The 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Project

February 23, 2005

Myrna Packer in
Under the Skin
Photo by Nan Melville

The 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Project
Duke Theater, New York, NY

February 23–27, March 2–6, 16–20, 2005

Reviewed by Jim Dowling


The “92 on 42” series, as it is informally known, brings essential modern and experimental dance programming from the 92nd Street Y to the heart of the Theater District. In its sixth season, three companies delivered programs that bridged the personal and social.

ZviDance’s Territories contrasts the promise of community with disparate societies that warily coexist. To the tense accompaniment of Scott Killian’s long electronic notes and sharp drum beats, the dancers pass a microphone like a baton, strutting toward the audience in a brash competition to be named Ms. or Mr. Contestant. In a signature gesture, an arm snakes around the back of the head, an action that seems both exotic and conflicted.

There seem to be no limits to the number of simultaneous, disconnected worlds this company can conjure. When Kuan Hui Chew patiently teaches Jimmy Everett a Chinese song, an occasional syllable sets Everett’s body into involuntary fits. Elisa King lectures on the kouros statues of ancient Greece while two bare-chested men wrestle, lifting each other against the back wall of the stage. In an inspired juxtaposition, Barbara Koch plays with toys in a corner of the stage while a well-dressed foursome intones “Home on the Range” from a catwalk, just as Chew and Ying Ying Shiau slip in and out of doors like a giggling pair of tie-dyed, Tokyo pop princesses, and Everett and Verena Tremel test a tentative embrace.

A series of harsh, confessional speeches excessively telegraph their lessons. For instance, Eric Hoisington twitches through a nervous breakdown as he describes the upper-crust social conditioning of his youth. Finally, an Israeli folk pattern of joyful, easy turns, giving way to a brief prayer sign and a light stamp of foot and hand on the floor, invokes the prospect of an integrated society. Yet, in an instant, a shift of weight shades the celebration from social support to militarist conformity.

Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer collaborated with video artists Jim Monroe and Peter Bobrow to deliver two pieces that blend technically if not in content. In Seductive Reasoning, a tour de force of embracing and letting go, Bridgman’s softly muscular partnering accepts and redirects Packer’s attack, the angular articulation of her long limbs. Their simple tango is multiplied when he turns to partner her recorded video projection, as she does his. When her arms form the curve of a filling parachute or a bird’s wings, he barely supplements her natural flight. From the top of a tall curtain, Packer lets down an ever-growing strand of ribbons entwined with her own hair, like a latter-day Rapunzel. Bridgman takes her place, reaching down longingly to the delayed projection of her colorful crown.

Under the Skin
develops a darker use of projections. A downpour of letters, numbers, bits, and bytes blurs the blackened backdrop. Against it, the angles of Packer’s wrists, ankles, and splayed knees seem even more abrupt. Bridgman joins his hands over his head, perhaps in lamentation. By the time the dancers disappear through a porous projection screen, the onslaught of external forces has all but obliterated the romance of the first piece.

PearsonWidrig Dancetheater’s Thaw applies a fierce, unpredictable transition between seasons to convey the elliptical progress of humans faced with loss. Enveloped by an oversized parka, burdened with a sled, Sara Pearson tests one block of ice after another, cracking each in turn. An early documentary clip demonstrates outdated ice-cutting processes, while harsh winter sounds pierce the nostalgic, melancholy air of early Duke Ellington recordings.

Lindsay Gilmour, Matthew Rogers, Tzveta Kassabova, and Patrik Widrig tumble across the stage to the sounds of ice sloshing in water. Arms trapped by their sides, they spin crazily from the shoulders like penguins maneuvering in a hostile land. The dancers pile up against one another, their torsos raised at the same sharp angle as a film clip’s wooden ship caught in pack ice.

Rogers spirals in lazy, torquing cartwheels and, still inverted, turns his body into the far wall. Gilmour sweeps her arms ferociously to the howling of the wind. Kassabova tiptoes, twists, and simply falls. Chest out, Widrig softly turns, steps backward and rests his forehead against the wall, slowly twisting his body in a solo that combines dignity with forlorn longing.

For more information: