writers on dancing


Muddled Metaphors

Rebecca Stenn Company
"Blue Print" (2005)
Danspace Project
New York City
November 10, 2005

by Nancy Dalva
copyright ©2005 by Nancy Dalva

Not since "Cats" have I seen a theatrical entertainment based on T.S. Eliot, but here's another, with "Four Quartets" the poetry in question. The work in question is Rebecca Stenn's "Blue Print." She springs from Momix, and thus from Pilobolus ( from whence also springs Martha Clarke, the mistress of the fusion format for a couple of decades). Besides the Eliot text, original music, with the musicians consorting on stage with the five dancers while playing, is a  major component of the piece. (The score ranges from the melodic to squawkish, with Dave Aggar, Jay Weissman, and Tom Chiu the instrumentalists.) While they are, from what I could gather, excellent musicians, they are lousy dancers, particularly when pussy-footing around barefoot while playing stringed instruments. Stenn's dancers are, as dancers tend to be these days, abundantly capable, but she is not. At least not here with this piece,  which she has "conceived and directed."  "Blue Print" is conceptual all right, but it's also confused.

First, from the evidence of her printed material (which is conveniently posted outside the theater), Stenn has somehow misconstrued the adjective "Homeric," confusing bard with hearth. To wit: "The collaborative dance/music/theater piece explores the archetypal Homeric story—embarking on a quest that leads one far from home, only to discover that what was sought was actually at home all along." Excuse me, but that's the plot of "The Wizard of Oz," not "The Odyssey." That story is about someone trying to get home, not to get away from home.

Second, there's the vapid use of the Eliot. It isn't merely Eliot "lite," it's Eliot wrong. Near the beginning of "Blue Print,"  an overly plangent female voice (actress Elizabeth Marvel, hopelessly miscast) intones excerpts from the poems, on tape. Then, some narration by  Stenn, and, later, original sound bites—a jejune catalog of personal statements  beginning "I am from..."—are mixed into the "sound collage." Is it necessary to mention that Stenn's personal additions to the poet are, to go along with her archetypal Homeric notion, hubristic? And, besides, strip Eliot entirely of context? (The context being England, the Church of England, the Second World War, etc., etc.)  
Third, Stenn does not understand how acting works. Dancing she gets, and she does well, as do the four others in her cast, at least that branch of dancing called "performance." But the dancers are mere moody illustrations for the text, which bears the entire burden of meaning because the music, whatever its merits, has no specific programmatic virtues. In fact, it muddles the already muddled concept with intimations of Argentinian tango, both rhythmic and melodic. Pleasant, but hardly what one would hear at "Little Giddings," or while transiting Scylla and Charybdis. Such are the perils of dance/theatre/music. But real acting does not narrate, unless the character is a narrator.  It reveals. And what about real choreography?  When did choreographers stop trusting the innate capacities of movement to convey meaning? Don't tell me, show me.         

Volume 3, No. 43
November 21, 2005

copyright ©2005 George Jackson



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last updated on November 21, 2005