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By Susan Yung
Joyce Soho, NYC
February 12–15, 2009
Reviewed by Susan Yung
Photo: Approaching Climax. Julie Lemberger, Courtesy Oberfelder.
If dance shows were evaluated on the energy and passion of the performers, then Jody Oberfelder’s would surely rank right up there, with Oberfelder herself leading the way. This dance world veteran may have a few years on her young dancers, but that doesn’t stop her from throwing her enthusiasm and obvious prowess with yoga/Pilates into the mix. Her dances are fun, funny, and filled with sweet, corny humor that is oddly rare in dance.
Approaching Climax, her new work to a mixed bag of music, begins with a dancer staring at us impatiently before stomping away, and another wielding a plate of anatomically-shaped chocolates, only to withdraw it teasingly. The set is a large projection of the dancers commenting on the action onstage, almost always making a hokey pun on the action. We hear “overarching theme” as we see a backbend; “she’s moving the plot forward” as she moves forward, and so on. “It’s extremely physical. It’s metaphysical. It’s the meta-PHOR!” they shout triumphantly. The game is humorous at first, but after about 10 minutes, any surprise is gone and the effect is predictable.
Oberfelder smartly varies each short segment, and her agile and engaging company of five moves together well. Dressed in beige street clothes accented with jet beads and sequins (by Liz Prince), they render the choreographer’s style with the naivete it demands. They could be mistaken for a bunch of schoolkids hacking around, from the numerous cartwheels and tumbling they do. But it is carefully put together—many of the group sequences are well-crafted puzzles.
Moved (2003) is set to a soundtrack of 10 songs by Stephen Merritt, who veers between romantic and heavily ironic. His verbal hijinx form a solid, if at times overpowering, foundation for Oberfelder’s often literal renderings. “Fido Your Leash Is Too Long,” performed by Rebekah Morin and Jake Szczypek, pushed the leash—a length of Theraband—to its limits, and “Busby Berkeley Dreams” was an hommage to the iconic director. With its relentlessly upbeat energy and sunny hot pink, yellow, and orange costumes by Katrin Schnabl, and nicely shifting lighting by Kathy Kaufmann, it always entertains. Also dancing were Aditi Dhruv, Jill Frere, and Ed Rice, each adding some distinctive character.
Oberfelder makes work that reflects the moment. Moved feels six years old, hovering optimistically between 9/11 and the current economic freefall. And the new Approaching Climax finds more than one meaning in a phrase at a time when pretty much everyone feels duped by promises and rhetoric.