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    Deborah Lohse in to bloom in DanceNOW 2008
    Photo by Steven Schreiber
    Deborah Lohse in "to bloom"

    DanceNOW Grows UP

    Hits Beat Misses, and Old is not Out


    The DanceNOW festival is now firmly ensconced at DTW, which says quite a bit. After having evolved through art gallery spaces and Joyce Soho, where just getting in to see a show was an achievement, chaos is now part of the past. Freshly emerging choreographers are effectively being sent elsewhere, often to DUMBO, so that mostly proven choreographers can have a reliable and hassle-free venue. The upside is that DanceNOW performances are consistently good and often exceptional. An added perk is the 10th Anniversary Project, honoring in each "Base Camp" night a 10-year veteran of DanceNOW, with each honoree presenting a piece from 10 years ago and a currently commissioned piece.

    DANCENOW 2008
    Produced by: Robin Staff, Tamara Greenfield, Sydney Skybetter.
    Lighting design by: Julie Ana Dobo.

    Related links: Related link
    Dance Theater Workshop
    October 27 "�" November 1

    In straight chronology, from Tuesday through Thursday evenings:

    10-year honoree Cherilyn Lavagnino's 1997 Duet #3 is a soft, beautiful piece with a welcome spareness in movement and music. Original music by Scott Killian and quietly flowing dancing by Tara Marie Perri and Joshua Palmer mesh well. The peace and comfort of the dancers together is palpable.

    Want is Terry Dean Bartlett's new vintage solo, full of the quirky humor that has been a DanceNOW staple. Mining and miming a fitness film from the Fifties or Sixties, Bartlett gives us a morning exercise routine that only he could make work.

    Near Abroad is a pretty duet in blue by skybetter and associates, paler but similar in feel to the first duet of the evening.

    837 Venice BLVD, choreographed by Faye Driscoll and performed virtuosically by Nikki Zialcita, needs to be seen to be felt. It is broadly funny and silly, full of fake martial arts and wacky facial and verbal tics. Non sequitur is the rule of the game, and the game is fun.

    Amy Larimer's S-Girl continued the wonderful farcical flow. Narrated by a pitch-perfect storyline, written by Larimer and spoken by Darren Anderson, we meet the little-known superhero or specially gifted (think X-men) Shy Girl, whose intense blushing can dehydrate those too close to her. Torn between action and inaction, Shy Girl prefers to stay in her bathrobe listening to opera while awaiting orders from above.

    Zipper is Misnomer Dance Theater's latest smoothly strange vision from the brain of Chris Elam. Brynne Billingsley, Luke Gutgsell, Jennifer Harmer, Coco Karol and Dorian Nuskind-Oder dance this merrily warped piece well. There is more straight-out dancing and unison in this piece, but no lack of Elam's usual: unexpected and goofy movement and body positions. Original music by Evan Ziporyn starts out classical-sounding and ends up in bouts of odd percussion.

    The most hauntingly beautiful piece of the year and possibly much longer was Deborah Lohse's to bloom. A troubled figure moves large and fluid in silo upstage to sweet string music by Max Richter and eventually makes its way downstage in near darkness. What looks like a child holding a lantern very slowly follows the same line and turns out to be a videographer with a weak camera lamp, eventually revealing the nudity of Lohse, the mysterious dancing figure. The troubled quality of the movement and the invasiveness of the tiny light circling and inspecting the vulnerable mover create a fascinating tension.

    Erico Villanueva in DanceNOW 2008  
    Photo by Steven Schreiber  
    Erico Villanueva
    Facets showed another side of Cherylyn Lavagnino's choreography, the balletic, toe-shoed side. This also is a pretty piece, with five women in soft colors dancing together almost as a flock of birds. A smooth-moving Nick Straffacia comes and goes to break up the space and the vibe of the birds. There is a certain imprecision in the piece, usually a good thing, though one dancer's issue with slippery pointe shoes became a spark of unplanned tension.

    Study #4 for Most of This Is True is a really sharp odd-couple interaction of two girlfriend/sisters, full of comic tension. A series of traded voicemails and various back-and-forth dialogs coincides with cooperative and conflicted contact partnering onstage. Jen Abrams choreographed and Jessica Ames and Ariel Polonsky performed this gem.

    Stay is a brisk and brilliant spotlit solo by Yin Yue, full of circularity and the huge movements of a little person, both concise and explosive.

