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Journal, 10-21: Artifacts
Parcen, Hoffman, Maffre & Lacotte Pay Homage to Taglioni; Monnier
Dabbles on the Dance Floor; Halprin Intensive
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider
From Pointe Power
PARIS -- In 12 years
of observing, interviewing, critiquing, and working with dancers,
four words I've never heard a dancer say are "I can't do that."
And indeed, when we visited the ornate theater of the Italian Institute
here last spring to evaluate whether its elegant but petite, column-constricted,
and very hard Marley-less floor would be suitable for a dance performance,
the Paris Opera Ballet's Sophia Parcen didn't say these words either.
She folded her arms reflectively, regarded the space and particularly
the floor doubtfully, shook her head and raised her eyebrows, and
explained that the floor would be hard on her pointes, that there
was no room to jump and little to maneuver much. We agreed that
at most, Parcen could offer some poses from the Romantic vocabulary
for our and the Institute's September 30 bicentennial homage to
and discussion of the legacy of Marie Taglioni, the first dancer
to use pointe artistically (and no doubt the first to not say "I
can't do that").
But Parcen is a dancer
and so voila!, when she took the stage for a gem of a tribute September
30, what followed was a tour-de-force of the gamut of Romantic expression,
from the pointes of her pointe shoes to the tilted carriage of her
head at the proper moments. She turned, she jumped, she expanded
the stage beyond its apparent lateral and vertical dimensions --
working (and this grace was the product of work) with an extract
from Gabriel Faure's "Emeraudes" (Pelleas et Melisande), she transported
us back to the 1832, alchemized dance and music to take us to a
rarified place and, in spirit and feat, gave us a reminder of what
Romantic ballet is capable of. In the process, she also reminded
us of what dancers are capable of. As my Dance Insider colleague
Robin Hoffman put it, "She made us forget the limitations of the
Robin's own rigorous
Powerpoint presentation, using contemporary photographs by Ellen
Crane and Marty Sohl as well as archival images from Taglioni's
time and afterwards, traced the Romantic legacy from Filippo Taglioni's
"La Sylphide," the ballet in which Marie Taglioni first used pointe
artistically in 1832, to the "heightened femininity" of Les Ballets
Trockadero, including "the fiery Olga Supphosova," a.k.a. Robert
Carter. "I think Carter is particularly funny," she explained, "because
his pointe dancing is so virtuosic that he wins you over.... The
line between fantasy and reality blurs very effectively. I have
to wonder if the Trocks feel the same closeness to their pointe
shoes as I did to mine. I bet they do."
Perhaps no modern ballet
choreographer save William Forsythe has heightened the possibilities
of the art like John Neumeier, the Milwaukee-born director of the
Hamburg Ballet. Expanding on a photograph of Hamburg's Heather Jurgensen
in Neumeier's "Bernstein Dances," Robin pointed out, "She
looks like a chic modern woman, openly expressive. I've heard pointe
shoes criticized along with corsets as being restrictive, hampering
of movement, and binding. I think this photo illustrates my opinion
to the contrary. After all, pointe shoes, combined with good ballet
technique, give a liberation and nimbleness, an ability to change
direction faster, and move in ways not possible without pointe.
They don't make a woman weaker or more constrained, since she must
achieve a great deal of strength and mastery to dance well on pointe.
I think this is also one reason that pointe, and ballet, have stayed
with us in dance, always finding useful expression."
I can't personally relate
to the challenges and exhilarations of dancing on pointe, but as
the son of an architect, I loved Robin's analysis of an Ellen Crane
photograph of San Francisco Ballet's Muriel Maffre in Balanchine's
"Agon": "This photo...reminds me of a modern skyscraper, in which
earth and cosmos are connected. This arabesque stretches between
earth and sky. Again the fact that she is on pointe helps achieve
the illusion, even though it is an ideal opposite of the Romantic
one. So, the use of pointe work has found its place again in art."
(We will share the rest of Robin's presentation as well as Crane's
and Sohl's photographs in a future Dance Insider Photo Album.)
Maffre joined us in
person for the conference portion of the evening, opening the discussion
by reading from Theophile Gautier's June 3, 1844 La Presse review
of Taglioni's return to Paris at the age of 40 to reprise "La Sylphide"
with the Paris Opera Ballet. Gautier's observation that Paris is
quick to forget resonated particularly well with the French-born
and trained Maffre, who has danced mostly 'in exile' since 1990,
as a principal dancer for the San Francisco Ballet. But she doesn't
seem to have been forgotten; au contraire! When I asked Maffre how
she managed to use the strength of technique to achieve and convey
the etherealness of the Sylphide -- I've been transported by her
in this role in Bournonville's production -- fellow panelist Pierre
Lacotte, who reconstructed the Taglioni original, interjected: "Muriel
was born a star. She dances from the heart."
