Donna Uchizono's Thin Air

October 9, 2007

Donna Uchizono’s Thin Air

Dance Theater Workshop, NYC

October 9–13, 2007

Reviewed by Susan Yung

Donna Uchizono’s Thin Air is so finely detailed that the heightened attention—and patience—it demands from viewers is richly rewarded. Projections of the dancers (Hristoula Harakas, Julie Alexander, and Antonio Ramos) hovered like eerie spirits on the curtain, which parted to reveal the dancers seated atop ladders. For a long spell, they bobbed their heads, bathed in Jane Shaw’s golden lighting. Energy worked into their arms and they exchanged secretive gestures before descending to a plastic sheet covering the floor. Much effort went into alternately smoothing out wrinkles in the plastic and bunching it up to get it offstage, perhaps an allusion to the trial-and-error creative process.

    When a film of a DTW audience was projected upstage, Alexander and Ramos sat perched on the wall trying to blend in, while Harakas slowly plunged to the floor in an impossibly wide fourth position. Harakas plumbs Uchizono’s material deeply, imbuing it with a juicy gravitas. Plastic sheets unscrolled from the ceiling, and as the women whitewashed areas from behind, projections of them became visible. Ramos became distracted, painting his mouth and making lip prints on the plastic.

    The choreography, credited to Uchizono and the performers, never felt traditionally virtuosic, but a certain virtuosity emerged in a tour de force footwork passage by Alexander and Harakas. Just their clenched fists touched as their bare feet tapped, angled, and slid over the marley like intricately patterned embroidery in process. This long segment was so hypnotic that it could have gone on and on without objection. It underscored the power of dancers’ memories and the creative potential of a limited vocabulary, which in this case related tangentially to ballet and tap. Uchizono often repeats small movements, and altering the sequence even by a tad magnifies microshifts into a major event. Fred Frith wrote the film-like score—a pleasing range of jangly guitar, sometimes with a driving rhythm, other times riding a nervous twitch.

    The video elements were largely effective in relating the work to Uchizono’s stated themes of Buddhism and physics, playing with the concept of physical versus spiritual presence. There was one less effective video passage—atop a ladder, Harakas put on a white smock, onto which her image was projected, doing the same choreography. For a fleeting moment it appeared as if her soul were trying to escape her body, but when the person and film were not in sync, the illusion faltered. Nonetheless, the haunting quality of Uchizono’s work shone through—a blend of small but gem-like virtuosic moments, rich metaphors, and unforgettable visual panache.