Europe at the Crossroads: Choreographers & Artists Converge on Paris — help the DI be there

For subscription and sponsorship opportunities starting at $30, contact Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com.

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 paulbenitzak@gmail.com . 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
Cheers,

Paul
paulbenitzak@gmail.com

Open Door Policy: Taking it to the streets in Belleville, Menilmon’, & along the banks of the Seine and the Ourcq

Belleville CatherineReturn 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 paulbenitzak@gmail.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. )

 

The DI, Year 1: The Nightclub of his Imagination — Butoh Painting with Kasai

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 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 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 paulbenitzak@gmail.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 paulbenitzak@gmail.com .

If you could see her & Chuck Now: Remembering Trisha Brown on Stage

trisha

The Trisha Brown company in Brown’s “Foray Foret.” Photo by and copyright Lois Greenfield, and courtesy Tanzquartier Wien.

By & copyright Tom Patrick, Alison D’Amato, Marisa C. Hayes, and Paul Ben-Itzak

Trisha Brown died Saturday, at the age of 80, after a long illness, the Trisha Brown Dance Company announced yesterday. She is survived by multiple generations of choreographers, dancers, and dance presenters from around the world.

Flash Review 1, 5-3-2000: A Dream-Upon-Awakening
Cracking Trisha Brown’s Code

By Tom Patrick
Copyright 2000, 2017 Tom Patrick

NEW YORK — I must confess that it perplexes me in a delicious way to reflect on the smooooth concert I saw last night at the Joyce. Trisha Brown and Company gave us a silky opening night of Brown’s 30th season. To explain my perplexity: Her [and most others’ of the Judson Church branch of the tree] mode is something undeniable that hits me as finely and elusively as a dream-upon-awakening. I concentrate hard to absorb as much of it as I can, to crack the code, but it being so different from my as-yet-earthly milieu I struggle to understand….

Last night’s program began simply with the source. Trisha Brown danced the unaccompanied 1978 solo “Water Motor” gracefully, with the fluency and familiarity of the true mother. Not to say dainty! Ms. Brown dives in, and creates a beautiful portrait of kinetic ebb-and-flow. After this wonderful appetizer, a cubistic reprise/flashback followed, in the shape of Jonathan Demme’s 1986 film “Accumulation with Talking plus Water Motor” The film was a treat, in that it’s a terrific portrait of Ms. Brown and a wonderful feat by Mr. Demme, as well as providing a tickle of pleasure seeing glimpses of Stephen Petronio et al observing Ms. Brown’s dancing and speaking….

Jumping to circa 1987, “Newark (NIWEWEORCE)” for sextet was less whimsical (I felt), but an intriguing sample of compositional interplay, an unfamiliar dialect for me, and it took me a while to adjust to Ms. Brown’s arrest and configurations of rhythm. A unison pair (Seth Parker and Keith Thompson) anchor things at first with a long and deft interlude in-synch before others arrive, in shimmering counterpoint to the pair of men. Clad in clay-gray unitards — by Donald Judd, who also provided “sound concept”(it eluded me) — the six dancers venture into many juxtapositions of structural balance, taking turns as the legs of the table (my view), and I was absorbed [if not familiarly-satisfied] by this ensemble piece. I particularly enjoyed the later sections’ partnering, where anatomy and physiology seemed truly married.

Leading off after intermission was Trisha Brown’s 1994 solo “If you couldn’t see me,” with costume and music by Robert Rauschenberg. Alone in a backless white dress, Ms. Brown dances this entire yummy dance without ever once letting us see her face. Now, is she hiding from us, or just “facing the back” in a clever trick? No. I’d read about this solo when it premiered (thank you, NY Times) and wanted to see it. I’ve been a reluctant dancer on some days, and had certainly secretly wished sometimes still to dance but not so frontally exposed. “If you couldn’t see me” runs [at least] this through a prism to showcase the expressive powers of other vantage points of a dancer and a dance. And what a back, what a pair of legs has this woman! After a wait of six years, this solo satisfied and intrigued me on many levels, and it was again a treat to see the source herself!

The concert concluded with “Five Part Weather Invention,” a new piece that is the second in a specially-commissioned, full-evening jazz trilogy to be premiered [entirely] in June (@ the American Dance Festival, in Durham, NC). Danced by nine to a score by Dave Douglas that was all over the place, the piece left me feeling really in-over-my-head, and hoping the other sections would give me more context for “Five Part Weather…” I was particularly taken with a snaking canonic section, and with a later quintet where unexpectedly someone would periodically fall. The abruptness of these momentary drop-outs was tasty. True to form, Jennifer Tipton’s lighting was a soft-spoken co-star here, as well as the revived “Water Machine.”