    Young Dancemakers Company did a really good job in three separate pieces, an impressive showing for a group made of high-school students.

    Wednesday night honoree John Heginbotham's 1997 piece Fingers Do the Walking got a tour de force lip-synch performance by Dallas McMurray to the DeeLite song of the title. It is both a pleasant trip back in musical time and a timeless piece of movement comedy.

    The Listening Room is an active quartet of flinging and flying, with softly rolling, spinning music by Koven Smith that goes well with rolling, writhing partnering choreographed by Daniel Charon.

    Point A is Krista Jansen's solo of subtly predictable surprise with a facial expression to match.

    Jamal Jackson Dance Company's Assimilation is an interesting amalgam of body types and largely African-inspired movement, surprisingly robust.

    Erico Villanueva's The Arrival of the Queen is campy solo fun in various configurations of spotlights, satirical and quick, with half-finished ballet movement and throwaway linking moves that do just enough to get the job done and keep the audience laughing.

    Another audience favorite with far more polished technique and real movement innovation is Mana Kawamura's Celebration, a toys-come-to-life piece full of whimsy and excellent dancing by Kawamura, Ari Someya, Juri Onuki, Nana Tsuda and Satoshi Takao.

    Mary Suk's Quotidien addressed but also flirted with boredom in a Tom Waits-accompanied solo of a deadened half-automaton human getting through a day on the assembly line.

    At the other end of the spectrum, Laura Peterson's Forever is all color, all the time, a frenetic piece of Ms. Pacman movement, techno and human beatbox music by Lumberob, and a silly Eighties music video vibe, with four dancers in individually bright-colored costumes running, bumping and flying around the stage.

    Heginbotham's Waltz Ending is his newly commisioned piece, also quite colorful, with each dancer in spiffy but jarring clothing combinations. Six dancers have a player piano/windup toy vibe to go with the Scott Joplin music, with a goofy seventh mover spewing horrendous ballet technique and moving in and out of the automatons, overall pretty amusing.

    Honoree Robert Battle led off Thursday night with the 1995 Takademe, a solo of incredible rhythmic movement, a feat of "lip-synching" using the dancer's entire body to mimic and play off the intricate vocalizations of Sheila Chandra's "Speaking in Tongues II". Kanji Segawa nailed this performance with impeccable timing, fluidity and speed.

    Sarah Van't Hul's solo The space in Between begins with emphatic movement in silence, physical but smooth. As hip-hop and Nina Simone join her, she continues with quirky and original movement, especially repeated undulations onto her back from a seated position.

    Another classic gem, Zvi Gotheiner's Interiors, is a duet that Ying-Ying Shiau and Todd Allen own. Shiau is incomparable, capable of almost any movement, smooth and powerful. Allen manages to catch her every time and keep up the male side of an intensely intimate and charged duet, all performed on and around a simple chair, ending with both standing chest to chest on the chair.

    If it weren't ultimately pedantic and annoying, Paul Singh's Trigger might work, with strong dancing and a potentially comic take on consumerism.

    Robert Battle's new commissioned piece, Still, has little relationship to Takademe. It is a duet of odd entrances and exits, strangely disconnected partners who may or may not be in the same physical plane but still obviously share a tenderness, possibly along the lines of the "Sixth Sense" movie couple of ghost and flesh partners. It is pretty, often, and sad.

    Bergen Wheeler's solo Quo is invigorating and big, with quick sound design splicing disparate music to generate the overall message "I feel good."

    Kyle Abraham's solo Dream Lockdown feels like an homage to Nicholas Leichter in style and movement quality, but certainly has its own strong individuality as well.

    Exit Skeleton, choreographed by Gerald Casel with Eun Jung Choi-Gonzalez and Guillermo Ortega Tanus dancing, is a sweet duet of smooth landings and fluid mirrored torso movements, intimate and friendly.

    A trio from Dusan Tynek's Apian Way took the night out on a silly and fun trio of chest-bumping bees running around to Bach's "Sonota No. 3 in C Major".

    So DanceNOW is maturing, probably for the best. There is still plenty of whimsy, humor and innovation, and the specific acknowledgment of established choreographers' contributions via the 10th Anniversary Project and the 40-Up series for older choreographers may be a needed leaven to counter the temptation to be always new at the expense of pushing aside productive contributors with a past.

    NOVEMBER 4, 2008

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