29, 2002 DANCE SALAD Review
has mouths agape;
Body slammers, tap diva enliven international showcase
By Molly Glentzer, Houston Chronicle
What a difference a little shuffling
can make - and not just because tap dancing enlivened Friday's
'Dance Salad' program in the Wortham Theater Center's Cullen Theater.
Nancy Henderek's contemporary global showcase grew this year into
a three-night mini-festival. Five of Friday's 11 works were repeats
from Thursday, but they appeared in a different order, and they
flowed better with the new dances.
The mood was introspective but with light, quirky accents for
balance. Several of the dances had common elements - mouths agape
and bodies slamming. The mouth business is influenced by butoh,
a modern dance form
that grew out of the Japanese response to nuclear warfare. Contemporary
choreographers have adapted it in interesting ways. It sometimes
mirrors butoh's terrible, silent scream, but a wide-open mouth
also can make a dancer look awestruck, silly, or like a baby bird
waiting to be fed.
The gesture suggested amazement near the end of The Heart's Natural
Inclination by Alonzo King's LINES Ballet. The San Francisco company
showed great spring, attack and speed Thursday in King's Tarab.
But The Heart's Natural Inclination, to electronic music by Leslie
Stuck, had more depth. Here, King's movement was multidimensional,
suggesting the complexity of love or perhaps the difficulty of
finding creative inspiration.
The highlight was an inventive pas de deux in which a man with
draggy feet (Christian Burns) tangled with purity in the guise
of a dependent muse (Chiharu Shibata). Before the pas de deux,
a ballerina tried and failed to pry the man's arms from a self-hug.
The muse later was able to pull his arms apart - and then it was
as if their bodies were glued together at the seams. A dancer's
heart is largely in his or her legs. King turned these dancers'
limbs into metaphorical marvels with a mix of pointe work and
Pilobolus-like body pretzeling. In one of many "ohmygosh" movements,
Shibata circled Burns several times with her legs wrapped around
A brief, spring-loaded solo with high kicks and off-center hips
showed off dancer Gregory Dawson but didn't seem to fit the rest
of the ballet. In the final section, the ballerina reappeared,
served by two lines of dancers. They scooted on their behinds
toward her and walked flat-footed - mouths agog - before she sent
them falling like dominoes to the sound of tinkling glass.
Zhao Liang of China's Guangdong Modern Dance
Company shrieked silently in the unsettling solo
Do You Be. Choreographer Yunna Long (who also is Guangdong's principal
female dancer) was inspired by a Chinese folktale about a lonely
ghost in despair. It could just as easily have been an American
Indian story, thanks to Meredith Monk's haunting music - a hybrid
of shrieking and yodeling. Liang's appearance also added to the
impression. He has a long mane of straight, jet-black hair that
he slung in great arcs, letting it fall completely over his face.
Liang is a pliant powerhouse, and he was so possessed that some
people found it funny.
Guangdong's fierce, physical style climaxed in Sang Jigia's Heart,
Shape, Substance/Comrades, a duet for Zhao and Wang Tao about
warring egos and uneasy truces. Both men are small-boned but lithe
and quick as flying nails. They were perfectly matched, line for
line. Their bodies repeatedly rose up and crashed. They made triangles,
hauling their rear ends up from the floor. Dazed, they fell to
their knees. John Adams' epic-sounding music added substance.
Four Chinese women fell hard and heavy, too, in the repeat of
180 degrees. Xing Liang's choreography, set to Yo Yo Ma's interpretation
of J.S. Bach, potently explored both the allure and oppressiveness
of Oriental feminism. Expertly twirling, contemplating and hiding
behind large orange fans, the dancers created a sense of sad inevitability.
Not to be outdone in the body-slamming department, Americans
Jason McDole and Samuel L. Roberts shocked the audience when they
fell backward - head to foot, with no support - in Robert Battle's
Strange Humors. But they also flew like banshees and shook their
bodies like trees full of blowing leaves. Their mouths, wide open
for a laugh, were intentionally spastic-looking. The humorous,
homoerotic duet had high energy, and it was a clear audience favorite.
Tap-dance diva Roxane
Butterfly opened the show on a jazzy note, going beat for beat
with drummer Bernice Brooks and saxophonist Sue Terry in Rhythm
Is Our Voice. Butterfly wore red shoes (she's French, OK?) but
otherwise could have hung with any of the old guys from New York.
Houston Ballet's Mireille Hassenbohler, Dominic Walsh and Nicholas
Leschke were excellent in the lyrical, elegiac pas de trois from
Timothy O'Keefe's World War II homage Uncommon Valor.
The Goteborg Ballet's swell Romeo and Juliet pas de deux, created
by Martino Muller to the familiar Prokofiev score, was again one
of the evening's most transcendent works. Rei Watanabe and Mattias
Suneson - dancing in front of an abstract red set as jagged as
the World Trade Center ruins - swept me completely along on their
wave of ecstasy.
The other repeats - all worth second servings - included Rebecca
Stenn's Iguana, the Norwegian National Ballet's Exilium and Guangdong's