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When Bebe Miller launches into her solo, Rhythm Studies, she may be creating a new genre of dance: black urban flamenco. Stamping on the floor, beating on a set of drums, and then venting her anxieties through words and gestures, she reaches for a primal place that could only be accessed by a woman of vast experience.

A world premiere at the Joyce Theater, Rhythm Studies shows off Miller's quirky movement style, which can be riveting during its peak moments. Although her physical movement is somewhat limited these days, her spirit is not. Through the eloquence of her simple, always viscerally-motivated moves, she offers up what may be the female counterpart to Bill T. Jones's articulate solos.

The main course of the program was a full-length work for nine dancers, Going to the Wall, a New York City premiere, with music by The Fugees, Nonchalant, and Don Byron. From the get-go, Miller directs provocative questions toward the audience. She slyly asks if anyone is looking for the gay dancers on the stage, and she wonders aloud how many times the conversation shifts toward the fact that the company director is an African American woman. Her troupe, composed of people of many colors, could be a microcosm of New York City--and she addresses her choreography toward the crazy quilt of city living.

The sophisticated lighting by Michael Mazzola opens and closes the space, providing the right dusky arena.

The most effective moments in the work reflect the energy of the tightly-wound rap music in phrases of dancing that are both acrobatic and sinuous. In one exhilarating sequence, four men (Stephen Edwards, Ted Johnson, Anthony Phillips, and Darrell Jones) stalk the stage with machismo-driven lunges and jumps, followed by a collective tribal dance by four women (Frances Craig, Sarah Gamblin, Melissa Wynn, and Cheng-Chieh Yu). Miller ambushes the climactic moment by breaking into silence and adagio post-modern choreography. At times the shift is interesting dynamically, but for the most part it is frustrating and without resolution.

How rewarding it could be if Miller just created a teeth-baring rap work that seizes the audience's attention and holds the stage for its duration. There certainly would be no lack of audience for it.
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Aug 1, 1999

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