a series of single props toted across the stage by Canale — branch, axe, then radiant log; gun, and finally bearskin rug with head intact. She wears this as a dancing bear.

    Kaspar is conveniently lurking about as the Plan to use an idiot to carry out a cash drop scheme is devised in desperation. Lazar is wringing his hands as he and Hickock exit the small plastic house while Kate Johnson sprays the roof with a light rain. Hickock moves to center stage for her Taiwanese fantasy, and in a sunny Japanese fan dance, all dream of a brighter day.

    The two films that inspired the 'Japanisme' were shown in the lobby of DTW and also at a Plan B Guggenheim Works & Process event that took place a few days before the performance. About a Japanese Kabuki master's solo with fan, from the French film "Sans Soleil," Parson said, "It seemed that a story was being told." On a crowded street, a group of teens wave and gesture in unison with clapping games in a '70's Japanese film. The 'dancey' cultish ritual's militaristic movement works its way into a lyrical dance in Plan B around a group of strangely stunted trees (created with sparsely standing pine boughs).

    At the end of a dark and somewhat aimless solo, all the disparate elements seem to come together and make sense, as the Kaspar figure's wings gradually unfurl and she flies free of her suffering in a brilliant ascension.

    OCTOBER 4, 2004

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