DanceCarene Lydia -- Saturday, September 30, 2006 -- 05:01:33 PM
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For the last few years New York City Center has been running the Fall for Dance Festival. For only $10 you get to see four or five of the best dance companies in the world. The Festival lasts for ten nights.
Last night I saw the Yo-Jo Lim Sun Dance Company, the Dutch National Ballet, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, the Trisha Brown Dance Company and the Pennsylvania Ballet.
Before the show there was a lecture – Inside and Out: Sexuality and Identity in Dance – in one of the upstairs studios. The moderator was Mary Cochran and the panelists were Bill T. Jones and Elizabeth Streb.
As always, I have one word about sound – I don’t know what cheap sound system they were using – and I know it’s dance – but invest in a decent amplifier, board and speakers. They’re not expensive and it would have been nicer to hear the speakers clearly.
There wasn’t much talk about sexuality and identity in dance as there was about gender, sexual identity and race in life since Jones is a black gay man and Streb is a white androgynous-looking lesbian. Jones did much of the talking and his views on what is a man and what is a woman are pretty traditional. Streb’s views lean more towards the traditional feminist views of what is and what should be women’s and men’s roles in society.
Jones mentioned that as a black man he was not above using the myth of black male and female sexuality in order to get ahead both in his choreography and in life. Streb feels that although most women are physically weaker than most men they shouldn’t allow that to stop them from confrontation and using their bodies.
Jones mentioned another choreographer who said that if you wanted the audience’s attention you have a man leap. He felt that men dancing will always capture an audience in way that women dancing cannot. Not that he discounts a women’s sexuality. The funniest moment was when he said that he finds both men and women attractive and that he’s slept with many women and Streb, in shock, yelled out, “You have?!?” Later Streb countered that she’s slept with two men so she did know what that felt like.
An audience member asked how Jones diminished a dancer’s sexuality on stage. Jones answered that he knew the dancer was trying to get the audience’s attention and was using sexuality because that always works. He asks the dancer what s/he is trying to achieve and from there they work out how to use another way of reaching the audience.
Yi-Jo Lim Sun Dance Company: This was the world premiere of Heaven and Earth by this Korean dance company. If you’ve ever seen Chinese or Japanese dance then Korean dance will feel similar, although it is a closer cousin to the Chinese.
There was, of course, the beautiful traditional Korean clothing – brightly colored robes that spread out when the dancers spun. At the beginning they held sticks with white streamers that moved beautifully as if the wind was going through the theatre. And as they opened the big fans all at once you could hear the gasp from the audience.
Since there are no musicians mentioned in the program, I’m going to assume that they danced to a recorded track. The sound at City Center is excellent so there was no problem with the acoustics and, for me, it was difficult to tell if the singer and instruments were live or not. As the lead dancer made his prayer to God, the singer’s praises were more holy noises to God than actual words. For one of the dances there was a wind instrument playing a melody that would not have been out of place on a Miles Davis record.
Dutch National Ballet: This was the US premiere of Before After. Before after is that moment just before something ends. In this case it is the very moment before a relationship ends. The soundscape was spoken words (in English) and street noises. The sentence, “just before the light changes the sound changes” was repeated throughout. It is a recording of a NYC street poet and she is talking about the traffic lights changing color.
The piece is a little Western classical and a little modern. During the duet the couple cannot let go of each other but they push each other away. Each one leaves only to come back. The couple is dressed in tights and has on two shirts. At one point they strip off one of the shirts. Then the woman takes off her other shirt and she is naked from the waist up and her vulnerability at that point is heartbreaking. It ends with her lying on the floor as the man walks away for the last time.
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company: They performed two excerpts from Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Julius Hemphill Sextet is on stage with the dancers. Jones’ company is multi-everything – not only multi-ethnic but every body type. There are woman with breasts and big thighs and a man as big as John Goodman along with dancers with the traditional bodies – from the muscular modern dancers to the skinny frames of ballet dancers.
At this point I’ll make my confession – most modern dance, just like most abstract art and most modern classical music, goes over my head. The meaning of a lot of that stuff eludes me. I’m a literal person and I need traditional narrative. I can certainly appreciate it – it can make me swoon or disturb me – but don’t ask me why.
