Goofballs And Scientists

A smorgasbord of the young and restlessly artistic at “DANCEOFF!”

A recent scientific study found that regular attendance at “DANCEOFF!”—the freewheeling showcase of works by emergent choreographers—enhances brain functioning, keeping neural cells and synapses youthful even into advanced age. Okay, I made up the part about the study, but I bet the rest is true.

DANCEOFF! has been tickling audiences since Lisa LeAnn Dalton and Terry Dean Bartlett launched it in 1999 at Brooklyn’s Galapagos Art Space, where it was billed as “Lisa LeAnn and Terry Dean Put on a DANCESHOW.” A couple of name changes, numerous venues, and dozens of choreographers later, the series—now co-curated and co-produced by Bartlett and Katie Workum—continues to be popular with fans who relish its fast-paced, variety-show format and don’t mind a little theatricality and goofiness in their dance fare.

DANCEOFF!’s two-night March season at PS 122 offered the usual mixed bag of tricks. Workum offered two excerpts from “RED,” a piece she will premiere at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, featuring Jerry Miller, Luke Miller, Will Rawls, Stephanie Roy, and Jenny Seastone Stern as a raucously dysfunctional family. This obnoxious little tribe danced bumbling, cartoonish movements while recounting the story of “a long trip to-ge-ther,” faces falling as those last three syllables dropped from their lips like chicken bones.

You have to be pretty quick to keep up with Workum, though a line from Stern’s account will give you a rough idea of how things went on this vacation—”We pretended we were in ‘The Shining.’”

The excerpt from Cynthia Hopkins’s apocalyptic “Tsimtsum,” which will be seen in its entirety this April on Dance Theater Workshop’s “Sourcing Stravinsky” program, had the evening’s best and most complex costume—a gleaming silver cloak, a pig’s snout on her face, and mini-bottles of booze dangling from sleeves and hems—for starters—and an imitation of Laurie Anderson’s amplified vocal stylings. Hard to tell where this thing is going, but Hopkins really works it, so you might want to be there for the full unveiling.

Jonah Bokaer set up an elaborate setting for “| underscore |.” Dress forms with digital clocks for heads were scattered around the floor. Black-clad prop handlers unspooled yards of videotape, crisscrossing the space with its dark, shiny lines, even into the audience. The dancing itself took place on a central screen that showed various motion-capture animations of the choreographer’s wrist turning, hand flexing, fingers carefully articulating, and—in later sequences—his full body unleashing rapid-fire action. Julia Frodahl’s sound design—during which a horse neighs, cars skid and crash, a jet roars by, thunder powers up, a clock ticks, and alarms sound—added masterful depth to this captivating production.

Nate Schenkkan—this guy can move!—lights up Shanti Crawford’s videodance “I Promise I Won’t Break Stuff,” a kind of postmodern breakdance that I’d love to see again. “Artifice Dentifrice or, Modern Face Dance,” a work-in-progress by Will Rawls, at present looks nonsensical and slightly diverting. Rawls, Sharon Estacio, and Reba Mehan initially move and breathe like one organism, like conjoined triplets.

“It Wasn’t What You Thought It Was,” by the talented Ani Weinstein and Russ Salmon, was billed as “an excerpt from a longer relationship.” Like a failed relationship viewed in hindsight, the duet showed its best face when Weinstein and Salmon drew it to a close by flawlessly recapping its more attractive features as pure movement, stripped of all text, acting, show-biz flash, and over-the-top nastiness. Pavel Zustiak showed an intriguing bit from “Le Petit Mort (Now It’s Time to Say Goodbye),” in which five dancers dashed about to a lively waltz, trading off the role of a limp corpse dragged, shoved, and hoisted all over the space.

Skyler Sullivan provided three brief comic interludes of mime. Yes, mime. You wouldn’t think “DANCEOFF!” would require comic interludes of mime, but there Sullivan was with his improbable meld of heroic and delicate physicality; his buttressed cheekbones and girlish, curly mop of hair; his pesky buzzing fly and pissed-off pussycat—neither creature any less convincing for being persistently invisible.

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