By ELISE KNUDSON
Da-Da Dance Project, which is made up of Eun Jung Choi-Gonzalez and Guillermo Ortega Tanus, is a unique response to the current dance ecology. A tiny company of two, they both choreograph their own works as well as solicit choreographers they admire to make work for them. This way, they can show off their tremendous range, promote the choreography of those they admire, and distribute the work of making an evening of new dance. In a climate where startup companies often struggle to find and brand a distinct voice, this is an unusually egoless approach. Within this framework, however, both choreographers are able to express their own distinctive voices, and they are very different from each other, as shown in Butter and Fly: Intends to Walk, an evening-length program at Joyce Soho.
In Choi-Gonzalez’s Ploy, which starts the evening, the two enter the moodily lit stage through the audience as if they are cold or shy. They are covered in post-its and, apparently, nothing else. They rub their hands together and begin bits of movement and verbal phrases that interrupt each other, bringing them to center stage where they deliver text to the audience instead of each other. It is sometimes difficult to catch all the details in the text which spans the topics of housing, relationships, babies and job security, but their mannerisms are entertaining in themselves. They seem to be isolated from each other even though they are standing next to each other, and only when they break into larger, frantic movement do they notice each other, if only to get out of the way of the other. After a high-pitched tone that comes out of Ortega Tanus, there is a shift which leads them upstage into Kathy Kaufman’s gorgeous silhouette light that highlights sharp, bonking movements that could be “hitting the wall”. Finally, they take control of this challenging environment they seem to be navigating by removing whatever post-its remain on their bodies.
A more theatrical bent is revealed in Ortega Tanus’s Blood Orange. He begins by singing Love Me Tender Love Me True in a voice that is endearingly non-presentational. He tries to catch Eun Jung’s hands as she stands with her back to the audience but they melt away and elude him. Musicbox-like sounds in the score encourage the image of her as an elusive doll. The whispers in the score make it difficult to hear what she is saying at first. “Relationship” is clearly the the context for this dance, which finds them sniffing each others’ butts, calling each other names, and laughing suddenly for no reason. It ends on a poignant note when he asks her, “what was the first thing you noticed about me?” The lights fade slowly before she answers.
Tiny Voices by Helena Franzen is the only dance on his program not choreographed by Da-Da Dance, but it is a substantial contribution. They rise to the occasion in this demanding tour de force of quick footwork that demands the ability to balance and also to fall. Motifs are developed, disappear and reappear woven together with new ones. The motifs accumulate as the two travel on parallel paths up and downstage on diagonals until they face the audience, a satisfying end.
Interspersed throughout are absurd video snippets by the Lincesiblings, Adjani Solorzano and Juan Fransisco, directed by Gonzalez. They are entertaining, but I.m not sure what they have to do with the rest of the evening.
Blueprint by Choi-Gonzalez is the last dance of the evening. The two enter in white raincoats humming and shivering. They use the whole stage, dancing together if not always touching. The curiously quirky, playful vocabulary in this dance also set it apart from the rest of the evening, which was in turns silky, as in Ploy, steel-edged as in Tiny Voices or theatrically driven as in Blood Orange.
Though a young company, Da-Da Dance obviously has lots of experience to draw from. It’s refreshing to experience such diversity in one evening. There’s no telling what will come out of them next.
Da∙Da∙Dance Project is a company of two; Korean born Eun Jung Choi-Gonzalez, and Guillermo Ortega Tanus of Mexico, its conception inspired by Dadaism. The literal translation of da da into English is “yeah yeah,” as in a sarcastic “yeah right.” With reoccurring moments of absurdity, Da∙Da∙Dance Project seems to be saying “yeah right” to conventional modern dance throughout the evening.
In Ploy, the first of four duets, the two enter, their bodies covered in squares of brightly colored tissue paper, like human piñatas. They stand under a stark square light, covering their faces with their hands. Like a game of peek-a-boo, they open their hands, framing their face to speak and then close them again. This on/off switch leaves us with overlapping, disjointed bits of stories, incoherent as a whole, but enough to suggest the theme of a couple building a life together, a house, a baby, etc.
As the piece builds momentum, they begin to shed their tissue paper, covering the floor more and more, and their bodies less and less. Their movement vocabulary is contemporary, punctuated by quirky movements and theatricality. The two have a similar physicality, a beautiful way of moving, and personalities which you can’t help but love.
Short films serve as a pallet cleanser between pieces. Directed by Eun Jung and staring another couple, these absurd shorts show insight into the director’s sense of humor and reflect the “yeah right” attitude of Dadaism.
In Blood Orange, Eun Jung stands facing upstage in a short, sexy dress. Guillermo manipulates her like a Barbie doll while serenading her. He sings “love me tender…” as Barbie takes on a mind of her own. Her movements go faster and faster and eventually go haywire. Guillermo, no longer in the power position, struggles to regain control of her as his vocals speed up to comic gibberish.
Simply placing a man and a woman onstage sets up a relationship. Throughout the evening, Da∙Da∙Dance Project shows aspects of a relationship in an abstract, disjointed way. It is not linear. It is not a love story, but at the same time it is. The two dance with an intimacy which suggests they could be lovers, combined with a playful teasing which could be of a brother and sister.
