From the Archives: The above image from Luke Cresswell’s 1997 film “Stomp out Loud” was first published on the DI in February 2013. Image courtesy of the Cinematheque de Toulouse.
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak
NEW YORK — The other day at the Children of Uganda performance, I saw something that I rarely see at the ballet: Black people. Not just on stage, but in the audience. Actually, the two are related. I believe the reason I rarely see black people at the ballet (with the exception of Dance Theatre of Harlem) is that there are so very few — and in the case of American Ballet Theatre, no — black people on stage. This is not meant to infer that black people just want to see black performers. Rather, when a company, such as ABT, is so lilly white, the message is that this is not a black-friendly environment. So it was refreshing Monday night to go to an event that indicates that another company, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, is not just welcoming blacks into its house, but going to their house.
To receive the rest of the article, first published on March 7, 2000, subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at firstname.lastname@example.org. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the DI for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) and receive full access to our Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to email@example.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check or in Euros. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $109 (institutions) Purchase before May 7, 2017 and receive a second, free copy for the recipient of your choice. Contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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Berlin’s Constanza Macras, Portugal’s Vera Mantero, Belgium’s Alain Platel, Spain’s Israel Galvan, Crystal Pite — these are just a few of the choreographic giants coming to Paris this Spring that the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager will be able to cover with your support.
Many of you first read about these internationally renowned choreographers for the first time on the DI and, continuing our 20-year mission of bringing you stories not told elsewhere and giving a voice to dancers, we’ll also be reporting on Giulio D’Anna, a Netherlands-based Italian choreographer whose “OOOOOOO” is inspired by Zagreb’s “Museum of Broken Relationships,” and Jasna Vinovrski’s “Lady Justice,” addressing the relationship between justice and art. Speaking of art, we’d also like to bring you Yasmina Reza’s “Art” as interpreted at the Theatre de la Bastille by the pioneering Belgium theater company STAN — co-founded by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s sister. And of intersections between art and society, this year’s Chantiers (Building Projects) d’Europe festival at the Theatre de la Ville features countries in the front lines of the refugee crisis, notably in six short films from Greece addressing this topic and a public brainstorming session with artists from six countries. And we’ll bring you into the studios of the 200+ artists taking part in the Open Studios of Belleville — a neighborhood which in its very MULTI-CULTURAL contours and dimensions provides the best retort to the cloistered vision of French culture represented by the National Front. (We share the FN’s stated pride in traditional French culture; we simply argue that this definition is too limited and does not do justice to the grandeur and ouverture to the world that has always been French culture.)
To be there, in addition to the support of our current subscribers and sponsors, whom we thank infinitely, we need bring in at least $1500 from new subscribers and sponsors. This will be used to help cover housing and transportation. (An American colleague in Paris has offered us a special price on lodging.)
Already a subscriber or sponsor? Please forward this article. Want to become one? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org . Subscribers receive full access to our 20-year archive of more than 2,000 reviews by 150 leading dancer-critics of performances on five continents, plus five years of the Jill Johnston Letter as well as Arts Voyager art galleries, film reviews, and travelogues from Paris, New York, and across the U.S.. Sponsors receive this plus advertising on The Dance Insider, and/or the Arts Voyager.
(If we do not raise enough to return to Paris this Spring / Summer, all new donors, subscribers, and sponsors will be given the option of recuperating their pledge or having it applied to current and/or future coverage, including our ongoing project to put the entire DI 20-year archive online.)
On a personal-professional level, your support will also help me make my own career transition as a French-to-English translator, making it possible for me to participate in a translators’ festival taking place in Paris this June, essential for my being able to continue to pursue 40 years of building bridges between nations in a new form. And to access essential health-care (‘access’ because the costs for this will be paid for by myself with help from my family).
France, too, is at the crossroads. On May 7 — my 56th birthday — the country will choose between the fear represented by the National Front and the hope and optimism represented by Emmanuel Macron. Between closure and opening. In the campaign between these two ‘cultures’ that has raged in this country for the past two years, CULTURE has been all but forgotten. (Among Macron’s refreshing ideas: More library hours.) With your help, we will be able to do our part in restoring some light to what has always been France’s principal calling card around the world. Our calling for more than 20 years.
