March 25, 2000

(Left ot right) Mary Helene Spring, Margaret Hallisey and Koosil-ja Hwang in The Anatomy of Happiness, choreographed by Hwang for Kumikokimoto.
Photo by Julie Lemberger

Koosil-ja Hwang/Dance KUMIKOKIMOTO

Playhouse 91 (92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Project)
New York, New York

March 25, 2000

Reviewed by Wendy Perron

From 1935 through the 1950s, the 92nd Street Y was the fortress for modern dance. Although spaces for dance have proliferated throughout New York City, the Y Dance Center is still a stronghold, offering one hundred classes a week to people of all ages and tastes. Dance Director Joan Finkelstein also initiated an annual series that showcases a mix of new and old talent. Now in its sixth season, the Harkness Dance Project takes place at the comfortable Playhouse 91 around the corner at 316 East 91 Street between First and Second Avenues. (So comfortable that you can buy tea at the concession and bring it to your seat!) This year the Project featured Keely Garfield’s Sinister Slapstick, Koosil-ja Hwang/Dance KUMIKOKIMOTO, Janis Brenner & Dancers, Maia Claire Garrison/M’Zawa Danz, and the Erick Hawkins Dance Company. I caught the second in this series, Dance KUMIKOKIMOTO.

In The Anatomy of Happiness, a premiere, four dancers recited bits of film dialogue, while behind them we saw Caspar Stracke’s video collage based on those films. It was funny to hear the dancers take on different voices, especially when Hwang imitated Paul Newman in The Long Hot Summer. Upstage, the split screen showed wild juxtapositions, like a lumbering mule next to a wacky 1960s party scene. But when the left half showed Mia Farrow laboring feverishly in Rosemary’s Baby, there was no hope of absorbing what was on the right screen, let alone what the dancers were doing. The jarring lights and sound added to the general chaos, but one can wonder why the chaos had to be so aggressive.

More successful was Memoryscan (1999), in which some scenes resonated with the strangeness of memory. In a suddenly quiet section, Mary Helene Spring portrayed a child playing in a yard, while the screen told a story?in words and images?about a Spanish-speaking child going to a neighbor’s house to make a new friend. The dream-like connection between the visuals and the dance gave this scene an affecting ominousness. In another section, Margaret Hallisey delivered a wavering, surreal rendition of a song (“She has freckles on her butt”) behind a distorting window. And we saw a classic film cut of the young Jerry Lewis in a manic spoof of a corporate type with cigar that was echoed onstage by Michael Portnoy.

But the high point of the program was the exquisitely simple Rope (1999). Here Hwang was at her riveting best: wistful, glamorous, determined, with a tinge of desperation. Portnoy, center stage, turned slowly as he held a rope that was tied around Hwang’s waist. With the rope as radius, he controlled her . . . or did she control him with her tugging? She sprinted in her circle until she was exhausted, lighting a cigarette along the way. She was a wanderer, a derelict, a rock star. Stracke’s film loop showed a beautiful closeup of Hwang’s neck and upper chest, wet as though from a shower, breathing sensuously.