Jane Comfort and Sharon Eyal at Jacob's Pillow

Feminist one-two punch
By DEBRA CASH  |  July 6, 2011

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CATWALKING Beauty had its share of in-jokes and too-obvious vignettes, but the spot-on dramaturgy drew gasps. 
Barbie could never kick off those damn stilettos. Barefoot, she remained on permanent tippy-toe. She couldn't bend her elbows or knees. Scaled up to reality, her 39-inch bosom would have tipped her into her soup. Doll sex with Ken would have been, well, stiff.

The dramaturgy behind Jane Comfort's gimlet-eyed pageant in Beauty, on delicious display at Jacob's Pillow Doris Duke Theatre this past week, is spot-on. Petra van Noort is coached in the hyperfeminine lexicon of the catwalk. Svelte, young Lucie Baker has her body redrawn with a black marker to refine it for the plastic surgeon's scalpel. Leslie Cuyjet's glamorous image is Photoshopped, click after click, to refresh as thinner, taller, and whiter-skinned until the model is unrecognizable.

Beauty builds in-jokes such as a Barbified version of the "little swans" variation from Swan Lake and some too-obvious vignettes, like jump-roping Elinor Harrison telling her trainer (Sean Donovan, portraying all the male roles) that she'll stop taking laxatives when she reaches 100 pounds. Some parts of Beauty, which still seems to be in development, are underchoreographed. But seeing the work with a live audience was a revelation. Gasps and sighs around me conveyed that the facts of the soul-killing self-appraisal that has become part and parcel of the beauty trade are not all common knowledge. And the gentle, paradisiacal women's culture seen in the revival of Comfort's 1998 Underground River on the same program is only part of the antidote.

Over in the Ted Shawn Theatre, the Norwegian company Carte Blanche was making its US debut with two pieces by Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal, who is currently the house choreographer of the Batsheva Dance Company. The six white-powdered women in Killer Pig are mincing on high tiptoe, too, but their resemblance to Barbie ends there. To Ori Lichtik's harsh sound mix of slapping machinery, the women in slashed and wrapped white bathing suits resemble multiples of the Svedka vodka robot girl. They hunch their shoulders and splay their fingers in faux and glossy Bob Fosse jazz diagonals and grab their legs up next to their ears like soldiers hoisting fixed bayonets. It's creepy, dreary stuff, a dystopia you want to escape sooner than later. Carte Blanche's dancers are phenomenal though, with tiny Jennifer Dubreuil Houthemann collapsing into a taut bridge on her hands without a trace of preparation, Caroline Eckly bending back her arm as if brandishing an invisible riding crop, and Camilla Spidsøe Cohen performing balletic moves that seem locked to the floor with iron rivets.

Killer Pig is apparently no anomaly. Created as a Carte Blanche commission in 2009, it shared the program with Eyal's Love, a piece she created for Batsheva in 2003 and which was performed by that troupe at the Pillow in 2004. Love is costumed in black instead of white and the ensemble is co-ed, but the obsessive language is the same — all clenched fists and krumping pelvises, led by the remarkable Guro Rimeslatten.

Eyal's choreography speaks the language of industrial pistons and interchangeable parts, and despite the digital techno in the Euro-pop sound mix, it inhabits a mechanical rather than silicon world. When the dancers face each other in Love, you never believe they are seeing each other. If Eyal is a feminist, it is because her message is equal opportunity: Objectify Thyself.

Related: Kidd Pivot's Dark Matters at Jacob's Pillow, Nell Breyer and Lostwax dance the unconscious, Boston Ballet's 'Balanchine/Robbins,' plus a soupçon of tap, More more >
  Topics: Dance , Dance, Dance Reviews, jacob's pillow,  More more >
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