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Flash Journal, 4-6: The Too Much Festival
Craft-less Martin-Gousset; Soupart vu all over again

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2007 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- I have to admit that I'm not totally sold on the concept of Tere O'Connor's supposed non-conceptual "Nothing Festival," coming to New York's Dance Theater Workshop April 18 - 28. In particular, I don't like the lumping in of "music" with the other extra-curricular elements ('story,' 'no outside source') O'Connor has proscribed for the commissioned artists, who include Douglas Dunn (does he really need to prove any more that he can create from 'nothing'?), Susan Rethorst, and Walter Dundervill. Long-time post post-modern trends notwithstanding, music has always been integral to the creation and performance of dance. Still, I applaud the underlying politics of O'Connor's assignment, in a contemporary context in which script, technology, film, and props seem to have surpassed their valid role as inducements to movement inspiration to become simply props, as young choreographers dazzled by the other arts neglect their own craft. Take, for example, Nasser Martin-Gousset's recent riff on Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1963 film "Cleopatra," seen Tuesday at the Theatre de la Ville, one of several producers who abetted this senseless affront on the senses.

Martin-Gousset makes a convincing argument that every dance presenter in the world should adopt if not a 'nothing,' at least a 'nothing but' (music and dance) aesthetic for at least a year, just to clean the system out, with a moratorium on, first and foremost, using text, film, and technology as sources of inspiration or mechanization. Quoted in the program notes, he announces his fascination with the film's romance, the real-life romance between its stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the connections between our times and ancient times -- in effect, he sees a terrain in which he can put all his 'obsessions' into play. Unfortunately, only one that he cites -- integrating a fascist march into the show -- has any connection to a movement theme and even that, contrary to his boast in the program notes, is little more than a spastic group movement to hyper rock 'n' roll music played live on stage. Add to this the usual homo-erotic (okay, that has a place in a story in this setting, but surely one can do better than a semi-naked fat fop flopping his privates and masturbating against a wooden sentry), a clothed woman chasing around the stripped-naked sentry, performers hurtling themselves against a wall, the same fat fop rolling on the floor with a snake in a Cleopatra wig and you have one colossal waste of good money and my time, on which I won't squander any more of yours.

Isabella Soupart, whose "In the Wind of Time," opened March 30 at the Theatre de la Bastille, is more humble and simple than Martin-Gousset and, to be fair, while Soupart started as a dancer she also has real training and experience in the seventh art. So she's not a choreographer who's been distracted by other arts, but rather an authentic practitioner in film and dance. And even though as such, she had more license to feature less dance in her show, the dance here is clearly defined and cleanly executed by her cast, particularly the febrile Nicole Oliver and the energetic Charles Francois. Where 'Wind' gets winded is in its lack of originality in a theme that addresses the fleeting nature of relationships in the intentionally superficial setting of a film festival.

It starts with Francois addressing us in the manner of a darling film director addressing questions at a festival press conference. His charisma and facile articulation, as when maneuvering sideways between two poles of a metal structure while at the same time dishing out flip responses to the usual questions, makes for a sensational beginning, and for charged entrances whenever he returns to the stage, almost crawling across it like a quadraped with B-Boy facility. The problem is we've seen this before -- from the same actor/dancer, in a piece by the same choreographer, in the same town and in the same season, in Soupart's section of Joji Inc.'s program last winter at the Theatre les Abbesses. One time -- ca va. Two times, in four months, it's no longer a new idea and suggests a limited palate -- as does Soupart's closing this piece with music from the same film (Godard's "Contempt") from which she extracted dialogue for the last piece.

When you're running out of ideas, perhaps it is best to start again from nothing.


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