Douglas Dunn and Dancers
'Nothing Further' and 'Coquina'
by Juliet Neidish
November 8, 2007 -- Dance New Amsterdam, New York
To speak of choreography that is aesthetic, intelligent, and manages to hit you mysteriously from many angles is to speak of the oeuvre of Douglas Dunn. Dunn, whose unique voice extends from Dada through a Cage/Cunningham lineage, has been presenting his choreography since the early 1970s As part of a two-week performance and discussion series in New York City designed to revisit the dance scene of the 1970s, sponsored by Dance New Amsterdam (DNA), Douglas Dunn & Dancers staged an intriguing retrospective.
The program Dunn put together was in two parts. The first, called “Nothing Further”, was a collage of material taken from five pieces created between 1971 and1975. The second half was a reconstruction of “Coquina” (1979). All five dancers who performed -- Liz Fibrun, Jean Freebury, Beau Hancock, Paul Singh and Christopher Williams -- along with Dunn, worked well together in this beautifully-executed program.
Having been fortunate enough to follow Dunn’s work from the late 1980s to the present, it was interesting to see that some of the aspects that Dunn developed so richly in his later works were already present in his earliest choreographies. Particularly in sections from “Nothing Further”, we saw the beginning of Dunn’s odd and quirky stage persona, his giggle-producing hyper-serious, narrow focus on ordinary tasks, and the provocative explorations of ‘pre-expressive movement,’ and the languages of sexual communication.
One can endlessly discuss the authenticity of reconstruction. Having a record of the steps of a dance does not guarantee that a new set of dancers will make those steps look exactly as they did when performed by the original cast. Even a reconstruction done with the help of an original video does not mean its rendition will look dated, in either the positive (as in “of the period”) or negative (as in “old-fashioned”) sense of the word. Dunn’s “Coquina”, which most probably recaptured the steps and their style accurately, did not look out of date. Classic in its full-bodied dancing and beautifully satisfying colorful lighting, it was also contemporary because the dancers were able to be themselves in it, making it as much about their own interpretations as their reverence for its place in dance history.
Dunn’s clever manner of revisiting his early work through collage in “Nothing Further,” allowed for even more thoughts on the then and the now. By dint of the fact that he performed in these works in the 70s as a contemporary of his peers while now present more as leader or master, and since his present dancers are just in the early stages of their careers, the work was now subject to different performative nuances. And because Dunn put this earlier work together from his current perspective as a choreographer, this perspective informs the presentation of his early work. So experiencing this concert offered a privileged view of how his earlier work evolved and burgeoned into the work of the 1980s through the present. Reciprocally, the smart format that Dunn discovered to present his early works, enabled his current voice to vibrantly inform the reconstructions.