Max Jacob rolls the dice

Max Jacob dice cup artcurial Jean Hugo

Among the precious books and manuscripts sold off last week at Artcurial Paris were, above, one of a limited edition of 22 vellum copies of Max Jacob’s 1917 Surrealist classic “The Dice Cup” (Le Cornet à dés) with color gouaches by Jean Hugo (1894-1984; Victor’s great-grandson), in wood engravings by Jules Germain, Robert Armanelli, and André Marliat, published in 1948 by the Nouvelle Revue Française. Estimated pre-sale by France’s largest auction house at between 200 and 300 Euros, the book and its case sold for 227 Euros. Jacob (b. 1876), an intimate of Picasso, Cocteau (he is said to have introduced them), and Apollinaire who converted to Christianity before the first World War and actively proselytized, was arrested as Jewish in 1944 and died in the Drancy transfer prison outside Paris before he could be deported. Click here to read an example from the book. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

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Fake News! Fake News!

By Max Jacob
Copyright Editions Pierre Seghers 1946
Translated by Paul Ben-Itzak

If you think John Cage and Merce Cunningham were the first to toss a dice cup to create surrealist art, think again. First featured in “The Dice Cup” or “Le Cornet à dés,” published by Jacob himself in 1917. Selected by Andre Billy for inclusion in the album dedicated to the colleague of Cocteau and Picasso as part of the “Poetes d’aujourd’hui” series and published by Pierre Seghers in 1946, two years after Jacob died in the Drancy camp as he was being deported from France.

During a performance of “For the Crown” in the Paris Opera House, at the precise moment that Desdemona was singing out “My father is in Goritz and my heart is in Paris,” a shot rang out in a fifth floor lodge, then a second in the orchestra seats and instantly rope ladders were unfurled and a man began descending from the rafters; a bullet stopped him at the balcony level. Everyone in the audience was packing, and the house was full of … and of …. Neighbors were gunned down, jets of petrol ignited. The lodges were attacked, the stage was attacked, the standing room only section was attacked, and this battle lasted 18 days. It’s possible that the two sides were provisioned, I don’t know, but what I do know for certain is that the journalists converged on this gruesome spectacle, and that one of them, being under the weather, sent his mother, who was fascinated by the sangfroid of a young French gentleman who held his ground on the lip of the stage for 18 days sustained by nothing but a little bouillon. This episode of the War of the Balconies worked wonders for voluntary enlistment in the provinces. On the banks of my river alone, under my trees, I know three brothers in spanking new uniforms who embraced each other dry-eyed while their families were in the attic looking for their woolies.

Women aren’t just victims, III: How do you solve a problem like “Giselle”?

By Alicia Mosier Chesser
Copyright 2001, 2017 Alicia Mosier Chesser

(First published on the DI on May 22, 2001, today’s re-publication of this aesthetic tour-de-force — next time someone tells you ballet’s too old-fashioned, throw this one in their face — is sponsored by Nutmeg Conservatory Ballet,  Freespace Dance and and Slippery Rock Dance .)

NEW YORK — Absurd, incoherent, misogynistic, hopelessly outdated: thus do many dance lovers of today describe the story of “Giselle,” written by Vernoy de Saint-Georges, Theophile Gautier, and Jean Coralli, and choreographed in 1841 by Coralli and Jules Perrot. You know how it goes. Act I: Young girl with a love of dancing and a weak heart (or, in the opinion of some dance historians, a bun in the oven) falls for a count disguised as a peasant, who falls for her too but turns out to be engaged to a high-falutin’ prince’s daughter, which revelation sends girl to a frenzied demise. Act II: slightly creepy “ballet blanc” idealization of ghostly virgins, who dance their former fiancees to death in revenge for the fact that they (the virgins) have died before their wedding day. (Or something.) And here’s the worst of it: the girl actually spends the whole second act defending the guy who deceived her and ends up saving him from death-by-exhaustion. Almost every newcomer to dance whom I’ve taken to see “Giselle” has no patience for Act I — all that pantomime! — but the chilling purity of Act II (in which, in today’s productions, there’s very little story left) always leaves them breathless. Is it possible for viewers today — especially, perhaps, for feminist young women — to appreciate “Giselle” as a whole?

