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Flash Review 2, 10-30: Hearing Lost
Robbe-ing the Audience of its Senses

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- Herve Robbe's new "Lost Horizons" was shaping up as in the middle, somewhat elevated last night at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt. This critic, anyway, albeit entranced by the projections of a bonsai tree on a green horizon shifting in and out and on four moving mobile screens and the recordings of chirping birds, was neither enraptured nor enraged by the choreography. Indeed, I was somewhat engaged, spotting the influences of various American choreographers on the eight dancers: the isolations, waves, and capoiera-inflected vocabulary of Doug Elkins; that kick-out, dip the waist, pivot and twist on the axis phrase of Stephen Petronio's; the modern penches of David Dorfman; and, after a solipsistic beginning, a through-line of contact improv. Then the chirps turned into high-pitched screeches, and it wasn't long before I was having my first ear-ache in 30 years. I'm outta here.

Pure self-protection prompted me, finally, to join the trickle of people making for the exit. If I wanted to lose my hearing, I'd have become a rock guitarist. But I'm a dance critic. And as a dance critic, I am enraged that some in the segment of the modern dance genre who were previously merely indifferent to the audience have now become callous to it. (Last night's experience was the third time in a month here in Paris that I was aurally assaulted; Gendarme!) Not only are they more interested in their own process than the audience's engagement, they'll pursue that process to a faux avant-garde score even if it causes the audience physical pain. "Our process supercedes your pain!" they seem to believe. No pain, no gain! Just as their choreographers -- Robbe in this case -- arrange the dancers on stage in a superficially Merce-ish pattern without understanding Merce, so their composers use the implements of Cunningham composer Takehisa Kosugi without any of Kosugi's artistry.

Well, let me tell you something Mr. No Pain No Gain choreographer: I am willing to have my intellect tested, I am willing to have my soul wrenched, but I am not willing to have my body injured for the sake of your process.Your commissioned score has caused me physical pain, Mr. Robbe. Can you hear me?

The departed spectators who had preceded me laughed as I burst free through the exit doors with a groan. Good-humoredly if rhetorically I asked, referring to the spectacle, "Pour quoi?"

I crossed the Quai de la Megisserie to the Seine, walked out on the Pont au Change, saluted the Eiffel and peered into the racing glittering water, trying to clear "composer" Frederic Verrieres cotton from my ears, then made my way home along the Rue St. Denis. As I waited for my fromage-jambon crepe (all I was looking for on that notorious rue -- really!), I wondered what Bernhardt would have made of the shrieking that pierced the ears of the audience at the theater where her hypnotizing delivery used to pierce their hearts a hundred years ago. Then I wondered what she would have thought of the "creation" taking place at her theater, which piece (I usually abhor that word 'piece' when applied to a dance creation; this time it not only applies, it sticks!), judging from the hodge-podge of influences on the different bodies, owed more to the improvisations of the dancers than the ingenuity of the choreographer. I betchya Racine never arrived at the theater and instructed, "Just improvise for a while."

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