Many thanks and
Return to Innocence: If you want to look for where art is being made in Paris today, don’t look in the hills of Montmartre but the heights of Belleville. And if you want to peek inside the artists’ studios and chat with the creators, check the Portes Ouvertes of the Artists of Belleville, coming up next month May 19 – 22 and featuring the work of, among others, Catherine Olivier (above). Art courtesy and copyright Catherine Olivier.
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2010, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak
(Want coverage of this May’s Portes Ouvertes de Belleville and a myriad of dance, theater, and visual artists from around the world coming to Paris this Spring & Summer? The Dance Insider & Arts Voyager need your support to make it happen. To subscribe for just $29.95(or Euros) per year and access our Archive of 2000 reviews by 150 writers of performances and exhibitions on five continents over the past 20 years, or make a donation, just designate your PayPal payment to email@example.com , or write us at that address to learn about payment by check. Already a subscriber or sponsor? Thank you and… please spread the news. This reverie on the Open Studios of Belleville, a variety of dance performances real and pretended, and a tapestry of street art of all colors and characters was first published on May 31, 2010.)
PARIS — If the past couple of weeks have taught me anything, it’s that, as has often been the case here and in any major metropolis, art is being advanced not by the established venues and gatekeepers, but in the ateliers, the squats, the docks, the banks of the Seine, even the eccentric personalities of individual Parisians who, often against great odds, infuse the city with its colors and invest it with their dynamism, trying to satiate its denizens’ thirst for the relief and elevation art can provide with, if not a joie de vivre — it’s too much of a struggle to find the means these days to expect that — at least a joie to engage, be it with the elusive muse or the resilient thread that connects a contemporary artistic scene in flux with the phantoms of the past, themselves often barred by the gatekeepers of their time. So if I was disappointed by a lackluster season-announcing press conference by the Theatre de la Ville in which its director, Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, was averse to taking questions from the press (and no wonder: the 2010-11 dance season offers little surprises), I was inspired and invigorated by a photo on the wall of a Lilliputian atelier on the outskirts of Belleville capturing a darkened forest fleeting by outside a train window and the enchanting smile of its simply dressed proud author, Agata Rybarczyk — “It was taken in Poland! I’m Polish!” — who also invited visitors to create their own art out of small cubes.
My descent — or ascent — began last Wednesday with Christian Rizzo’s “L’Oubli, toucher du bois” (The Forgotten, knock wood), theoretically a dance piece, and in which I didn’t see enough either to forget or remark, having been chased out before the artist-spectator contract could be consummated by the bright flood lights the brilliant lighting designer, Caty Olive, assaulted the audience with, directing them straight at the public. I’m not paid to suffer (and when it comes to bright lights, migraines don’t grant artistic license), so I fled, making my way along the Quay towards the Ile St. Louis, arrested en route by a bouquiniste pal, Fabrice, who right away thrust a plastic cup of Kentucky bourbon into my mitts. “It’s not actually mine to give, it belongs to Daniel, who’s descended to the river to retrieve one of my vintage newspapers which flew away,” explained the chronically frenetic Fabrice, even more jittery than usual that night under the Chinese lantern hat shielding him from the Sun. “So that’s why I’m not giving you that much.” When Daniel returned, baked red from the Sun and, I surmised — from a visage as weathered as Balzac’s “Peau de Chagrin” – living outdoors, and looked from Fabrice to the bottle to me, it dawned on me that he had probably already drunk directly from the container. When Fabrice asked me to remind him what I did for a living, I made the mistake of telling him I worked on the Internet. “That’s a CIA – Defense department plot, you know. So you must work for the CIA. In fact that’s why you have bad teeth: It’s a cover.” I have known Fabrice for a while and am accustomed to his delires, so I decided to go with the scenario. “Yes, in fact, if you don’t mind, I need to just check the bug I put in your flower-pot to make sure it’s working.” Then his cell phone vibrated. “A Chinese guy gave it to me!” he said of the phone. “I know,” I said. “We actually gave it to the Chinese guy to give to you so we’d know where you were at all times.” At this point he laughed. “Pass by my stand again when you like!” he said before dashing across the street to the Metro, leaving Daniel to guard the newspapers and the bottle.
