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The Buzz, 9-30: Moscow to the Hudson
Bolshoi 'Buked; Tudor Processed; Remote Eye Wash; Forsythe Rants

By Paul Ben-Itzak (Bolshoi & Forsythe), Richard Philp (Tudor), and Tom Patrick (Eye Wash)
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider, Richard Philp, & Tom Patrick

The "Fat" Lady Stings

The Russian government of Vladimir Putin has handed the Bolshoi Ballet a big fat rebuke for firing a principal dancer on the shady, irresponsible (my words) pretext that she was too big, saying it should restore Anastasia Volochkova to the company, the Associated Press reported yesterday and the Paris newspaper Liberation today.

"The Bolshoi Theater personnel department has breached the law," Labor Minister Alexander Pochinok told the Russian Interfax news agency, as quoted by the AP. "... Anastasia Volochkova should be restored to her position."

In its September 17 report suggesting Volochkova was fired because "she has become too fat," the New York Times quoted Bolshoi spokesperson Katarina Novikova as saying, "She is heavy for a ballerina, she is hard to lift." The Times also insinuated that the ballerina's heft had landed at least one swain in the hospital. (Novikova has not responded to a Dance Insider request to verify her remarks to the Times.)

The Russian government's finding is a healthy rebuke to the Bolshoi for irresponsibly conjuring a waning ballet stereotype as an expedient means to resolve a personality conflict. It should also make the Times think twice the next time it would irresponsibly give weight to such claims, reporting which can have mortal consequences on the minds of young dancers, reinforcing anachronistic ideas that confuse artistry with appearance.

-- Paul Ben-Itzak

Processing Tudor

By mistake I went last week to the Guggenheim Museum on Fifth at 89th in order to see the program that had been, in fact, scheduled for last night. I wasn't disappointed with either evening staged in the museum's sleek downstairs jewel box of a theater: Last week, to my foolish surprise, featured a panel discussion about and vocal demonstration of the New York City Opera's new production of Mozart's youthful opera "La Finta Giardiniera." And last evening and tonight, as part of the Guggenheim's same Works & Process series, was a program in a similar format called Antony Tudor and American Ballet Theatre. Among other upcoming events especially worth noting in the same series is Frederic Franklin and Maria Tallchief on November 16 and 17 recreating "lost choreography" from two Balanchine ballets, "Mozartiana" (1933) and "Le Baiser de la Fee" (1937). Judging by the two segments that I have seen so far, this is a series that works wonderfully well for an appreciative audience. It is also free, as were the palatable wine, cucumber sandwiches, and salted nuts at the receptions afterwards.

I have the greatest respect for Donald Mahler, who has made a very legitimate spot for himself in the pantheon of former dancers and probably underemployed ballet masters in what we in the magazine business call a niche market. Mahler's niche is Antony Tudor, and so who better to demonstrate and discuss the Tudor canon? Michael Owen, a former ABT principal and the last dancer to whom Tudor taught all of his own roles, was the other member of the panel, which was moderated by former ABT principal Susan Jaffe.

Tudor remains a mystery to a great many people who profess to love his ballets. I like his work, but I can't really explain the reason for his appeal beyond the obvious obsession the choreographer had for the human dimensions of his characters. The plots in his plotted works are not all that easy to follow on the first encounter -- or the second or the third, if you don't prepare yourself ahead of time. And his unplotted ballets can be dangerously soporific if they aren't performed by dancers indoctrinated into the roles, as Tudor intended them to be. Mahler reminded us that Tudor was never as taken with a beautifully arched foot or high extensions as he was with "interesting dancers" and their ability to imbue roles with validity and honesty. Tudor's ballets are about love -- the difficulty of expressing that which was, for Tudor, so often masked or unspoken -- and they were created for a handful of intensely dramatic dancers who understood his style and would tolerate his abuse. Today, I am afraid, most dancers have neither the maturity nor the dramatic training to approach the Tudor repertoire with the kind of preparation it demands. Without Tudor at the helm, his ship too easily drifts off course.

Fortunately, Mahler has been re-setting Tudor on ABT in recent years, keeping the works alive on stage for new generations. Once considered cornerstones of the ABT oeuvre and, by extension, of contemporary American ballet, the Tudor rep has declined in both presentation and popularity. Thirty years ago when ABT featured an "all-Tudor evening," you might have had trouble getting a seat. Today, an "all-Tudor" evening would, I think, probably be a programming disaster in seasons at the Met, where ticket sales are a paramount consideration.

In the context of his times, as Tudor himself points out in a very old film clip shown during the Guggenheim's program, the world of most ballets -- the princes, swans, sylphs, and spooks -- was basically inaccessible to what Tudor actually calls the "middle classes." He changed that. And the effect of that change was far-reaching, creating new possibilities that we have come to take for granted in contemporary ballet. Agnes de Mille, whose dramatically charged dance works deal with a cowgirl in the old West as well as a psychotic hatchet murderer, made no secret of either her admiration or her debt as a choreographer to Tudor's influence. What Graham was doing for modern dance in America during the second and third quarters of the last century, Tudor was doing for ballet, although he was nowhere near as prolific as Graham. That they both taught at the same time in the dance department at Juilliard in New York is an extraordinary coinciding of two powerful forces unlikely to be repeated any time soon.

