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Armitage Gone! Dance

Self-presented at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave., NYC, March 2-7.

Karole Armitage, often referred to as ballet's punk princess, has created a stunning non-punk piece with a weighty title, "Time Is the Echo of an Axe Within a Wood." A remarkable visual experience, flowing from variation to variation, it is surely the best yet to emerge from a lady who has kept her nose to the studio grindstone and developed enormously over the years. The results were clearly evident except for the ending, where she seemed to descend into her old self, introducing three strange, skinny young men from the down-under world of vogueing and a slight, dark-haired girl who excelled in yoga. The freakiness of the contortionists seemed to juxtapose negatively with the beauty of what went on before, looking more like extra baggage for effect.

All sides of the Joyce Theater stage were ringed with long strings of glittering stones that became the exits and entrances for the dancers and encased them in splendor as they performed. David Salle, the internationally known artist, designed the piece with his fine artist's hand. The dancers wore soft gold or silver leotards, and formed an alluring ensemble against the glistening ropes of beads. They moved in the dim areas of light designed by Clifton Taylor using firm technique to stretch and sketch Armitage's vision. All are spectacular dancers, especially the willowy Megumi Eda, and the smaller, sharper Cheryl Sladkin.

Armitage is demanding. The women are lifted and held in inconceivably difficult positions, but the men keep them aloft and secure. The dancers weave in and out of the beaded curtains and walk partially hidden behind them to the wings. The whole effect is truly breathtaking. Armitage knows exactly how to bring them on and take them away, a gift most choreographers have difficulty mastering. Her music, ranging from Bartok to Ives, was flawlessly melded to provide mystery and dynamic interest to the piece.

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