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Dance Review

Simple Message Gets Buried in Distraction-Filled 'Blessings'

May 19, 2000|JENNIFER FISHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Someone somewhere has probably done a scientific study about what parts of the brain activate when watching dance and listening to a spoken story at the same time. Whatever occurs in the left- and right-brain realm, the process often produces a feeling of not being able to keep up or enter either world deeply enough.

Such was the case with most of "Blessings and Curses," an hourlong dance theater piece presented by Malashock Dance and Company at Cal State Northridge Tuesday night as part of the annual Yiddishkayt Los Angeles Festival.

A collaboration between Malashock and playwright Karen Hartman, the work centers on a weaver (actor Naomi Newman) looking back on her life as she loses her sight, and also on a seemingly unrelated young Israeli immigrant who tells his own stories (actor Eric Rhys Miller). Interspersed are biblical stories, and Malashock and his five dancers, acting as a kind of chorus, acting out events or reacting to them with poses or movement phrases.

Keeping straight the doings of Abraham, Isaac, Rachel, Leah, et al., was a full-time job, even in this pageant-type storytelling framework. Then there were the metaphor-laden interior monologues of the weaver to unravel--losing your thread is easy, correcting your mistakes hard--OK, but why are the biblical characters there?

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By the end, things resolve with a feel-good, sudden alliance between the older woman and the young man, who find that seeming curses (their infirmities) can lead to a blessing--companionship along life's journey. A simple message at the end of a long and winding road too full of distractions.

Along the way, a few brief intervals of dancing were effective bodily weavings into the atmosphere. Limbs unfolded into the beatific postures of Renaissance religious painting, bodies were lifted with arched backs as if sent aloft by gentle breezes. Even sharply rhythmic movements and folk-inspired steps had a breathy, picturesque quality--amplified by Gwen Grossman's lighting and Deborah Dryden's costumes.

A rich tapestry of recorded musical selections consisted of traditional Jewish music and elegiac compositions, with some harmonies sung by performers onstage. Against that backdrop, the piece was a bit like postmodern prayer, but only a bit, since its fragmented template was the parable, meant to teach and celebrate solutions made of whole cloth.

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