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Review 1, 11-12: Fruit Loops for Diaghilev
Fromage to Les Ballets Russes from Biarritz
By Nancy Dalva
Copyright 2002 Nancy Dalva
NEW YORK -- There's
no credit in the program -- at least that I can find -- for the
really marvelous recording Thierry Malandain uses for his repulsive
rescension of "Pulcinella," based on an original for which he credits
Serge Diaghilev (spelled every which way in the same program, along
with every other Russian name) and Leonide Massine. He's lucky neither
of them can sue. His entire evening for his company, the Ballet
Biarritz, which came to shock the bourgeois at the Joyce Theatre
last week, was in fact billed as an "Homage to Les Ballets Russes,"
and there's not much you can do about it except read about the sources
for what you haven't seen, remember whatever versions you have seen,
and then say, "I don't think so."
In your reading, you
would find that others have had their way with the Pulcinella story,
among them George Balanchine (with Jerry Robbins). You can hear
why Balanchine wanted "Pulcinella" for the Stravinsky Festival --
the music is just too delicious not to use. To the already tangled
tale based on the commedia dell'arte character Pulcinella, who is
in the original a clown-like figure, Balanchine -- if I may digress
-- added a Faust sub-plot, a spaghetti fight, and sumptuous costumes
and sets by Eugene Berman. (In Nancy Reynolds's indispensable "Repertory
in Review," you can read tactful contemporary reports indicating
the production was a mess.) Malandain, in his version, adds, transposes,
and substitutes all manner of this and that, including a medic (whose
for-pay performance of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is taken by
Pulcinella as an amorous overture, rewarded with, shall we say,
a Viagra moment); a hot-to-trot drag queen; and a barnyard number
reminiscent of Ashton's chicken dance (itself a play on the four-little-swans
from "Swan Lake") in "Fille Mal Gardee." Malandain is like this.
His work keeps reminding you of things (Paul Taylor, Alwin Nikolais,
the travesty version of the step-sisters in "Cinderella" ), not
in an authentic way, but rather in the way Fruit Loops remind you
of actual produce.
Speaking of authenticity,
how authentic, and how sexy, is feigned intercourse by fully dressed
people? What with its rape scenes, its humping scenes, its groping
scenes, and its breast-grabbing scenes (the girls put up with a
lot, but then so do the boys), "Pulcinella" seemed to last ages,
though not as long as the evening's last number, to Ravel's "Bolero."
That looked like a cross between a Nikolais floor routine and a
Lamaze class, and seemed to last longer than actually giving birth.
In between these dances, there was a horrid version of "Le Spectre
de la Rose," which is pretty silly to begin with, but not offensive.
It is supposed to be a dream about a handsome suitor. It is not
a nightmare about a man who commits a sort of doggie-style rape
-- but then, this is Malandain's dream, not Theophile Gautier's,
not Nijinsky's, and not Fokine's. (They are cited in the program,
which brings up an interesting issue: if you credit something, which
surely you must if you use it, does its luster rub off on you? Really,
It's not, dear dance
insider, that I have anything against the restaging of masterpieces
-- as Artaud said, there are "no more masterpieces." And it's not
--because I can just sense someone out there thinking what a prude
I am -- that I am offended by the genuine lustiness of the original
"Pulcinella" (commedia being based, as it is, on racy Roman comedy),
or the sexual undertones of the "Spectre," or -- and we'll get to
this soon -- the sensuality of "Afternoon of a Faun." What does
offend me is the choreographer's rare mixture of refinement (that
would be the classical ballet technique) and obscenity (that would
be the use to which he puts it). Malandain makes soft porn ballets.
What appalling taste! And not very hot at that, in my opinion. (Malandain
is no Bejart.)
Of course Malandain
must be hot to someone -- and one deeply suspects, from the evidence
of his solo version of "L'Apres-midi d'un Faune," that that person
is himself. Here's the gist of his version (with the program citing
Nijinsky, Bakst, and Mallarme, poor dears): A man, alone, wearing
tight white underpants, is splayed on a catafalque-like piece of
furniture that turns out to be a giant tissue box. Disposed on the
stage are two ottoman-sized clumps of white fabric, which are apparently
meant to portray used tissues -- that is, tissues with which he
has already, as it were, had his way. How do we know this? Because
he dismounts the tissue box to dip his thumb into one clump and
then -- this is truly disgusting --sucks it. (This reminded me of
David Parker's The Bang Group, which is famous for thumb sucking,
but not as a solo enterprise.) By the end of the dance, the "faun,"
who is like nothing so much as a French Portnoy locked in a bathroom
with himself, has, though not disrobing, thoroughly shown off his
buttocks -- or shall we say "derriere," to be chic? --- and concluded
another satisfactory encounter with himself. If this reminds you
of the original, with the girl and the scarf, so be it.
I suppose this would
be the moment to say that the soloist, Christophe Romero, and indeed
all the Biarritz dancers, seem dedicated to the work, and dance
it with vigor. But whatever pleasure you find in their sincerity
diminishes when you begin to worry that they are delusional. After
a while you find yourself hoping that they know that what they are
doing is of dubious merit. (You can feel lonesome, watching bad
art.) I have to say that the Frenchmen in front of me were enthusiastic,
and kept the final applause going for quite a while. I doubt they
were faking it.
Nancy Dalva is the Senior Writer for 2wice.
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