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Paris Journal, 5-12: Things to Come
Horseplay with the Sisters De Keersmaeker; "One day, Pina asked..."; Cannes Compromise

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 where-do-I-put-my-hands? syndrome.

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 breathlessness.

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 ceremonies.

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