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Dance Review

'Close Dancing' Proves Distant From Intimacy

October 17, 2000|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE CRITIC

Self-dramatization can be a dangerous game in the dance world. On Sunday, for instance, deeply intelligent and purposeful dancer-choreographer Karen Goodman repackaged herself as a manic, self-obsessed and ever-so-theatrical character bearing her name for a 75-minute text-dominated solo titled "Close Dancing" at Cal State L.A.

In this first event in the Luckman Theater's series of "Intimate Encounters," the audience sat on the stage, close to Goodman and surrounding her on three sides. No matter: She distanced herself with every exaggerated word, annihilating intimacy and building an imaginary proscenium around herself by refusing to merely talk when she could energetically project grand utterances at every opportunity.

Make no mistake: By dint of stamina alone, Goodman achieved an impressive tour de force. And she danced with the same eloquence as always, turning the simplest actions into quests for metaphysical connection--to her audience, to the subjects under discussion, to an ideal of dance itself.

But her text ricocheted from autobiography to socio-babble to Delphic pronouncements and back, a la those strings of one-minute sound bites in the multi-dancer compendium "From the Horse's Mouth," performed at Dance Kaleidoscope. Worse, her adopted persona relentlessly oozed stagy or talk-show artifice--so much, in fact, that when she spoke about politicians looking "real and believable" when they dance, and then repeated "real and believable" for emphasis, you wondered how she would ever know.

The Talmud, the macarena, what she called "the big questions, the cosmic questions" and minutiae about Melrose during the disco era all had the same weight and became grist for the same mill, the same rootless manipulation. And ultimately the big questions, the cosmic questions concerned how Goodman ended up so very, very close to self-parody on Sunday.

Did her "Close Dancing" behavior develop from the need to create a form of stylized speech paralleling the stylization of her dancing? Did director Winship Cook prioritize large-scale energy projection over staying real and believable? Did the process of prepping for a 75-minute marathon mandate a level of kinetic energy that inevitably comes off as phony when it's spent in mere talk?

If "Close Dancing" represented a test, Goodman passed it admirably. She turned a stage into a cozy studio, sustained herself in front of an audience aided only by the artful lighting of Eileen Cooley, quoted Hillary Clinton, T.S. Eliot and the Village People, "shook her groove thing" and earned a standing ovation.

The only thing missing was the sound of her own voice.

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