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
Review 1, 11-5: Sky-Watching
Charming Babilee Can't Save New Nadj
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider
PARIS -- The landmark
Spring 2001 France Moves festival, which introduced New York audiences
to or re-acquainted them with several leading French dance companies,
also introduced the choreographer Josef Nadj to Jean Babilee, in
town for a screening of "Le Mystere Babilee." The legendary dancer
has enthralled French -- and international -- audiences since 1946,
when he created the role of the young man in "Le Jeune Homme et
La Mort," choreographed by Roland Petit, to a libretto by Jean Cocteau,
for the Ballets des Champs-Elysees. (Babilee and Nathalie Philippart
reprised their roles for the 1951 US premiere, on Ballet Theatre
at the Metropolitan Opera House.) About the same time, in 2001,
the painter Balthus passed away. When Nadj decided to create a spectacle
dedicated to Balthus and his friend Antonin Artaud, the 80-year-old
Babilee was one of the first performers he enlisted. If he can't
fly like a bird as he once could, last night's premiere of of "Il
n'y a plus de firmament" (Literally, "There is no more firmament"
or "There is no more sky") at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt
showed that Babilee can still charm. Unfortunately, the dry choreography
and theatrics depended on such charm to succeed, and only one other
performer delivered it.
The work begins rather
thrillingly with Babilee -- looking more or less the same, compact
with big, if grayer, hair, combed back -- seated in his chair holding
what could be either a big stylo or a small stiletto to his back,
which is to the audience. Of course, the image immediately conjures
"Le Poignard" (The Dagger), Jean Benoit-Levy's 1952 film featuring
Xenia Paley and Babilee in the latter's choreography, with Babilee
leaping and lunging repeatedly at a dagger stuck in a door, only
to end up dangling from it.
Babilee may not be leaping
anymore, but the blade, which eventually transforms into what's
more clearly a knife, still signifies danger, as he twists it around
his torso, holding it to his back. Later, there's a duet whose bare-bones
theatrics are made hilarious only by the exquisite timing of Babilee
and his partner, Peter Brook regular Yoshi Oida, who aren't given
much to work with: They expectantly if warily open a big package
set between them on a table, delightedly finding a loaf of bread.
They bite into slices, only to discover nails. A picture of a horse
hung on the wall above their table keeps falling down as if in reaction
to the strange loaf, and they replace it. They reverse the painting,
revealing another horse, this one with wings.
The painting and the
wall console itself have all been placed there at the end of an
excruciatingly run-out quartet in which the men essay Pilobolon
climbing around, about, and in the mobile door-frame/wall, but they
have neither the charisma of Babilee and Oida nor the drollness
of Pilobolus to keep us engaged with their not-particularly original
Before and after this,
the four men also play with Jing Li, in segments that are musically
just offensive. Though Li's movement lexicon features the expressiveness
of Peking Opera, the pointed and extended feet of ballet, and the
upper-body flexibility and incongruity of modern, guess which musical
style composer Vladimir Tarasov picks to signal Li's segments? Yes,
friends, Orientalism rears its ugly head yet again! I'm not an expert
on the Peking Opera so I don't know the name of the instrument the
score highlights here, but it will be familiar to you if you've
seen any Peking Opera as basically a Chinese cymbal, producing quick,
high, clanging notes. Hay-yah!
After the spectacle,
I said to my dancer companion: I have the feeling that if I took
a non-dancer to this -- someone who didn't know who Babilee or Nadj
was -- they would really hate it. She disagreed, pointing out that
a non-dance person might be attracted by the show's other, plastic
elements, for example Jacqueline Bosson's masks or sculptures, including
one of a giant hand which is attached to the palm of one of two
large Buddah-like figures upstage. I'll concede that Michel Tardif's
central set, the slope-walled room which frames the action, effectively
evokes the setting of a Balthus painting. But except for Babilee
-- bien sur! -- and the tic-ey Oida, most of at takes place within
those three walls does not linger.
"Il n'y a plus de firmament"
continues through November 15 at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah
Go back to Flash Reviews