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Review Journal, 12-2: Bad Boys & Supergirls
Buffard goes Bad; Mantero Vulnerable; Spooky Sputters
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider
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PARIS -- It's too bad
that Alain Buffard and the rest of the all-star cast for "Mauvais
Genre" (Bad Type) didn't arrive at the Centre Pompidou about six
hours before Buffard's new show bowed there last night. They could
have caught, in the cadre "Cinema for Infants," a screening of Francois
Truffaut's 1958 "The 400 Blows," a masterpiece of a portrait of
a pre-teen bad type (Jean Pierre Leaud) with the heart of an angel.
Truffaut could teach Buffard something about precision and making
choices; "Mauvais Genre" unravelled as unsupervised child's play
enacted embarrassingly by adults. This is the kind of compositionally
sloppy, indulgent, 'insider' dance experience you should never take
an initiate to. Mauvais Danse Contemporaine with a capital M.
Disregard for the spectator
began with Christophe Poux's lighting scheme, which relied entirely
on glaring fluorescent bulbs: in the beginning in sets of three
or four suspended cylinders which lit up before the faces of each
of a parade of 18 naked dancers (most of them members of France's
choreographic illuminati) who situated themselves upstage, so that
one had no choice but to regard the lower extremities of the performers.
Well, there was one other choice: to close the eyes, which I did
on occasion; critics not receiving hazard pay, my commitment stops
short of physical pain such as that to which this lighting subjected
viewers. When I opened my eyes, here's some of what I saw:
First I should tell
you the line-up, most of whom are considered leaders of various
French scenes ranging from the eighties to the present: Jerome Andrieu,
Trisha Bauman, Regine Chopinot, Matthieu Doze, Hela Fattoumi, Simon
Hecquet, Christophe Ives, Anne Laurent, Vera Mantero (Portuguese,
but a fixture here in recent years), Julie Nioche, Rachid Ouramdane,
Pascale Paoli, Mickael Phelippeau, Cecile Proust, Laurence Rondoni,
Mark Tompkins (American, ditto), Tomeo Verges and the choreographer,
who studied with Alwin Nikolais here and went on to dance for Daniel
Larrieu and Philippe Decoufle, among others.
"Mauvais Genre," which
continues at the Pompidou through Saturday, is a sequel to the solo
"Good Boy," and at first it seemed as if the concept here was for
each of the 18 performers to render an identical solo, with their
unique inflections. In the contemporary chorus line that opened
the evening, once everyone was in place, facing us, they began to
turn in a sort of staccato canon. Then each reached, at different
times, into black plastic garbage bags before them to find white
men's underwear, which they donned with different timing, in multiples
-- achieving a sort of diaper effect.
Eventually, also one
by one and carrying their own individual fluorescent flashlights
to illuminate them individually, the performers spread out across
the stage and executed various ground maneuvers, initially in isolation:
kneeling on all fours; awkwardly projecting one leg in the air,
sort of like a dog urinating while balanced on its side; and simply
collapsing. The trouble really started when they began grouping;
some interesting tableaus resulted, but the body-clapping percussion
has been done before and the exploratory mouth-farting on each other's
various limbs and joints was just silly. This was the point where
I said to myself, "Thank Goddess I didn't pick this one to invite
my non-dance friend to. She's open to new experiences, and I don't
want to abuse that by taking her to a mauvais experience.
the news: Vera Mantero in Alain Buffard's "Mauvais Genre." Photo
by Marc Domage, courtesy Centre Pompidou. Image copyright Alain
Buffard & Marc Domage.
One of the evening's
redeeming moments came at the conclusion, when, swaddled some of
them waist, breast, and head with more pairs of white underwear,
the ensemble minus two float in all their god- and goddess-ness
downstage facing us, to the tune of "New York, New York" played
by an orchestra of car horns. This segues to the actual song. As
the white-underwear clad ensemble descends the stage and exits through
the right aisle of the audience, the singers are revealed as Tompkins
and Mantero, clad in form-fitting skirts evidently composed of black
underwear, there torsos still bare. Both wielding microphones, he
underplays as she vamps. They're a hit and could take it on the
road; whether Alain Buffard's "Mauvais Genre" would make it anywhere
where the audience didn't know the performers is doubtful.
I've known Mantero's work since she presented a fascinating Kitchen
solo which terminated when a suspended pointe shoe-shaped candle
had melted down and dropped off its wire to the ground. Seen last
fall at the Theatre de la Bastille, her 1999 "Olympia," which probed
the model who was the subject of Edouard Manet's painting of the
same name, confirmed my initial impression of her genius. In my
review of that piece, I noted that Mantero "eventually
takes the famous position, freezes in it for a few seconds, and
then slowly becomes hyper-aware of her right arm, dangling listlessly
over the pillow. Still maintaining her eye contact with the spectator,
she fidgets it into various other positions, but can't get settled.
She sidles her legs and other hand around into different arrangements.
