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Doug Elkins Dance Company - The Look of Love

by Robert Abrams
January 4, 2003
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800

The Doug Elkins Dance Company


The Joyce Theater's Altogether Different Festival

www.dougelkinsdance.com
www.joyce.org

Review by Robert Abrams
January 4, 2003

The Doug Elkins Dance Company presented "The Look of Love" and "I Hear Mermaids Singing", two one-act dances, at the Joyce Theater.

"The Look of Love" was choreographed by Doug Elkins, with music by Burt Bacharach and Daniel Johnston, costumes by Richard Cohen, lighting by Roma Flowers, and sound design by Evren Celimli. The dancers were Brian Caggiano, Sharon Estacio, Bernard Brown, Kristina Kirkenaer, Julian Barnett and Lesley Kennedy. "I Hear Mermaids Singing" was choreographed by Doug Elkins, with Polynesian and South Pacific chants, hymns and songs collected by David Fanshawe, lighting by Roma Flowers, costumes by Nadia Tarr, and sound design by Evren Celimli. The dancers were Brian Caggiano, Sharon Estacio, Bernard Brown, Kristina Kirkenaer, Julian Barnett, Pippa Frame and Lesley Kennedy.

This review is primarily about "The Look of Love", although the general points apply to "I Hear Mermaids Singing" as well to some extent.

"The Look of Love" is a minimalist beach party. It is a serious work disguised as froth. In other words, it is not just another modern dance tone poem. The work had compelling variations on its theme.

The movement was characterized by low rolling lifts and dependent partnering. (Dependent partnering, by the way, is a good thing. It shows that the choreographer is using the potential of two people dancing together, that the movement of one dancer is necessary to the movement of the other, rather than just two people dancing at the same time independent of each other.) The dancers dance both to and with the music. Dancing to the music means the dancers had an awareness of the rhythm, which is sometimes and perhaps often lacking in modern dance. Dancing with the music means the choreography respected the character of the music. In this case, Mr. Elkins did a fine job melding modern dance with Sixties social dance, as well as with some Hip-Hop.

The individual performances were well executed. The dancers were clearly having fun.

The work would have been superb had it been half its length. All of the segments were worth dancing, but in its current form, it suffers from a mild case of SNL disease: a very good idea that is carried on too long. It should be admitted, though, that length is a matter of perspective. For example, take a long piece of string. Stretch it out. Cut the string in the middle. Are the two resulting sections still long pieces of string?

For a work of this length, its lack of a macro-structure is problematic. Of course, this a failing in much of modern dance, so it is understandable, but no reason not to try to do better. (I am sure there are plenty of people who disagree that this is a failing, but they are entitled to their opinions. In fact, it is just as well that there are people who disagree. It makes arguing about it more interesting. So long as they don't lose perspective and start shooting each other.)

They should either divide the work into two and run both in repertory, or go back to the drawing board and find a way to graft a macro-structure onto it. It also seemed that the segments could have been presented in almost any order and the show would have worked just as well. This may be a good sign if the work is philosophically premised on a certain notion of minimalism, but if the segments are intended as a single coherent long work, I think this is evidence that something needs to be rethought.

One way to think of this is to look at Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The part to look at, in this context, is not the narrative, but the progression of the number of characters on stage from scene to scene. This is an example of a macro-structure that can be expressed solely in movement terms.

I think the existing concept of "The Look of Love" is a good implementation of modern dance and does not need a narrative, but as a full length work, it needs one more layer of variation that builds from start to finish.

All in all, I thought "The Look of Love" was a compelling show. The music and the subject matter lead one to think the show will be entertaining, perhaps nothing more, but by the time the audience has gotten deeper into the evening, they will see serious choreography that is also entertaining. The show is much like the beach it represents: initially you are drawn into the water by the gentle froth of the surf, but if you swim out far enough, you will experience serious waves.

"I Hear Mermaids Singing" was also worth seeing. The next time the Doug Elkins Dance Company comes to town, make sure you get tickets.

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