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The Bang Group

'Critical Mass', 'Pop', 'Slapstuck', Show Business', 'The Boogie Shoes Project'

by Marshall Huntenberger

March 31, 2004 -- Winter Garden, World Financial Center, New York, NY

Each time I see The Bang Group as the years pass, I am delighted by the invention and sheer creativity of David Parker's choreography. I've come to expect his wit and brilliance so I have a high standard for Bang Group performances. I wasn't at all disappointed on this occasion.

The Bang Group had a residency at the Winter Garden for most of March. Parker was charged with a daunting challenge in this commission – to create an original piece using six non-professional dancers recruited directly from passers-by at the Winter Garden in the World Financial Center in Manhattan. The six finalists were just wonderful with their hard work and delight showing through in their performance on Wednesday night – more about that later.

It's important to note that the Winter Garden is across the street from the World Trade Center site inside a concourse that joins a large cluster of buildings. The space is an enormous glass enclosed area where people bustle from appointments to luncheons and meet to discuss business deals. There are a dozen 60-foot-tall Royal Palm trees in the center of the terrazzo-floored Winter Garden with a large sail-shaped canvas suspended at one end to close the area for the stage. The audience sits so that the dancer's feet are at eye level. That prospective isn't always best for appreciating Parker's work which often goes horizontal.

Amazingly, the space is wonderful nevertheless. When the passers-by were rerouted and the area roped off, the great sound system and good lighting worked very well. The audience was some place between 800 and 1000 lucky people for the performance.

The program started with David Parker and Jeffrey Kazin dancing to one their oldest standards, “Critical Mass.” Together, Parker and Kazin are just dynamite. They know each other so well that the comedic genius of Parker and the fluid electricity and Kazin form a dance plasma. When Kazin spins, it reminds me of a light bulb being screwed in. “Critical Mass” touches many interpersonal feelings and topics with intelligence, humor, dexterity and skill.

Next, Amber Sloan performed “Pop” for the 1st time. “Pop” is a solo piece where the dancer uses bubble wrap as a foil, or obstacle or percussive instrument. I have seen this piece twice before performed by other dancers and have liked it each time. Amber Sloan brought a new dimension to it. As she painfully maneuvered around, carefully avoiding the bubbles, and then eventually stamped, rolled, punched and elbowed those damn bubbles, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Sloan is developing into one of the finest modern dancers I have had the privilege to see and this performance just amazed me. I checked with others to make sure it wasn't my delusion; she really was as good as I am describing her, probably better. Bravo, Amber Sloan.

“Slapstuck” is Parker's trademark these days, although not my personal favorite of Bang's catalog. Jeffrey Kazin and David Parker wear velcro costumes that enable them to become variously stuck and unstuck with motion, percussion and deft attacks upon each other. Are they adversaries competing for the same space, or are they old friends intertwined and trying to step back so they can see each other? There were children sitting behind us at the performance who delighted in the seeming magnetism of the costumes. The work that Kazin and Parker do in “Slapstuck” involves the audience to the point where everyone is leaning and rocking to help them become finally unstuck. This is a classic example, but only an example, of Parker's genius. The costumes make the work unique but Kazin and Parker make it substantial and entertaining.

Emily Tschiffely does a fine job in her short piece, “Show Business.” Set to Ethel Merman's classic singing, Tschiffely adeptly lets us know that the show must go on and that indeed, there is no business like show business.

The finale, “The Boogie Shoes Project,” used six pieces of music with New York themes and the entire company along with the non-professionals recruited during The Bang Group's residence at the Winter Garden. The opening, a fabulous, energetic, joyous interpretation of 'Stayin' Alive' from “Saturday Night Fever” (the original London cast) was just fun! The amateurs were so cleverly used by Parker that they were just perfectly integrated into the complex choreography. They may not be professional dancers, but the woman Parker picked showed a professional attitude and obviously worked very hard to hit their marks. They didn't make mistakes and contributed greatly to the piece by their sheer joy and fun attitudes. Kazin enjoyed this piece so much that his joy and energy just electrified the audience. As a matter of fact, this is one of the few dance performances I can recall where the audience were so delighted that they spontaneously broke into applause. Three cheers for an audience of common people who appreciate what's fun for no reason at all.

“The Boogie Shoes Project” progressed through many iterations of dance and music, all delightful. Mary Cochran's green dress, a nod to the Statue of Liberty, was especially fun. 'Autumn in New York' was particularly appropriate somehow touching the audience in all the right places. Amber Sloan and newcomer Laura Pocius were joyous and engaging throughout.

The Bang Group is an incredibly special modern-dance troupe. David Parker continues to grow and change and find new ways to express his overall love of humanity and delight in experiencing that humanity. Keep your eyes open for their upcoming performances.

Edited by Malcolm Tay

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