photo © anja hitzenberger
or "19 Ways of Looking at a Shrub"
"Devastatingly witty... full of surprises and a lot of good dancing."
—Deborah Jowitt, The Village Voice
'Dog Days' was named one of Time Out New York's Best Dances of 2007!
Village Voice/New York Times/Politico.com/Martha's Vineyard Times
dancerstheresa duhon, guta hedewig, rachel lynch-john, kristi spessard
musicVivaldi violin concertos (RV 12, 230, 356, 519, 548, 578)
performed by Nigel Kennedy
set designillya azaroff
lighting designkathy kaufmann
costume consultationlynn marie ruse
description'Dog Days' developed out of the choreographer's sense of disquiet and anger over what is happening to America, and in turn the rest of the world, under the Bush administration.
Using elements of slapstick, folk dance and burlesque, the piece delivers a bitingly satirical look at the serious subtext in Bush's famously mangled rhetoric.
Structured around an assemblage of "Bushisms," 'Dog Days' invites the audience to recognize the hilarity in Bush's rhetorical missteps, while also inventively portraying some of the disturbing implications entailed by his use of propaganda.
You can view a short video clip from the 2005 performance of 'Dog Days' at The Yard on YouTube.com.
fundingThe creation of 'Dog Days' is made possible with the generous support of the Bossak/Heilbron Charitable Foundation, VIA Art Foundation, the Donald C. Ausman Family Foundation, a Creative Development Grant through Fractured Atlas, Dancenow/NYC/Silo, a Company Residency at The Yard (Martha's Vineyard, MA), as well as Danspace Project's 2006-2007 Commissioning Initiative with support from the Jerome Foundation. Materials were donated by Materials for the Arts, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs/NYC Department of Sanitation/NYC Department of Education.
Generous help for the creation of Dog Days has also been provided by: Christine and Bob Ausman, Wendy Blum, Jean and Frank Bunts, Design Collective Studio, Eastern Athletic Club/Tribeca, Matt Greene, Chris McGahan, Lynn Marie Ruse, Tim Sastrowardoyo and Tim Bradley.
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We now pause for a word from the President
by Deborah Jowitt
March 15th, 2007 12:51 PM
Pink is for little girls. Red is for valentines. Oh, and for blood. Guta Hedewig is not sending any valentines in her devastatingly witty Dog Days, or Nineteen Ways of Looking at a Shrub, and although Ilya Azaroff has provided a pretty all-red set backed by a pink screen, it's in disarray. Folding chairs, a table, telephone, broom, tea set, phone, books, and more are piled up and tipped over. While Theresa Duhon, Rachel Lynch-John, Kristi Spessard, and Hedewig, dressed in sporty pink outfits (Lynn Marie Ruse was the costume consultant), march around straightening up the mess to the opening strains of a Vivaldi violin concerto, white words flash on the pink screen: "'It will take time to restore chaos.' George W. Bush, on CNN, April 2003."
Hedewig, who began developing this satire at The Yard on Martha's Vineyard in 2005, must have been collecting and documenting Bushspeak for some time. The gifted German-born choreographer, a New York resident with a career on both sides of the Atlantic, evidently shares the view of many: If malapropisms were an impeachable offense, we'd have uprooted the "Shrub" long ago. In 17 vignettes (by my count), Hedewig and her co conspirators provide a visual counterpart — and counterpoint — to Bush's fatally screwed-up remarks. Sometimes a quote introduces a scene; sometimes it's the punchline.
Duhon, Lynch-John, and Spessard caper about; Hedewig follows with a thrashing-on-the-floor solo. Bush's words to the troops on Air Force One flash on the screen: "I'm the master of low expectations." The women form a dancing chorus line, constantly shifting places and dropping out one by one. Bush: "See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda."
The structure may sound pat, but it's full of surprises and a lot of good dancing. Some sections are even lyrical. To a Vivaldi adagio, Spessard sleeps like a baby — feet or butt in the air — within a hastily taped red circle. Lynch-John sleeps in another circle. Duhon and Hedewig watch them anxiously. The introductory quote? "Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream." (Can dyslexia be at the root of his policies? Iraq-Iran. That could be a stumbling block.)
