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Flash Journal, 6-5: Everything's not Coming up Rosas
In the Crépuscule* with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker & European Dance

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- Well campers, that decides it: European dance is definitely in a slump. At least as seen in France, the country Balanchine once famously thanked for giving dance to the world. Yes, I've considered whether it's me. But no -- as long as Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui still makes me marvel, Sasha Waltz always intrigues me, and Maguy Marin never disappoints, I don't think this is the case. As further evidence of the slump, Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker -- the queens of European dance -- are clearly treading water, as confirmed by last year's entry from Bausch and this week's Paris premiere of ATDK's "From a night a day," seen Tuesday on her company Rosas at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt, where it continues through Saturday.

It was De Keersmaeker who, seen in her duet "Fase" in 1998, decided me that, contrary to the original plan, the Dance Insider should include reviews. (Click here to read that original review and manifesto, posted today on the DI for the first time.) Initially I didn't think there was a need for it (this was pre-Rockwell/Kourlas). But a choreographer and dancer like De Keersmaeker -- possessed by and channeling the music -- was news. News that went beyond dance and into the land of the marvelous. Touching down here in Europe five years ago, I was thrilled to find the 2001 Paris season starting sensationally with a month-long festival featuring students from De Keersmaeker's Brussels-based PARTS school, as well as a stunning duet between the doyen herself and PARTS faculty member (and Forsythe alum) Elizabeth Corbett. Never mind that the most memorable moment of the festival -- outside the aforementioned duet -- featured a PARTS alumnus be-pissing himself. (And click here to read that review.)

In retrospect, however, that moment should have been an omen; the new generation of European choreographers -- with the exception of Larbi, Carlotta Sagna, and a few others -- would be doing just that to their art for most of the next five years. Dance -- movement -- seemed to bore them, dazzled as they were by words and theater as they engaged them, usually in ways in which they'd already been engaged forty years before by theater artists. Another telling moment whose import I ignored, fascinated as I was at the time: A spectator at a 2003 Raimond Hoghe "lecture-performance," which played on Hoghe's acknowledgement that he was manipulating our interest with the hump in his exposed back, delicately but determinedly making her escape under and between the risers in the concrete basement theater of the Menagerie de la verre. Hoghe, the former dramaturg for Pina Bausch, was, you might say, exploring theater twice removed -- as he took it from Pina Bausch.

Still -- and not withstanding her own temporary flirting with theater in a talky Greek collaboration with her sister from which the audience fled in droves -- one could always count on ATDK to persist with her primary interest in creating movement that addressed music. As for Bausch, though long considered in the cadre 'tanztheatre,' in fact, at least in the nearly ten years I've been watching her, the choreography has always been sound and distinct; she has not abandoned movement -- peel away the talk and setting, and it's still at the core. And yet, the first hint that even the masters were running out of ideas -- or at least had hit a dry spell -- was probably Bausch's 2004 "Nefes," although I didn't realize it at the time. In the talk-heavy spectacles subsuming the dance scene then -- that was the season Emmanuelle Huynh, another dissipated hope of the younger generation, gave a piece in which the first half consisted of no live bodies and two very large speakers, over which a man and a woman incanted in Portuguese -- in this context "Nefez" felt indeed like an oasis, with flowing water and breezing dancers, flying on a lush sonic landscape. And yet in retrospect, I now recall that the work's most original choreography probably did not derive from Bausch, but from its most unique dancer, Shantala Shivalingappa, whose choreography no doubt owed as much to her expertise in the Indian form of kuchipudi as to Bausch's inspiration. (Indeed, as confirmed by Shivalingappa's own solo evening later that year, if there's been an oasis here, it's come from the 'ethnic' dance circle; perhaps Indian and Flamenco artists are less susceptible to trends.) Aside from a tired reprisal by Dominique Mercy of his sad clown persona, last year's Wuppertal contribution -- I can't even remember its name -- was forgettable, as the dancers seemed to be left to do their own thing, evidently picked up from previous choreographers they'd worked with, and most of which we'd seen elsewhere; there was even a stupid riff about every electrical appliance having a Japanese name.

