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Flash Journal, 6-21: Comes the Rain
Pina Washes Out; the Most Centered Dancer in the World

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2007 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- Audience assault seems to be the tactic du jour for seasoned choreographers who have run out of new kinetic ideas. First there was Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, who in two successive programs here last month from her company Rosas managed to attack, respectively (or rather disrespectfully) the eardrums and the lungs of the audience at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt. Now Pina Bausch, whose last four creations rely mostly on the native talents of her performers and regurgitating old dramatic and scenic schtick, has chosen to conclude her new "Vollmond," which opened Saturday at the Theatre de la Ville, with over-amped, eardrum-splitting generic rock 'n' roll. After I mounted the aisle and pushed open the exit doors when I couldn't take it any more, I paused at the threshold of Bernhardt's dressing room long enough to say "Sorry Sarah," that the dramatic bombast with which La Sarah made this theater's name had been replaced this night by pure bombast.

For sure, before Bausch sunk her ship, some amusing moments promenaded and even swam through Peter Pabst's rain-soaked set, as when a woman tested two men (consecutively) on the time it took them to unstrap her bra. (Okay, doesn't sound funny when I write it, but the timing of the performers, as is often the case with the Tanztheater Wuppertal personnel, made it so.) But more often than not, we'd seen it before, and often on the same people: Nazareth Panadero's talky (if somewhat reigned in here) vamp, Dominique Mercy's sad clown.... And the movement frequently seemed more extracted from the interpreter's ethnic background or particular training than from one consistent choreographic plan. And there, perhaps (apart from the ear burn) is the rub: It used to be that even the most disparate non-sequiturs chez Pina amounted to a symphony; now it's just cacophony.

I used to avoid concerts featuring Indian dance forms -- not because I didn't enjoy them, but because I didn't feel qualified to review them. These forms take life-long study to learn; who am I to issue a critique? But Shantala Shivalingappa, past, present, and future master of the kuchipudi school of classical Indian dance, has lessons for dancers and dance viewers in every genre. In "Gamaka," which opened Tuesday and runs through Saturday at the Theatre de la Ville's Montmartre space, les Abbesses, Shivalingappa reveals herself as the most centered dancer in the world, at least that I've ever seen, not to mention one of the most precise. By centered, I don't mean just that she's balanced or displays equilibrium, but that whichever part of her body is the focus of the movement at the moment, all the others retain their fine articulation and control. So when she leans forward and seems to be directing our vision towards an angled elbow or sculpting fingers, we could find the same minute control in the space between her waist and hip.

But Shivalingappa also paints broadly, describing planes stretching from a shoulder to a hand, a toe all the way up to her head. or simply a wingspan.

Even the things that sometimes seem artificial or overdone to me in Indian dance -- shifting eyes, or pantomiming a conversation with an invisible partner -- blend into the integrity of the dance because the dancer (here, also the choreographer) reduces them.

I won't say she exactly 'blends' with the music; rather she is on its rhythm, virtuosically (and sometimes drolly) delivered by B.P. Haribabu, J. Ramesh, N. Ramakrishnan, and K.S. Jayaram.

The only tip I would have for Shantala Shivalingappa is to lose the one gimmick she briefly employs; a sort of pan in which she places both feet and slides along. This is one dancer who doesn't need props.

This one goes out with grace to graceful Mesha, who I love so much.

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