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Flash Review 1, 7-13:
Child's Play -- NOT
Haim and Pilobolus Too up the Anti for Kids' Dance
By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2000 Darrah Carr
My last Flash Review
reported on the unfortunate closing of Soundance studio and made
mention of similar stories in both New York and San Francisco, as
inflated rents force small, intimate performance spaces to disappear.
(See Flash Review 1, 6-26: The Last Dance.)
Given the concern over how such a loss of performance space will
affect audience opportunity to be exposed to a variety of dance
forms, it was especially encouraging to attend two performances
this week that focused precisely on expanding the audience for dance.
Both Mark Haim's performance at the Lincoln Center Institute and
Pilobolus Too's matinee at the Joyce Theater aimed to educate and
inspire young audiences. At a time when the future of dance feels
uncertain in many, primarily economic, ways, there is no better
audience to reach out to than the future audience.
Nurturing a young audience
not only benefits dance in the long run, but it also has a powerful
and immediate impact on students' learning and development. This
is the cornerstone of the Lincoln Center Institute's philosophy
of "aesthetic education," which maintains that each child has the
ability to respond to a work of art in a highly personal, multi-faceted
way. Exposure to a work of art raises questions, challenges preconceived
notions, and sparks new perceptions. This, in turn, strengthens
students' abstract thinking and problem-solving skills, which are
necessary throughout their entire education as well as in daily
life. LCI stresses experiential learning and active engagement on
the students' part. As executive director Scott Noppe-Brandon explained
at the beginning of Mark Haim's performance, "We want to not just
look at a work of art, but to look through it.... We're here not
to teach students to step back and revere works of art, but to give
them a safe environment in which to ask questions of the work."
Founded nearly 25 years
ago, LCI has been replicated 17 times around the U.S. and has developed
a myriad of programs to address its mission. Central to these is
the selection of repertory to be shown first at the summer session
for teachers, performed at the Institute during the academic year,
and then toured to participating schools.
Mark Haim's performance
on Tuesday morning marked the opening of LCI's summer session and
served to introduce his material to an audience of educators.
Accompanied by pianist
Andre Gribou, Haim performed selections from his masterful solo
work set to Bach's "The Goldberg Variations." In its entirety, the
piece is 80 minutes long and follows the structure of Bach's music,
with 30 variations ranging from one minute to ten minutes in length.
For this performance context, however, Haim chose to involve audience
participation, asking four volunteers to pick the variations they
wanted to see, in any order. I was initially disappointed to not
see the work in its entirety, fearing it would be difficult to assess
the choreography without a sense of its intended continuity and
progression. Nevertheless, I was astonished at Haim's ability to
seamlessly move backwards and forwards within his lengthy solo,
jumping from the Opening Aria to variation 15 to 28 to 27 to 9 and
so on. Though I would have loved to have seen the compositional
arc of the solo from beginning to end, I came to realize that the
separate variations are choreographic gems in and of themselves.
Furthermore, the contrasting
variations enabled Haim to demonstrate his incredible range as a
performer. In the Opening Aria, he moved with simple elegance, standing
in a single spotlight, his arms opening slowly from over his head,
like feathers dropping softly to his sides. In variation 15, he
crossed upstage in profile, with exact precision, as if part of
an Egyptian frieze, and then retrograded his steps back to the beginning
pose. Variation 28 showed great dynamic variety. Haim balanced on
one leg, the other raised, foot flicking the air with rhythmic accents,
which he then alternated with fluid ripples and undulations through
his torso and head.
After completing nine
variations, Haim announced that the next variation was one in which
he wouldn't move at all, rather the audience was invited to come
onstage and move him. Thus, he literally embodied LCI's ideal of
an experiential, hands on encounter with a work of art. The volunteers
loved it; people laughed and called out comments. Scott Noppe-Brandon's
point about "not teaching kids to step back and revere a work of
art," but rather to get involved with it, became very clear. While
Haim was being moved about the stage, Gribou played an exquisite
Bach composition on the piano and the audience played with their
own composition in space. There was a real sense of art as experience.
Art as play. It was wonderful.
performance of Pilobolus Too was also filled with a sense of play
-- play with props, play with bodies as shapes, play with implied
narrative through costume, character development, and facial expression.
Although the Pilobolus Too program was billed simply as a family
matinee during Pilobolus's Joyce Season, P. Too has a very specific
outreach and education mission. Founded in 1997 as a two-person
performing company, P. Too is designed for smaller or less well-equipped
venues, thereby allowing the company to show its work in more rural
and under-served areas. Like the Lincoln Center Institute, P. Too
also has a school performance component. After an in-school performance,
the dancers will often work with the students, teaching them basic
weight-sharing exercises and occasionally making a piece for the
students to perform.
by Pilobolus Too marked the company's New York debut.
An evening-length program
of solos and duets may sound like a tall order for a small company,
but the dancers, founding members Adam Battelstein and Rebecca Stenn,
accomplished it beautifully with admirable stamina and flawless
performance energy. Given Pilobolus's unique mixture of dance theatre
and complex partnering, on top of the requirement to share an entire
performance with just one other dancer, I kept thinking that the
distinction Pilobolus Too was extremely appropriate. Battelstein
and Stenn were not only dancers in Pilobolus Too but they were athletes-too,
actors-too, and consummate performers-too.
The program featured
four duets and a solo for each dancer, with two marvelous interstices
by Stenn. In the first, she somersaulted backwards across the stage
in slow motion, tumbling through a pile of newspapers. During the
second, a section from Alison Chase's "Moon Blind," she propelled
herself on a square of seafoam-colored carpet back and forth across
the stage, with rapid mini-steps, but with such grace that it appeared
as if she was sailing over water. "Alraune" and "Shizen," both early
duets choreographed by Chase and Moses Pendleton, displayed truly
inventive partnering with characteristic Pilobolus flair. The dancers
moved with feline grace from sculptured shape to sculptured shape,
at times melding into one, at other times manipulating each other
into position. "Orangotango" (choreographed by Chase in collaboration
with Stenn, Battlestein, Rebecca Anderson and Matt Kent) and the
excerpts from "Land's Edge" (Chase, Robby Barnett, and Jonathan
Wolken) were more character based, the shifting emotional nuances
of the dancers' relationship highlighted by dramatic changes in
lighting and music.
Battelstein shone in
his solo from the "Empty Suitor," which was truly a physical feat,
involving at one point stepping from rolling tube to rolling tube
while carrying a park bench and balancing a top hat on the end.
My favorite moment came right after the piece was supposedly over.
The lights came back up, for another marvelous interstice, and there
sat Battelstein, balancing on the edge of the park bench, which
was half tipped in the air, supporting his weight on one outstretched
Stenn gave her debut
performance of "Femme Noire," a solo choreographed by Chase in collaboration
with Stenn and Anderson. The piece exemplified Pilobolus's sense
of play with props. Stenn donned an enormous wide-brimmed black
hat, which thoroughly covered her face and head, creating an interesting
visual contrast between her nimble, quickly changing actions beneath.
At points throughout the piece, her shadow was projected larger
than life on the scrim behind. The exaggerated scale of the hat,
her own shadow, and especially the shadow of the hat, gave an Alice
in Wonderland sense of distortion to the whole piece. In many ways,
that image lingers as a summation of what I find compelling about
Pilobolus Too, namely the overriding sense of play, invention, and
imagination, or the desire to discover what is possible and then
stretch it even more.
Pilobolus Too performs
again July 19 at 2 p.m., at the Joyce. For more info, visit the
Joyce web site.
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