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Gauguin's Shadow 

Interpretive dance, with flashlights, in front of a slide show of paintings

Wednesday, Feb 18 2004
The clearest way to describe Fred Curchak's take on the life of Gauguin is to call it an interpretive dance, with flashlights, performed in front of a slide show of Gauguin's paintings while a voice-over gives us the artist's biography in journal entries and letters. That's not quite accurate -- Curchak talks back to the voice-over, and recites long passages live; he also resorts to shadow puppetry behind the screen, as well as a wayang-style marionette to represent native Tahitians. But you get the idea. Curchak worked on the experimental fringes of San Francisco theater in the 1970s and '80s and now holds a professorship in art and performance at the University of Texas at Dallas. He's well known for his avant-garde work, and the Gauguin story itself is rich with contradiction for any artist who might feel tempted to throw off the bourgeois lifestyle and move to a remote island paradise like Tahiti. But Curchak's show is bunk. His movement is forced, his gestures are literal, and the red and blue flashlights evoke nothing so much as a cop cruiser. The problem isn't that the show resembles a cliché of the avant-garde: It's that all of Curchak's feverish innovations seem imposed on his material, not discovered by it.


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