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Flash Review 1, 5-16:
Juilliard in Trouble
Or, Where's the Adagio at Graduation Concert?
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000 The Dance Insider
Last night at the Juilliard
School Dance Division's senior graduation performance at the Juilliard
Theater, watching allegro dance after allegro dance (including many
adagio dances performed allegro), I found myself getting so depressed
I was too depleted to even utter an "Oy!," though I did find the
strength to hiss by the time the fourth -- count 'em, four -- Robert
"Parsons Light" Battle work sped past. This one was a shocker, folks.
Based on a concert of fine, mature, eloquent dancing by Juilliard
students I saw just four years ago, and on the knowledge that many
of our finest dancers come from this leading arts conservatory,
my expectations were high. But what I saw last night looked more
like a feeder school geared towards cultivating and promoting the
worse qualities (I'm acknowledging there are many good qualities)
of the Ailey and Parsons schools of dance. We're talking alacrity
without artistry, speed without measure, and, for the most part,
allegro without adagio. In a program note, the division's artistic
director, Benjamin Harkarvy, says his students have been asked to
meet "their art's demand" for "the introspection and the dedication
that mark the professional artist." Introspection? Where? Is today
opposites day, Professor Harkarvy? More telling, I think, is the
student who boasts in her program bio that her performance in Lila
York's "Rapture" was "a study of velocity, devilishness, and charm."
Velocity? Are we training artists or track stars here?
But first.... There were
some promising students and choreographers that tried valiantly
to slow down the Battle express last night. Let's start with the
most intriguing dancer and one of the two most intriguing new choreographies:
Meghan Grupposo, who danced with four men in Adam Hougland's "Scar
Tissue," a premiere. What was most intriguing here was the reactions
in a duet Grupposo performed with one of the four men. Grupposo
made her entrance in a bug-like position, on her back with all four
limbs in the air; and there was something bug-human-like in the
way she and partner poked each other with their feet, significantly
enough to produce a reaction/reverberation. I also liked the quirky
twist of Grupposo's torso.
This dance, along with
the Patsy Cline you-don't-love-me-anymore-but-I-want-you-back-just-the-same
solo choreographed by Charlotte Griffin, and performed by Kimberly
Craigie, was the only palatable dance of the first ten on the program.
(There were 17 in all. I didn't make it through the last.) It was
not a good omen when we started with the Speed Demon himself, the
Ailey's Matthew Rushing, choreographing Abdur-Rahim Jackson to basically
move like a clone of Matthew Rushing. Then we had the first of Battle's
spastic "dances." I've previously suggested (see Flash
Diary, 4-25: An Insider Fan's Notes) that Battle is Parsons
diluted, weak because Parsons is already Moses Pendleton and Paul
Taylor diluted, and the farther the branch gets from the tree....
But last night he added the worse features of the Ailey company
circa 2000 to the mix -- mostly the prancing and preening. I'm hard
pressed to tell the difference between the four Battle dances last
night. But the last, to Sheila Chandra's music, was scandalous,
and I don't mean good-scandalous. Unlike Sean Curran (see Flash
Review 2, 5-5: Blending and Flash Review,
5-15: Transformation), Battle uses this near-sacred music as,
well -- funny music. Ha Ha. Let's make a weird dance to this weird
shit. I hissed.
Finally, just before
the second intermission, Paige Cunningham and Juan Rodriguez brought
matters to a nice halt, in Hans van Manen's "Deja Vu." Especially
in the slow liftings and intertwinings towards the end, extending
through the final rolling around on the floor and into fetal position
before they drift apart and then collapse, we finally got some adagio
What followed intermission
was a Lar Lubovitch suite which, for the most part, stuck to the
pattern of the evening. Nicholas Arnold was blurry in what looked
like a cool-as-a-cucumber and debonair piece, "Smoke Rings," excerpted
from Lubovith's "Waiting for the Sunrise." Then we had two excerpts
from Lubovitch's "So in Love," both to Cole Porter songs -- not
that you'd know this from the program. Ouch! For a college that
also houses a top-notch music school, Juilliard is pretty sloppy
about crediting composers. Both of these Porter numbers are credited
to the singers, with no mention of the composer. "It's All Right
with Me," sung by Tom Waits and staged by Rebecca Rigert, devolved
into a showoffy showcase for Anne Zivolich, she of the vaunted "velocity."
For "In the Still of the Night," sung by the Neville Brothers, we
finally got a dancer who knows how to stretch and draw out and pause
a phrase: the patient Hanifa Jackson, partnered by Abdur-Rahim Jackson.
I see here where Ms. Jackson will join the Ailey 2 soon after graduation;
there's some hope!
For subtlety and sophistication
in choreography and dancing, the evening's winner was "Intersection,"
a premiere from Griffin, danced by Adrienne Linder and Peter de
Grasse. It begins with the two on their backs, feet facing us, before
they look up. They are dressed exactly like bride and groom, except
barefoot. The effect is as if they fell off a wedding cake. The
soundscore here is mostly advice from Emily Post, read by Suzanne
Daone, regarding the etiquette of conversation. "Obviously conversation
should be a matter of equal give and take," Post tells us, and much
of the dance seems to be Linder and de Grasse unable to stop their
personal tics and listen to the other. They are also constantly
trying to tidy up the other. Now, this is a fast dance, but the
manic-ness is definitely justified. There's also some mystery to
the relationship of these two, and I liked that the dancers were
comfortable with this mystery -- with just executing the choreography
exactly, and not needing to hit us over the head with indicating
After this, tho, we were
back to a fourth and final Battle, and the worse and most offending
of the lot. That is to say, if the previous three were just rushed
unmusical muddles, this dance, to Chandra, was the sort of making-fun-of-different-music
caper that might have been made by a high school student -- an untalented
high school student.
And yet, that four of
the 17 dances were by Battle, and that only five of the 17 were
not speed demons, tells me that this may be the direction this dance
department -- and let's be clear here, I'm scolding the department
more than the individual students -- is going. A direction that
mistakes rapid, unorganized, unmusical, spastic movement for dance.
A direction that seems more concerned with churning out Ailey and
Parsons clones than well-rounded artists. It wasn't just that most
of the dances were allegro that upset me - but rather that even
the dances where one might have expected some measuring of beat
were rushed. For example, I expected some respite in "Mazurkas"
by Jose Limon, staged by Sarah Stackhouse and danced to Chopin,
but no such luck. I know, they're Mazurkas, but there are clearly
spots in the choreography where Limon allows room for breathing,
but none were taken here.
In fact, a dance by Janet
Soares seen in the Barnard dance department spring concert seemed
more recognizably in the Limon/Doris Humphrey mode than this dance
by Limon. (See Flash Review 1, 3-3: Ride the
College Dance Loop.)
Indeed, let's talk about
that Barnard concert for a moment. I won't argue for the technical
superiority of the Barnard dancers. These Juilliard young people
clearly have great facility. But in terms of who appeared better
to understand what it means to be an artist, there's no contest.
The liberal arts college -- most of whose graduates will not go
on to become professional dancers -- beats the conservatory here,
hands down. For example -- and please see the Flash for more details
-- take Neta Pulvermacher's "Good Bye and Good Luck." Danced to
Klezmer music as it is, one might have expected choreographer and
dancers to go the madcap and zany Keystone cops route. But Pulvermacher
and charges gave us a measured, nuanced interpretation of Klezmer
that absolutely conveyed that even when Jews dance, they dance with
a heavy heart. All of these dancers were clearly artists, given
choreography that encouraged them to develop and reveal that.
But regarding Juilliard,
where does this leave us? In trouble I think.
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