Overall I felt off-kilter, as I’ve stated, by the rhythm thing, which is so different from my “experience,” but that’s just me (perhaps I’d be a little more comfortable initiating through TB’s “M.O, to Bach”?) At moments I felt I’d had my fill of smooth&organic, yearned for a little more punctuation, maybe, but that’s just me too(!?@:*&!!). Regardless of that, a great choreographer and her company in such a diverse and extended run as this is definitely something to get to this fortnight in May. Check soon, ’cause it was a full house tonight….

Happy Anniversary, Trisha Brown!

Flash Review 2, 5-14-2009: Watch the decoy
Dance & Order: Feeling Good Unit, starring Trisha Brown

By Alison D’Amato
Copyright 2009, 2017 Alison D’Amato

NEW YORK — Trisha Brown’s opening night performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music April 29 began by hypnotizing me. When Diane Madden, Tamara Riewe and Laurel Tentindo signaled the end of “Planes” (1968) by climbing down to the stage from the vertical set piece they’d been climbing on, I blinked — perhaps for the first time since sitting down. I was reminded of that experience the other night while watching Law & Order: Cynthia Nixon was getting taken under by a crackpot psychiatrist, and just as her eyes were fluttering closed he said something like, “When I touch your shoulder you’ll come back, feeling calm, refreshed and relaxed.” Watching Brown’s work is like that, although her magic is the real thing. I felt better somehow — lighter and with a renewed sense of optimism — when I walked out of the theater at the end of the night.

I’m not the only one to observe that Brown has a tendency to lull you into complacent satisfaction. Alastair Macaulay concluded his New York Times review of the BAM performance by offering a few “reservations” to temper his otherwise unconditional praise: the work is “consistently undisturbing,” “unvaryingly charming,” and “limited in expression, always shying away from moments that might turn into drama.” I don’t disagree with him, but I do wonder why Brown should be expected to generate drama or disturb us. Isn’t there enough sass and fierceness to go around in the dance world? Hasn’t it been 45 years since our eyes were opened to the profundity of the body showing us things without necessarily expressing things, the body that doesn’t feel the need to stir up drama?

“Planes” has the distinct flavor of cool 1960s experimentalism, and the dancers get no opportunity to project emotion; they’re there, in fact, to be projected upon. As they navigate that wall, gridded with holes big enough for arms and legs to pass through, the speed and quality of their movement never changes. We don’t see faces, eyes or effort. But there is something about the collision of real bodies making gentle, unhurried progress and Jud Yalkut’s video with its creepy shifts in perspective (we’re looking at Manhattan from a helicopter, now we’re lying on the ground looking up at a towering, leotard-clad woman) that compels us to keep looking, to go deeper into that trance.

The other piece on the program that brought me to that suspended, pleasantly reflection-less place was “Amour au theatre,” or “the new piece,” as everyone I’ve been talking to calls it. It’s a bright, buoyant work with lots of gorgeous partnering. My favorite moments were when the group coalesced to create multi-person assemblages that supported surprising, almost kooky locomotion, like a huge gallop for a dancer who leaned so far back as to be almost lying down. Smaller, more fleeting treasures are all over the place, too — little, heartbreaking details that make you wonder how a choreographer working on this scale could possibly find the time to break new ground with a quick, throwaway movement of the wrist. “O zlozony/O composite” (or, “the ballet piece,” as everyone calls it, the work having been created  on the Paris Opera Ballet; see elsewhere in these DI Archives) hinted at Brown’s attention to detail and seemingly effortless originality, but those qualities almost hovered behind the dancing, just one step behind, shadow-like. There’s probably a lot to be said about Brown’s negotiation of balletic conventions and vocabularies, but I’ll leave that to someone who knows more about them, and who is more comfortable with the imprint that ballet training leaves on dancing bodies.

“Glacial Decoy” was the historic “masterwork” in the program, and it should be required viewing for anyone who’s ever said or thought that they don’t get dance. Each movement performed in this work is exactly what it should be and exactly where it should be. Each gesture is relevant to real bodies and the real world, while adding depth and richness to the pristine world of the piece. “Glacial Decoy,” which is now exactly 30 years old, strikes me as important precisely because it is a virtuosic display of movement invention, exceptionally rare even among dances that cram in the jumps, lifts and high kicks. The movement itself is almost a character, engaging conversationally with Robert Rauschenberg’s set design and costumes. The iteration at BAM moved along briskly, skimming back and forth across the proscenium with the lateral shifting that constitutes the exquisite formal pleasure of the dance. (For more on “Glacial Decoy,” see Paul Ben-Itzak’s review of the Paris Opera Ballet performance, elsewhere in the DI Archives.)

