featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers;
New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review 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 So what if the unscheduled lighting cues of fireflies have been replaced by the impromptu screeches of bats?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 it natural.

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 connect.

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.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home