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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the December 11, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Dance with a Conscience

In the aftermath of September 11, Americans everywhere

were drenched in a sense of great loss — a sense that was as unfamiliar

to most of us as it was disabling. Yet for some American immigrants

whose lives originated in countries and cultures where crippling violence

was all too familiar, the reaction was palpably different. These individuals

seemed to draw strength from learned habits of endurance and resolve,

strength that gave them hope for the future.

One such immigrant, Liliana Attar, artistic director of the Princeton-based

Connections Dance Theater, turned her grief into communal creativity.

The result is "Moving Forward," a multi-media dance drama

that will be presented Friday, December 13, at Princeton University’s

Hamilton Murray Theater.

Presented earlier in the year under the title "September 12,"

the work brings together the collaborative talents of choreographer

Liliana Attar, playwright Sonya Aronowitz, and mask-maker Laura Tabakman.

The dance drama’s new title more accurately describes its focus on

the demonstrated resilience of the human spirit and on the ways individuals

and society unite, rebuild, and renew in the face of loss.

Modern dance, tango, drama, poetry, music, video, and masks are brought

to serve the multi-media work that runs about 80 minutes without intermission.

An additional collaborative dimension comes from the company of strong

young dancers, many of them trained in Argentina, and many of whom

contribute their own choreography. These include the three lead men:

Jose Luis Basualdo, Gabriel Contreras, and Dardo Galleto. Additional

tango choreography is contributed by Galleto’s fine partner Karina

Romero, with dancer Silvana Brizuela Weigel.

Despite its upbeat message, Attar’s expressionistic dance theater

asks quite a bit of its viewers. Its theme of recovery demands as

much. The program opens with dark glimpses of the September 11 disaster,

and goes on to explore some of the smaller but no less devastating

domestic disasters that stalk families at all times.

Two scripts by Aronowitz represent the domestic side of things. Her

"Anonymous Gift or Peter’s Box" is a vivid chronicle of a

solitary character’s descent into depression and despair followed

by an arduous but purposeful recovery.

The story, which is read on tape, begins with the words: "And

so it happened… I lost my place in the world… One morning happiness

just lodged in my throat. It wouldn’t come out and my lips refused

to give it shape." Accompanying this compelling text is a terrific

solo by Gabriel Contrera, which opens on a slow and meditative note

as the bare-chested dancer focuses minutely on the lines of arm, shoulder,

and backbone. As protagonist Peter rises out of depression, Contrera

is joined by other performers who dance out the quintessential romantic

attraction and sensuality that keeps the world turning.

The second dance drama, "The Make Over," written by Aronowitz

and performed by Liliana Attar with daughter Nicole Attar’s voice

on tape, is an oblique telling of a story of domestic violence in

which a mother rationalizes but cannot disguise the facts of family

life to her young and inquisitive daughter. Movement is mostly mimed

here and but for the possibility that the pair will flee their menacing

household, this is the more frightening of the show’s two scripts.

Also featured is Pablo Neruda’s "Saddest Poem" — testament

to other troubles at other times — which accompanies the young

company’s ensemble dance. The poem is recited on tape both in Spanish

and in English translation.

The "Moving Forward" finale is titled "Hold the Door for

Others." It is inspired by Robert Fazio, a young man who lost

his father on September 11, and went on to found the Hold the Door

organization in his father’s honor. Performed by five figures in plain

dark unitards, embellished with fantastical and compelling masks suspended

from their costumes like the disembodied faces of suffering souls,

it closes the show on an apocalyptic note.

As a whole, the Connections company presents sustained elegance, fierce

concentration, and some technical fireworks in terms of athleticism

and isolation and articulation of limbs and spine. The October performance

I attended was presented on the small stage of the Sophie Fahs Theater

of the Unitarian Church, where the dynamic dancers showed great resourcefulness

in their determination to perform "all the jumps that fit."

This fall Attar, who trained at the National School of Dance in Buenos

Aires, launched Connections Dance Theater Center for the Performing

Arts; education director is Cory Ann Alperstein. Designed for people

of all ages, the center offers a student curriculum, guest artist

performances, and Saturday morning workshop series.

"Through the interactions and collaborations of students, staff

and professional artists, CDT hopes to build a dynamic community engaged

in the delightful process of communication, creative expression, and

entertainment," writes Attar in her mission statement. Offerings

include theater arts for children as young as four through high school

and world drumming classes for grades three and up.

Attar’s creativity and ability to gather an art community have made

her a positive force in our dance area. As she writes in her program

notes to "Moving On," "we strongly believe that the country,

and the world, needs to talk about the future instead of the past

in order to deal with loss."

— Nicole Plett

Moving Forward, Princeton University, Hamilton Murray

Theater, 609-895-2981. $15 adults; $10 children & seniors. Friday,

December 13, 8 p.m.

Connections Dance Theater Center, 50 Cherry Hill Road,

Princeton, 609-895-2981. For class information call or write Attarl@aol.com


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