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ISSUE 117 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/27/2004

Foot, tongue, dance hand-in-hand

By Shayna Melgaard
Staff Writer
and Clare Kennedy
Arts Editor

Friday, February 27, 2004

On Feb. 20 the Lingo Dancetheatre performed "Speak to Me," a modern dance meditation on language at the Southern Theater in downtown Minneapolis. The show was preceded by a free performance by Philip Blackburn's Sonic Playground in the lobby of the Southern.

The Lingo Dancetheatre is an interdisciplinary performance group founded in Seattle in 1996. It has performed in locales as distant as Japan, Ecuador and Cuba. Sonic Playground is an experimental dance/music group founded by Blackburn, who holds a Ph.D. in experimental composition from the University of Iowa.

Sonic Playground used a number of household items like copper wire, electric razors and plumbing materials as instruments, in conjunction with drums, chimes and gongs. The musicians themselves were clad in a style reminiscent of The Village People, each with a themed hat (African, sailor and Indiana Jones.) Two female dancers in a trance-like state writhed and twitched along to the sounds. The overall effect of this performance was rather baffling. It was hard to suppress laughter when one of the dancers, very seriously, attempted to play the chimes with her head. It was the kind of performance that reinforces all the negative stereotypes about modern dance and art in general. Sonic Playground's performance seemed pretentious and impenetrable, over-reaching and embarrassing to watch, like reading melodramatic high school poetry aloud. The main act, "Speak to Me" was performed by three male and three female dancers in addition to one enigmatic pink haired character (also female). The stage was initially filled with music stands, each with a crumpled piece of paper clipped to the top, which were gradually removed by Ms. Pink Hair. The other six cast members experimented with the idea of language through dance: dancing to conversation, using dancing as conversation and punctuating conversation with dance. Ms. Pink Hair wandered in and out of the set, at first alienated from the kinetic and verbal conversations of the dancers. Slowly she was integrated into the dialogue with the others. Her character seemed to represent the learning process required to communicate effectively with others.

The performance subtly portrayed the interdependence of spoken words and bodily gestures, adventures in miscommunication and the relationship of witty language and bodily grace. The dancing itself was executed with impressive skill and vigor, without a single misstep. The choreography was a gymnastically challenging mix of styles. "It was a good mix of modern, classical ballet and ballroom dancing," said Jacob Fitzpatrick `07, a St. Olaf dance student. The one drawback was that though dazzling, the choreography had a tendency to divide the audience's attention. However, the overall effect of the choreography, when combined with the music of Reggie Watts and Carlos Mendoza and the dramatic stage lighting, was exhilarating. The strength of "Speak to Me" lies in both style and substance. In stark contrast to Sonic Playground, it did not have to hide behind its own weirdness for lack of a point. It was daring and challenging, but comprehendible and engaging to the layperson, which is the achievement of all great art.





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