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Sarah Michelson presents "Dogs"

by Celeste Heywood
October 18, 2006
Brooklyn Academy of Music
30 Lafayette Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11217
(718) 636-4111
Celeste is a member of ACFDance.
Sarah Michelson's 'Dogs' is an exercise in the art of giving the perfect gift gone wrong: high hopes and conceded effort result both in confusion and disappointment. But no matter what the emotional response, no matter how inappropriate or dissatisfying the aftertaste, one can't help but add: 'and this was her BAM debut?!'

All of the nearly sixty minutes of dancing in both acts of 'Dogs' can be found somewhere between the simple balances and leg extensions of a warm-up combination of a ballet class. A soloist figure featured in Act One was constrained to the repeating turns, ballet arms, and runs that said no more through the movements themselves than they did with their staging and traveling. Costumed in a revealing nude bodysuit, the sensuous curves of the soloist made for a character that neither resembled a dog nor implied anything about one. Two other female dancers eventually took the stage with repeating phrases similar to those of the soloist, their relationship to one another as equally dry and empty. Dressed in black with hair tightly wound in rows of braids, the two appeared more like high-strung Siamese cats than canines, keeping their distance while mocking the outcast.

The technical side of 'Dogs' could be awarded much credit, if not for excessiveness, than for making overindulgence a visual concept. The stage, completely covered in white scalloped flooring looked like 70s-inspired wallpaper. Stage lights sprouting from a trunk of metal resembled two large patches of weed grass. And a long narrow table adorned with a plate of rotisserie chicken gave the stage its only touch of color.

Multiple hurried opens and closes of a white screen (in place of the stage curtain) interrupted the soloist's dancing and running, only to open with her in a different position onstage. By the sixth pull of the screen, projected images of dots, a girl, cats and psychadelic flowers had been used for the elaborate pauses. Then, amidst her forever repeating phrases, the soloist and music were interrupted so that she could savagely consume a few bites of chicken. The music then comedically wound back up for more repetition of the signature phrasing: left leg swooping around with a turn, with spiraling arms crowned above her head. Maybe it is like a dog only to be identified by a couple of key gestures.

Act Two introduced a new set of repeated movements: balance on both feet in parallel fourth position held with right arm out straight for a 3-count hold, followed by a curved run from stage right to stage left. Two dancers, first layered in pastel chiffon, eventually unclothed to reveal pink leotards to reveal what some would call 'butt cleavage.' More eccentric lighting left circles on the floor and walls, where eventually a male dancer was introduced, fully covered in white. When he eventually fell to the floor and began crawling upstage, the image of a dog swaggering over to the dinner table for scraps became the first image of its kind. Lights quickly shifted to reveal a real-time scene of the same dinner table where 3 women sat and ate chicken. The male dancer lay dead on the floor — if that was actually what he was doing — and then spoken conversation ensued. Fighting and disagreement were coupled with the entrance of an older male butler, who poured wine from a pink bottle and listed dessert options. The woman centered at the middle of the table exclaimed, 'This tastes like dog!' while tearing at the chicken like a true carnivore. The male dancer eventually got up after having slowly rolled downstage, only to walk offstage, very un-dog-like. The curtains pulled and after a 3-count pause, clapping.

While a major part of theater-going is the visual spectacle, Michelson's attempt to produce a choreographic gem simply got lost in the dust (and quite literally so, with enough dry ice in Act Two to choke up even a young girl seated nearby). A production well-suited for BAM's Harvey Theater, 'Dogs' is not a product which will sell easily in the future.
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