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Dandelion Dance Theater

Undressed Project: 'illusive,' 'Night Marsh'

by Rebecca Hirschman

July 2, 2004 -- Jon Sims Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "I stand in awe of my body, this matter to which I am bound has become so strange to me."

Created through a series of residencies at the Jon Sims Center for the Arts, Eric Kupers' three-year "Undressed Project," performed by his and Kumiko Guthrie's company, Dandelion Dancetheater, focuses on the human body. Each segment of the project is performed naked, allowing the human form to take center stage, not in an erotic way, but in a manner of investigation and appreciation.

This final program opened with Kupers' "illusive," which premiered in 2002 as part of the Project's initial phase. Performed by Kupers with live text spoken by Susannah Richter, "illusive" explores the preconceived notions of what we expect a dancer to look like. Kupers, with an atypical body, does not fit into these constrictive norms. He has dreads, short legs, and jiggle. But, we see that his leaps are pure, his attitude turns contain flow and balance, and his movements create an effortless rhythm from beginning to end. Why, then, do we believe that the image of our physical body should inhibit or encourage our ability to dance? And how can we begin to change these notions? Through its text and reflective choreography, "illusive" points out our immediate dance-related biases and begins to strip away our expectations of what a dancer is.

Following "illusive" was the Bay Area premiere of "Night Marsh," the third and final installment of the Undressed Project. A work for 15 dancers with choreography, direction, text, and video by Kupers, "Night Marsh" continues the exploration of the body, focusing on body image, beauty, and death. These performers are not your typical dancers with perfect feet and chiseled abs. They are dancers of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, sexualities, and abilities. In short, they are real people, and this realness extends to their bodies. We do not see dancers in costumes or dressed in layers. There is no hiding behind cloth. Instead, they dance in and of themselves: in the flesh.

Kupers uses nudity to great effect, recognizing the body's own movements, its own sense of being. As the piece progresses, we follow Debby Kajiyama through an exploration of the physical body; we look at its force, flab, and fascinations. Taking on a whole new meaning, the human form's nuances shine through. Solos, duets, and group work convey personal and physical meaning. One potent example is near the beginning of the piece, where a young woman performs a solo. There is emotion running from the top of her mohawk down through the tips of her toes. As she extends an arm outward and lowers her eyelids slightly, you do not just see her body. There is more inside, a consciousness that joins who she is with what she is, and we recognize that these two cannot be separated. Repeated at the end of the work accompanied by text, it takes on an even deeper meaning.

Another dancer that catches the eye is Jacques Poulin-Denis. His graceful movements and supporting lifts and positions stand out among the group; the fact that he uses a prosthesis seems to disappear. The group sections are incredibly strong. Use of flashlights in the opening sequence eases the audience into the idea of watches dancers in the flesh. Later, the dancers emote a powerful energy as the corps follows a woman in an exploration of the breast. Hey, everyone has them, even men!

Kupers selected diverse styles of music by local Bay Area artists to accompany each section, but the music that had the greatest impact was the dancers' own bodily accompaniment of singing, changing, slapping, stomping, and spoken noises. Through these self-produced sounds, the dancers reemphasized that the body is not just a shell.

A few parts of "Night Marsh" could still use some tweaking. One aspect is the video journey of Kajiyama from bodily birth to death. While a great idea, we also follow Kajiyama in the flesh. This is a lot more interesting and has a greater impact on the overall concept. While the video usage at the end of the piece is strong, the journey itself does not support the work, but instead slows the piece down. "Night Marsh" could also benefit from some choreographic edits; there are instances where the vignettes become a little long and repetitive. By trimming a few of these and adding more connections between each section, Kupers might be able to create an even more potent work.

Performed in an intimate atmosphere with everyday dancers, "Night Marsh" faces bodily stereotypes and explores body image issues in a constructive and artistic way. There is no perfect body, and there is no one way to perform a movement. Stressing inquiry and acceptance over quick judgment provides a safe haven for body exploration. Overall, Dandelion Dancetheater's "Night Marsh" conveys a successful conclusion to the "Undressed Project."

Edited by Jeff.

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