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    Douglas Gillespie partners Marlena Penney Oden, as Adrian Clark, The Crooked Jades, and Leslie Kraus clap along in Bright Land in Kate Weare and Monica Bill Barnes
    Photo by Christopher Duggan
    Douglas Gillespie partners Marlena Penney Oden, as Adrian Clark, The Crooked Jades, and Leslie Kraus clap along in Bright Land

    The White Side of Things

    Kate Weare and Monica Bill Barnes show soul at the Joyce Theater


    The other half of a week shared by four choreographers at the Joyce Theater belongs to Kate Weare and Monica Bill Barnes, and they seem to have been grouped to mine the underlying soul of white American culture.

    Choreography by: Kate Weare, Monica Bill Barnes.
    Dancers: Kate Weare: Adrian Clark, Douglas Gillespie, Leslie Kraus and Marlena Penney Oden
    Monica Bill Barnes: Anna Bass, MB Barnes, Charlotte Bydwell and Celia Rowlson-Hall
    Music by: The Crooked Jades (Weare).
    Sound design by: Veronika Vorel (Barnes).
    Costumes by: Sarah Cubbage (Weare), Kelly Hanson (Barnes).
    Lighting design by: Brian Jones (Weare), Jane Cox (Barnes).
    Joyce Theater
    August 10, 12, 14, 2010

    Weare brings the traditional-music band The Crooked Jades onstage to give old-timey soul to Bright Land, which opens the evening. Bright is not the first adjective that comes to mind to describe this land, where there is plenty of stylized conflict and a tinge of smoldering female anger mixed into the tenderness traded between men and women. Costumes in shades of black and white, by Sarah Cubbage, have a 19th-century quality of simplicity and functionality, though these are Sunday best clothes. Or they are at first. Piece by piece, men and women shed items of clothing over the course of the show, until all are in modest underwear by the end, slips for the women and t-shirt and pants for men, as if the heat generated between them requires it.

    Leslie Kraus and Douglas Gillespie, foreground in Kate Weare and Monica Bill Barnes  
    Photo by Christopher Duggan  
    Leslie Kraus and Douglas Gillespie, foreground
    The opening of Bright Land gives a quick preview of both the calm and the violent physicality to come, as the two couples slowly approach and make soft contact and then the men break to the floor for a startling sequence of fast prone bouncing and flipping, as if electrocuted by the simple contact. There is often a smoky tango feeling between partnering pairs, with quick swings and stops, legs grabbed in motion and hand or leg checks to stop a partner's rotation, and men frequently lift women in standing splits, their top foot the hightest point of the coupling, their bodies almost phallic. Little flourish jumps and unexpected soft leaps continually break up tension, but tension is always there.

    As many of the songs speak of judgment and the other side and other religious ideas, there is also a religious revival tent energy in some of the dancing. Highly stylized and charged motion has echoes of Martha Graham's Appalachian Spring. Male hands are often held as blades, ready to smite evil or the other person, while female hands often shake, sending or receiving shivers through their owners, as if possessed by the spirit or some overwhelming passion.

    Adrian Clark has some powerful solos while Douglas Gillespie is busy dancing with both Leslie Kraus and Marlena Penny Oden, but Kraus carries the most intensity throughout, at one point straddling a seated Gillespie and head-butting him to his back with blow by audible blow to his chest, like a female Praying Mantis dispatching her spent lover. At the end, the band moves frontstage to switch places with the dancers, who take the band's place upstage and clap along, and eventually all are front and center to a song declaring "ain't no grave gonna hold my body down."

    Monica Bill Barnes, Charlotte Bydwell, Anna Bass and Celia Rowlson-Hall in Another Parade in Kate Weare and Monica Bill Barnes
    Photo by Christopher Duggan
    Monica Bill Barnes, Charlotte Bydwell, Anna Bass and Celia Rowlson-Hall in Another Parade

    That could be a tough act to follow, but Monica Bill Barnes brings Another Parade. Ladylike women wearing conservative skirts, sweaters and broaches fight constantly to stay composed and correct but usually lose the fight. It is all a bit confusing, really, but hilarious much of the time. There definitely seems to be a hierarchy, with Monica Bill Barnes at the top and junior member Charlotte Bydwell at the bottom. Anna Bass seems to have the righthand woman job sewn, but free spirit Celia Rowlson-Hall is always on the brink of upstaging the matriarchs when she isn't being distracted by either her "friends" or the scary "stranger/superego/mother" in the audience. Shadowboxing, especially to James Brown music, is a big theme, and raised winner hands keep flying up to imply success or at least self-approval. Look-at-me belly-baring and shoulder-licking keep occurring, too, apparently uncontrollable in the heat of performance as these women feel their oats and free their pelvises. Barnes uses music by Bach and Brown especially well in this choreography, synching into and out of it masterfully. Burt Bachrach's "What Do You Get When You Fall in Love?" [nothing] also works well for this very female quartet, who bounce spryly from foot to foot despite the dismal lyrics.

    The first half of this performance of Another Parade rolls along, reeling us in bit by bit, but somewhere along the way the plot seems lost, especially when Bass bounces offstage, up one aisle, down another, and takes a seat in the balcony, to the chagrin of Barnes, who tries to keep the act together without her. Whether this kills the momentum or the momentum has gone before, things just never feel on track from there. Another foray into the audience by all four, after Bass returns quietly, has the four each bring one audience member onstage and give them their broach and their support and a tiny dance lesson, which of course ends with victory arms. This ending feels cute but anticlimactic and a bit disappointing, feelings I don't remember ever having when this piece was presented at Ailey Citigroup theater with a different cast. Rowlson-Hall does an uncanny job of bringing some of Deborah Lohse's performance qualities to the piece, but this cast never fully gets things rolling in Lohse's absence. It is hard not to like anything Barnes does, but it is also hard not to miss Lohse.

    AUGUST 12, 2010

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