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Flash Review, 5-20: Beautiful Mes
Maqoma mixes in Montmartre

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2010 Paul Ben-Itzak

PARIS -- While I've only seen three shows, what's pulled me so far on my return to Paris, as far as dance goes anyway, is the internationalism and the fresh approach to collaborative creation brought by two artists, Akram Khan and Gregory Maqoma, both seen at the Theatre des Abbesses of the Theatre de la Ville in Montmartre.

You can read on my review of Khan's "Gnosis," the big news of which wasn't actually the Bangladeshi - English choreographer but Yoshi Sunahata, a triple-threat drummer, dancer, and singer lent to Khan by Kodo. As for Khan, he shows up again this week as a collaborator in Maqoma's "Beautiful Me," along with Vincent Mansoe and Faustin Linyekula.

As might be expected, Khan's contribution is most evident, at first anway, in the fast fluttering hands that help Maqoma fly, as he tells the audience was an early ambition, stepping forward into a dimly lit rectangle downstage center as he does so, and in some heavy flat-heeled stomping. To this Maqoma brings what I perhaps superficially see as a more African animation in the middle body, as well as a flexed torso. What's amazing, though, is this all happens in one contained space; the dancer barely moves from this rectangle, rather creating a sphere of mobility around it.Then it's Linyekula, in a more mobile and space-occupying section, slowed down only by (sigh) Maqoma's need to add a bit of dialogue, mostly references to figures important in colonial and post-Colonial African history, spoken by Maqoma and projected on a super-titling screen above the lip of the stage, which lead the dancer to conclude, as if we haven't heard it before, that our past is part of us and we can't ignore it. It was somewhat of a let down to see a bright (mentally and physically), joyous dancer who obviously doesn't need any extra attractions resort to text, especially when it was so trite.

More relevant, for the most part, is when Maqoma doubles back to Khan in the final segment, sharing, as if speaking directly to him (at a post of three microphones set up downstage right where he intermittently also addresses the other co-choreographers), "Akram, you always tell me to go back to '1'." Here the tempo finally slows down, the dance becomes more fluid, entering into a trance with Poorvi Bhana's sitar and serene voice, and the movement mix a real melange of all four choreographers' (inluding Maqoma) styles. The musical ensemble, indeed, particularly Bhana and Mandla Nhlapo on batterie and chant, could also headline in any club. Cellist Bangani Kunene told me later that in the six years they've been touring this piece, they've never had a score. "Gregory is the score."

There is one disturbing trend that's reared its head in the spectacles of both Khan and Maqoma: they don't always provide sub-titles for their (presumably still in the majority, even in Montmartre) French audience every time they bring out the English. For Khan, this occurred during a long address to the audience mid-spectacle; for Maqoma, in an extended extract from a Nigerian writer that played over the final minutes of the performance. If words matter so much that a dancer feels the need to employ them, you'd think they'd count enough that they'd want every audient to appreciate them. A year ago, at the press conference announcing this season's line-up, Theatre de la Ville director Emanuel Demarcy-Mota, addressing the internationalism of the upcoming programmation, said he anticipated a real babel of languages, and he wasn't even sure it mattered if everyone understood everything. Here's hoping the invited choreographers don't take this as carte blanche.

"Beautiful Me" plays through Saturday at the Theatre de la Ville aux Abbesses.

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