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Williamsburg Art Nexus
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"?" by VanDance and Bruce Ornstein

by Robert Abrams
May 20, 2004
Williamsburg Art Nexus
251 North 8th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 599-7997

"?" by VanDance and Bruce Ornstein

presented at
The Williamsburg Art Nexus
Brooklyn, NY

Robert Abrams
May 20, 2004

I recently saw Valerie Norman's new dance called "?". It was pretty out there stuff. It was an abstract modern dance of a type that in some ways is not normally my thing, so, to be fair, I decided to interview some of the audience members. This is what they had to say. (My tape recorder's batteries failed after a bit, but I took notes so this should be pretty close to what everyone said.)

Robert Abrams: What did you think of the show?

Frederick Von Lehman: It was intense. I had to be here.

RA: Why did you react so strongly?

FVL: You know, the way they play with boundaries? That really got to me.

RA: I'm not sure what you mean.

FVL: In the first section she moved against the wall, defining the space as she moved.

RA: She?

FVL: Sarah. Sarah Wollshlager. She's very good at defining spaces.

RA: You've seen her perform before?

FVL: Yes, definitely. There is something about her I find so compelling.

RA: She did work with the walls. She ran up them a couple of times. She reminded me of Donald O'Connor.

FVL: I don't know him.

RA: He was in Singing in the Rain.

FVL: Whatever.

Rebecca Taylor: He's right, you know. Her movement quality was unpretentious, but she still managed to defy space.

FVL: I don't know about defying space, but defiant, that's Sarah all right.

RA: Uh, right. I agree with you about the boundaries. The dancers were playing with that idea throughout the work. For instance, in the second section, Zoe Bowick moved around the edge of a square of light.

RT: The second section was when, in retrospect, the dance came together for me. I thought that all of the dancers showed crispness and continuous control throughout the arc of their movements.

RA: I agree with you there. There were plenty of variations in the movement, such as vertical fast sections, ground work, contractions and so on, but it all had a consistent movement quality. Fluidity and control, definitely. It looked very natural, but the training was evident if you knew where to look. This movement quality was consistent across the entire ensemble.

FVL: Not everyone. What about hair girl?

RT: Who?

FVL: I don't know her name. She had long braided hair. She shook her head and her hair flew all around.

RA: Zoe Klein, I think. I'll have to check withValerie.

RT: She did dance with somewhat more angularity than the rest of the dancers, but otherwise she was consistent with the others.

FVL: Hey, I liked her. I just thought she was different.

RT: You made it sound like she wasn't as good.

FVL: I never said that.

RT: Sounded like you did.

FVL: She's good, okay. But I came here to see Sarah perform, if you must know.

RA: Ah. (coughs) Do you think Valerie Norman practices Aikido?

RT: I know she teaches Yoga. Why do you ask?

RA: Well, in the third section, all seven dancers were on stage and they were sitting in what I think of as the Aikido position. They were resting with their lower legs underneath them, feet out flat, rear resting on their ankles. How they managed to bounce on their knees in that position, I don't know. I did Aikido for a year, and I could never get comfortable in that position. What did you think of the lighting?

RT: The lighting had appealing variations. I really liked the tableaux in the seventh section.

RA: The one where one dancer is standing on another's back, held steady by dancers on either side and two in front?

RT: Yeah, that one. The back lighting was really effective there.

FVL: What about the Asian girl?

RT: You mean Mariko Ando?

FVL: I suppose. I'm terrible with names. She had intensity in her restful composure, and then she would arise into movement. I liked the way she danced. Not as much as Sarah's dancing, though.

RT: I think you are biased.

FVL: Probably, but so what? Not that it does any good. She doesn't seem to notice.

RA: Who?

FVL: Sarah.

RA: Some images stick with me. The dancers lying on the ground with one arm swaying in the air like the stalk of some intelligent plant.

RT: What about the lines of dancers? The line of dancers provided internal framing at several points. I also liked the scrubbing motions that sometimes seemed to pass from one dancer to another at certain points.

RA: If the choreographer asks you to roll around the floor a lot, I am sure you would want the floor to be clean. This work was created with an improvisational process, so maybe some of that experience emerged and was used to create that movement.

FVL: Robert, right? What didn't you like?

RA: Well, the work didn't have a defined macro-structure, certainly not in the way Bolero does. Normally, that would be a drawback for me, but it didn't really bother me because I liked the movement quality.

FVL: What else? You are supposed to be a critic, so criticize something.

RA: The fifth section was rhythmically attentive. The partnering between Zoe Bowick and Sarah Wollshlager was good because their elasticity matched the punctuated resonance of the music. They looked like they were working through personal issues, but were never quite happy.

RT: That's normal in New York.

FVL: That's not criticism.

RA: They would have been happier with some Peabody or Charleston.

RT: What's Peabody?

RA: It's a social dance from the twenties.

FVL: That's ridiculous. How can you suggest that?

RA: I didn't. The music suggested it.

RT: The last section recalls many of the movements from throughout the piece. I liked that too. I would see the show again.

RA: I thought the dance had a lot to recommend it as well. Edgy, but built on talent. What about you, Fred? What did you think?

FVL: Yeah, it was good. The music was interesting. Very varied. The sort of stuff that would get me going while I paint. Sarah was great. Now if only she would take me back.


"?" is playing at the Williamsburg Art Nexus through May 23, 2004. It features choreography by Valerie Norman and was created in collaboration with Bruce Ornstein. The dancers are Mariko Ando, Zoe Bowick, Kelly Eudailey, Jacqueline Fritz, Zoe Klein, Mary Madsen and Sarah Wollschlager. The music is by Alon Nechushtan. The lighting is by David Alan Comstock. The costumes are by Valerie Norman.

The Williamsburg Art Nexus is located at 205 N. 7th St. (L train to Bedford Ave. and then walk west two blocks on N. 7th St.). Reservations can be made at 718-599-7997. Tickets are $15. All performances are at 8 pm, except May 23 at 7 pm. For more info, check out these sites: www.wax205.com OR www.vandance.org.

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