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Review 2, 12-30: Downtown Decoys
Trisha Brown, and Liebeslieder Walzing, at the Paris Opera Ballet
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider
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PARIS -- Why does Trisha
Brown have to cross the Atlantic Ocean to find a major ballet company
to undertake her choreography? Why does New York City Ballet refuse
to look below 42nd Street for additions to its repertoire, instead
padding its Balanchine and Robbins legacy with filler from Peter
Martins and others? I fumed over these questions last week at the
Garnier, as I exalted over the Paris Opera Ballet's breathless interpretations
of two newly acquired American masterpieces, Brown's 1979 "Glacial
Decoy," with photography, sets, and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg,
and Balanchine's 1960 "Liebeslieder Walzer," to Brahms.
choreography can reveal peris as easily as classical, five women
flit on and off stage -- usually laterally, and occasionally followed
by unison cascades down the raked surface. Loose-limbed in gauzy
gowns, notwithstanding their physical brilliance their aspects are
neutral. Miteki Kudo side-skips onto the stage, hovers at the periphery
for a minute and then disappears back into a wing, before reappearing
from a higher one. Muriel Zusperreguy and Geraldine Wiart release
their limbs and shake them out, as if limbering up, bow extremely,
hands on hips, shimmying their bare shoulders. Zusperreguy surfs
her hand on a wave of air. They play with balance on the balls of
their feet, and nod their heads, elbows akimbo, palms turned up.
Kudo side-skips on again, the others following her; loose-limbed,
she jogs in place, her arms weightless -- not so much floating as
unanchored. Quick turns, vast windmilling; Kudo tilts. Later she
enters loosey-goosey, and the others follow suit.
The spare ambience is
set off by Rauschenberg's rotating black-and-white photos dropped
along the rear wall, Western-evoking images of rain-clouds, silos,
road signs and pelicans. The program says "performed in silence,"
but I swear I hear a whispering wind. Maybe it's the ethereal dancing.
But maybe you'd like
to hear a real dance insider point of view? "Glacial Decoy" was
taught to the Paris Opera Ballet dancers by Lisa Kraus and Diane
Madden. In her extraordinary blog on the experience, "Decoy Among the Swans," Kraus
"My favorite all-time
quote is from James Waring: 'The best dancers are translucent, you
can see right through them.' I would take that a notch further,
saying the best dancers are translucent and in being so make the
stage a true alternate reality for themselves and the viewer. I
don't know whether the Paris Opera Ballet dancers receive particular
training in how to BE. I know they watch each other closely and
coach each other and have the opportunity to work with great choreographers:
William Forsythe, Pina Bausch, Saburo Teshigawara, Trisha Brown.
There is a culture of excellence regarding the veracity of performing.
"Perhaps these thoughts
about quality of performance only arise as noteworthy when so much
performing post-Judson was an attempt to have a person behaving
as themselves, 'naturally.' In fact, some of the most stunning recent
work has gone way beyond this playful or earnest dancers-in-space
stance into a much more emotionally colored place. Maybe I am just
registering the significance of this full circle return to embracing
the virtuosity of 'theatrical' dancing.
"The 'Glacial Decoy'
dancers were no exception in upping their performing ante. They
were amplified, glorified, more everything -- more subtle, more
slicing, more beautiful...."
Besides enriching the
diet of an audience, any director interested in dancers' progress
will tell you that the main benefit of an adventurous repertoire
is that it pushes the dancers -- ups the artistic ante for them.
Just as dancers like Suzanne Farrell and Edward Villella made it
possible for Balanchine to extend the form, so Balanchine's new
ideas for the possibilities of the ballet vocabulary developed those
dancers; the relationship was symbiotic. The reason that this generation
of New York City Ballet dancers freezes up -- or seems brittle --
in contemporary (and classical) work is that they're rarely STRETCHED.
I don't know whether the ballet audience on either side of the ocean
can fully appreciate Trisha Brown, even when divinely interpreted
as she has been here; at last Tuesday's Paris Opera Ballet performance,
the applause for "Glacial Decoy" was relatively restrained compared
to the more robust reception for Angelin Preljocaj's husky 1989
male duet, "Un Trait d'Union," performed by Laurent Hilaire, Wilfried
Romoli, and an over-stuffed armchair. But regardless of whether
the audience gets it, doesn't the ballet director owe it to the
dancers to bring them such work, so they can fully realize their
potential as creative artists? And maybe the audience just needs
to see more like work to get used to it; at New York City Ballet,
where Trisha Brown is just a twenty-minute walk away, they're not
Speaking of Balanchine,
this Paris Opera program also included the company premiere of his
1960 "Liebeslieder Walzer." As my DI colleague Tom Patrick pointed
out in a 2000 review of this work on City Ballet, the casual demeanor
of the Viennese ballroom setting belies the challenge for the dancers
in the first part. "Anybody who's done any of that gloved partnering,
gowns/heels sort of thing knows it ain't easy to look so smooth,"
Tom wrote in part. (Read his complete, and much more technically
adept Flash by clicking here.)
If this ballet presents
difficulties for the dancers, it's easy to access for an audience,
precisely because of the social milieu. Here the theatrical inclination
of the Paris Opera Ballet dancers, which sometimes sabotages their
attempts at more abstract Balanchine ballets, worked for them, for
the most part. Colleagues more familiar with 'Liebeslieder' than
I am say Balanchine allowed some dramatic lee-way here, to the extent
that each of the four couples reveals a distinct relationship. With
the exception of the hammy Yann Saiz, who should have been coached
to some restraint here (and who sabotaged his gifted partner Marie-Agnes
Gillot by his glibness), these dancers found those nuances. Aurelie
Dupont and Hilaire, as a couple in formation or perhaps undergoing
their first crisis and uncertain whether they'll emerge intact,
were fine. But the real shadings were delivered by Delphine Moussin
and Manuel Legris, as a couple who's already been through it and
is now intact, secure and familiar with each other's nuances. Legris's
contribution came in its usual form -- knowing where and how to
touch his partner, always delicately and never as if handling a
piece of meat (as is the case with some would-be swains), deferential
but not self-effacing, and presenting her with pride. Moussin's
was in her constant wonder that he was there; the relationship may
be secure, but it's still precious; neither takes it for granted.
Because these dancers'
success in interpreting this ballet came in conveying its personal
dimensions, I think it's appropriate for me to share how it affected
me. My ongoing challenge has been in finding that secure relationship.
In a dry season, the model presented by Moussin and Legris gave
me hope. And shouldn't ballet, for the dancers as well as the audience,
present infinite horizons? There are extraordinary things, indeed,
awaiting those who have eyes to see.
Research assistance by Melanie Rios.
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