I still had some time before the after-performance buffet at the theater (hazard pay for the blaring lights, even if they’d ejaculated me prematurely), so I headed towards the Pont Neuf, where I discovered another government-subsidized lighting monstrosity. (To indigenous culturati readers who may be tempted to interject at this point, “If you loathe what we fund so much, why do you stay?” I respond: By objecting to your new-fangled projects, I’m postulating for admission to a longstanding pantheon of cultural curmudgeons. Never mind that they also despised one of my own chou-chous, the Eiffel Tower.) On an official commission from the ministry of culture and communication, a contemporary artist has framed the statue of Henry IV on a horse with purple neon tubing, even adding a neon sword to his sword-sheathe, thus diminishing the statue and blighting the bridge and the views of it from either side. Sometimes I think that the current cultural gate-keepers of Paris and France don’t appreciate, or at least under-value, their own heritage. This impression was recently bolstered by the theft of five paintings — by Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Leger, and Braque — from the Modern Art Museum of Paris earlier this month, the thief entering through a window the alarm on which had been out of commission for two months. Security officers had signaled the malfunction to the higher-ups but nothing had been done about it. So the thief was apparently able to take his time before neatly severing the tableaux from their frames.
All this as a prelude to explain why on Friday, on a quest for art created by a less official tribe, I took visitors from San Francisco around Belleville for the annual four-day Open Studios of Belleville, as much an opportunity to see art as encounter its creators and discover the milieus in which they live and work. We started with the plateau on top of the parc Belleville and its panoramic view, which includes my favorite perspective on the Eiffel. Then up to and down the winding rue Cascades, so dubbed because (way) back in the day water from cisterns (two examples of which have been preserved) controlled by the local abbey flowed down it to the faubourgs around the Place de la Republique. We all loved the atelier of Estelle Babut-Gay — me for the terrace with its view of trees and Paris rooftops, David for the sculptures crafted from Atlantic coast driftwood, Jennifer for the rings made from buttons. (She finally decided on two.) I was enchanted (literally) by the gauzy, ephemeral pyro-gravures of Catherine Olivier, crammed into her atelier above a corner café. But most of the allure came from the street itself: the patch of late-afternoon sunlight illuminating the catty-corner below Olivier’s studio and the cafe tables around it, the spectacular view of a panoply of rooftops of varying heights and the skyline below, the serpentine street, conjuring a Belleville which has haunted me since repeated childhood viewings of “The Red Balloon.” (As Jerry tells Peter in Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story,” sometimes you have to take the long way around to come back home.)
The rue Cascades spit us out (to cop a phrase from Léo Malet) onto the rue Menilmontant, immortalized by Charles Trenet. I wanted to check the status of la Miroiterie, the artists’ squat that takes up an entire alley at 88 Menilmontant across the street from Cascades, mostly to see if it was still there, as so many artists’ squats have been shut down lately by officials of the Socialist city government. The atmosphere was subdued. A few artist-residents were cooking up spicy merguez sausages to sell for 3 Euros apiece and offering beer for 2, but none of the ateliers were open, except for a graffiti’d space where a DJ played very loud reggae. I picked up a flyer, “Le Pari (s) de la Creation,” which explained: “Following so many other popular and prolific artists’ squats, la Miroiterie has to quit the Paris scene, whereas the large institutions of contemporary art continue to turn emptily to grand indifference on the part of Parisians.” (In the nearby 19th arrondissement, the highly touted city-funded Centre 104 has done just that for the past two years.) “What do we want? To revindicate a place for artists in a Paris that continues to sigh in the soft pillow of consensus and the principles of precaution…. We request (simply) a form of tolerance, to exist in the interstices of the city, to occupy temporarily its niches, to live at the most intimate proximity in the neighborhoods, without being attacked and taken to court.” Other cities in France and elsewhere have conferred space to artists’ collectives, but, the manifesto asked, “What has Paris done? The capital of art and culture, has it become so timorous that it doesn’t want to loan orphaned spaces to artists in need of space?”
…. On Saturday, I actually had a review assignment, “The man without a past,” a mime spectacle showing at a recreation center in the 19th arrondissement, on the other side of the Ourcq canal from outer-outer Belleville. As this same arr. takes part in the Open Studios, I thought I would make my way from the rue Menilmontant over to Belleville, past the man-made parc Butte Chaumont with its precipitous waterfalls, over the Basin la Villette to the Metro Crimee and the Mathis animation center, discovering some more studios along the way. That was the plan, anyway.
