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de la Barre, 7-16
Suicide of a Dancer; Boston Disses Flamenco; Nai-Ni Honored in China; Bastille
Day with the Chevalier
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider
PARIS -- A dancer colleague in Australia,
reacting to leading Australian dancer Russell Page's decision to end his life
Sunday night at a relative's home in southern Sydney, asked: "Life was supposed
to be beautiful for everyone, wasn't it?"
When I used the phrase "slow suicides"
in a college creative writing class, my professor, Joyce Carol Oates, gave me
a copy of her essay, "The Art of Suicide," which was not so much about the art
of suicide but a critique of "suicides" (she used the word as a noun, thus taking
the title for a final act and applying it to a whole life). No one can truly understand
what leads another to end his or her life. I would not think a dancer susceptible
to the boredom that precipitates some suicides; on stage at least, dancers seem
to experience life at an elevated, hyper-charged level. But perhaps they experience
not just the high extremes of the emotional spectrum, but the low as well.
Beyond a perplexed melancholy which
will never go away, maybe we do best to say goodbye to Russell Page not by dwelling
on the way he said goodbye, but on the impact of his life. Principal dancer in
Bangarra Dance Theater, which he joined in 1991, Page was also part of Australian
arts royalty: Brother Stephen directed Bangarra and also collaborated with the
Australian Ballet on the 1997 "Corroboree," while brother David excelled as a
composer. Russell performed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics as well. As Sharon Verghis
notes in today's Sydney Morning Herald, his last performance was last week in
Sydney, in Stephen's "Walkabout."
The Herald's dance critic, Jill
Sykes, remembered the dancer this way:
"As a performer, he was unique --
one of Australia's best and most interesting dancers. And not just in the context
of Bangarra. He was light and quick with an intensity that came from within, transforming
mere movement into action that was rich in meaning and cultural references to
past and present."
Besides leaving his imprint on dance
audiences -- including those in the US on a Bangarra tour last fall -- Russell
was also an accomplished actor, with leading roles in Tracey Moffatt's "Bedevilled"
and Christine Anu's "Wanem Time."
A private funeral for the 34-year-old
dancer is scheduled for Brisbane, which was to be the next stop on the company's
tour, now postponed.
If this is an issue for you -- suicide
-- we'd like to address it more, from a dancer perspective. Please e-mail your
thoughts to our Advice for Grown-Up Dancers columnist, Anne Wennerstrand, at email@example.com.
For a constructive perspective on the topic of suicide among young people, also
check the adult comic, Nowhere
If dance is to be taken seriously
-- and it is not by much of the world, particularly non-dance journalists -- it's
got to take itself seriously. The Ariane
Reinhart debacle is upsetting not just because it signifies a failure
in this department, but because it originates in one of dance's most serious settings,
the American Dance Festival. This week we have a new champion, the Boston Ballet.
On the one hand, newish BB director
Mikko Nissenen has implemented many changes which promise the possibility of restoring
BB to its once eminent place among US ballet companies, before a round of tragedies
and mishaps that began with the death (possibly from an eating disorder) of Heidi
Gunther and extended through the company board's letting the last artistic director
to be, Maina Gielgud, slip through its hands.
Nissenen has snabbed a veritable
all-star team of dancers and dance administrators from across North America for
his team. His additions to the artistic team include Trinidad Vives, the would-be
heir to Ben Stevenson as artistic director at Houston Ballet, as Boston's new
artistic associate; new ballet master Anthony Randazzo, former star dancer and
partner par excellenace from San Francisco Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada;
and new ballet mistress, prima ballerina Eva Evdokimova, among other things the
former touring partner to Nureyev. While Evdokimova has never really worked in
a team setting, she and Randazzo, as well as ballet master Raymond Lukens, are
highly respected as teachers. But Nissenen's real coupe was to snag Valerie Wilder,
the cracker-jack executive director of National Ballet of Canada, as his executive.
Wilder, who rode a roller-coaster of budget turmoil in Canada, will insist on
financial directness from the Boston board and should make sure Nissinen's ambitious
artistic program doesn't run over-budget. Nissinen has also managed to grab SF
Ballet principal Roman Rykine as a Boston principal, and New York City Ballet
utility player Alexander Ritter as a Boston soloist.
While a company's artistic face
should be a director's most pre-eminent concern, how it presents itself to the
media is crucial to getting the audience into the theater to see that face. What's
boggling, then, is why Nissinen would assemble such an amazing artistic team,
and then sabotage himself by issuing ungrammatical and ignorant press releases
that would embarrass even Dolly Dinkle, let alone a major company. Forget for
a moment that the new Boston publicist feels it necessary, in a release announcing
the company's season opening, to have Mikhail Baryshnikov explain (in a press
release presumably going out to dance journalists) who Mark Morris is. Boston
publicist Tiffany Kehayoglou goes on to state, "Morris's company presents eclectic
mixtures of flamenco, ballet and modern movement." Flamenco? Mark Morris's authority
in modern is assumed, and his facility at ballet acknowledged. But Flamenco is
not a form to be dabbled in, and to insinuate otherwise insults both the form
and, indeed, Mr. Morris, who, notwithstanding a sometimes flip facade, takes dance
and music more seriously than to pretend he could facilely draw from Flamenco.
....One choreographer who does take
ethnic dance forms seriously is Nai-Ni Chen, who moves with ease between traditional
Chinese, modern, and post-modern vocabularies and styles. So we were not surprised
to learn recently that Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, the only US company performing
at the First China Dance Festival in Kunming, Yunan Province, had received the
Golden Lotus award, one of the highest honors given to dance companies and dancers
in China. After performing in Kunming, the company journeyed to the ancient city
of Dali and Lijiang, resident city of several ancient minority cultures more than
4,000 years old, where it performed to an audience of 2,000 and conducted workshop
with local music and dance students, many of whom were seeing modern dance for
the first time in their lives.
....Speaking of big parties, after
two years, I finally found the big Bastille Day celebration. I'm speaking of the
fireworks set off near Trocadero and for which the nearby Eiffel is blacked out,
which this year were dubbed Victor Hugo Illumine Paris. I didn't see Victor Hugo
Sunday night, but from my perch on the statue of the Chevalier de la Barre, in
the shadow of Sacre Coeur, comfortably crunched in with a mostly French crowd,
I caught some pretty nifty fireworks Sunday night. My imagined soundtrack was
provided by Erik Satie, whose abode of eight years I accidentally discovered on
a winding, cobbled, tree-overgrown street on the other side of Sacre Coeur, on
my way to see Camille Pissarro's house.
The Chevalier, in tribute to whom
this column is named, refused to remove his hat before a passing parade of capuccines
on July 1, 1766, whereupon the 19-year-old had his hands cut off (for failing
to remove the hat) and his tongue cut off (for singing impudent ditties) before,
as Voltaire recounts it in a nearby plaque, the torture began. And then he was
killed. Afterwards, in typically French fashion, they made a martyr of him, erecting
a park and a statue on whom the expression is more carefree than insolent.
These days, it takes a lot more
to provoke serious punishment from the authorities. During Sunday's military parade
down the Champs-Elysees, Maxime Brunerie, a 25-year-old former municipal candidate
from an extreme right party in the district that contains Montmartre, somehow
made it through 2,500 cops to within 50 yards of President Jacques Chirac, whereupon
he removed a 22-caliber rifle from a guitar case. Accounts are conflicting as
to whether he then fired at the president, or the gun discharged as he was tackled
by citizens. Me, all I have to do to get stopped by cops is step off a train returning
from Belgium. And if I were a person of color, forget it; I'd be four times as
likely to get stopped.
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