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Review Journal, 9-26: Synthesis
The Other Way from Khan, Quasar, and Salia ni Seydou
By Aimee Tsao
Copyright 2003 Aimee Tsao
SAN FRANCISCO -- Last
week at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, the San Francisco
International Arts Festival offered no less than three dance companies
whose roots are non-Western, non-Euro-centric but that also incorporate
modern or contemporary Western forms. Originally I was slated to
review Akram Khan Company, but in light of the context of the Festival
it seemed more appropriate to discuss the issue of multi-culturalism
and the synthesis of traditional and contemporary art forms.
With no time in-between
to digest what I had seen, I could only gain some perspective after
seeing all three troupes back to back: the Brazilian Quasar Dance
Company on Wednesday, the London-based Indian Kathak-derived Akram
Khan Company on Thursday, and on Friday, Compagnie Salia ni Seydou
from Burkina Faso in West Africa. The most interesting point that
they have in common is that the choreographers all seem to want
to create new forms which express their individual experiences --
they do not want to be viewed simply as having taken traditional
forms and allowed them to be influenced by European and American
modern dance, but to find new languages, new means of forging a
rapport with their audiences, both the audiences of their countries
of origin and those of other cultures.
For over a century Western
dance has flirted with the exoticism of Asian, Middle Eastern and
European folk dances. From the classical ballets -- "Nutcracker,"
"Swan Lake," and "La Bayadere," for example -- to Ruth St. Denis,
these forms have been constantly appropriated. Even today, choreographers
such as Ronald K. Brown, often basing his steps on African dance
instead of ballet or modern dance, and Mark Morris, in pieces as
diverse as "Kolam," which employed Indian hands and heads, to the
solo "Serenade," which used Flamenco, are still mining that vein.
The question is what makes these successful? And do we judge the
results from the process going from the traditional to the contemporary
with the same parameters? Ultimately, the answer is that the work
regardless of the origin or the influences must engage the audience.
Akram Khan's "Kaash"
(Hindu for "if") is an evening-length (if just under an hour qualifies
as an entire evening) piece for five dancers. Ironically, the material
in the press kit describes a long, complex creation employing ideas
about Hindu mythology, physics, war, destruction and regeneration,
only to have the choreographer say about another piece, "Fix," that
"they [the audience] are free...to have a view on it, whatever it
may be." I am impressed by the speed and clarity of the dancers'
execution and by the development of the choreography, going from
simple unison to a canon form and then introducing variations on
the theme. However, I find it all a little too neatly laid out and
lacking in human feeling. There is not enough material to stretch
out over the hour. Both the music by Nitin Sawhney and set design
by Anish Kapoor are very well done and add immensely to the aesthetic
sense of the dance.
"Lend Me Your Eyes"
(Empresta-me Teus Olhos) by Quasar Dance Company's artistic director,
Henrique Rodovalho, is an engaging piece utilizing video projections.
Though a bit too long, it's contrasting sections of extremely athletic
dance, with a lot of capoeira-based movements, and the slower, more
tender ending, are very moving. The dancers are outstanding, whether
throwing themselves to the floor or at each other or wandering amid
the video screens. Despite some minor technical difficulties, I
found this to be the most compelling of the three companies.
Compagnie Salia ni Seydou's
strong points are the dancers and musicians. What a joy to watch
Seydou Boro, Ousseni Sako and Salia Sanou undulate their torsos,
ripple their muscular arms and slash the air with their intense
energy, to the music of percussionist Dramane Diabate and flutist
Irisso Tao. "Figninto" (The Blind Eye) by Boro, assisted by Sanou,
contains both traditional African dance and contemporary choreography.
Although some of the ideas about communication and meaning in life
were well expressed, the structure jumps back and forth between
the two forms and doesn't develop in a smooth way.
I feel fortunate to
have had the opportunity to see these three companies from such
diverse places performing pieces in such different styles and yet
sensing that they all are grappling with the same issues of living
in this world and seeking, if not answers, at least new ways of
looking at the problems. Hopefully the San Francisco International
Arts Festival will continue to present more dance companies from
all over the world, each with its unique voice.
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