at Weinstein Center for the Performing Arts

October 14, 15, 21, and 22

The pieces in a recent concert by the David Puszh Dance Company revealed choreographers who had failed to give the structure of their dances sufficient thought. David Puszczewicz and Michael K. Quaintance, the two choreographers featured, seemed to have merely assigned their dancers routines without ever exploring how those routines would function when put together. As a result, the dances were noticeably thin and unvaried, as if in each piece a single idea had been stretched to fill 15 or 20 minutes.

The first piece set the tone for the evening. Just Affairs, a 1985 work by Puszczewicz, features a man and a woman in near darkness alternately falling into and pulling away from each other. The couple, danced by Ellen Airi Hubbell and Evan Charles How, seem relatively uninterested in these exchanges, although once in a while they reach for each other longingly.

What makes this dance unengaging, aside from its deadeningly solemn air, is Puszczewicz’s inability to send his dancers in any particular direction. He does not allow them to build off each other or off previous movements. Instead they go through a series of prescribed poses, all given equal time and equal weight, so that the dance is utterly regular and unsurprising. At one point, in fact, when the man leaves the stage for perhaps two minutes, the woman dances on at an unchanged pace. When the man returns, the two merely continue coupling and uncoupling until the piece ends.

Just Affairs has no progression, no transformation of its imagery. It seemed any 30-second segment was interchangeable with any other. Without counterpoint–even a counterpoint as rudimentary as balancing motion against stillness or fluidity against angularity–Just Affairs is just something to look at, not something to watch.

Much the same is true of Wounds of My Belief, a world premiere by Quaintance. Here five ghoulish women–in grotesque face paint and sackcloth jump suits (by Sandy Sun) clump around the stage simulating dementia or disease. Accompanied by the demented or diseased music of R. Belrach and J. Abercrombie, the ghouls –Monica A. Blackmon, Laura Gallardo Brand, Natalie Rast, Emily Stein, and Oxanna Tschaikowsky–suggest they’re vomiting and pulling out their hair, all the while staring at the audience defiantly. Throughout these misery-provoked actions, the dancers appeared markedly ungenuine. They seemed to have been given a particular vocabulary of body movements that they did not fully own, which made them appear at times almost comical. Their twisted arms and contorted faces seemed calculated, as if to produce a desired look rather than reveal a psychological state.

Like Just Affairs, Wounds of My Belief proceeds at an unvarying pace, steamrolling the subtleties and nuances that such a dark work must exhibit in order not to be simply lugubrious. The only moment that caught my attention was when the women ran their hands through their hair and their bobby pins fell out. I heard the invisible pins hit the floor, then watched the women walk slowly away, too introspective to hear the sound themselves; it was a delicately orchestrated moment of melancholy in an otherwise emotionless piece.

The concert was not only poorly paced and unintelligently arranged–Just Affairs and Wounds of My Belief, two dark, slow pieces, were followed by an intermission–it bordered on the truly offensive. Fat, by Puszczewicz, begins with a filmed close-up of a man’s head projected onto the head of a stuffed dummy. In a voice-over, a man explains that “there are no happy fat people” and that it hurts when people call him fat. Immediately following this moment of touching honesty and vulnerability, a woman lumbers onstage wearing a “fat suit” made of the same material as the stuffed dummy. She proceeds to perform what is meant to be a comical routine about a fat person’s inability to move gracefully. Then two other women in wispy blue outfits dance onstage, and we’re supposed to laugh as the fat lady tries unsuccessfully to duplicate the beautiful movements of the blue nymphs. How dare this inferior fat person infringe upon the holy territory of the exalted Thin Ones!

Not only does this performance blatantly exploit the ugly sentiments lamented in the film, depending for its success upon the ridicule of a fat person, it does nothing to explore the reality of being overweight. Why not find a dancer who is actually overweight? Mightn’t we be surprised by the beauty she could make with her fat, “ugly” body? At the end of the piece, the dancer crawls out of her fat suit and dances with her new and infinitely more useful body. If this final gesture is meant to say, “What is important is what’s inside and not what”s outside” (and I’m being very generous in making that assumption), even that does nothing to counter the cruel anti-fat-people rhetoric of the rest of the dance. After all, what is inside in this case is a thin woman. Thinness is here associated with redemption. In a culture whose reverence for thinness causes some women to starve themselves to death, Fat is not only offensive but irresponsible.

Most frustrating about the evening was the seeming waste of talented dancers. The tame, unchallenging routines they were given never allowed them to demonstrate any virtuosity they might possess. This was especially true of Fables, a remarkably unsuccessful dance-theater piece based on a collection of overly condensed fairy tales. There was no attempt to integrate the various elements. The narrators–Julie Alexander, Kevin McCoy, and Diana Zimmer–mostly stand on the sidelines explaining the oversimplified plots while the company dances around in overliteral interpretations of whatever the narrators have just said.

The director for Fables was David Zak, whose Bailiwick production of Animal Farm has been so enormously successful. In Fables, however, he succeeded in little except making everyone look frightfully awkward.