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The Buzz, 5-19: Something Borrowed, Something New
Montpellier Danse '05: (Old) Americans Abroad, Young (Local) Talent

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- Speaking of Americans abroad, as we were in my review Tuesday of "The H.C. Andersen Project," choreographed mostly by Greg Zuccolo, regular readers will remember that most French presenters are blind to any choreographers who have emerged from the other side of the Ocean since 1975 or so, with the exception of Bill T. Jones. The Rencontres Choregraphiques Internationales which presented 'Andersen' is no exception; Zuccolo was rather a stealth choreographer, as the production was billed under the name of Michael Laub, the Dutchman who conceived and directed it. Indeed, one might question why a festival of choreography wouldn't give top billing to the choreographer -- his (American) race, maybe? So while it's refreshing to see that the 25th Montpellier Danse festival opening next month offers a healthy dose of Yank choreographers, it's depressing to see that there are none (with two exceptions I'll explain) being billed that American audiences didn't know about thirty years ago.

For readers new to this particular rant thread, I should explain that I'm not a homer -- I did move to France, after all! -- but rather I don't think a dance story which excludes three decades of developments in American dance is accurate. And it's an exclusion which has deleterious effects on the local scene; French choreographers are constantly exploring (and often floundering in) territory they think is new but that has already been mined by their US colleagues. As a result, many in the younger generation end up being unintentionally provincial, ignorant of developments in the big city.

Montpellier '05 opens June 23 with Merce Cunningham -- really a saint here -- and the over-exposed "Biped," "Views on State," and an "Event" in the medieval-like courtyard of Les Ursulines. The festival will also screen "Views for Video," by the choreographer and Charles Atlas. Opening the same night is Judson-era veteran Deborah Hay with "The Match," reviewed here by the DI's Lisa Kraus in its 2004 Danspace Project incarnation. As with Zuccolo, a (somewhat) younger generation manages to slip in under the radar, with Wally Cardona, Chrysa Parkinson, and Mark Lorimer sharing the second program with Hay -- but the engagement is clearly billed as "Deborah Hay." Though it was Europe which provided the proper environment for his work, William Forsythe is still American, and his new Forsythe Company makes its French debut with (double-groan) the talkathon "Kammer/Kammer." You can check my rant on this Catherine Deneuve tribute here if you like, but suffice to say that M. Forsythe would do better to confine the obscure gabbing to the printed program, which can be safely tucked under the seat where it doesn't interfere with the dance.

I mentioned a couple of exceptions to the thirty-year exclusion rule, and actually there are two. Jennifer Lacey qualifies for the 'relocated here' exception -- she actually moved to France, and presenters like that -- although based on her last installation for Montpellier I don't have high hopes she'll actually dance a lot. Shen Wei is still based in New York and has been for several years, but his being originally from China cancels out his American liability in the French presenters' eye, so we'll see "Sacre du Printemps," to Stravinsky, and "Folding." (Wei also plays the Lincoln Center Festival this summer, with a new work.)

Otherwise, and especially for a 25th anniversary season, the Montpellier program is pretty conservative, offering up the warhorses Angelin Preljocaj, these uninspired days the most over-rated French choreographer in the United States, with a new "Four Seasons," to Vivaldi; Catherine Diverres; and Mathilde Monnier, who coincidentally runs the local centre choregraphique.

The festival appears to have made one major breakthrough: Regional -- I refer to location, not quality -- companies will be highlighted in a series of performances in the cadre "Septimanie Danse." Georges Freche, president of the Languedoc-Roussillon / Septimanie region which includes Montpellier, promises "the creation of 'Septimanie Danse' at the heart of the festival will give a panoramic view of the choreographic arts of our region." Artists include Germana Civera, Rita Cioffi, Yann Lheureux, David Wampach, Michele Murray, Christine Jouve, Fabrice Ramalingom, Laurence Wagner, Anne Lopez, Young Ho Nam, Didier Theron, Anne-Marie Porras and -- you read about him here first -- Leonardo Montecchia. We 'discovered' Montecchia in 2001 at la Chapelle, the versatile underground space founded by the resourceful and dedicated composer Etienne Schwarcz and associates in a former church in Montpellier's gypsy quarter. La Chapelle's offerings have often been more innovative than the financially mightier Montpellier Danse festival, so it's a good sign to see latter finally drawing from the former for inspiration and talent. (Read more about Montecchia, la Chapelle, and previous Montpellier Danse festivals by checking my 2001 and 2002 Flash Journals.)


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