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Chevalier de la Barre, 8-23: Treble in Paradis
Guillem's Cher Parents; Berman Returns; Avila Meets Casperson; Sagna Joins the Mee Generation

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- Greetings from France, which seems to be the only place where children can not only play in the street (even if it's under my window until 3 in the morning) and the parks and their homes with impunity, but where some 40,000 of them ages 6 to 10 voyaged alone by train or plane this summer. I love this country!

Speaking of children, the Paris daily Le Monde has been running a special summer series on famous former children and the parents who made them that. Chers Parents has featured Simone Weil, photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, and, on Tuesday -- Syvlie Guillem. The Guillem familial profile, taking up a whole page, is illlustrated with a self-portrait of the prima ballerina, in which she holds photographs of her mother Jeannine, her father Joachim, and her grandmother Pilar, whose upbringing parallelled Cinderella's: Her mother dying when she was born and her father remarrying, Pilar was subservient to her two step-sisters, serving at table and not being sent to school. She effectively raised Sylvie and her brother, both parents working all day and not returning until late at night. When Jeannine telephoned her to inform her of Pilar's death at the age of 74, Sylvie was siezed by "an uncontrollable emotion...."

Speaking of dextrous dancers, this is what the choreography of William Forsythe calls for. And now Forsythe's current muse, Dana Casperson, is in the studio working with Homer Avila....

Speaking of European dancers you can't take your eyes off, needcompany choreographer, dancer, and actress Carlotta Sagna figures with Salome as the latest inspiration for Manhattan theater rave Charles Mee , whose collaboration with Sagna will be one of four in needcompany director Jan Lauwers's newest creation, "No Comment." Yes, Sagna does Salome, scripted by Mee and directed by Lauwers. Two of the most watchable performers of all time enacting material from one of our most riveting modern playwrights. Even contemplating the sight is almost too dazzling for me to be able to continue. "No Comment" will also feature steller performers Grace Ellen Barkey, Viviane de Mynck, and Tijen Lawton, in script or music by, respectively, Josse De Pauw, Muynck and Lauwers, and, for Lawton, composers Rombout Willems, Doachim Mann, Walter Hus, Sen Jan Jansen, Hans Petter Dahl, and Felix Seger....

Speaking of creators and their muses, if you're wondering why the Sun is coming out today in New York, it's because longtime Paul Taylor inspiration Rachel Berman has returned to Gotham after two years in Hawaii. It seems like just yesterday Berman was causing palpitations in her final NYC performance before departing for the Island, in Ernest Morgan's Hawaii-tinged solo "Ku'u Home O Kahalu'u." And I'm not just blowing tiny bubbles; if you don't believe me, you can check Berman Monday at noon and 6 p.m. at Bryant Park, where she'll be bringing more Sun to the kick-off of the NYC Festival of Dance, produced by Dancers Responding to AIDS.

Also on the noon program, hosted by Tony winner Sutton Foster ("Thoroughly Modern Millie"): David Sanders Dance Dynamics, Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance Company, Chet Walker's 8 & ah 1, Creative Outlet Dance Theater of Brooklyn, Daniel Gwirtzman Dance Company, International Ballet Project, Sara Joel, MOMIX, Sean Curran Company, and more. The 6 p.m. ceremony, hosted by Joe Lanteri, also features Chase Brock, Henning Rubsam, Skip Costa and more.

Later on in the festival, on Sept. 5, our Tom Patrick co-hosts a Speak-out panel. More on that later....

Speaking of speaking out: On Sunday, the Orange County Register published a provocative essay by dance critic Laura Bleiberg that expanded from the recent New York magazine debacle to make some larger points about the dance and current dance criticism landscape. While Bleiberg nailed the New York mag situation, at least two of her other postulations are, in my opinion, problematic.

First, Bleiberg maintains that many reviews coming out of New York over the last decade, particularly from critics who were there to record the "dance boom"of the 1960s, "have been mournful." Is there a strain of "They don't make them like Balanchine/fill in your favorite '60s choreographer anymore"in New York reviewing? Perhaps. But I don't know that it is predominate. Whether from the pen of the Village Voice's Deborah Jowitt, who was there, or from more recent arrivals on the critical scene -- such as our many of the Dance Insider's reviewers -- I see critical cups that runneth over in enthusiasm.

Second, former New Republic dance critic Mindy Aloff tells Bleiberg that to some editors, dance is "the first thing to keel over in their (editors) minds, and it's the most vulnerable. Dancing is a process art, and it's being treated as a product art. Editors have in their minds that they can only publish reviews that cause people to drop everything and go out and buy tickets."

Frankly, I think my respected colleague has it partly wrong here. True, a substantial and influential stream of dance sometimes seems more concerned with process than what Aloff rather misleadingly labels "product." Here in Europe, process's greatest exponent is Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, and the primacy she often gives to process can be seen in the work of many graduates of her school PARTS. But many artists (including, on occasion, De Keersmaeker) are concerned with "product."This word implies "commercial,"but really what we're talking here is artists are interested in producing something -- a result that in some way engages an audience, not just a window on their working processes. Why do we need to pigeon-hole the admirable desire to produce something that actually works as art as the base goal of making a "product"? Painters would never posit that watching them actually work on a painting for six months is, for the spectator, the same as viewing the finished painting. It can be intriguing to watch, on stage, a choreographer's kinetic scheme unfolding before our eyes. But it's got to finish....

Speaking of finishing, I'm going to stop my rant here. But what do you think? Is dance about process or product? Or is it a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll? Send us your thoughts, by clicking here. We'll publish the most articulate responses.

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