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Reflex Doll.

December is not the month for people with an aversion to dancing dolls. Even if Coppelia isn't being performed, the doll count in The Nutcracker, depending on the production, can be dangerously high. The title character of Mary Oslund's astringently funny Reflex Doll, the linchpin for her new piece, provides a much-needed antidote to the sugary excesses of the holiday season.

A commanding performer--she dances a grueling solo at the opening of this piece--and highly experienced choreographer, Oslund gathered a cast that included many of Portland's best dancers for her first evening-length work in nearly a year. Each one inhabits the character of the Reflex Doll, providing a bemused commentary on the objectification of personality that is both unpretentiously insightful and frequently very funny as well.

Oslund's movement style is an idiosyncratic melding of Cunningham technique and contact improvisation. In the four duets and one solo that make up this forty-five-minute work, she has combined those two forms with movement takes on disco scenes and social dances, breaking new ground for herself and her dancers.

This was not as obvious on opening night as it was in the last performance, particularly in the concluding duet danced by Keith V. Goodman and Neena Marks, which became a hilarious history of social dancing from the jitterbugging thirties to the rock 'n' roll dancing of the late fifties and early sixties. Goodman, the only man in the cast, revealed hitherto hidden comic talents in an exaggerated twist and facial reactions to his partner's jitterbugging moves.

Other sections exemplified Oslund's command of her craft. In a duet performed by Katherine Petersen and Teresa Mathern, the aerobic, anxiety-laden movement was relieved by some freeze-frame mugging that gave the dancers the surprised look of Madame Alexander dolls.

A duet performed by Bonnie Merrill and Anne Bell, seasoned performers of a certain age, was at once touching and elegant. Costumed in black trouser suits, these are mama dolls, no longer red-hot, but mellow and rich, as they look at each other and at themselves in Plexiglas mirror panels that distort their bodies with fun-house effect.

The costumes, which for most of the dancers were short, white, knitted undergarments (such as dolls wear under their frilly dresses), were designed by Mathern, Kirsty Munn and Yariv Rabinovitch, the last two of whom also designed the set.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Conduit, Portland, Oregon
Author:West, Martha Ullman
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Mar 1, 1997
Words:387
Previous Article:An Evening with Suzanne Farrell and the Washington Ballet.
Next Article:Two-Part Invention.
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