Douglas Dunn & Dancers

February 25, 2009

Douglas Dunn & Dancers
Harkness Dance Festival

at The Ailey Citigroup

Theater, NYC
February 25–March 1, 2009

Reviewed by Karen Hildebrand


Photo: Julie Lemberger for the 92nd Street Y. Liz Filbrun and Jean Freebury in Dunn’s
then boss in man? Behind them, a lime green-clad Dunn sports a second set of arms.


Mention his name to anyone who’s been on the NYC downtown dance scene the past few decades, and the response will likely be, “I love Douglas Dunn.” Indeed, this audience seemed filled with such insiders. But how would a viewer new to Dunn respond to a work made 25 years ago?

The folks at the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Festival seemed to have had the same question on their minds when they opened the evening with then boss in man? Pairing this brand new work with a revival of Pulcinella, made in 1980 for The Paris Opera Ballet, the evening offered an inspired then-and-now comparison.

With then boss in man? Dunn lives up to his reputation as an innovator. Five dancers form a variety of pairings in front of a mirrored rear wall, the empty sleeves of their two-toned unitards dangling from their armpits. The idea of extra limbs becomes clearer when a lime green-clad Dunn enters sporting a second set of arms capped off by a pair of giant green rubber gloves. Is this a comment on evolutionary changes caused by a toxic environment? Or is it about duplicity and double meanings? Or is this simply a choreographer who isn’t shy about having a little fun?

When Dunn’s froggy creature takes notice of guitarist Tali Roth performing in sparkling evening wear in a downstage corner, the dancers move in to distract him before his childlike fascination disrupts her. Roth stops playing and the group parades her around the stage before returning her to pick up where she left off.

opens with a sketch by Christopher Williams, Paul Singh, and Dunn (wearing a tall dunce cap) that establishes the trickster/jester character of the title. Their limbs are segmented puppet parts: They flop and jounce, then bend at the waist and let their arms dangle. Singh wields a rubber mallet to bang cartoonlike on Dunn’s head. The mallet turns out to be a portable spotlight to silhouette the dancers as they mug behind the screen of a carnival cart they wheel around.

But jesting aside, the Cunningham-inflected movement is classically wrought with complex balances and arabesque turns, and fetchingly performed by the 15-member ensemble.

Several whimsical uses of the Stravinsky score are a delight: A loud horn section seems to spit dancers onto the stage, and they stumble until they find their bearings; three dancers give their shoulders a little unison shimmy to punctuate a brief trill.

Dunn manages multiple duets, trios, and other small groups at once––rarely in unison. With no one in particular competing for your eye, you take it all in.