Suchu Dance

December 2, 2006

Suchu Dance
Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex, Houston, TX

December 2, 3, 8–10, 2006

Reviewed by Nancy Wozny

(left to right) Jessi Harper, Tina Shariffskul, Lindsey Thompson in Jennifer Wood’s I Love Mumoo Ba

Photo by Louie Saletan, courtesy Suchu Dance

Jennifer Wood of Suchu Dance has been quietly crafting solid work for more than a decade. She’s built a devoted following for her evening-length works, which often read more like theatrical dance fiction than choreography. No matter what she puts onstage, it feels strange and wonderfully unfamiliar.

Wood accomplishes her surreal dance worlds with a combination of inventive costume choices (which she designs and constructs), eclectic music, weird props, and a hard-to-pin-down movement vocabulary. The title of her latest work, I Love Mumoo Ba, reveals that there’s no familiar reference for Wood’s work. This makes it undeniably fun to watch, like a visual and kinetic puzzle. A trip to see Suchu feels like just that—a trip. The destination is up to the viewer.

Wood takes a more streamlined approach in Mumoo Ba than in her works of the past few years. She pares down her usual company of 7 to 10 dancers to a chamber group of 5—mostly Suchu veterans fluent in her idiosyncratic style. There are no props at all, nor strange combinations of musical styles. Wood created the basic, somewhat bland score using GarageBand software, and it works in a do-it-yourself way. She’s gone pure dance here, but she’s gone over the top with costumes, which mix and match animal prints with clashing florals. The costumes, which change every time a dancer reenters the stage, function more like shifting skins and perfectly suit Wood’s earthy movement choices. With swerving torsos, off-kilter turns, and twisted acro feats, the choreography offers a virtual feast of movement. Nothing looks normal; everything feels strange.

As for the subject of Mumoo Ba, that’s left up to the viewer. The dancers slink about in the most outrageous getups and grow increasingly more animal-like as the dance progresses. Could it be they are growing into their skins? Wood appears to be saying—albeit rather obscurely—that humans can be exotic too. The troupe—Dana Wessale Crawford, Jessica Harper, Leo Muñoz, Lindsey Thompson, and Tina Shariffskul—dances with self-absorbed sensuality; they look like they are digesting the movement. A self-conscious narcissism pervades the piece.

Wood paints with broad strokes and sometimes the structure of her dances feels flimsy. Some radical editing would have tightened Mumoo Ba. Jeremy Choate’s frantic lighting design is as busy as Wood’s costume palette. At times the energy is a match; other times it feels excessive. See