Over the course of Dog Days, the four wonderfully expressive women punish or assist one another imaginatively in accord with the projected presidential views on peace and war, doctors, literacy, and guns, plus fish and men as examples of peaceful coexistence. Duhon, as handler, sits behind Lynch-John and reaches forward to manipulate her face, causing Lynch John's mouth to open and close grotesquely, her eyes to roll; the quotes comes afterward: "I hope you leave here and walk out and say, 'What did he say?'" A few scenes, like the aforementioned, are as chilling as they are comic. Duhon and Spessard stand side by side, interlocking their arms and thrusting out their hands in bizarre ways; Bush says, "I'm honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein." In a brilliant bit of acting, Spessard lounges in a chair and silently talks to God over the telephone, adjusting imaginary balls, and reacting with astonished outrage to what is evidently not an approving reaction to Bush's use of his spiritual father's name ("God loves you, and I love you. And you can count on both of us as a powerful message that people who wonder about their future can hear.") Pink balloons descend bearing more unfortunate remarks.
In the final scene, Hedwig attempts to re-position each of the others, whose limbs seem to have turned to concrete. Having forcibly linked them together, she drags them out the door. We're left with this comforting thought: "As long as I sit in the chair, all future catastrophes will be planned by me." You can bet on it. And out we go into the night, grateful to Hedewig for making us laugh at our absurd and terrifying predicament, at least for a while.
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Bush Gaffes, Set to Music and Video
By Gia Kourlas
Published February 26, 2007
It's a shame that William Forsythe is getting all the attention for "Three Atmospheric Studies," his antiwar production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this week. Guta Hedewig, a less famous New York choreographer, just wrapped up a weekend of performances at Danspace Project with a political work that happens to be one of the finest dances she's ever created.
"Dog Days" or "19 Ways of Looking at a Shrub," seen Friday, is a darkly funny work that features 19 scenes and begins with the first of many fractured quotes by President Bush projected on a screen behind the dancers: "It will take time to restore chaos."
At first Illya Azaroff's set is a cluttered heap of red folding chairs, stacks of books, a fishbowl, a rug and boxes of tissues: props that cleverly come into play as Ms. Hedewig and her three dancers subtly demonstrate the darker significance behind the president's famous language gaffes. Bright Vivaldi violin concertos slyly contrast Ms. Hedewig's subject.
"I'm sleeping a lot better than people would assume," a quotation reads, after which a dancer stands with a rug over her head and then crumples to the floor.
A deadpan sensibility runs through this satirical piece, which features excellent, nuanced performances by Theresa Duhon, Rachel Lynch-John and Kristi Spessard.
A video by Anja Hitzenberger follows the quotation "I think we ought to raise the age at which juveniles can have a gun." In it a cherubic blond child wearing pink, as do the cast members, skips through a sparkling park of emerald grass and trees and twirls a pistol with carefree abandon.
Later pink balloons fall from the ceiling of the theater (attached to them are more Bushisms), eventually settling on the floor like a child's drawing of a garden: pretty on the outside but upon closer inspection devastating.
That clever juxtaposition defines Ms. Hedewig's "Dog Days." The quotations, which at first prompt laughter, linger long enough for meaning to sink in. The final one states, "As long as I sit in this chair, all future catastrophes will be planned by me." It may sound ridiculous, but as with Ms. Hedewig's bracing political art, it is also rich with solemnity.
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By Helena Andrews
March 8, 2007 07:46 AM EST
"I'm the master of low expectations."
"You teach a child to read and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test."
"I hope you leave here and walk out and say, 'What did he say?'"
—President George W. Bush
It's well-documented that President Bush isn't the most, well, eloquent of commanders in chief, but recently his malapropisms have been lampooned in an unexpected medium: dance. Guta Hedewig, a New York City choreographer, has set 19 of Bush's most infamous 'isms to music and dance.
Last month, Hedewig and company performed "Dog Days" or "19 Ways of Looking at a Shrub" at Manhattan's Danspace Project in St. Mark's Church in the Bowery in New York City. The New York Times called the piece "one of the finest dances she's ever created."
Hedewig, who came to the United States from Germany 20 years ago, became a citizen in 2004 and was able to vote for the first time in the '04 presidential elections. It goes without saying that her choice came in second on the ballot. "I was particularly upset about the election results... and I thought I had to do something about that," she said.
