The Boston Globe
The Effervescent Art of Moschen in Motion
Once in a while there comes a performer who stretches the definition of the art of dance. John Curry did it with skating; others, through dancing on trapezes or parallel bars or even underwater

Michael Moschen does it with juggling. The world's most famous juggler opened Dance Umbrella's fall season on Wednesday, with his 90-minute solo interaction with glass balls, a tent-size metal triangle, and sculptural slivers in the shapes of a crescent moon, teardrop, or wishbone. Moschen is as intensely involved with his props as Nureyev was with Fonteyn. And, like the greatest classical dancers, Moschen makes you forget about technique. If you do think about it, while his physical virtuosity is awesome, his focus is even more so. A top tennis or basketball player or ballet dancer can sometimes cover a momentary lapse of concentration. Moschen can't: His art is that demanding, that transparent.

For all its invention, his performance builds on precedents, on the manipulation of props and fights by modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller; the people-as- geometry exercises of the Bauhaus theater; the mixed-media development of that idea by Alwin Nikolais; the potent, pared-down set elements Isamu Noguchi designed for Martha Graham and others.

Moschen's onstage persona is, at least at first, as unobtrusive as the monochromatic costumes he wears. In some of his vignettes, he's content to let the props be the stars, to create the effect that he's playing with fire, holding soap bubbles in his hands, caressing a divining rod as it quivers and shimmers, but staying in the background all the while. His sense of wonder through all this is, well, wonderful.

While lesser jugglers are obviously involved in effortful manipulation, clutching and tossing balls, Moschen's skill allows him to create the illusion of things moving on their own. He cradles those glass bubbles, but he doesn't look as if he's controlling them. They seem propelled by some inner effervescence. When he dances with the larger, more sculptural props, his pliant body often echoes their shapes; he curves along with the moon. He's sculpture as abstract as a human form can be, extending the lines of his body through long poles or using a giant tripod to suggest he's Icarus flying too near the sun.

He conscientiously varies the tempo and dynamic of his performance. A languid routine is followed by a funny one, with balls skidding across the stage, dozens of them, without any apparent human help. There's the obligatory audience-participation scene, with the willing victim biting an apple every time it comes around on a three-object rotation.

Moschen walks a fine line between entertainment and high art; it's a metaphorical tightrope act as bravura, in its own way, as his juggling. While his performance is immensely satisfying as is, it also holds great potential. Some of his little skits could be developed into something longer and more complex. The bland new-age music by David Van Tieghem is less effective than the rhythms Moschen creates himself, by bouncing balls off drums and gongs. Dave Feldman's lighting is dramatic, but in predictable ways, darkness shot with pools of light. And Moschen is clearly a fine dancer with or without his sculp-rural accessories; you yearn to see him take a movement initiative instead of spending almost all his energy in response. But these are quibbles. Moschen in motion with his mobile sculpture is quite simply peerless.
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