the danceview times
Volume 1, Number 4 October 20 , 2003 An online supplement to DanceView magazine
Cunningham Dance Company
Rolling the dice gives a moment of wonder, the imagination conjuring. A split-second later, the dice at rest, the mind becomes active.— Merce Cunningham
all of the multiple innovations in the work of Merce Cunningham, the use
of chance is the most confusing. Such a clear thing, this toss of a die,
or a handful of pennies, and yet chance is the Holy Ghost of Dance—the
part of the Cunningham Trinity taken on faith, and dimly apprehended.
The independence of dance as an art form–the notion that dance does
not need music, but may simply coexist with it—still may seem heresy
to some, but as an idea it is well understood. The separation of dance
from story is now old hat, or old enough, though still giving rise to
the notion that Cunningham's dances are "abstract," when dance,
because it is done by people, can never really be abstract. But chance!
Chance makes people think of randomness, of disorder, of improvisation,
of fate and fortune, of things made up as they are happening, or just
before. Nothing, though, could be further from the Merceian truth, which
is quite the opposite. His is not the unhinged Miltonic world of Paradise
Lost, where "Chaos umpire sits," and "Chance governs all."
Not in the slightest. In his world, Merce governs all, even when by a
kind of non-doing, this latter being neither benign nor malign, but a
kind of sovereign absenting of ego. Even when Cunningham does not make
choices—as when, for instance, he leaves the decor to the art director,
or some similar personage, who chooses the artists; and likewise hands
off the music—he has chosen the chooser. The truth is that in his
world, Cunningham is God. Every choice, or non-choice, is made by him.
Letter from New York
at least the past two decades, dancegoers have been told so often that
the reason the magic seemed to go out of the art was our own fault. We
were too old, and in wondering why cherished works had eroded we were
really just trying to hold onto our youth. Nothing is forever, and change
is inevitable. Young dancers have no idea about what the past was like
and certainly have no interest in finding out. Dances are made for particular
individuals, and once they retire, their qualities can never be restored
to the choreography. The great choreographers really found us worthy of
disdain, since they, themselves, were never interested in revisiting where
they’d been. Dancing made for one era will never have any appeal
for subsequent eras. One by one, the voices of protest were quieted, with
illness and mortality completing the job that, during the 1990s, a new
generation of newspaper and magazine publishers began. During the 1990s,
nearly every major dance critic in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington,
D.C. who was old enough to have seen and remembered theatrical dancing
from the 1950s and early ‘60s was either fired, forcibly retired,
or died in harness; for those who retained their positions, either the
number of their reviews that were actually published, or the length of
them, or both, were markedly decreased. This was no one’s best scenario,
of course. Print news was in trouble, and, the rationale goes, dance writing
is never read. In the same spirit, trade book publishers, seemingly overnight,
stopped publishing new, serious dance books and dropped their dance backlists
entirely: dance books don’t sell. And it’s true. They don’t:
why would anyone want to buy a history of The Sleeping Beauty
in the U.S. if the only interesting live productions of that ballet are
A Transcendent "Diamonds"
Overheard walking out of the Kirov’s Fokine program at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall: "If that’s ballet, I’m there!"
The enthusiastic convert was a man, probably 35-ish, and seeing as we’d just been treated to a particularly lustful rendition of Scheherazade, I guessed his newfound zeal was inspired more by the scantily clad physiques on display than by the stunningly recreated Bakst sets, or the Maryinsky Orchestra’s lush sound, or, one coudl only hope, the dancing itself.
I am too skeptical. For if that man had returned to see Jewels
the following Sunday, I’d lay bets that he, like so many in attendance,
would have walked out of the far more demure "Diamonds"
spouting equal zeal. With Daria Pavlenko in the lead and a crystalline
corps, this sometimes perfunctory finale to Balanchine’s only full-length
abstract work was one of the best I've ever seen.
