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Ilona Wall
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Dicapo Opera Theatre
Jennifer Muller | The Works
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Jennifer Muller | The Works - Noche de Pasión

by Ilona Wall
November 20, 2006
Dicapo Opera Theatre
184 East 76th Street
(Lexington Avenue)
New York, NY 10021
(212) 288-9438

Featured Dance Company:

Jennifer Muller | The Works
Jennifer Muller | The Works Studio
131 West 24th Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10011

(Also see Robert Abrams' review of Passion Fruit)
The night got off to a slow start at the Dicapo Opera Theatre on Nov. 20th where Jennifer Muller/The Works was performing a premiere as part of the 1st Latin American Culture Week. The good news is, however, that the evening did eventually take off. The program began with a section of duets. All of these were excerpts of greater Muller pieces that were revived for this evening and demonstrated the breadth and variety of Muller's work. But seen without the works in their entirety, the duets lost poignancy and context. Only later in the evening when Muller demonstrated the craft of her complete works was it clear that something in the structure of these duets was lost without seeing the pieces as a whole. Understandably the dancers seemed to have difficulty finding their emotional character—which is an integral part of Muller's work—and most seemed wobbly and insecure. Despite this the potential and detail of Muller's choreography was evident throughout the evening.

The "Noche de Pasion," as the program was called, began with a duet called Island. When the curtain rose, Gabriel Contreras stood bare-chested behind Rosie Fiedelman wearing a nude top and both in baggy brown pants. They pressed together and pulled apart to tribal music by Marty Beller, often stopping in powerful poses, and rarely face to face. The tension, both sexual and aggressive, was palpable as there was but one tender moment before she walked away leaving him alone onstage. This stood in stark contrast to Lovers, where a couple dressed in flowing fuchsia costumes swept across the stage. Where Island was halting with little eye contact, Lovers was about movement and the connecting gaze of the couple. The dancers focused their chests upwards allowing for an ethereal look while they leaned against one another, embraced, and fit their bodies neatly inside one another. These poses were intimate and unified, and could have created a more convincing effect had Pascal Reckoert been steadier on his feet. Much of the partnering was reminiscent of ballroom dance and indicated a couple moving in harmony.

Armless was the most unusual of the duets with the couple in striped martial arts-inspired garb where the sleeves were tied together behind the dancers' backs. In this adaptation of a straight-jacket, they were partly mediated and partly dictated by Contreras who was in a striped suit and combat boots wielding two walking canes: one black and one white. Where he had extensions of his arms, the dancers had none. The confrontation between Anne Kochanski and Tracy Kofford ranged from aggressive to sexually intense, to tender and caring. Again Muller innovatively explored not only the notion of aggression, but also what is possible in dance without the use of arms. The innovation, however stopped here. Although the next duet, arm in arm in arm…, was the best performed, it did little to draw the audience in as an excerpt. Courtney Jones and Gen Hashimoto spun around in confusion, and seemed unable to time their affection so that it was mutual. When one reached out, the other rejected leaving pain and confusion without reason as the overall impression. The final duet, Fields, was primarily two duets onstage simultaneously. At moments they wove through one another and overlapped interestingly, but the movement itself was plain and helped mostly by the dramatic black and white costumes designed by Donna Larson.

The world premiere of Passion Fruit followed creating an Argentine night club onstage complete with tables, chairs, and the Binelli/Ferman Duo. This piece pulled together the "Noche de Pasion." As each dancer entered, couples greeted each other in various ways from tenderly to provocatively. The women wore unique black dresses lined with different colors, and the men wore black suits with various brightly colored accessories. Muller successfully created the feeling of the nightclub where couples meet to tango the night away, but with the exception of Fiedelman, the dancers had an extremely difficult time capturing the passion and precision of the tango. In fact, this piece could be seen as a demonstration of the difficulty and highly specialized steps and flavor of the tango. While Muller's choreography expertly included dramatic character throughout, the execution of the tango was simply not convincing. Needless to say, this invaded the entire piece. Dancers anticipated each other, not only throwing of the timing of lifts and turns, but diminishing the dramatic intent as well. Still, moments of fire came when four couples danced in unison and one extra girl continually broke in to dance with the man she wanted at that moment. The music was sexy and well played, and Passion Fruit has enormous potential once its dancers are more comfortable with the vocabulary it uses.

The evening concluded with Momentum, one of Muller's trademark works that premiered in 2005. Despite the quick change and short break for the dancers, they looked considerably more alive in this piece than they had all evening. Pascal Reckoert began to move in silence, joking with and warming up the audience. Once Yello's techno music began, the movement was non-stop. Immediately, the stage was transformed into a dance club where people wearing brightly colored shirts and loose pants played, competed, and joined together on the dance floor. The movement was largely hip-hop and jazz based, and the nine dancers looked confident and comfortable. They enjoyed dancing Momentum, and as a result, the audience enjoyed watching it.
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