The company members in ‘Decoy’ — Leah Morrison, Melinda Myers, Tamara Riewe, Judith Sanchez Ruiz and Laurel Tentindo — performed it very capably, although everyone seemed to be having more fun in ‘Amour.’ I imagine the company members played important roles in generating and honing that work’s vocabularies, and their commitment to it and to each other is palpable. It was a pleasure to perceive that, just as it was a pleasure to witness Trisha Brown’s assured mastery of the form. She reminds us that that dance can do a lot of things that aren’t necessarily about shock and awe. Sometimes, making us feel good is enough.

Flash Dispatch, 12-9-2009: If you could see her here

By Marisa C. Hayes
Copyright 2009, 2017 Marisa C. Hayes

VIENNA – It’s easy to lose yourself in Vienna’s history, but today the city is a driving force in contemporary dance, with two world-renowned  institutions: Tanzquartier Wien (literally “Dance Quarter Vienna”), snuggled in the cozy, central Museum Square, and ImpulsTanz, Europe’s largest summer dance festival. In order to host one large-scale event for the annual Europe-wide “Long Night of the Museums,” these two organizations joined forces to present the Trisha Brown Dance Company in a selection of three collaborations with visual artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) on October 3 at Tanz Quartier Wien’s theater, Hall E.

“You Can See Us,” performed to music by Laurie Anderson and danced by Leah Morrison and Dai Jian, is an intelligent reworking of Brown’s early solo “If you Couldn’t See Me.” In this version, originally performed by Bill T. Jones and Trisha Brown in 1996, two dancers complete the same movements with one facing the audience, the other turned away from them. Aside from what watching the back of a dancer reveals — an unexpected, uneasy feeling that arises from never seeing the performer’s face, among other things — the partnership in “You Can See Us” creates a dynamic conversation, not only between dualities (front/back, man/woman, etcetera.) but between the movement itself and the typical Brown vocabulary it diverges from: here there are no turns for momentum that would reveal the face, no side gestures, only the looming depth of the stage on which two dancers, who never touch or see one another, advance, retreat and cross. Rauschenberg’s costumes are low-key, but well suited to the movement, with a silken quality that trails alongside the dancers.

Although quite different in approach, “Foray Foret” — which looks more typically Brown in its loose and organic movements — considers similar themes, particularly perception. This time audiences are not questioned in terms of what lies directly in front of them, as is the case in “You Can See Us,” but rather in what is transpiring around them, as external music played by a live marching band — here the Musikarbeierinnenkapelle Wien — travels around the lobby of the theater, behind the stage, and other various points at the periphery of the theater. These faint sounds waft in and out with varying degrees of intensity as the marching band follows a predetermined path outside the auditorium. While the movement of the marching band remains hidden, we sense its mobility through auditory perception while the dance on stage remains a visual constant. At times, the music and movement seem to brush hands, and at other moments they are in complete discord, maintaining their own respective balance. “Foray Foret” features costumes by Rauschenberg that represent the trademark look for Brown’s company: minimalist, free-flowing shirts with short, bell capped sleeves and loose calf-length pants that provide easy mobility for the dancers.

Watching Trisha Brown’s choreography is a bit like reading a well-developed novel with a variety of characters and side stories that eventually tie into the whole. Sequences that begin in unison with the group often diverge, form sub-groups, become solos or acquire new members. Mini-stories happen on all parts of the stage, but like migrating birds, performers may reenter and reestablish links at any given moment. This is the case in “Foray Foret” as well as the final piece, “Set and Reset.” Created in 1983, this seminal work is danced beneath Rauschenberg’s sculpture dubbed “Elastic Carrier (Shiner),” a large box with several panels that frame white fabric suspended from the ceiling. Four pyramid-shaped forms decorate the end panels of the overhead rectangular sculpture onto which four black and white films are projected (all edited by Rauschenberg) simultaneously on the front sections. As the curtain opens, “Elastic Carrier (Shiner)” is grounded on stage, but after one minute, it is lifted in coordination with the projectors and remains hovering overhead with films playing throughout the duration of the 25-minute piece. Meanwhile, the dancers take little notice of the elevated sculpture creating patterns of shadow and light above their heads. They dive and fall to Laurie Anderson’s composition, “Long Time No See,” commissioned expressly for “Set and Reset.” Once again, this time with the aid of Rauschenberg’s sheer grey-blue costumes, Brown addresses perception and visibility. “I wished that the costumes would provoke your looking past the costumes and back to the dance,” Rauschenberg once said in an interview. With visual cues like these, interesting questions arise surrounding notions of invisibility and exposure within the liquid framework of Brown’s geometric eye.

