New York Times

New York Times
June 3, 2008
Dance in Review


University Settlement

Live music is simply too expensive for most dance companies, but many small groups — essentially pickup ensembles — seem to be increasingly good at enlisting like-minded musicians to work alongside their dancers.

Such was the case on Saturday in an evening of work by C. Eule Dance and the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble, part of the Performance Project @ University Settlement, a century-old social services center on the Lower East Side. Caron Eule (who should really fix the business-card-like title of her company) has been choreographing and presenting small-scale concert evenings in New York for several years, creating uncomplicated, slightly old-fashioned dances that offer audiences a pleasant if unchallenging hour or two.

On Saturday she did that in the company of six fine musicians, opening the program with “Prelude/Nocturne,” to piano solos by Scriabin and Chopin. They were played by Koji Attwood, his back to the audience as first one woman in a rose-colored clingy dress, then another three, joined him, raising their arms above the keyboard in dramatic pianist manner.

Ms. Eule was on to something here; in those dramatic arm-lifting gestures, and their sliding falls from the pianist’s bench, the women felt like emanations of Mr. Attwood’s consciousness, or perhaps embodiments of the music itself. But the actual dancing, when the women moved away from the bench and into the center, was less interesting: a ballet-inflected sweep that loosened the tight bonds between music and dance created in the first part of the work.

The main event was “The Crane Wife,” a Japanese fable that Ms. Eule has staged to music by Meg Okura, who led the five-member Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble behind the dancers. Ms. Okura’s vibrant, Eastern-influenced, jazzy score and the playing of her musicians were the most sophisticated parts of the work, which offered an entirely literal re-enactment of the story, narrated by Allison Hiroto. It was nicely done, and the Japanese touches — beautiful kimonos, a traditional dance (both by Momo Suzuki) — were delightful.

Still, it’s odd to see a work like this outside a children’s performance. There is an integrity to Ms. Eule’s work, but also a simplicity of intent that feels entirely dislocated from the dance currents of her time. Such dislocation can be a sign of a new voice. Here it felt like an older one. ROSLYN SULCAS