Weeding

Better Biscuit Dance

Freehold's East Hall Theater

Fri-Sat Feb 12-13

I'm just going to lean over all the way, and read the title for this evening of new dance by Freya Wormus and Alex Martin more literally than it may have been intended. Recent transplants from New York via undergraduate dance programs, Wormus and Martin exhibit an enormous amount of warm energy and an eagerness to share their movement tools with us. What's missing in Weeding's five pieces is that seed--that underlying structure, that through-line, that kernel of a grand idea, that thing--that distinguishes movement from dance. Without it, movement remains an exercise in weeding the body of its physical repertoire, and then leaving it fallow.

If a narrative lurks behind Weeding, Wormus and Martin have hidden it well. My first clue should have been the opening sentence in their program notes, which hinted that this might be a series of experiments that hadn't quite gelled into a finished performance yet: "The dances in Weeding are the results of our movement and performance, investigations [my emphasis] over the past two years...."

My second clue that Wormus and Martin were still weeding in their investigations rather than presenting results proved more subtle. With the exception of Wormus and Martin themselves, none of the dancers appear twice. Each piece presents no more than two to six dancers. The choreographers might have managed more thematic consistency, and (here's the icing) moved the investigation process along by using a company of six dancers--a small enough number to help them solidify their ideas. Instead, Wormus and Martin cast each piece with a totally new set of dancers, starting from square one. That they chose this strategy suggests that each piece was to stand out in its own isolated glory. Furthermore, each piece is furnished with promising props and costumes: gingham bonnets and copper kettles, projectors ticking off reels of film, jackets fashioned out of crackling bubble wrap, a coil of rope.

Unfortunately, however, Wormus and Martin opt for consistency in the wrong place: the choreography itself. Their limited vocabulary of movement, faithfully and skillfully rendered according to the Modern Dance Primer, spans all five pieces, muting all those props, rendering the dancers as well as the dances interchangeable. Whether it's "Heavens to Betsy" or "Span" or "The Length of Time Over Which a Person's Memory Extends," a dancer will, at some point, lean forward as another drapes herself over that lean. All the lifts start at the waist, throwing the dancers across each other's backs as if they were sacks and sacks and sacks of sugar. A movement will be interrupted, just as it begins going someplace, so that a dancer can freeze with one arm extended or throw herself onto the floor like a batter sliding into second. A film introduces itself into the mix (aha, something new!), and simply mimics more of the same. Only the last piece, Wormus' "Belle," drops enough of the self-consciousness to have some fun and tell us a story. While this story (young girls abandon their individuality by adopting the costumes of ideal femininity) is familiar, Wormus (along with Martin, Rebekkah Dinaburg, Abby Enson, and Alia Swersky) distinguish themselves as characters, and pull off a welcome sense of play and irony. "Belle" begins, and goes somewhere.

Plenty would disagree with me about whether dance needs to bother with narrative at all. On the other hand, whatever direction a dancer may take--translating an idea into movement or movement into an idea--an audience arguably follows just one direction: through the movement, to the idea. Maybe I'm being woefully old-school here in longing for that elusive idea, but the body's already a natural storyteller; choreography a means of pulling that story out of the body. That only one in five pieces by this obviously talented pair carries a solid idea through the movement, however, signals that Wormus and Martin may not be ready to commit to a story. They haven't taken that daunting step between investigating performance and performing an investigation--yet.

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