Fresh Tracks 2010 at DTW

Rebecca Patek.

Last night I caught the opening night of Fresh Tracks at DTW (through Saturday; tickets $20): six emerging dance artists chosen through a live audition process, beginning their residencies in the program. And somewhat surprisingly (it’s a mixed bill, after all), I left impressed by basically all the performances. That said, my favorites bookended the evening, so I’ll bookend my review with them.

Mei Yamanaka’s newspaper & me opened the evening. The piece is performed on a large (maybe 15-foot diameter) circle of taped together broadsheet newspapers; off to stage right, there’s also a large pile of wadded up newspapers. Yamanaka, a punkish looking Japanese woman with bleached hair, enters and slowly begins to move.

The piece unfolds in roughly three segments, but Yamanaka sold me in the first. Building from slow to fast, she performs a sort of breakdown, as though disoriented and finally overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information surrounding her. She moves as though stumbling, constantly shifting her weight and balance, a fluid sort of lurching, her shoulders changing direction a beat before her legs are finished taking a step. In short, Yamanaka is a compelling young dancer.

And so is Marjani A. Forte, in a rather different way, who presented EGO, a meditation on the body and the self. Opening with dramatic lighting, the powerful and graceful Forte proceeded through a series of repetitive phrases ending in beautiful scuptural poses, before moving on to use more of the space. Wearing flowing pants and peek-a-boo sheer top, Forte paraded about, covering her face demurely with a sheer, flirting at the audience, and finally performing a pick-up and rejection with an audience member.

The most radical piece, though, in several ways, was Yve Laris Cohen’s Duke, which starts out feeling a bit like an abstract version of Of Mice and Men, and ends as a Beckettian tragicomedy. The movement starts in the dark, with a pair of shirtless men–one tall and heavy, one short and inexplicably wearing padded football pants–moving around planks of wood. The short man picks one up, then the tall man picks up the short man and carries him around the stage to drop them off. Eventually the planks all more or less end up along the back wall, and then, both men start to cry. Two other dancers make momentary appearances to knock over the short man, and at some point a bunch of smaller planks get dumped on the stage. Extremely compelling in its simplicity, Duke demonstrates that Cohen (and his choreographic collaborator Michael Mahalchick) is willing to think outside the box about how to create movement, and also has a sense of how to use non-dancers to create engaging dance.

In comparison. Lindsay Clark’s Goodbye Mr. B and Tatyana Tenenbaum’s the near(ness) felt rather conservative. Both featured three dancers, both were extremely musical (both in fact featured the dancers singing), and finally both felt a little under-realized. Clark’s piece manic-depressively shifted from a waltzy classical number to a joyously executed duet set to Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie.” It’s not that it was bad, but it didn’t feel as though it added up to anything bigger than its parts, some of which were better than others. Tenenbaum’s the near(ness), in contrast, I found to be disappointingly predictable.

And finally, the right bookend: Rebecca Patek’s Jessica’s Story. All I can say is, wow. Patek manages to perform both a side-splitting comedy routine and a beautiful dance solo. Playing what I can only describe as a parody of a flighty dancer, she starts by passing out a two-page hand-out to the audience–a religious kitsch painting about angels helping a community rescue a little girl from a well, and a page of dialogue–before informing the audience that, originally, the piece was choreographed for two dancers, but her collaborator left so she has to do both.

It’s brilliant comic deadpan, and watching Patek walk back and forth from down-center to the wing to pick up a prop that makes her one of four characters, each of whom has exactly one line to say, is just brilliant as a sight gag that gets funnier with repetition. The story, of course, is of Baby Jessica McClure, the 18-month-old Texan who, in 1987, fell down a well and was rescued after two days of frantic effort. Patek freely invites the audience to talk with her about her process creating the piece, from why she made it (Jessica McClure’s complete and total silence about the experience forced Patek to be the one tell it), to what she wanted to evoke (asking the audience to suggest what Baby Jessica felt when she fell down the well, Patek was willing to accept “fear,” but really like some “shame” might be in there too).

The entire thing is deliciously absurd, occasionally cringe-inducingly awkward humor. In terms of movement, Patek made sure she had at least one beautifully realized solo, but also managed to throw herself around the stage in comic pratfall (with three audience volunteers, playing the people who failed Baby Jessica), as well as perform a redemptive baptism in which the audience is compelled to be the response in a quasi-religious call and response. Jessica’s Story alone would be worth the ticket price.

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