Taking off my reporter's
hat for a moment and donning my publisher's beret, we'd like to
thank the Italian Institute's Giorgio Ferrara and Paolo Grossi for
graciously hosting the evening in the elegant and historic Hotel
Gallifet. In addition to the above-named participants, we'd also
like to thank the following supporters of the Dance Insider's ongoing
efforts to preserve and celebrate the legacy of Marie Taglioni:
Australian Ballet, Bloch, Body Wrappers, Evelyn Cisneros, Edward
Ellison, Esse Aficionado, Nicholas Birns, Nolini Barretto, Joy Williams
Brown, Eileen Darby, Maina Gielgud, Giovanna La Paglia Ballet Studio,
Martha Graham Dance Company, Ivor Guest, Christine Jowers, Katharine
Kanter, Timothy Heathcote, Peter Kyle, Stephan Laurent, Julie Lemberger,
David McAllister, Sophie Maopoil, Francis Mason, Rebecca Mosley,
Martha Mountain, Dennis Mullen, Russian Ballet magazine, Madeleine
Nichols, Jerome Robbins Dance Colllection/New York Public Library,
Anna Arias Rubio, Cynthia Quinn, Quinn Pendleton, Santa Clara Ballet,
Sara Sweet Rabidoux, Tobi Tobias, Dick Turner, Lucy Venable, Hannah
Wiley and Ed Winer.
To learn how you can
contribute and find out about free advertising premiums available
for contributors, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read the latest
news about our efforts to restore and preserve Taglioni's memory,
please click here.
Researching with Monnier
Despite the unlimited
possibilities of pointe -- as Alonzo King once told me, ballet is
just a mathematical system or language -- choreographers continue
to search for ideas from other influences. I'd never seen Mathilde
Monnier's work until this week, but judging from the PR material,
Monnier likes to pose herself a problem or a question and then set
about to explore solutions. Her topics vary. Judging from the results
in "Publique," seen Tuesday in its Paris premiere at the Theatre
de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt in a co-presentation with the Festival
d'Automne, this avenue -- roving from topic to topic -- has its
Working to the anthemic
yet highly personal music of rocker P.J. Harvey -- it plays to stadiums
as well as your gut -- Monnier set about to create a sort of party
between good friends. Anger, angst, meditation and even a dose of
solipsism on the dance floor. Also joy; my dancer companion said
she liked "Publique" because it made her happy, and I don't make
light of this result in the milieu of an often ponderous French
dance scene. (She also observed that the opening tableau, in which
the eight pedestrian dance hall-clothed dancers sort of fidgeted
about the space, reminded her of her school-days rumpus room, where
trouble-makers were sent.) And yet, as always in dance concerts
that would replicate, reflect, or riff on dance clubs, my question
is: Have you taken us further? Have you used your educated moving
body to help us understand the 'naive' moving body? Or, conversely,
have you used the naive moving body -- the public, dance club dancer
-- to help us understand something new about the art? Monnier teased
it, and us.
The money moment or
segment came when, to a particularly percussive anthem, seven of
the dancers suddenly lined up in, well, almost a chorus line, facing
us and moving in more or less syncopation, on an air drumming motif.
Suddenly a dancer in a loose red shirt more or less charged into
their midst, and you knew she was going to up the ante. As her colleagues
one by one disappeared over or behind an upstage ramp extending
the length of the stage, she surrendered to a thrashing trance.
At first, this was simply channeled dance hall energy. But then
one, then two of the three red-headed dancers popped up behind the
ridge of the ramp, their backs to us, barely moving -- and suddenly
we had what I'd call counterpoint.
At another passage,
a solitary red-haired (wigged, I think) petite dancer, moving slowly,
absent-mindedly, was joined and, briefly, echoed by her double.
But Monnier aborted the idea before it could really go anywhere.
More often, and for
too long -- especially at the beginning -- the choreography (some
of it seemingly improvised by the dancers) before us reminded me
of "modern dancer on the dance floor" -- when you're at a club and
there's one woman roving around oblivious to both others and the
If this was an opening
in a direction Monnier planned to seriously pursue beyond one piece,
I'd applaud it and look forward to more. Unfortunately, I've the
feeling that "Publique" is just another passing "recherche."
Social Dances from Anna Halprin
At least Mathilde Monnier finds her fields of choreographic dreaming
on the body. If there's one thing that exasperated me about much
art-creating in my hometown of San Francisco, it's its social genesis.
Anna Halprin's 2000 "Intensive Care," created in collaboration with
the performers and seen September 25 at the Centre Pompidou in a
co-presentation with the Festival d'Automne, is a fitting if not
The play, I mean dance,
opens with four roller chair-bound figures sheathed in white. They
wreathe about a while before revealing themselves as an older woman,
an older man, a very young woman and a 40ish man. Now they wheel
about the room. Now each finds solace in a partner. Now they are
suddenly backed by an unseen force, against the upstage wall, where
they cower with fright until black-garbed yet assuring figures gently
take them one by one from their chairs and into an orange if not
white light. In other words, Arlene Croce's worse nightmare.
It wasn't as bad in
the viewing as the telling, but, therapeutically transporting as
this piece may be for -- well, for all of us, in our quest not to
fear the reaper, baby -- artistically there was little transcendent
about it, with the exception of the personal and riveting performance
of the choreographer, an American institution dancing into her ninth
decade of life and clearly delighted to be making her long-overdue
More interesting artistically
and archivally were excerpts from the 1965 "Parades and Changes,"
whose nudity famously excited the New York City District Attorney's
office into issuing a summons when it played Hunter College in 1967.
The celebrated "indecent" segment was here a pristinely recreated
curio, in which the performers repeatedly removed and replaced their
formal suits. Luminously lit by Jim Cave, it was a striking essay
on the simple beauty of the body as a work of art. Like the playful
segment in which the naked dancers tumble while crumbling a mass
of butcher-paper, a fitting subject for a performance presented
in a museum.
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