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at Link’s Hall

The pleasure, even the transcendence of dance is its meaninglessness–watching exquisitely trained people move in ways that ruffle our hearts. The pleasure is the same pleasure as watching water drip from a faucet into a saucer: pure physicality, devoid of thought.

Though Bob Eisen’s dances seem rigorously cerebral at first, he knows that dance is about a moving body and nothing else. His techniques distance us from the emotional resonance of movement, until we see only a moving body–which is enough.

For his dance, The Third Anniversary of the 1st Cub’s Nite Game on 8-8-88 or Without Normal Speech, Eisen uses a technique borrowed from Merce Cunningham. Five minutes before each performance, Eisen and his three dancers pick numbers from a hat to determine the order in which individual phrases and sections of the dance will be performed. Eisen’s method makes hash of any kind of story the dancers may be trying to tell, or any story the audience is trying to hear. Without a story, dramatic emotions and symbols disappear, replaced by the expressive gesture. Eisen uses chance techniques to simply see the body.

In Without Normal Speech, the bodies are in white. Three women (Christine Bornath, Shannon Raglin, and Abby Kantor) and Eisen start in twilight, as the roar of an el train comes through the open, uncurtained windows at Link’s Hall. The dance’s dominant phrase is a two-minute movement sequence with a brief arabesque, a fall to the floor, a roll up to point a finger, a shoulder stand, and a scoot across the floor on the dancer’s right buttock. This odd sequence is performed quickly, giving each movement the time needed but nothing more. It is the “nothing more” that is so moving. Like a friend telling a joke without belaboring it, the movement provides no subliminal clues: “This is a great movement; watch this again.” The movements do recur often, on different dancers and at different angles, but because the movement doesn’t draw attention to itself, we can see it repeat without feeling forced.

The dance’s other phrases are sillier and more literal. Each dancer brings out a boom box, sets it on a chair at the front of the stage, puts a tape in, and starts the music. At other moments, a dancer walks with meticulous slowness across the stage, carrying a suitcase; halfway across, the dancer sinks down and pushes the suitcase with his or her head.

The loveliest silly phrase is when Kantor is lifted straight up by her ankles, until she catches hold of a lighting fixture hidden from the audience. She hangs in midair, motionless, for several minutes, while the other three dancers cavort, arms around each other’s shoulders. Kantor is finally rescued by Bornath, who slips under her so that Kantor can stand on her shoulders; Kantor suddenly flips off into Eisen’s and Raglin’s arms, and they flip her again so she comes out on her feet. The virtuosity of this movement seems entirely new.

Many of Eisen’s movements are not from a traditional dance vocabulary, such as the scoot across the floor on a buttock. Choreographers–including Eisen in other dances–often seem to flaunt these movements, which is as grating as a ballerina flaunting her 32 fouettes. The dancers in Without Normal Speech treat Eisen’s idiosyncratic movement dispassionately, as pure movement, without judging it as corny or sublime. The clear, dispassionate movement reveals each dancer’s individual style, from Raglin’s fiery strength to Bornath’s silken coordination to Kantor’s commitment.

By including the physical idiosyncrasies of his performing space–its lighting fixtures, windows, doors, and electrical outlets–Eisen emphasizes chance even more than Cunningham. Eisen’s use of chance is like Jackson Pollack throwing paint at a canvas to bypass rational technique; or like the surrealist poets who scanned thousands of lines of computer-generated words, looking for an absurd but resonant line of poetry. Chance strips away our knowledge of the world and control over it, until in our nakedness we become more like children who can be struck with wonder.

If Cunningham is the guiding spirit behind Eisen’s dances, Charlie Parker is the spirit behind Jan Bartoszek’s Seven Women and a Waltz. The dance starts with seven women (Laurie Bunes, Amy Eaton, Karen Forss, Kat Letscher, Vicki Walden, Michelle Walker, and Melinda Wilson) in a line at the back of the stage with their hands on their heads. As Eaton wordlessly sings a Strauss waltz, the women slowly walk forward. Each dancer darts forward from the line to perform a short solo. Bartoszek uses these solos as the raw material for a new dance, just as Parker and other bebop jazz musicians tore apart and reassembled a melody until it was entirely new. Gary DeMichele, playing piano, congas, and a trap set, captures this disintegration and reorganization while keeping perfect waltz time.

This dance was the result of a workshop in which the dancers enrolled to learn how modern choreographers make their dances. (It will not be repeated at subsequent performances, each of which will feature another performance as well as Eisen’s Without Normal Speech.) Bartoszek finished the dance the night before; DeMichele had one rehearsal. The performance had its rough edges, but the movement bouncing between dancers like light between mirrors and Bartoszek’s manipulation of the material, with duets and quintets that merged into quartets and trios, overcame the shortcomings. Bunes stood out as the most fluid dancer.

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