She slides off the bed. She sits on its edge, back slumped, hands
folded between her open legs like a TV zombie. (The position is
not very sexy, but then I'm not sure the one captured by Manet was
meant to be either.) Finally she gets the idea to remove the flower
and toss her frizzy auburn hair out. She rises and walks tentatively,
jerkily around the room. Then she returns to the bed and perches
stretched out along the top before -- and we know what's coming
here -- falling and disappearing behind it."
Like Sean Curran, Doug
Elkins, and Ben Munisteri -- you probably have your own favorite
-- Mantero is that choreographer-performer you can watch forever
do just about anything. From her skin emanates her working mind.
Her expression is neutralized without being impassive, giving the
impression that her body has taken control and she has no choice
but to follow its instincts. Were I to have spent the entire time
focusing exclusively on the choreographer-performer, I might have
found her 2002 piece for Vera Mantero & Guests (the actual title
is difficult to transcribe), seen Friday at the Pompidou, compelling.
Initially, I was hopeful.
The stage was ringed
on three sides with walls made of what looked like up-ended translucent
dark green air mattresses. One expected that much bouncing off the
walls and hilarity would ensue; beyond a few forays, it didn't,
leaving one to wonder what exactly was the intent of Nadia Lauro's
set, beyond providing a unique and colorful frame and unique entrance
points for the performers, who regularly disappeared or appeared
from the cornices.
Each had his or her
own business -- and it was at least highly and individually kinetic.
The aspect was of a troupe of Supermen/women who, perhaps, have
been disabled by Kryptonite (it's green too) surroundings and are
struggling to find their legs again. This fits Mantero's typical
mode; a doll come to life and moving jerkily, somewhat tentatively.
When a short, bearded, older man zoomed onstage pushing an easy
chair ahead of him and plopped down to watch the spectacle, the
spectacle became more droll; another man leaned diagonally on the
chair-back, supporting himself on it. The tiny man looked behind
him, irked, and became even more annoyed when the other threw his
cape over him. Later, they were joined by a woman who leaned on
the chair's arm, rocking, before collapsing backwards on the man's
lap. She sort of humped (or thumped, if you prefer) him with her
butt, repeatedly falling backwards off the chair arm onto his groin
before the other man threw the cape over them both and things calmed
This and other hijinks
between two performers or, in two extended segments, with the tiny
man directing the others or racing Tasmanian-devil like across the
stage while they quietly watched, were often interesting; but I
can't help thinking they would have been more interesting if all
the performers had been on Mantero's level. I get the feeling that
she sought artistic collaborators -- the cast is credited as co-creators
-- when she might have been better served by looking for dancers
whose training and talent matched her own. (The other two woman
were decent here; two of the three men weak.) She could also reign
in her co-creators in the service of attaining a bit more thematic
Speaking of costumed characters, I celebrated Thanksgiving by catching
DJ Spooky's "Rebirth of a Nation," which gives D.W. Griffith's 1915
"Birth of a Nation" a visual remix and a master DJ's new sound mix,
in a one-night stand at the Theatre du Chatelet. This is the storied
house where Michel Fokine's "Petrouchka" and many other Ballets
Russes productions had their premieres a century or so ago, and
being a part-time DJ myself, I was looking forward to drawing parallels.
Nominally a dance critic, I'd scored the press tickets with the
Festival d'Automne, which co-presented Spooky as well as Buffard,
on the grounds that selections from Bill T. Jones's "Last Summer
at Uncle Tom's Cabin / The Promised Land" were also advertised as
being in the mix.
Spooky was aware that
he was standing on hallowed ground. In an introduction -- danger
Will Robbins, the DJ is speaking! -- he proudly shared that this
was the first time a DJ had performed in this opera house. He also
shared that he wasn't one of the Americans who voted for "that idiot
Bush," a sort of obligatory apologia which, well-intended as it
is, I and other ex-pats are over because it implies that the French
can't distinguish. (Although I admit the "I voted for Kerry" note
and accompanying sad face is still posted on my door.)
visually stunning, and musically marvelous, as a work of art "Rebirth"
falls flat because it's not clear that, besides the music track,
Spooky has created something new. He insists in a program note that
he's just raising questions, but whatever comment on the original
film or questions arising from it as juxtaposed to current circumstances
may lurk in Spooky's mind are not clearly enunciated in this spectacle,
beyond a certain menace layered under the film by the new and killer
soundtrack. Images from the Jones work interspersed or mixed with
the Griffith film are over-manipulated; if I wasn't looking for
them, I might not have noticed them, at least not enough to be able
to distinguish the work of the choreographer and the dancers.
In a dance club, "Rebirth
of a Nation" might have stunned with the prowess of the mixer. In
an opera house, it reminds us that a DJ is not a creator of art
but a tasteful and creative selector of others' art. (And I say
that with native respect for DJ science.) Most of the emotional
response is to the original film. One finds oneself simply recoiling
at Griffith's politics, really not much of an accomplishment for
Miller considering the film's overt racism.
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