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Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Donna Uchizono: The Salon Project 

Tuesday night Conduit was a cozy, dimly lit cabaret. On either side of the long room tables were set in two tiers with white tablecloths and candles. While people were being seated, Ms. Uchizono invited members of the audience to join on the dance floor to practice a specific phrase of the dance that was part of the The Salon Project piece. It was a great start for the evening. During the piece, when that specific phrase was performed, you could feel the energy of the room focus on the dancers.
Ms. Uchizono prefaced the piece by telling us about her trip to Argentina to study Tango. She told us that The Salon Project was developed from her experiences there, then she asked the audience if any one studied Tango. A couple across the room raised their hands, and on Ms. Uchizono’s invitation, the couple demonstrated a few steps of the Tango. Ms. Uchizono pointed out that in Tango there is tension between the dancers. She specifically pointed out that the tension between the two Tango dancers were in their shoulders and their chests. She then went on to say that she didn’t wish to copy the Tango, because the Tango is such a beautiful dance in itself. Instead she has taken elements of the Tango to create The Salon Project.
Ms. Uchizono has taken the tension in Tango from the torso and moved the tension to the legs and feet. What resulted is a sort of Tango hybrid--Tango-Meets-River-Dance.
Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed The Salon Project very much. The dancing was technically spectacular and beautifully performed. I couldn’t help yearning, though, for The Salon Project’s first cousin, the Tango--Gotan, the hot blooded, passionate man and woman with too much attitude going at each other with everything they’ve got.

The Salon Project begins with the two men lying face down on the floor. The two women are propped up on the men perpendicular to them, the women’s armpits to the men’s hips, the women as strict and straight as two petrified two by fours. The movement is incredible. The men slowly crawl ahead and as the men crawl, the women slowly move their feet. Slowly slowly the men begin to rise and as they rise the woman is actually brought to her feet.
Ms. Uchizono earlier in the preface said something to the effect that in Argentina they say when the lead is good he makes the woman feel like she is leading. He knows her so well he knows what she would do best.
But believe me, in this startling opening movement, the man is not just leading, the woman is dead and rigor mortis has set in and he’s trying to crawl out from underneath her.
So, thanks God, the woman is now on her feet, standing without help, on her own.
Then what happens. One of the women jumps up on one of the men’s shoulders, and the man carries the woman like a cross. She lies across his shoulders. His movements are ritualistic, round and smooth. The man circles the dance floor and as he circles, the woman lets drop white feathers which makes a path that the other woman, solo, follows.
So far the dance has been formal, passionless and heady. None of the dancers have looked at each other. The movement is not disjointed or frenetic, the basic movement of the dance always flows in circles with tension in the legs and feet.
Let’s see if I can give an example. The movement is like let’s say you stood in the middle of the room and you turned in a circle with one leg up, and when you completed the circle, the foot would come down and point to the spot where you first started out. Correspondingly, your partner would be making a circle too, next to you, in time with you, and when he or she has reached the starting point, he or she too puts his or her foot down right where you put your foot down and then presses against your foot—there’s the tension. Always counterclockwise because tango is counterclockwise.
Round fluid movements counterclockwise.
Then the two women leave the floor and sit down, and for the first time in the dance, two dancers really get into it. The two men get into it.
This cousin to the Tango is still about sex, and when the men face each other, it is the first time, and I may say only time there is a palpable sexuality on the floor. Of course, I’m a big old homo, so it might be just me who is seeing this. So far, the dancers may as well be robots it’s so impersonal. So far, the women have been so stiff they seemed like they were dead, or mannequins who can put one foot in front of the other real slow, or hanging around a man’s neck like a albatross dropping feathers. I can’t remember a moment in the piece where the women even look at each other. So far, the men have been beasts of burden.
The point that I’m trying to get at is, when the men engage each other, it’s the first time in the evening I’m not just observing movement--I feel involved with what is happening on the dance floor.
The dance of the men is part cock-of-the-walk, part posing and posturing, but, as I said, overtly sexual. It’s nice, these two guys having it off with each other, unabashed. The movement continues in the counterclockwise revolving, beautiful confluence, beautiful tension.
At one point, a woman dancer, who has been making a wide circle around the men, enters the men’s dance, but does not interrupt it. She’s an interloper. She does manage to get the attention after a while, but the man who finally ends up going with her, seems to go out of duty rather than passion.
Passion. Perhaps by moving the tension to the legs and feet, the passion has been drained from the dance. The women dancers in particular, while their movements are full and round and well-executed, their faces show no emotion. I know that’s part of the Tango dance, to cop attitude and keep the low simmer just below the painted face, but in this case, the women seem not to be hiding anything. They’re bored stiff with these guys, and they’re playing a role or doing this dance out of some sense of duty. They seem vacant and dreamy.
I guess I could say the same thing for the men—with regards to the women, that is. When at last the four of them get together and pair off male and female, there’s some great dancing. Really I loved the established round and around and all the variations. I never got bored with it. But instead of a dance of love and joy, or a dance of sex and one night stands, or a dance with anything passionate really, it seemed that the men and women when paired in their heterosexual couplings, were coupled at the feet, and what coupled them together was manacles.
When it’s last call and the dance is over, there are two men and one woman left on the dance floor. The woman turns, and as she turns away, the one man throws his arm over the other man and they watch the woman leave.
Y Tu Mama Tambien is the last touch, a gentle touch, and very revealing.
In the end, the dancing has been beautiful, the interplay ostensibly complex and ambiguous, but bottom line, I’d suggest Ms. Uchizono move the tension back up to the body where it belongs.

Tom Spanbauer

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