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Flash Review, 2-23: So very far to go
Larbi looks for the horizon

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider

Photo copyright GTG/Mario del Curto

PARIS -- I wonder. When your country is defending its values by shoving tubes up the noses and into the stomachs of prisoners it seems to think are guilty until they are never given a chance to prove they are innocent, and when your state is arguing about the most humane way to kill someone on your behalf, can dance -- can art -- really make a difference? Does it even matter? And for all the sincere artists who want to address these dire times and that diablo playing havoc with our values and wreaking chaos on the world, does any of them really have the perception and the talent to grapple with it in way that will reach people? Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is trying. Boy, is he trying. In his 2003 "Foi," an eye-patched woman in red white and blue boxing shorts lashed out at everyone, while a transvestite church lady began by preaching moral values and ended by collapsing into sobs. I resisted the stereotype of a post-9/11 America, but by last fall, when Larbi and Akram Khan were depicting two cousins afraid to help a woman take her dead husband off a train because they might be implicated -- even as they realized the implications of their abstention -- I wasn't accusing Larbi of over-simplifying any more.

In "Loin" (Far), which premiered Wednesday at the Theatre National de Chaillot on the Ballet du Grand Theatre de Geneve, hope is a fragile wisp balanced on the precise feet of an upside-down female dancer in a short kimono, as she arrests her windmilling legs an instant in the air, knees akimbo, before tumbling down over the back of her male partner. (Yanni Yin, fine throughout the evening, here paired with the eloquent Gregory Deltenre.) This duet is painful -- not because of the rigorous, tumble-full choreography, but because it is so fleeting; we are hardly surprised when the pair comes to a rest, standing, connected only by their heads, their panting audible to the audience, before collapsing as the corps rushes on to complain, albeit humorously, about the travails of touring in China. We laugh as in unison they recite a colloquialism-studded history of the scorpion-dogged trip, but we stop laughing when, later, a woman tries to recount her story, in Portuguese perhaps, and the crowd dissipates, alienated and disinterested.

At first I saw a weakness in the repeated motif of performers tumbling butt in air -- a more rubbery version of David Dorfman's patented upside-down V formation -- simply because it's Larbi's favorite movement when working on himself and I'd like to see him apply his prodigious mind to alternatives. But now I can imagine that this is what it's like when you're a bicultural, black and white creator trying to find a way in, around, and maybe even out of the troubles. Your foothold on earth feels tenuous.

Ballet du Grand Theatre du Geneve in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's "Loin." Photo copyright GTG/Mario del Curto, and courtesy Ballet du Grand Theatre de Geneve.

In the final sequence, a man lugs around two male partners, then eventually the whole 21-person ensemble, before gently coaxing them into a pile which he mounts. As one of the 'rocks' trembles in its arms, we know his support too is tenuous as he stands with a foothold likewise tentative, only perhaps a moment to try to see into a horizon, any horizon, before he falls back to our tortured earth.

"Loin" continues through Saturday, on a program which also includes another airy and forgettable New Age ballet from Saburo Teshigawara and yet another butchery of Bach, this time from the messy contemporary choreographer Andonis Foniadakis. My advice: skip out at the pause before Foniadakis and gird up for the after-intermission Larbi.

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