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REVIEWS: Dance

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Sue Bernhard Dance Works

Reviewed by Lisa Jo Sagolla

Self-presented at Hunter College Studio Theatre, Lexington Avenue between 68th & 69th streets, NYC, June 7-10.

Choreographer Sue Bernhard creates stunning movement vocabulary for the solo dancer. She combines curving torso motions with unusual arm gestures to make pleasing phrases that bounce along with lively lyricism. However, the choreography in every one of Bernhard's six pieces, presented at Hunter College Studio Theatre, grows markedly less engaging when the individual dancers interact. They touch, lift, and support each other in flat, familiar fashions.

Bernhard's finest offering is "Pressure Zone," a smartly hip dance about urban workaday stress, full of snappy moves performed to rock percussion and a rap score of irritated voices.

"Arsenal" would have been Bernhard's most thrilling piece, had it ended after the first of its three distinct sections. Tableaux of militant protesters, striking workers, and rallying revolutionaries spring to life, waving banners, raising fists, and claiming the space with violently self-righteous energy. But then a video collage of marching soldiers, battles, and tormented civilians, followed by unremarkable ensemble choreography, turns what began as an exciting dance of political activism into a clich d anti-war sermon.

Though the mundane movements of "Threshold" never capture our attention, the choreographically uninteresting "Dona Nobis Pacem" flies on the fuel of its glorious Ralph Vaughn Williams music and the abundant energies of its large troupe of bodies moving joyfully through the air.

Intelligently ordered, Bernhard's program opens with "Dark Cloud Edged in Light," a trio that persuasively showcases her inventive vocabulary, and closes with "Folk Dance," on a suitably upbeat and warm-hearted note.

The artistic highlight of the evening was the one work choreographed (brilliantly!) by Charlotte Griffin. Titled "Three Jukes," it employs three beguiling solos to wittily mock the sentiments of three pop music, jukebox favorites. To a bopping, carefree Etta James tune, Erin Wilson dances a wacky series of cranky, broken phrases that smugly defy the rhythms and fun of the song. Griffin performs a slick, uptight, and sophisticatedly constructed solo to the simple, earthy sounds of Patsy Kline. And to the soaring romantic strains of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," Andrea Weber performs a beautifully pensive floorbound solo.

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Dance Brazil

Reviewed by Phyllis Goldman

Self-presented at The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave., NYC, May 23-28.

In the 1940s and '50s Katherine Dunham, a pioneer of black dance, created a place in theatre for spectacular revues, combining Haitian, Afro-Cuban, and American Blues into a multi-ethnic entertainment form. Dance Brazil, appearing at the Joyce recently, brought to mind the Dunham company, especially in the second offering, "Ginga," a whirlwind of grinding pelvises and stamping feet. The work was set to the spectacular percussion score of Tote Gira, played live and with invigorating energy by several excellent musicians.

"Ginga" was plain and simple primitive dance-no story, just fun. The dancers entered in white choir robes, chanting softly while gathering into a large prayerful group. Beneath the hems of the robes, colorful patches of fabric were a give-away of excitement to come; soon off came the robes. The hot-colored costumes beneath matched the sizzling choreography. Choreographers Edileusa dos Santos and Artistic Director Jelon Vieira let it all hang out, creating a primitive aerobics class with body parts swinging in all directions at top speed. Each dancer sported exuberance and a winning smile which swept the audience away.

The Capoeiristas, dancers who excel in a combination of break dancing cum acrobatics (South American style) performed in their own segments of no-handed cartwheels, backflips galore, and flying kicks that missed each other by half-inches. The movement had a death-defying aura to it, yet the dancers seemed jubilant.

The program opened with a 40-minute retelling of the myth of Anasticia ("Black Anasticia"), choreographed by Carlos dos Santos, Jr. An African tribal queen brought to Brazil in the 17th century as a slave, she was thought to be a miracle healer and a saint. Though she was imprisoned, her face locked in the painful iron mask that caused her fatal raging infection, she brought the spirit of freedom to slaves whose lives were pitifully proscribed by their station.

The ballet was complicated by many scenes and lots of rushing around. Perhaps dos Santos, Jr., might want to rethink the movement narrative with an eye to clearer structure, so that the viewer can understand the work as it unfolds without first reading copious program notes.

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Monte/Brown Dance

Reviewed by Phyllis Goldman

Self-presented at The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave., NYC, May 16-21.

The opening-night program of the Monte/Brown Dance company was short and sweet and greatly entertaining. It proved the point that splendid dancers can cover holes in choreography or lapses of creativity so that "you wouldn't even notice." The M/B dancers are a proficient lot-handsome, energetic, whiz-bang technicians, and flawlessly committed. Caroline Nehr, a standout with her dyed-nail-polish-red short hair, warrants her leading-lady status. Her open grin and expansive limbs set a gleaming tone, especially in the company of Marden Ramos, who is, as usual, a pillar of stability in partnering.

"Day's Residue," the Elisa Monte premiere set to Godair's "Concerto Grosso," worked on the mannered conventions of court-and in this season of "Wild Parties" it seemed yet another one. Though ominous in mood, Monte's is the best of parties. Her dancers greet each other, bow graciously, let loose extended legs (all arabesques beautifully placed), and like warriors circle each other, often playing movement dominos (he does, then she does, then they do). The press notes allude to complicated Freudian concepts, but it seems unnecessary to partner the choreography with words. Accept it on a purely visual level.

David Brown decided on light and airy for his treatment of Cole Porter, and began "Let's Misbehave" with four men bounding out, tailcoats flying behind, looking for a good time. The girls followed in a "Love for Sale" sequence full of generous leg work, and Brown concluded with a fantasy take on "Begin the Beguine." Though perhaps not thoroughly inventive, it was, as he noted, "...my own personal response to classic American songs."

Most intriguing was Monte's "Amor Fati," an ensemble work about family-in this case, a dance family. The piece began with a striking visual: Nehr and Ramos wrapped around each other in an evocative but respectful duet segment, soon to be joined by the other family members who connect, peel off, then collect in a clearly defined group.

Included on the program (reviewed last year) "Run to the Rock," a long solo for Fabrice Lamego, who has passed dancer status to venture forth as an artist. He brings substantial layers to an otherwise drawn-out "Sinnerman," sung by Nina Simone.

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