Similarly, last year's contribution from ATDK looked stronger at the time than, in retrospect, it probably was -- owing mostly I think to the presence among the dancing corps of De Keersmaeker herself and of the veteran Cynthia Loemij, one of those performers who is transported by the music and thus transports us by her dancing. And there's the rub: What both Bausch's Wuppertal company and De Keersmaeker's Rosas have in common these days is what they lack: veterans of character, comfortable enough in their choreographer's language that it becomes their skin and they don't seem to be working at it, but expressing it naturally.

Loemij is there again for "From a night a day" -- the current show I'm putatively treating in this article -- but, flanked by only one other veteran, the perennially puckish Fumiyo Ikeda, she's not enough this time around. Though she tries, starting with a stunning beginning where, glisteningly bare-chested, she takes a faun pose center-stage in a silent prelude to, you guessed it, an evocation of Nijinsky's "Afternoon of a Faun," to the Debussy music and what the program calls a 'fragment' of the original choreography, evidently reconstructed by Millicent Hodson and, if I read the program notes right, Simon Hecquet.

After you've seen Mark Dendy and Larry Keigwin dance Dendy's version of this chestnut -- as an epilogue to Dendy's 1998 "Dream Analysis" -- as well as Jerome Robbins's dance studio take, it's hard to get excited about anybody else dancing any other version, including whatever's left to us of Nijinsky's. But Mark Lorimer distinguishes himself, mostly by the super-human articulation in his flexing feet and toes.

The momentum holds during the next section -- this full evening consists of six linked dances to six pieces of music by four composers -- mostly because of Loemij, this time dancing on and off a table, often supported in precarious balances from it, and giving herself over trance-like to Stravinsky's "Symphony for Wind Instruments in Memory of Claude Debussy" with an abandon that would make Wendy Whelan blanche.

The evening stumbles with the next section, both from its over-pitched George Benjamin score -- think Arvo Part lite -- and from dancers too young to live up to the music's melodrama or give real weight to the intricate choreography. The program notes say this composition was 'destined for the dance,' but so is techno music, and that doesn't make it interesting.

With the finale, De Keersmaeker again shows the Achilles heel she revealed in "Once," her solo to Joan Baez, fabricating a facile, supposedly comic treatment to themes with deep resonances, this time suggested by the final scene from Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 "Blow-up," in which the photographer protagonist, having dropped the ball in his responsibility to his fellow man, accedes to chasing after an invisible ball lobbed over a fence by a pair of tennis-playing mimes. In her homage, interspersed with footage of the film scene, ATDK turns her dancers into lame fun-loving mimics of the mimes, throws invisible and visible balls on the stage, and even terminates with a tepid reprisal of the last moments of the film, a dancer dressed like the actor tossing a ball into the audience before picking up his 'camera' and rushing offstage. It's an uninspired ending to an under-inspiring evening. De Keersmaeker certainly isn't responsible for the eviscerated European dance scene; I nonetheless feel let down that she, too, may be running out of ideas.

PS: William Forsythe has also made his contribution to lowering the average. While it may have recently "baffled" Bloomberg News critic Tobi Tobias that Forsythe chose to introduce his new company to New York with "Kammer/Kammer," a work short on choreography, it did not surprise anyone who has been following Forsythe in recent years; see my 2002 Flash of the same piece here. And it's going to get worse before it gets better, Chez Forsythe: This fall's Autumn Festival here includes new Forsythe co-scripted by his wife, Dana Caspersen. (Yes, I know, she's also his ballerina, on her own merits; her qualifications as a dramatist are less evident.)

PS 2: At the risk of diminishing my thesis, but in the interests of being rigorous, it may be more accurate -- notwithstanding last year's Pina letdown -- to describe the slump as a French-Belgian one rather than paint all Europe with the same brush. If anything, contributions from outside France and Belgian seen here have brought the average up: The aforementioned Sagna, Portugal's Vera Mantero, various Flamenco artists, and Yanks Greg Zuccolo, Alwin Nikolais, Trisha Brown and Merce Cunningham.



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