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January 11-17, 2006

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Burning Every Moment

Photograph by Dave Lepori
Plath of Most Resistance: Lori Seymour dances Sylvia Plath to Matt Kovac's Ted Hughes in 'Sylvia and Ted.'

Burning Down the House

Two literary pairs dance out their emotions in Margaret Wingrove's newest works

By Marianne Messina

MARGARET WINGROVE'S latest program, "Burning Every Moment," mixes poems and interpretive dance with storytelling and dramatic dance in two exciting premiere pieces, Sylvia and Ted and Tom and Viv. Sometimes the dances display key points in the relationships—a fiery, at first supportive, then contentious relationship between Sylvia Plath (Lori Seymour) and Ted Hughes (Matt Kovac); a more tender relationship between T.S. "Tom" Eliot (Michael Howerton) and an emotionally slipping Vivienne Haigh-Wood (Alexsandra Meijer).

In the case of Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus," Seymour dances to the unaccompanied poem read and recorded by Plath herself. Sometimes all media are in play at once. The stunning trio dance with Kevin Kennedy reading T.S. Eliot 's "The Hollow Men" is set to majestically somber music by Kronos Quartet. Travis Walker steps out in rigid, square but wide-open postures and works his way around the space until Kovac crawls out on the floor, followed again later by Zuri Goldman, "As the hollow men/ The stuffed men" create a canon in slow motion.

The interplay of levels, floor to bending or squatting to standing, combines with the occasional synchronous sequence—two black-clad dancers unite, then drift back into separate worlds—to give the impression of a huge clockwork, somewhat dumb and random, yet steady as the pounding Kronos dirge. The dance tumbles to a powerful end at the famous lines "This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper."

Another contrapuntal gem, where Sylvia begins "Unraveling," shows Sylvia channeling every jab and stab of the Kronos strings, while Ted ballroom dances with the "other woman," Assia (a beautifully sensual Catharine Grow), as if to an elegant symphony. The resulting contrast speaks volumes about Ted and Sylvia and their relationship. Sylvia is not only more pervious (and therefore vulnerable) to her environment, she moves into new dance/emotional territory while Ted remains sort of on "repeat" mode, redancing that "Suddenly—Love" (his courtship of Sylvia) moment.

The depth of Wingrove's program goes beyond the brilliant weave of tonal and biographical snapshots. Parallel dance sequences and recurring motifs (such as the ever-evolving typewriter) put Tom and Viv in active dialogue with the earlier Sylvia and Ted. In the couple's dance, for instance, Meijer is to Howerton more of a child and a flower than the driven, forceful Seymour is to Kovac. And Eliot answers Hughes' heated frustration with a helplessness approaching despair.

"Burning Every Moment" leaves you with countless searing images, especially the many spellbinding uses of hands: Kovac in the "Hollow Men" lying in a dead man's sprawl with a single hand twitching like a madness; Seymour writhing along on her back, rubbing compulsive circles above her face as if she might find a magic mirror there; Seymour leaping desperately onto Kovac's chest or shoulders, her explosive anger coming out in blows to the chest that send him reeling; Kovac's "gobliny jumping"; Seymour's head sinking onto the typing table, linked hands partly hidden in her fine hair forming a feeble warding gesture, a glimpse of desperation through the fatigue; Meijer's frantic, mad arm movements to fluttering Kronos strings in Viv's "Unraveling." Likewise, the sharp disconnect between her movement and Howerton's making it clear that he's losing her.

Karen McWilliams' costumes are equally memorable, in particular, the labyrinthine layers of lace on a soft, dark gown worn by Viv in her decline towards insanity. The cozy San Jose Stage offers dance that is alive and breathing, not to mention a rare chance to enjoy the grace, precision and expressiveness of Ballet San Jose dancers (Grow, Meijer, Walker, Goldman) up close.

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