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Dance Language

Twenty years of local dance history at Margaret Wingrove celebration concert

By Marianne Messina

MARGARET WINGROVE and her dance company put together a nicely modulated program for their 20th Anniversary Celebration last week. It took us from melancholy in Early Sorrow ("a young girl's lament over the untimely death of her mother") to the assaultive paranoia of Tulips, based on Sylvia Plath's life. It also offered kiss-me-Kate humor in the argument scene from James and Nora, a premiere about James Joyce and Nora Barnacle (danced by Matt Kovac and Janine Bryan). Just when Kovac would get Bryan into a pertly classic lift, she would drop over backward, or go limp and slide around behind him, so that instead of dominance, he ended up with a lot of strenuous lift work. The visual impact brought chuckles from around the San Jose Stage Theater.

Wingrove's compact integration of dance with outside elements--narration, music, props, contextual knowledge--began straight off in her 1984 work Early Sorrow. Dancer Jennifer Siqueira conveyed the idea of shawl as enfolding arms of Mother, dropping it in a heap before her exit. Tulips worked with text. Clad in hospital-ward johnny, Lori Seymour rendered lines by Sylvia Plath--"smiles like hooks"--with the frenzied spasms of the illogically angry. Isadora made endless use of historical irony. And if Victorian audiences thought Ms. Duncan's bare legs and silky clothing were risqué, Lori Seymour's seductive rolls off the lap of Michael Howerton (as lover Gordon Craig) showed enough leg to make a Victorian audience invent conservative talk radio.

Among more familiar moves, there were plenty of nice surprises. In Isadora, it was a hand-gestured doubling of violin grace notes--and later, an Astaire-on-chair a deux moment between Howerton and Seymour. In Lenguaje de Incendios (Language of Fire), Howerton appeared to pull himself upright from an invisible string through his navel, and in a reverse move from James and Nora, Kovac lowers a standing Janine Bryan backward onto his prone body with the apparent mechanical ease of a dentist's chair. Lenguaje, the concert's other premiere, was the most complex and calisthenic piece of the evening. The piece depicts two young men who leave their lovers along with their homeland, and picks up on an idea from Octavio Paz's poem "Reasons for Dying" that acknowledges the undercurrents of death in youthful visions of freedom. Though the numbers by the two couples had a few uncertain moments, as the Kronos Quartet's score grew more aggravated, the company shined. Howerton's tensile jaggedness threw out a kind of centrifugal energy. And the athletic conclusion--the two young men jump over a 7-foot wall as their girlfriends run after, missing them by split seconds and pounding the empty wall--was timed to a heart wrench.

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From the May 1-7, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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