From the studio promenade, besides Rybarczyk’s showing, which also included inviting visitors into a sort of curtained box, one at a time, to view a life-sized, disheveled naked woman getting out of an unmade bed, I was impressed most by tableaux which mixed 1930s magazine clips and grey-blue paint, in collages by Sylviane Balustre-d’Erneville, as well as several of her photos, including of a market and a backyard in Egypt. Hers was also the most elegant of showings, with cool jazz and Gainsbourg and champagne on offer.
At the basin, near a grounded destroyer converted into a children’s play structure, I collided with a massive design expo, featuring space-age furniture from the ’50s through ’60s. From this retro outpost one could hear techno music pounding from across the basin. This eventually devolved to canned can-can music, accompanying a live performance by four women and one man who made up the Troupe of Mademoiselle Clairette. It only took me ten years, but I had finally stumbled upon can-can being performed live in Paris. The performance stage as well as the audience area was a floating platform moored in the basin, so that the performers were actually dancing — and performing splits and other calisthenics — on an unstable unprotected wooden floor while being battered by the wind blowing from all directions, with no Marley in sight. I came away with a real sense of the ribaldry with which can-can must have been performed back in the day, as well as the athletic strength required of the dancers. And ouch!, those splits on that hard-wood floor!
I had some time before the mime show started, so I plopped down on a concrete bank of the basin near the rear of an old-school schooner and opened a can of stuffed grape leaves, which I downed with hot spiced tea from a vintage red-checkered thermos I’d scored at a vide grenier (like a neighborhood-wide garage sale; vide = empty and grenier = attic) for 1.50 Euros. This turned out to be not one of my most brilliant inspirations of the week-end, as the food no doubt contributed to the most sorry part of my day, when I fell asleep as soon as the show which was the one thing I actually had to do that day started. I drifted in and out during the one-hour performance, by the Theatre de l’Epopee’s Hadrien Trigance, which concerned a man who wakes up every morning with no memory of what he did the previous day or the last 30 years. At night, though, he dreams of a woman dressed in purple satin, evoked onstage by a purple satin sheet, before he wakes up wrapped in a white sheet. At one point his memory is jolted and he replays a dinner table scene from his childhood, his parents (heard off-stage in recorded voices) talking while he plays with his food. Trigance’s innocent air and alternately grave and playful aspect as he sat on a high-chair reminded me of Chaplin. I drifted off again, only to wake up in time to see him form a noose with the satin sheet; perhaps the woman of the past now haunting his dreams had hung herself, which is why he had blotted out all memory. The spectacle ends with the hero bedding down with the purple sheet, choosing retaining a tragic past over waking up with a blank sheet ever morning.
Afterwards, when Trigance’s manager asked me what I thought of the piece’s evolution since a 20-minute version I’d caught two years ago at the Mimos international mime festival in Perigueux, I hedged: “It’s…developed.” Later, when Trigance came out, I came up with something (I thought) better, “You remind me of Chaplin.” “Oh,” said the mime, hanging his head. “It’s a compliment, really!”
