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    L-R: Lonnie Poupard, Jake Sczcypek, ChristinaNoel Reaves, Jessica Weiss in Two at Abrons
    Photo by Christopher Duggan
    L-R: Lonnie Poupard, Jake Sczcypek, ChristinaNoel Reaves, Jessica Weiss

    Men, Women and the Space They Share

    Risa Jaroslow and Jody Oberfelder on two weekends at Abrons Arts Center


    Abrons Arts Center is a tiny treat of a theater in Manhattan, cozy in the way only older, smaller public theaters can be but also well-designed for sightlines. On two successive weekends, veteran choreographers Jody Oberfelder and Risa Jaroslow presented shows there; both shows share intense physicality, playful humor and boundary-stretching live music.

    Choreography by: Jody Oberfelder, Risa Jaroslow.
    Dancers: Jody Oberfelder: Oberfelder, Lonnie Poupard, ChristinaNoel Reaves, Jake Szczypek, Jessica Weiss
    Risa Jaroslow: Elise Knudsen, Rachel Lehrer, Laura Peterson, Luke Gutgsell, Marcos Duran, Paul Singh
    with Charles Boday, Bruce Carmel, Larry Deemer, Brian Harris, Jayson Jarushewsky, Frank Mentesana, Lou Schiro, Robert Sorrentino
    Music by: The Section Quarter, Charly and Margaux, Fireworks Ensemble.
    Abrons Arts Center
    March 1-3 and 9-11, 2012

    Jody Oberfelder does broad physical fun well. The quartet of Lonnie Poupard, ChristinaNoel Reaves, Jake Szczypek and Jessica Weiss is a gymnast/dancer/hoofer hybrid, muscly people muscling each other around and skilled dancers spinning pirouettes and making Broadway formations. The Section Quartet makes things interesting with their lively interpretations of Strokes/Bowie/Muse/LedZep/Radiohead music on bowed string instruments.

    Reaves and Poupard come back for more in Throb, a sweet male/female duet with an onstage "doctor" checking their heartrates and directing them to see what will get their hearts beating faster. The heartbeat concept is clever, but its execution mostly misses.

    Elise Knudsen (L), Rachel Lehrer and Luke Gutgsell (facing), Paul Singh in Two at Abrons
    Photo by Steven Schreiber
    Elise Knudsen (L), Rachel Lehrer and Luke Gutgsell (facing), Paul Singh

    Risa Jaroslow's show revolves around boy/girl themes, with the two sexes segregated by piece.

    Girls go first, with The Middle of Where She Is keeping things quiet but humorous with female manipulations and games. String music by the female duo Charly and Margaux adds good flavor by again straying outside the normal string instrument box. Subtle and less-subtle role-playing games are clever and well-danced, with duo and trio combinations of Elise Knudsen, Rachel Lehrer and Laura Peterson.

    The boys section, Resist/Surrender, begins much differently, with a nude Luke Gutgsell lying in near darkness at the center of the stage. Flirting with nudity in near-darkness seems to be making a comeback lately, and it certainly grabs audience attention. The sense of human connection is powerful when watching a single naked person in space, vulnerable even within the artifice of the stage. Gutsell seems a bit tortured or wounded here, struggling to his feet and making it to a tall wall at the back of the stage, where a similarly nude Elise Knudsen reaches down to him as if in succor. It is a beautiful but odd introduction to a section about the male hijinks of competition and cooperation, perhaps even more so as Knudsen becomes one of the boys in a quartet of her, Gutgsell, Marcos Duran and Paul Singh.

    Risa Jaroslow's Resist/Surrender: (L-R) Gutgsell, Knudsen, Singh, Marcos Duran in Two at Abrons
    Photo by Steven Schreiber
    Risa Jaroslow's Resist/Surrender: (L-R) Gutgsell, Knudsen, Singh, Marcos Duran

    Playing with a dance phrase, each takes turns saying "I got it" as the mood strikes them, as they all circle around the stage. It starts light and stressless, but inevitably things get a little more complicated as flashes of competition and aggression crop up. Soon the onstage physicality ramps up to contact play and then contact battle, with the wall absorbing impacts. It never stops being dance, though, which makes it that much funnier when the men in beige trenchcoats, who have been sitting along the sides of the stage, doff their coats and come out in pairs to attend to each dancer, like cornermen prepping a boxer between rounds. It is this dynamic of aggression and empathy, struggle and respite, that Jaroslow addresses well, in Resist/Surrender. As in the Middle, shades of amiable and aggressive percolate back and forth, with the boys mixing it up quite a bit more. Another break has the cornermen come onstage to mix and dance with the fighters, a recurring Jaroslow theme of mixing and blurring the boundaries between layman and pro, always a welcome sight in her choreography. After an especially intense final dance struggle, the final break has the quartet stripping their shirts open and being borne and supported by the cornermen. Like the opening, it is slightly odd, with Knudsen's breasts reminding/reprising the vulnerability and female aspect of maleness, perhaps, or simply bringing home the point that the sexes share as much as they differ on the road of humanity.

    MARCH 17, 2012

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