A Nice End to a Not Entirely Nice Day
(REVIEW OF PEARL RIVER)
By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2000 Maura Nguyen Donohue
So this was supposed to be a collaborative review with Peggy Cheng examining real performative kung fu, Shaolin-style in comparison with postmodernist kung fu film spoofing. But thanks to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center's inept publicity person Peggy and I endured an unfortunate afternoon journey yesterday out to our foreign neighbors so that we could not get in to see the Shaolin Warriors. At least after six years in NYC, I now know where the Path train is. Thankfully, last night's performance at P.S. 122 of Stacy Dawson and David Neumann's revved-up and reworked "Pearl River" proved to be, yet again, a madcap romp through '70s-style kung fu mania. I'd seen their earlier version at Context last winter and found the reworking to be a worthwhile effort that managed to allow the rough and raw energy to triumph still. And yeah, I still laughed at the scatological humor.
Neumann's solo work is phenomenal. His juicy "Dose" and raw "It's Gonna Rain" rank high among my favorite viewed dance moments. He is a truly American choreographer and a pop culture junkie. Whether he's tackling Jackie Chan or Westerns he's a showman, a cartoon, a magician. And it's that magic that let's me check any political sensitivities about the potential issue of a 'yellow-face.' He and Dawson have combined humor and movement to create a joyful theatrical homage to a staple in many of our youths: the kung fu movie.
The campy blend of postmodern dance and fight choreography is exquisite and definitely a style that lends itself to a kind of 'try this at home' inspiration for the audience, or at least those of us who already like to believe we too are kung fu masters. The costumes and props, including red lanterns, a couple horses, interchangeable undies and flying chopsticks enhance the visual storytelling while also providing some funny moments. The off-synch mouthing of words with a bare minimum of physical inflection by the performers works to great comedic effect.
Katie Workum and Tymberly Canale were delightfully mischievous red-headed ghosts most often tormenting a martial arts master and his two dorky assistants. Drag performer Flloyd blessed the stage as a Chinese goddess complete with flying birds and "The Sound of Silence" for soundtrack. The additional cast members get more to do this time around and some of the movement sequences could be enjoyed as stand-alone dances but the brightest moments still occur when Neumann and Dawson are on stage: Sometimes appearing as two guys in sunglasses, wigs and track suits and other times for hilarious boy-girl duets with Neumann in a black kung fu outfit and NY hat and Dawson in pink Chinese pajamas and metallic blue eyelashes. New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) - award winning Dawson is a well-suited match for two-time Bessie winner Neumann. She is an animated and engaging performer with a great tongue. Their duets are lightening quick exchanges full of razor-sharp wit and skilled performances.
I'm looking forward to seeing these two later this month in Big Dance Theater's "Another Telepathic Thing" at the Performing Garage in NYC. Meanwhile, "Pearl River" continues at P.S. 122 through November 26, with performances Friday and Saturday at 10:30 and Sunday at 8 p.m.