to you by
New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women
and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a
list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always performance at its best.
More Flash Reviews
Review Journal, 11-16: What Happened to Beauty?
Stewart Raves as Greenfield Shoots; Ea Sola Remembers, Unmemorably;
Violette Guards Lido's Heritage
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider
PARIS -- I am looking
right now at a close-up photo of a perspiring young man, a thick
vein standing out on his forehead, his eyes closed, his uniform-like
shirt open. It is May 1948, and he's just finished a performance
of Leonide Massine's "Suite de Danses du Beau Danube." The man is
Roland Petit, who some 61 years ago presented his first choreography
at the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt, now the Theatre de la Ville and
where, last night, I viewed a spectacle that was full of soaring
panting bodies, often sexily adorned in various black lingerie,
but strangely devoid of the beauty that -- whether from sorrow or
joy -- moves. Unique bodies, objectively speaking, sported these
performers of the Australian Dance Theatre, and definitely mobile,
but as automatons, almost as if the humans within could not find
a shred of natural harmony in the '80s techno score.
while the Petit image appears in a breathtaking collection of photos
by Serge Lido I scored yesterday for 10 Euros, chronicling some
of the dancers, choreographers, and teachers who made the Paris
scene between 1947 and 1949, photos that invariably seem to come
from deep within the earth (or the souls of the artists), Garry
Stewart's emotionally vapid "Held" was shot live last night by Lois
Greenfield, whose tableaus often seem to come out of nowhere --
the dancers floating in a void.
Dance Theatre. Photo by Lois Greenfield, copyright Lois Greenfield,
and courtesy Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt.
before we get to "Held," the first thing I need to tell you -- as
for some reason they don't at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt,
at least not that I could see -- is that if you're subject to epileptic
fits or migraines, don't even go there. For at least one segment
of this spectacle, created in 2004 and already seen in Australia,
Alaska, and New York, Greenfield and Stewart utilize a strobe light,
or at least its close cousin.
For the rest of us,
the hazard in this show comes from Greenfield's source material.
Unlike Lido, she doesn't have dancers and choreographers like Jean
Babilee, Carmen Amaya, Katherine Dunham, (a VERY young) Leslie Caron,
(ditto) Renee Jeanmaire, Leonide Massine, Jose Torres, Sujata, Indra
Kamadjojo, Tamara Toumanova, Marjorie Tallchief, Yvette Chauvire,
Balanchine, Maria Tallchief, Michel Renault, Janine Charrat, Moira
Shearer, Margot Fonteyne, Salvador Vargas, Rosario and Antonio,
Rosella Hightower, George Skibine, David Lichine, and Olga Preobrajenska
as source material. (I'm looking now at another photograph of Toumanova,
glamorous as usual in fur, hugging and kissing her teacher Preobrajenska
on the cheek, as the two face Lido's camera directly.)
That's an imposing list,
and of course it would be unfair to expect any contemporary dancers
to completely match their standard -- particularly when their author
doesn't give them much to work with. But a choreographer who works
from the heart, with some kernel of an emotional search and not
just an acrobatic one, would at least allow them to reach for it.
A mate from Australia who's familiar with both Stewart and the Australian
Dance Theatre company tells me these dancers "are extremely grounded,
strong, musical, powerful." Well, fine, but is that all there is?
Lido's book, the third in a series he would produce -- with some
images shot in the studio, some in performance, some in the performers'
homes, some against breathtaking backgrounds like the Bois de Boulogne
or the Eiffel Tower -- is called "Masques," but the visages and
poses within are full of feeling. Stewart's work of last night,
by contrast, is called "Held" but, aside from the admitted thrill
of watching Greenfield shoot in real time, the images projected
seconds later on two large screens ("It's terrifying," she told
me afterwards), there's nothing here to hold my attention.
One of Stewart's most
noted recent works is called, more appropriately, "The Age ofUnbeauty,"
I'm told. Fine -- I accept we're in an age of many unbeautiful things.
