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Flash Review Journal, 5-23: 1-2-3 Contact
Holbling Jams; Kronos Cancels Monk, Fetes Riley

By Paul Ben-Itzak
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 and elephants.

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