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ARENA Dances by Mathew Janczewski

By Camille LeFevre

ARENA Dances by Mathew Janczewski
“Dancin’ with ETHEL”
Southern Theater
Minneapolis, MN
October 23–26, 2008
Reviewed by Camille LeFevre

 

Photo by Eric Melzer.

Sarah Baumert and

Amy Behm-Thomson

of ARENA Dances.

Click here to watch excerpts

from the program.

 

Mathew Janczewski is concerned with the emotions that music elicits and translating those emotions into choreographic portraits of intimacy. This program of five works (including three premieres) was set to the often tense, dissonant, cinematic sounds of contemporary composers, performed onstage by the New York string quartet ETHEL.


Strife was evident in Janczewski’s partner-intensive choreography, particularly in the new duet Once (music by Mary Ellen Childs). In this unresolved study in claustrophobia, Stephen Schroeder clenches against, pushes down, and scoops away from Stephanie Laager when their hands, arms, backs, and legs aren’t linked in pauses or joined in lifts.

 

In the new duet Everything, Everything, Amy Behm-Thomson and guest artist Erin Thompson project a secret ironic knowingness as a woman’s voice reminds us, over the minor key score by Pamela Z, that there “are two remaining lifelines” and that the duet is “made possible through the generous donations of viewers like you.” The latter phrase, gleaned from public television, is somewhat self-reflexive given the onstage plea for donations before the show. The dancers also mirror each other’s extended arm presentation; flat, slicing hands; poking, beak-like fingers; and curving, wrapping, swinging movements.

 

The new quartet Run With Me is set to a sharp, sinister Psycho-like commissioned score by Michael Croswell. Headlocks, faux fist fights, and disciplined thrashing are submerged in Janczewski's soft, flowing choreography and evocative stage pictures, such as the when the women, backs arched on the floor, lie bathed in rectangles of light. The costumes—turquoise party dresses and red undies for the women, red shirts and dress pants on the men—add to the sense of disjuncture.

 

Janczewski’s dance vocabulary is one of spiral and sway, scoop and surge, tension and release, flight and groundedness, and quick directional turns. It’s propelled by a momentum that allows you to see the wind in the dancers’ hair. So when the dancers lilt and cascade through Spiral Shift (to music by Evan Ziporyn) in their diaphanous costumes, reveling in the energy of Ethel’s furiously polished live performance, the movement is lovely to watch.

 

But in this program, the lyricism becomes repetitive. Hold On (music by Phil Kline), for instance, juxtaposes a weighted sense of menace with smooth, watchful choreography. But when Julie Brant McBride vertically squiggles with tight annoyance, one longs for more of this individuality and edgy change in tone.

 

Take a look for yourself! Click here to watch excerpts from "Dancin' with ETHEL."