The Nothing Festival
curated by Tere O'Connor
Dance Theater Workshop
New York, NY
April 18-21 & April 25-28

by Lisa Rinehart
copyright © 2007 by Lisa Rinehart

Happily, DTW's "Nothing Festival," curated by Tere O'Connor, doesn't live up to its name — at least, not in obvious ways. O'Connor's premise for the festival is to give a selection of dance artists the opportunity to create work without the "marketing, fundraising, and production challenges that seem to overshadow the process of making a dance. No proposals, no explanations, these choreographers must only begin." In other words, carte blanche for eight artists who could probably blanket DTW's stage with the paperwork generated from years of semi-dignified pleas for money, space, permission, and respect. What makes this nothing fest something, however, is O'Connor's nose for dance theater that is obscure, emotional and almost never boring. Some of the work is less than polished, but both evenings are remarkably short on pretension. Ironically, O'Connor's framework of "no story, no music, and no outside source," appears to have restricted self referential wallowing — or perhaps O'Connor just knows how to pick 'em.

The two pieces built most heavily on movement are Douglas Dunn's "Zorn's Lemma," and Jon Kinzel's "Quirk - Ease." Dunn, a seasoned veteran, is the center of his own goofy riff on male/female relations. Looking like a lost Trekkie in jumbled harlequin colors and a skullcap, Dunn is touchingly alienated from his three elegant women and two awkward men — a sort of Humbert Humbert in Spandex. The dancers reference nutty Farandoles and fire dances from classical ballet as Dunn quietly tries to connect. Kinzel, a wonderful dancer to watch, is equally subtle as he moves mostly in tandem with his partner, Nora Laudani. The quirk is Kinzel struggling with an overhead projector like a hapless substitute teacher, while the ease is the delicate exploration of partnership through duets with Laudani. The two move together like silk against skin.

Less successful duets are Sam Kim's "Cult," and HIJACK's "Colin Rusch and Angelina Jolie." "Cult" suggests two women trapped in a wordless horror of abuse, or insanity — "Grey Gardens" meets "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane." In white Victorian dresses, Kim and Justine Lynch rake plastic claw-like nails through their partner's hair in a wrestle for control, but the premise quickly wears thin. More inscrutable is the dynamic between Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder of HIJACK. Looking like escapees from the rubble of Sarajevo, this duo of toughies use a map, a chair, and a long iron pole to say something about power struggles, sex and world domination, but that's as far as I'm willing to commit. Wilder's deadpan looks to the audience are weirdly amusing, however, and the pair at least keeps our attention.

The most visually ambitious pieces, Dean Moss & Ryutaro Mishima's "States and Resemblance (in progress)," and Walter Dundervill's "Would You Read My Poetry?" delivered the least impact. There was nothing to unify Moss and Mishima's sometimes stunning imagery other than a sense of watching people think about an art installation. (A glass of wine might have helped.) Dundervill gets a little further with fantastic abstracts of dresses and wigs circa 1750, but the clothes come off, club music pounds and Dundervill rages around in a frogman get-up that doesn't amount to much.

Susan Rethorst's "208 East Broadway," and luciana achugar's "Franny and Zooey," take O'Connor's something from nothing admonition the most seriously, and create the best works of the festival. Rethorst, used to making dances in a home studio she no longer possesses, moves her apartment onto the stage and peoples it with six dancers who partner the chairs, pillows, a table and each other. Tiny movements performed in unison juxtaposed with running and jumping are amazingly strong, and the excellent cast (Deborah Black, Jeanine Durning, Taryn Griggs, Molly Poerstel, Kim Root, Vicky Shick and Rethorst) add a refined sense of fun. Rethorst's dance is as taught and clean as her Danish modern furniture. achugar eschews even furniture and takes her cue from her borrowed studio's two resident cats — Franny and Zooey, of course. After an odd light show opening with spots choreographed into Vegas precision, a lengthy video of achugar laying around in feline repose evolves into a shocking study of her bare bottom moving away from us with catlike grace. Eventually she writhes in front of us, nude from the waist down, and four other women join in, happily flinging their clothes off and dancing to "Chicken Soup." It's a gutsy celebration of fleshy femininity that's surprisingly exhilarating and powerful.

O'Connor's festival is uneven, but there's an excitement and unpredictability to the programs that make the effort worthwhile. In this age of hype when we're told ahead of time how to react, it's nice to be reminded that art is not a commodity, but an adventure. Therein lies the pay off.

Photos, all by Julieta Cervantes, from top:
Douglas Dunn's "Zorn's Lemma" Liz Filbrun, Paul Singh, Gisela Quinteros, Douglas Dunn
Hijack's "Colin Rusch and Angelina Jolie." Kristin Van Loon, Arwen Wilder
Dean Moss & Ryutaro Mishima's "States and Resemblance (in progress)": Ryutaro Mishima, Dean Moss
Susan Rethorst's "208 East Broadway,": Taryn Griggs(laying down), Susan Rethorst, Deborah Black

Volume 5, No. 17
April 30, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Lisa Rinehart

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