That’s really a question about how we look at art. We generally expect art to reflect our political and ethical values, or at least to express the artist’s individual, uncompromising point of view. This approach makes an artifact like “Giselle” very hard to swallow (although, ironically, this approach is just as much a part of our inheritance from the Romantic movement as this ballet is). It may seem an obvious and somewhat banal suggestion, but I’d propose that “Giselle” be taken as the artifact it is — that is, as the embodiment of Romantic values in a fully integrated dance-drama. Taken that way, the ballet can still have two different effects on an audience. It can excite only the most antiquarian sentiments, as American Ballet Theatre’s Ashley Tuttle and Angel Corella showed in their performance last Tuesday at the Metropolitan Opera House. Or, as Julie Kent and Jose Manuel Carreno showed on Thursday, it can shoot us deep into the enduring mysteries of drama, dance, and life on earth.

Tuttle’s “Giselle” was a confused girl-child from the start, a little thing whose lack of personality made it easy to see how she could be so taken in by Albrecht. In the Mad Scene at the end of Act I she became an overwrought 12-year-old with quivering arms, grabbing her head and shuddering on the floor. (Much of “Giselle,” it’s true, is ridiculous. Arlene Croce once described the Mad Scene as “an extended absurdity that an incurably cultish sentimentality has elevated to the status of a touchstone.”) For all the meltingly sweet balances and brisk hops on point Tuttle executed in the famous Act I solo, I couldn’t see that this Giselle had anything in her — any fire — that would make her go crazy from betrayal. She projected a sort of mild blankness and nodded her head in the same dumb way every time someone asked her a question. Albrecht would really have been a lout to take in a child like her — except if, as in the case of Corella, he was just as much a kid. When Corella came on at the beginning of Act II with a cape two sizes too big, stepping around “aristocratically” with toes so pointed he could hardly get one foot in front of the other, it was the perfect image of his undercooked interpretation.

With Kent’s Giselle, Albrecht faced a more complex situation. Act I can only make sense if Giselle is a fully fleshed out woman. From the beginning Kent had a mind of her own, a distinctive private life. We saw her imaginary world (centered on the hunter’s cottage, out of which she daydreamed a handsome gentleman emerging); her self-regard and smart self-protectiveness at the advances of the manly, magnetic Carreno; and most of all her sense that love was almost too beautiful for her to bear. In this performance it was Giselle’s love, and her loving nature, that defined her. She took love so seriously that it could literally kill her. In Kent’s lush Act I solo, it was as if love was coming out through her toes. (Love and dancing — and the love of dancing — are magically knotted together in this ballet; it’s a 19th-century instance of meta-narrative.)

Carreno wanted to come into this Giselle’s light; here the high and low of castle and village was transformed. When Kent invited him to join in a little peasant dance, it took him a moment to learn the dance (he’s used to doing the allemande, at court), but he picked it up quickly and thus entered into the heart of Giselle’s world. Kent’s Mad Scene continued the modern sensibility that marked her whole performance. She began to yank the petals from her invisible flower as if bitterly remembering Albrecht’s first deception, when he secretly pulled off the petal that would have said “he loves me not.” You could almost hear her clenching her teeth and saying, damn him, damn him, I love him and he dares to play games with love! Her death is his indictment.

Giselle’s defense of Albrecht in Act II, then, is two things at once: mercy for the sinner (with a little heaping of ashes on his head), and justice for the true love who was true of heart too late. Kent does not interpret Giselle simply. In Act I she is both wily and easily moved, generous and covetous, trusting and proud. Her entrance in Act II is terrifying. Whereas Tuttle appeared to be spun around by the wind in that whirling opening dance, and only took off around the time of her traveling entrechat quatres (making up for her limitations in the meantime with bizarrely elongated phrasing), Kent was wild and wraithlike, spinning out a continued perplexity that might never be resolved.

A big part of that perplexity is caused by the presence of Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, danced by Michele Wiles on Tuesday and Gillian Murphy on Thursday. Wiles’s Myrtha was chillier (those wide, bone-white shoulders, that forthright presentation, those tall arabesques), Murphy’s more authoritative and more exciting. Murphy brought to the part the dramatic power that is crucial for a coherent Act II. When Kent covered the deeply pensive Carreno at the grave, we saw Murphy trumped for a moment; she bowed slightly as she turned away to come up with another plan to get Albrecht out in the open. Murphy’s Wilis had absolutely no love left (behind her, they had personalities, whereas Wiles’s crew were mere shades). In front of them, Kent’s Giselle stood out all the more. There were a few shaky moments in her deft-as-a-spiderweb solos, but I didn’t care. I was listening, with Carreno, to her otherwordly, very present voice.