On Sunday, after a day of recovery resting my tired dogs, I arranged to meet David and Jennifer at Niki de Saint Phalle’s Stravinsky fountain next to the Pompidou museum. I had them take a picture of me next to the big-breasted mermaid which (who?) is just one of the fanciful objects spouting water from the fountain, right out of her plexi-glass nipples. Then my friends stopped to photograph a large chalk pavement drawing featuring the Eiffel, then the artist who’d created it, then his dog; the real-life model was yelping from protective covering in an open suit-case, no doubt complaining about the late May drizzle and wind. The artist had scrawled at the base of the work that he needed money to live. My friends dropped some coins into the hat. Then we scrambled through Les Halles to the rue Montorgueil, in search of a high-class pizza joint. “What church is that?” Jennifer asked as we came to Saint Eustache. “That’s the church where a children’s choir director named Gounod told a ragamuffin named Renoir that it was ‘dommage’ that he had chosen painting over music, because he had such an angelic voice.” Then up Montorgueil, regretting the Starbuck’s sign which now, like a portal, marks its entrance on the uptown side of this street made famous by Monet (“Rue Montorgueil on the 14th of July”), and the rue Reaumur, where Jennifer gave a lesson in the art of grabbing a taxi to a poor young French man trying to protect his head from the rain with a newspaper. As the man waved tentatively at the faraway driver, Jennifer simply marched up the block ahead of him. David, who had studied at the Sorbonne in the ‘60s, started talking about being in the now. “This moment, for instance,” he suggested, looking down what to me is one of the most non-descript, boring streets in Paris, degraded to downright depressing when the gray sky is dribbling drizzle. “I love this moment, this place, right here, right now.” Later, when we finally found the pizza place — in the interim there was a taxi driver who joked that he thought he spotted Che Guevara in his mirror (me, in my beret with the Captain Haddock button) – by way of furnishing another example of temporal bliss David pulled out the photo, on his cell phone, of the salade Nicoise he’d had at our first RDV for this visit, when I took him and Jennifer to an unremarkable neighborhood café on the place Edith Piaf. (‘Took’ being relative; they treated.) I’d retained from this lunch that there were none of the advertised anchovies in the salad and that the charming server who typically greets me with, “How’s he doing, the American?” had not mentioned he was out of them, didn’t think the absence of anchovies in a salade Nicoise was worth an avertissement, and charged us the same, quand meme. On Friday, before a hefty steak dinner at the Relais of the Entrecote on the place Saint-Germain-des-Près (most American writers in Paris would have slipped this reference in 20 paragraphs earlier, and I’m not even going to attempt to capture the ambiance in the nearby lobby of that expatriate Valhalla the Hotel Montana or correctly spell Germanopretan), David and Jennifer had taken me to Bob Cool, where it was Western theme night, Johnny Cash was in the house, and I had to resist the temptation to explain that you don’t leave the ice cubes in the Cosmos. Johnny, Edith, David — they find the serendipitous and the art in the tragic, the hard times, the mundane. Me, I wonder whether I can manage to pull it off, even in the City of Light which has compelled my artist’s soul like a moth since I first opened the pages of Ludwig Bemelmans’s “Madeline” and saw “Pascal” lifted over the streets of Belleville by a barque of balloons — to lift the clouds of blackness that obscure my view so much these days, to live up to a credo scrawled in my high-school year-book by an Italian friend, Sonia, who I lost in a dispute then found 20 years later: “Never stop looking for beauty, never.” Until then, I’m off to the Piaf. Hold the anchovies in that noisette, Isham.
(Some updates, 4-20-2017: La Miroiterie was eventually closed down by city authorities, who claimed that a wall bordering the alley threatened to tumble. A law that would have galleries pay artists for the privilege of exhibiting them has been proposed. Benoit Hamon, the Socialist candidate for president in the election whose first round is April 23, has proposed a regime for visual artists which would resemble the unemployment convention for which freelance performance artists and technicians are currently eligible. Except for Hamon and that when it’s preceded by ‘multi-’ it’s become a Right-wing epithet, culture has been conspicuous by its absence in the presidential campaign, a lapse in attention I’d ascribe more to the Media than the candidates. All the more reason for the artists of Belleville to once again take it to the streets, May 19 – 22. )
Subscribe to the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager today for just $29.95/year or 29.95 in Euros and get complete access to our 20-year archive of more than 2,000 exclusive reviews of performances on five continents by 150 writers, plus commentary, art, Jill Johnston & more. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to firstname.lastname@example.org , or write us at that address to find out about payment by check. Institutional rate of $99 or 99 Euros/year gets full access for your entire company, school, etcetera. Sponsorships start at just $49/month and include placements like that above for DI sponsor Freespace Dance. Photo of Freespace Dance’s Donna Scro Samori and Omni Kitts by and copyright Lois Greenfield. Sign up as a sponsor before May 1, 2017 and receive a second month free. Contact email@example.com . Subscribe before May 1 and receive a second, gift subscription for free. Your subscription or donation also helps support our ongoing coverage of the dance and art from around the world coming to Paris this Spring and Summer.
