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Ownership of The Arts Voyager & Dance Insider is available FREE to a new owner who will keep the present editor on staff part-time and help him get a carte de sejour to return to France, plus provide health insurance in France. For details please contact editor & publisher Paul Ben-Itzak.

Flash Preview, 4-27: Decent Exposure
Amy Greenfield Sings the Body Electric

Pearls before swine: Suzanne Gregoire in Amy Greenfield's "MUSEic of the BODy,"

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2012 Paul Ben-Itzak

Anyone who wants to understand the difference between film that serves dance and dance that serves film -- as well as what distinguishes bad performance art from good -- should see Amy Greenfield's 2010 "MUSEic of the BODy," edited from Greenfield's 1994 Fluxus performance with Nam June Paik at Anthology Film Archives and one of a cornucopia of Greenfield's videos and video extracts being screened Monday at Anthology to celebrate the release of Robert Haller's "Flesh into Light: The Films of Amy Greenfield," a sort of monograph of 45 years of courageously curious video experimentation.

A prelude explains that "MUSEic" is in part a tribute to Charlotte Moorman, the late Nam June Paik's late collaborator, who pierced the mainstream radar in 1967 when she performed his "Opera Sextronique" topless, becoming known as the "Topless cellist" and getting arrested for "indecent exposure," charges later dropped. But don't let the tits deceive you into thinking Greenfield's compact black and white video is simple titillation. Thanks largely to dancer Suzanne Gregoire's conviction -- for it's this element that often makes the crucial difference between good and bad performance art -- in one short piece Greenfield manages to evoke Faye Dunaway *and* Peter Finch in Sydney Lumet and Paddy Chayevsky's 1976 "Network," "The Phantom of the Opera" (Gregoire's mad yet playful banging on the ivories also conjure's Cage and Cunningham's wacky 1961 Universal Video "Suite for Two," when Cunningham wheels Cage or David Tudor under a piano and the musician commences to bang on its entrails) *and* "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," with Paik's panel of t.v. screens subbing for Hugo's bells in driving Gregoire into Quasimodo-like frenzy. (In fact, the Cage resemblance is no accident; the piano music, played by Paik, is from Cage's 1944-45 "Three Dances.")

From Amy Greenfield's "BodySongs."

I was less enthused about the "Duet for Camera" in Greenfield's "BodySongs" -- until I saw "MUSEic of the BODy" and understood a bit more of what Greenfield's about. The choreography of the pair of grappling bodies is mundane, but I think what she's going for here is a compressed camera universe filled by *just* the corpi delecti -- or, if you prefer, the experiment is to see what happens when the plane of the camera is constricted to just the terrain of two bodies. (Okay, maybe that's not what Greenfield was looking at, but it's what I took from it, which narrow viewing might also reflect my own inevitable native ((American)) squeamishness about the naked human body.) Apparently even the clothed version of "BodySongs" was nixed by the commissioner, WGBH's Dance Workshop as too raw for broadcast, despite the added pedigree of having cinema verité pioneer Richard Leacock on camera, and it's a pity: While I admit I had to suppress my own baser desire that Moses Pendleton and his Pilobolus cohorts had choreographed the piece to lend it more graphic sizzle, what Greenfield has on the creators of the semi-nude reputedly mushroom-fueled "Day Two" -- created in 1980, just a year after "BodySongs" -- is precisely that she manages to desexualize two young lithe naked bodies in the process of getting more tangled up than many a sex act would implicate. Personally, I would love to take every dance theater booker who's ever slapped the label 'family-friendly' on a Pilobolus, Momix, or Belgian dance program, thus implying that other programs including "partial nudity" weren't, and strap them to a chair with the elongated strand of pearls Greenfield wrapped about the naked Gregoire for "MUSEic.." -- oh yes, I forgot to mention that bare fact because it didn't seem to matter -- and force them to watch the unadorned bodies in "Duet for Camera." Then I'd ask them what exactly is family unfriendly about this (as opposed to, say, the Yahoo home page and the lewd advertising, more than suggestive music videos, sexual violence, and sitcom innuendo families are subjected to every night on mainstream television). Had "BodySongs" been produced for Arté (the French-German public television station), even the unclothed family hostile version would no doubt have premiered the year it was made, 1979. As it is, WGBH's loss will be a gain for the audience at Anthology, which once again will reveal a jewel unjustly secreted away when it gives "BodySongs" its world premiere Monday. (And don't miss the flash of original dancer in the lights Loie Fuller elsewhere in the program.)

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