An Unsettling Journey
Having been unaware of Akram Khan, whose reputation has apparently been growing in dance circles for some time, before this past summer when his company performed at Jacob's Pillow, and having only the most superficial knowledge of the subtleties and complexities of Kathak, the Northern Indian classical dance tradition that Khan studied intensively and integrates into his choreography, I entered the theater for his company's New York debut at the Joyce theater feeling at a disadvantage.
choreographer born in England of Bangladeshi parentage, Khan brought his
2002 hour-long work Kaash, which is performed by his five-member
company. While perhaps missing some of its implications and associations—the
way it invokes the Hindu God Shiva, for example—I was struck by
the authority and sense of visual presentation this young (29) choreographer
displays. This is a serious, disciplined choreographer, one who knows
how not to over-extend his material. At a time when so much work is over-amplified
and shapeless, Khan's highly developed sense of craftsmanship and command
of the overall stage picture is impressive.
McCauley tasks herself seriously. Her choreography tackles enduring music.
She insists within reason of having that music live. In different dance
works, she cultivates distinct worlds. The shapes of her dances are legible,
steps link logically, her dancers are challenged in ways that suit their
gifts and (when the music doesn't do it for her), Bowen McCauley knows
when to stop. She entertains her public, and educates it just a bit. All
that sounds good. There aren't many choreographers of whom one can say
as much, yet I find myself waiting for more. Are there further steps for
Bowen McCauley to take?
Noted Baltimore teacher, writer and former dancer Jane Ward Murray died Friday, October 10, 2003. A memorial service was held for her at Goucher College on Friday, October 17, where George Jackson read the following remarks:
one of the graces, an incarnation of a classical ideal of action, contemplation
and simply being beauteous, an ideal one encounters rarely in this life.
On the street or when she entered a room, people's heads would turn for
Jane. "Who is that woman?" one wondered. And if one didn't know,
the answer was "She must be somebody, she is somebody". This
wasn't only due to her dance training. Dancers, with their turn-out and
muscle stretch don't always look graceful off the stage. Not Jane. She
moved with assurance, she paused with ease, and the delight she took in
people brought out the best in them. One tended to answer her questions
truthfully, and go on to tell her more than she'd asked about because
she showed such interest and and seemed to take it all in. What did she
do with those stories and confessions? Did they become a burden with time?
Breathtaking Virtuosity, Unabashedly Itself
Ballet of Cuba
It's a rare delight in these days of bland and blurry International-style ballet to see a company which is so unabashedly itself as the National Ballet of Cuba. The Cubans dance with a rare attention to detail and homogeneity, and revel, unapologetically, in their muscularity, even among the women. No reed-thin waifs here! At least, none were in evidence at City Center Thursday night.
The evening began with artistic director Alicia Alonso's staging of bits
of the second act of Swan Lake, a last-minute substitution for Les Sylphides,
caused by an amazing fit of peevishness by the Fokine estate and American
Ballet Theatre (who had purchased a three-year "exclusive" license
for the ballet from said estate). After the unfortunate beginning, where
the curtain rises (and mercifully falls) on the corps of swan-girls glaring
at the audience and all-but-hissing, this is a fairly traditional production,
and one which showed off the great strength of the Cuban women. Perhaps
the corps of the Kirov, Paris Opera Ballet or even ABT are as strong--perhaps--but
where these companies, indeed, most companies, these days work to mask
this strength behind a carefully cultivated appearance of lightness and
ease, the Cubans, while never graceless, don't take particular pains to
hide their strength.
Symphony in C in Paris
There was confusion before the start of the Paris Opera Ballet's new season about whether the company dance Le Palais de cristal, as originally announced, or Symphony in C. It turned out to be the latter. The program book explained it this way: "This new production is danced in the New York City Ballet's black and white version, just as the choreography ultimately envisaged it."
in C is not Le Palais de cristal. Balanchine created the
latter in just two weeks for Paris Opera Ballet in 1947, with sumptuous
sets and glamorous costumes by Léonor Fini, and restaged it for
Ballet Society in 1948. In Paris the ballet had different colour costumes
for each movement, in New York the ballet was uniformly clad with the
women in white tutus and the men in black tights and vests. In France
each movement was named after a jewel—my personal favourite being
Black Diamond (2nd movement) and in New York Balanchine simply named them
although the overall structure and outline of Symphony in C remained
the same as that of Le Palais de crystal the choreography in
fact differed greatly in detail, not to mention atmosphere: The Black
Diamond more so than the other three movements.
