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The Foundry

'The Fleshing Memory'

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

by Karen Hildebrand

January 4, 2003 -- Riser seating borders a large square of open floor where the dancers will perform, an area the ushers diligently police to prevent foot traffic by the entering audience. Projection screens stand at two corners, each with a pile of crinkled pink construction papers strewn beneath. Four dancers enter and take up positions in dim lighting: Alex Ketley lies near the center, Christian Burns sits on the pink paper pile as if it was a beanbag. They don’t move a muscle as both video screens show the same footage of a man running in a barren urban scene with a slight breeze ruffling the hair on the back of his head.

In "The Fleshing Memory," Foundry artistic directors Ketley and Burns incorporate visual media into their choreography as well as music, sound, and spoken word. Sometimes, as with the mood-setting opening projection, this is successful. Other times, it can be redundant or distracting, competing with the dancers for attention.

Strong ballet training is in evidence in this work (Burns and Ketley as well as Marina Hotchkiss and Andrea Flores have performed with Alonzo King) and Ketley and Burns use the dancers' solid technique as a springboard for a fresh and startling movement vocabulary that is fascinating and sometimes disquieting to watch. We get our first glimpse of it when Hotchkiss moves animal-like along a shaft of diagonal light, her progress slow and undulating, sometimes gangly. With her arms crossed overhead and fingers spread like antlers, she resembles an antelope. Sometimes she walks on all fours, the backs of her long hands becoming hooves. The baggy cargo pants and running shoes she wears camouflage the elegance of her développé.

Each dancer introduces a personal movement signature, the way characters in a story all have defining personalities. Ketley flits in quick directional changes like a bird, Burns moves in off-center slips, near-falls, and rebounds. Nick Yagoda walks as if stricken with palsy: hyper-extended knees, stiff, flailing, arms and bent wrists. Along with nondescript street clothing more characteristic of hip hop than ballet, the dancers each sport a wisp of chiffon trailing asymmetrically from the waist like a torn tutu or a large hankie dangling from a back pocket.

Yet, as engaging as the movement is, the production isn’t completely successful. A duet of Hotchkiss and Ketley is trivialized by the lyrics of the music, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child...why did I leave the one that I love?" The pulling and dragging of the two with Ketley holding Hotchkiss in a gentle headlock and folding her like a broken bird were strong enough to stand alone. A woman speaks intriguingly into a microphone, but her words can’t be heard consistently.

It’s an amusing surprise when Burns tapes a sheet of the pink paper around his face and head with masking tape. Then a video screen sequence shows an older version of Burns (it turns out to be his father) wearing a full uniform of pink construction paper taped to his limbs, torso, and head. He’s slicing something on a cutting board in the kitchen, then deadheading a flowerbed. After the video, Burns begins to cover his entire body in pink paper and masking tape while the other four dancers sail pink paper airplanes over his head. He then makes his way slowly around the perimeter of the space and you can hear him crackle between the reverberation of thunder through the sound system.

At this point the pacing of the hour-long work becomes tedious and could benefit from a change in dynamic. Of standout quality is the poignant duet between Hotchkiss and Yagoda in which neither seems able to stand on his/her own. Supporting her from behind, he nudges her leg forward with his own, but her weight pulls him down. It’s a vivid relationship metaphor in which they stumble but don’t part. Ultimately, she climbs onto his shoulders and he carries her in his crippled man walk, his arms waving spasmodically.

Unfortunately, the work ends abruptly, attempting to resolve the issues of isolation with a schmaltzy splash of John Lennon "Mind Games" lyrics, "love is the answer." The great potential of Ketley and Burns is that their work can appeal to new audiences, but it will be even more powerful if they can avoid talking down to us and offer a narrative that solidly earns its ending.

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