Dance: New Nagrin Solo Looks Into The Abstract

MAY 13, 1982

By Anna Kisselgoff

As both dancer and choreographer, Daniel Nagrin Is intense, powerful and rather angry. All these qualities come together In his 1981 solo “Poems Oft the Wall” and, more obliquely if just as forcefully, in his newest solo “Dance.”

Both works make up his current program at the Studio Theater at 550 Broadway. “If you need clear answers you cannot afford to look at dance” Mr. Nagrin proclaims in a paraphrase of J. P. Morgan during “Poems Off the Wall.” and that pretty much sums it up – not only his own viewpoint but also the rich nonverbal appeal of dance in general.

Paradoxically, Mr. Nagrin is as verbal as one can be in “Poems,” and yet the solo’s full dimension is felt only through the quality of the movement integrated into the text. The point about Mr. Nagrin, who will turn 65 years old next week, is the very individuality of his dancing.

The Nagrin dynamic is predicated on fierceness and originality. He remains Daniel Nagrin. Steps and gestures can be isolated as familiar ones. But when put together by Mr. Nagrin, no specific technique springs to mind, no school or tradition provides a ready context.

There is, obviously, something of the show dancer and the street character in his stage persona. Even in the most abstract of his solos, such as “Dance,” he exudes high drama. Gesture is at the root of his movement. Like a Kabuki dancer, he can amplify it into abstraction. Or he can use it literally and then in purely formal terms, inserted into the interstices of seemingly unrelated phrases.

“Dance” is set to Bartok’s Sonata for Solo Violin. Just as Mr. Nagrin is in black in “Poems,” here he is in white – Sally Ann Parsons’s two piece outfit with colored appliques. Like the music, the dancing begins quietly – In near stillness – moves through several climaxes and then subsides.

The shift in dynamic is always sharp. The quiet center to which Mr. Nagrin returns is the initial pose he struck after a slow spin. He stands two legs together, with a gently twisting torso, arms waving unevenly upward. Suddenly he sits or lies on his back and then moves several times along a diagonal, sometimes accelerating a phrase.

The first jump is as surprising as the pirouettes into which he throws himself before sitting casually, crosslegged, for a rest. When he rises, his sequences become more unexpected – such as the plumb – line drop of the elbow to the floor from a kneeling position. This formality is juxtaposed to some movement with an improvisatory air. Mr. Nagrin gropes forward or rotates his head. Toward the end his legs quiver. Everything is unpredictable.

“Poems Off the Wall” is a dissociated examination of personal and social concerns, thematically tied to clippings and pictures shown in slides by Pablo Orrego. He addresses “Intellectics and Criticuals” and moves with choppy wild-eyed zeal. He asks the hardest questions of himself. The performances will be repeated tonight, Saturday and Tuesday and nest Thursday.

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