Please, Pass the Prozac

2007 Choreographers’ Showcase
Ina and Jack Kay Theatre
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
January 27, 2007

by Lisa Traiger
copyright 2007, Lisa Traiger

Not much dancing in the 24th installment of the choreographers’ Showcase, an annual event sponsored by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Every year since the late Carolyn Tate instituted these evenings back in the 1980s at one-time movie theater now Cheverly, Maryland’s Publick Playhouse, a team of adjudicators has culled the best half-dozen dancers from tens of submissions. This year choreographers Janis Brenner and Jeanine Durning watched 60 works and selected seven.

Instead of dancing, this cohort of choreographers was stuck in neutral, or even reverse — they walked, they stood, they circled, they ran, they fell, they rolled. But as for all out dancing with a capital D? Not so much. Instead these dancemakers must have been card-carrying members of the “it’s all about me” school of choreography, creating small works — solos or duets — save for the evening’s strongest two works, a trio by the late Ed Tyler and a quintet by Shane O’Hara. The evening featured plenty of angst, played out in movement clichés: twitches and wrung hands, a passel of lonelygirl poses, and a few carefully timed looks. You know what they mean.

In “Calming Betty,” Heather Lundy, poured tightly into a pink track suit, jittered and vibrated with worry made obvious by the spoken accompaniment that riffed about the world’s latest ills: Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur and — most important? — her constricted throat. “Locked” by Lotta Lundgren proved an unfortunate bookend to Lundy’s work. Confined to a living room, Lundgren, at first expectant, raises her arm, waiting for a teacher to call on her. She’s alone, with Rachel Porter’s piano music, her hands tying knots at her waist, before she paces back and forth in her tight square in the fading light.

“Stuck in the Waiting Room” mines another cliché of modern life: the tedium of waiting. Danica Kalemdaroglu’s overly long exposition with voice-over and circusy accompaniment by Jon Brion does little to mitigate the boredom this work induces with its movement vocabulary fraught with disjointed phrases. The gloom and lugubrious soprano, along with Kim Gibilisco’s frozen, deer-in-the-headlights expression, sapped energy from her melodramatic study of pain in the misnamed “Deconstructing Joy.” The evening ended on an unfortunate off note with Noopur Singa’s “Kids & Science,” a frantic and ear-splitting jumble of club dance moves, too-cool-for-school lip-synching and meaningless jogging through the theater while the stage remained empty.

The evening’s two group works were the only highpoints and both originated far outside the Beltway, in Harrisonburg, Va. Something must be going on in James Madison University’s dance department, for in recent years it has had at least one work on this yearly competitive program. Shane O’Hara, the dance program coordinator, knows well how to make the most out of the disparate bodies and abilities of student dancers. Once again in the sharply comic “A Day in the Life of the Brain,” he demonstrates that even the most unlikely cast can draw an audience in with the right choreographic direction.

A quintet of dancers clad in Japanese schoolgirl plaid skirts and modified kimono tops, wriggled, twitched, mugged, and teased to a cartoonish score of music and vocal sounds by Katsumi Shigeru that sounded much like movie sound track effects on steroids. O’Hara’s knack for pushing young performers to extend themselves again paid dividends. The ladies, their faces painted in modified kabuki makeup, lined themselves up like the inner workings of a clock, precise within a square of light. But something set them off and from there, Shigeru’s blips, blurts, and buzzes inspired comic mimicry as the ladies swatted an invisible fly, threw down a jazz and a tai chi pose, riffed, fidgeted, fussed, swooned and squirmed in comically military precision.

Finally, Ed Tyler, whose death in November 2006 has left many in the D.C. area dance community bereft, was represented by a trio “I Am Not My Little Black Dress.” Danced poignantly by three young women from JMU — Meghan Ballard, Jillian Boelte and Dawn Young — the work is less stringent and limit-pushing than many of Tyler’s works. Yet its subtle qualities, restrained but emotionally honest, resonated. The women, wearing Tyler’s trademark, long black fitted jackets and voluminous black lace and brocade skirts, sought each other out for solace and connection. The interplay of two against one resolved and the three plunged into headlong but brief unison floor work, suspended, rolling, before catching themselves and rising. Then they stood. And waited. And waited. Silent. Still. Half hidden by the curtain at the side of the stage. Then they’re gone. Like Tyler, who regrettably left his work too soon.

Photo: Lotta Lundgren in "Locked". Photo by Enoch Chan.

Volume 5, No. 5
January 29, 2007

copyright ©2007 Lisa Traiger

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