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Flash Review, 1-11: And Chagall Wept
The Seduction of Trisha Brown

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- Gaze up at the interior of the cupola of the Palais Garnier, one of the homes of the Paris Opera and Ballet, and you'll behold a spectacle as marvelous (if not more so, these dry days) as any show that unrolls before you on the stage: A panoramic mural on which Marc Chagall has depicted all the arts featured there, and even thrown in the Eiffel Tower -- also an artistic pinnacle, after all -- for good measure. Chagall descended from the ceiling from time to time to design for the stage, notably Ballet Theatre's "Aleko" and "The Firebird." In fact, back in the day -- so the invaluable, lavishly illustrated "Dictionaire du Ballet Moderne" (Paris, Fernand Hazan, 1957) reminds us -- choreographers frequently called on their equals in the visual arts to set the stage. Buffet, Derain, Picasso, Dali, Fini, Clave, Gontcharova, Benois, Bakst, Laurencin, Leger, Berard, Gris and others all gave their talents to dance and other performing arts.

How the Jean Cocteau did we get from this accomplished pantheon of not just artists, but artistic legends, to the non-artist computer dweebs Shelly Eshkar and Paul Kaiser, whose latest doodling, this time with the assistance of Marc Downie, was on display at the Garnier last night in the Trisha Brown company's performance of Brown's 2005 "How long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume..."?

I can see an argument for pairing Eshkar and Kaiser with Merce Cunningham, as was the case for Merce's 1999 "Biped." Even though it still annoyed me because it partially obscured his eloquent dancers and lyrical choreography, in Merce's mode pairing the live performers with their giant, expanded animated virtual counterparts projected on a transparent scrim in front of them kinda works, because Cunningham dancers, as virtually programmed by Merce, often have the aspect of randomly engineered neutrons whose motor functions are not entirely organic. As well, when he began working with the dweebs, Merce was already one himself, having experimented with Life Forms software-assisted choreography. There is no such symmetry with the more organic Brown and ironically, the red, white, and blue cartoon giants produced by Eshkar/Kaiser here are even less lifelike than those in "Biped," with the result that the dance merely appears scribbled on.

Brown's collaboration took place under the auspices of Arizona State University's Arts, Media, & Engineering program, a joint venture of its arts and engineering schools, and (not to take away from the vervacious dancers) in the cold, lifeless, and incredibly unimaginative (I've seen better on my iTunes visual effects) images Eshkar-Kaiser-Downie produce this time, the engineers appear to have won the day.

Last night's program, presented by the Paris Opera Ballet, also included Brown's "Geometry of Quiet" and "Present Tense."

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