Face the Music...and Dance!
nytheatre.com review by Nancy Kim
August 18, 2009
Prior to the program, the FringeNYC Venue Director recited the familiar list of turning off cell phones and pointing out the exits. When she started her spiel about the Fringe Festival being NYC's best "staycation," some audience (this reviewer included) snickered. No one really wants to be reminded that in this August heat in a crowded and tired city, we're not on holiday at a secluded and tropical beach locale, but sitting in a black box theatre shoulder-to-shoulder. In fact, the dancer who was lounging onstage in an empty, inflatable kiddie pool during the pre-show seemed to epitomize the underwhelming reality of a "staycation."
However, with great relief, the choreography showcase presented in Face the Music...And Dance! provides an unexpected escape and refreshes our minds and senses. The five modern choreographers—Julian Barnett, Tina Croll, Maura Donohue, Heidi Latsky, and Noa Sagie—have all toured extensively throughout the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and have worked with preeminent dance companies. With this level of professional experience, the evening's showcase is ambitious and overpowers (in a good way) the intimacy of the black box space while still recognizing the looseness and spirit of creative community often associated with FringeNYC.
In the first dance, an excerpt of Noa Sagie's "Degas duck bag," the petite dancer transforms the kiddie pool into a platform from where she flexes and twists with her back to the audience, reminding us of classical sculptures of women, a sensible association for a piece taking inspiration from Edgar Degas. Similarly, when the moody solo transitions to a cheeky group piece, it's easy to make another Degas association of his famous ballerinas. Sagie's ballerinas are a flirty combo of Esther Williams-meets '80s party girls—with a sprinkling of French maids.
Following Sagie, choreographer Julian Barnett performs in his own dance, "Wooden Heart," with Jocelyn Tobias, making its premiere at FringeNYC. With Alexander Pro's provocative sound design, this piece explores male and female differences but still reminds us of the interdependence between the sexes. When the female dancer moves along with a long-wired mic to the recording of a talk show detailing the different health benefits of drinking wine for men and women, Barnett expresses a sly and witty point of view. Both dancers then move in parallel to a jazzy bop, but Barnett also creates moments of tension between himself and Tobias in a number of beautiful stage pictures.
Maura Nguyen Donohue is responsible for the centerpiece with an excerpt from "Jet Stream." Shakuhachi flute player Perry Yung shares a personal story of the origin of his name that relates to the bigger picture of cultural customs and identity. In a pas-de-deux, Donohue is gentle and light alongside Yung's flute. They are later joined by Rick Ebihara and Brian Nishii on flute and Barnett as a dancer. As the dancers weave around the musicians to a wind soundscape and the airy flutes, the feeling feels buoyant and and evokes a journey in the sky of transition and anticipation.
Heidi Latsky brings her dancers back to the ground in "What Would You Have Done?" Two male dancers begin her dance in a brief prologue to an opera by Pergolesi that harkens to a classical style, but the substance of Latsky's dance is the highly athletic and continual motion that matches Marty Beller's original composition—a percussive and industrial beat. Dancers Jeffrey Freeze and Luke Murphy make an interesting pair as they differ obviously in height and look. Latsky pushes them tirelessly, and their synchronicity can appear competitive at times, but mostly, they operate like a two-cylinder turbo engine.
Finally, in an evening that began with Sagie's solo, the program concludes with an impressive number of 17 dancers in an excerpt from Tina Croll's "The Stamping Ground." Using music from Romania and Hungary, Croll manages the balance between modern and traditional as well as the line between control and chaos. Dancers revisit folk dancing motifs in unison and also stumble in a chaotic mass or fall asleep together, suggesting the cycles of life and art.