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Contact

by Robert Abrams, Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
August 10, 2002
New York, NY

Contact

A dance and theatre show at the Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont

Contact may be closing soon, so go see it while you can. Go to www.lincolncenter.org for more information.

A dual review by Roberta Abrams and Roberta Zlokower
August 10, 2002





Analysis by Robert Abrams

Is dance a sport?

This is not the obvious question Contact sparks, but it will make sense in a minute.

If dance is a sport - which I reserve the right to reserve judgement on at this time, let's assume for the moment that it is the kind of sport that people who think it is a sport don't think it is: a team sport. If dance is a team sport, what makes a team successful?

A successful sports team needs depth. A star can win games, but it is the depth of the team which will win over the whole season. Remember the way a few years ago that Patrick Ewing finally brought the Knicks within smelling distance of an NBA title, but was so worn out by the playoffs that the team couldn't quite make it?

This is the reason that this review starts by discussing the performance of Shannon Hammons and Robert Armitage.

Shannon and Robert filled in this matinee for Joanne Manning and Scott Taylor, although I didn't know this when I first saw them dance - I didn't get around to reading the program until intermission. I couldn't tell that an understudy was performing either of their roles (The Girl on the Swing and the roles usually played by Scott Taylor respectively). These are demanding principal roles and they danced them flawlessly. That's the kind of performance that makes a show or a team successful over the course of an entire season. Ms. Hammons certainly had a role that required athleticism - if she is any good at shooting free throws I say send her to the Knicks because they could use the help.

Contact reminded me of Orlando, the film about a woman who progresses through several lives over about 500 years, constantly developing and growing as a person. The parallels aren't exact, but they can be seen. Part I of Contact, Swinging, is set in 1767 and features the social relations of servants and masters. In a kind of soft deSadian take, one can never be sure who is the servant and who the master. Part II, Did you move?, progresses to 1954 when gender roles were more well defined, but not necessarily better. The balletic fantasy is as exuberant as the Wife's life is painful. She can't live without moving, without dancing, and he, her husband, can't live without bread rolls. The second act, Part III, Contact, moves on to 1999. The roles and the challenges are no less complex (if you were an Aristocrat in 1767, you never had to worry about the Co-op board making you buy a rug), but with some effort, men and women can come to understand each other as people.

The show makes you leave wanting to go dancing, but first it will make you want to eat. And hunger for a bright light and hope it is real.

My only criticism of the show is the use of cigarettes. Yes, it is true that cigarettes are a part of modern life, and their use was relevant to the character development, but we know enough about the dangers of smoking to avoid accidentally glamourizing the vice any more than already happens on its own.

Summary and commentary by Roberta Zlokower

Part I—A scene from a 1768 Fragonard painting, "The Swing", from the Rococo period. One lover sits on the ground, gazing upwards with desire. In this production, two lovers gaze in desire, and compete in a sexually charged aerobic dance, with acrobatic features, over and through the swing, as the petticoats flutter and the porcelain-doll temptress teases one lover, while accepting from him jewels and champagne, and seduces the other lover, during the swinging acrobatics, as an amusement, while her apparent fiancee acquires more champagne. Shannon Hammons, who also appears in a bar scene, in Part III, is a splendid substitute in this physically and dramatically, demanding role. The semblance and sensuousness of this Rococo scene exemplify the Rococo spirit, as described in The Art Book (Phaidon Press), "all powder, perfume, and artifice, with a highly polished finish". (p.162) One is not sure, at the end of this scene, which relationship is actually requited, as the men suddenly change roles.

Part II—An extremely dysfunctional marital relationship in the 1950's plays itself out in the midst of strangers, lovers at another table, actually becoming engaged in the middle of mayhem, a pregnant wife and her husband at another table, discord turning to near murder, surprises galore, the husband disappearing, presumed shot, re-appearing, around scenes in which the abused wife actually dances in ballets with the headwaiter. An unrequited relationship (wife/headwaiter), superb role changes, wife in a dream sequence reminiscent of the Kelly/Caron ballet scene in "American in Paris".

Part III—A Cleo winner in a cool, but spartan, Manhattan apartment, alienated and near suicide, makes "Contact" with the woman of his dreams, on the same night, in a bar called Vinnie's, with a bartender (Danny Mastrogiorgio) who has completely switched roles from abusive husband to therapeutic bartender. Alan Campbell is perfectly typecast, an "enthusiastic" (his self-description) dancer. Colleen Dunn has a delicious demeanor—sophisticated, sly, seductive, sultry. Adorable as a pajama-dancing neighbor, "girl of my dreams", and wild and wanton as the queen of the bar dancers, the one who reduces all men to their knees. Some of the bar dancers, in swing scenes (a play on the original swing scene), have been seen in the after-hours swing and hustle scenes around NY.

Choreography was sensational, with a touch of Tango togetherness. Susan Stroman deserves endless accolades for the Direction and Choreography of "Contact". John Weidman also deserves accolades for writing "Contact".




Joanne Manning/Sean Martin Hingston in Part I of Contact.
Photo by Paul Kolnick, courtesy of Lincoln Center


Charlotte d'Amboise in Part II of Contact.
Photo by Paul Kolnick, courtesy of Lincoln Center


Sean Martin Hingston/Colleen Dunn in Part III of Contact.
Photo by Paul Kolnick, courtesy of Lincoln Center


Colleen Dunn/Alan Campbell in Part III of Contact.
Photo by Paul Kolnick, courtesy of Lincoln Center

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