Jennifer Muller/The Works

May 5, 1998

Jennifer Muller/The Works

Joyce Theater
New York City, New York

May 5-10, 1998

Reviewed by Chris Dohse

Jennifer Muller stands in the middle. Her style stands in time between Limón’s heyday and Tharp’s peak, while personally, she stands on a successful plateau in her career. Promontory, a solo on a large wooden ramp, serves as a visual metaphor for the position whereon Muller balances. As Muller’s muse, dancer Leda Meredith perches atop the slanted surface with an effortless control of the work’s alternately tensile and pedestrian gestures. Meredith, and Promontory, are best when they are all explosive hair and sweatshirt; when the material approaches mime, its impact wilts.

Degas Revisited, one of four premieres, also uses a set piece as metaphor: a simulcast video projection that splits the focus without clarifying the intent. This solo, also danced by Meredith (with Marcelo Pereira), shows Muller’s influences: that she first loved ballet, then discovered jazz and Limón, and over the years has tried to synthesize these into something of her own.

Red Fence has the lovely Leonardo Smith and Maria Naidu clinging and supplicating as partners in a hedonistic relationship. Smith is trapped within an enclosed perimeter like an exotic, preening animal until he teases Naidu into letting down her guard for a moment, and trades places with her. The Works’ associate artistic director, John Brooks, dives relentlessly into similar peaks and valleys in his Periphery. Six dancers circle the edges of their respective spotlights. A featured couple beset by predators and temptresses provides a weak narrative frame for the sensual dancing. The verbiage of Muller’s Dialectics-Part I throws a net wide into New Age, mystical, armchair philosophy. The high-velocity claptrap of the text, while it delights on its own, distracts from Muller’s movement invention at its best: lots of steps, part Broadway pizzazz, part “downtown” structural integrity. It is almost perverse; all this cynical and obtuse rhetoric of urban misconnection becomes excruciating foreplay–part of you just wants the exquisite dancers to shut up and dance. Is Muller daring us to accuse her of being too deep for her own good? Rubbing our noses in her artistry, as if in fear that we might otherwise think her dancing is too accessible on its own? Muller’s worldview of civilized savages trapped within their own skins is most compelling at its most abstract, as in a repeat of Fruit (1996). Smart invention and choreographic correspondences fill the stage with swirling beauty. Having eleven dancers is an extravagance that allows her to paint in big strokes on a large canvas of ideology and kinesthetics. As the dancers shed gray layers to reveal juicy, fruity colors (costumes by Scott Dolphin), their elegant, voluptuous vocabulary breaks your heart in a hundred places. Sprinkled throughout Muller’s new work is a recurring position: the stance of a power walker taking forceful strides. With this image of energy and intention, Muller prowls her way into the new millennium. Considering her fertility of invention and strength of craft, it is annoying to see some of her ideas fail. Does she use too many styles (modern, ballet, jazz, downtown, uptown) and try to do too much (educate, entertain) and hamstring herself by so doing? If Muller narrowed her range, she wouldn’t be challenging herself. That she doesn’t coast on what is expected of her is both her weakness and her strength, and makes her evolution something to look forward to.