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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
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
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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