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Modest talent, big cult

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ARMITAGE GONE! The Duke on 42nd Street Theatre, 229 W. 42nd St. (212) 239-6200. Season runs through Dec. 18.

ANYONE who calls a dance company "Armi tage Gone! Dance" must have a strange sense of something - humor, perhaps, or language, or maybe the title itself is a shout for attention.

In the latter case, it's unnecessary, for the company founder, Karole Armitage, is so brilliant at calling attention to herself that over the past two decades she's parlayed her amazingly modest talent into a major dance cult.

She is, if anything, admired more in Europe than here, yet she's resolved to come home permanently to the New York that first crowned her, with a new troupe that just opened a three-week season at The Duke.

Few empresses have worn fewer clothes than this 51-year-old poster child for modern dance acclaimed by Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and even Mikhail Baryshnikov, who once - according to her own account - rushed round to offer her a contract while she took a post-performance shower.

Her first program is the world premiere of a full-evening work (it's a short if interminable evening) titled, "In This Dream That Dogs Me." I doubt it will dog me.

The live music has been composed by Annie Gosfield, and the setting - a striking, three-sided red box with a length of industrial-size metallic tubing draped across the back, like an air-conditioning duct - is by Armitage's former lover, painter David Salle.

Her five classically oriented dancers are fine, especially the two striking women, Megumi Eda and Theresa Ruth Howard. But her pretentious choreography looks disjointedly uninventive - trusting, no doubt, that the audience and her supportive critics will mistake the nervous tics of mere difference for the true gems of originality.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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