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Review Journal, 5-23: 1-2-3 Contact
Holbling Jams; Kronos Cancels Monk, Fetes Riley
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider
PARIS -- I suppose if
you're an amateur who likes to dance and touch, contact improvisation
jams can be physically fruitful, albeit aesthetically rambling.
Imported into a 50+ minute dance spectacle, largely performed without
music (unless you count the voices droning on over hand-held cassette
players), the aesthetic of the contact improv jam proves less than
engaging, at least for the spectator. And yet it's from this largely
amateur milieu that Saskia Holbling seems to have found the muse
for much if not all of the duet choreography in her new "Your Body
is the Shoreline," seen Friday at MC93 in the Paris suburb of Bobigny,
as part of the Rencontres Choregraphiques Internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis.
Watching the interesting
grappling of Moravia Naranjo and Michikazu Matsune, she a dreadlocked
black woman, he a lanky long-haired Japanese man (I offer their
races to color the scene, not to judge them by their colors), my
first feeling is of my own critical inadequacy. I am not good at
physical description of dance, preferring to find an over-riding
or even undercurrent theme. I half-heartedly scribble: Tall Japanese
guy places dreadlocked black woman in headlock. Then the dancer
companion sitting next to me says something and I realize with relief
that the deficit is not in me, it's in the dance, which has a random,
aimless, feel. If the dancing talent involved here, particularly
Matsune and the choreographer, produces occasional intriguing combinations,
the work lacks any kind of throughline, unless you count those tape
recorders. Matsune dives head first into one of the silver beanbags
flanking the stage, but no, this gag too goes nowhere.
My dancer companion
is annoyed at how the non-performing dancers would simply stand
or sit around on the peripheries of the stage (rather than exiting)
between their bits. (I have become used to this custom here in Europe;
my companion is newly-arrived from the States.) If Saskia Holbling's
body is the shoreline, the rest of us are left stranded at sea.
Of course creating abstract art doesn't let you off the hook for
having a throughline, and the most effective abstract artists are
able to convey a theme even if we can't exactly articulate what
it is afterwards.
On Thursday, I found
myself in the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt for a one-night
stand by the Kronos Quartet, for which I as a dance critic had scored
tickets on the premise that the group would be presenting a new
work created for it by Meredith Monk. "Due to internal reasons,"
an announcer informed us just before the ensemble took the stage,
"the Kronos Quartet will not be performing 'Stringsongs' by Meredith
Monk, but instead a piece by Steve Reich." After throwing up my
pen and announcing to my friend that Monk was the reason I was there,
I settled back to enjoy another virtuoso performance by this thirty-something
yet perennially young musical caravan, which I've covered extensively
for the past 15 years.
The centerpiece of the
program was the French premiere of Terry Riley's "The Cusp of Magic,"
commissioned by Kronos to celebrate the composer's 70th birthday.
I'm not an expert on this composer, but my artist companion, a Riley
devotee, said the new piece was more abstract than is typical for
him. And yet, joined by the pipa master Wu Man, Kronos delivered
a composition with a clear sense of purpose, wide-ranging as the
musical implements and components may have been. Man, regally presiding
from an upstage center perch over Kronos members David Harrington,
John Sherba, Hank Dutt, and Jennifer Culp, played that pipa like
Chet Atkins at the guitar, underlying the work with a 'hoe-down'
flavor, amplified at one point by a speeded up recording of the
lyric "I wanna be a cowboy, and you can be my cowgirl." As usual,
Harrington got to jam on the drums, in a line that echoed Native
American rhythms, and on the toys, which included those boxes that
emit barnyard sounds when you shake them. Jingle bells were also
called into service.
Of course, Kronos does
not confine its explorations to the West -- its "Pieces of Africa"
was the first album to make both the classical and world music charts
-- and this concert was no exception. The strings created a perfect
drone for Rahman Asadollahi's "Mugam Beyati Shiraz" -- this arrangement
being the first time the Iranian composer's work has been played
on Western instruments, Harrington explained. And the quartet amplified
and gave an almost symphonic texture to three selections from the
Indian film composer Rahul Dev Burman, joined by recordings of trains
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