Saturday, June 02, 2007

Carving Clarity: Ben Munisteri's Dance Projects

Ben Munisteri Dance Projects performed at DNA (Dance New Amsterdam) May 31-June 3, presented three very different glimpses of an artist who establishes an authentic clarity in his work even though often layered with myriad contrasting effects and technique. Regardless of the complexity, you are never lost.

Munisteri's dance concert was reviewed by Roslyn Sulcas in the NY Times as "Ballet and Headstands, and Other Quirky Contrasts," a fair review, if not insightful. It seemed odd that a dance critic appeared surprised that "ballet" might comprise part of the substance of modern dance as though this was something new or even out of place. Even so, we might question the accuracy of her observation that implied some conscious artistic process on the part of Mr. Munisteri to mix "ordinary" human movement with ballet.

There is no question that Munisteri's work celebrates the human body and transforms "ordinary" movement into the realm of the extraordinary. His eclectic taste in sound and music also contrasts the classical sensibility of Stravinsky's Capriccio in his 2006 work Tuesday 4 a.m. with a score of processed sound and dialogue by Evren Celimli for Smash Through to Sunlight (1999) and a collage of Placebo and Bjork for Terra Nova (2007), an encounter with motion capture which at times echoes the dancers on stage and at other times anticipates the shape of movement through Time. The animation developed from the motion capture by Peter Birdsall, Ted Warburton, and Timothy Jordan was poetically subtle, an extension of a changing horizon of clouds, rain, water, and constellations. Even though derived from the movement of the dancers, the animations seemed oddly distant and disconnected, almost like a separate entity commenting on the movement on stage, but the dancers and the animations never really notice each other.

Yet the star of the evening is Munisteri's celebration of human movement and his ability to express an infinite gradation of perception and feeling. Pattern and repetition add to a vocabulary by juxtaposing what has become familiar with a new irony. We recognize an immediate past even as we see it dissolve into the uncertainty of Now and anticipate its reiteration in a new context. This approach to movement undoubtedly creates formal structural devices, and Munisteri's grasp and manipulation of form is masterful, but it always seems couched in expressive irony. The Time's reviewer called it "quirky" but for me it was as though the predictable had been transformed into the unpredictable, the common becomes strange as we enter into the movement imagination of Munisteri's world. His is a world of variety and surprise, but always threaded through the clarity of his vision.

His dancers brought a range of versatility to the movement and this mixture was integral to the integrity of the Munisteri's vision. DNA is a wonderful venue for Munisteri's work. His audience seemed revved up, perceptive, and responsive to the challenge of his works.

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