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Chevalier de le Barre, 5-28
Almond Roca; Graham Dancers Choreographing; Digerati Disco; Streb Action; Grunge Art Paris; Duende Times Two

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- This new column will contain the rants, raves, and previews readers of the Dance Insider E-mail are used to finding there. Any francophiles who can tell me where I lifted the name from get a free plug for the dance concert of their choice. Today's topics include the deplorable state of dance criticism at the San Francisco Chronicle, at least from one of its reviewers; Flamenco in Paris and New York; and upcoming performances or other events from the Martha Graham Ensemble, Troika Ranch, and Streb Go. We also take you inside the ateliers of the artists of Paris's BoHo Belleville district, and show you where to find video previews of Streb.

Speaking of French heroes -- there's your hint, dance insider -- audiences at the now-fabled May 9 Martha Graham concert will recall Virginie Mecene's rapid turns, exquisitely paired with right-on epaulement, as the young Joan. Well, tomorrow night at Marymount Manhattan College, Mecene takes her turn as a choreographer, her work being one of several by Graham dancers on the program of the Martha Graham Ensemble. Also on the program are works by Yuriko, Bertram Ross, Ethel Winter, Linda Hodes, Jane Dudley, Kenneth Topping, and Lyndon Branaugh. The program opens on tomorrow -- serendipitously enough, on Ms. Mecene's birthday! -- and runs through June 1. For more info and tickets, please call 212-838-5886. William D. Witter, Inc. hosts a benefit reception opening night, hopefully with birthday cake!

....Speaking of benefits -- we'll get to the rant in a minute, hold your horses -- those tres cool folks at Troika Ranch/Digital Dance Theater are inviting you, yes you digital dance insider, to drink with the Digerati, Wednesday June 12, 6:30 to 9:30 at Remote Lounge. For more info, please e-mail benefit@troikaranch.org, or call 212-725-1737. What else does it say here? Oh yes: Our own Chris Dohse called Troika "a fantasia of imagined physics" and "chimerical, alchemical gigabytes."

....Speaking of fantasies, any idea that the San Francisco Chronicle's Octavio Roca is what the Chronicle says he is -- a dance critic -- is just that. At least, that's all I can conclude from reading Roca's review of Joanna Berman's farewell performance with San Francisco Ballet. Criticism involves not just saying what you think of a work of art, but why. It doesn't take a degree in criticism to use words like "beautiful," "emotional," "Special," "powerful," "ravishing," "superb," "daring," or even "monumental." And yet this barrage of adjectives is what comprises Roca's May 13 review of performances by Berman, Yuri Possokhov, and Muriel Maffre, flushed out only by hackneyed phrases like "the lovely memory of her dancing will linger long after the curtain's fall" and "strikingly original," which isn't. Okay, Roca does offer one bit of physical support for his powerful superlatives, praising the "innocent hope in this Giselle's balances."

Look, I have nothing against gushing -- if it's a crime, I stand convicted. But our role as critics isn't merely to say how thrilled or not we were by a performance. Our reactions don't matter, unless we adduce why we reacted as we did. What did the dancer, or choreographer, actually do that impressed us as eloquent, powerful, beautiful, or ravishing? Or rather, what was it about the way they danced and expressed the character that elicited this response in us? In other words: Where's the proof? As a reader, I want to come away from a review able to describe what actually happened, not just what the reviewer thought of what happened. I've cited it before, but it can't be cited enough: The critic Marcia Siegel, like Deborah Jowitt a master of qualitative description, has said: (I paraphrase) I'm more interested in what the reviewer saw then what he thought of what he saw.

A sports reporter doesn't just relate that a baseball player was sensational; he describes the sensational feat, so that we can reach that conclusion ourselves. In dance, this approach is critical in at least two respects. First, for those not already converted, it's not enough for a dance critic to say they loved the performance. They need to say why, so that the reader can find a reason to check it out himself. And the field -- dance fans, scholars, dancers and choreographers -- rely on critics to chronicle what was actually achieved. What happened on that stage. They can certainly say what they thought of the proceedings, but if they don't qualify their opinions, they are just cheerleaders. (It is possible to cheer for and critique dance; see our own Aimee Ts'ao's Flash of Berman's swan song.)

....Speaking of sports, Streb Go! opens at the Joyce Theater in New York tonight, running through Sunday. To read Jessica Swoyer's Flash Review of this program when it played Chicago earlier this year, please click here. And to watch several tres cool video previews, please click here for a selection. My favorite is "Breakthrough," altho the video loses the droll effect of seeing Elizabeth Streb herself crash through the glass and emerge unphased and unscratched. "Freeflight" is also electric, altho much of that effect comes from the screaming.

....Speaking of electric, is there anything more electric than Flamenco? On Saturday, my rambles led me to the tres funky 20th arr. of Paris for Ateliers d'Artistes de Belleville, a.k.a. Open Studios. As I ascended into Belleville, up through a park at whose summit there towers the Maison d'Air replete with swirling mobiles and viewing ledges, emerging and wending my way further up the cobble-stoned Rue des Cascades, where the walls on either side were decorated with b&w photos of the inhabitants, what I loved most was the chance to see where today's French artists worked. Most often, where they worked also seemed to be where they lived -- petit ateliers and apartments they often were, but usually with a courtyard. A highlight was the bronze angels of former New Yorker Natacha Mondon, one of a sort of human-cat with the beginnings of a gown in metal frame. Another was hearing the sounds of an accordion mid-Cascades, and descending the stairs to find that in a courtyard before the packed studio, a colleague of the artist was giving a concert of unfamiliar French music.

Leaving the Cascades, I crossed Menilmontant to an alley where the grunge contingent seemed to be concentrated; Survival Research Laboratories-like found metal contraptions -- Rube Goldberg in a Nirvana world -- whirred determinedly towards an indeterminate end. Somewhat out of place, one loft was devoted entirely to butterfllies. From somewhere I swore I heard the sound of many feet beating a floor -- a familiar sound that I at first couldn't quite locate, categorically or geographically. It became more clear, in sound if not location, as I made my way up the alley and between the junk-art, until I knew: These were flamenco feet, in rehearsal or class, cascading to stomp on the floor: Dah-dah-dah, dah-dah-dah, dah-dah dah dat. Finally I located the patterns to a room behind and above a fence of the alley, beyond barred and curtained windows. At first I wanted to track it down, but then decided I didn't need to own everything, at least on this day. I grabbed a petit Kronenberg in a green bottle from a bar about as grungy as the rest of the installations, leaned back on a metal wall beneath the window, closed my eyes and just listened. It seemed to me that this was dance pared down to its essence -- which sometimes ascends to duende.

.... Speaking of the House of Duende, that's what the New Victory Theater in New York will become beginning Friday, when Soledad Barrio the rest of the Noche Flamenca posse opens a season that runs through June 16. Flamenco-wise, it doesn't get any better than this, and you can't beat the New Victory's prices, which run as low as $10.

Ole, Dance Insider!

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