Daniel Gwirtzman Dance Company

December 19, 2002

Daniel Gwirtzman Dance Company

Joyce SoHo
New York, New York

December 19?22, 2002

Reviewed by Chris Dohse

Daniel Gwirtzman Dance Company’s concert at Joyce SoHo consisted of thirteen chamber-scale danced vignettes. On closing night, his striking cast (Oren Bar-noy, Lindsey Dietz Marchant, Jason Ignacio, Cary McWilliam, Christian von Howard, and Gwirtzman) performed with great comfort within the physically demanding material, filling its extended lines. Varied in impact individually, together the sections packed a magnified emotional presence. Jeff Story’s scores, which accompanied almost all of the episodes, tended toward the histrionic, setting a weird supernatural mood at times and heightening Gwirtzman’s literal narrative content to what amounted to physicalized psychodrama. It was bewildering trying to draw connections between the characters. From the way they were dressed?or more frequently, half-undressed?it was clear that they weren’t regular folks. Perhaps they were meant to stand as symbols for something? Or perhaps Gwirtzman can’t decide if he makes abstract dances or is a storyteller?

What got on my nerves about this work, as elements of the dances of Hernando Cortez and Patricia Kenny recently have, is what I’ll call its “ta-da” factor. These protégé choreographers are all (troublingly) products of the mentor/student system of modern dance?Cortez from Paul Taylor, Kenny from David Parsons, and Gwirtzman from Mark Morris and Garth Fagan?and they seem to have learned audience-pleasing performance techniques that don’t on their own amount to choreography. Tricks and gymnastic virtuosity can be genuine compositional elements (leaked into the vernacular by watching competitive figure skating?), and while this style might not be my cup of tea, I acknowledge it as a valid choice. The trouble is that the dancers in the work often seemed to be enamored of their own facility, which lacked subtlety and disinclined me to look beyond any moment’s superficially entertaining veneer. (I should note, however, that my distrust of transparent showmanship was not shared by the audiences, who were clearly pleased.) Ignacio and McWilliam escaped the “ta-da” factor defined above. They seemed able to do Gwirtzman’s vocabulary effortlessly and didn’t appear to congratulate themselves for that fact.

Among the strong images of the evening was a duet for Gwirtzman and Ignacio within the trio Scenarios, which made nice use of their difference in size, returning to a motif of struggle but also arching to transcend gravity. The short solo, Lone, was a too-brief highlight wherein von Howard controlled spatial specificity while maintaining a loose natural physicality. A duet for Ignacio and McWilliam, Coupling, was repeated without noteworthy variation, first facing front and then to the side. Yet it was curiously satisfying to watch from a second angle, a choreographic stratagem also seen in the work of Senta Driver. A duet performed by Bar-noy and Marchant, Getting Ahead, built from the bob and weave of defensive one-on-one basketball with a subtext of domestic violence, was also repeated twice, with roles reversed.

oddly juxtaposed silly athleticism against Story’s symphonic, piano-heavy score. Jennifer Brightbill’s candy-colored, sparkling tank tops and tattered shorts were another disjunctive element. I wasn’t able to make the leap from the smiling, sculptural combination of forms to any meaningful metaphor. Without irony or parody, strung-together steps look like a dance academy annual recital.

Three sections of repertory work seemed unnecessary add-ons especially the cloying levity of 1999’s Obsession. Cycles (2000), however, featured welcome compositional complexity and organic rhythm. Black costumes against squares of light projected on the back wall nicely defined a space where bodies became hyper-real, but were allowed occasional human imprecision.