Mandance Project at the Joyce

Wu-Kang Chen in "Dust", photo by Lois Greenfield

Wu-Kang Chen in "Dust", photo by Lois Greenfield

In 2004, American choreographer Eliot Feld made a clear move away from classical ballet when he premiered his Mandance Project (which includes women in spite of its misleading name). Feld is undeniably creative, but in Mandance’s current season at The Joyce Theater, the four works on the program – three of which are premieres – suggest that he does not know when enough is enough. The pieces are initially compelling, but they meander for too long, eventually becoming exhausting.

Radiance is a solo for Ha-Chi Yu set to delicate xylophone music by Laraaji. With her long dark hair and sweeping torso movements, Yu could have been one of Pina Bausch’s dancers. She appears to be possessed by something greater than herself as she tosses her head and moves in and out of a diagonal stream of light. Her movement matches the delicacy of the music, but this piece grew repetitive and long-winded.

Wu-Kang Chen is wonderfully fluid in Proverb, a 2004 solo set to music of the same title by Steve Reich. Using small lights pressed against the palms of his hands, Chen has complete control over the stage’s lighting. He makes interesting shadows along the backdrop, and decides when and how to highlight his own naked body. Quick flicks of his wrists result in a rapid change of images, like turning the pages of a flipbook. More continuous, sweeping arm movements create complex images and uncertainty about Chen’s location on stage. The repetition, however, is tiring.  There is only so much that can be done with two lights and a soloist.

Chen is also featured in the premiere of Dust, only this time he stands inside a large black net filled with shredded paper. Thirty-six fans on low speed cause the paper to gently move inside the netting as Chen calmly – and frustratingly slowly – creates a large mound at the center of the stage. As soon as the fans hit high speed, Chen triumphantly maneuvers his way through a tornado of paper. Visually intriguing, and certainly challenging for Chen, but this work is anticlimactic and not nearly as exciting as it sounds.

Feld’s interest in props and special effects is even more evident in The Spaghetti Ballet, a poorly executed ensemble work that never succeeds at being humorous. Set to music by Ennio Morricone, the seven dancers – three of whom are young, talented students at the Ballet Tech School – portray several cliché scenes from western films. The vignettes are ridiculous and often obnoxious, while stilts and strobe lights are used merely for the wow factor. There is a lot of horsing around and not much else.

Mandance’s disappointing program featured strong dancers, but the pieces could benefit from editing and less reliance on props and lighting effects. Feld has some interesting ideas. If only he understood the importance of brevity.

Mandance Project continues through the weekend at The Joyce Theater. Tickets can be ordered online or by calling 212.242.0800.

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