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'Gertrud' and 'Les Noces'

by Elizabeth McPherson

March 14, 2007 -- The Ailey Citigroup Theatre, New York City

Zvi Gotheiner’s company ZviDance presented a lively, thought-provoking performance as part of the thirteenth 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Festival. The company members projected a strong feeling of community with one other while at the same time maintaining uniqueness as individuals. The performance was presented with the two dances back to back and no intermission.

The opening dance, “Gertrud,” is a tribute to Gertrud Kraus (1901-1977), a teacher and mentor of Gotheiner’s. In program notes, Gotheiner expresses that “Gertrud opened the door for me to the world of dance, dance-making and to the possibility of self-definition as an ‘artist’ that informs my life to this day.” The multi-media work combines dance, spoken word, projected images, and music.

“Gertrud” flows in an episodic way, with some scenes overlapping others. The piece begins with one dancer telling another how to move and in what direction using clock readings, for instance: “Take 9 steps toward 3 o’clock.” All the while, Ray Roy’s projected images of stick figure dancers and geometric drawings are seen on the backdrop, with the look of a systemized form of dance notation. The drawings are borrowed from Kraus’ notebooks.

The text likewise is drawn from Kraus’ own material. One dancer moves and speaks a whole monologue playing with the word “point”: “disappoint, counterpoint, what’s the point?” A large group of dancers recite variations of: “paprika, schnitzel, paprika, goulash, dumpling, danke.” The accompanying dance in five count phrases is a high energy romp with repeated sequences done in varying formations and often in counterpoint. The dancers perform the intricate choreography with intense commitment.

In a repeated humorous moment, one dancer asks another, “What is syncopation?” Each time she asks the question, the other dancer pushes her into a slight stumble, creating a repeated syncopated sound pattern and then says, “Sorry.”

Adding more humor, one dancer pontificates about what it means to be an artist (sounds a bit like Martha Graham in “A Dancer’s World”) while a second dancer concurs, repeating the words of the first dancer, and vamping in front of an imaginary mirror.

The projected backdrop images change from the stick figures to moving lines, wavy patterns, and other designs. Through the different episodes, the dancers segue from solos to duets to larger groups with pounding steps that convey varying moods with diverse dynamics. “Gertrud” holds bounteous information and themes, a collage of moments held together by the person of Gertrud Kraus as perceived and interpreted by Gotheiner.

The second dance, “Les Noces,” is similarly rich in detail. This version came across less as a wedding than as a mating ritual with men and women separating at times into clusters, at other times pushing one reluctant man and woman together who seem to react to each other like magnets of the same polarity repelling. Later, there is a pairing off of all the dancers into happily chosen pairs: two men, two sets of one woman and one man, and two sets of two women. The couples disperse with lips locked together. In one section of unity, all the dancers join hands in a circular formation performing steps reminiscent of the Hora, a celebratory folk dance.

Costumes, designed by Rabiah Troncelliti, are striking, with the women clothed in black, white, and red dresses and the men in white shirts and black pants. The simplicity of the bold color scheme adds to the ritualistic quality. The set consists of four benches that are dramatically moved around, stood on, sat upon, crawled under, and jumped over as if the very nature of the object demands such use. The choreography has the same feeling of inevitability.

The dance ends with one couple in mid step off a bench into the air – a leap of faith perhaps?

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