writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

Underdeveloped Pursuit of Happiness

"Pursuit of Happiness—Evening of Dance, Words, and Live Music"
Nancy Havlik Dance Performance Group
Jack Guidone Theater
Joy of Motion Dance Center
Washington, DC
November 15, 2003

Tehreema Mitha
copyright © 2003 Tehreema Mitha

The evening started with a “Monologue” on the cello played by Jodi Beder, a principal cellist of Princeton Symphony Orchestra. The piece was created by composer Minako Tanahashi Tokuyama and we were told that it blended her oriental background and western sensibilities and was based on the extreme emotional pitches of kabuki theater. To my mind this was not the piece to start with. It had far too many short bits, in which you barely got into the mood, and which is not what one associates with the oriental way of preparing an audience. A little passage would end just when you started to really listen, and then the cellist would stop and turn the page.

And so it was that only the last little section of this item was something one could get one's teeth into and yes, it was juicy! This last offering was truly beautiful, and one could lose oneself in the subtlety with which the work was composed and the art of the cellist as she plucked on the deeper strands of our heartstrings. I only wished that it could go on, but it was gone on the breath of a sigh.

The second item was a Xeroxy, duet choreographed by Zoltan Nagy, and danced by the choreographer and Anthony Gongora. As you can well imagine it starts with a Xerox machine on the stage and the lights going on and off in the darkened theater. Then, in slow motion, one of the dancers starts to crumple the papers lying around and fitting them into crook of his bent knee. When he suddenly stands up and lots of little rolls fall on the floor, the other man who had been sitting on another chair on the other side of the machine, dives for the papers and thus the dance begins.

For me this duet was intense and spoke to a deep, dark relationship that was almost obsessive. It was full of moments of doubt when the two men let down their hair and let go of the image that they must show in public life and even more so in the work place. There was a frenzied approach to these guilty pleasures, starting with the exploratory touching and reaching out to each other; moving on to tight, short and ever faster movements, which suddenly ends a section. Then there would be the straightening of each other’s clothes, the resuming of the proper facade. I will not tell you of how this dance ends, as it would spoil your own experience of it, but the end is effective and quietly dramatic. It is as if, since one man must stay in the office, he wants to make sure that the other one does as well. Tired or not, they must both stay put.

The main event of the evening was Nancy Havlik's, Pursuit of Happiness, a premiere. The accompaniment to this ensemble piece was played live by cellist Jodi Beder (Bach Cello Suite #3), interspersed with some taped music by U2 and Simon and Garfunkel. Unfortunately, nothing jelled together, and one was left with neither a sense of the parts, nor of the whole as a piece of music.

This dance/theater quintet was intended to address aspects of the American experience with the inalienable right to happiness, with reference to the writing of de Tocqueville and excerpts from several obituaries of prominent Americans. Writer/performance artist Prosser Stirling created and adapted the text for this work.

Much of the dance referred to American history, but it was not all chronologically done, which I actually liked. It started with people coming to the west to gain land, gold, water etc. There was a segment about the Black Rodeo in which there was an interesting and repetitive use of the thumb being held out in a hitchhiking gesture.

A segment about how people save all their lives to build a home and have to rent it before it's completed could have been a reflection on our times. Other pieces mentioned activists who railed against the massacre of the Armenians by the Turks; the dropping of the nuclear bomb by The U.S. on Hiroshima and Nagasaki etc. etc. and suffered for championing their causes.

While individual segments were interesting, I think more clarity is needed in both the reason for movement and the approach to the text. A segment often begins with a physical depiction of the text being spoken and then breaks into movement that seems to have no connection to this context. This is very disturbing, and it would be better if the piece was clearly one or the other: connected or completely unconnected. Similarly the text is humorous in places, but cannot seem to decide whether it should be sarcastic, serious, or bland. Is the text meant only for those who are already familiar with U.S. history, or have lived it? Or is it meant to inform those who are new to this part of the world? This lack of clarity bogs the work down.

Whenever one thinks that the pace is picking up and a climax, at least in that section, is excitingly ahead, no climax appears. For example, two of the female dancers ever so slowly put on their almost see-through plastic raincoats with hoods while the other three dancers seems to be doing communicative gestures behind then. They then all start closing the snap buttons and there was a sudden development of random rhythm in the snapping sounds that was very interesting. But just as one began to look forward to this theme developing, it was over. It may not even have been intended—a wasted opportunity.

The costumes—black shorts and black tank tops—seemed extremely inappropriate to the work, neither blending into the background nor adding or contributing to the piece except to seem awkward. If I put so little thought and procurement into something like that I would not have the audacity to put my name in the program for costumes. Black Calvin Klein UNDERWEAR for the men? I think the audience deserves more than that, and so does the dance itself. Ordinary everyday clothing with some particular pieces added to clarify each period would have been better.

I came away from this evening feeling that a lot more work was needed on this piece. It has important things to say, and the base is there. I liked Havlik's take on “the pursuit of Happiness”; the humorous sections were especially strong. The lights were simple but well designed. Of the dancers, the two men stood out for their emotional potential perhaps a little more than the women. I hope that before the next showing the dance will develop more intensely.

Photo:  Dancers (clockwise from top left)-David Funk, Ajax Joe Drayton, Denise Jakobsberg, Kelly Bond, and Sandra Roachford. Photo by Shane Wallis

Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 8
November 17, 2003

©2003 Tehreema Mitha





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New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

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last updated on October 7, 2003