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Mr. Inbetween 

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Timothy Buckley

at MoMing Dance & Arts Center

May 10-13 and 18-20

Mr. Inbetween always seems about to collapse. Performers constantly bump into each other in this playful, mysterious, charming dance-theater piece, running in and out of doors for no apparent reason and never quite seeming to know what is supposed to happen next. Chaos always threatens, but Timothy Buckley, the piece's creator, and the Buster King Dance Club keep this chaos volatile and yet skillfully under control.

Presumably Mr. Inbetween is Buckley himself, a rather timid and wholly plain man who clings to a book full of pictures of black-and-white-geometrical patterns. He also lives in a world divided between black and white--his chair, for example, is made up of one half of a white wooden chair joined to half of another, entirely different black wooden chair. Clearly, however, Mr. Inbetween knows--or wants to know--more than this world: he wears a red shirt, blue pants, and yellow socks beneath his long, untucked black-and-white- striped shirt. His desire to know more is theatricalized by the presence of four doors onstage--doors through which other black-and-white-clad figures can pass but that remain stubbornly locked to him.

The disarmingly simple and theatrical theme here--being trapped in a place where you don't know what to do--is performed in many delightful variations. The piece begins with each of the four "others"--Lydia Charaf, Bryan Saner, Jeanette Welp, and Kay Wendt LaSota--entering in turn, staring at the audience self-consciously for a moment, and then skipping sideways and diagonally across the stage, as if auditioning for Mr. Inbetween, who watches them from his chair. Once all four performers are onstage, they begin to perform a rather silly dance routine with utter seriousness, and Mr. Inbetween tries unsuccessfully to dance along with them.

This opening section is rich, not only because of the oddly virtuoso performances but because of the insight and intelligence that inform it (whose is not entirely clear, because Buckley collaborated with the other four). Buckley's choreography is both self-consciously arty and candidly sincere, giving the scene a near giddiness. His gestures by and large seem send-ups of modern- and jazz-dance cliches, yet because of the "undancerly" attitude of the dancers--toes aren't really pointed, arms flop about, spines seem a bit scrunched--the gestures become endearingly childlike. Buckley lets his dancers look beautifully clumsy, and these four talented dancers seem perfectly at ease in this style.

But what impresses even more is Buckley's role in this scene. We presume that he has choreographed this section, yet there he is onstage trying to dance along, convincing us that he doesn't know the routine. And in a wonderful ironic twist, his character, Mr. Inbetween, tries to convince us that he in fact does know the routine, making an effort to look cool and at ease.

This kind of ironic metatheatricality gives Mr. Inbetween much of its strength. The performers often appear to be "bad actors," saying simple lines flatly, looking stupid and self- conscious. Yet it takes great actors to pull this off convincingly, especially considering that their "flat" lines--mostly having to do with making sure another person is OK--cannot disguise the urgent tenderness these characters long to feel for one another. Another example of this kind of ironic twist is a riduculous, "menacing" black blob that appears once or twice, presumably the embodiment of death or fear or some other unpleasantness. The blob is clearly just a dancer, however--sometimes two--writhing around under black stretchy fabric. It is hysterically funny to watch it bump around the stage, frantically extending parts of itself in all directions, as if starved for attention, for someone to scare. Yet when this same blob makes its final frightening entrance, attacking and smothering Mr. Inbetween with nearly maniacal energy, it has truly captured the terrifying qualities so lampooned in its previous scenes.

Mr. Inbetween is full of arresting and beautiful images, executed with delightful nonchalance by the cast. My favorite perhaps was of three lonely, incompetent creatures--Charaf, Saner, and LaSota in colorful, textured, and multilayered clothing, their faces veiled by seductive gauzy material. Not only are the costumes beautiful, seemingly in an unintentional way, but these creatures perfectly reflect the "I don't quite belong here" feeling central to this piece. In one section, the figures try to eat crackers, succeeding in merely accumulating piles of crumbs at their feet, and then try to learn a dance routine from a lab-coat-attired LaSota. To watch Charaf's armless figure incompetently execute this routine, all the while she's acting as if she's doing it perfectly, is one of the funniest things I've seen onstage.

Mr. Inbetween is rather loosely structured, almost dreamlike, so that at times my attention sagged. The appearance of three additional dancers --Ann Boyd, Lauren F. Helfand, and Julie Simpson--and Mr. Inbetween's sudden, inexplicable ability to perform their routine is the weakest section simply because it's inconsistent with the world that's been so carefully constructed otherwise. But because the piece is purposely loose, the fact that my attention waned occasionally didn't detract greatly from my enjoyment. The piece seemed to allow for such a response. Its highly personal, enigmatic imagery always gave me things to ponder, whether or not the scene onstage at a particular moment engaged me.

I'm still trying to come up with a framework for Mr. Inbetween, and though a framework continues to elude me, the piece maintains its hold on my imagination. These are fascinating fragments that refuse to be decoded--this piece intentionally doesn't add up, yet it holds together, never resolving its carefully articulated ambiguities.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul Boscher.

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