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The Buzz, 9-12: Re-entry
Paris's new dance palace; wailing critics; revisionist reporters; Dancer withinsiders; Dance galleries

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2008 Paul Ben-Itzak

A National Theater for Dance

Beginning this month, dance in France and Dance in general will have an unprecedented, magnificent, full-time, large-scale, grand theater of its own on the banks of the Seine looking out across the river at the Eiffel Tower. It's called the Theatre National de Chaillot and it may be the first theater of its scale in the Western world to be devoted exclusively to dance.

Contrary to what you might expect if you're coming from an American perspective, after ten years in which successive governments talked of having a national theater of dance to go with the five national theaters for theater but were blocked by the powerful theater lobby, it took a center-right government, in the person of Culture Minister Christine Albanel -- herself an author -- to make it happen and to recognize that dance deserved a grand home of its own. (The existing Maison de la Danse in Lyon is smaller scale. Chaillot offers three halls, of 1,200, 400, and 80 seats respectively.

For Dominique Hervieu, co-director with Jose Montalvo of the internationally acclaimed Montalvo-Hervieu dance company and the Centre Choregraphique National in the Paris suburb of Creteil and, now, of the Theatre National de Chaillot, France's decision to devote a national theater to dance is monumental because, first, it makes a statement about "the importance of the body, of our body" to the world. "And also because in our society, where there are many virtual possibilities and irreal things and images, today it's also important that people can go back to their bodies and simple situations. Also, in this theater we will do arts education, very useful for our society. And then dance today is one of the more inventive arts in the world, so it's fair that it have this kind of theater." And as far as cultural politics in France go, she says, "it was time for Dance."

It may sound like a cliché, but in France, especially over the past five years, dance has been caught in a sort of intellectual vortex, with most of the leading lights in the under-40 generation of choreographers sometimes seeming more interested in dialoguing with themselves than with their audience. Presenters, from the Centre National de la Danse in another Paris suburb to the summer festivals, have often enabled this 'research.' What's portentous about Chaillot is that the path that has been taken by Montalvo-Hervieu has not been introversion, but extraversion. In their shows, which give a good name to accessible dance, being exuberant without being simple, different styles -- ballet, hip-hop, modern, African -- cohabit comfortably on stage in true spectacles that use text, photo, film and other forms to advantage but maintain dance in the premiere rang. Their spectacles sometimes proffer lots of bells and whistles, but they move. For Chaillot, whose existing mandate is as a popular theater oriented towards the general public, Hervieu says, her and her partner will have "the same goal, the same kind of openness to all kinds of dances -- hip-hop, ballet, African, circus, some kinds of theater, comedy. It's important to have all these different styles, not just want one way to think of dance.... Mozart was popular. There are very beautiful and very powerful and very deep oeuvres that are also popular."

Compagnie Antonio Gades in Antonio Gades and Carlos Saura's production of Prosper Merimee's "Carmen." Photo credit: Compagnie Antonio Gades. Photo courtesy National Theatre de Chaillot.

This season (ten shows of which were chosen by outgoing artistic director Ariel Goldenberg, including Antonio Gades and Carlos Saura's version of Prosper Merimee's "Carmen," which opens the season Wednesday) will offer a melange of the internationally renowned, the nationally established, and names you (or at least I) have never heard of. Thus productions from Angelin Preljocaj ("Snow White," set to Mahler), William Forsythe, Montalvo-Hervieu themselves ("Gershwin"), and Sidi Larbi ("Sutra") will mingle with Via Katlehong Dance, Mourad Merzouki, and Compagnie Man Drake.

"I wanted to show new companies and new styles of dance and also hip-hop and experimental," Hervieu explains. "It's important for me to mix the programmation and to mix the audience -- young people, intellectual people, popular. It's like an agora, where people also are mixed inside of Chaillot." There will also be a place for ballet, and not just the neo-classical variety being offered this season from Russell Maliphant, Wayne McGregor, and Forsythe, but, unlike many dance programmers in France, Hervieu does not exclude classical ballet from the family. "I think next year, for example, we will have something about the Ballets Russes," in conjunction with its centennial.

Ballet Preljocaj's Nagisa Shirai in Angelin Preljocaj's "Blanche Neige" (Snow White). JC Carbonne photo copyright JC Carbonne and courtesy National Theatre de Chaillot.

For the 2009-2010 season, when they'll be fully in charge, Hervieu says she and Montalvo would like to offer more performances; "one month with Forsythe, one month with Preljocaj... also to work with circus."

This season also includes a theater component, with productions such as Jerome Deschamps and Macha Makeieff's "Salle des Fetes," and a production of Dostoevsky's "The Idiot" from Vincent Macaigne which follows Man Drake's production of "Idiotas," not to mention hybrids like "K.O.D. (Kiss of Death),' credited to Shakespeare and Isabella Soupart. Theater and other arts will continue to be represented next season and beyond, promises Hervieu. "What is very important to me is that dance has also been in confrontation and dialogue with other arts -- theater, video, cinema, music, circus -- so we would like to keep this kind of interaction, and to have theater with body and movement."