A few words about the ballet’s supporting characters. The role of Berthe, Giselle’s mother, centers on one bit of pantomime in which she tells about the Wilis: they get awful little wings, she says, and spend eternity tormenting men who get lost in the woods. Erica Fischbach did her duty by this moment on Thursday, but Karin Ellis-Wentz made my skin crawl Tuesday night as she sank into her terrible reverie, made more terrible by the knowledge that it could happen to her own daughter. As Hilarion, John Gardner was good and bitter, Ethan Brown more sturdy and more mocking in his scenes with Albrecht. I liked Xiomara Reyes better on Tuesday as Moyna, Myrtha’s first deputy, than in the Peasant Pas de Deux she performed with Joaquin de Luz on Thursday. Although her natural love of risk worked splendidly in the pas de deux (a big difference from the floating, serenely classical interpretation of Ekaterina Shelkanova and Gennadi Saveliev), her love of rubato brought a surprising richness to the part of Moyna. Carmen Corella, with her perfectly straight pointes and thoughtful port de bras, did the same for Zulma (Deputy Wili No. 2) on Thursday.

For sheer high excitement, almost nothing in classical ballet can match the dance of the Wilis at the beginning of Act II. The audience always applauds the long sequence of traveling chugs in arabesque, partly because it’s famous, but mostly because of the way it builds and builds as more Wilis take the stage and the music’s tension rises. I always wish there were about eight more dancers in the pack, and that it would go on about two minutes longer than it does. It’s a dance of death — as all of “Giselle” is, in a way — which Giselle turns into a dance of life-sustaining love. Giselle and Albrecht dance all night; they dance *through* death; and the love that remains in the morning of this ballet is as charged and haunted as any you or I have ever known.

Women aren’t just Victims, II: The Tragi-Fabulous Destiny of Camille Claudel

claudel small abandonCamille Claudel, “L’Abandon,” large model, circa 1886. Bronze, brown patina, 24 3/8 x 22 7/8 x 9 5/8 inches. Signed “C. Claudel.” Last of a series of 18 cast from this model between 1905 and 1922. Estimated pre-sale by Artcurial at 600,000 – 800,000 Euros or $660 000 – 880 000; sold to a private international collector for 1,187,000 Euros or $1,412,530 including charges. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

“No, Joan, it’s not the priests who judged you. When those ferocious beasts gathered around you, their hearts full of rage and foaming at the mouth, those priests, those politicians, the Angel of Judgment who controls the scales, with a whistle he made the miter, the cowl, the frock tumble from their heads and arms.”

— Paul Claudel, “Joan of Arc at the Stake,” 1939 (Editions Gallimard)

“There’s always something absent which torments me.”

— Camille Claudel, Letter to Rodin, cited on a plaque affixed to the facade of 19, quai de Bourbon on the Ile St. Louis in Paris, where the sculptor lived and worked in a ground floor studio from 1899 until 1913, when she was committed to an asylum.

Dedicated to the memory and living legacy of Ruth Asawa, imprisoned by her government during World War II because of her Japanese heritage; Black Mountain graduate; sculptor; lithographer; teacher.

What do Hokusi, Hansi, Antoine Coysevox, Adolphe Cassandre, and Paul Claudel have in common — besides being men? You’ll find them all in the 1981 edition of the French encyclopedia “Le Petit Robert 2,” a bible of everything you need to know about French and world culture and history. You won’t find an entrée for Camille Claudel (1864-1943), assistant to, collaborator with, and lover of Auguste Rodin whose sculptures often exceed the master’s in their sophistication, intimacy, vulnerability, and heart-rending pathos. This was before the 1984 publication of a biography and Catalogue Raisonné by a descendant, Reine-Marie Paris, determined to resuscitate the reputation of the ancestor who spent 30 years in an asylum, possibly against her will, before dying of potentially hunger-related causes in 1943; several books published beginning in the 1980s, notably Anne Delbée’s 1982 best-seller “Une Femme, Camille Claudel”; two movies featuring Isabel Adjani and, more recently, Juliette Binoche as the sculptrice; a rage of exhibitions around the world; and the opening last spring of a museum dedicated to Claudel’s remaining oeuvre (estimated at between 80 and 99 works) in the remote Paris suburb of Nogent-sur-Seine, previously best known as the home of accordion legend Yvette Horner.

