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    2017-2018 reviews:


      Deborah Lohse (back) and Monica Bill Barnes in Barnes and Leichter
      Deborah Lohse (back) and Monica Bill Barnes
    Monica Bill Barnes and Nicholas Leichter

    Barnes and Leichter make a surprisingly good pairing for the last of the Gender Benders series


    Monica Bill Barnes and Nicholas Leichter made a surprisingly good pairing for the last of the Thalia Dance: Gender Benders series. Both show dazzling musicality in their solos and push things to the limits of wacky without ever running into wack. Barnes favors the comic and Leichter the serious, but both have broad emotional and theatrical range in their choreography, as reflected in the music: Edith Piaf, Hector Berlioz, Beatles, Bjork, D'Angelo, Franz Schubert, Mariah Carey and some full-on Cordiferro-Cardillo opera.

    Choreography by: Monica Bill Barnes and Nicholas Leichter.
    Dancers: Monica Bill Barnes: Barnes, Deborah Lohse, Lindsey Dietz Marchant Nicholas Leichter: Leichter, Lauren Claire Basco, Wendell Cooper, Aaron Draper, Jared Kaplan, Dawn Robinson, Naima Bigby Sullivan.
    Symphony Space April 19-21, 2007

    Barnes and her main sidekick Deborah Lohse opened the program with "Sideshow (Act I)," a typically absurd duet to the chansons of Edith Piaf. Describing it as two bobbed-blond-wig-wearing women with heavy makeup and deadpan expressions flopping about with sharp, quick gestures doesn't convey the comic timing and awesome silliness these two deliver. The general air is '40s or '50s French cabaret noir, if such a thing exists.

    Barnes' solo "Relinquish," danced beautifully by Lindsey Dietz Marchant, is a good example of her range. After slowly crawling backward onstage, Marchant works through some inner sorrow with speed and solemnity, one moment standing still and the next zipping to the floor. Magical "snow" that spins off her body and sparkles to the floor adds a beautiful theatrical element to the end of the piece, which eventually ends as it began, slowly.

    Her solo "She Snapped/She Left" gives Barnes a chance to show the power and compact drama of her own dancing. Soaring opera music would seem an odd choice for most modern dance, but Barnes makes the music show how much torment is in one who snaps and leaves without being melodramatic, not an easy feat. The timing that makes her comic pieces work so well makes this dramatic piece deeper, though the humorous grand goodbye at the end is classic Barnes.

    Nicholas Leichter and company in Undertow in Barnes and Leichter
    Photo by Steven Schreiber
    Nicholas Leichter and company in "Undertow"

    Act II of the Barnes and Lohse "Sidekick" resumed the silliness of Act I, adding a strange motif of mutual arm-slapping and multiple dramatic exits, with Barnes' character finally leaving a heartbroken and veiled Lohse onstage with only a discarded blond wig as memento.

    Nicholas Leichter adapted his full-company piece "Skindiving" very well to the tiny stage of Symphony Space, using the area in front of the stage at left for a two-man duet of swimming, struggling embrace while others danced onstage, also in pairs. The first duet for two women was especially strong, with Lauren Basco really exploding the movement. There is so much weighted physical contact in this piece, giving it a densely heavy feel but also a powerful sense of human connection.

    Leichter's solo "Baby Doll" gives him a chance to really push things as a disturbed or disturbing man in a business suit with badly applied lipstick and nail polish who drops trou and eventually escapes the suit, all to an emotional Mariah Carey song. There are many things going on in this solo, allowing the viewer multiple interpretations, and the speed, power and deep musicality of Leichter keep it fascinating.

    The final piece of the program, Leichter's "Undertow," returns to the heavily weighted connections of "Skindiving" but in an entirely male group, which gives it a really physical, dramatic edge of desperation and masculine closeness, in turns brutal and sweet. Clever costuming allows one zip to remove an outer layer of clothes, usually done by one partner to the other immediately before dropping him to the ground. Leichter manages to convey deep male bonding that is sensual and physical without being sentimental or sexual, a really impressive piece.

    Nicholas Leichter and Monica Bill Barnes make a great evening of dance. Who knew?

    MAY 4, 2007

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