October 23, 2002

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Different roles
EmSpace Dance spoofs societal conventions.

By Rita Felciano

PERHAPS BEST KNOWN as a member of companies such as Huckabay McAllister Dance, Potrzebie, Steamroller, and OnSite Dance, Erin Mei-Ling Stuart started choreographing a few years ago, showing work in group settings at a variety of venues. As a dancer, Stuart is a fierce performer with a wicked sense of humor. As a choreographer, she is sometimes idiosyncratic to the point of being elusive.

An evening of works choreographed for EmSpace Dance by Stuart, the company's artistic director, titled "Soon, and in Pleasant Company" (Thurs/17, ODC Theater) confirmed that she possesses a viewpoint most often articulated through humor; every one of the pieces spoofed social conventions and stereotypes. But at this point her choreographer's touch is neither particularly light nor original. Favoring minimalist, often stiff-legged movement, Stuart created cartoonish images, yet they weren't rendered sharply enough to pop the pretensions they intended to attack.

The weakest piece on the program, And Everything Nice, was also her earliest, so with greater experience, Stuart's pieces will probably become more pointed regarding what irritates or bemuses her. And Everything Nice purported to explore conformist pressures and the fate of the outsider in a high school environment. The piece presented two female groups: one was a chain of girls identically clad in red dresses; the other was a pair who seemed voluntarily intertwined. An outsider, dressed in drab gray, floated between the two groups and, of course, was rejected by both. The choreography came alive in one spot only: a fashion-show strut in which models flashed smiles even as they bitched at one another. However, the score, collaged by Stuart and Dan Baggott, was excellent throughout.

The mix of everyday movement and dance vocabulary in Line Dry, the first of four premieres, created a nicely billowing sense of time and space, one in which gossiping women transformed themselves into pure dance forms – only to go back to hanging laundry. A sheet became a bind that first playfully linked and then entangled two women. Lorevic Rivera's wistful solo with a shirt expanded into an ensemble number in which shirts became objects of both gratification and isolation. The piece should be tightened, but there are enough ideas to make this white-on-white costumed fantasy worth the effort.

One can only hope that the new Between Floors #1 and #2 will have more progeny. The short sketches of people trapped with one another in an elevator were high comedy; they were clever, economical, and funny. The first concerned a trio of very different women; the second paired a stiff-upper-lip society dame with a loose-limbed rocker sporting combat boots. The scenario may not be wholly original, but Stuart's timing was first-rate.

Also new was My First Lady, which boasted Blane Ashby as a president and Deborah Miller, Ann Berman (a superb comedian), and Jenny McAllister as wifely appendages who ultimately exact their revenge. There were promising elements in Stuart's choreography, which commented on the gestures of political figures: patting babies, shaking hands, and posing for photo ops. But the two-part piece, with its robotic movements, was – like And Everything Nice – overshadowed by the quality of its soundtrack. Chris Froh pieced together hackneyed phrases from presidential speeches going back to Roosevelt, and Jennifer Simpson read a poem by Carol Ann Duffy in which the sadistic Beast finally gets his comeuppance from Beauty.

A trio of small segments, gathered under the title A Certain Age (2001), closed the evening. The first featured a heavily bejeweled Ashby and Stuart in a gesturally based duet as sharp-tongued dowagers having it out in an opera box. In the second segment, a quintet of "bored housewives" wore pink rubber gloves while playing bridge. The last section showed a group of adult dancers frolicking like kids let loose on a playground. Any actor will tell you that adults who impersonate kids on stage had better avoid cloying clichés; these dancers weren't up to that challenge.