This work is supposed to be exploring history, spirituality, slavery and identity. They were certainly all there but how they fit together was difficult for me to see. It was beautiful and exciting to watch though. Jones sang and preached. The dancers were stepping around chairs in an incredible sequence. There were classical duets and hilarious sexual duets. One of the men ran onto the stage naked and the old women in front of me could not stop giggling. He was quite beautiful to watch as he moved across the stage and at the end the other men picked him up as he stayed in a Christ-like position.
Trisha Brown Dance Company: They performed Set and Reset which is considered a masterpiece of 20th century modern dance. Laurie Anderson composed the music and Robert Rauschenberg designed the set and costumes. So here we’ve hit the trifecta of elusive meaning for me.
It opens with a series of screens in the middle of the floor with a bunch of quick edits – not sure of what since most of it was either too quick or not a full picture. The screens are raised and the dancers come out. They are dressed in flowing cropped pants and flowy shirts with capped sleeves. The print looks like a blue tie-dye. The dancers move across the stage in, what looks to me like, random motions. I realize it’s not random and it really is quite beautiful to watch.
There were two moments for me. In the first there were two women on stage and one man. One of the women starts to fall back and the man catches her and lifts her back upright. As he’s doing that the other woman, who is standing several feet away, starts to fall back. It’s a heart-leaps-up-in-the-throat moment because you don’t know if he’ll be able to get the first dancer upright and rush over and catch the other dancer in time. I can’t imagine the amount the trust it takes to do that. The second moment happened very quickly as one of the men picked up one of the women and she bent her arms and legs, splayed out her hands and feet and looked like a traditional Siamese dancer. It was fast and delightful to look at.
The Pennsylvania Ballet: This was the NY premiere of 11:11 and they performed excerpts. The music was songs by Rufus Wainwright (Vibrate, Natasha, Greek Song, Oh What a World, and Sally Ann). This was another mix of the classical Western and modern. The costumes were different colored short skirts and long sleeved shirts for the women and beige pants and short sleeved tops for the men. There was some attempt for the dance to follow the story of the lyrics, but whether it did or not it was really amazing to watch. The women and men were incredibly graceful and strong. There were fun moments like at the end of the first duet the man threw the woman off-stage and then in a later song, from off-stage, she leapt into the waiting arms of four men on stage.
Which would I see again and pay full price? Definitely the ballet companies and probably Jones’ company. It is so unusual to see people of so many body types performing as one. Usually the ‘odd’ person is singled out in some way.
I have four more nights of this so there’s more to come.
Fantastic report, Carene - thank you - and what an opportunity, to see all that dance!
First of all let me state that venues should ask for height and hat size before they issue tickets. Last night I was sitting behind a very tall man with the second biggest head in NYC. (The biggest head in NYC belongs to the man I sat behind when I saw Antonio Banderas in Nine.) Since I was sitting in the last row of my section I was able to lift up the seat and sit on the edge of it. Unfortunately that is not the most comfortable way to view a performance.
Stephen Petronio Company: Their piece was called Lareigne. The movements in this dance are very specific, determined and sensual. It was modern but seemed classical in its structure. All the women were wearing short chiffon dresses that look as if an attempt was made to tear them off. The men were wearing similar shirts. It opened with a single male dancer covering the entire stage. Then the rest of the company comes out – there are duets and solos but all of them are working together. Nothing in particular stood out for me but it was lovely to watch.
nathantrice/RITUALS: This NY premiere of Prophet and Betrayer was the most moving piece of the two nights. Two male dancers portray old and young spirits. The younger dancer is more boy than man and I don’t know his age, but he is incredibly talented. It opens with the older spirit upstage slowly moving towards the young spirit who is crouched downstage. Every step is accompanied with very deliberate hand movements. As the young spirit arises he does the same hand movements but everything he does is several beats behind. As the dance progresses his movements follow more closely until he is in sync with the older spirit. As this progression takes place the older spirit is also guiding the younger dancer and keeping him in his place.
Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie: They performed an excerpt from Fifteen Heterosexual Duets. The title pretty much sums up the dance. Five couples performed and there were loving couples, angry couples, couples working out their relationship. The standout couple, for me, had the male dressed somewhat like a tango dancer you would see in an old movie. The couple performed a modern dance version of a tango – I guess it was a deconstructed tango. It was fun to watch because you knew where it was going but you didn’t know how they were going to do it.
