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Douglas Dunn & Dancers — "Pulcinella" and "Then Boss In Man"

by Lori Ortiz
February 27, 2009
Citigroup Theater
405 West 55th Street at Ninth Avenue
New York, NY 10019
(212) 405-9000
Through March 2, 2009
douglasdunndance.com
Ephemeral dance and fragile humanity come to mind while watching renowned choreographer Douglas Dunn's singular modern style. So "Pulcinella," the classical clown fable, fits magnificently into his oeuvre. (I am a fan.) Ephemeral maybe, but dances past are returning via YouTube. Many dances including Dunn's are reconstructed from video.

In 1980 Dunn made a "Pulcinella" for the Paris Opera Ballet. Evidently, it was revolutionary for the audience there because it broke hierarchy when a corphee threw herself into the arms of the leading man. It was avant like the Igor Stravinsky/Leonid Massine original 1920 modern ballet.

Dunn remounted his production for The 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Festival and performed it at Ailey Theater opening night, February 25th, to an enthusiastic full house.

The choreographer was just inducted into the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Modern Chevalier Dunn is not new to folding chairs but how would Pulcinella look at the Met? On ABT? It was made for etoile opera ballet dancers. Jean Guizerix and Wilfride Piolletthe led in Paris.

Dunn has said that once his works are performed, he doesn't change them. He held auditions and cast sixteen, mostly modern dancers, including his core group, to fit the work. Crossing over to perform ballet is not normally attempted but may be in the future. All ably fit the bill and with particular charm. Though "Pulcinella" hasn't been reimagined hundreds of times like "Rite of Spring," it is a museum piece. Dunn & Dancers fresh musicality compensates for that feeling, and for the recorded sound.

Dunn could realize his significance in a bigger way, working with this cast as a company. They are beautiful dancers and expand the possibilities presented by his small group of top pros Liz Filbrun, Jean Freebury, Paul Singh, and Christopher Williams.

Dunn's melding of modern, Cunningham and classical ballet, is nothing short of ingenious. As in all his work, the movement embodies emotion and theater. The whole body, from head to toe, is equally involved in abstract dance feeling. Here he has multiplied himself in the Pulcinella story.

Mimi Gross's costumes and puppet-stage set glow without taking the spotlight. At the start, a group including puppeteer extraordinaire Williams, entertain with some shadow dancing, and introduce the general delight of the piece. Dunn appears at first in traditional, Tiepolo inspired Pulcinella costume, and then the others dance his fleeting visualizations.

As for the very memorable, even scintillating dance moments, they occur in trios and duets, in which the chemistry, for example Allison Cave and Jerome "Nuney" Stigler's, just coalesces. Three stand shoulder to shoulder and the outer two support the central dancer's swings or falls. It is a showcase for the dancing, like many great ballets, and there is an eyeful here. New dancer Kira Blazek is a standout.

Blazek is the muse in "Then Boss In Man?" a premiere that impressed equally if not more than the expected, following, blockbuster attraction. With so odd a title, could this be of much consequence? Yes. It appeared autobiographical, again, with Dunn and a no nonsense Filbrun in beautiful synch, suggesting a master and able progeny. She understands the legacy and the future. Enter Blazek who (figuratively) sets fires to everything she touches, including fiesty on stage guitar soloist Tali Roth. Roth's right-as-rain mix of Bach, Mangore and Piazolla, and Albeniz, is well integrated but slightly over amplified, and thus lacking in warmth.

A blindfolded Dunn, in a typical monster role, wears a pea green hooded unitard with an extra pair of arms. He puts a wrench in the works and surprising befuddlement ensues. That's not supposed to happen in a dance. This one allows for the core males' wonderful acrobatic dance talents. Blazek tangos with Dunn and poses as an odalisque, creating arabesque lines in a shoulder-stand with the aid of Charles Atlas's inspired, two-toned costumes. The subtle ending takes the cake.
Jeremy 'Nuney' Stigler, Hope Davis and Douglas Dunn Dancers in 'Pulcinella'

Jeremy "Nuney" Stigler, Hope Davis and Douglas Dunn Dancers in "Pulcinella"

Photo © & courtesy of Julie Lemberger


Douglas Dunn and Liz Filbrun in 'Then Boss in Man'

Douglas Dunn and Liz Filbrun in "Then Boss in Man"

Photo © & courtesy of Julie Lemberger

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