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Review 2, 9-26: From Rosas, Somewhat Elevated
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider
PARIS -- Much that comes
from Belgium is good. There's chocolate. There's beer. There's frites.
There's Simenon, and Tintin. There's Jacques Brel, the 25th anniversary
of whose death is being celebrated by the release of five songs
Brel never wanted to see the light of day. Oh, that the dancemakers
that emerge from the country's Rosas company and its PARTS school
would be so circumspect! The spare choreography of Anne Teresa De
Keersmaeker, the doyen of both these institutions, can be luminous
on her own body, and even without her embodying it, still retain
a mesmerizing cadence on her Rosas dancers. But, like the would-be
Bausches who think all they need to do is put a hundred disjointed
props on the stage and presto, Pina! dancers who would be choreographers
emerging from PARTS or Rosas chatter and natter like ATDK but don't
bring with them her gestalt. The result, as I was reminded by the
first three pieces at last night's Pompidou opening of Zoo, a collective
of dancer-choreographers all of whom have passed through Rosas,
is more often than not aimless improvising. ("It seemed to be about
the aimlessness of modern life," suggested my companion. "Mom,"
I explained (yes, I took Mom to a Bad Modern Dance experience),
"It's about the aimlessness of much (Belgian-influenced) post-modern
"Improvising" is probably
too strong a compliment for Mark Lorimer's "Nylon Solution," created
in collaboration with Chrysa Parksinson, the veteran Tere O'Connor
dancer. How many more times will we be asked to accept as performance
dancers running in circles around a stage, suddenly breaking and
looking significantly at each other, going into slow-mo, separating
into a smaller group reclining on the floor and a larger group reclining
towards them, swinging their arms sloppily...? You know the drill,
dance insider! You also know that this pageant was executed in silence.
What we have here a
misunderstanding about the concept of "Improvising." It's not an
excuse for free-wheeling, artless moving. There's still got to be
an application of craft; it's just spontaneous craft. It can be
fascinating, for instance, watching CHOREOGRAPHER-dancers create
on their feet, so to speak. I'm even willing to suffer some mundane
results for the privilege. I'm thinking of Bill T. Jones, who, say
what you will about the limits of his choreography, does not ramble
when he improvises. And in rehearsal, where it's not meant to be
a performance but the means to reaching a performance, dancers can
come up with great ideas in improvisation. But watching "Nylon Solution"
last night was like watching the first rehearsal for, say, a De
Keersmaeker piece where she gave just one instruction, "Improvise."
It was not performance-worthy material.There was no evident choreographic
More weighty was Samantha
van Wissen's "Via," which contrasted Aliocha van der Avoort's video
images of a pregnant van Wissen with the live, no longer pregnant
performer-choreographer. My dance-crtic-ey analysis would be that
van Wissen, who danced with Rosas for six years, came the closest
to replicating De Keersmaeker's values, repeating, with increasing
propulsion, a series of movements -- often in the twirling arms
-- to match Bart Aga's purposely repetitive, Reich-like electronic
score. Like De Keersmaeker as choreographer, van Wissen knows where
to suddenly insert a pause or jarringly different phrase or frieze
for dramatic effect. And like ATDK as performer, she knows how to
deliver it arrestingly and directly, as when -- with Aga introducing
a piano motive into the driving percussion to which the dancer's
been circling the stage -- she stops and for the first time faces
us, one arm to the side, one reaching out towards us.
Mom's analysis was more
simple: "Via" contrasted the constricted movements -- mostly in
one place -- of the pregnant woman with the more free movements
of the live performer.
A dancer standing in
one place provided the most riveting passage of "Common Senses,"
an improvisation conceived and directed by Thomas Hauert. In this
case, it was Parkinson, slowly and staccaticly changing positions
on the balls of her feet, her arms rising and falling marionette-like,
her head jerking, a sort of post-modern version of the Ballerina
in Fokine's "Petrouchka." The piece opened with promising conciseness,
in a duet in which Parkinson and a man (unidentified in the program)
created two-dimensional images with two figures, always attached
-- by hands, back, or feet, for instance. Unlike in "Via," there
was some gestural selection here, for potent small-moment effect.
After the man swept Parkinson into the air and around him with one
arm, she gently extended hers and pushed him away.
else had to play and muck it up. When six other dancers rushed the
stage with more pointless running about, the moment was lost.
Seven floors up from
the senseless chaos unleashed by these first three pieces from Zoo
(incidentally, the first dance offering of the Autumn Festival),
the Pompidou also last night opened an ambitious retrospective on
Jean Cocteau, which it put forth as "the most important yet devoted
in France" to the subject. We glanced in before the dance show,
and after we exited the latter, I couldn't help thinking: What happened
to ideas? Among the first items one encounters on entering the snazzy
Cocteau exhibition is Picasso's pencil studies for the "manager"
for which Cocteau provided the theme. He brings a broad palette,
but he expresses the idea simply. Leonide Massine made the choreography
for this 1917 ballet, and Erik Satie the music. I wouldn't expect
that Rosas and PARTS, which supply much of the stock of "emerging
choreographers" on this side of the ocean, produce a team like this.
But is it too much to ask that they send out choreographers who
can distinguish an idea from an exercise?
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