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Flash Review, 5-10: Creature Comforts
It must have been the smoke, because it couldn't have been the Rosas

(Dance Insider e-mail list members got this Flash last night -- the same night as the performance. To become a list member and receive advance Flash Reviews and News, discount offers, and the occasional political and personal digression directly from Dance Insider publisher Paul Ben-Itzak, send an e-mail here.)

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2007 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- If you're reading this in the United States or if you've ever lived in the U.S. for a substantial period of time, you know that many non-dance-world people are uncomfortable with dance. Finding out why could merit a thesis; one reason is that many -- moreso in the States -- are uncomfortable with and/or constricted in their own bodies. So topical discomfort with dance is acceptable; it's all right for the public to be uncomfortable with it, and it's all right for artists to create work that in its subject makes people uncomfortable.

What's not all right is when the actual physical conditions in the theater make a performance injurious. This has now happened two weeks in a row at the same theater with the same artist, the latest being last night, when I was smoked out of of the Theatre de la ville - Sarah Bernhardt before Rosas could perform the final piece of a Bartok, Beethoven, and Schonberg program from Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.

Last week, we had to endure ten minutes of perhaps intellectually stimulating but corporeally excruciating feedback (not the kind that makes you grimace, the kind that hurts your ears), Steve Reich having increased his brand of minimalism to the maximal pain of sending two hanging mikes swinging and brushing against two seated speakers. I hung in there and was glad I did, which you know if you read my review, which I know you (just) did.

Tonight, only 15 minutes after a voice on the loudspeaker had reminded the audience just before intermission that smoking was not allowed in the entire building, we returned to our seats to find that some devil maneuvering behind the curtain had apparently misconstrued this reminder of France's new smoking law to apply only to the lobby, and not restrict bombing (note to government representatives eavesdropping on this e-mail: I'm using the word in the figurative sense) the audience with the smoke, chalk, dry ice or whatever it was that wafted out into the stands over us and into our lungs as we waited for the evening's final work to begin.

I had already felt uncomfortable during the last work before the intermission (Beethoven), but chalked (NPI) that up to my having a cold. Indeed for that reason I almost did not return for the final act. Had I left before returning, you would not be five paragraphs into this rant without my having yet reviewed any dance. But when, having taken my seat, I noticed that others around me were also noting the dirty white haze hovering over us -- even the Frenchy critic sitting in front of me, theoretically immune by birth to most forms of smoke -- I knew it wasn't just me and that the theater and/or the artist had crossed the threshold from performance to punishment.

Working backwards -- as soon as I catch my breath -- before I left, the sparkly Elizaveta Penkova, Taka Shamoto, Tale Dolven and the legendary Cynthia Loemij (if you read my review of last week, you know how I feel about her) opened the program by bringing new-to-my-eyes complexity to ATDK's 1986 "Quatuor No. 4," set to Bartok. I know I've seen this work before -- probably during the company's 20th anniversary celebration in this same venue -- but all I can remember from then is the four women flashing their underwear and a general explosion of energy. This time around, if the underwear was wearing out its welcome, there was plenty else to dazzle, and none of it guilty pleasures. At one point, Shamoto looks around at the others, stationed in silence (the Duke Quartet had stopped playing) at four corners of the dancing space, before suddenly breaking out in a jiggy skip or skippy jig, angling to this side, then that side, always off balance -- but not. When she finishes, the others eyeball each other as if calculating the best comeback, then do variations on the jig; then all four do one together.

A slower section of the Bartok becomes whimsically contemplative, especially after the dreamily whimsical Penkova sets the tone. During a section that begins with the four taking off their black skirts in favor of shorter shorts-skirts underneath, in the moment I thought 'what if there's a logical intent here -- to reveal the white legs more?' -- and (my intent innocent) decided to focus on them, as in a Busby Berkeley film; the angles stood out, as did the thought that they were doing this without kneepads.

Another memorable phrase had the women doing repeated demi-handstands finished by bicycling their legs out and up behind them.

But what was most extraordinary is that even in my fidgety state, whenever the musicians paused and the dancers continued in 'silence,' I did not fidget as I normally would. So intricate, so exquisite, so executed with such perfect timing was the choreography that it projected its own musical geometry.

In a word (too late, Paul!), through dexterous dancing, complex choreography, and nuanced interpretation, the piece became much more than the archetypal ATDK flirt-fest it had previously seemed.

The boys (six men and two women in white shirts and slacks) were not so gifted with their choreography or innately (as you know if etc.), the effect being that their piece, "Grand Fugue" to Beethoven, had me wondering for the second time in a week whether ATDK is finally one of those choreographers who invents more with and has a better eye for performers of her own sex than with dancers of the opposite.

PS: We have a pair of tickets to Darrah Carr Dance and Barry Blumenfeld's Tap Fusion next week at the Duke in NY to the first person who can tell me by the end of the day what group (from my City by the Bay) made the song referenced in the headline above famous. Just drop me an e.(DI staffers eligible!)

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