the danceview times
Volume 2, Number 7 February 16, 2004 An online supplement to DanceView magazine
Letter from New York
These days, it seems as if nearly everyone in the arts is looking for “edge,” as if creativity were no more than what academicians call “transgressive impulses.” We take it for granted now that the lingo for creative energy is often associated with crime, blades, aggression, wounds—sensational elements. One reason may be that audiences for the arts are so benumbed by the welter of images they encounter daily that, in order for most people to feel anything in the theater, they have to be hit over the head or skewered. In other words, people won’t recognize what constitutes edge unless they see a literal representation of its results, about to spill or actually spilling out of some orifice or entry hole. In dance, of course, what gets lost in this equation between creativity and literally sensational imagery is dancing: the edge becomes all, as in a nightmare where one is walking through a city that has no sidewalks, only curbs—which is why a number of choreographers over the past two decades have been acclaimed for works that have no formal shape, no theatrical expertise, and, all too often, no dance vocabulary. As long as the imagery pulls the right trigger, nobody cares about what else might be missing. The distortion works backwards, too. George Balanchine’s Apollon Musagète was much edgier than Vaslav Nijinsky’s L’Après-midi d’un faune in the relationships it presented between men and women and in its pervasive, analytical reconsideration of the rules and regulations that guided the classical syllabus taught at the Imperial School of St. Petersburg, where both Balanchine and Nijinsky studied. In the astoundingly revealing 1990 Juilliard production of Faune that notator Ann Hutchinson Guest worked on with Jill Beck from Nijinsky’s own notations of what he intended his choreography to be, the Chief Nymph exhibits a modesty of person, and a range of human feeling, that are completely absent from Balanchine’s god and muses. Nijinsky’s characters are recognizable Edwardians transposed; Balanchine’s are of another species entirely. Yet, owing to Nijinsky’s literal staging of the faun’s orgasm, it is Faune that is remembered as the more revolutionary work.
a pyrrhic effort to fight City Hall on matters going back nearly a century;
however, I will say that if you want to see true edge in action, in DANCE
ACTION, look out for performances by the 23 year-old prodigy of Argentinian
tango, Pablo Pugliese—a native of Argentina and the son of the distinguished
milongueros Esther and Mingo Pugliese.
An Ambitious Evening
and music trumped choreography on the opening night of ODC/San Francisco’s
33rd season. Yet with four world premieres, two commissioned scores and
a masterpiece of Western music, Bach’s Passacaglia in C Minor,
used in an intriguingly fresh manner, the first of two programs certainly
didn’t lack ambition. (Two other world premieres are scheduled for
the second program which opens later this week.)
Drama, Dancing and Music
Racine's tragedy Phedre opens on sexual passions and power plays
at high pitch among its protagonists. Other than variations and complications
of these themes, it is hard to imagine that the play has anywhere left
to go. But build it does to a seaquake of a climax that leaves in its
wake not just death but a testament to the Olympian gods' jealousy of
mortal humanity. Arts United of Washington, a brand new organization of
limited means but much imagination, took on this 17th Century classical
French drama's challenges—the grand oratory, the nakedness of the
characters' emotions—and gave audiences a winning three hours of
Petronio Dance Company
Cunningham Dance Company
made bookends out of Stephen Petronio and Merce Cunningham last weekend
with Petronio in San Francisco and Cunningham in Berkeley. And though
it may seem about as apt to compare them as to compare the poetry of Wallace
Stevens and Patty Smith (or, more pertinently, Lou Reed), the two concerts
have been bouncing off one another in my mind all week.
Some Fabulous Dancing
Return visits to San Francisco Ballet's opening pair of programs gave lots of evidence of spirit, energy, and attention to style in the company, particularly in the performances of dancers in side roles, or even in the deep background. This was the quality that made Helgi Tomasson's Swan Lake so thrilling a decade ago—the easy idiomatic clear dancing among the also-rans, which does at least as much to create the world of the ballet as the performances of the principals (and can do more to break the spell if it's not present than an off-night effort from a star).
repeat of the mixed-rep program (reviewed on opening night by my colleague
Ann Murphy in last week's issue) showed some fabulous dancing in mostly-weak
choreography, and the Saturday matinee of Don Quixote gave us
a show that the audience ate up and wanted more of.
ever a dancer lived up to her name, it is New York City Ballet’s
new soloist, Megan Fairchild—although, based on the audience reaction
to her New York debut in Coppélia, she might as well be
named Sara Lee, since it seems no one doesn’t like her. The role
of Swanilda, with its precise and elegant footwork, its classical clarity,
and its sunny atmosphere, suits her many talents perfectly. She did dance
it last summer in Saratoga on very short notice, but this was, I think,
her first scheduled performance. There was no sign of nerves, other than
a brief tumble in the third act, from which she recovered with aplomb.
A Disappointing Encore
opened on Broadway in 1953, most of the attention and praise went to Gwen
Verdon, in her first substantial Broadway role. Playing a laundress-by-day,
can-can dancer by night named Claudine, she was the show's second female
lead, with top billing going to a French actress named Lilo. But reviews
suggest that Michael Kidd's choreography (for three substantial dance
numbers) and Verdon's dancing were its most memorable and bankable assets.
"She is the dance discovery of the season," proclaimed Walter
Kerr, while another reviewer noted that "the crowd's increasing delight
with Miss Verdon was exciting to feel."
© 2004 by DanceView