Leigh Warren and Dancers
Rachel Jenson and Aidan Kane Munn in
Quick Brown Fox
Photo by Alex Makeyev, courtesy Leigh Warren and Dancers
Leigh Warren and Dancers
Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University, Portland, OR
March 25, 2006
Reviewed by Heather Wisner
Constructed from a typing exercise and manipulated by a series of spoken commands, Quick Brown Fox is classically informed modernism. Though it takes shape within a basic movement framework, much of the dance—the unexpected synchronicities, the near-collisions—suggest elements of chance. And on this particular evening, the similarities to Merce Cunningham’s work didn’t end there: As dancers fell ill during the Australian company’s short stay in Portland, choreographer Leigh Warren found himself having to think on his feet. “We went from seven [dancers] to six to five,” he said in a pre-show talk. “In the true spirit of Cunningham, I recomposed the piece each night.”
The piece didn’t visibly suffer from last-minute alterations, though, and the dancers handled the reconstruction with cool confidence. “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog,” a phrase that uses all 26 letters of the alphabet, is broken into 26 movement phrases, then into verbal letter cues. One dancer’s exclamation of such a cue—“A!” “O!”—serves as a kind of punctuation: The dancers freeze in tableaux, then resume, shifting in relation to the phrases unfolding around them, which can lead anywhere from overlap to total disconnect. The effect, heightened by a stuttering techno collage, is something like standing in the middle of a cocktail party and absorbing conversation fragments from every corner of the room.
Stylistically, Fox reflects the 20-year creative exchange between Warren, a former Nederlands Dans Theater member; choreographer William Forsythe, who helped develop the piece; and the dancers’ backgrounds, which encompass classical ballet to hip hop to aboriginal dance. Forsythe’s long lines and dazzling attack thread through, but there are also headstands and jumps that dissolve into an almost boneless collapse to the floor. And in one particularly memorable movement, repeated several times, the mesmerizing, elastic-limbed Gala Moody slowly unfurls a leg to a hip-level second position that twitches twice before snapping back into attitude. Perhaps because of its task-oriented nature, Fox feels somewhat insular. We’re watching dancers communicate less with us than with each other in a world of their own, one lacking theatrical artifice: no wings, simple T-shirts and pants in muted greens and browns, and a scrim across which projected letters and phrases march or swirl into a jumble, separating us from them. See www.lwd.com.au.