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Spareroom Ink

Reviewed by Kathleen Duffy
Presented at Link's Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield, Chicago IL, Nov. 7-9, 2003

Transfer, by Barbara Mahler and Rachel Thorne Germond, examines instances of transmission: a partnership visibly fluctuates between harmony and dissonance, emotional strength transforms into physical strength, grief transposes from a private to a public process, external chaos shifts to inner peace, and assumptions about a pop culture icon are reassigned as facts about a fellow human being. Overlaying all these is the longstanding mentor/mentee relationship between Mahler and Germond, in which the transfer of aesthetic and tradition from teacher to student is highly visible without appearing derivative. The structure of the program at Link's Hall enhanced this visibility, as Germond and Mahler alternated presentation of their works, allowing for a more comparative view between them.

Rejoinder, Germond's duet with Asimina Chremos, focuses on the varying levels of commitment within a partnership, and the emotional reactions those fluctuations elicit. As the piece begins, the performers dance together, their physical movements infused with a playful innocence and childlike grace. There is a hint of sexual tension between the pair, but the principal impression is one of a pure and loving relationship. Then, the music dissolves into dissonance, the dancers begin to dance alone, and their individual gestures evoke the pain of their separation. In a moment of reconciliation, the two partners balance one another in turn, a vivid metaphor for their mutual support of one another. To the melody of a delicate Bellini aria, the two partners begin to come together again, and their dance reveals stability and togetherness as the crux of their relationship.

Mahler starts her program with The Whispering Pages - short dances in white all in a row. Mahler dances as if she is trying to touch her body to every inch of the space around her. The sequences of movement deliberately draw attention to her feet, her legs, her arms, her spine, as if she is discovering her body and its immense strength for the first time. Her dance is a delicate rhythm familiar from most of our lives - moments of supreme wonder alternate with moments of supreme despair, and during the times between the two, only a simple desire for balance.

During rests in the music, Mahler allows her breath to become an audible element of the dance as well. The sound reminds us that her refined grace is the result of astounding physical ability and muscular control. Her choreography incorporates many movements reminiscent of yoga, where the premise is to breathe into the position, allowing the breath to move energy inside and take the body further into a pose. This is unsurprising, as Mahler is a master teacher of the Klein Technique, which utilizes breathing techniques and energy work as parts of its methodology.

Shudder, a solo by Germond, enacts a reaction to catastrophic loss. In four movements, Germond illustrates an organic grief process, growing from private to public expression. Germond's choreography of this piece calls to mind the vast effort necessary to maintain emotional balance and composure when faced with trauma. She often bends over and holds her stomach, shaking from side to side as if in severe pain. Her leg quakes uncontrollably, and she looks at it as if she cannot fathom what is happening. Memory repeatedly exerts its strength on her, pulling her into the past despite her best efforts to remain in the present. She ends the piece by becoming supine on the floor, curled around an oil lamp and blowing out the light, effectively ending her permission for us to witness this intense, personal course of grief.

The accompaniment to Mahler's Untitled Solo is an aural transfer of sound from Germond's Rejoinder to this piece. The same dissonant noise that signals strife in Rejoinder now becomes the manic and sometimes crushing energy of the urban environment in Mahler's solo, which is powerful enough to bring her down to the floor. Perhaps in psychic defense, her arms begin to create long arcs in the space around her, as if she is sweeping away the external clutter in her determination to find repose. She is moving and being moved by the energy of the outside world, yet her absolute will to maintain control of herself is obvious throughout the piece. Practitioners of yoga will understand the enormous physical strength Mahler possesses when she dances into her elegant poses of balance, as well. She does not shake, she does not wobble at all - she is almost otherworldly in her ability to find a solid place of balance in the space of a single heartbeat. The dance ends with an expression of contentment, and the sense that the chaos of the outer world has definitely been conquered by her serenity and inner peace.

Germond's 10 Marilyns, a work-in-progress, closed out the program and brought down the house. The piece reveals Marilyn Monroe as both icon and human being. Although full of humor, this is no cheap shot at Monroe; rather, the piece is an exploration of her place in our shared cultural fabric. Monroe is treated lovingly and respectfully in this work. Performing with Germond in the first movement are featured Marilyns Andrea Cerniglia and Deborah Levasseur-Lottman. Both are presented by Germond as campy and outrageous, childlike and sexy - the same attributes of Marilyn presented to the world by those that created her image. The three Marilyns come to compete with one another as to which one is the sexiest, the vampiest, the most alluring, although all of them are riveting. After a few moments of sultry poses and big cheesecake smiles, the three of them begin loudly slapping their bodies, and the sound ricochets off the walls and floor. It's Norma Jean reminding herself of the reality of her own flesh, while Marilyn keeps smiling for the cameras. After this sequence, another Marilyn arrives, takes her position, and begins performing in unison with the first three Marilyns. Then, another Marilyn enters. And another. And another, until we have the ten Marilyns of the title posing and preening for us. All are dressed in black, mostly lingerie. All have blond wigs. None of them look alike, though, and the last Marilyn to enter has apparently forgotten to shave his beard for the occasion. The contrast between the typical overly feminized image of Marilyn Monroe, and a roomful of both male and female dancers of varying heights and body sizes portraying her, is a poignant reminder that we all have a bit of Marilyn in us, a public image that does not necessarily reflect the flesh and blood reality of the person we really are.

- Kathleen Duffy, 2002
Chicago IL