Flash Review, 7-5-2002: It’s no Draw at All
A Master Class from Trisha Brown

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

MONTPELLIER, France — Before I actually saw Trisha Brown’s “It’s a Draw,” commissioned by the Montpellier Danse festival, I grimaced. Not just because it seemed like a gimmick but because I’ve had too many recent experiences where dance artists stray into another art in which they have no qualifications. Having dancers play musical instruments on which they’re not trained, for example, insults the profession of musician because it says anyone can do that. So reading that Trisha Brown would be drawing for this new solo, I thought, “Just because she thinks it would be neat doesn’t mean she has the right to do it on stage.”

But in fact, the only thing my presumptions revealed is that I’m pretty ignorant about Trisha Brown. After welcoming the audience of about 50 to the tiny black box theater in a residential neighborhood of this Mediterranean city, Brown turned her back and began to dance. For at least ten minutes, before she lifted a piece of chalk, she set the tone that this was, in fact, a dance concert.

Let’s in fact talk a little about that dance, quality-wise at least (capturing and relaying American post-modern not being this reviewer’s strength). A colleague more familiar with Brown had explained to me that she is unique among dancers of a certain generation in not walking like a bag of broken bones — because she’s kept in training. At the risk of seeming patronizing, what’s fascinating is that Brown’s face — that of a 60-something woman — doesn’t seem to go chronologically with her fluid, elastic, slithering body, which moves agelessly. I am thinking of Douglas Dunn, eternally fascinating to watch and yet who sometimes makes me wince and think I hear joints cracking and creaking as he cavorts about on stage. It is not painful to watch him — it is always riveting — but it’s more like his spirit seems so much younger than where his body is now.

With Brown, I don’t know that she has had to lower her expectations for her body from what they might have been 40 years ago; the tasks are still rigorous. And task-oriented — it became clear as soon as Brown, turning around to face the audience and announcing, “Lets’ draw!,” set to work on the first of three large white paper canvasses — is exactly what “It’s a Draw” is. What drawing offered to Brown was not a gimmick, but a new task with which to charge and challenge her body.

In the first segment, the thick black stub of charcoal was used almost as a twister board might be, the dancer-choreographer landing the chalk on the canvas first with her hand and then maneuvering her body around it. Tracing was involved, but Brown usually took the most difficult route to get to a place where finally her head was on the ground, her butt often in the air askew from the obvious even plane, as she ran the chalk around her face.

Before we move on to describing the making of the second canvas — after stagehands hung the first canvas on the back wall — a word needs to be said about Brown’s public disposition towards her visual art task. At the time it just seemed like meaningless banter; “for some reason, I always start on this corner,” she announced. Later, she murmured: “Hmmm…. No….. Ah-hah. Yes. Okay.” But really what this telegraphed is that Brown was not pretending to be her frequent cohort Robert Rauschenberg, but acknowledging that she was a total neophyte. She was not making great art; she was playing. She was us, trying to draw, except that it was far more intriguing what happened to her body when she tried than it would be on ours.

The second canvas didn’t really work as visual art, and the results were less varied as dance. It involved sticking a thinner piece of chalk between her toes and trying to draw that way. The chalk had trouble hiting its mark, the toes trouble holding on to it. The result was a few vague circles. The third seemed to echo the first, involving tracing.

Choreographically though, “It’s a Draw” was 100% dance, presented with integrity and pride. Far from eclipsing the dance by presenting another element as more sexy, if Brown diminished anything it was the drawing, which was clearly defined as just a tool to help this seasoned artist ford new frontiers, bringing us with her.

The DI, Year One: Full Frontal — Tolentino Bottoms Out; Finley Scares the Shit Out….

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2000, 2017 Maura Nguyen Donohue

(Editor’s Note: Officially launched on Valentine’s Day, 2000, the Dance Insider Flash Review offered a new, artist-centered approach to dance criticism. In this Flash, first published on October 10, 2000 and reproduced here thanks to sponsors Slippery Rock University Dance and Freespace Dance,  fearless performing meets fearless reviewing.  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 March 14, 2017 and receive a second, free copy for the recipient of your choice. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .)

NEW YORK — On Saturday night I was eagerly expecting a down and dirty double header with Julie Tolentino’s “The Bottom Project” at the Kitchen and Karen Finley’s “Shut up and Love Me” Late Nite at P.S. 122. In the end I wasn’t disappointed. In the beginning I was.

