Hedwig Dances

at the Dance Center of Columbia College, June 3-5

The performers of Hedwig Dances, Jan Bartoszek’s experimental dance company, have such a natural, unassuming presence one almost forgets they’re dancers. Bartoszek’s choreography demands physical agility as well as a strong sense of balance and rhythm, but they do it so nonchalantly and gracefully that their movement seems unreal–producing images that appear to float by in a dream and disappear.

Bartoszek’s work demands a certain open-mindedness from the observer, a willingness to let go of preconceived notions and simply let the images unfold as they will. It’s not emotionally powerful stuff like Robin Lakes’s. It’s not technically dazzling like Hubbard Street’s. In Sweet Baby, Baby Suite, which premiered at the Dance Center of Columbia College, Bartoszek conjures up the gentle, delightful, and sometimes fearful feelings that come with early motherhood. In the first few moments she creates a fresh, fascinating reality, using simply the sound of crickets chirping, a dimly lit stage, three dancers, and a plastic doll.

Two of the dancers walk slowly across the stage balancing the ends of a long pole wrapped in fabric on their shoulders; one holds a glowing lantern. Underneath the pole Rebecca Rossen gently cradles a baby doll in her palm. She points a finger on her other hand and sweetly, mesmerizingly waves it around the doll’s head. Rolling and sliding across the floor as the pole bearers walk, Rossen cradles the doll on different parts of her body.

Later she precariously balances the doll on her foot, her shoulder, her arm while a woman’s voice recites all the advice given to her as a new mother. At another point baby dolls fall from the sky to be caught in the expectant arms of young women dressed in bright costumes (by Christy Munch) whimsically reminiscent of the 50s. The feeling throughout is one of gentle wonder and fascination. Even when the mother leaves her baby for the first time, her sorrow has a certain sweetness and innocence.

All three dances on this program were handled with the same gentle touch. Even Heartthrob–an anguished dance of desire superbly performed by Rossen, Frank Fishella, and Laurie Kammin–is soft in its pain, with slow, luxurious movements and moments of rest and contemplation.

Bartoszek seems to be an introspective choreographer. She likes to work with small details and slowly building emotions. At its best, her choreography can create a magically surreal world, as in Heartthrob and Sweet Baby, Baby Suite. But at times this introspection can become frustrating, as in the evening’s opening number, Waltz #3.

Waltz #3 is the result of a collaboration between Bartoszek, poet and performance artist Lynn Book, and composer David Pavkovic. It explores the constraints society imposes on relationships, using the waltz as a metaphor. Six dancers (Amy Alt, Fishella, Kammin, Todd Michael Kiech, Rossen, and Sheldon B. Smith) both pair up and dance alone, never really waltzing, just leaning against each other or sliding down one another’s backs.

The frustration is that their relationships are never clearly defined by their movement. Any communication between them seems forced and artificial. So, despite Book’s eloquent but dense theory of the rules of social intercourse as a kind of dance, we never see any true example of that idea in practice. It seems Bartoszek has been working too long on this piece–she presented it in an earlier form two years ago–and it has evolved to the point where it communicates deeply to the participants but says much less to the audience.

With Ken Bowen’s lighting and Pavkovic’s haunting music, performed by Book and the Ensemble of Non-Thought, Waltz #3 does have some compelling moments. But unfortunately few of the moments seem to connect, just as Book’s discourse doesn’t connect with the movement onstage.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tony Citani.