Eager Striving for Oddity Meets Sweet Simplicity

Published: November 20, 2004

The pairing of Barbara Mahler and Meg Wolfe was unfortunate, in a shared program of choreography on Nov. 12 at the Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church. The clarity and serene measure of Ms. Mahler’s “Fragments – Simple Separations” made Ms. Wolfe’s “Stormy Days With Josephine” look cluttered.

Ms. Mahler’s “Fragments,” a trio set to music by Savina Yannatou and excerpts from Shostakovich string quartets, created a sense of vibrant, expansive space in part defined by where the dancers stood and moved in relation to one another and by their precise positions on the stage. Embedded in the gradual flow were solos and duets, introduced by an enjoyably raggedy-edged solo for Amy Kail, followed by dances for Vicky Shick and Ms. Mahler, alone and together.

Each has a distinctive personal movement style. Ms. Shick can’t help being lyrical. Ms. Mahler, also a teacher and physiotherapist in New York City, moves in a way that manages to be bluntly open and thorough yet somehow private. Two images stood out: two backs arched in the same curve that looked profoundly individual, and the handstand by Ms. Mahler that ended the piece, relaxing into space as the lights dimmed.

A great many things happened in Ms. Wolfe’s “Stormy Days With Josephine,” which was set in part to music by Lyris Hung. A woman (Ms. Wolfe) laid down a square of cloth and peeled an orange over it. Another dancer (Maria Paz Valle-Riestra), dressed in a glitter top, cut through a group of other female dancers dressed in shimmering outfits.

Dancers arranged small potted plants. A woman performed a solo to Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies.” On film, Ms. Wolfe waded into and retreated from the water on a rocky beach at dusk. A creature dressed like Napoleon (Karen Sherman) wandered through the piece.

There were engaging moments, chiefly in the ways that the dancers slipped into action. But “Stormy Days” had no clear identity. Ms. Wolfe seemed to be trying hard for oddity. Ms. Mahler achieved it inherently, with sweet simplicity.

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