October 26 - November 1, 1995


STEPPING OUT: This weekend's dance card brings two performances of note. The popular Orts Theatre of Dance takes to the Temple of Music and Art for the first big show of its second decade, called, naturally enough Orts: The Second Decade. (More on that below.) Jon McNamara, a Zenith Dance Collective member, will be into the second weekend of his Shades and Shadow, a dance theatre work being staged over three weekends at a.k.a. Theatre, 125 E. Congress St.

On its opening weekend, Shades and Shadow had some moments of austere visual beauty. Choreographed by McNamara himself, a muscular, capable dancer, the work had him sinewing his way through a series of moves requiring formidable strength, hanging from cables, crawling through the rafters.

The piece is inspired by Butoh, a Japanese art form. Instead of the fluid dance movements typical of the West, Butoh calls for a series of mannered poses, each one held for long moments. So slow were some of McNamara's gestures, they had the timeless beauty of paintings or photographs of a human body emerging out of the shadows.

But despite all this manifest skill, it was a relief when the 45-minute piece ended. Musician Bob Steigert, present in the flesh on the stage, played a succession of percussive instruments whose decibel level grew progressively louder. He poured rocks into a metal trashcan, creating an unsupportable clamor. At the big climactic moment, he took a bat and bashed the trashcan repeatedly, at the same time that a piercing siren wailed on the soundtrack. I couldn't get my fingers in my ears fast enough, and my ears bothered me all the next day. There can be no justification whatever for art that compromises its unsuspecting viewers physically.

Plus, for much of the show, I had the sensation of being the kid along the parade route who calls out the Emperor has no clothes on. McNamara is entirely in the nude for a good bit of the performance, his face, his body and his genitals smeared with white makeup. Nudity in performance ought to serve a purpose, the way, say, Karen Finley's sudden nudity in her performances makes a shocking statement about the objectification of women's bodies.

In this case, and in the oddly sexualized costumes that McNamara put on later--a woman's black slip and shiny red underpants, a black and red halter top--it is difficult to divine his intention. Performers who work nude have to deal with the fact that their unusual public nakedness becomes an issue in the work. McNamara's piece didn't address it at all, and the audience by default had to pretend to take no notice of the Emperor's get-up.

Over at Orts, artistic director and choreographer Annie Bunker says her company's upcoming show evolved unintentionally into a celebration of her own work as a choreographer over the last decade.

"Four of my own works are in the concert," she said in a recent telephone interview. "It's kind of interesting how it grew. I didn't realize what was happening. I guess it's another anniversary birthday celebration."

Bunker, who will turn 40 years old soon, staged a retrospective of her life in a dance/music performance piece given last spring. She jokes the upcoming show will be absolutely the last public attention given to her milestone.

"Orts II, 1979-1995" is a revival, somewhat reworked, of the signature piece from which Bunker's company drew its name years ago. Set to music by William Penn, she originally composed the piece in response to an artwork by a friend about slow, geological change, a theme that has often recurred in Bunker's work over the years.

The brand-new "Household," a collaboration between Bunker and composer/guitarist William Eaton of Tempe, reflects her current life. A mixture of music, dance and spoken word, the piece is "different vignettes about a house, a home, about things that happen with children, without children, about different sensations of being a mother and memories of my original family." Divided into five sections, the work for 10 dancers will feature several of the dancers' children and a live performance by Eaton.

A new untitled trapeze work by Bunker, performed last April in Reid Park as a work-in-progress, is also on the bill, along with "Past Reflections," a video/dance collaboration first danced at the Temple late last winter. It offers videography by Nancy Solomon and by Bunker's husband Chuck Koesters. The only non-Bunker work in the show, "Shake It Up," is a "fun, dancey piece," by the New York choreographer Elyn Feldman. It was composed for dancer Beth Bauman, an off-again, on-again Orts dancer who, Bunker reports, is now back home with the company to stay.

The Orts show is at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, October 26, and at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings, at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets are $5 for the Thursday show, $8 in advance for the evening shows, $10 at the door. Seniors and students get $2 off the evening shows; children under 15 get in free. For information call 624-3799.

Shades and Shadow is at 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday, through November 5, at a.k.a. Theatre, 125 E. Congress. Tickets are $9; students get in for $7. Call 882-8752.
--Margaret Regan

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October 26 - November 1, 1995

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