With her limited run now over, Hedewig is looking to bring her creation to Washington. "I think people here need to see it," said Hedewig, who worked on "Dog Days" for more than two years before bringing it to the public for just one weekend of performances. Washington has limited venues when it comes to dance, and Hedewig described tour preparation as "very, very hard." So far, she hasn't found a place to present the piece in the capital.
But, scheduling difficulties aside, "Dog Days" stirs up an old debate among dance purists: Can dance be political?
In October, The Guardian in Great Britain asked, "Can dance really do politics?" New York choreographer Bill T. Jones addressed the issue in a blog titled "'Political' Work?" And just last weekend The New York Times pondered the same question in the article "Is It Dance? Maybe. Political? Sure."
"Dance is so abstract you can't really be as outspoken as you want to be," Hedewig explained, before adding, "I think if you really want to say something, you need to use words sometimes." "Dog Days" could be described as a dance theater piece — using props, images and speech — but there are no words aside from the projected Bushisms, such as "I know that human beings and fish can coexist peacefully."
Last week, much-talked-about American choreographer William Forsythe performed another political piece, the controversial "Three Atmospheric Studies," at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The New York Times, blogs and other reviewers are calling "Studies" an "indictment" of the war. A blogger on TheWinger.com called it "dancing that is nothing like dancing."
The same could be said of Hedewig's piece, which features pink balloons, folding chairs and a fishbowl, among other props. The work is known as "experimental contemporary," and "Dog Days" is a mixture of slapstick, folk dance and burlesque.
"After years of dealing with this question, I now choose to fire back that 'political' is an exhausted term and most certainly more and more irrelevant in regard to my work," Jones, the choreographer, wrote on his blog. "To make a work that says, 'War is bad!' is absurd," he continued. "I find myself saying with growing confidence that the works that I make now are concerned with moral choice as in, 'What is the right thing to do, particularly when we seem to have many choices and no real choice at all?'"
Hedewig thinks her piece succeeds in getting as close to reality as possible, though, by using Bush's quotes as the concrete element of her abstract piece. "For me, really the only way was using these words as a background," she said.
The ongoing debate seems to be whether dance (or all art, for that matter) is simply diversion or something more — like relevant, perhaps. The word "escapism" comes up often. On TheWinger.com — the MySpace of the dance community — one writer summed up the issue neatly: "I like to escape reality when I enter the theater. To be reminded of harsh reality is something I like to avoid. :) I prefer princes and fairies to war!"
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By Julian Wise
September 29, 2005
Forget reality TV shows like Survivor or American Idol. The real competition is found at The Yard in Chilmark, where 120 choreographers apply for two slots at the Company Residencies. The winners receive four weeks of studio space and housing, video and photo shoots of their original work, plus a one-on-one session with a professional dance critic who gives specific feedback on their technique. This fall's Company Premieres performances performed last weekend presented cutting-edge dance that combined immaculate technique with lacerating political and social insight.
German choreographer Guta Hedewig's "Dog Days" was a 33-minute opus of political theater and installation art. Located in a sparse stage set punctuated by red props (door, table, phone, TV set), the piece featured four dancers (Theresa Duhon, Guta Hedewig, Rachel Lynch-John, and Kristi Spessard) performing interpretive vignettes to malapropisms by George W. Bush projected against a screen. The four dancers began with a cryptic motion, crouched over as they pushed folding chairs across the floor with their foreheads. Next, the dancers struggled for primacy, standing atop folding chairs while furious violin notes by Vivaldi buzzed and swelled. The scene played like a visual vignette from a Jacques Tati film.
Dancer Kristi Spessard demonstrated remarkable comic talent as she impersonated male bravado (and indirectly, the President's unilateral swagger) in a mimed phone conversation on the red telephone. Her visibly pregnant form and spectral face gave dimension to her fusion of dance and silent screen theatrics, suggesting a female version of Buster Keaton.
In an abstract moment, one dancer shuffled and hobbled in circles with a tissue box stuck to one foot. Other dancers remained pinned under folding chairs. This gave way to a gorgeous interlude of playful, ballet-inspired modern dance where two dancers wove and spun around each other like swallows in the sky. The final scene depicted two dancers seated cross-legged in a yoga-like pose, with one behind the other. The dancer in back reached forward to pull at the face of the other, tugging it into rubbery contortions. Like the rest of the piece, the gesture was cryptic, visually arresting, and surprisingly affecting.
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