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The Buzz, 3-17: Americans Abroad
Springtime for Fungi and Germany; a Choreographer Hangs up his Spikes (for now); Forsythe Returns (& Pontificates); American Spoken (just not Danced) in St. Denis

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider

Fungus Amongus

PARIS -- Bonjour, dance insider, from the City of Spring, which I celebrated this morning by running from the rue de Paradis to the rues of Paradise and the Butte Montmartre, pausing only at the endroit where Gene Kelly's American in Paris hung his paintings for sale, before running back down the hill and past the homes or studios of Eric Satie, Vincent Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Jean Renoir, past "Amelie"'s cafe, the Moulin Rouge, and the Chat Noir, down the rue des Martyrs, over the rue Lamartine and past the former home of Baudelaire (and moi), all so I could say, Speaking of jocks and artists, while you were sleeping, a veritable Pilobolus dream team sneaked onto the continent, alumni fungi Otis Cook, Josie Coyoc, Matt Kent, Matthew Thornton, Ras Mikey C and former Dance Insider cover girl Rebecca Anderson taking Loerrich, Germany by storm last night before heading to Budapest for the week-end.

Internally, Pilobolus co-director Robby Barnett tells us, the company refers to this new all-star fungus growth as "the Satellite Company. It is an awesomely good group, and it's also a real experiment for us. The purpose is to see if we can cover a little more ground and maybe open up some rehearsal time for new work with P6." (That's the full-time Pilobolus team to you bub.) Since this particular satellite comprises four original cast members of the Pils-Maurice Sendak collaboration "A Selection," an ambiguous treatment of the Holocaust, the Buzz naturally asked Barnett if this profound work will be on the program. "Well, it could happen," he dangled. "It sort of depends on how much work we can develop and whether we can keep a group like that on board."


The Choreographer Who Took a Break

Speaking of developments, here's another intriguing one from El Barnett: Realizing a lack of choreographic inspiration, guess what he decided to do? Stop making dances. For a while, anyway. "I thought it would be good to take a break. Pilobolus has plenty of good choreographers, so there's no dearth of first-rate new work. Plus, I was sort of interested to see what I'd start thinking about if I let a little pressure build up under the wellhead. I've been making dances without a break since 1971, and it didn't seem to make much sense just to keep doing it out of habit." (Emphasis added; explanation to follow!) "The company as a whole is continuing to grow, planning is more complex and, frankly, way more time-consuming, so I figured I should apply myself where I could be most helpful and that didn't seem like the studio right now. (Executive director) Itamar (Kubovy)'s an extremely interesting guy, I've enjoyed working with him a lot, and I think we're getting some great stuff accomplished."

Make no mistake; we'll miss Barnett's contribution -- with and outside of Pilobolus, he's created or co-created some stunning work. (A personal favorite: His collaboration with the National Theater of the Deaf on Ibsen's "Peer Gynt.") But the example he's setting by stepping out because the muse isn't moving him is no less stunning. Oh, that more choreographers would follow this example! Instead, we have legendary dancemakers who continue to make dances long after the muse has deserted them, simply because the box, the board, the marketing department, and perhaps the media expect it. I for one would rather see a classic from Paul Taylor than a new dance. (I don't mean to pick on PT -- the example stands out because he's got such a treasure trove of old work which could be seen more.) Here in France, the outstanding example is Angelin Preljocaj, as spent a choreographer as you're likely to find on this side of the ocean. Instead of pressing him to make new work, why not ask him to select some favorites from his past -- when the muse was truly with him? (Speaking of Satie, did you know Preljocaj has a "Parade" in his repertoire?)

That we don't devote more programming to the EXISTING dance oeuvre also reflects the lack of esteem we have for our field. We put our classics in the closet, endorsing the notion that dance is just ephemeral, in favor of new work that, well -- is just that!


