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The Buzz, 7-23: Changing Channels
Spectator Sues after Dancer Urinates on Stage; US-France Dance Relations Move to Next Stage; Neumann's New Puppet Show

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider


Props to Raymond Whitehead, who took the International Dance Festival Ireland to court charging breach of contract after a show by Jerome Bel in which a performer urinated on the stage. Festival organizers are smugly hailing this month's circuit court ruling in their favor, characterizing Whitehead's suit as an attempt to "limit artistic freedom of expression." By contrast, their programming of Bel was an attempt to "challenge, stimulate and entertain audiences while nurturing a love and appreciation of dance as an art form." But where is the challenge, besides to the stomach, in forcing an audience to watch a stage transformed into a toilet? The key words here are "breach of contract." Mr. Whitehead expected a dance performance, and in his view, he didn't get it. Let's hope more audience members follow suit and hold "anti-dance" (as one newspaper characterized him) 'dance' artists like Jerome Bel to account.

Opening the Channel

"With this program, France and the United States consolidate the privileged relationship they have built over 20 years to promote contemporary dance in both countries," Jean-Rene Gehan, cultural counselor of the French embassy in New York, said in announcing the four-year France-USA Dance Partnership, whose artistic advisors will be Laurie Uprichard of Danspace Project and Yorgos Loukos of the Lyon Opera Ballet. If M. Gehan's historic characterization of the relationship over-reaches a bit -- most French presenters have been notoriously close-minded when it comes to programming American dance, essentially ignoring any developments of the last 20 years -- there are signs that this adventure might be different and could even change the paradigm.

Having covered French dance on tour in the US, and looked, mostly in vain, for US dance artists on tour in France for the past three years, it's clear to me that what's needed is not just another one-off like France Moves, the popular dance festival that played several leading New York presenters in 2001. That engagement by US presenters of French artists has not since been reciprocated by a similar curiosity on the part of French theaters and festivals, most of whom continue to be interested only in our museum pieces. I don't mean this pejoratively. It was great to see Trisha Brown performing the commission "It's a Draw" in Montpellier two years ago, and to see her 1979 "Glacial Decoy" on the Paris Opera Ballet this past season. I look forward to seeing it again, as well as a new work Brown's making on the company, next season. I'm always elated to see the way Merce Cunningham is not just venerated, but also regularly sells out in France. And the Ririe-Woodbury company's interpretation of classics from the oeuvre of Alwin Nikolais at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt was the highlight of my dancegoing this year. But dance is an evolving entity, and there are plenty of (relatively) young talents -- on both sides of the ocean -- who are trying to push it in new directions, and not necessarily towards the WC.

The France-USA Dance Partnership, from my conversations with a couple of presenters on the US side, anyway, seems to be open to and perhaps even by its mission searching for a more recent generation of artists. Participants from both countries include not just the more conservative producer-presenters, but also organizations with a track record of cultivating younger artists and encouraging new avenues of invention and exploration: Danspace Project, Dance Theater Workshop, the Kitchen, the Wexner Center for the Arts and PS 122 in the States, and the Theater de la Bastille, Laboratoires d'Aubervilliers, Parc de la Villette and Subsistences in France. A team of US presenters who visited France this summer also met with Rachid Ouramdane, a real focal point of the incipient choreographers' scene, a young artist who's actually studied in the US and is open to its dance scene.

Openness will be critical, because this venture is not just a performance exchange but, by intent, a genuine exchange, with five artists from each country to be selected to live and work and abroad, creating work as well as meeting with their counterparts. More than a dilettante's tasting menu meant to satisfy the short-term appetites of both country's audiences for each other's cultures, the France-USA Dance Partnership has the potential to feed a long-term renaissance in dance exchange between the two nations.

A scene from David Neumann and Amy Trompetter's production of Oscar Wilde's "The Happy Prince." Amy Trompetter photo courtesy Cromarty & Co.

Everybody's Puppet

If I were picking the American choreographers for the France-USA Dance Partnership, I might start with David Neumann, an emblematic American artist with a wide palette. This fall, that palette will include puppets, as Neumann and pupeteer Amy Trompetter premiere "The Happy Prince," a dance-puppet fusion based on Oscar Wilde's fairy tale of the same name, September 23-25 at the Kitchen. These are good times for puppet princes in Gotham; in April, Wilde's tale will return to New York, with Macrobert Productions bringing its version, also involving puppets, to the New Victory Theater.

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