Tiny Voices by guest choreographer, Helena Franzén of Sweden, is the only pure dance piece of the evening. It incorporates a more traditional vocabulary, tendus, rond de jambes, etc., but composed in a contemporary way. Crisp rhythmic foot work, combined with quirky shoulder isolations, make the piece visually interesting and moments of sustained counterbalances create a connection that goes beyond just dance.
An excerpt from Blueprint wraps up the evening. In raincoats they stand facing upstage, humming a minimal melody as if standing at the edge of a canyon, calling into the void. Eventually music with a dance beat comes in, and along with it comes quirky movement, in particular a hop forward with a pelvic thrust, done in a nonchalant manner which exaggerates the comedy of it.
As is the nature of any program consisting of short pieces, it’s hard to get into anything deeply. Butter and Fly: Intends to Walk consists of whatever repertory the company has managed to create in its young life, since 2008. The only thread throughout the evening is them. Eun Jung and Guillermo have the ability to maintain interest for a longer period of time and to go deeper into what they are doing. It is my hope that they may drop the short piece format in the future and create an evening from start to finish, a journey from beginning to end. If they are willing to take me on a journey, I’ll be more than happy to go with them.
Dance Review | Da-Da-Dance Project
Duets Intimate and Separate, Sometimes in Post-it Notes
By ALASTAIR MACAULAY
Published: August 3, 2009
Calling their program of duets “Butter and Fly,” the dancers Eun Jung Choi-Gonzalez and Guillermo Ortega Tanus don’t claim that one of them is “butter” or the other “fly.” The performances, which ended Saturday at the Joyce SoHo, were subtitled “Intends to Walk” and included four pieces interleaved with brief films. The films were a good way to fill the time needed to recover and change costumes; too bad they were campily absurdist.
Although Ms. Choi-Gonzalez and Mr. Ortega Tanus, who make up the repertory company Da-Da-Dance Project, often touched on both camp and absurdism at Friday’s performance, they weren’t trivial. As yet they aren’t mature (their company was founded last year), and I can imagine them becoming both more funny and more serious. They keep showing, in different ways, how a couple may be intimate and separate.
“Ploy” (2009) and an excerpt from “Blueprint (2008), the starting and closing duets, are the works of Ms. Choi-Gonzalez. “Ploy” (to music by Andrew Drury) is almost the story of Adam and Eve in reverse: the nearer to nakedness they go, the less shame they express. They entered with their torsos covered in innumerable Post-it notes (ranging across a spectrum of color), and their body language — to us and to each other — suggested embarrassment and privacy. When those Post-it notes started to fall, the performers at first tried to replace them. But then the two danced more, achieving a new openness. It was to their credit that this didn’t feel schematic.
In “Blueprint,” with original music by Alban Bailly, they wore plastic rainwear throughout. It’s a thin sketch, but like every item here it showed, intermittently at least, that Ms. Choi-Gonzalez and Mr. Ortega Tanus have some pronounced dancerly instincts: even when they moved like robots, the articulation of lower and upper body had its own vehemence.
Mr. Ortega Tanus’s choreographic contribution was “Blood Orange” (2008). He began as Pygmalion singing “Love Me Tender” while he shaped Ms. Choi-Gonzalez into his Galatea. But she eluded him, and soon he was singing anxiously at top speed as he tried to keep track of her. The scene, with original music by Valentina González, went through several stages (they talk as well as dance), and at times the situation was reversed: she started to invade his privacy and to try to exert some control over him.
The duet “Tiny Voices” (2008), to original music by Jukka Rintamaki, is by the guest choreographer Helena Franzen. This was the most formal work of the program, and the two dancers rose to its challenge. First they moved, back and forth, on close paths that sometimes bisected, sometimes ran parallel: near neighbors who don’t quite meet. Later they overlapped and interlocked (memorably), though also pulling apart and establishing independence. Small details of footwork (low jumps) and upper body movement (each brings one shoulder back very precisely) became telling parts of the dance fabric.
Like everything Ms. Choi-Gonzalez and Mr. Ortega Tanus do, “Tiny Voices” is a miniature. It would be good to see them moving more often at full force and with full rigor. But they already have some eloquence and some range.
DA DA DANCE PROJECT
August 3, 2009
Somewhere between the realm of dance, and the realm of acting, lies the Da Da Dance Project. Conceived in 2008 in New York by Guillermo Ortega Tanus, a native of Mexico, and Eun Jung Choi-Gonzalez of Korea, the two have come a long way for such a youthful group.
Their current project Butter and Fly: Intends to Walk is cut into four pieces featuring the duo. The work is in some ways a love story that develops between these two. Sometimes the dancers speak to each other, sometimes they sing; the entire time interacting with the bipolar extremities of lovers.
We follow them through their quarrels and intimate moments getting to know them like characters in a play. It doesn’t hurt that both performers are incredibly endearing, with cute accents and goofy mannerisms drawing us closer to them.
