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Armitage Gone! "Wild Thing," "Drastic-Classicism," "Watteau Duets," "Excerpt from Mashup"

by Lori Ortiz
March 6, 2009
The Kitchen
512 W. 19th Street

New York, NY 10011
212-255-5793
March 4-7 & 11-14
Few under fifty have ever seen the early works that earned Karole Armitage the title "Punk Ballerina." Think Punk! is an Armitage mini-retrospective held March 4-14, 2009, at the Kitchen. The venue is known for cutting edge and cross-discipline fare. You expect loud. Actually, it was not ear-shattering. Opening night, staff had a basket of cotton balls on hand for the entering crowd of serious, long-time fans. Punk a la Armitage, is a twist on 60s and 70s pop. Both she and Twyla Tharp have conjured high art of that.

"Drastic Classicism," premiered in 1981 at DTW, "late at night, outside the regular dance season, as we were too radical to be part of their series," writes Armitage in a program note. In the shorter Kitchen revival, eleven dancers gyrate and group around individual musicians, who play from various places onstage. Their energetic, devotional movement includes air guitar. It is a club scene and bad boy Luke Manley tries to pick up a disinterested pair near the wings. Manley is drastically sexy. Everyone wears black, the reigning color of Think Punk! The mesmerizing drone of Steve Gunn's guitar introduces the piece. When the others join in, it may be loud, but it's music, composed by Rhys Chatham.

First came "Wild Thing," to the Hendrix recording. Two Bodyguards manage Jeff Koons's large, black, heart-shaped candy box. They release Warholian, heart-shaped party balloons from inside the prop. "Wild Thing" is an excerpt from the 1987 "Gogo Ballerina," which premiered in the underground East Village club The World. The moves hark back to go-go dancing but danseur noble Matthew Prescott fits right in, in striped tights. (David Salle designed the costumes.) Kristina Michelle Bethel humps the candy box. In a fringed black party dress, her energy embodies go-go, a word coined by the French to describe American get up and go.

In "The Watteau Duets," Megumi Eda and Manley start in black leather caps, flared leather gloves and boots. These basement denizens fence for sexiest. They change in wardrobe boxes on opposite sides of the stage. Eda doesn't travel far in high patent-leather stilettos and is much more in her element on pointe. This scene is lifts and poses. The dance is full of style, in an array costumes— Charles Atlas originals for movements 1 and 4, and Peter Speliopoulos's for the rest— yet it feels the most dated. At its 1985 premiere in Grenoble, the French called it an "Apache dance." Armitage made it to topple the baroque vision of delightful love, as depicted by painter Jean-Antoine Watteau. David Linton composed the music and the performers, noise-rock duo TALIBAM! fascinate. The exclamation mark might signify their affinity with Armitage Gone! They have toured with Chatham. During costume changes, they entertain with slapstick stunts and stories. They keep a radio going. Undoubtedly, their improvisation will change nightly.

Fortunately, Armitage is now based in New York and has created the new "Excerpt from Mashup." It draws on the techniques she's always used, but captures the current climate remarkably. The new dance is jubilant and au courant. The mashup of her punk and later explorations closes the program splendidly. The black box stage is jumping with the company in stocking feet, sometimes sliding. Facing partners' arms sweep into curvaceous air-hugs and boxing matches. Manley and Abbey Roesner weave through, finding open spaces for their dance, which delights us from various perspectives.

Daniel Inglesia's original score is a mashup of Mozart's Duo Concertante and a 1976 Spex song. The TALIBAM! musicians tinker from the first row and at one point in the playful, exuberant "Mashup" Bethel toys with their sample pad. This curtain closer is a chance to size up the new dancers and they attest to the health of the evolving company. Among their individual strengths, Filipino Bennyroyce Royon is a muscular action figure with an oily punk mane.

Armitage found her groove by going back thirty years to her early underground works. Her awesome, August "Summer of Love," in Damrosch Park, let loose 70s inspired leaps to music of Burkina Electric. The retro-futuristic performance impressed everyone. Not knowing the Armitage oeuvre is like missing a step. The eighties ballets, our loss, found a following in Europe and especially France.

In a surprise ending, after final bows, French Deputy Consular Jean-Jacques Victor dubbed Armitage Commander of the Order of the Arts and Letters. It is her second French honor. Armitage was and may still be a rebel, but when she returned to New York in 2004, an appreciative audience welcomed her with a Bessie Award.
'Drastic Action'

"Drastic Action"

Photo © & courtesy of Paula Court


'The Watteau Duets'

"The Watteau Duets"

Photo © & courtesy of Paula Court


'Mashup'

"Mashup"

Photo © & courtesy of Paula Court


'Wild Thing'

"Wild Thing"

Photo © & courtesy of Paula Court

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