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Flash Review, 2-9: Pseudo-Masochism
High Art Chasm at the Joyce

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000 The Dance Insider

My dancer companion for Tuesday's opening of H. Art Chaos would have me add one caveat: The dancing in Sakiko Oshima's "Secret Club-Floating Angels 2000" was fierce. So, a shout out to the dancers. But a shout AT the Joyce (as in, "WHY!?!") for programming this spangled but empty suit of a dance: This emperor has plenty of clothes--leather dresses, red bras, red gowns, men's suits on the all-female troupe, even naked breasts that are themselves used as sensationalistic costumes--but underneath, there's no choreographic there there.

Years ago, after a performance by the showy Italian troupe Alterballeto, I walked into the press room at San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House, where a kilted critic, Christopher Bowen of The Scottsman, was exclaiming (I paraphrase here): "Everybody wants to be William Forsythe. The problem is, everybody isn't." The gist of Christopher's comments was that the weird but genuinely talented Forsythe has produced a host of imitators who don't understand that there is a method to his madness. The same goes for Pina Bausch. Sure, Bausch uses lots of props; but the props are just an outgrowth of her choreographic vision, part of a larger symphonic scheme. The pretenders think they can just gather a lot of colorful trappings and, presto, Pina! Harnesses, floor-to-ceiling mirrors upstage, chairs with cat-heads crowning their backs, a silver satiny floor cover that becomes an ocean, swinging lamps, flashlights--Oshima utilizes all these. No, that's the wrong word--she doesn't utilize them to produce an actual choreographic something. They are trotted out and displayed, but not truly used to serve a larger meaning, other than some none-too-subtle allusions to "Swan Lake" and "The Dying Swan." The soundscore--a collage of whispers, sonic shrieks a la "Psycho," and a bucolic classical piece (the music was not credited in the program, but I think it was by Elgar) for the epiphany--evokes the chambers of the Marquis de Sade.

This is one of those pieces where I found myself asking myself: What would this "dance" look like naked--i.e., sans all the accoutrements? Answer: another one of your basic over-emotive men beat the women forays, except that the men in this all-female troupe are portrayed by women in suits. Pseudo-masochistic dance at its worse.

The comparison to Bausch and Forsythe is not unfair; according to the press release sent out by the Joyce, H. Art Chaos's rep. has compared this piece "to the work of Pina Bausch and William Forsythe." A "preview" in last Sunday's New York Times, written by the Times's Sunday dance editor, called the company "a seeming hybrid of Pilobolus and Gumby...." Leaving Gumby aside for the moment, as regards Pina, Billy, and Pilobolus, I'll have to say: I think not, I think not, and I think not. In fact, I thought of Pilobolus's "Day 2," and not because it's been performed on the same Joyce stage, and also features naked female torsoes. Rather, with Pilobolus, props are used not just for effect, but to effect; and where the company's women (and men!) go naked on top, it's not just part of a Glam design scheme, but an inevitable choice arising from a real choreographic scheme.

Why do I sound so pissed? After all, it's true that no one starts out intending to create a failure. My frustration is directed more towards the programmers than the choreographer. What enrages me about seeing this type of show masquerading as dance is not just that I can never get that 90 minutes of my life back, but that there is SO MUCH good-to-great choreography that could have filled that time and the premiere dance space that is the Joyce. Instead, we get what to my mind is not so much "Art Chaos," as an "Arty Chasm."

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