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The Buzz, 4-14: Spinning
French Ballet Lists; French Festival Confuses Tomasson with Merce; Neumann 'Fails Spectacularly'; Homer Makes a Comeback

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider
Photo copyright 2005 Patricia Paludanus

Paris Ballet Treads Water

PARIS -- As I strolled up the rue des Martyrs this morning -- I heard that -- under a typically drizzly grey Paris sky (whoever wrote "April in Paris" must have meant Paris, Texas), for some reason I found the opening of "Petrouchka" running through my head. Perhaps it was because I was preparing to tell you about the next Paris Opera Ballet season, dance insider, and becoming wistful for what might have been. I've always loved Stravinsky's music, but it really only became fully realized for me when I saw the POB's 2002 reprisal of the Fokine ballet. It was a long time since I had been so blown away at and by the ballet. Unfortunately, that run was just part of a one-off Diaghilev tribute, trotted out only to be shoved back into the closet by POB directrice de la danse Brigitte Lefevre to make room for more unknown contemporary works by unknown contemporary choreographers who deserve to stay so. As I've ranted before, Mlle Lefevre seems hellbent on (largely) ignoring most of the ballet's nearly 300-year history, if not outright turning the company into a modern dance troupe -- and one that specializes in BAD modern dance to boot. Looking at the line-up for next season, while the directrice appears to have been restrained from taking quite so many chances with unproven modern dancemakers, there is still little to look forward to for fans of classical (let alone romantic) ballet who rely on the Paris Opera Ballet for their fix.

Angelin Preljocaj's "Le Parc" opens the season with a resounding thud September 20. Don't just take my word for it; when the piece played Berkeley, California on the same company in 2001, my DI colleague Aimee Ts'ao -- normally one of our more diplomatic Flashers -- found it "twice as long as it needs to be.... Preljocaj, for some inexplicable reason, assumes that the audience lacks (the) ability to understand his choreography without his drilling it so deeply into their heads that the net effect is that of having had a lobotomy." (Click here to read Aimee's full review.) Next up, having not learned her lesson with etoile Kader Belarbi's long-winded, short-danced "Wuthering Heights," inexplicably brought back this season, Lefevre has decided to let another veteran dancer take a whack at an evening-length ballet, with an even heavier libretto, as Nicolas Le Riche premieres "Caligula," to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." Balanchine is back with "Jewels" just in time to remind us this is a ballet company, before the unwarranted return of Patrice Bart's tourist-trap evening-length "Le Petite Danseuse de Degas." "Rarely does one see anything in the national theater so blatantly commercial as this particular widdle girl's wet dweam," the DI's Katharine Kanter wrote here during the ballet's first run, in 2003. "From the nonsensical tourist-trap libretto onwards, this is a 100% commercial undertaking, lacking all inner artistic necessity." The performance Katharine attended ended in resounding "boo"s from the audience, but far be it for Mlle Lefevre to let that stop her from bringing it back for a punishing encore.

Even the guest companies are a mixed bag: The Trisha Brown Dance Company's production "Winterreise" could be a treat for Paris audiences, as could the company's mixed program of new and repertory works. On the other hand, Nederlands Dance Theater III becomes the latest dance company to try to fake us out that Robert Wilson is a choreographer.

Is there anything to actually look forward to on POB's 2005-2006 program? Well, I'll be sure to relish these classical dancers in Nureyev productions of "Swan Lake" and "La Bayadere," although the latter is a bit plodding and over-wrought. Maurice Bejart is scheduled to create a new piece, on a program with his "Bolero" and "Marvelous Mandarin," William Forsythe -- to whom this company does great justice -- gets a whole program with "Approximate Sonata," "Herman Schmerman," and "Artifact Suite," and the season ends with the first POB production of John Neumeier's "Camille."

Americans Abroad

Technically speaking, for part of his run the Milwaukee-born Neumeier will be competing with the US-born San Francisco Ballet, which opens a new festival, Summers of Dance of Paris, with a July 5-23 run at the outdoor Hotel de Rohan, performing three programs to recorded music.

Once in a blue moon even a seasoned and grizzled editor like moi comes across a line in a press release that sets a new low for incredulity. I've just had one of those moments. What in the William Forsythe was festival manager Valery Colin thinking when he or she described SFB artistic director Helgi Tomasson as being "unanimously recognized as one of the grand figures of the art of contemporary choreography"?!! Certainly there are some critics who may like some of Tomasson's work -- even me! -- but to say that he is "unanimously recognized as one of the grand figures of the art of contemporary choreography" isn't just hyperbole, it's incorrect. T'ain't true. C'est pas vrai. In fact, Tomasson is one of the least imaginative choreographers working in ballet today.

If you're wondering why I'm steamed about this, it's not so much that I begrudge Tomasson his place in the Sun, as that when my French colleagues see just how grand one of our so-called "grand figures" of choreography is, it will only confirm their already low -- and inaccurate -- estimation of the current US choreographic scene. "If this is what you call grand there in the US," I can hear them saying already, with reason, "we'll take no more, merci."


Speaking of empty boasts, here's what David Neumann says about his "tough the tough," a collaboration with filmmaker Hal Hartley and playwright Will Eno which Neumann's advanced beginner group premieres tonight at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church: "I'm always looking for ways to dance the brain, my brain out in the open. Certainly an improbably if not impossible endeavor, the challenge keeps me returning to the studio to fail more spectacularly." Now THAT's the kind of lying -- ;) -- I like. To check how you can check what Chris Dohse, writing in the New York Press, says promises to be this week's most exciting event, visit the Danspace Project Web site. To read more about Neumann's own (sorry) intentions, click here.

Homer Avila, phographed by Patricia Paludanus. Photo copyright 2005 Patricia Paludanus and courtesy Elsie Management.

Homer's Last Dances

While we're at Danspace Project at St. Mark's, that'll also be the setting for Monday's memorial to our friend and colleague Homer Avila, who passed away last April 25 at the age of 48, after a valient fight against a cancer that took his leg and ultimately his life, but never his spirit. That spirit will be evoked when Homer gets his wish to perform works created on him by Dana Caspersen, Alonzo King, and Victoria Marks in his home town. Danspace Project and its executive director Laurie Uprichard will host, and Homer will star, in video screenings of these dances. Dear friends of Homer will perform and speak, and you'll have your opportunity to share your remembrances of what our colleague Laura Colby calls "this wonderful, complex man." Homer was definitely a complex shining star, but most tragic heroes are.

Homer's performance party starts at 7 p.m. at St. Mark's Church, Second Avenue at 10th Street in New York City.


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