Julie Tolentino’s bio reads like the personal ad for the girl I always wanted to marry. This is a woman who credits her tattoo artists in her bio, has appeared in videos for Chaka Khan and Diamanda Galas and in Madonna’s SEX book, founded the Clit Club/nyc, performed with Ron Athey, spent 10 years as a senior member of David Rousseve/REALITY and she’s hapa (half- Asian) to boot. Having seen her in Rousseve’s “Love Songs” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music I already knew what an engaging performer and excellent dancer she is. I’d caught glimpses of her earlier work “MESTIZA — Que Bonitos Ojos Tienes” on video at the Intersection II conference so I was eager to see what she’d come up with from the bottom.

The cavern of the Kitchen matched the fantastic design work to create a space inaccessible by any road map. Tolentino and Jet Clark create a striking installation with evocative set design. Catherine Gund’s video, David Ferri’s lighting, Julie Fowell’s live violin, Killer’s heart attack-inducing live percussion, sound compositions by Aldo Hernandez and Killer, and Bernard Elsmere’s (F100) live computer synthesis and sound installation all worked towards pulling the audience into an eerie internal world. The work is full of haunting image after surreal image after psychedelic image after beautiful image. There’s Julie with her head bound in rope, there’s three bodies suspended and spinning, there’s a bloody hand, there’s a chorus of hair thrashing, there’s Julie sticking pins in her arm, there’s a woman enclosed in a square Plexiglas column slowly being covered by a dropping stream of dust for almost the entire duration of the work, there’s a body submerged in a sphere of milk, there’s a woman on a slowly deflating bed, there’s Julie pummeled by dropping rice. It was like the trailer for a dream except of course in dream time. However, like in a dream the images did not add up to any recognizable whole. The large cast worked hard to enliven and engage, and Tolentino’s all too brief bouts of movement were delicious morsels, but the overall atmosphere of the work seemed intentionally distant and emotionless.

As an evening, though, it all balanced out once confronted with the overwhelming intimacy of “Shut Up and Love Me.” Note: This review is rated R for language, adult content and explicit sexual imagery. NEA Censors beware…. Karen Finley is a relentless force. She is a performer who constantly shifts between a state of ‘on’ and a state of ‘ON!’ From the moment she appears masturbating in a tight red dress and high black heels to the moment just before exiting, naked and covered in honey, she is a blatant and unapologetic torrent of the psycho and the sexual.

Finley’s demolishing of the mother- and father- fucking Oedipus and Electra complexes begins with an assault. She dances, rubs and thrusts her way through the audience after delivering a spectacular boob ballet. She slices through tales of a woman overcome by historically female neuroses with a razor-sharp wit and intense self awareness. We skip across her psychic landscape and through unexpected time warps as she portrays, or sometimes simply recounts, sexual propositions to Daddy and Vietnam vets. Her powerful performance lies not only in her outrageous inappropriateness in speech or deed but also in her ability to turn her fantastic-unkempt-red-hair-long-legged-small-waisted-well-breasted body into an instrument of terror. Whether she is barking like a dog, enacting a tongue-sucking dance, or, even, playfully rolling in honey she is a demon caught in corporeal glory. Sharing the same space with her is frightening, exhausting and exhilarating. This work is alive and scares the shit out me. That Finley’s work is still considered explicit and shocking is a startling reminder of how far women’s sexual liberation has still not come. It makes me grossly aware of my own passivity in a realm I’d considered myself to have been a ruler of sorts. And I’m not talking about the concert stage.

“Shut Up and Love Me” continues this Friday and Saturday, with shows at 11 p.m.

Charleston Diary, II: All in the Family

corella

All grown up now: Carmen and Angel Corella face off in Maria Pages’s “Solea” with Corella Ballet. Photo courtesy Corella Ballet.

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2011, 2017 Chris Dohse

CHARLESTON, South Carolina — The first thing you notice here is that everyone in South Carolina is very moist.

I brought a sinus/chest congestion and fever with me from the North (click here for my first Charleston Diary) that has been keeping me glued to an alternately sweat-soaked and freezing mattress in my friend Neil’s “Crisp Lettuce”-colored spare bedroom when not being driven to and from chilled theaters in his car through what feels like a wall of wet socks. My newly amphibian body reacts to changes in temperature and humidity now like a barometer made of meat.

From these first febrile days and nights (nine performances in four days), the somewhat eccentric female characters have made the strongest impressions, as you might expect from any trip to the deep South, the landscape of Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. Here are five of them.

To receive the rest of the article, first published on June 3, 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 March 1, 2017 and receive a second, free copy for the recipient of your choice. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .

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 .