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Flash Review 3, 10-25: In the Beginning, Totally Elevated
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 Home page)

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 herself.

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 Kotomi Nishiwaki.

....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 down.

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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