Forsythe Saga, the Next Chapter

....Which is not to say there aren't old works by masters which should be left in the closet. Take William Forsythe's 2000 "Kammer/Kammer," a droning talk-fest on a theme of Catherine Deneuve. On the work's Paris premiere in 2002, I I ranted: "In the evolving world of William Forsythe, dance steps seem to be retreating into the background, or at least isolated nooks of the stage, as Forsythe becomes more and more fascinated with text. For a company with 'ballet' in its name -- in this case the Ballett Frankfurt -- text is fine insofar as it lends texture and provides a vehicle to dance, or even as an equal partner. But in "Kammer/Kammer...," the text, the three television screens arrayed across the front of the stage, the bombastic sound, and a stage partitioned so that it is harder to see than to hear combine to diminish the dance to insignificant proportions."

Well, Forsythe's now lost the 'ballet' in his company's name -- Ballett Frankfurt having folded last July -- and guess what work the Forsythe Ballet's chosen to mark its June 29-30 debut in France, as part of the Montpellier Dance Festival? :( :(

For new Forsythe, you'll have to check the company's debut debut, April 21 at its longtime Frankfurt home the Bockenheimer Depot, a christening marked by an evening-length work, the company announced this week at a Berlin press conference.

At the press conference, leaders of the German states of Saxony and Hesse confirmed their commitment to invest (along with the cities of Frankfurt and Dresden) 3 million Euros per year through 2009 to a bi-city residence -- in Dresden as well as Frankfurt -- which will require the company to come up with 1 million Euros annually from box office and private contributions to make its budget. (The cities will also contribute theater space.) The cooperation between the two cities in the two states is "probably unique in Germany," Hesse's minister president, Roland Koch, said. "The fact that both the State of Saxony and the State of Hesse were instrumental in facilitating this makes me especially happy."

Pointing out that Saxony "not only draws on the creative heritage and cultural treasures of the past" but is inspired by "contemporary art" as well, that state's minister-president Georg Milbradt said Dresden's Festspielhaus Hellerau -- the company's eventual home in that rebuilt city -- "represents this, as does William Forsythe."

What the company is calling a "new public-private partnership between the Forsythe Company and the States of Hesse and Saxony, the Cities of Frankfurt and Dresden and a growing number of private sponsors" will also presumably count on the Council of the Friends of the Forsythe Company for the private part of that. As yet, the company has no commitments from the private sector to report, said a spokesperson.

In addition to Frankfurt, Dresden, and Montpellier, the company will also perform in Brussels in the coming months. 17 dancers, most of whom performed with the Ballett Frankfurt, are on the payroll, along with 13 administrative staff. The dancers are Yoko Ando, Francesca Caroti, Dana Caspersen, Marthe Krummenacher, Vanessa Le Mat, Roberta Mosca, Jone San Martin, Heidi Vierthaler, Elizabeth Waterhouse, Cyril Baldy, Amancio Gonzalez, Ayman Harper, Sang Jijia, David Kern, Ionnis Mantafounis, Fabrice Mazliah, Georg Reischl, and Ander Zabala.


American Welcome, Just not American Dance

....Speaking of Forsythe, his solo performance -- camouflaged by a shoulder-length, eye-covering blonde wig -- was the only redeeming feature of the worse evening I've ever spent at the theater, Wanda Golonka's three-hour "An Antigone," an allegedly dance indulge-o-thon which opened the allegedly international Rencontres Choregraphiques (?) de Seine-Saint-Denis last year. This year's edition, set to open May 13, includes plenty of American/English, with works titled "Holding Hands -- Without You, I'm Nothing," "How Heavy are My Thoughts," "Your Body is the Shoreline," "Once Upon a Time," "We Failed to Hold this Reality in Mind," and, my favorite for its unintended comment on the state of dance at the Rencontres Choregraphique, "Confessions -- the Autopsy of a Performance." In all, two-thirds of the titles are in English! I know you'll be shocked! shocked! to hear that, once again, none of the choreographers selected come from the land that INVENTED modern dance. Directrice Anita Mathieu's explanation is that American choreographers never write, they never call (I'm paraphrasing), but I think this is because they know when and where they're not wanted. So do I, so I'll close by quoting another title from the festival: "Cut!"

 

 

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