Compagnie Franck II Louise: Drop It!, which was a US premiere, was the audience favorite and it received the only standing ovation. The company performed an excerpt. Franck II Louise is a choreographer and musician and wrote the music for this. I was not as excited by this as the rest of the crowd. It opens with four dancers dressed in robot costumes performing robot moves that would not look out of place in Electric Boogaloo. The movements, performed in sync, were timed precisely with the beats. Later two of the dancers come out in costumes that look like humans bursting out of their steel bodies. They did a lot of hip-hop and breakdancing moves. A lot of it you can still see in Times Square but at certain points they took the regular moves and brought them up to another level. Another of the dancers stood out for me but that’s only because he made me think unholy thoughts.
Paul Taylor Dance Company: They are residents of NY City Center and performed Syzygy (the nearly straight line configuration of three or more celestial bodies in a gravitational system).Okay, this is more modern dance with lots of beautiful dancers in beautiful costumes moving across the stage in what looks like random movement and if there is a story I can’t see it. And although there was a lot of leaping men (and women) it didn’t hold my attention as well as it should have. But, again, it is beautiful to watch even if I don’t know what it means.
Nathan Trice and Coleman/Lemieux are probably the two companies I’d want to see again.
This was a fun night for me - Western classical to traditional Gypsy dances.
Nikolais Dance Theatre performed by Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company: This short piece is called Tensile Involvement. The company ran onto the stage with ribbons tied to their wrists (from above the stage) and their ankles (from the wings). The way the light hit the strands they looked like laser beams and the lighting also made their costumes appear to be nude body stockings with fuzzy rib marks in front and back. When they came out for their bow you could see that the costumes were actually bright white with bright red markings. The dancers played with the ribbons enclosing themselves in squares that tipped one way and the other and soloists bounced off the criss-crossed ribbons and also wrapped themselves in the strands.
Maureen Fleming Company: Fleming performed The Stairs which is an excerpt from After Eros. Peter Phillips was on the piano playing music by Philip Glass. It opened with a dark stage and bright light shining on Fleming who is curled upside down and looks like she is suspended in midair. As the light spreads out you can see she is actually lying on stairs. The concentrated light makes her look like a full moon and as she stretches out you get an actual full moon. Actually I don’t know if she was nude or wearing a body stocking but the effect was the same. The spareness of the music fit beautifully with the spareness of the stage. Her long hair flowed down the stairs as she slowly turned around and stretched out. The piece was erotic and dreamlike.
American Ballet Theatre: Excerpts from Swan Lake. Tchaikovsky. What else is there to say? The Act II pas de deux and Act III pas de deux were performed by different dancers. The Act II dancers were brilliant but the Act III dancers, Paloma Herrera and Jose Manuel Carreño, were beyond brilliant. Herrera spun around like a demon for what seemed way too long to stay balanced on your toes and Carreño owned that stage with his leaps and spins. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Damian Woetzel dance and I don’t think anyone can match them when it comes to suspending time and defying gravity but Carreño came close. ABT is now a resident of NY City Center - I must have read about it when they left the Met but I don’t remember.
Robert Moses’ Kin: They performed excerpts from Cause. This was the NY premiere and was performed to the poems of Youth Speaks, a San Francisco-based organization. This dance about the legacy of hate was so very earnest and in-your-face and literal.
Honvéd Dance Company: These Hungarian dancers and musicians performed Black Pearls. The dances were a combination of Gypsy dances and original works. The men were dressed in porkpie hats, black pants and brightly colored shirts and the women wore brightly colored blouses, long patterned skirts and their hair was either braided or covered with a colorful scarf. The male dancers performed several pieces that kind of looked like Lord of the Dance except it was entertaining. The women spun and flirted. This was definitely the fun part of the night and the dancers seemed to be loving it as much as the audience. For their curtain call they continued dancing off stage with the musicians following silently, carrying their instruments.
What would I see again? ABT over and over and over. And I’d love to see more of Honvéd.
Was this the 32 fouette turns? I've heard that Herrera's footwork is incredibly precise.
Swan Lake is known for Odile's 32 fouette turns in Act III. I've only ever seen Natalia Bessmertnova do them when she was with the Bolshoi. I'd love to see Herrera's.
I can't remember the choreographer who put the fouettes in. Mikhail Folkine?
Marius Petipa. Had to Google that one: "In 1895 Petipa restaged Swan Lake including major choreographic additions. One of these was as the thirty two fouetté turns in the coda of the pas de deux from the ballroom scene."
Maybe you're thinking of Fokine because of the Dying Swan solo he choreographed for Pavlova?
