This writing course has made me really inspired to write...here is my review from last night's performance of Eliot Feld's mandance project. Should be up on exploredance soon, but this is the longer version...warning: it is QUITE long.
One of the things we discuss in the course is the balance of judgement versus description in a review. Until recently I found it hard to DESCRIBE a dance visually with words, but now I'm finding that my whole review is description! Hopefully the way I describe conveys my opinion about the piece...comments/critiques welcome! I'm in a learning phase...
Mandance Succeeds Again
Eliot Feld’s MANDANCE PROJECT has been a returning event to Joyce Theater audiences for the past four years. The 2008 season, which runs April 9-20, proves why: with two premieres, exquisite dancers, and an artistic team that steals the show, MANDANCE PROJECT is a treat of a showcase for this artist’s work.
His 2004 dance, “Backchat,” kicks the program off with high energy. Two oversized stage lights sit on either side of a large dismembered wall. A pair of legs appears upside down from atop. Soon two other pairs emerge. What unfolds is an athletic act of climbing for three men who retain the strength of a sportsman and the finesse of a dancer.
Often their molasses movements turn to sharp wiping motions with hands taut with tension, a contrast that repeats. Each jumps in unison to catch himself mid-air, legs spread and head thrown back as if holding on for dear life. One can easily forget the floor is there. They interweave with each other’s bodies but always have contact with the wall. They are fearless and as vibrant as their bright costumes: colored shorts and biker shirts that are revealed to be all black on the front when they face audience.
The final image is of them hanging upside down like young boys on a jungle gym, with their legs swaying overhead as if to say, “Look what I can do,” tauntingly. Even after their bow, they hurdle up to the top of the wall for a final humble glimpse of the audience.
“Pursuing Odette” is the most emotionally moving of the works. The solo for Ha-Chi Yu portrays, if somewhat abstractly and in non-narrative form, a dancer’s struggle to attain the perfection demanded by ballet. It reflects remnants of influence from the title character’s original ballet, “Swan Lake.”
There is the sense of a yin and yang tension between the lithe, ethereal qualities of classical dance and the grounded realism of modern dance, a dialectic that is exemplified by not only the choreography but in the costume and scenery. Ms. Yu wears a long black dress with one leg bare and the other strictly suited up in white tights and a pointe shoe. The backdrop is split diagonally in half, part black, part white. However the dividing line in the choreography is less concrete.
It is the simple alterations in recognizable swan-like poses that make Mr. Feld’s movement so effective. A sleeping swan turns into shuddering unrest with flexed ankles and bent knees. An iconic swan attitude position features the head to the sky with arms floating back as wings, knee gently arced so that the foot nearly touches the dancer’s bun. Mr. Feld’s interpretation is angular and severe. Ms. Yu takes a hold of her foot behind her head and slowly tilts forward in a penche. Her shakiness may have been a balance problem, but it only served to better exhibit the trembling nerves in her angst.
Another swan-like position is on the floor, where Mr. Feld continues the concept of connection by attaching the foot to the forehead where the traditional swan would be aloof. At first, the bare foot is the one to touch, but in the ending position it is the pointe shoe, together with her hands as the beak, that create the swan image, suggesting that she indeed has conquered her pursuit.
Traditionally, Odette is a Swan Princess, a delicate beauty and a role aspired to by many a budding bunhead. Here, Odette is the sun, the eye of perfection Ms. Yu longs for. Perhaps she herself has gone through this struggle like so many other talents – the aspirations of ballet depreciating, resorting to the freedom and veracity of modern dance. Her anguish and disparity could strike a chord in any dancer whose dream may be unrealized.
The premiere of “Undergo” is extremely anticlimactic after Ms. Yu’s moving distress and passion. Wu-Kang Chen leads the quartet of dancers with great strength, but he cannot save the work. There is no apparent association between what is happening onstage. A trio undulates and wavers constantly to a discordant soundtrack from choreographer Meredith Monk. A clump of plastic resembling cellophane sits downstage, which Mr. Chen later crawls around in to no end. A lengthy roll of gold paper hangs from the top of the stage, which Mr. Chen later pulls down and envelops himself in like a small child engulfed in wrapping paper on Christmas morning. The meaning is unclear.
Luckily another premiere, “Isis in Transit,” provides a welcome relief. Based on the Egyptian tale of Isis, the goddess of fertility, and her journey for the scattered remains of her brother Osiris, the work presents the strikingly fit Fang-Yi Sheu struggling through various set pieces in conquest. The same crumpled paper that was offsetting in the previous work now hangs across the black backdrop. Low pyramids line the back, and Ms. Sheu climbs and crosses them in profile, mimicking the angled arms and 2 dimensional quality of a painted goddess circumscribing an Egyptian vase.
She then moves to a sea of pliable plexiglass poles for a game with gravity. She grasps a handful to her back and falls forward as though she were going to face plant to the ground. The poles ease her weight and bend time so that she just barely skims the stage with her breath before returning back up to standing. She battles, turning horizontal and upside down within the forest of clear stems, which glitter in the thoughtful lighting design by Aaron Copp.
Her next stage battle is with a large metal bowl on center stage. She traces the circumference of it with her cautious steps before her entire body spasms to cause the bowl to shake, again toying with the lighting from straight above to create an effect reminiscent of thunder and lightning.
She faces further struggles with scenic elements, designed by Mimi Lien and Mr. Feld. The intricate set could overpower a dancer of small stature, but Ms. Sheu is the one who shines.