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Guta Hedwig - Stabat Mater/Mother Stood - at the Danspace Project - St. Mark's

by Anne Zuerner
November 17, 2002
Danspace Project
131 East 10th Street (at Second Avenue)
St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery
New York, NY 10003
(212) 674-8112

Guta Hedwig, Stabat Mater/Mother Stood, at the Danspace Project - St. Mark's

By Anne Zuerner
November 17, 2002


Although Giovanni Batista Pergolisi presumably did not write Stabat Mater to accompany the dancing of barefoot athletic women of the 21st century, as far as Guta Hedwig is concerned, he might have. How on earth do an 18th century Christian composer and a German modern dancer living in the US in 2003 match so gracefully? I suppose, when it comes down to it, exuberance is exuberance, whether it is religious or physical.


Two dancers from Guta Hedwig's company
Photo courtesy of Anja Hitzenberger

Just as music can set the tone for any dance, dance can set the tone for any set of lyrics. Movement can expose the irony of a seemingly simple line of text, or, in Hedwig's case, override its solemnity. The text of Stabat Mater is an ode to Mary, as she weeps at the foot of her crucified son. It is sung in Latin and Hedwig has printed the text, along with an English translation in the program. Although her choreography does not refer to the text directly, she obviously finds it important. With lines like "The sorrowing Mother stood tearfully beside the Cross while Her Son hung there," one would not expect to see three plainly dressed, small women running jauntily in a large circle, or bouncing across the stage like balls. While putting the text aside, Hedwig exposes the unexpected joyfulness of much of the music. At times, she even manages to create humorous sequences, while the singers cry out things like "Make me bear the death of Christ…"

Hedwig does her best work when she is matching the music's swirling, vibrant tones with voracious choreography. While the music ripples, the dancers skip and slide across the floor, fall prey to spastic attacks of energy, and even zap through a spoof on ballet with movement that would knock a tiara off of any sylph's petite head. Her musicality is delightful at times, the kind that brings a smile to the face and a giggle to the belly. She also goes beyond pure movement, introducing a red suitcase and silly sequences of physical comedy involving two dancers inside one sweater peeling and eating two oranges. When the music slows down, Hedwig loses her steam. She is able to run head to head with bellowing allegro sections, but when she tries to walk in slow motion beside the slower, more tortoise-like sections of Pergolesi's score, she is less successful. Her choreography becomes minimal, and less interesting, too much of a mirror rather than a clever portrait of a sonic landscape.

Wooden crate-like structures by Illya Azaroff shaped the space of St. Mark's church. At times, the dancers leaned against them, or hid behind them. The piece opened with the artful lighting effect of Kathy Kaufman; ruby light streamed out of the set, seeping between the coarse wooden slats as the music revved its lyric engine. Although the set was appropriate, most of the time it served mainly as a shaping device, matching the movement with its organic aesthetic.

Guta Hedwig manages to be musical and joyous with out sacrificing experimentation and without being corny. She also manages to let a grand piece of music take the lead, without sacrificing her own creativity. While modern choreographers grapple over their relationship to music, Hedwig stands fervently by her aim of matching classical music and experimental dance.

Go to www.danspaceproject.org for more information.

Danspace Project
131 East 10th Street (at Second Avenue)
New York, NY 10003
Information: 212-674-8112
Fax: 212-529-2318
Reservation: 212-674-8194

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