From the DI Archives: Featuring over 200 works of various media — painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, drawings, and graphic design, as well as video and documentary film — Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, was first highlighted on the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager in February 2013 with, above: Ay-O, “Pastoral (Den’en),” 1956. Oil on panel, 72 1/16″ x 12′ 1 13/16″ (183 x 370.4 cm). Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. © Ay-O & courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo.
By Asimina Chremos
Copyright 2000, 2017 Asimina Chremos
CHICAGO — I have just returned home from witnessing 57-year-old Butoh artist Akira Kasai, making his Chicago debut at the Dance Center of Columbia College, perform in the nightclub of his imagination. For his piece “Tinctura-2,” the floor of the large black performance space/existential disco was marked with dotted lines of glow tape, sending the eye out and away like a 10-laned highway in space. The lines narrowed towards the back of the space, a simple trick of perspective that added a surprisingly effective illusion of depth. Dressed in black pants, tight black cap, and sleeved tee-shirt, with bleached blond hair and sinewy arms, Kasai reminded me of a Japanese version of Iggy Pop.
To get the rest of the article, first published on March 18, 2000, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at firstname.lastname@example.org. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($99 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. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to email@example.com , or write us at that address to find out about payment by check. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $99 (institutions) Contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org .
By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2009, 2019 Maura Nguyen Donohue
(First published on the DI on July 16, 2009 and re-published today thanks to DI Co-Principal Sponsor Slippery Rock Dance, this piece is just one of the more than 2,000 Flash Reviews of performances, books, cinema, and art from around the world by 150 artist-critics covered by the DI/AV since 1998 . To learn how you can obtain your own copy of the DI Archives, e-mail email@example.com. To support the DI/AV’s ongoing work, please make a donation today by designating your gift through PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org or write us at that address to learn how to donate by check. Camille A. Brown performs this Saturday and Sunday at the Joyce Theater in New York.)
NEW YORK — David Dorfman is a messy guy. A subversively messy guy. Not his army of superhuman dancers, nor his luscious, sweeping choreography. Not his design team, nor his vision. Not his workshops for corporate outreach, nor his master classes for athletes. Not his chairmanship of the Connecticut College dance department, nor his stewardship of one of our most important companies — his own. His is not an untidy craftsman, but David Dorfman is a messy artist. Messing with things in disarming, informal, personable, personal, complicated, volatile, well-meaning, demanding, unpleasant and thus deeply, vitally, importantly, and inherently American ways. He will not provide easy resolutions for the violence and chaos of our historic and contemporary foils. But, once again, with “Disavowal,” seen at Danspace Project, he remains ever loyal to banging away at our hostilities in a constant search for our shared humanity.
In “Disavowal,” Dorfman takes famed abolitionist and “race traitor” John Brown as his springboard. Brown’s crusade is as messy as they come, having played a major role in sparking our bitter Civil War. The father of 20 children, he is also considered by some to be the father of American terrorism, a religious zealot practicing armed insurrection and murder. For others, he was a valiant martyr who died so that millions of American slaves could be free. After Brown’s capture and public hanging, Frederick Douglass wrote: “His zeal in the cause of freedom was infinitely superior to mine. Mine was as the taper light; his was as the burning sun. I could live for the slave; John Brown could die for him.” President Lincoln called Brown “a misguided fanatic.” With this figure as one’s model for activism, as with the Weathermen who provided source material for Dorfman’s “underground,” ambivalence abounds.
Dorfman plunders the depths of frustrated fatherhood repeatedly throughout the work, beginning the piece with a propaganda commercial on behalf of the mythic PAPA (People in Advocacy for Perspective Adjustments). Throughout the evening, he embodies a shifting series of patriarchic incarnations — from his familiar role of benevolent company director, persistently warm and affectionately insistent, to dogmatic cult leader demanding violence, absolute loyalty and “tolerance by any means necessary.” Each manifestation of PAPA provides opportunities to consider the easy precipice into tyranny when one is allowed unquestioned influence over another. Kyle Abraham, Patrick Ferrari, Renuka Hines, Tania Isaac, Molly Poerstel, Jenna Riegel, Karl Rogers, and Whitney Tucker devour the space in a number of demanding dance drills and flit between being mischievous urchins and chastised acolytes. They dance like furies, exploding with stunning athletic prowess and seemingly inhuman skill. At times, in the throes of a movement sequence, they seem to have just descended from Mt. Olympus (or the Super Friends Hall of Justice) and then Dorfman yells “Molly don’t run like a girl” and Athena is relegated to humankind once more.
