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Journal, 5-12: Things to Come
Horseplay with the Sisters De Keersmaeker; "One day, Pina asked...";
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider
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PARIS -- On the Metro
after our escape from last week's Greek travesty, Wanda Golonka's "An Antigone" presented
by the Rencontres "Choregraphiques," I lamented to my companion
that so many of the choreographers one sees here these days are
turning away from choreography, finding it more engaging (for them,
if not their audience) to dabble in other mediums. Searching for
a bright note, I concluded, "Thank God for Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.
She may be too process-oriented for me sometimes, but at least she
is still making her researches on the body." It would be unfair
to dismiss as travesty "Kassandra, speaking in twelve voices," De
Keersmaeker's collaborative production with her sister Jolente De
Keersmaeker, based on Oscar van Woensel's take on the Trojan heroine
immortalized by Homer and Euripides. Unlike Golonka's spectacle,
this endeavor, premiered on ATDK's Rosas company last night at the
Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt, was honestly advertised as
marrying dance and theater. For this same reason, it would be premature
to sound the alarm; ATDK isn't signalling a new, choreographically
light direction here, just exercising her well-earned right to experiment.
But based on the results -- restrained choreography and anemic theater,
delivered in mangled English by non-actors to whom it is not their
premiere language -- ATDK has not lived up to material that would
seem well-suited to her CV.
The premise here is
simple; van Woensel's text would treat Cassandra's last 12 seconds
with 12 interpreters, who explore the situation of the oracle destined
never to be believed, and her ultimately prophetic visions. If this
is not a spectacle to scream at -- none of the steady stream of
spectators who departed during the first part of the show hurled
invective at the stage last night, and one even waved a jovial goodbye
to the performers -- it's one that may have had one dearly departed
rolling over in her grave. Because it was hers before it was the
ville's, by custom we include the name of Sarah Bernhardt when reviewing
shows at this theater. But the Divine One would have at least blanched
if she could have beheld last night's spectacle; not necessarily
at the choice of the language of Shakespeare over French, which
was provided in super-titles, but at its interpretation by performers
who, for the most part, can't act, can't pronounce English with
the proper emphasis, and -- unless they were working with a poor
translation -- just plain use the wrong words. ("Award" for "reward,"
for instance.) ATDK would never present a dance piece with performers
untrained in her own metier; why, then, did she choose to
mount what's essentially a play with performers who -- by the evidence,
anyway -- are not trained actors? Would the actors of the Comedie-Francaise
presume to give a dance spectacle? I think not.
The dance in this "Kassandra"
is strangely severed from the drama. As usual, ATDK selects a couple
of recurrent gestures, but they are fuzzy or uninventive; a staccato
declining of the forearm at a right angle to the elbow indicates
the passing of time, or something like that. And, surprisingly,
when the actors are merely declaiming, rather than using dance for
gestural amplification, they sometimes fall prey to the actor's
An exception is Elisaveta
Penkova, a standout here since she was first seen performing with
ATDK's P.A.R.T.S. school in the fall of 2001. Interpreting Cassandra
(the role shifted around), Penkova hurls herself repeatedly onto
the floor, with deft flips, some of them backward. Later, Taka Shamoto
does a good job simulating Cassandra's rage at having to play a
role she never chose, racing around the room and hurling herself
against a mobile wall, but her acting here lacks modulation and
thus suffers in credibility.
Speaking of artmakers from Belgium, the Chantal Akerman festival
currently running at the Pompidou includes the rare documentary
gem "Pina Bausch: One day, Pina asked...," which captures the Tanztheater
Wuppertal, offstage and on, vintage 1983.
The (perhaps) superficial
joy in this 57-minute video is to retrieve performers like Dominique
Mercy, Jan "Fensterputzer" Minarik, and Nazareth Panadero more towards
the beginning of their Wuppertal careers. Mercy shows none, particularly
in a section from "Walzer" where, costumed in a dress, he performs
a series of virtuoso turns, each time taunting the audience, "Do
you want to see...." before executing the feat, with increasing
The deeper reward in
revisiting Pina captured in performance and process comes from the
reminder that for all the chaos and occasionally clowning, Bausch
is fundamentally a choreographer, whose examinations captured here
focus on simple gestures, particularly as rendered and elaborated
upon by an ensemble. Sure, creator and interpreters give the movement
highly personal inflection, but at its base their palette is movement.
It's a lesson that the many would-be Bausch imitators who seem to
have no room for dance would be well to learn, which they can do
here in Paris this Saturday at 8 p.m. and May 30 at 8 p.m., when
Akerman's documentary screens again.
At the end of the documentary, Akerman asks Bausch what she would
most like for herself in the future (this in 1983). Her back, shoulders,
and head slumping as if they bear the weight of an already troubled
world, she answers (I paraphrase), "What are my wishes for myself?
There's so much trouble in the world.... Strength.... Love.... Strength."
France's Intermittent performance artists and technicians have shown
plenty of strength over the past year-and-a-half, as they effectively
shut down festivals across the country last summer over dissatisfaction
with proposed reductions in unemployment benefits and tightening
of unemployment requirements. The new regime, which went into effect
in January, also effectively eliminated maternity leave for freelancers.
As the Intermittents
continue to agitate for rejection of the new rules, the festivals
have been shadowed by the spectre of another summer of cancellations.
That possibility receded yesterday when Intermittents' representatives
and directors of the Cannes film festival reached an accord that
could be a model for other festivals. In return for agreeing not
to disrupt Cannes, today's editions of Le Parisien report, the festival
and the municipality placed a theater at the Intermittents' disposal
to use as their headquarters as well as a movie theater for a Friday
press conference. The Intermittents will be allowed to demonstrate
and circulate their literature on the streets during tonight's opening
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