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More Flash Reviews
Review, 2-15: Organ Failure
'Bharata/Bach' on the Butte a Bust
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider
PARIS -- Today there's
more travaux on Paradis, dance insider, Paradis no e in French
being the street where I live and travaux in French being work,
that being what makes Paris's rue de Paradis hands-down more noisy
than New York's W. 8th Street, where I lived for six years 'round
the way from the ol' Joffrey/Arpino digs and next door to Electric
Lady. Oh that Jimi were here to drown out the drilling! In lieu
of that, I decided to try to kiss the sky Monday, hiking through
the terrain of my latest Maigret adventure to the Butte Montmartre,
or just about, to catch the Maria-Kiran/Claudio Brizi show, "Bharata/Bach,"
at the Theatre de la Ville's Theatre aux Abbesses. Even if I weren't
a critic, simply growing up in a musical household (merci belle-mere!)
would have left me aggravated at the way Bach was butchered by Brizi
and his invention, which is supposed to be a harpsichord-organ hybrid
but which often sounds like a Casio, as well as by Brizi's failed
attempts to hum-a-long like Glenn (Gould); and even though I'm no
expert on the Indian form of Bharata natyam, I've seen enough dance
to expect more precision than Maria-Kiran was able to achieve. As
for any kind of fusion, that was never in sight.
After the first few
minutes of the spectacle, I thought that perhaps I was finally seeing
the elusive 'noble failure.' A wise and seasoned dance observer
-- perhaps it was Richard Philp, my editor at Dance Magazine --
once advised me that no one ever goes on stage intending to fail,
something we as critics should remember before wielding our barbed
and poisonous pens. I agree that we should almost treat our gift
as a registered and potentially lethal weapon, employing it only
when absolutely necessary for the defense of the art (and the audience).
That bar is reached for me when the artist presents something that
doesn't just merely fail, but that offends standards of quality;
that abuses the audience; or that is lazy. I think we also need
to remember that though we're seeing the show for free, others are
paying for the privilege, and we are their advocates.
Out of the chute, "Bharata/Bach,"
conceived by Milena Salvini, supposedly a doyen of Indian dance
here, with the dance choreographed by Vidya, did not seem to meet
the criteria for a critical screed. It was positive; in a time of
warring ideologies -- or more precisely, ideologies used to justify
war -- it posited a meeting place between the Christian liturgy
celebrated by Bach and the Hindu enunciated by Bharata natyam.
Which detail pushed
me over the edge into rant-land? For some reason, the Indian-style
tunics over Western slacks and shoes worn by the musicians -- Brizi
and violinist Gianfranco Borrelli -- loom large. It's cheap. It's
tacky. It's more an insult than a sign of respect. It's going native
without taking your shoes off. Borrelli seemed to be going for a
sort of David Harrington effect, but a superficial one, neither
his presentation nor his playing (the guy even tried to pluck) reaching
the level of the Kronos Quartet first violinist and leader. As for
Brizi, his invention, the "claviorganum" might seem like a clever
idea, putting both the organ and harpsichord at the player's (and
the composer's) disposal, but in the execution, when the two were
played together one often sounded out of tune. And the higher registers
of the organ really did sound like my Casio electronic keyboard.
It was ennerving to listen to favorites like the Cantata BWV 140
being rendered in such a chopstick fashion.
According to the program
notes, the securing of Brizi for the musical half of her concept
was, er, fortuitous; Salvini encountered him accidentally on a trip
to Italy. But every curio does not a concert make; I believe she
did herself and the audience a disservice by not doing more research.
As for the dancer, except
perhaps for her splayed-finger friezes, Maria-Kiran's edges were
mostly fuzzy. To be fair, no doubt the clarity of her legs was sabotaged
by another bizarre costume choice (in the program, no one takes
the credit. Hmmm.) -- sleeves joined by an expansive, trilly, accordion-like
gown fragment. But really, no dancer in so fine a form should land
with a galumph; and could she not have come up with more facial
expressions than bemused surprised and variations on delight? And
where was the attempt to bridge -- to really delve, in her own medium,
into this other medium? I didn't see it. To be truthful, it was
substandard; I felt like I was watching an ill-coached recent college
graduate with little professional performing experience. The repertory
she was given, as well as the textures with which she rendered it,
were thin. Oh give me the carefully considered cacophony of Jimi!