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Flash Review 3, 8-28:
Portrait of the AIDS Hero as an Artist
Hernando Cortez, Choreographer
By Rosa Mei
Copyright 2000 Rosa Mei
Politics was never the
same after Nixon. Dance criticism was never the same after Arlene
Croce. Think back to 1994, when Croce's article about Bill T. Jones,
"Defending the Indefensible," came out in
the New Yorker. Now known as the infamous rant against "victim
art," Croce's article claimed that "of course no one goes to see
'Still/Here' for the dancing." In her reactionary diatribe, she
became overnight the voice of intolerance in the dance world. Croce,
once hailed as one of the great dance writers of our time, along
with Edwin Denby, became that grotesque Tonya Harding-type figure,
thus catapulting Bill T. to fame and sending herself into minor
exile as a dance critic. In the backlash
that ensued, other critics compared Croce to Jesse Helms and Stalin,
calling her article a "crude act of negation." Go back to the original
article, though. Croce, though admittedly patronizing and presumptuous
in tone, was neither simple nor stupid in her critical approach.
She brought up the issue of how or to what extent critics should
adapt their aesthetic standards in reviewing highly political work
or work grounded in special movements...
It's damned hard to judge
art that's made for a good cause. No one wants to be labeled mean
or intolerant. But when reviewing art made for a cause or affiliated
with a cause, take for example Cortez and Company and Ailey on Ailey
(for the latter, see Flash Review 2, 8-28:
Planning Life After Dance), should the critic report, review
or simply act as an industry cheerleader? I think that unless someone's
blind to the fact that dance is a dying art form struggling desperately
to survive amidst dwindling funds and shrinking audiences, it's
hard not to be a bit of an industry cheerleader. Then I keep thinking
of that Lyle Lovett song that goes "She ain't good, but she's got
good intentions." The point is, does it matter if she's good, or
is the intention good enough?
The Cortez and Company
concert in Bryant Park Friday evening was not specifically a benefit
for the cause of Dancers Responding to AIDS. Hernando Cortez, formerly
a Paul Taylor dancer, is founding director of DRA, having received
both a Dance Magazine award and a New York Dance and Performance
Award for his work with DRA. However, Cortez's admirable work with
DRA is so well known in the dance community (and rightly so) that
it has almost overshadowed his work as a choreographer for his own
troupe, Cortez and Company Contemporary/Ballet. That said, how's
Friday night's concert
showcased a mixed bill of works from the past few years, some dark,
some celebratory. "She referred to the evening as if it were a person,"
the first piece of the evening, featured the dancers in red lingerie
prancing about to a percussive piano score punctuated by bird calls.
Cortez's dancers are for the most part sturdy mesomorphs, muscular
yet well-sprung like good gymnasts. The Taylor influence resonates
strongly within his work -- the lush movement, clear lines, weighted
runs, the slightly quirky gestures and partnering work. In 'She
referred...,' however, all these neat elements somehow failed to
converge into a cohesive whole. There was the hint of something
dark and feral, but the overall effect was that of a dance drill
squad working out a routine.
The two solos, "Dark
Wood" and "A Moment More," confronted issues of mourning and loss.
In "Dark Wood," Cortez, a taut performer with stage presence to
burn, appears a bit ill at ease with lyrical movement. What seems
like an attempt at soulful, elegiac dancing comes across more as
angst a la Fosse. "A Moment More," danced by Michael Trusnovec,
shows a much broader emotional range. Trusnovec is himself a gracious,
enchanting mover with catlike aplomb; he's able to sigh with his
torso in an understated, yet compassionate interpretation of lost
The final piece of the
evening, "Planet Soup," is a festive romp to a mix of world music
ranging from Afro-Celtic to the Baka Forest People. "Planet Soup"
is a rapturous piece, filled with radiant energy and intricate footwork
-- Irish step dancing to belly dancing and everything in between.
Djassi Camara Johnson is a real standout here, displaying the grace
of a gazelle and innate musicality that radiates from her pelvis.
At times, the evenly spaced unison work and well-patterned stomping
make the piece feel a bit like an Olympic pre-show spectacle. The
company dances, though, with such verve and communal spirit, that
you almost forget tackier elements. Glitter's good in the right
context. Cortez's choreography actually seems to work best in celebratory
mode. The dark pieces seem somewhat overwrought in comparison. It's
as if he's still searching for a way to articulate pain and suffering,
without seeming trite or heavy-handed.
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