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Flash Review 2, 9-26: From Rosas, Somewhat Elevated
Zoo Chatters

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 dance."

"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 conceit.

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.

Unfortunately, everyone 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" from "Parade," 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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