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Deborah Jackson and Kevin Zabawa - Communication is Key - Communication, Politics and an Unlikely but Charming Pair

by Anne Mercurio
May 9, 2008
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
405 West 55th Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 405-9000
With feminine curve and power Deborah Jackson owns the stage. Her eyes are cast down, while her back speaks volumes of control and grace – giving the audience a very private dance…right up to the moment the lyrics of the song say something along the lines of "till death (do us part)" when her eyes dart up. Body and eyes flirt with an invisible partner, becoming comic and then slowly transforming to grotesque. She freezes…a cell phone rings. It's for her.

Kevin Zabawa delivers the ringing scoundrel – amazed along with the rest of us that she is TAKING the call. Ms. Jackson explains to the person on the phone that she's not just AT a show. Not exactly, she's IN the show, and no, it's not a good time for a shout out.

From the phone call onward our eyes are drawn to the details. It has been already demonstrated that what happens in front of us, is not all that is real during this performance. Everything has a backdrop of something else.

While Mr. Zabawa is on one side of the stage dancing, Ms. Jackson displays an amazing ability as a physical chameleon – she moves from long passionate concert dance movement to embodying a cursing teenage girl with a posse to back her up, becoming a star-struck teeny-bopper until finally taking on the shape of what must be the Star. The series is a powerful variance in range of physical character transformations.

It is after this that the props begin. Big Signs, Big Paintings, Small Flags. There is a tax rate dance – the performers parade for us signs that state their tax rates (Ms. Jackson is 46% and Mr. Zabawa is 12%) each is summarily insulted or feeling haughty about their own self-perceived good fortune.

Images that they conjure shift through a ship with Mr. Zabawa clearly the Captain and Ms. Jackson the masthead, to a slave trade scene quoting President Bush. Photo "ops" with the audience and a small American flag that brilliantly reappear during the second act, a huge Painting of Condoleezza Rice and a sexy curvaceous African/Indian blended dance that happens simply hoping to offend Condi's portrait.

It is clear that Ms. Jackson and Mr. Zabawa care deeply about the state of our world and our nation. Their creation of Communication is Key stems from concern on an academic, emotional, financial and historical level.

Mr. Zabawa's performance is self-conscious and imperfect and therefore utterly charming. Ms. Jackson is the flip side of his appealing awkwardness – she is poised, controlled, gorgeous and powerful. Together they blend to create an evening of different yet complementary attributes and connections.

This is demonstrated multiple times, but quite plainly in the moment of Mr. Zabawa's skipping dance with the American flag. He continues to wave his flag right up until the Very. Last. Note. Of. Music. and, it is certainly funny, while layering into the silly mix is Ms. Jackson's quiet rage as she stands facing heroically upstage her whole body shaking with anger.

Eventually there are visuals that are sentimental, paired with quotes floating overhead on projections that one might love to steal. Like this one from Eleanor Roosevelt (and now shared by Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton): "A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water."

Sentiments of babbling brooks and river docks aside, Ms. Jackson and Mr. Zabawa acknowledge that the strength possible in artists, specifically in this case, a strong black woman, is exactly one of the things the world is afraid of, pushes aside because of that fear, yet seems to need desperately.
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