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Shoot For the Stars
Kicking Off Fall With a Spirit Journey
Deborah Jowitt, The Village Voice
September 26, 2000

Free dance on late-summer evenings! At the "Evening Stars" series sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and the World Trade Center, the performance on a high box of a stage erected in the center's plaza is surrounded by an offstage show featuring twilight ramblers and escaped babies. Dashes for good spots become hectic choreography, with the seats' fiercest defenders as stellar attractions.

To crown a star-crossed day, I've arrived at eight for a concert by Trisha Brown's company that started at seven. All I know of Brown's newest piece to Dave Douglas's jazz, I learn from the buzz. I think of Brown as an "evening star," but the crowd-luring series title hardly describes her pristine yet sensuous work. A rapt silence falls when her dancers take to the stage. Next to me, a young mother tries every possible strategy to keep her eyes fixed on the dancing and off her restive two-year-old.

A revival of Brown's 1989 Astral Convertible seems perfectly in keeping with a night beneath the Twin Towers. The piece has towers of its own—small ones by Robert Rauschenberg, gleaming and transparent—which house the lights and music (John Cage's) triggered by the passage of the dancers. When a plummeting performer is stopped on her exit by a colleague with a push broom, it's as if the everyday has invaded a high-tech utopia. From the first rows, you can't see the dancers below their knees; they lie down, and disappear. But this makes them look more than ever like gleaming dolphins, twisting up out of the depths and slipping through unseen tides, gentle but tricky with one another. "Mmmm!" sighs a woman beside me when Keith A. Thompson and Kathleen Fisher tangle and slide apart amazingly. "Ahhh!" I echo as Brown's heroes peel off from a caterpillar pattern. Who needs a full moon tonight?

Reggie Wilson's Fist & Heel Performance Group—at Dance Theater Workshop through Saturday—salutes 2000 and his birthday by reaffirming his concerns: the meeting of body and soul in dance, the links between African and African American spiritual practice, the gravelly terrain of relationships, community, freedom, and empowerment.

In his introductory solo, the rhythms he builds through treading, clapping, and heavily aspirated vocalizations gradually possess him. He's glued to one spot on the floor, but his spirit is boiling, and words he speaks battle to emerge from that tranced cauldron. In Vanitystarts@home, to distant voices and drums, he advances along two paths—the diagonal across the floor and whatever's spooling inside him. He voyages sitting down, wrenching his arms to help himself along. The sounds get louder; those voices pull him, push him.

Rhetta Aleong and Paul Hamilton meet cute in Jumping the Broom. The postmodern touch: He's wearing a skirt, she's in tights. Sturdy Aleong of the mobile face and powerful voice slams into the slumping, narcotized Hamilton to wake him to love. "He's a kitchen mechanic and he handles my biscuits right," sing the scratchy old blues voices. Sure enough, the dancers sashay in to wed, holding a symbolic broom, the picture of connubial pleasure. For a few minutes. Then she's shoving him aside, he's humping the floor, and war breaks out. Wilson and the performers make this familiar scenario as fresh as a new day.

Wild and spunky, Nicole Falloon, Penelope Kalloo, and Stephanie Tooman dance Rise Sally Rise, spurred on by the talking and singing of Wilson, Aleong, Elaine Flowers, and Lawrence Harding. The three terrific women plow into the movement as if it were an obsession, a catharsis, a challenge. They keep their legs wide apart; their limbs whap the air and the floor. They jump; they fall and wriggle, gunned by words about love, jealousy, and oppression. In quieter moments they hold one another, then throw grief away. Members of a unique yet universal sisterhood, they're still wheeling and stamping as the lights go out.

The 16th Annual New York Dance and Performance Awards, a/k/a the Bessies, at the Joyce turns out to be the best show in town, as well as a great place for downtown artists to tell one another what they did this summer. The unannounced opening reminds us of the fragility of performed art. When 29 black-clad dancers with their backs to us turn and start to carve space, there's a collective murmur of recognition. Eyes blur. These are Martha Graham's dancers, affirming that her company cannot die as long as her movement inhabits their bodies.

The evening swings to inspired comedy when host David Dorfman announces to coproducers David White of Dance Theater Workshop and À€  Ð5  Ð):  àã  ð/$  f  R  ,  0ø)  @¤:  Pº  `¦  pJ  €Š  ┬ÉN   b.  s some wizardly stuff on a miked floor while Kenny Muhammad, a/k/a the Human Orchestra, matches him with vocal pyrotechnics. Another winner, Sarah East Johnson, presents her female all-stars in Hoop Diving.

Peter Boal of the New York City Ballet, receiving a Performer Award for his work with Molissa Fenley, speaks eloquently about the rewards of venturing beyond one's accustomed niche. Other winners are speechless with surprise and/or teary, and we love them for it. Accepting a Lighting Award, Atsushi Kitagarawa asks where Bessie is because he'd like to thank her. And Mickie Wesson, honored for her personal commitment to the field, echoes the late Bessie Schönberg's clarion call to keep creating despite hardship, to be innovative. Merce Cunningham gets a standing ovation for doing just that, even though he's only, as he puts it, a stand-in for Aaron Copp, who, with Paul Kaiser, Shelly Eshkar, and the late Suzanne Gallo, receives a Lighting and Visual Design Award for the team's work in "motion capture" with Cunningham. Seiji Shimoda (Performance Installation and New Media Award winner) reminds us that artists in Myanmar and China are still being imprisoned for unapproved art.

Applause erupts for Time Out New York. The magazine—along with Electronic Theatre Controls, Inc.—garnished every plaque with a cash award. Additional winners: Marie Chouinard, Stephan Koplowitz, Inbal Pinto, David Roussève, Gus Solomons jr, Merian Soto, and postmodern legend Yvonne Rainer (Choreographer/Creator Awards); Stacy Dawson, Carmen DeLavallade, Francie Huber, Gwen Welliver, and Greg Zuccolo (Performer Awards); Matayo Wumni Olaiya and Nadia Lauro (Lighting and Visual Design Awards); Jason Finkelman, Charles Cohen, and Jeff Gersh of Straylight, and Robert Een (Composer Awards); the International Association of Blacks in Dance and dance writer Francis Mason (Special Citations).

Froot, in California with his wife, Victoria Marks, awaiting the birth of their twin boys, sent a message of faith in this motley community.

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