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The Buzz, 5-21: Cosmopolitania
New national dance theater gives Flamenco the shaft; Glover in Paris premiere; Preljocaj returns to the stage in Genet work; where's Larbi?; and more from the next Paris dance season

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2009 Paul Ben-Itzak

PARIS -- Two season announcements in the past two days, by the leading dance-oriented theaters in Paris and, some might say, all Europe and even the world, have reminded me of everything I love and hate about the French cultural gatekeepers' mindset. It's a worldview that somehow manages to simultaneously vaunt the arts and particularly dance on a level unheard of in the States and then to turn around and repeatedly disrespect certain elemental forms of dance, notably American but this year Flamenco as well, at one theater anyway, not to mention classical ballet.

How about if we do this 'good news, bad news' fashion?

The good news is that the mayor himself showed up to open the press conference announcing the Theatre de la Ville's next season, the first programmed entirely by new director Emmanuel Marcy-Mota -- and did so in a fashion that showed he knows his subject. (Perhaps not surprising, as he had to sign off on the director's appointment.) He then stayed for the entire, somewhat long-winded rundown of the season by the theater's director. And he said that despite the 'crise,' he thinks it's important to find the means to support culture, particularly the culture of creation; for the Theatre de la Ville is not just a passive vessel, it actively nurtures and develops artists, through regular return visits and co-productions. (Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker typically play here every year.)

The bad news is that in the first season programmed entirely by Dominique Hervieu and Jose Montalvo at the Theatre National de Chaillot in its new role as a national dance theater, and thus perhaps the only space of its scale devoted almost entirely to dance, Montalvo-Hervieu have chosen to exclude one of the few dance arts which offers all of the following elements: popularity both at the source and abroad on tour; rigor in training, which can start as early as three years old, for boys and girls; virtuosity; and real synchronicity between music and dance. I'm talking about Flamenco, which despite its proven success at this specific theater, will not be part of the 2009-2010 season. How Dominique Hervieu -- previously one of my heroes as a choreographer and curator because of her belief in accessible but artistic dance and in new artists -- can sit there with a straight face, as she did at Monday's press conference in the theater located directly across the River Seine from the Eiffel tower, and say Chaillot will welcome all aesthetics while excluding one of the most aesthetically lyrical and integral and popular dance forms is beyond me.

Angelin Preljocaj in Jean Genet's "Un funambule." Photo by and © JC Carbonne - Studio Deux-Ponts and courtesy Theatre de la Ville.

The good news is that the season at the Theatre de la Ville's more intimate Abbesses space in Montmartre opens with Angelin Preljocaj's return to the stage as performer for the first time in 20 years, to dance and read Jean Genet's "Le funambule."

The bad news is that the most gifted choreographer to emerge in Europe over the last decade, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, somehow does not figure in the programming at the Theatre de la Ville. Now, this could just be because Larbi is over-booked; but, considering that this is the first season programmed by the Theatre de la Ville's new director, one has to wonder, with concern, if he's one of those presenters who just doesn't care for the Belgian-based choreographer/dancer.

The good news is that Larbi is one four choreographers featured in a 100th anniversary Ballets Russes homage prepared by Sadler's Wells and to be presented at Chaillot, the others being Russell Maliphant, Wayne McGregor, and Javier de Frutos. Larbi will be taking on "L'apres-midi d'un faune," and given his rubbery resemblance to what I imagine Nijinsky must have been like, one can only hope he'll be dancing the lead as well.

The bad news is that the Ballets Russes would probably have a hard time getting programmed today at Chaillot, where the ballet pickings will be slim and, yes, more 'contemporary' than classical, comprising just William Forsythe's newish "I don't believe in outer space" and work from Frederic Flamand and Ai Weiwei for the Ballet National de Marseille.

The good news is that Savion Glover will, finally, make his Paris premiere, closing out the season at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt with "Bare Soundz," and that the theater will also be organizing Glover's international tour.

The bad news is that in sharing this news, Demarcy-Mota just could not resist the hypocritical but unfortunately typical French tendency to identify Americans by their race, referring to Glover as an "African-American" choreographer. (Hypocritical because France makes a big deal about being race-blind.)

The good news is that the program itself referred to Glover simply as American.

The bad news is that besides Glover, and, on a program from Lyon Opera Ballet, Ralph Lemon, no American choreographer who's been around for less than 25 years has been programmed by either of these theaters. So choreographers like David Dorfman get ignored; never mind that they're major forces in American dance whose style pops up occasionally in European dance. (I saw a patented Dorfman upside down 'V' crawling across the stage just the other night in Peeping Tom's "Le Jardin.") Besides his contribution to the art in introducing a new wave, Dorfman would, it seems, also be tailor-made for French audiences with his recent interest in American history and his mostly effective integration of text. And how can you have a whole hip-hop festival, as Chaillot is doing next March, WITHOUT ANY AMERICAN COMPANIES? Not only was hip-hop INTRODUCED IN THE UNITED STATES, the American choreographers Doug Elkins and Rennie Harris are two of the only artists in the world who, coming from opposite poles, have managed to not just plop hip-hop the street dance up on stage but turn it into a respectable narrative dance vernacular.

The good news is that for the older American choreographers that the Parisian presenting cabal does recognize, it goes all out in their presentation, sometimes even surpassing their Yank colleagues. Thus, Paris will see not only Merce Cunningham's "Nearly 90," but related tributes by Boris Charmatz and Jerome Bel, the latter featuring former Cunningham dancer Cedric Andrieux -- all at the Theatre de la Ville. And Chaillot has set aside an evening for the Trisha Brown company.

The bad news is that the anti-dance South African choreographer Robyn Orlyn will be back at the Theatre de la Ville, as will be the nihilists Brigitte Seth and Roser Montillo Guberno. ("Don't hold back, PBI!")

The good news is that German pioneer Susanna Linke will be returning, to the stage, at the Theatre de la Ville, as will Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's seminal 1983 "Rosas danst Rosas" and new work from Hans van den Broeck, Shantala Shivalingappa, Padmini Chettur, Maguy Marin (who apparently and inexplicably got hissed, yet again, this past season at the Theatre de la Ville), and, in addition to Glover, five other choreographers never before presented at the Theater de la Ville, including the Samoan dance-maker Lemi Ponifasio, will make their debuts; and, si, the theater will also be presenting Flamenco artist Israel Galvin.

The bad news is that in the season in progress, according to Demarcy-Mota, two programmed artists could not come because of Visa problems. Of course they were both from Africa.

The good news is that according to Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, the Theatre de la Ville's two spaces have been filled at 95 percent capacity this past season; at Chaillot, meanwhile, audiences increased by 40,000. Yet another reason I love being in Europe.

The Dance Insider and ExploreDance.com have combined forces to provide exclusive coverage of the Paris dance season. The DI's Paris bureau is also sponsored by Therese Poletti, Eva Wise, Linda Ramey, Marcello Angelini, Tulsa Ballet, Maura Nguyen Donohue, Alison Chase, Donna Scro Gentile and Lisa Grimes of Freespace Dance, Catey Ott, Darrah Carr, Robert Johnson, Mark Whitmore, Nancy Reynolds, Catherine Monnig Levine, Jean Warmbold, Stephan Laurent, Sheila Marion, Amy Greenfield, and Martin Ringel. To find out about sponsorship opportunities for all budgets as well as super-discounted advertising on the DI and ExploreDance.Com, e-mail us.

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