rosas-finalCynthia Loemij, left, and Tale Dolven of Rosas in Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s “Piano Phase.” Herman Sorgeloos photo copyright Herman Sorgeloos and courtesy Rosas and Theatre de la Ville.

Copyright 2007, 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak

Originally published May 3, 2007. Sponsored by Slippery Rock University Dance and Donna Scro Samori / Freespace Dance.

PARIS — There are certain dances that, simply put, justify Dance. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s 1982 “Fase,” an excerpt of which ATDK’s company Rosas performed in last night’s Theatre de la Ville – Sarah Bernhardt opening of an all Steve Reich program, is one of those landmark works.

To get the rest of the article, subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at artsvoyager@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Complete articles are $5 or three for $10. Subscribe to the Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($119 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) and receive full access to our Dance Insider Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading dance critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015 — including reviews of the work of Rosas and De Keersmaeker from New York, Paris, London, San Francisco, Brussels, Antwerp, and Vienna. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Contact Paul at artsvoyager@gmail.com .

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Text copyright 2006, 2016 Philip W. Sandstrom. Photography by and copyright Tom Caravaglia.       Originally published November 29, 2006.   Republication sponsored by Slippery Rock University Dance & Donna Scro Samori / Freespace Dance.                                                                            

NEW YORK — December 8 will see the birth of a brand new work from Doug Elkins, one of the most celebrated choreographers of his generation, to music from a very old and equally celebrated work, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music.” Presented by DancemOpolitan at Joe’s Pub and produced by Dancenow/NYC and Joe’s Pub with the assistance of longtime Elkins cohort Amy Cassello, the work stars Archie Burnett, Keely Garfield, Mark Gindick, Jen Nugent, David Parker, Nicole Wolcott, Johnnie Moore, members of the House of Ninja and the choreographer himself.

I worked with Doug Elkins and designed lights for a number of his works in the early 1980s, touring with his company throughout the U.S. and in France. Like many in our field, we drifted apart and lost track of each other’s work. When we spoke in mid-November, we began by catching up. While his company is not currently active, Elkins has not been idle. He continues working with the Flying Karamazovs, whose shows he’s helped stage for 13 years. American Repertory Theater artistic director Robert Woodruff has hired him to choreograph or stage four productions. And last season at Juilliard, he choreographed the musical “The Listener.” Like me, Elkins has also delved into teaching, taking a regular post at Town Unlimited, a performing arts high school in Manhattan. On Monday, the Martha Hill Dance Fund honored him with its inaugural mid-career award.

After a long discussion about where we were, where we went, what we did, and where we are now, we finally got down to the item at hand.

Philip W. Sandstrom: Let’s jump right into it. Your new dance is called “Fraulein Maria”; about the music, are you really using…?

Doug D. Elkins: Yep, it’s the Rodgers and Hammerstein “Sound of Music.”

PWS: The whole thing?

DDE: As much as I can finish by show time.

PWS: So, what’s your structure?

DDE: Obviously I’m not working in a linear narrative. I’m hopefully drawing from the collective memory in the room.

PWS: Let’s get into specifics: Are you using “How do you solve a problem like Maria?,” a.k.a. “Maria”?

DDE: Yep, we just finished that this weekend.

PWS: And “Doe a deer,” a.k.a. “Do-Re-Mi”?

DDE: “Doe a deer,” yes, and, let’s see, “Edewlweiss,” “Sixteen going on Seventeen,” “I Feel Confidence.”

PWS: I don’t remember that one.

DDE: (Sings a few bars) You remember, it’s when she’s kicked out of the convent and is girding herself up to be the au pair for seven children. It’s the vehicle to get her over to the Von Trapp house.

PWS: But why “Sound of Music”? What was your inspiration?

DDE: The inspiration was watching “The Sound of Music” with my son Liam; he loves the “Lonely Goatherd” section. Liam would want to watch this ten times before bedtime. We’d watch it and dance around. It drew me out of a depression.

To get the rest of the interview,   subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at artsvoyager@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Complete articles are $5 or three for $10. Subscribe to the Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($119 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) and receive full access to our Dance Insider Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading dance critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Contact Paul at artsvoyager@gmail.com

moma-danse-smallPlan ahead: From the Museum of Modern Art’s Robert Rauschenberg exhibition, opening May 21, 2017 and running through September 4: Peter Moore, performance view of Robert Rauschenberg’s Pelican, 1963. Photo © Barbara Moore/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

Flash Flashback, 9-21: Looks 10, Dance 3 Wilson’s Wacky ‘Fables,’ Flamand’s Melted Architecture for Ballet National de Marseille

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2007, 2016 Gus Solomons jr

(Originally published July 20, 2007. Like what you’re reading? Dance Insider subscribers get full access to our Dance Insider Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading dance critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015 for just $29.95. To subscribe via PayPal, designate your payment to paulbenitzak@gmail.com. or write us at that address to find out how to pay by check or in Euros or pounds. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Contact Paul at artsvoyager@gmail.com . )

Telling Tales

NEW YORK — With direction, set and light design by internationally renowned conceptual theater artist and opera director Robert Wilson, “Fables de la Fontaine” looks like the giant coloring book of a precocious rich kid, come to life. Partnering with the venerable Comédie Francaise, Wilson has staged 19 of French poet Jean de la Fontaine’s classic 17th-century morality tales, in which darkly human foibles are disguised as the perversely natural instincts of animals.

The Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College was the ideal size for the production — part of the Lincoln Center Festival — but with a mere six scheduled performances (July 10 – 15), the production was a hot ticket, and it sold out fast. An extra performance was hastily slotted on Sunday afternoon July 15 to supplant Thursday’s performance, cancelled due to the injury of a performer on Wednesday evening. Comédie Francaise artistic director Muriel Mayette stepped in convincingly for the disabled actress for the remainder of the run. (At the scale of a Robert Wilson production with such a sizable troupe, it’s shocking there was no understudy prepared to step in.)

Wilson, trained as an architect, is essentially a visual artist, who creates paintings in four dimensions, designing the visual, aural, and kinetic elements in time. With prodigious painterly acuity he concocts striking stage pictures that burn into memory: an elegantly gowned Mouse (Francoise Gillard) sitting half way up a sheer wall, knitting; a Monkey (Nicolas Lormeau) cavorting in an expandable crown; a Stag (Charles Chemin) popping off one of his antlers and sticking it to the wall; Ulysses (Laurent Natrella) in a great-coat, sinking through the floor, as beasts fox-trot to faux-Baroque music (by Michael Galasso), after declining his offer to become humans.

The actors’ vocal work is splendid; diction is flawless, and voices take flight in range and tambour with squeaks, croaks, and roars proclaiming their bestial identities. To a dance eye, however, the movement lacks performance conviction and inventive imagination. In rudimentary animal impersonations the bunny bounces about on tiptoe, the frogs squat and hop heavily, the stag lifts his knees in a slow-motion equine prance, the cock struts and flaps his fabric-feather arms. Bear, Lion, Heifer, and others in animal heads lumber generically.

Mssr. Fontaine — portrayed by Christine Fersen — enters frequently to comment on the action, and different characters sometimes step out of their animal personas to narrate, with projected super-titles translating the French. “The Cicada and the Ant” cautions us about the prudence of storing provisions for the winter, like the latter, rather than wasting the good weather singing, like the former. The envious Fox falsely flatters Crow’s voice, till she opens her mouth to caw and drops her tasty hunk of cheese, which Fox promptly makes off with — the wages of vanity!

In “The Oak and the Reed,” the oak, abstracted into a tall, narrow rectangle, descends diagonally from vertical to horizontal across the glowing cyclorama, while the thin reed sways gracefully in the breeze, illustrating the virtue of flexibility in the face of opposition. It’s interesting that the tableau involving no live actors scores the greatest applause.

The style mixing of the costumes (designed by Moidele Bickel) is both provocative and puzzling. Some animals wear tuxedos with masks that completely cover their heads, while others wear animal suits and headpieces that show their own faces. Tiger’s, Bear’s, and Wolf’s masks are realistic, but the Ox’s could be an African tribal mask, the Ant’s head and pincers read intergalactic alien, and the shiny, bulbous Frogs resemble stuffed kids’ toys. Is this eclectic mix-and-match meant to show that morality transcends the ages? It’s visually intriguing but contextually confusing.

Wilson’s set is more coherent: walls that flank the stage glide between scenes to shrink and grow the amount of sky revealed. They also contain movable panels that open into doorways, both at stage level and higher up. The cyclorama glows with saturated colors — vivid reds, blues, yellows — while follow spots pinpoint actors’ faces, matching or contrasting the background colors. A picture-frame/window, a lollipop-shaped tree, and a colonnade also appear briefly like holiday decorations on Wilson’s stark, elegant architecture. It’s hard to tell whether the final ovation was for the spectacle, the performers, or for just the self-proclaimed esthetic concept that is Robert Wilson.

Fluid Architecture

“They charge and romp,” whispered my theater companion, an architect, during Ballet National de Marseille’s “Metapolis II” at the New York State Theater, another Festival attraction (July 25 – 27), a collaboration between Pritzker Prize-winning Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid and choreographer Frédéric Flamand, the company’s director. The Choreographer’s Note in the program proclaims, “The city dweller’s body enters into a dynamic symbiosis with the urban environment. The city imprints itself on the body in shifting geometries. The dancers literally form bodies within the city in an attempt to make the space dance.”

