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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
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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