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Flash Review 3, 10-25: In the Beginning,
This Ain't no SAB:
P.A.R.T.S. Students Break it Down with Forsythe and Gaudreau
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider
(Editor's Note: In celebration of
the 20th anniversary of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's Rosas company, The Dance
Insider is providing a month of unprecedented coverage of Rosas the company, De
Keersmaeker the performer, the Rosas school P.A.R.T.S.,
and performances by alumni of ROSAS. This is the eighth and last of our reports,
which have spanned performances in four countries. To read earlier reviews, please
enter Rosas, P.A.R.T.S., or De Keersmaeker in the search engine window on our
PARIS -- Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
and her all-star cast of teachers at the P.A.R.T.S. school in Brussels are not
teaching their students what to think, but how to think. This much was affirmed
by last weekend's final Parts @ Paris concert at the Theatre de la Bastille, in
which second and fourth year students performed in the styles of ballet wunderkind
Billy Forsythe and post-modernist Lynda Gaudreau with equal facility.
In a breathtaking beginning, with
the house lights still up, 12 dancers from the second year program, under the
direction of former Forsythe ballerina Elizabeth Corbett, rushed the stage and
poured out several variations, interpretations, and actual choreographies of solos
and duets inspired by Forsythe's "Vile Parody of Address." I don't know frankly
that I've ever encountered such a breathtaking sight, especially from my second-row
vantage point in this classic black box theater. 12 young bodies, dressed simply
in blue leotards with the guys occasionally presenting a funkier top, going up,
down, bending and flexing in the new ways which, if Forsythe didn't invent, he
definitely brought to the forefront as exponents of ballet invention. Imagine
a mode of expression of the ballet vocabulary which has re-vitalized the form,
given by dancers in the vitalest stage of life. Imagine then several variations,
interpretations, or originally 'inspired by' duets and solos unfolding (literally)
simultaneously. I didn't know what to watch, taking only some assurance in Balanchine's
advice that an audient can't see everything, and it's acceptable to just watch
part. I felt keenly what the advantage would have been to be watching this on
television broadcast, broken down like a football game:
Michaels: Oh! And Penkova in a sensational
glissade capped by and instant bend of the torso just as quickly retracted as
her partner swoops in!
Madden: (voiced over as we see an
animated chalk-liine describing, in very primitive notation, the arc of several
other choreographies) Yes, Al, and if you'll notice, while Penkova was distracting
the opposition, Vaneau was eating up the stage with her legs and the rest of the
space with her arms, even as her head never lost that pinpoint focus offstage
that she's famous for, and Youcef demonstrated that finger ballet that keeps NFL
defenses up all night because they know they're powerless to stop it.
Michaels: Yes John, and what a clever
touch to finish with a rap on her own head -- I don't think Walsh anticipated
that. Let's watch the replay!
That's what I felt like, at least
at the beginning of this oh-too-short 30-minute piece directed by Corbett(who,
along with Anne Katalina Roman, teaches these students.)
But only partly so. Most of all,
especially at the beginning, I had the impression of watching raw Forsythe --
as it is processed. Both the process of creation, and the process of absorption
into these young dancers' body. And, Corbett being one of Forsythe's earliest
vehicles, the process of transference, from one vessel to the newest. Or even
of watching the microbes of invention being played out in Forsythe's own mind
-- that's the kind of able-to-do-anything facility these dancers displayed, straight
out of the chute.
Exemplifying this facility, newness,
and the variety of invention of the choreography -- in its patterns on both the
stage and the individual body -- was Vania Vaneau, about as dewy-eyed and dewy-bodied
a young dancer as I've seen in a long while. Vaneau practically glistened, eating
the stage but at the same time not hogging it, even if she did cover all its planes
and corners, right to the ultimate moment where she quietly walked on stage as
the lights faded, her silhouette the last image we saw.
Exemplifying the more, er, dramatic
side of Forsythe was Yasmine Youcef. It wasn't just Youcef's men's black jacket
over tight-shorts amidst a sea of baby-blue leotards that set her apart. It was
her somber focus, especially executing some of those, if you will, ballet miniatures
on her arms, hands, head, and torso. And her fixed focus on a point above us.
When she rose and exited after one such mini-performance, she left more than her
chair behind her.
My complaints about this collage
center on the handling of the score. First, it was too much. From a simple and
appropriate beginning in silence which let us concentrate on the movement feast
being consumed and regurgitated for us, we soon became inundated. The Bach alone
would have been sufficient, not just because it was "The Well-Tempered Claviere"
but because Glenn Gould was playing -- and singing, he being prone to hum along.
Add a pseudo-intellectual text by Forsythe read in a subdued tone by a British
speaker and between the narrator, Gould's humming, Gould's playing, and at least
two choreographic explorations vying for our attention all at the same time, it
was too much. I must say that if Forsythe has a weakness, it's writing his own
texts. He might take a lesson from Jane Comfort, a choreographer who works with
text but says she has too much respect for script to assign it to an amateur like
But this is just a minor quibble.
