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Flash Review 1, 6-5: A Dance In Search of an Editor
Is De Keersmaeker's PARTS School not Serving its Students?

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

MONTREUIL, France -- Last night's performance at the Centre Dramatique National here, part of the Rencontres Choregraphiques Internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis festival, raises troubling questions about the process-geared pedagogy at Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's Belgium-based PARTS school.

For about its first thirty minutes (which should also have been its final thirty minutes), Alice Chauchat's "Choregraphies" took two familiar iconic subjects by the hand and walked them, and us, into territory we hadn't been before. We're talking Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, in clips from "Top Hat," but not exploited the way Jerome Robbins riffed off Astaire and Rita Hayworth in "I'm Old-Fashioned." Where Robbins expanded broadly on the dance partnering between the two film stars, Chauchat honed in on the minute in movement introspections fashioned for herself and the stoic Carlos Pez Gonzales.

Chauchat starts with a just-short-of-interminable fidget session between the two live performers: a guy and a gal, seated in two chairs, shifting, small-stretching, hand-folding, tentatively looking at each other as if there's a wall of, if not tension, discomfort between them. They can't think how to begin to penetrate it and communicate. To this American viewer, even though Astaire and Rogers had not been introduced yet, Chauchat was already talking about their place in expressing what the rest of us want to but can't always. Their bodies give them a far greater range and means of communicating.

When Astaire and Rogers are finally introduced in the film clips, after some rote ballroom dancing, Chauchat and Gonzeles zoom in on not the film's dance segments, but on smaller, more mundane interchanges between Astaire, Rogers, and other characters in the film. Standing below the screen, Gonzales mimics -- maybe echoes or amplifies are better words -- Astaire pouring a scotch and then dousing it with seltzer. Chauchat, hitching her butt just right, mirrors the star perched on the edge of a sofa. Together, they wag their heads back and forth as do two supporting characters in the film while they watch two protagonists argue.

What was being probed, discovered, and revealed here was that Astaire didn't just turn it on for the dance numbers; he was always dancing. Even just in conversation, some part of his body -- a raised eyebrow, a rotating hand, an inclined torso -- was dancing. His gait, his carriage, his smallest gestures had the lyrical poetry of finely chiselled choreography.

At the point where Chauchat produced this epiphany, I was ready to proclaim her dance something I'd never seen before. Unfortunately, before she was ready to conclude, I was to see her points proven again and again. A certain amount of repetition is to be expected and is justified in a post-modern dance context, especially when pointing to a new, or newly revealed, gestural language. But Chauchat just ran it out at interminable length, where this devolved into one of those dances where you kept thinking it had ended, with members of the audience commencing to clap half in appreciation and half in relief. (The regular black-outs didn't help!) And then it went on. Particularly unnecessary was a replay of each live dancer's take on a romantic-argumentative scene betwen Rogers and Astaire, focusing in on her changing reactions to him, from the embracing to the shirking. The dance would have been nicely ended when Chauchat finished her first go at this, fleeing the stage as Rogers fled Astaire. But we had to see Gonzales repeat the entire sequence, less definitely, precisely, and effectively than Chauchat, and then each in turn do the same thing all over again.

This was the point where I looked at the program and nodded knowingly to discover that Chauchat studied at De Keersmaeker's PARTS. In her group work, and as manifest in the work of PARTS students and faculty, De Keersmaeker seems to stress the primacy of process, rather than -- RATHER THAN -- product. But I don't know that this infatuation with Judson works outside of a Judson place and time context. In the sixties that process was new, and I can imagine that an audience interested in art appreciated being taken beyond the presentational and behind the presentation. Today's Parisian audiences will cut artists a lot of slack -- they don't need to be stimulated every second, and they'll suffer a two-hour intermissionless evening with patience -- but last night's audience at the Centre Dramatique National had its patience exhausted by the time Chauchat finished. It was frustrating to see because what would have been, at half its length, something new, aged rapidly before our very eyes as the choreographer insisted on repeating, repeating, and repeating.

Chauchat's "Choregraphiques" was preceded last night by Brazilian choreographer Adriana Grechi's "Toda coisa se desfaz." I don't feel competent to fully evaluate the long film segment which opened the evening; not being a film critic, I can't say how original the use of colored negative was imposed over images of the dancers moving in street scenes to Renato Consorte's live guitar playing of his own compositions behind the screen. When the screen dropped to reveal the five live dancers and Consorte, the isolation-beginning movement was from the more abstract realm that I also can't fairly critique, as it's not to my particular taste. I preferred the natural torso-contorting and hunching of Consorte as he weaved his body around the guitar. But in the realm of movement based on body isolations, Grechi's was certainly economical, even delving into the microscopic. Leticia Sekito began a segment all the way downstage center moving only her eyes, from right to left, as if fearing she was being watched, or scouting for something in the audience. Sekito was the stand-out, able to shift tempos and scale in a nano-second. Later, after everyone else has collapsed, there's a droll segment where Sekito stands and her every movement has a reaction -- a tic, a spasm -- from the other prone dancers.

To return for a moment to Chauchat: Even though hers was of the type that generally more interests me -- comical, theatrical, pop culture referencing -- Grechi's was the better crafted dance, because there was no wasted movement. She was able to edit. To fully realize her potential -- at least, if she's at all interested in courting the audience -- Chauchat needs to find herself an editor, and she probably shouldn't look in PARTS.

Rencontres Choregraphiques Internationales continues through Saturday. For more information, please visit the festival's web site.

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