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Flash Review, 6-9: Lulu's Back in Town; Where's Lulu?
Looking for Lulu with Rosa Mei

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000 The Dance Insider

I've talked a lot recently about how kick-ass dancers can elevate a so-so or even boring dance. Most recently, in Tuesday's opening of the Parsons season, Elizabeth Koeppen was just about the only thing that kept me from demanding, "Give me back those two hours of my life!" (See Flash Review 1, 6-7: Mood Swings.) But how about when a dance leaves you asking, Would it have worked better if it had been done with a different dancer in the lead? This was the question I found myself asking during and after the premiere at Lincoln Center last night of Rosa Mei's "Lulu in La La Land," in which Lulu was more cute than carnal, more cloying than carnivorous. Sure, I'd do her (er, this macho response is relevant to the subject, promise!), but I'm not so sure Anne-Marie Brule's Lulu would ensnare me, silver preying mantis-like tail notwithstanding.

As Mei describes it in the program -- yes, following the lead of Mr. Patrick (see Flash Review 2, 6-7, The Aural Muse) I broke my usual rule and peeked at the program notes before curtain -- in literature and in Alban Berg's opera Lulu is "an involuntary femme fatale; her attractiveness to men is beyond her control, virtually a force of nature." Mei proposes not to retell this story, but rather, to trace "the psychological repercussions of Lulu's actions in an imaginary place, a fantasy dream world. Lulu is the consummate object of desire, a creature who is perpetually adored even when she commits the most heinous crimes."

The most heinous crimes, here, were represented by a James Bondian-women brandishing and firing of the gun made up by the thumb and forefinger, with requisite blowing of the gun barrel afterwards. More important, Lulu's seduction of us consisted of repeated knowing glances into the audience, as if to say we knew what she wanted, but I'm not so sure she knew what she wanted, navel-highlighting costume notwithstanding. I had the uncomfortable, embarrassing feeling of watching one of those first-graders in one of those competitions decked out in fuck-me refinery; she seemed neither fully aware of, nor ready for, the ramifications of the come-on. Even accepting Mei's premise that Lulu is an involuntary femme fatale, one would think she'd have at least a preternatural awareness of the promise of carnal fulfillment to come in her gaze, but I saw no awareness of this, only a sort of surface imitation of the seductive glance, like a kid imitating something she's seen on t.v.

What's a bit frustrating is I got the sense that in more mature hands, Mei's choreography for this role might have taken on a deeper, more compelling and Irresistable level. The hint of this possibility was definitely there, in the mesmerizing motif repetitions, particularly the whipping turns with arms akimbo; in the fast pace; in the use of the space; and in the interesting combinations of dancers and the various shadings of tension these produced. In particular, a solo for Galois Cohen as the Blue Angel, resplendent in a plastic-ey hoop gown and similar bustle, mesmerized after a few minutes, despite also presenting in Ms. Cohen a rather green vehicle. This section actually made me like the dancer better -- she got me here.

Showing a bit more complexity in their approach and what they projected were Saeko Miyake, who opens the dance promisingly, in a patient, space-straddling solo to silence, and Izumi Fujii, who managed to be swift of foot without being light of presence.

Mei herself gave full play and full flower to what I suspect was the fusion hinted at elsewhere in the dance: that being of modern and the martial arts. In fact, opposite opponent Wendell Millette, Mei as dancer and choreographer went to town, giving us a duel/duet for dancers with light sabers, a la "Star Wars." Think Kung Fu fighting meets the Jedi warriors, and I mean that as a compliment. Particularly virtuosic, in both fighter-movers, was a move in which the dancer springs up into a flip from a prostrate, back-to-the-floor position.

All of this was done to a sound-collage made up of what to my taste was appealing retro-sounds and over-used ones. The intriguing being spoken word that had a sort of fifties cinema verite sound (the program credits Hal 9000 from "2001: a Space Odyssey" and "The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen," among others), the over-used being Philip Glass that I've heard before, and Laurie Anderson, with her "Oh Superman" being danced to by Fujii, in Superman patch, no less... Actually, on reflection, I can see the point of the "Oh Superman" (maybe it's just the "Uh huh huh huh huh huh" etc. song I've always found grating, tho I realize I'm probably in the minority in that), but Phillip Glass is too easy and generic a choice -- who can't make a dance to Phillip Glass? -- and I would have liked to see a musical choice more specifically matched to Mei's theme -- or, going the other way, a more challenging one.

I also found myself wondering what this dance would look like not just with some older dancers, but naked. Not out of a desire to see naked women on stage, but because, while the sound and lighting sculptures were cool, the costumes and hair effects just veiled the dance. It was too much. There were the silver lamé costumes, for one, and also that every one of the five women had different color hair. So I found myself asking: What would "Lulu" look like raw, stripped to the choreographic bare bones?

In the ballet-ending gesture, Brule's Lulu brushes a hand over a sort of electric Weber (burning coals in the middle, glowing green cable rimming it, the whole conceived by Daniel James and designed by John Musall). I found this warming (?) gesture too little too late. It didn't seem to warm Brule, anyway, and I was still left, at the end of the evening, yearning to be set-a-burning by a truly incendiary Lulu.

On the other hand, as I left the Clark Theater and walked across the Lincoln Center Plaza, the banality of Parsons still ringing in my eyes and the Metropolitan staring at me, I was thankful to have seen something original, with high aims, not simple, and will take Rosa Mei any day over the calcification now prevailing at the American Ballet Theatre or the too-easy accessibility of Parsons. (Mei definitely engaged me, where Parsons didn't.) Hope that doesn't sound like a back-handed compliment; it isn't. What I mean to say is Mei has launched an intriguing experiment, I'm just wondering what it would look like piloted by more experienced hands in the main dancer's seat.

"Lulu in La La Land" continues tonight through Sunday at the Clark Studio Theater in the Rose Building at Lincoln Center. For more info, visit Rosa Mei's web site or click on the Lulu banner ad on our Home page.

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