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Susan Rethorst at the Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church

by Anne Zuerner
January 31, 2003
Danspace Project
131 East 10th Street (at Second Avenue)
St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery
New York, NY 10003
(212) 674-8112

Susan Rethorst at the Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church

www.danspaceproject.org

Review by Anne Zuerner
January 31, 2003

Susan Rethorst's acclaimed Behold Bold Sam Dog, presented January 23rd through the 26th at St. Mark's Church, is a study of subtlety. It opens with the striking Jodi Melnick seated, as if on a chaise lounge. The air is so still and quiet that when she suddenly claps, the satisfying "pock" resounding through the cavity of the church, we are startled and summoned to open our awareness. The meat of this work is in the details, so if you do not look closely, you may miss it.


Jodi Melnick and Vicky Shick
Photo by Tom Brazil

As Ms. Melnick claps, the festive sounds of Shostakovich march in, and the six dancers move about the space with the precision of synchronized swimmers; not only is their unexpected timing so calm and accurate, the quality of their movement makes them seem as if they are under water. The style of this dance is gentle, like tides of water are moving the dancers' limbs, rather than their muscles. The Shostakovich motif, which returns throughout the piece, neatly tying off sections and weaving transitions between duets, solos, and trios, is beautifully composed. The pattern is clear without being obvious, the movement musical without being predictable. The group seems tethered, even as their movements are completely unrelated. They create what looks like a movement organism; the choreography is precisely patterned but appears chaotic and spontaneous.

When Shostakovich or selections from the Beatles' Abbey Road are not coming through the speakers, the dance is in silence. Instead of hearing rhythm and melody, we see dancers playing with the momentum of their limbs, and experimenting with pauses that come at the end of physical chain reactions. We also see the split second moments of a woman reacting to a thought, feeling slightly annoyed, or waving a fly out of her face. These sections of silence build a tension in the air that seems to explode when the music comes back on. Rethorst knows this, and she plays with audience's musical expectations. At many moments throughout the piece, the music begins, and we expect to see the dancers assemble and dance to the song, but then the music stops mid-phrase and we can't help but laugh at ourselves; the rug of music is suddenly pulled out from under our feet.

When Ms. Melnick dances alone to a Beatles song, Rethorst has allowed the parallel worlds of music and movement to intervene once again. The movement that we have seen in silence for so long suddenly fits so nicely with the Beatles familiar sound. I have never seen anyone dance to the Beatles in this way, so calm and gentle, the movement and music like two lives that suddenly intersect for a moment of time.

The dancers in this piece are experts. Vicky Shick moves with an ease found only in a calm breath. Her focus is clear, and it is obvious that her experience extensive. She has wisdom beaming forth from all parts of her body. Jeanine Durning offers a side of her dancing which I have never seen before. She is able to melt her aggressive personal style into the soft quality of Rethorst's movement with incredible ease. Her versatility as a performer is enormous. It is a rare thing to see a dancer transform herself so entirely.

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