As the piece evolves and the performers reach ever increasing heights of virtuosity, Dorfman manages to exploit the widening gap between good ol’ David and his youthful cadre by tackling the many other gaps that lay between leaders and their people. Regardless of how loving, well-intentioned, or righteous the path may be, those in charge carry a burden of alienation from those they control.
Upon entering the church, I am invited to sit anywhere. Dorfman is seated on an overturned bucket with his arms tied behind him and his legs bound by yarn. The dancers are playing cards on the risers and people are milling around the space in search of good seating. There are no chairs and the atmosphere is that of a town commons of sorts, with members of the company dressed in Civil War-epoch wools. I begin thinking of abolitionism and wondering how far we’ve come from the Civil War, from Civil Rights. We’ve got the Obamas, we’ve got the recent NegrObies — as Village Voice writer James Hannaham dubbed this year’s off-Broadway awards — and while downtown dance seems to be joining the Obie judges in what Hannaham calls the “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs” phenomenon, I’m still waiting for someone to make a piece about Robert Williams, whose book “Negroes with Guns” offered fair arguments for black armed self-defense. I hate guns, but I’m ready for a darker shade to the hero’s palette.
I find myself happily conflicted for the duration of “Disavowal.” Race and authority are complicated territories and I appreciate that Dorfman offers no answers, but forces us to simmer in the clutter of rights, access, ownership, property and guilt. Hines, a gorgeous recent Columbia graduate who I’ve been tracking in Barnard dance concerts for a few years, proclaims, “I want white. I don’t want to be white. I just want what you have, to be neutral, to be Not a Color. I want to be a person.” The delivery is slightly soft, a little lost coming from a young woman, but the reach is far, for all those who have wished they could find themselves UNmarked, UNpigeonholed, and UNquestioned in their right to stand beside you — in, for instance, a dance piece like this one that happens to need more marked people in the cast in order to foreground the issues of being marked. When Rogers apologizes to Abraham for “everything that’s ever happened to you” and Abraham responds that it’s not enough, the impotency of white guilt seethes through the air. However, when Rogers asks what would be enough and Abraham decides that getting an audience member’s house, a second member’s car and a third to pay his student loans would do it, Rogers then derides him for not earning those things and retracts the apology. It is a witty and biting challenge to a kind of liberalism that wants to achieve equality without sacrifice.
Later in the dance, we are asked to choose the dancer we think we are most like and go sit with him or her. Some of the dancers take some of the audience members who have been sitting by them and bring them on stage, and the fluidity and mobility of the audience experience allows us to feel like we have been together for much longer than an hour. If feels, appropriately, like we are a congregation of sorts, gathering because it is the ritual of our shared community. But the groupings become factions as dancers and audience choose one of two options, with Abraham and Isaac trying to bring Hines and other dancers and audience members over to their small alliance that opposes the growing white majority. However, Hines remains standing, a model of ambivalence.
“Disavowal” is adamantly exhaustive, physically rigorous and staunchly informal, with Dorfman as a democratic despot who revels us with excess and need.
Camille A. Brown is a force of nature; her recent collection of works presented at Joyce SoHo, and seen June 7, was an extensive and exhaustive survey of her unrelenting curiosity. The substantial amount of work offered (after two hours I had to leave with two pieces still remaining) revealed Brown’s abundance of ideas, penchant for hard work, and generosity to her peers — with dances by Francine E. Ott and the ever-exquisite Kyle Abraham included on the roster. Previously known as a dynamic and forceful performer for Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, Brown is quickly making a name for herself as a choreographic voice to be reckoned with. Since her last self-produced concert two and a half years ago at Joyce SoHo, she has been commissioned by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Philadanco, took part in Fall for Dance at Lincoln Center and E-moves at Harlem Stage, and shown why she is a highly sought after commodity on the college repertory circuit, with a jubilant version of “Second Line” set on Hunter College students this past spring. There is broad appeal in her vibrant dance sequences and razor sharp wit.