A Spunky Don Q from the Cubans
Remembering the grand productions the National Ballet of Cuba once brought to the Metropolitan Opera House in decades past, and even knowing that Cuba's economy has fallen on hard times since then, it's still a bit of a shock seeing the meager production of Don Quixote which the Cubans brought to City Center on their most recent visit, which concluded on the 19th. The skimpy sets and cartoonish drops looked beneath the standard of a second-string regional company here, and the costumes, with their overly bright colors and fussy, overwrought details made me wonder whether a big-budget Cuban production would be much of an improvement. It also didn't help that the Alicia Alonso has reworked the ballet's story: here, in a prologue, the oppressed Spanish masses of the early 19th Century beg for aid from the statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, which come to life, presumably to help free Spain from the invading French. Here, Gamache, the bumbling suitor of Kitri, is Camacho, a French aristocrat whose amatory whims are enforced by a pair of equally bumbling French soldiers. And, while the Don's new provenance as a prayer answered doesn't prevent him from being the recipient of the occasional "don't mind him, he's crazy" gesture from the happy-yet-oppressed townfolk, here he is much more central to the ballet's story—for example, Kitri and Basil (not Basilio, here) don't sneak off in the general pandemonium at the end of Act I, but, rather, the Don himself fights off Camacho and his soldiers, so that the would-be lovers can make a peaceful exit on a peasant-drawn wagon.
of Money, Literature and Art; what about the dancing? The dancing is quite
fine, thank you. Really fine, in fact.
The drop curtain for the revival of the Metropolitan Opera's revival of its unusual 1981 Stravinsky triple bill features an abstract design and reads "Stravinsky 1882." This is presumably from the original production, which was timed to be unveiled on the eve of the composer's centenary, I found myself thinking that this time they could have had a curtain that read "Ashton 1904" given that the central portion of this triptych, Le Rossignol, features choreography by Frederick Ashton, whose centenary we are about to observe.
see far too little of Ashton's choreography in New York these days (although
ABT has greatly improved that situation the past two years by adding two
of his greatest works to its repertory), this opportunity to renew acquaintance
with a piece of choreography from his later years was most welcome. Ashton
choreographed the central roles of the Nightingale and the Fisherman
on Natalia Makarova and Anthony Dowell, who had repeated them the
only other time this triple bill was revived, during the 1983-84 season.
This time around, they were performed by Julie Kent and Damian Woetzel.
Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley
What do you do as an artistic director if you program a masterpiece that will outclass nearly any other ballet you choose to stand beside it? Add to this conundrum a budget that has just been cut by twenty percent and a deficit of over a million dollars. You also have thirty-five dancers who want to be on that stage and who will not relish doing so in front of empty seats, of which there are 2665 for every performance.
One thing that you can do is rely on what you already own and then you call on your friends for help. Which is exactly what Dennis Nahat, the ever ebullient and ever resilient artistic director of the struggling, but dancing better than ever, Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley did for its first program of the new season.
an excellent performance of Graham’s Appalachian Spring
were two guaranteed crowd pleasers, Michael Smuin’s 1982 Stravinsky
Piano Pieces and Nahat and Ian Horvath’s US from 1975.
They were safe choices. Clearly, even if he were inclined to do so, Nahat
did not feel that he could take risks.
Lab's latest show billed itself as a night of "kinetic and sonic
alchemy," the elements involved being Kathleen Hermesdorf's choreography
and Albert Mathias' looping, club-like music. As a program note even explained,
"Alchemy is an ancient system of natural magic that 'implants heavenly
things in earthly objects by means of specific alluring charms used at
the right moment'." Blame it on bad magic, then, or faulty timing,
but Friday's show at ODC Theater, which continues next weekend, was sorely
lacking in either transformation or transfixing moments.
©2003 by DanceView