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2, 7-18: A Midsummer Night's Solos
Dancing with the Bats (and Neighbors) in Montmartre
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider
PARIS -- Greetings from Paris, Dance
Insider, where summer has finally arrived -- really! -- and that noise you heard
at the Cinema en Plein Air the other night was not my teeth chattering but the
sound of a swizzle stick striking the side of a mint julep glass. Speaking of
the delights of summer, one of mine has always been the outdoor dance concert,
returning the form to its primordial origins. So what if the unscheduled lighting
cues of fireflies have been replaced by the impromptu screeches of bats? The setting
of the Arenes de Montmartre is no less serene than Central Park. For an evening
of solos, though, which already require intense focus from performers and audience,
an outdoor venue can present challenges in concentration for both. Besides the
bats, the five Eastern European performer-choreographers in last night's opening
of Sol.East, presented by Paris Quartier d'Ete, had to contend with heckling and
camera-snapping tourists, an audience member's epileptic fit (quietly handled
by festival staff), and, oh yes, the cameo pedestrian performances of the neighbors.
In this setting, the most successful
of last night's performers were those who engaged the environment rather than
trying to transcend or ignore it. In tan slacks, white button-down shirt, and
South Park tie, Nicolai Schetnev presented the wirey physique of Steve Paxton,
a colleague who's seen both observed. And pedestrians were definitely in the mix
of Schetnev's "In Silence," as part of the imaginary traffic, ground and air,
that the Russian made as if to direct. Thus the natural traffic sounds that could
be heard even in this quiet Montmartre neighborhood (it's alongside the subway-elevator
that takes you up to Sacre Coeur), which might have become competing elements
to Schetnev's piece, were instantly appropriated by it. And then he'd expand on
these commands: an arm held up to arrest traffic suddenly swooped, or the "stop"
spoken by a hand turned from the "traffic" to the audience. He was like a traffic
cop spontaneously erupting into improvised variations on his standard gestures,
until he realized everyone was watching and returned to the job.
Even more charming, and natural,
was how Schetnev would suddenly interrupt himself to follow the trajectory of
a bat across the stage or a bird overhead. Or echo the cough of an audience member.
At the beginning, looking out onto the street behind the stage or the walkway
above and behind the audience and motioning his arm, he could have been directing
latecomers to the theater. And he began this tight 15-minute dance by simply casting
his eyes about as if to assess the elements he would need to acknowledge and deal
with...or perhaps just to find them.
I usually find it harder to concentrate
on dance presented without music. This time, though, it was when the Chopin score
kicked in that I drifted a little; less of a reflection, probably, of Schetnev's
lack of engagement with the music than his acute engagement with the rest of his
environment, "In Silence."
Daria Buzovkina, also from Russia,
began her "Just" in silence too, before the Eastern European folky "Nol," based
on a poem by D. Haarms, kicked in. More germaine, Buzovkina also played with the
environment, entering by climbing along the wrought-iron fence at the back of
the stage, her back to us. After she arrived at center stage, still with the back
of her head to us, we saw a decorated orange balloon emerge at both sides as Buzovkina
inflated it. She turned and held it in her mouth, untied, balancing on her toes.
Later she took a piece of chalk from her purse (the purse, along with a girlish
pull-over skirt, helped the impression that Buzovkina was a kid on a playground),
and drew a tic-tac-toe matt on the stage, filling in the x's and o's. From here
she proceeded to play, which is not to say that her movement wasn't highly facile
technically -- it was -- but that her aspect was still of a girl on a playground,
including even handstands. (Her training at the Moscow Academy of Ballet showed
in her swift legs and the grace of their placement, as well as her pointe work,
albeit executed sans pointe shoes.) It was also presentational, meaning not that
it was formal but that Buzovkina regarded the audience, right to the end when,
after turning her back and emptying her purse of three more uninflated balloons,
she held a pair of binoculars to her butt, looking out at us.
The remaining three works were too
self-involved or adulatory for me, although Mihai Mihalcea, from Romania, played
with some genuine movement ideas in his "Memory for Sale (Childhood Included)."
Mihalcea gave himself the task of balancing (although often hunched and not standing)
on a pair of stilettos, gradually donning first one and then the other. He worked
in a contained area, more or less a circle, shifting his axis: First it was one
shoe, then the other, then the tips of both, then his shoulder blades. His use
of sitar music, which kicked in after a few minutes, was problematic at first
-- was it just going to provide an exotic musical setting? But his torso isolations
showed an influence of Indian movement forms.
Estonia's Raido Magi was engaging
to an extent -- mostly in his wise-ass expression to the audience between segments,
and in a first segment built on a super-winding arm -- but this devolved to indulgence
by the end. By the second or third section, I was more interested in the monotonous
back-and-forth pacing of the young Petronio-scalped apartment-dweller across the
street, interrupted only when he suddenly clapped his hands together as if to
obliterate a fly. (And I wasn't the only one; a dancer colleague confessed after
to worrying the man was "obsessed" and might have a dangerous reaction to the
spectacle.) By the time Magi had predictably stripped to his birthday suit, I
wasn't entirely resentful of the heckling tourist watching from behind the fence
at the rear of the paying spectators. Yes it was unfortunate and a trying circumstance
for the performer; on the other hand, I couldn't help thinking later that the
bystander might not have jeered at his nakedness if he had found a way to make
Eduard Gabia, also from Romania,
may not be so lost a cause. His solo "5 minutes of My Life" was an uneven mess,
Gabia the young (23 years old) choreographer not yet finished enough to find a
way to channel the energy of Gabia the rangy bull of a performer. Prop tricks
like a rope with an unseen tugger pulling him on and slowly across the stage have
been done before, and were not re-imagined sufficiently here to make them intriguing.
The music selection, from ambient computer sounds to trip hop, didn't seem to
The good news is, besides being
able to see Schetnev and Buzovkina in Paris through Saturday at Arenes de Montmartre,
you may be able to see them at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church in December
2003, if DS director Laurie Uprichard succeeds in her goal of bringing the pair
there as part of a program to be called Central Station.
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