Wailing Critics

Speaking of Flamenco (well, "Carmen" actually mixes that and classical Spanish dance), no serious fan of this art, let alone dancer, let alone critic should be able to make it past the first sentence of Dance Magazine's 'review' of this year's international Flamenco festival in Albuquerque. (Actually, no serious copy editor should be able to make it past the headline in the website version of the review, which gives Albuquerque an extra 'r'. Complicated those foreign names.) Only someone who doesn't understand Flamenco would describe a singer as 'wailing.' And that's probably what my late colleague Gary Parks, who edited the magazine's review section in its last glory days under a previous owner, would be doing if he could see the second sentence, in which, according to author Janet Eigner, "The guitarista's eyes track the baille's (dancer's) feet...." Well, no, 'baile' is actually the dance; the dancer would be bailaora. (Complicated those foreign terms. Complicated that foreign dance.) If you can't tell the dance from the dancer -- or, more important, the wailing from the fire of Flamenco -- perhaps it's time to get a new Flamenco writer. And if you can't catch these betises -- let alone correctly spell the name of the most important city for Flamenco in the U.S. -- perhaps it's time to get a new editor.

Revisionist Reporters

Here's the larger problem with the demise of Dance Magazine as an authority in dance: If the trade magazines can't get it right, one can hardly expect the general interest journals to do so. Et voila, here's the New York Times, in Thursday's editions, inaccurately stating that Alexei Ratmansky, newly hired by American Ballet Theatre as artist in residence, "is credited with restoring luster to the Bolshoi after taking over there in 2004, bringing to bear a more international perspective than previous directors." By ignorant reporters, maybe; by those who know anything about Russian ballet, no. The reporter, Daniel Wakin, has evidently never heard of the legendary Vladimir Vasiliev, one of the biggest international ballet stars of the '60s and '70s who, if restoration of luster was needed, singularly achieved it when he took over as general director of the entire Bolshoi Theatre in 1995. But that's not all. Wakin's interview with Ratmansky apparently took place in the company of ABT's artistic and executive directors because, says Wakin, the company "declined to make (Ratmansky) available without their presence."

Time to pause for an elementary lesson in journalism -- and publicity.

It would be one thing if we were talking about, I don't know, the president of the United States or, let's say, a defendant rightly insisting on the presence of his lawyer. But here we're talking about a ballet choreographer. About an interview which is going to provide the dance company with priceless space in major media ahead of a local fall season in which it needs to sell tickets. Free advertising. Were I Wakin's editor, I would have told him to meet the company's declining with his own by explaining: We can't do our job under such conditions. So we'll just report the news and explain that we were unable to interview the artist because the company placed unrealistic conditions on the interview. (Hey, wait a minute: Ballet director leaves Russia and comes to the States, where he's immediately surrounded by handlers? What, are they afraid he'll reverse defect?)

Of course, this assumes that there is editorial supervision of the Times's dance coverage and, as we know from renegade 'critic' Gia Kourlas, this is not the case. At the Gray Lady, Dance -- especially since the retirement of the uber-talented Jennifer Dunning -- gets assigned the least qualified reporters.

Dancer Withinsider

Of course if you want a real authority, go the source and if you want it this weekend, Go West, Young Dancer! There may be no daily newspaper critics left in El Lay, but that doesn't mean there aren't any living his/herstories walking around. At least seven of them will gather tomorrow beginning at 3 p.m. in the Colburn School's Zipper Hall at 200 South Grand Avenue. Joining host Mitzi Gaynor in performance and conversation to celebrate the publication of Rose Eichenbaum's "The Dancer Within: Intimate Conversations with Great Dancers" will be Joe Tremaine, Barrie Chase, Russ Tamblyn, Paula Kelly, Lori Belilove, and long-time Dance Insider Leonard Crofoot, he of "Nijinsky Speaks." To reserve your free admission, e-mail rsvp@colburnschool.edu or call 213-621-1022.

Shut up and dance!

Enough dance talk, you say? O-kay! (Or as the French say, "O-kay!") For some dance action, if you're in New York this week-end why not check out the Dance Gallery, produced by Von Ussar Danceworks and playing at 405 W. 55th Street at 9th Avenue, tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m.? The line-up includes Camille A. Brown (Friday only), Charles O. Anderson, Yung-li Chen, Carol Dilley and Jill Eng, Isabel Gotzkowsky and Friends, Iquail Shaheed Johnson, Rick McCullough, Kate Loren McCusker, Ray Mercer, Pascal Rekoert, Mojca Ussar, and Astrid von Ussar. Tix 212-868-4444 or at the door. Go 'dere!

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