"Malashock Dance in Hidden Agendas Proves Provocative and Timely" by Steven Woodruff

Malashock Dance in its studio performances of HIDDEN AGENDAS showed just how sharply focused and vivid a small company performance can be, even without the advantages of a full scale theatrical production. The studio performance reprised two works by Michael Mizerany from the Malashock Dance repertory and revived his solo work, Bump in the Road (1996). Also on the program were aerial artist, Laura Dasi (two works) and Lydia Zimmer, whose idiosyncratic improvisational work, Memoriae (2011), was seen earlier this spring in Jamie Nichols', Celebrate Dance. The evening concluded with, IN THE DARK, a premiere of a new work by company Artistic Director, John Malashock.

That it all seems so inevitable and not contrived is part of Zimmer's unusual take on improvisation.

I have seen three of the works (two by Mizerany and Zimmer's Memoriae) in larger theatrical settings. This time out all three seemed to offer something new. The fantastic detail in Zimmer's dancing is something of a revelation when seen from only a few feet away. Her movement vocabulary comes across as an affecting blend of a wide range of movement. Here momentarily you sense the skeletal ticks of a street locker, there, travelling steps something like a modern dance vision of a Japanese classical dancer. Later there are lyrical sequences and gestures as she collapses to the floor that reference urban, hyper dance. That it all seems so inevitable and not contrived is part of Zimmer's unusual take on improvisation. I found I missed the lighting and the wide open, isolating spaces of the version I saw at the Alex Theatre. The work, close up, proved revealing and gave new hints about the title. Memoriae suggests a kind of self-invention through memory, as if the dancer physically recalls a past self or waking up in a strange, new body. The music, Waehrend , by the German composer Jules Marsh, mixes piano and electronica.

'Bump in the Road'

Mizerany performed BUMP IN THE ROAD frequently in Los Angeles during the 90s. Seeing it here, choreographed on Nicholas Strasburg, who offers us a younger and perhaps more cherubic version of the work than when it was originally seen, made the choreography seem more playful. The piece is a physically challenging one and Strasburg's performance was powerfully danced and also convincingly acted in those moments that required his voyeuristic connections to the audience. BUMP IN THE ROAD is a frank look at auto erotica and the manly art of masturbation. The score is simply the percussive breathing of the soloist as he obsesses on his gratification. Some of that energy steers itself toward athletic movements suggesting that the connection to dance movement also has a lot to do with physical pleasure. There is welcome humor. There are also references to the famous Nijinsky Afternoon of a Faun (Debussy) in the profile poses of the soloist with his head thrown back and exaggerated facial expressions. That work, in another context, also deals with the auto erotic, much of it also for a solo dancer.

'Let Me Into Your Skin'

Mizerany's LET ME INTO YOUR SKIN sensitively imagines the initiation of a relation between two men. We see from the beginning the all the signs of an awakening. More specifically we see that the signs are clearly not gender based. Coming on the heels of President Obama's advocacy for same sex marriage the work took on a kind of instant resonance, the narrative suddenly exposed to a kind of political and social awareness of elevated content. The work begins in silence as the two men, John Fulgham and Strasburg acknowledge each other. With the addition of music by the Danish electronica composer Anders Trentemøller, the interactions develop into a full- fledged duo. The relationship finally resolves itself after a lengthy development in a sense of repose, resignation. Call it what you will. It felt real, convincingly acted, and side stepped sentimentality. The central duo was marked by complex, counter weighted partnering. TETHERED (Mizerany, 2009) proved a useful antidote to LET ME UNDER YOUR SKIN. I had seen it on the Celebrate Dance 2011 program. The work places two dancers, Bradley R. Lundberg and Blythe Barton in almost constant contact with each other. He is often relegated to the floor while she presses him with a demanding presence made particularly observable by constantly mouthing commands (at least I took them for that) in to his ear. We get that she wants to run the show. An ear bending, operatic aria (a counter tenor, so you can imagine his irritation) from Purcell's Dido and Anneas is the score. That reference is instructive because Dido too was a controller. In the end he twists her head away menacingly in a gesture that clearly conveys he has had enough. Mizerany, who loves contact improvisation and complex partnering, put those instincts to good use here. Both dancers were superb. With one work in each half of the concert, aerialist Laura Dasi's work felt challenged to provide narratives or develop identifiable content. As aerialists go, Dasi is excellent, but the work on a dance program points up just how static even excellent work on the silks can be. She did manage some excellent drops that played well with the music. Dasi is a dancer with a professional ballet background. You could have wished from her work that more ambitiously coupled aerial and traditional, floor bound movement. The intentions behind IN THE DARK (Malashock), which closed the evening, were not as clear. The work is for small ensemble of three women and one man. It is an athletic work that has one terrific section in which the hardworking male soloist (Strasburg) catches the women as they run and repeatedly fling themselves at him. It made you recall Paul Taylor's ESPLANADE, but the execution here was not always managed with confidence or the faultless timing that it required. Also important was a well-designed and well-executed unison section for the soloistic couple, Strasburg and Barton. Courtney Meadows and Kiona Brown completed the cast for IN THE DARK. The music was by David Van Tieghem. All of the costuming for the evening used a stripped down look: trunks and athletic tops. You might have wanted more to place the works in some kind of context. BUMP IN THE ROAD, however, quite rightly belonged in trunks. For me, it was the standout work on the evening's program.

HIDDEN AGENDAS played at the Malashock Dance company studios May 11th through the 13th. The program was produced and directed by Malashock Dance Associate Artistic Director, Michael Mizerany.

Credits: Jesse Lee Weiner

About the author

Steven Woodruff lives in Los Angeles where he is a professional musician, dancer, educator, and writer. His writing includes original poetry and translations as well articles on film, stage, television, and culture. He reviews dance and music covering national and international touring concert programs as well as local companies for DancePlug, DanceChannelTV, and BachTrack in the UK.