Donna Uchizono, New York Live Arts – review

Donna Uchizono is a master of disorientation. The New York postmodern choreographer has laid the tango on its side like a jigsaw puzzle and begun a dance at its climax to work backwards to its start. But in this career-spanning show (until Saturday) disorientation is method and subject.

The aptly titled 1999 signature piece State of Heads considers the actual heads of heads of state, and the body politic as an actual body. The head turns out, of course, to be disconnected from the blank, bulky body, fittingly encased in rubbery white. The feet in this trio are busy and meticulous. The legs are capable of galumphing across space. The arms aim to be emphatic but fail because the shoulder and neck are frozen in the service of the palsied head.

Downtown dance regulars Levi Gonzalez, Hristoula Harakas and Rebecca Serrell Cyr, all magnificent in their awkwardness, do everything within their power to keep their heads out of trouble. They resemble people who dance only when the occasion requires it – a stiff jumble of isolated parts.

The political allusion increases the delicious absurdity of State of Heads, but the dance can stand without it. The inspiration for the premiere Fire Underground – Uchizono’s 12-year ordeal adopting a child from Nepal – is so specific and terrible, by contrast, that we could not forget it even if the main prop in this duet between the choreographer and Serrell Cyr let us.

A thin, long chain coiled around Serrell Cyr’s waist serves as belt, umbilical cord, compass, weapon, anchor, and ball and chain. She swings it around her, stretches it into geometric shapes and trails it behind her like a tail or a royal train. It measures distances.

But between whom? Fire Underground has huge potential. The metaphor-rich props and the storm of feeling that the majestic Serrell Cyr conjures from plain steps invoke Martha Graham, with the mothers on both sides of international adoption the worthy update of the betrayed women that the Freudian choreographer excavated from Greek tragedy. But Uchizono’s customary oblique approach does not serve such an obsessional subject. The dancers are more fixated on their chains than on one another. They remain in each other’s orbit, but they raise no tides of feeling in the other.

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