Watching these dancers explore this work, the excitement in their bodies palpable,
I also thought of the duel purpose of challenging choreography. As artistic directors
like Kevin McKenzie and Helgi Tomasson have pointed out to me, it's not just to
engage the audience, but also to challenge the dancers so that they can grow.
This extends beyond the student tier. When the Paris Opera Ballet gave an all
Forsythe program last season, the excitement in the audience at seeing these classically
trained bodies try something "new" was equaled by the excitement in the perormers
to be so endeavoring and excelling.
Finally I thought that if it isn't
doing so already, perhaps P.A.R.T.S. could follow the example of colleges like
Butler University, which invites the directors of dance companies to its senior
dance concert. I found myself wishing that I had the eyes of some of my choreographer
colleagues with me, because, even with the deep well of talent available to you
in NYC, you'd surely want to snap up some of this crew as soon as they graduate.
In addition to those mentioned above, the able cast also included, with not a
weak link amongst them, Gilles Fumba, Tina Dobaj, Gabor Varga, Elizaveta Penkova
(a marvel earlier in this month-long Parts @ Paris season, matching the charisma
and towering strength of NYC dancer-choreographer Veronica Dittman), Anne-Linn
Akselsen, Isabel Goncalves, Sophie Machtelinckx, Katie Ewald, Pep Garrigues, and
....I guess disappointment in Lynda
Gaudreau's collaboration with the fourth year students, whose 40-minute piece
comprised the second part of the program, was inevitable, following as it did
the Forsythe display. The factor which worked for the second-year students in
being able to tackle Forsythe -- their youth -- worked against their colleagues,
particularly in the piece's second part.
I warmed to the first part, "From
here to there, with legs mainly," for many reasons, chief among them that here
again, in Europe, supposedly home to the ponderous self-important modern dance,
we got winking easy laughing giggling chattering humor from the dancers dressed
in pedestrian outfits. Yes folks, post-modern dancers who are not afraid to smile,
at us and at their colleagues! And in fact it's no transgression to the post-mod
creed -- if anything, it lets usin on the game, and thus we're more open to seeing
what they're doing as something we might even do: in this case, PLAY. Thus a bare-headed
man, tip-toeing about the stage, almost as if on a tightrope, or mapping out a
tightrope, is regarded with droll expectation by his eight colleagues arrayed
on both sides of the stage. We're not left out; he also looks at us as if to say
"Yes, I know you're wondering what the fuck I'm doing up here, and I'm not so
sure myself, but doesn't that make it all the more fun? Hey, look what happens
if I do this!" Indeed much of the comic effect is in the delivery, so I despair
of giving it justice here.
The soloist is eventually joined
by his mates, as they rise from their chairs at the side and one-by-one or two-by-two
tape squares of butcher paper to the stage. One dancer, a lankier version of the
first man, lays the tape down near the lip of the stage and then keeps going beyond
it, running the tape several rows into the audience before he stops. He contemplates
walking this catwalk, then thinks better of the idea.
Another woman in a green 70s-style
track-suit who has remained seated so long we think maybe she's injured, finally
gets up, lays down sideways on the stage and contorts herself into all sorts of
impossible positions, intently exploring the limits of her body. Finally the paper
is rolled up, most comically a long sheet downstage stretching almost the length
of the stage, whose roller-uppers are hampered by the lanky guy, who keeps collapsing
onto the sheet.
If the piece had ended here, I would
have been sated. The second part, "From nothing to something," devolves rapidly
into a classic case of college arts students getting hold of an idea and running
it out until we want to run it out of town. (The idea, not the dancers!) Previously,
the sound has come from the grunts and mumblings and conversations of the dancers,
picked up by mikes laid downstage. Now suddenly some if not all of the dancers
are miked and producing those cute sound effects that come from rubbing the mini
mike, pounding their chests near where the mini-mike is concealed, whistling into
it, speaking into it but covering it and uncovering it to produce the effect of
channel switching, etcetera, etcetera. Perhaps I am spoiled to receiving this
effect as anything new by a performer at the last Avant-Garde-a-Rama at PS 122,
who shifted that mini-mike to every possible cavity in his body, miking the brushing
of his teeth, drumming his cheeks and head with the mike in his mouth, etcetera.
But after about five minutes I see this as just a gimmick. I want for something
to be done with the device, choreographically, not just a piling on of the joke
by everyone in class. "Let me try! Let me try!"
I suppose the same allowance could
be made as my colleague Rosa Mei made in reviewing
De Keersmaeker's "I Said I" -- namely that this is about process, not entertaining
the audience. To which I guess I'd respond that sure, in class, let them run it
out ad infinitem. But at least half of building work is knowing how to pare it
On that note, having reached 1831
words, I better stop! Performers in Gaudreau collaboration included Eulalia Ayguade
Farro, Chirstian Duarte, Nada Gambler, Claire Godsmark, Shani Granot, Etienne
Guilloteau, Radoslaw Hewelt, Lena Meierkord, and Linda Samaraweerova. The lighting
-- especially effective during an interstice when all were in silhouetted relief,
the light playiing nicely off the bare concrete wall at the rear of the stage
-- was by Jeroen Wuyts.
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