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I saw something…extraordinary! - A review of Artichoke Dance Company

by Damion Sanders
March 27, 2008
Dixon Place
258 Bowery, 2nd Floor
(btw Houston and Prince)
New York, NY 10012
212.219.0736

Featured Dance Company:

Artichoke Dance Company
Artichoke Dance Company (office)
121 Sterling Place, #2B
Brooklyn, NY 11217
www.artichokedance.org

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We who use mass transit in New York City are all too familiar with the NYC transit's call for heightened awareness with their campaign ad: If you see something, Say something. It has been argued that since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 the media and government have been instilling more than a healthy amount of safety concerns. Under the direction of Lynn Neumann, Artichoke Dance Company's politically charged production is saturated with visual allegory and rich, provocative symbolism that artfully touches on the subject of the prevailing fear mongering that is said to be present today in our post 9-11 society.

We take our seats; three large walls of paper barricade the stage and cast from the public eye. The music is tribal heavy with conga drums yet, ethereal and looming. At times a low, chanting voice is distinguishable. The bright light within magnifies a menacing silhouette approaching the paper partition. The unnatural, rigid zombie-like movements of this creature articulate to us that something is ill. A second staggering figure emerges similarly. As it approaches the wall we can make out its attire: a tribal-like gown fashioned from a material familiar yet hard to distinguish through the paper veil. It comes nearer, raises its knife-wielding hand to the paper wall and begins twirling the point repeatedly until a hole is made. It then collapses to the ground as if wounded by the puncture it just made.

A third figure, notably larger in stature than the other two approaches and looms keeping they that are in the front row uneasy. We see eyes peering out of newly punctured holes and as an audience get the feeling that we have intruded and that these ominous life forms have become privy to our presence. These creatures at some points appear intrigued by us. They continue their business of stabbing the paper, peering out with cautious eyes and dropping to the ground like insects suffocating on the fumes of a noxious spray.

Arms begin to burst through the parchment hedge and for first time large enough apertures are made that we may see the true appearance of these knife-wielding and erratic creatures. There are two females and a male wearing practically nothing but their undergarments and what seem to be tribal gowns fashioned out of bubble wrap. I felt this wrap may have in some way been alluding to the evident frailty in us as human beings. At this point they begin looking we the audience members directly in the eye and offering what initially occurs to us as cryptic warnings. "Never run!" we hear from one of them in a low yet firm tone. They begin tearing away at the rest of paper-like cocoon, dropping to the ground finally we see both the cast, adjacent audience members and the bare unfurnished set without impediment. I believe simplicity in setting with a production as allegorical as "If you see something" was a prudent decision on behalf of set designer, Vic Von-Johnson.

As they begin walking we immediately see that they are totally dependent on one another for stability. They walk the stage convulsing and maintaining a wobbly stride until they either hit the ground or call on either call to each other to catch them. A fourth and final character emerges. She (Lynn Neuman) is not dressed in bubble wrap, but is wearing a red, crocheted, hooded, knee-length, dress. In appearance she bears no semblance to the three tribe members but seems in fact, evolved. She is the only one that does not appear to have a problem balancing. (The oppressor, maybe?) Perhaps her mastery of balance while the majority falters and flusters is another way to illustrate to us that the oppressor will be always able to thrive in the chaos they have ordained. By time the audience has taken in her presence wholly, the original three are unconscious and again strewn over the floor. The barefoot woman in red performs a flurry of twirls in a movement style of dance that could be easily perceived as the only typical dance conventions used in the entire performance. She makes her rounds standing atop and kicking each of the unconscious bodies of the tribe people asserting what we begin to perceive is her dominant or at least evolved role.

The exhausted trio scale the wall and are finally on their feet as the woman in red completes her solo and falls to the ground motionless. They begin walking with the uncertain stride of a toddler flailing and flinching as they exit the stage. She arises shortly after their departure and begins to dance again, this time with a more ballet-centered, freestyle choreography. She involves the audience breaking her dance solo periodically having audience members to bind her hands, arms, legs and blindfold her eyes.

The three tribe people return and subdue the woman in red stripping her of her fastenings and returning them to the audience members. The male pushes her repeatedly while the two females hold either arm to keep her defenseless and immobile. Her exhausted, lifeless body is placed across the laps of three audience participants.

An eye appears projected on the fourth wall and weeping can be heard against the sounds of the tribal music. Finally, the three begin turning their frustration toward one another. The male and female begin pushing the third tribe member until she succumbs and collapses to the ground. And the surviving woman turns on the male and begins shoving him which seems to drain his vitality more and more each time. But as he begins to fall to his knees when funny enough, she begins helping him up. Perhaps this is some allusion to man's innate sense of remorse or morality.

The eye projected on the wall closes and the four cast members, who by now have all dropped lifeless to the ground, revive and rise to their feet for a curtain call. Perhaps the eye represents some all-seeing deity, organization or our government. As we the audience sit and digest the end result of this world of symbolism the realization settles on us that we are akin to this world, this madness from which we upon first entering believed ourselves estranged.
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