Da Da Dance is however, also a notable example of contemporary dance, full of creativity and quirkiness all its own. The dancers emerge on the stage for the first piece PLOY (2009) covered only in an impressive array of colorful post-its. Taking wounded baby steps around the stage, we think of baby birds fallen from the nest.
The post-its, I noted, made a pleasant rustling sound. Much as baby birds grow up the dancers slowly began exploring the stage, their movements growing ever more furious, slapping and stomping their feet. The post-its slowly fall from their body, revealing their true humanity (in every sense of the word.)
The last piece BLUEPRINT (2008) is also worth noting for its successful melding of performance dance and techno music, a match not often made in heaven. Donning opaque rain-jackets our star performers leap and run around the stage with all the energy of small children, managing to pull off a compelling performance, keeping our attention riveted to them straight to the end.
Da∙Da∙Dance (Eun Jung Choi-Gonzalez, Guillermo Ortega Tanus and Helena Franzén) brings an evening entitled Butter and Fly: intends to walk to Joyce SoHo this weekend (July 30-Aug 1). Program Assistant, Justin D. Wright spent an afternoon with the company and shares some of his observations with us:
As we awkwardly shuffled seats around my desk and politely asked about our summer plans I couldn’t help but notice that all three of them had modest accents on their English, none of them with the same dialect or able to be recognized as coming from the same place. It wouldn’t exactly take detective work to look at them and realize that they might come from different backgrounds, but it was interesting to hear them talk to each other. I was more interested in their similarities, however, as all three were involved in this weekend’s show, so I tucked that observation away and got down to the business of art.
Eun Jung, originally from Korea, has short, dark hair, happy eyes and a bright smile whenever she speaks. Helena, a naturally bright blond haired woman with a Finnish accent sat to her left and Guillermo, Eun Jung’s thoughtful artistic partner from Mexico City sat to her right. They were a cheerful group, happy to be in each other’s company, which I couldn’t help but smile at.
They were certainly a busy bunch this summer. Helena’s only in New York for another two weeks while they rehearse for the show, which features her choreography in Tiny Voices. I couldn’t get over how fantastically far away she lives and mentioned it several times, each time to her amusement. She and Eun Jung hadn’t seen each other in quite some time when Helena made Tiny Voices specifically for them, reuniting the two old friends after far too long, they said. Eun Jung and Guillermo have been rehearsing with each other both in Philadelphia for the nEW Festival, where they have received overlapping residencies – Eun Jung’s finishing up with Guillermo’s just starting. While there, Eun Jung was performing her finished piece Blueprint, part of the lineup for her show here at Joyce SoHo.
When they weren’t working together in Philadelphia she was teaching dance at the North Carolina Governors School West at Salem College, which is a truly wonderful program for gifted high school juniors/seniors to have the opportunity to work intensely at their artform. For many of them it’s their first opportunity, as it certainly was mine when I was younger. Guillermo and she would rehearse during the off hours, preparing for this upcoming show amongst their other projects. One has to think that if she has the endurance to maintain such an active rehearsal schedule then she should really consider being the first dancer to prance a marathon.
I asked them about their pieces for the weekend, what to expect from the show, blatantly asking for teaser quotes for this very article. I was intrigued by a document that I have here asking for words that best describe the company. Parts of their answers included words like “absurdity” or “travesty,” which obviously pique curiosity. “We use… a certain theater mentality, although not necessarily anything linear like a storyline. While we use text occasionally, it’s not necessarily relevant to that moment in the context yet, but it could be revealed to be much more important later on.”
Guillermo’s piece Blood Orange has text set to music by a Mexican singer named Valentina Gonzáles, who creates vocal loops during her performance. Normally a self-described pop singer, she used this opportunity to experiment a bit while she arranged this especially for Da∙Da∙Dance. “It’s more of a piece that shows the awkward and weird way that we learn to approach other people. Like the steps we take to have permission to touch her hand.”
Even more musicians will join them during their piece Ploy, which uses original music from Andrew Drewey, a local New York City percussionist. Eun Jung’s Blueprint has music composed by Alban Bailly, a French fellow living in Philadelphia. This piece explores isolation instead of relationships, she says, providing a nice counterpoint.
Helena’s work Tiny Voices is an exploration at how very small gestures can make very loud statements when placed in that context. She worked very, very closely with a Finnish composer named Jukka Rintamäki. She mentioned that the piece was based on “curves in space,” which made me wonder if she worked so closely with a composer because music is absolutely fixed in its relationship to time, although it turned out to be more about the size of gestures. “I want them to have one voice,” she said. “It’s important for creating this landscape.”
In between all of this are videos that Eun Jung directed, which will be presented on televisions alongside the floor. The videos thematically connect the middle sections and feature the Lince Siblings, who I gather are comedically gifted.
After a while I thanked them and asked them where we’d see them next, what they were up to, and whether or not they’d all be together again soon. Guillermo’s going to continue work with the nEW festival in Philadelphia with Eun Jung. Both of them will be starting collaborations and workshops for the fall, eventually hoping to tour in the spring. Helena goes back to Stockholm in two weeks to continue with her commissions there.
“We’d like to do this show somewhere else, though….maybe in Guadalajara.”