Brian Brooks

November 14, 2002

Williamsburg Art Nexus
Brooklyn, New York

November 14?17, 2002

Reviewed by Chris Dohse

The daring of Brian Brooks’s dance-o-matic was evident before the theater doors opened. John Arsenault’s photos in the lobby of Williamsburg Art Nexus, some of which featured the scantily clad cast and some of which portrayed strippers and their cropped body parts, established immediately the voyeuristic delight that was about to be enjoyed.

Not since 1995’s Bubblegum Station, a part of Amorphous Body Study Center (a collaborative sound/sculpture installation by Charles Long and Stereolab) that was constructed from 280 pounds of pliable pink clay, has anything been so pink. Multiple costume changes, balloons, and ribbons used as props, neon tubes around the rim of the space, the program, the floor itself, even the tape on the dancers’ feet, were all giddy with the color. Brooks’s athleticism and unabashed sensuality, like Long’s biologic/electronic network, questioned the relation of bodily pleasure to society.

Part of the inherent pleasure of dance-watching has always included an appreciation of young, healthy dancers’ bodies. For dance-o-matic, Brooks acknowledged this by placing those bodies in the pop context of soft-core display: unisex, marabou-feathered halter tops and frilly-fringed trunks to begin with, designed by Eli McAfee. The smiley faces, lollipops, and flamingos that flickered and danced in Sarah Browder’s fun animations, interspersed with segments of dancing, kept the exposed flesh from seeming risqué.

Each dancer was featured in a character-defining solo that seemed an elaboration of their inherent physical qualities. Weena Pauly, in a tulle skirt, suggested an unhinged ballerina. Her dancing contained a welcome fluidity and she seemed to be more connected to gravity than her colleagues. Brooks brought down the house when he entered with a flat blue surface on which he then executed a pop-locking puzzle. He certainly stuck to his guns, a clever embodiment of the rectilinear Cubist/Futurist paintings of Kazimir Malevich.

Alexander Gish and Jo-anne Lee joined Pauly for several trios. One, featuring windmilling arm swings and simple directional changes, was a particularly effective example a movement style that Brooks shares with many young New York choreographers: repetition within limited range, and small-scaled, detailed variation unfolding wittily. In this case, the three bodies looked as if they were the mechanism creating the chimes in the functional, clocklike score.

Other sections were based around transition steps, simple traveling infused with insouciance, as in an opening duet for Brooks and Pauly to a song by synth/punk/pop cult star Peaches. There was a Streb-influenced jumping trio, minus contraptions, where bodies were heaved to and fro in midair. Some elements were inserted from last year’s Faster!, including Browder’s most realized animation, where random dots first became a stick figure and then Brooks was revealed as the source of the motion-captured drawing.

Brooks has coached his dancers into uniformity, down to specificity of gaze and the level of tension in their wrists. During one luridly lit quartet, the dancers’ blank stares became the masks of horror-film victims and the pink vinyl floor took on the queasy hue of Pepto-Bismol. Then John Stone’s score swelled with oddly warm piano tones and chords for a densely choreographed finale. This material hinted at a broader vocabulary in Brooks’s future that might take itself more seriously. But for now, his tongue-in-cheek, minimalist gymnastics are bubblicious.