With this premise, Flamand presents a maelstrom of restless motion. Dancers in futuristic gray-and-white body suits, deconstructed business suits, and briefs and kneepads (costumes also by Hadid), sprint onto the stage, perform series of disjointed, technically challenging moves, and then flee into the wings, as another group replaces them. The movement is indistinguishable from the body-bruising virtuosity that wows TV audiences on reality series like “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Dancers are often accompanied by live video images of themselves on the backdrop, filmed by an unidentified onstage videographer. Two men dance a sensuous duet facing away from us, but it’s shot from upstage, so we see them front view in the giant projection on the cyclorama. During one male solo, his simultaneous video image slowly rotates 360-degrees on the screen.

Sometimes the dancers wear or carry green fabric, invisible to the video camera; the green-draped portions of their moving bodies are replaced by projections of frenetic urban chaos. In the most gripping of these scenes, a naked woman is video-taped lolling on the floor on a green blanket — a patch of urban grass, maybe — but we see her on screen apparently floating midair in a tunnel of roaring traffic. If only there were more of this kind of poetry in the 80-minute intermission-less ballet!

In one duet, the woman wears halogen flashlights taped to her shins, turning her toe shoes into luminescent boots; otherwise the few excursions onto pointe work seem gratuitous, as do red lights on the dancers’ wrists in another section.

Although the piece was made in 2000 at the modern dance National Choreographic Center in Belgium, Flamand has reset it on the ballet-trained dancers of his Marseille troupe. To their great credit, the physically beautiful and beautifully trained dancers manage to maintain the numbing pace throughout. A mélange of music ranging from mysterious electronic to lush Messaien violin music, played by onstage violinist George van Dam, alternately enhances and subverts the dancing. Continuous short sections pile up visual information — costume changes, light textures, real-time video projections that include an imploding building, and finally, a soaring virtual cityscape that seems to envelop the stage space and overpower the dancing. Flamand and Hadid illustrate the metaphor of urban dysphoria with visual overload.

To her great credit, Hadid’s architectural environment is striking — projected urban rhythms and virtual architecture, and onstage, three nesting bridges that the dancers push into various configurations and dance over, under, around, and atop — but choreographer Flamand’s structural and kinetic randomness preclude emotional engagement. As usual, some of the New York audience walked out midway through, but others rose in ovation — the latter group reflecting the desire to appreciate what’s sold to them as important art, whether or not they have a clue how they feel about what they’ve just witnessed.

chicago-licht-smallAmong the stunning work on view in the Art Institute of Chicago’s ongoing exhibition The New Contemporary: Roy Lichtenstein,  Artist’s Studio “Foot Medication,” 1974. The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Edlis/Neeson Collection. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein and courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago.

Flash Flashback, 9-15: Shadows of our Remembered Ancestors ‘Labor Union’ Works it; Workum and Rawls Paint the Ark

By Alison D’Amato
Copyright 2007, 2016 Alison D’Amato

(Originally published February 15, 2007.)

NEW YORK — For an art form that’s barely a century old, modern dance often appears obsessed with its own legacy. Maybe that’s because our ranks are so slim, the branches of our family tree still so close to its roots; most dancers my age (which is an admittedly green 26) have had, and probably also adored, a teacher who danced with Trisha Brown or Merce Cunningham. We can often even trace ourselves, perhaps through the teacher of a teacher, to Martha Graham herself. It’s empowering to feel a part of that history, and crucial to understand it. The trouble is, the closeness of it is often overwhelming enough to keep a young choreographer from finding her own voice. While innovation is often singled out as the ultimate mark of choreographic achievement, some dance makers choose to address that fact as problematic, and reincorporate the past as something all their own. Two pairs of such dance makers appeared on a split bill at Dance Theater Workshop last weekend. One of those calls themselves “The Labor Union,” and is manned by co-creators Isabel Lewis and Erika Hand. The other is made up of Katie Workum and Will Rawls.

To get the rest of the article, subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at artsvoyager@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Complete articles are $5 or three for $10. Subscribe to the Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($119 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) and receive full access to our Dance Insider Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading dance critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Contact Paul at artsvoyager@gmail.com .

mep-bill-smallest

Did anyone popularize post-modern dance in the 1990s — and simultaneously prove its *relevance* by using its language to address contemporary concerns, singularly making dance a player in so-called ‘identity politics’ — as much as Bill T. Jones? No surprise, then, that Jones found a photographer to match his mettle in popular appeal in Herb Ritts, who once said, “If we look to the past, (for example) at Paul Outerbridge and Man Ray, many of their best photographs started out as commercial assignments.” Ritts’s singular portrait (above), “Bill T. Jones, Los Angeles, 1995” is among the iconic Ritts oeuvres on view at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie of the City of Paris September 10 through October 15. Copyright Herb Ritts Foundation.