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 Journal, 5-28: Shut up and Dance
Hobling Gives a Schooling: It's the Body, Stupid

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

MONTREUIL, France -- Of all the challenges to which George Balanchine put Suzanne Farrell and his other muses, talking on stage was not one of them. He also never asked them to don a jet pack which shot plumes of smoke up from behind their heads. Balanchine worked the body. He worked the stage, too, and of course the music, but principally, he pushed dance to another level through the means of the dancers and their main implement, what the French call the corps. Today, we are hit by a scourge of choreographers who want to be playwrights, and of dancemakers who use technical devices instead of pushing the technique and the form.

Let's start with two choreographers from the same company, Nederlands Dans Theater, as seen earlier this month at the Garnier. After that, we'll consider recent concerts by Saskia Hobling, Charles Linehan, Christoph Winkler, and Fabrice Lambert, all part of the Rencontres Choregraphiques Internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis, and an upcoming concert from Nancy Bannon in New York.

Most companies would be ecstatic to have as the base of their repertory the works of Jiri Kylian. But when Kylian stepped down in 1999 after 21 years as NDT director, the company apparently and admirably made the choice to at least balance out its programming with more work from other resident choreographers, besides Kylian and Hans van Manen. The results seem to be mixed.

The Garnier program opened with Kylian's 1978 "Symphony of Psalms," to Igor Stravinsky's sweeping music of the same name. Writing now a week-and-a-half after the performance, what sticks most is that this is a ballet about relationships, with couples often spilling out of two vertical lines at either side of the stage. Oriental carpets arrayed as a backdrop situate the duets domestically, taking place in the cohabiting phase of a relationship, rather than courtship or break-up. There's also lots of sliding.

The sliding -- and I've noted it before in Kylian -- was there again in "Click - Pause - Silence," a quartet from 2000. Also sliding, albeit more slowly than the humans, is a television set on a portable TV table. It's way in the back at first, so you hardly notice it counter-posed to the live dance action going on vertically across and upstage from it. I swear I was watching the human performers more than their televised versions (in rehearsal?) revealed as the TV eventually spun around, but I'm hard-pressed to find an image from either that stuck, beyond the severe dancing of Nancy Euverink and the rest of the cast, Vaclav Kunes, Patrick Marin, and Stefan Seromski. Still, the piece is a good example of a tool being used not as a gimmick but to frame the dance. What's framed here the tension between the contained (the images on the television) and the barely contained (the tense and tensile movement and inter-movement of the live performers).

Many in this audience are likely hip to Steve Reich's 1966 "Come Out," which riffs on repeated sampling of a man saying something like, "I had to, like, open the bruise up and let it come out to show them." It's a great sound canvas to the choreographer who can tap into its cadence in just the right, almost Zen-like fashion; but I bet you've never seen the words enacted literally in a dance!

Paul Lightfoot's 1999 "Speak for Yourself" begins with this music and a man, Yvan Dubreuil, out of whose head smoke seems to be shooting. I laughed at first, but when neither he nor the smoke would go away, the dancer continuing to sputter about after a couple appeared for a separate dance and the chalk or dry ice or whatever it was filling my lungs, I tore out of Opera House. I don't mind being uncomfortable in the theater, if it's from the artistic effect and not the special effects. I don't mind having my sensibilities assaulted, but I draw the line of defense at my non-visual senses, be it smoke that assaults my lungs or 'music' that batters my eardrums.

I thought this last was going to happen after Saskia Hobling's new "Exposition corps" began Saturday at Montreuil's Centre Dramatique National with a screech of astringent industrial. But it cut off as soon as Hobling, dressed in bra and underpants, stepped gingerly onto the boxing-ring like platform in the middle of the stage. I mention the bra and underpants because so did Hobling, explaining in a program interview with Gilles Amalvi that while the performers in her last piece had all been nude, she was incorporating undergarments here because they indicated the humanity of her figure.

What followed -- and not just for this audience member, I gather -- was an entirely appropriate discomfort-provoking 'exposition.' You know that kind of Saint Vitus dance you do when you need to poop but a toilet is not immediately available? (Um, it's not just me, is it?) One segment had Hobling doing something that reminded me, viscerally, of this, as she tried to walk with her thighs squished together, hobbling on the balls of her feet. It was at about this time that either a)my stomach grumbled or b)Heinz Ditsch's score made this sound. When it happened again -- and I could swear I heard the sound from others in the audience too -- I was sure it was me, and found myself simultaneously uncomfortable and sated. At the same time she'd made me physically uncomfortable, Hobling had given me something I could physically identify with. 'Accessible' dance, after all, doesn't mean just dance that entertains, but dance the audience can relate to. Hobling wasn't just a dancer-choreographer up there doing weird things; she was rendering experiences we all have, only on a body more attuned to its workings and more able to show them. She's a specimen -- an Amazon, really -- and her body, presenting a model fit for Maillot, would delight a sculptor, both for her chiselled overall features, and in the way she displayed her body, breaking it down in parts, for example, a pear-shaped butt isolated from the rest as she bent down to feature it.

If Hobling found her challenge somewhere in her majestic body, Charles Linehan, appearing on the same program, found it in the grid of the space. Andreja Rauch and Greig Cooke begin Linehan's "Grand Junction" in distinct spaces, individually and in how they're arrayed on the stage. His featured jutting arms, his button-down shirt occasionally whirling about; hers was pulled to the ground, careful. Both were dressed as civilians, another typical (and accessible) feature of the British post-Modern dance I've seen. After occasionally glances at each other, gradually they compressed towards the center, creating the junction in what is truly a landscape that Linehan has created. British choreographers I've seen seem to be at least as interested in the landscape around their performers as the worlds within them, exploring it with rigor and engaging it with vigor. (Linehan is set to perform at Danspace Project next March.)

The programming at Rencontres Choregraphiques is not quite so uniformly rigorous. Hobling, Linehan, and, as previously noted, A. Wolfl, are, if not "finds" because they've been around for a while, definitely "treasures," and jewels in this year's just-concluded Rencontres season. On the other hand, Skalen (as previously ranted), Fabrice Lambert, and, seen Saturday, Christoph Winkler, are strickly sophomore composition class, all with serious and obvious flaws. Skalen's work amounted to noodling around with a camera and noisemakers, Lambert's to letting the individual four dancers noodle around to a gimmicky score (sounds made by the dancers were looped and later repeated), and Christoph Winkler and dancers just want the Arabs and Israelis to get along. (This we know not because of the choreography but because segments of "Jerusalem" were introduced by little speeches addressed to Israeli and Palestinian leaders.)

But let's get back to Hobling, who should be required viewing for every choreographer who thinks the way to push the form is to push it into other genres in which, frankly, they are not trained. An upcoming concert at the Joyce Soho from an admirable dancer, Nancy Bannon, promises "a short play, written by Bannon and John Patroulis...more a literal evocation of Bannon's interest in emotional bewilderments, people who cannot articulate what they want and need, cannot theorize about their truths." (Another piece on the program promises "a thirty-minute journey into theatrical social commentary," also with the dancers speaking.) If I want a literal evocation, I'll turn to a trained playwright. When I go to a dance concert, it's in large part because I want to experience things that cannot be articulated in words. Shut up and dance!

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home