Beginning in the 1930s in London with Marie Rambert's struggling company performing on its postage-stamp size stage, coming to America by an invitation wangled through de Mille to join the newly formed Ballet Theater in 1939, Tudor would redefine the subject matter of ballet. Although he did away with mime, he told his story entirely through movement.

Is it possible to say that there is such a thing as a Tudor technique? Watch how Tudor dancers seem to lead with their torsos, which are lifted, appearing thrust forward; his signature movement does not rely that much on the position of the arms. His lifts are particularly difficult because he wanted them to "come from nowhere," without any visible preparation, without visible mechanics. "Things," Mahler explained, should appear "to just happen," and he demonstrated this point last night on Julie Kent and David Hallberg in a scene from "Pillar of Fire" (1942). The first time Kent fell forward, she slid into Hallberg's arms on her way down to her knees. Under Mahler's direction, the same fall the second time was startlingly more effective when Hallberg allowed her to drop almost to the floor before catching her "any way you can," according to Tudor's own instructions years ago to Mahler. Tudor's work is a careful interlacing of many such moments in which interpretation and presentation are far more important than mere steps.

John Gardiner, a former ABT soloist, and Amanda McKerrow, an ABT principal performed an excerpt from "The Leaves are Fading" (1975), which will be included in ABT's upcoming season at New York's City Center, October 22 through November 9. A performance of "Continuo" (1971), one of three works created for Juilliard, was danced by members of the ABT studio company, including Melanie Hamrick, Blaine Hoven, Daniel Keene, Jennifer Lee, Caitlin Seither, and Roman Zhurbin. In addition to Kent and Hallberg in the "Pillar of Fire" excerpt were Xiomara Reyes, Erica Fishbach, Misty Copeland, Ashley Ellis, Yuriko Kajiya, Anne Milewski, and Luciana Paris. The ABT Studio Company will perform in December at New York University's Skirball Center.

-- Richard Philp

Eye Wash by Remote

On a recent Wednesday evening, I found myself in the East Village, headed for Remote Lounge and Eye Wash. With the front-window treatment of disembodied video screens behind mirrored glass, I could tell from down the block and across the street that I had arrived.

I know Eric Dunlap, Holly Daggers, and the folks at Forward Motion Theater who bring these evenings of high-tech video together, and after being at several of their events across town at Freight I think that Remote is a most appropriate site. The space provides myriads of tiny cameras, monitors and vid-phones everywhere for customers' perusal, the stuff of video is everywhere, and Eye Wash capitalizes on this, turning the club's in-house toys into tools for art.

Downstairs from the slim main bar, there's a great open space for lounging and enjoying the banks of monitors and several large projection screens, comfy and high-ceilinged there. Adjacent to this I found a cozier balcony area, which housed mission control: this evening's four VJs were set up deep in cables and surrounded by a lot of cool portable gear. They were mixing DVDs, tape, and video straight from the laptop. Technologically it's all very powerful stuff yet compact, and onscreen of course everyone has their own style and signature. So we're talking everything from computer generated patterns to retro-looking overlays; there's almost too much to watch. All of the VJs represented in this line-up -- Feedbuck (of Feedbuck galore), Holly Daggers (chromakey goddess), Mixxy, and Eric Dunlap presented stunning work, and they obviously were enjoying tweaking things on the spot. I like this venue a lot in that the VJs are among the party, not sequestered off in a booth somewhere.

I've always liked Eric and Holly's work precisely because they can do such neat things with images of the human body, and where they go is definitely a dance take on film and a film take on dance. The digital work they do enables a lot of neat exploitations of the medium with a smart and witty viewpoint. Eric also took the opportunity to experiment with some live-movement interaction last night, resulting in some wild kaleidoscopes of him. This was really trippy, and he assures me this is just the beginning. Dance Insiders will want to watch out for a later episode of Eye Wash this fall and an evening that features dance more prominently, which sounds exciting.... (Great music, too, from DJs Zemi17 and Whitey.)

Eye Wash returns tomorrow night, 9 p.m. - 1 a.m., at Remote Lounge, 327 Bowery at 2nd Street. Admission is free.

-- Tom Patrick

Chatty Billy

No visit from William Forsythe and his Ballett Frankfurt would be complete without a lot of talking, and the company's last visit to Gotham under Forsythe -- he steps down at the end of this season -- will include a talk by Himself. Taking time out from the company's Brooklyn Academy of Music season, which opens tonight, El Forsythe heads across the bridge Saturday afternoon to the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University for a "Downtown Dialogue." From 3 to 4:30 p.m., says a spokesperson for sponsoring organization Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, he'll discuss "his vision for furthering artistic practice in an increasingly conservative political and economic environment, and the role of cultural institutions in civic life." There's no admission, but if you want to go, best reserve your place by calling 212-346-1715, between noon and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

-- PBI






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