I heard somewhere that they are trying to create an archive of all of Fokine's work - re-staging productions based on notes and remembrances, just to get them on video for the future.
Last night there was a discussion titled “Ballet: Where is it Going?” The moderator was Lynn Garafola, professor of dance at Barnard College and a dance critic and historian. The panelists were Peter Boal, artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet, Roy Kaiser, artistic director of the Pennsylvania Ballet and Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt, co-founding directors and dancers for George Piper Dances and also known as British TV’s Ballet Boyz. Nunn and Trevitt formed a touring company after leaving the Royal Ballet and they commission choreographers for neo-classical and contemporary works.
The panelists joked that ballet is Swan Lake and Nutcracker and audiences view everything else as contemporary dance. Boal said that Nutcracker pretty much pays for his year but Seattle audiences are very open to the new – once they’ve viewed it at least three times. Kaiser asks all choreographers to start from a place of traditional ballet and then go from there. When asked about the lack of female choreographers all the panelists agreed that the men are more persistent. Nunn added that women are more organized – they’ll form their own companies rather than work for someone else.
Critics are very important for the American companies – they can make or break a season. The New York Times has been very good to the PNW Ballet and it has made a difference since it is the second most read paper in Seattle. Critics in the UK do not influence ticket sales at all. The American companies receive very little money from the NEA (about one week of dancers’ payroll). Corps dancers receive about $30-50K and principals as much as $75K for a 36 to 40 week season with PNW Ballet giving the higher salaries for a longer season. The PNW Ballet actually gets as much as 70% of their operating budget from ticket sales. For the PAB it is more 50/50. PNW also receives sponsorship (Starbucks and Microsoft) while the PAB receives very little. The British company is better funded from various sources.
Where is ballet going? According to Trevitt and Nunn they are it. Boal and Kaiser see the line between classical and contemporary blurring even more as audiences become more accepting and view more and more of the mix of the traditional with the modern.
Pacific Northwest Ballet: They performed the New York premiere of The Piano Dance in which four couples dance to solo piano pieces by Chopin, Cage, Ligeti, Bartok and Ginastera. The couples were wearing red velvet body suits and all the pieces were playful and sexy as the couples flirted and touched each other in all the wrong and right places.
Christopher Williams: Williams danced an excerpt from The Portuguese Suite entitled ginja sem caroço to traditional fado songs. This dance is supposed to explore the impact of traditional society on an intercultural gay relationship. Okay. I saw a bare-chested man in black pants with red streamers tied to one arm and one leg and his hands were painted red. He danced all over the stage. It was nice but whatever the story was, I didn’t see it. However, the audience responded very positively.
Random Dance: This was the New York premiere of Polar Sequences. Nine dancers moving to music and static that made you see the magnetism of dancers and dance. One of the best sequences had all the dancers on the floor just breathing in and out. Slowly their stomachs rose higher and higher as they took in more and more breath and their diaphragms expanded.
Bridgman/Packer Dance: Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer danced an excerpt from Under The Skin which is the second piece in a trilogy of dance/video works. When I read dance/video I imagined a bunch of monitors and dancers moving around them. Boy, I was never so happy to be so wrong. If you follow the link above you can see an example of what they did. The piece opens with the couple upstage and both are dressed in white hoop skirts. At first they seem spirit-like and then you see the videos of them projected on the skirts and on themselves. The video moves mimic and counter the live dancers’ moves. At one point the couple hugs and on the skirts is a video of them hugging upside down so the illusion is of them in the water. At the end Bridgman dresses as a projection of himself on himself undresses. The first part is danced to just recorded bass and drums and in the next part a live saxophonist is added. As the dancers move in and out of splits in the curtain there are projections of themselves moving in and out of splits in the curtain. Which is live and which is Memorex? The audience can’t tell and sometimes it looks like the dancers can’t tell either.
Farruco dancing the US premiere of Farruco starring Farruco! Farruquito, who now call himself Farruco in honor of his grandfather, is part of a flamenco dynasty and started dancing at a very young age. Flamenco guitarists and singers joined him on stage where he struts his stuff. He definitely has that Antonio Banderas sexy long hair thing going on. At one point the heel of his shoe came off and he showed the audience, took off his shoes and socks and danced barefoot. He was by far the audience favorite and a favorite of mine also.
Bridgman/Packer Dance will be at Dance New Amsterdam in March 2007 and if I can scare up a ticket I will be going.