I also accept that much of dance (not just ballet) must have become
more presentational than truly beautiful by 1960, so that there
was a real need for Judson (one of the topics of Jill Johnston's
Letter of today) to tear
it down. But I think -- I *think* -- Judson at least offered an
alternative, for want of a better term an intellectual rigor. Or,
at least, in their work those choreographers, and their cohorts
like John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg, were in pursuit of something,
replacing the beauty standard with an intellectual standard. It's
possible that Stewart has a legitimate search too -- for purely
kinetic ideas. But I don't know that simply relying on his invulnerable
dancers' ability to sideways-backflip themselves and otherwise hurl
themselves onto the floor -- the kneepad budget for this show must
be startling -- constitutes even an acrobatic idea. And the expressions
on his dancers' faces aren't just neutral -- as I'm given to understand
was the case with Judson -- they are often hostile, confrontational,
emptily defiant (what exactly is being defied?), brutal even. (One
performer wears a sort of executioner's hood.) If even uglyness
is a valid pursuit, here it's not researched, just superficially
I realize that to many
dancegoers -- and dance photographers, most famously Lois Greenfield
-- the sheer site of dancers careening through the air is itself
a kind of beauty. But I'm with Masazumi Chaya, the associate director
of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, who once told me dance
should be not about leaving impressions on the eye, but on the heart.
Ea Sola, whose "Draught
and Rain, Volume 2" was last week's de la Ville spectacle, actually
has something to say but, ironically, the dancemaker does not have
Stewart's kinetic chops. "Draught and Rain, Volume 2" (that's a
loose translation) is earnest. It's heartfelt. It's not just an
evocation of darkness -- the ravaged country the choreographer found
when she returned to Vietnam after the war -- but an attempt to
describe how war indelibly etches its traces on a people, both collectively
and individually. Or, as Ea Sola put it in Jean-Marc Adolphe's program
notes to the work's performance by the Opera Ballet of Vietnam,
seen November 8, "to re-open the theme of the memory of the war,"
and "to dance to disobey war." Unfortunately, the tools at her disposal
remind me of the limits of some of the modern dance we saw emerging
from China and other previously cloistered countries in the 1990s.
There are a lot of seizures and tics, some aggressive dancing, men
hauling limp women around, lots of rushing down to the lip of the
stage, adorned with portraits of (I presume) the lost, and staring
nakedly at the audience. At one point, everyone even takes turns
firing their finger-guns at one man, who finally does the same to
himself and collapses. There are also effects whose meaning isn't
entirely clear to me; while the men are colorfully adorned, some
bare-chested, their faces fully revealed, the five women are all
dressed in black blouses and slacks, their long black hair combed
down in front of their faces to obscure them for most of the show.
According to the program
notes, when she returned to her country in 1989 Ea Sola was moved
to do something to put it back on the international scene. It's
a noble idea -- as was the impetus for "Draught and Rain, Volume
2" -- but I think before she does that, she perhaps needs a little
more exposure herself to the choreographic tools the international
dance community can offer her to help her better realize her vision.
The Last Hold-out
Notwithstanding my disappointment
with these two shows, a word needs to be said in praise of Gerard
Violette, the director of the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt.
I referenced above Serge Lido's portrait of three years of the Paris
dance scene, 1947-1949. I won't pretend that looking at these photographs
doesn't make me think I was born at the wrong time. (Of course,
if I was here then I wouldn't have had the means to tell you about
those performances in close to real time!) The evident catholicity
of programming is astounding. Imagine an era when one could view,
in one city, Balanchine or Massine in full form or an emerging Roland
Petit, on any of several companies visiting or resident, interpreted
by such a galaxy of stars, kept on target no doubt by refresher
courses with someone like Preobrajenska; Carmen Amaya AND Salvador
Vargas AND Rosario and Antonio; and Katherine Dunham's troupe with
DUNHAM DANCING, just to name a few. If Violette doesn't have that
range and degree of worldwide talent available to him as he programs
each season, he is at least *trying* to give his audience a diverse
palette, featuring mostly companies that -- whether successful or
not -- still understand that dance concerts should involve dancing.
In a French scene dominated by dance presenters who seem to have
tired of dance, Violette may be the last hold-out. On a global scale,
he may well be the most courageous presenter around. (We're not
talking rentals here.) I hope he's eating his Wheaties.