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Flash Review Journal, 4-27: Boys & Girls Together
Larbi & Crew Fart Around; Valli & Mudgal Parry

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- Sometimes I wish I were John Rockwell. Then whenever I found myself tongue-tied after a dance concert, I could resort to the Rockwell rule for critiquing dance from Europe: "It's all so intellectual." Occasionally amplified by, "...with the usual European angst." Unfortunately, it ain't that simple. (Rockwell doesn't use 'ain't' but he's an 'ain't' kind of critic.) Another advantage is that I could speak with G-d-like authority even when I don't know ca-ca about the artists involved, be sure of my opinions even when everyone else in the audience disagrees with me. No, instead, I fear all that is left for me is to do my feeble part in trying to staunch the gangrene Rockwell and his New York Times colleague Gia Kourlas and the headless Gray Lady who anointed them have instituted in my metier, by humbling myself before the artists without humbling my opinion, and even by allowing that although I'd never fit into Rockwell's stuffed shirt, I may be getting jaded. How else to explain why two recent shows here, each teaming universally and justifiably admired super-stars -- Indian masters Madhavi Mudgal and Alarmel Valli at the Theatre aux Abbesses, European hot-shots Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola, Luc Dunberry, and Damien Jalet at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt -- left me, if not exactly disappointed, uninspired?

In the case of the boys' night out, seen Tuesday and continuing through Saturday (although there are no more tickets), if the deficit wasn't this critic's in understanding, it may have been the usual one that pops up in dance from Belgium, the principal work place of two of the choreographer-dancers involved, Larbi and Jalet: No editor. If there was little movement fat to trim in "D'avant," which apparently has been touring the world since its initial triumph here four years ago, there was also not a lot of dramatic coherence. I can cut the boys some slack by not challenging their cheekyness in singing the entire medieval music chanting score themselves -- de Garaio Esnaola, a Sasha Waltz stalwart, chants competently, Larbi poignantly -- but, aesthetically speaking, from where exactly, besides the chance at an easy laugh, does the "Total Eclipse of the Heart" Supremes-Temptations-Pips interlude come? Things get really out of hand with a shibboleth-busting demonstration cum trash fight, as Larbi hits one of his pals with a peace sign, someone else cuts the head off a baby doll, someone stabs his pregnant self; a "NON" sign is hoisted, etcetera, etcetera.

I hate to keep harping on this, but the retardation caused by the French or at least Parisian boycott of any American dance from the last 25 years also rears its ugly limbs, as Jalet and Dunberry perform a suit-exchanging duet -- one gets in the other's pants, producing images of disembodied limbs, giants, etc. -- that could have been lifted straight from Pilobolus, which has constructed a whole dance on this premise. (Executed with more efficiency and aplomb, and better timing, I might add.)

It all degenerates at the end, when de Garaio Esnaola is buried under bricks, a funeral fertilized by Dunberry taking an eternal piss. I guess we're supposed to think it's arting not farting around because Jalet sits down for a mournful keen after dipping his feet and washing his hands in Dunberry's never-ending pee-pee, but I was left dry.

I do want to add a qualification though: Besides living here for five years and watching dance from this base since fall 2000, last summer's revolt of the spectators shows that my taste is not necessarily out-of-line with the European dance-goer's, just the nihilistic-affirming one of the presenting elite, and the dance-hating tendency of many young French choreographers. (I exclude Theatre de la Ville's brave Gerard Violette, whose curating, notwithstanding his concurrence with the aforementioned American ban, is more catholic.) So it's not often that, where I disagree with the audience, I'd attribute the difference to my not getting the European sensibility. This time, though, I'm not so sure that, even if the individual points raised here are supported, I may not have missed a bigger -- or underlying -- picture.

If I feel qualified pushing an opinion on boy-play, I'm not so confident in your trusting my take on the Alarmel Valli-Madhavi Mudgal world series of Indian dance, a world tour which disembarked at the Theatre de la Ville's Abbesses space in Montmartre earlier this month. Valli's renowned as a master of bharata natyam, from the southwest of India; Mudgal in Odissi. From as near as I can gather -- from this show and one previous -- Mudgal's form concentrates in the gestural. Bharata natyam has its gestures, but the grand lines are planes.

"Samanvaya," in which Mudgal and Valli were joined by a sterling 11-person orchestra, promised a meeting of forms. I didn't see it. Or rather, I saw the meeting but no melanging. In the solos, Valli enthralled me with her clean precision and direct connection with us; Mudgal with more of an internal life, suggesting a world to which her dance was opening her soul. The duets were more parries than partnerings, in my view, in which the two danced around, next to, or in alternance with each other, Mudgal sometimes seeming intimidated by the glitter-splattered Valli. If there emanated a genuine respect between the artists that was admirable, the genus here seemed rather one of marketing than an evident artistic impetus, and even that -- the artistic product -- was marred by a finale in which the music was recorded, a disappointment in a form where dialogue between musicians and dancers is so central.


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