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Gauguin's Shadow 

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

Wednesday, Feb 18 2004
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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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