Hot off the boards….

josephine barbican 3Aki Tsujita in Darren Johnston’s “Zero Point.” Foteini Christofilopoulou photograph courtesy the Barbican.

LONDON — The muffled, thudding beat of Tim Hecker’s ambient sound score reverberates through our bodies — it’s like the noise you might hear waiting outside a cool nightclub. The dazzling bank of lights rotates towards the audience, blinding us before diminishing and plunging both stage and auditorium into darkness. Smoke fills the stage and laser lights shine down on it from above to create giant cones of mist. This is the hypnotically dramatic opening to Darren Johnston’s “Zero Point,” seen at the Barbican on May 26. A male dancer emerges from the claustrophobic gloom upstage and walks meditatively into one of the cones, fluidly progressing through a series of sculptural poses, working within the confines of the translucent edges. He leaves as two women emerge and take up position in the other two cones. In slow motion they sink to the ground then rise up again, turning, then repeat these motions, their mouths gaping open like gargoyles from an ancient civilization. Their physical language mixes Butoh, contemporary and Eastern ritualistic dance. It’s strong and grounded.

British choreographer and visual artist Johnston works with perception-altering visual and aural effects in “Zero Point,” which takes its name from Quantum Physics’s notion of ‘trapped’ space. Video projections, motion sensing digital technology, and trancey music transform the stage into another galaxy while lighting effects unzip the darkened stage into geometric sections for the dancers to perform in. Even time seems to be momentarily suspended.

“Zero Point” is a work that has been inspired by Johnston’s residency at the Museum of Art in Kochi, Japan. His cast of nine Japanese dancers who collectively draw from a range of disciplines including ballet, contemporary, Butoh, and Qigong are alumni of Tokyo’s New National Ballet, Sankai Juku, Netherlands Dance Theatre, and the Forsythe Company. The mixture of styles is performed with a contemplative quality and presence that is inspired by Buddhism and sacred Japanese ceremonial spaces. Movement flows in repeated cycles, with frozen poses pausing the tempo and the performers embodying a theatrical neutrality and modesty. Energy is contained and protracted through their bodies. There’s a welcome stillness and an aura of calm about them but also a lack of humanity. Sitting in the auditorium, I feel distanced from the performers and yearn for a fuller immersive experience.

Loose narratives of re-birth are played out through duets between Yatsutake Shimaji and ballerina Hana Sakai. He carries her onstage then makes her come to life, his hands hovering over her body, commanding her actions as if she’s his puppet. She ascends from the floor and extends to her full height on pointe, before gliding towards him as if under his spell. In their partnering Sakai and Shimaji create imaginative tableaux, but the use of balletic lines, while visually striking in the fractured light, lacks the earthy connection that is seen in the shapes of the contemporary and Butoh dancers. The demanding, ambitious Western associations of ballet jar awkwardly with the selfless Eastern spiritualism of the work as a whole. This balletic duet is also annoyingly patriarchal and while the other women move as equals to the men, with their freer expressions, Sakai does not, restrained by both her partner and her discipline.

While “Zero Point” is a reflective and inventive work which can easily seduce, choreographic ideas feel somewhat undercooked.

April in Paris: Art by Henri Lebasque

smallspringaclebasque102Among the work on sale at Artcurial’s April 5 auction of Impressionist & Modern art in Paris: Henri Lebasque (1865-1937), “La Danse” (Study), 1917. Oil on canvas, 27.17 x 29.92 inches. (69 x 75 cm.) Signed lower right. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 20,000 – 30,000 Euros. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

543.2005.2Louise Bourgeois, “Spiral Woman,” 2003. Dry point and engraving. Sheet: 17 x 15″ (43.2 x 38.1 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist. © 2017 The Easton Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, NY. From the upcoming exhibition Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait, on view at the Museum of Modern Art September 24, 2017 through January 2018.

Picabia,Francis (1879-1953)Francis Picabia, “Udnie” (Jeune fille américaine; danse) (Udnie [Young American Girl; Dance], 1913. Oil on canvas, 9′ 6 3/16″ × 9′ 10 1/8″ (290 × 300 cm). Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle, Paris. Purchased by the State, 1948. © 2016 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI/Georges Meguerdtchian/Dist. RMN–Grand Palais/Art Resource, New York. Featured in the major monographic exhibition Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction, on view at the Museum of Modern Art through March 19.

Flash Flashback, 2-2: Not ‘Phase’ away — De Keersmaeker at MoMA or, The universe of dance on grains of sand

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2011, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

(Author’s Note: Re-reading many of my reviews of for the most part European Modern Dance concerts — in which rubrique I include William Forsythe — during this epoch, in which my frustration with the often-indulgent choreographers is evident in less than inspired, voir redundant, writing, I’ve wondered if the problem wasn’t me. If I’d simply grown up to become the mirror of that well-known jaded critic who once complained, reviewing an Elizabeth Streb concert in the late 1990s, “I’ve been going to Elizabeth Streb concerts since the 1970s and I still don’t like her,” prompting me to respond: Stop going. Re-reading the review below, though, where Denby-like inspiration if not Denby-level poetry is evident, it occurs to me that perhaps it was after all the dances that failed me and not the inverse.)

NEW YORK — Seeing Anne Terese De Keersmaeker reprise her seminal 1982 “Violin Phase” yesterday at the Museum of Modern Art — you can catch her at MOMA again today at 2 and 4 p.m. — made it clearer than ever to me that this piece, performed by this dancer, should be required viewing in every modern dance class around the world. Which is not to say that it is just a *modern* dance masterpiece (perfectly at home among the other modern masterpieces at MOMA, where these performances are being connected with the exhibition Online, Drawing Through the 20th Century), but that, craft aside — because there’s plenty of that too — De Keersmaeker does what fewer and fewer modern dancers and choreographers seem interested in doing these days, and that is reaching out to and engaging the audience.

To receive the rest of the article, first published January 23, 2011, subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. 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 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 paulbenitzak@gmail.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 $129 (institutions) Purchase before February 14, 2017 and receive a second, free copy for the recipient of your choice. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .