Suchu's Smart

Jennifer Wood's small, Montrose-based modern dance company has been through three incarnations in the past five years: first Duplex Dance Co., then Mudslide, and now Suchu Dance. But at TemplO last weekend, a concert of her choreography -- appropriately titled Map -- showed that she knows exactly where she's going. Wood is on the road to mastering a concept that too many local choreographers and dancers have failed to grasp. It's the idea, as she writes in Suchu's statement, "that dance is a theatrical art, not just bodies moving."

Wood presented her brand of dance-theater with a sly sense of humor in "Easy," a sultry but silly party piece evocative of 33 Fainting Spells' recent DiverseWorks performance, "Maria the Storm Cloud." The Suchu dancers straddled chairs, squeezed their nipples, posed, gossiped, mamboed, made out and did a delightful impression of that knee-popping non-dancing you see shy types do on soiree sidelines. To make matters more amusing, a wide-eyed Wood deadpanned her entire performance.

The other fascinating aspect of "Easy," and the concert as a whole, is Wood's subtle incorporation of break dancing moves into her more traditional modern choreography -- no doubt the result of co-residence at the tiny Duplex Center for the Arts with hip-hop performance group Fly. The movement sometimes snaked through the dancers' arms and torsos -- inch by inch, frame by frame -- just once-removed from something you might have seen on a cardboard-covered street corner in the early '80s.

This break dancing influence surfaced again in a revival piece called "Seed Pod," which studies the relationships among three sisters. It opened and closed with a flurry of sisterly sparring ("You're starting to sound just like Mom!") that shows Suchu dancers have nice control of their voices as well as their bodies. Alternating between bickering and tenderness, the choreography occasionally excluded the smallest dancer, and, in the end, allowed the tallest to call the trio back to order -- just as an eldest sibling might.

With "Spinning Flax," the dancers moved to the beat of a choral adaptation of the utterances of various young women in a state of "visionary transcendence," performed live by the new professional vocal ensemble, neXus. The refrain, "My thoughts -- I think them with my whole body," is from an anonymous turn-of-the-century hysteria patient, and longtime Wood collaborator Mary Ripper danced with particularly poignant derangement.

But Wood pushed her theatrical experimentation furthest with "Ur the Experts," a satire of Western prejudice expressed through sheared sheep, pet potatoes, stylized swordplay and cultural commentary, but with relatively little "dancing" proper. Choreographic criticism aside, one of the concert's nicest moments came at the end of this absurd little piece when Louie Saletan, Suchu's sole male dancer, slithered through a shy striptease that turns the topless world on its ear by ultimately revealing (gasp!) his elbows.

Innovators in any field make mistakes, and some of Wood's choreographic concoctions were bound to fail. "With: Rivets," a somber piece set to Georgian choral music and full of crucifixion references, took itself too seriously. And the final number of the evening, "Time and a Half," managed to take Wood's break dancing experiment a little too far. With house music, robotic running, synchronized straight lines, moving formations and side-to-side pas de bourrees, "Time and a Half" seemed a little like a center-court high school drill team routine.

But the packed house at TemplO's Saturday night show (Suchu's first on-its-own production outside the Wood family Duplex) was more than willing to forgive Suchu's minor missteps. The audience recognized that Wood is working out interesting ideas on strong dancers and, as one eloquent arts patron summed up the performances, "Four out of six ain't bad."

Watch for Suchu Dance in the Duplex's upcoming choreography showcase, NuDance, on February 26 and 27, at a location to be announced in April, and in another evening-length performance this summer at the Jewish Community Center. Call 523-0679 to get on the Suchu Dance mailing list.

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Lauren Kern
Contact: Lauren Kern