Camille Claudel’s ascendance — corresponding with the increased rarity of brother Paul’s plays on French stages — was capped by last week’s largest-ever sale at Artcurial Paris of works coming directly from Claudel’s descendants (via her sister Louise) for a combined total of nearly 3.6 million Euros or $4,283,048, more than three times the global pre-sale estimate, with a phenomenal 12 of the 17 lots by the artist on sale pre-empted by the State to go to French museums.

To receive the complete article, including more images, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager for just $29.95/year by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Subscribers receive full access to the DI/AV Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances and art on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $99 (institutions). Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com.

Freespace, Free Dance Ad

freespace small(Dance Insider Principal Sponsor Ad) The Star-Ledger’s Robert Johnson calls Donna Scro Samori  / Freepace Dance “astonishing and wonderfully gratifying.”  For info on classes and upcoming performances, click here. Above: Freespace Dance artistic director Donna Scro Samori and Omni Kitts, as captured by Lois Greenfield. Photo copyright Lois Greenfield. (To advertise your dance program, performance, audition, or product on the Dance Insider, please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com . Subscribe to the DI by Friday, December 8 for just $29.95/year, and receive a free one-month Home page ad.)

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Subscribe to the DI this week, for just $29.95 / year, and have your dance company, school, university dance department, or product featured on the DI front page for free. Just sign up by noon EST Friday by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com,  or write us at that address if you prefer to pay by check. Your sub entitles you to the complete versions of new articles (and art), plus access to our 15-year archive of more than 2000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances on five continents,  plus art. The Dance Insider & Arts Voyager. Celebrating 20 years of telling stories not told elsewhere, building the dance and arts audience, and giving a voice to dancers and other artists.

Women aren’t just victims, 1: Vanishing Acts — A play you won’t see in the U.S.

iranian playElham Korda and Setareh Eskandari in Afsaneh Mahian’s production of Mahin Sadri’s “Every day a little bit more.” Reza Ghaziani photo copyright Reza Ghaziani and courtesy Theatre de la Ville.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2015, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

On Monday, the United States Supeme Court upheld Donald Trump’s entree ban for visitors from several Muslim nations, including Iran  (with the exception, from that country, of those studying in the U.S.), effectively banishing artists from those nations as well.

PARIS — As I watched Afseneh Mahian’s production of Iranian playwright Mahin Sadri’s reality-based drama “Every day a little bit more,” a portrait of three women whose concerns mirror those of women everywhere, unfold Monday night at the Theatre de la Ville’s Abbesses theater in Montmartre, I could not stop thinking, Why aren’t we seeing this nuanced depiction of Iranian daily life in the United States? And the pay-off is infinite; now whenever I hear “Iranian nuclear threat” or skepticism about Iran’s motivations in Syria, behind the word “Iranian” I can see not just ayatollic machinations but a people with the exact same concerns as the rest of us.
Even as I was slipping into my usual critical aloofness Monday and ‘judging’ the work on dramatic criteria, I kept pinching myself in disbelief that I was actually watching three Iranian women and their Iranian theater company permitted into the country like any other troupe to depict universal human dilemmas, something I could never be watching if I were in the United States. You may think I’m exaggerating, but when afterwards I asked Elham Korda (in English; among the Iranian contingent at the after-party Monday, my mother tongue was more pre-dominant than Farsi or French) — who plays the widow of real-life martyr Major General Abbas Doran, who crashed his plane, fatally hit by Iraqi fire, into the Baghdad hotel where Saddam Hussein was planning a meeting of the non-aligned movement to send the message that Iraq was winning its war with Iran — if the play, also touring to Vienna and Brussels, would be going to the United States, she just smiled ironically.

To receive the complete article, first published on November 4, 2015, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Subscribers receive full access to the DI/AV Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances and art on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $109 (institutions) Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com.