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Duck, Duck, Geese: Led by Emily Wilson, relative Santa Cruz newcomer the Blind Geese Dance Company's latest offering, 'Jenny at Six Feet,' has an appealing wit in short segments.

Dancing in Briefs

Dancer and choreographer Emily Wilson shows off a promising, pared-down style

By Julia Chiapella

IF EMILY WILSON is guilty of any sins, self-indulgence isn't one of them. Wilson is the director of Blind Geese Dance Company, currently performing in Jenny at Six Feet, which opened June 23 at the 418 Project and continues Friday and Saturday. It is a performance that can largely lay claim to brevity as the soul of its wit.

A transplant from Santa Barbara by way of San Francisco, Wilson studied with Scott Wells and Kathleen Hermesdorff while in San Francisco. There she found a place in release technique and contact improvisation for her particular style of dancing. The two disciplines rely more on expression and alignment than on the formality of classical disciplines fostered by such modern dancers as Merce Cunningham and José Limón, disciplines that had left Wilson feeling as though she was an inadequate dancer until she found her niche in San Francisco.

Upon her arrival in Santa Cruz two years ago, Wilson struck up Blind Geese. She auditioned dancers, developed material and, for the last year, has been refining the raw stuff for this current dance concert. Fortunately, for local audiences, the results show off Wilson's propensity to pare down her work rather than give us the whole, dear process lock, stock and barrel. As such, some of her pieces are almost breathlessly cut short, her dancers tantalizingly ushered away with those watching left to puzzle and muse as if cut off in mid-sentence.

This, by most accounts, is a merciful thing. As Wilson herself says, "We've all been to too many painfully long dance performances." And it's also a good ploy for a young and inexperienced dance company. But it's by no means the only draw to Jenny at Six Feet. Wilson and company are engaging. Wilson in particular combines a keen sense of narrative with a poised and exacting physicality, bringing to her work an effortless languor that loads the most insignificant gesture with intimate insinuations. Her solo work in "Halved" and "Prizefighter" takes small, throwaway movements and turns them into firebombs, successfully anchoring the piece and inviting us into her story.

The evening begins with a group piece, "Brewing," that artfully moves from a pod of huddled dancers into individual movement. Wilson's dancers come from a variety of backgrounds; some have formal training while others have studied martial arts. And while some of this paucity in training results in some missed steps and the occasional flaccid limb, the dancers nevertheless have something without which a dance concert is most certainly doomed: intention. This sense of intention is inherent throughout the evening as Wilson works from a foundation of emotional intensity that is fervent but rigorously contained. It can be seen in the title piece as well as "Prizefighter," when Wilson's face contorts and delights in expressions that are subtly misaligned with the score by Tom Waits. Wilson drops into another world and, using a scant few square feet of space, stakes her claim there.

Company member Miranda Janeschild peforms two solo pieces, "Aria" and "Ask a Difficult Question," the latter also choreographed by Janeschild. Janeschild has been dancing in Santa Cruz for years, and she brings to these pieces a sense of playful maturity. Her movements are rich with a controlled grace whether she's wagging an insouciant finger or dropping to the floor in an elegant descent. Her "Ask a Difficult Question" is a combination of small movements and vocalizations that was strangely evocative but all too brief. The evening's coup de grace, "Jenny at Six Feet," is a grappling, sublime foray into the machinations at work in dependence and independence. Dancers roll in Pilobolus-tainted duets across the floor, arms and legs entwined in a discomfiting cluster. Two dancers move around a seated third, never making eye contact, never touching.

"Jenny at Six Feet," like much of Wilson's work, makes good use of space, exploring a variety of physical levels while wrestling with the inherently human. The small, expressive movements, the eclectic choice of music and the confident restraint are markers on the way to a developing sense of style. If brevity is indeed the soul of wit, Wilson is off to a good start.

Jenny at Six Feet plays Friday and Saturday at 8pm at the 418 Project, 418 Front St, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $10-$15. (477.4104)

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From the June 28-July 5, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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