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Arts and Entertainment

Performance Review: NOW Program 2

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Program Two at the New Original Works Festival at REDCAT revealed a challenge in the programming department. With two modern dances placed side by side, the audience was asked to watch the second piece without being overly affected by the first. Difficult job for any viewer. If the performance pieces are even minutely similar to one other, the initial act is always a hard one to follow.

Lionel Popkin opened the show with a duet he performed with Noellie Bordelet, accompanied by veteran accompanist/composer Robert Een. Your Hand/My Mouth centered on just that—Bordelet’s finger in Popkin’s mouth. A tough nut to swallow, let alone understand its role as a metaphor. Still, the gesture provided an unexpected serio-comic decoration on the dancers’ movements. Popkin, dressed is faded green street clothes, began center stage as close to the audience as possible. Anchoring his hands in his front pockets, be moved his torso serpentine-like in all directions, leading everywhere with his head and including sharp tilts, staccato and fluid circles and an occasional pursing of the lips to blow to/breathe at us in the audience. A short and small tour-de-force for this accomplished performer.

Bordelet soon entered, dressed in a knee-length full-skirted black and white dress (think Holstein cow design). As she walked and pointed to unknown sites in the air, he soon placed her directive index finger across his cavalier lips. With never a full explanation of the two's relationship, he pushed her finger away and she brought it back. This became a re-occurring motif, highlighted by some interesting jumps and lifts. In one of these, Bordelet planted herself across Popkin's shoulders and behind his head with her knees bent and her arms close to her body, surrounding him. Other times, with her finger remaining in his mouth, the two moved in unison, side by side, standing and, sometimes, sliding on the floor.

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Throughout the dance, Robert Een sat peacefully on a downstage corner, treating his cello like a stand up bass and watching the action. Fingering melodies on its strings, he hummed his accompaniment. Although he began with a bow on the instrument, the work's climax included a regular musical plucking pattern and vocal embellishment that heightened the drama of the surrealist dancing.

Holly Johnston's Ledges and Bones Dance Project doubled the number of dancers on stage, but basically continued the duet arrangement in Politics of Intimacy. Equally aligning a man with a women, the four strong movers began seated on metal folding chairs on the diagonal, the two pairs facing each other. One pair at a time, the partners moved with interrupted risk, trusting that things would not collapse or, at least, collapse in pre-determined ways. The spare score for strings and various other sounds (by Joseph Harvey and Julie Pusch) enhanced the austerity of the dynamics. Dancers wrapped around the chairs, slumped, and leaned into each other testing the limits of their companions' support. Often an interesting lift would be frozen in the middle of its motion, making for an unusual sculptural shape. Unfortunately, however, this repeated temporal intrusion interfered with the overall dynamic of the dance.

Partners were exchanged and similar relationships described, physically bearing testimony to Ms. Johnston's movement vocabulary of weighted risk and visceral maneuvers. At one point, the two men (Nick Heitzeberg and Nguyen Nguyen) put protective helmets on as they threw each other and their own bodies around. More interesting, however, were the two women (Stephanie Jamieson and Kindra Windish). Their partnering--supportive yet at times aggressive--presented a more resonant image of today's dancer/woman/warrior.

Like Monty Python used to say, Poor Dog Group then presented something completely different. The five members of this recently created, almost sketch comedy, performance art and Dadaist collaborative ensemble all hail from Cal Arts. Looking white, middle class and fraternity-like, their Hey. Hey, man. Hey was divided into an introduction and sections with titles like Philly Cheese, The Dog Monologue and others. Brimming with a youthful stream of consciousness, the work started out with a bang, as the five walked onto the stage and placed props in appropriate locations, laid tape on the floor to demarcate yet-to-be revealed arrangements while the audio of what seemed like a Johnny Carson introduction of the kitschy performer Charo surrounded the activity. Most sections began with a dialogue between the performers, spontaneous-sounding, audience-aware and reaching for the comedy within the situation. Unfortunately, however, this casual style soon became less and less interesting as some of the stories they then recounted turned out to be of the shaggy dog variety.

photo of Poor Dog Group courtesy Cal Arts Phortography