I was particularly curious to see how Brown’s work compared to Dorfman’s “Disavowal.” A premiere, “Matchstick,” takes a moment 50 years after the Civil War (and 50 years before the Civil Rights movement hits full stride) as its focus. The program also included am homage to Brown’s grandmother and a work in progress looking at more recent “back in the day” junctures in African-American history. I wondered how a younger, black, female choreographer might address issues around race and social responsibilities. Brown does effectively offer a lot to the dialogue, but I soon realized that to saddle her with so much socio-political expectation was unfair. She’s an artist clearly aware of cultural trends, legacies and representations, but she’s also at her best when she is celebrating, joyous, and irreverent. She opens the show with “Mary,” a solo for her grandmother. Though not quite poignant, it is still a lovely dance that I’m sure would have made grandma proud. Here, Brown’s ever-so-fast shifting and super-smooth style detracts from the powerful passage of one woman’s life, revealed behind the performer in a projected collage by Q Ragsdale. Struggles portrayed and efforts embodied are fleeting and become part of a general wash of movement from an exquisite dancer with great command over her physical faculties.
“Matchstick” is danced stunningly by Kevin Guy, Otis Donovan Herring, Juel D. Lane and Keon Thoulouis. It’s a highly theatrical work, set around a table covered in papers laminated onto it that the men repeatedly point at, slap, slice and attempt to sweep away with dramatic arm gestures. With rolling shoulders and fisted punches, they exert tremendous energy matched by the live piano from Brandon McCune and Farai Malianga’s fervent beating on a flamenco percussion box. Brown pushes the dancers until they are drenched and dripping, but as a danced representation of an imagined meeting of community leaders, it wavers around a kind of old-fashioned structure. Not because of its narrative — Bill T. Jones’s recent return of “Chapel/Chapter” to the Harlem Stage Gatehouse shows how narratives can be stunningly and innovatively woven and deconstructed — but because it doesn’t choreographically reach beyond traditional staging and remains mired in literal storytelling. The dancing is passionate, impressive, and dynamic, with expansive and forceful gesticulations reflecting a heated debate. But a deeper poignancy isn’t realized until J. Michael Kinsey arrives to perform poetry by himself and Dana Gournier. It is with this spoken exposition that we gather the specifics of struggle and despair that accompany dreams of migrating north to escape lynching and poverty. As dance theater it works for a general audience and could be highly valuable in dance education settings, but I wanted Brown to delve further into how the movement could have reflected the profound mix of desolation and hope that the text effectively pierces us with.
She’s on much stronger ground in an excerpt of her acclaimed 2007 solo “The Evolution of a Secured Feminine” and a restaging of “The Groove to Nobody’s Business,” a work originally created for her company and later commissioned in an expanded version by Judith Jamison for the Ailey company. Both dances employ highly theatrical devices as well, but the physical vocabularies make for much less generic portrayals and need few words to explicate. Brown effectively channels an abundance of characteristics that are both sophisticated and insistently, deliciously, vernacular.
“1 Second Past the Future,” a group work in progress, begins to a medley sung by Crystal Monee Halls. Antonio Brown, Beatrice Capote, Belen Estrada, Cahterine Foster, Indira Goodwine, Kevin Guy, Eriko JImbo, Juel D. Lane and Rohiatou Siby execute the choreography with expansive vigor. The dance hasn’t reached the complex level of compositional hijinks that Brown achieves in “The Groove to Nobody’s Business,” but Kinsey imbues the piece with lively commentary as a light-hearted heckler who interrupts Halls’s singing and guitar playing with a demand to “bring this to an end.” He critiques the work moving onstage from a seat in the house, complaining that he’s “tired of this modern dance, soul-singing,” calling Halls tired with her “ain’t got no man” blues and telling the “twinkle Joes” to get into position for the next dance. He begins a rant about how people today are different, that men and women behave differently, no longer seeming to care for one another. After a round of playful locking and a mock battle punctuated by Jimbo’s one-handed pike, Halls joins in with Kinsey’s calls for interpersonal compassion, proclaiming: “As we move forward, we’re losing ground.” They call for more sweetness between people and you can sense that Brown has chosen to use this run as a way of creating kinship and not simply as her own showcase. She’s building something far beyond the reaches of any concert — she’s building a community.
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