Off Your Center | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Off Your Center 

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Peter Carpenter, Marianne Kim, and Cynthia Reid

at Link's Hall, March 5 and 6

An artist's voice can sound so clear when she first starts to find it. A new voice's appeal may be its unself-consciousness--usually the artist has been saying the same thing for a long time and isn't aware that her growing skill at the craft allows her to be heard for the first time. "Off Your Center," a concert by three young choreographers from Northwestern University--Peter Carpenter, Marianne Kim, and Cynthia Reid--showed clearly their individual voices emerging from the busy conformity that a school imposes.

One dance by each seems to be a choreographic study using all the techniques they've been taught. The choreographer selects a signature set of movements--in Carpenter's Power Motive, one movement was a dancer drawing her hand slowly down the inside of her turned-in leg--and weaves a dance with them. These three choreographers prefer postmodern patterning, where each dancer in a group does her own variations on the movement, rather than the more familiar unison patterning, where every dancer does the same phrases. Despite the inventive movement, the similarity of choreographic approach makes these three dances seem cut from the same cloth.

Individual personalities begin to emerge in other dances. Reid's humor starts to appear in Runners Up, where she twists the traditional romantic duet into a picture of a man and woman jogging through choking traffic; of course, the man eventually gets mad and leaves the woman to jog through traffic alone. Kim, dressed in a kimono and holding wind chimes, walks slowly across the stage in Dreamescapesescapedream. Carpenter's solo, Liquid Charcoal, uses a mad hash of spoken words and phrases to convey anguish without communicating its cause.

The cause becomes absolutely clear in his When I Say That I'm Queer Does It Frighten You? Using David Wojnarowicz's text, about a gay man's rage at government inaction on AIDS, Carpenter fashions a duet with Adam Dugas that expresses anger as well as two men's support and love for each other. It's one of the few AIDS pieces I've seen that genuinely communicates rage.

Kim creates a dance version of Conrad Aiken's short story "Silent Snow, Secret Snow," about a boy drifting into the white snows of catatonia. The boy (Carpenter) slips away from his lecturing mother (Reid) into his private world by simply sliding under his chair; she continues lecturing, though only occasional words filter through to him. When the boy slips back into the world, Kim has the perfect opportunity for ending cleanly where she started; instead, she chooses to follow the boy's drift into his psychic snowstorm, where she finds the emptiness of the Buddhist void.

Reid's Shirley Goes Pop takes aim at Hollywood emptiness, with occasional potshots at modern-dance emptiness. The piece opens with Shirley Temple (Kirstin Showalter) singing "The Good Ship Lollipop"--or rather Showalter doing Temple's hand movements and poses. Then a chorus of four Graham-style dancers (Jennifer Holmes, Kim, Sara Kraft, and Reid) in simple, severe shifts and severe, unsmiling faces do Temple's movement as a serious, significant dance. Reid extends the parody by creating a choreographic study, much like the first dances on the program, using Temple's movement. The Graham dancers eventually break out of their conventional forms and turn into a set of wiseass students, who lecture Temple on the suppressed sexuality of her appeal and go looking for a party after they put on their street clothes. Reid's wiseass attitude is--as critics like to say--"refreshing."

Much of the appeal of these young artists comes from the many possibilities we sense are opening up for them. It's the appeal of innocence, of potential fruitfulness. The next step may be conscious awareness of their own particular gifts and preoccupations.


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