Presented by the New York International Fringe Festival at Harry De Jur Playhouse, Henry Street Settlement, 466 Grand St., NYC, Aug. 10-15.
Don't waste your time going down to the Harry De Jur Playhouse to see "The Josephine Baker Story." Choreographed and performed by Aja Jung, the 70-minute solo dance work is monotonous and uninspired. It captures nothing of the comic charisma, exotic spirit, and eccentric individualism that characterized the wonderful dancing entertainer Josephine Baker.
Though Jung is a competently trained dancer (from Belgrade), with a lanky body and long limbs that she extends gloriously to great heights and in all directions, her choreographic vocabulary consists of about five or six moves that she repeats over and over again. She likes doing big, high développés and standing up on her toes in her jazz sneakers. She often grabs her leg and holds it up next to her face, which is always animated in what one assumes is an effort to mimic Baker's famous mugging. Jung seems to have no idea how to construct an engaging movement phrase, much less how to imbed emotional meaning into her choreography or to create dancing that tells a story.
Though the work appears to trace the personal narrative of Baker's life, it fails to convey the events and facts of her story with any clarity whatsoever. The elaborate printed program contains extensive notes outlining Baker's biography, yet the performance reveals simply the following: Josephine Baker took a suitcase and left home. She was childlike and moved someplace where people spoke French. She spent a lot of time there dancing alone in her bedroom and acting glamorous. Her world darkened for a while, so she danced in a black cloak. A little rag doll was of symbolic importance to her. And by the end of her life, she felt trapped and wrote a letter signed "your mother." One doubts that this is the Josephine Baker story.