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Ben Munisteri and Mark Dendy—both deploying attractive, capable companies—shared an outdoor evening at Damrosch Park that demonstrated how dance can be clever in aim, smart in form, careful in performance, and effective for others without possessing that essential little something that moves my heart and soul. Munisteri's Catalog, a world premiere, and Dendy's Preliminary Study for Depth: The Upper Half of High and Low, a New York premiere, strike me as works made with an audience's ultimate “Wow!” in mind, meant to scoop up many new folks into the big dance tent—particularly the young and the hip—and make them fall for dance and keep coming back for more. Believe me, I'm apt to applaud this intention but not always its resulting product.
What's on display, for sale, in Munisteri's catalog? Music by Radiohead—repetitive, tick-tocky, with a murky, sonic glow and indecipherable lyrics. A quintet dressed in handsome, plum-colored, patch-patterned unitards. Slick phrases of movement starting and stopping, twirling and springing, flowing and crackling, sometimes—especially in the controlled use of arms—looking rigidly mechanized: The coming CyberHuman. The concept? Something about digital culture and remixing bits and bytes of the choreographer's earlier work.
Digital culture does tend to break things down into billions of discrete, remixable, eye-popping digestibles. From dance—still a respite from the dynamic cyberculture I otherwise enjoy—I tend to crave a little more meaningful, connective substance, personality, and expressive spice. And what's going on when a piece, like this one, simply peters out at the end? As in the following ensemble—Turbine Mines (2004), with its Blade Runner score—I cannot tell one dancer from the other, aside from the obvious differences in gender and physical features. They are cute, affectless toys in the hands of their choreographer.
Mark Dendy comes on like gangbusters, or maybe a hard-charging Busby Berkeley, with about two dozen dancers at his command. Inspired by the fantastical architecture of MC Escher's graphic art, lighting designer David Ferri works some brash, cinematic possibilities of light and shadow, and Dendy teases out interlocking movement patterns and spatial relationships. Preliminary Study’s music is by Finland's classically trained cello band Apocalyptica, noted for its interpretations of heavy metal, another predictably hip choice that grows merely irritating over the dance's considerable length.
Within Dendy’s propulsive theater, two women dancers—Catherine Miller and Collette Krogol—reward the eye. Whether solo or in the heat of action, Miller clearly bears a keen awareness, an independent life, a compelling story secreted away inside her dancing. There’s a there there. Krogol’s steady confidence and sturdy physique say “no nonsense,” yet her dancing pivots in the breeze like a feather.