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Dance : Jeff McMahon in 'Discontents' at Highways

December 17, 1990|JAN BRESLAUER

New Yorker Jeff McMahon takes little more than a bare stage, lights and sound equipment and creates a world of images, narratives and ideas. In "Discontents," his staunchly crafted dance/performance about injustice in contemporary life, seen over the weekend at Highways, it was a world sorely in need of solutions.

Speaking a litany of complaints both personal and global, as he hoofs merrily and not so merrily along, McMahon takes on everything from racism to imperialism. His targets are not the most original, but they are necessary ones, and he characterizes them intelligently.

McMahon accompanies his own fluid movements with a rapid-fire monologue that is dominated, structurally, by strings of aphorisms and observations.

This text is then broken into chapters, within which there are Brechtian interruptions of recorded music and McMahon's live singing: Donizetti's "L'elisir d'amore," a Mahler excerpt, original music by Charles Nieland and more.

Occasionally McMahon goes silent, letting his expressive, gestural choreography speak for itself--and these are the most powerful moments in the entire piece. As dance-based performance artists go, McMahon is a competent--if occasionally self-indulgent--writer, but he is a powerful, sensual mover.

Whether catapulting his lithe body against a stark white back wall in throes of anguish or tap-dancing his way through a pointedly dated "Negro" song, McMahon is both ironic and chameleonic.

The endless switching between perspectives and personas eventually becomes frustrating, though, and he might do well to offer the audience the satisfaction of at least one intact line of thought.

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