the danceview times
Volume 3, Number 33 September 12, 2005 The weekly online supplement to DanceView magazine
Time was that the annual Edinburgh Festival might have different major ballet companies filling its three weeksI recall for instance Sadler’s Wells, New York City and Cuevas in succession playing six nights each, plus matinees. That practice has long gone, and some directors over the years have almost ignored dance.
The present head man, Sir Brian McMaster, goes in for short, varied engagements by companies of different size and quality. There are gaps between, but assiduous dance fans can find much more activity than in earlier years in the independent and overlapping Fringe Festival.
This year I saw three out of five official presentations, involving two visits (a six-hour journey each way; the trains used to be quicker). I’ve already reported on the Pennsylvania Ballet’s disappointing “Swan Lake” which opened the Festival; a recompense on that trip was catching Sasha Waltz’s “Impromptus”. Created in April 2004 at her usual base, the Schaubuehne am Lehniner Platz, Berlin, this is set, unusually for Waltz, to lyrical 19th-century music played live, which has encouraged her to a far more dance-filled structure. The music in question is by Franz Schubert: five piano impromptus played by Christina Marton and four songs by Judith Simonis, mezzo-soprano; these musicians, at the side of the large stage, managed to sound good even in Edinburgh’s vast, dreary Playhouse.
Looking for something else, I came across my review of the Cuban National Ballet’s British debut a quarter-century ago, and discovered that I did not wholly like the company. And that remains true on subsequent visits, including this year’s trip to Sadler’s Wells. Why am I out of step with much critical and public opinion?
I do recognise that Cuba produces many outstanding classical dancers. Unfortunately many of the best move overseas as soon as they can, seeking a more rewarding repertoire and better pay too. Judging by my one visit this time, the general level is perfectly presentable but I didn’t see any real star dancing. The other problem is (as I’ve already hinted) the repertoire. This is dominated by the classics as staged by their founder-director Alicia Alonso. They opened with a mixed bill: snippets from “Giselle”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Nutcracker”, “Coppelia, “Don Quixote” and “Swan Lake” Act 2, plus the finale from “Gottschalk Symphony”also by Alonso. I’m told this last was quite entertaining (I couldn’t see this programmein Edinburgh on the press night, and the only other performance was completely sold out. Reliable opinions were that the standards of dancing variedsome good, some less so. But I’ve seen various Alonso productions and am not convinced about her command of the classics.
"Dance Inspired By Dance"
There was commonality and contrast. Both of the Daniel Burkholder pieces that comprised this program referred to the choreographic canon, yet they were refreshingly different. "Horizon Light: an appalachian spring" was, visually, about bodies and the sculptural and dramatic movement they can generate. This work came first and, of course, had the Martha Graham / Aaron Copland / Isamu Noguchi classic in mind. The second piece, "together / apart (we go each our way)" alluded to Twyla Tharp's "Nine Sinatra Songs" which is well on its way to becoming iconic, especially in the videotaped version with Tharp herself and Mikhail Baryshnikov. In this latter Burkholder dance, Chris Dalen's costumesbroad horizontal stripes, loose contours and unisex cutsnegated the bodies that wore them so that the choreographer's emphasis on dynamics and pacing emerged almost as incorporeal energy. Dalen's costumes for the opener were also unisex, but being tighter revealed more about the dancersincluding Mr. Burkholder's gain of weight.
There was an air of grim determination from the start of Francesca Selva's shapeless, disappointing two-part "Camminando-XYZ" that remained throughout the ninety-minute work. The four dancers performed their appointed tasks with such a dour air that the dance took on the atmosphere of an assignment to be gotten through. Certainly, the overall vagueness and lack of focus in Selva's choreographywith its bland mix of cleanly executed ballet steps ( plenty of arabesques and jetes) with generic, swoopy partnering and uninspired floor sequencesdid not give them much to work with.
"The Adventures of Cunning and Guile"
Chris Black and Ken James are, respectively, Cunning and Guileunless I've got them backwards (it's anyway the same difference). They wear identical jeans and long-sleeved grey T-shirts (designed by Lark Pien), differentiated only by the initials "C" and "G" where otherwise a Superman logo might ride. At times they don sweatshirts that spell out their full names, and each carries a 1940's-style leather suitcase fitted with the sound and lighting effects their act is going to require. They top it off with Buster-Keatonish dead pans.
Trey McIntyre Project
Trey McIntyre seems to really appreciate women in skirts. No body stockings, or the hint of anything unisex, for him. In each of the three recent works on the debut program of his Trey McIntyre Project, the women wore shapely, carefully designed costumes that were highly feminine. Some of the costuming was distracting, even problematic, but it always made a bold statement, and reflected a determined, individual artistic mind at work.
In a provocative essay last week (9/6) in The New York Times, Gia Kourlas wrote “New York is no longer the capital of the contemporary dance world.” Creative energy has shifted abroad, she said, and “Europe is becoming what New York used to be.” As a proud and provincial New Yorker, I was shocked. So when Dance Theater Workshop presented an evening of young choreographers, on the second night of the season-opening DancenOw/NYC festival, I went looking for evidence to refute this crazy charge. Truth to tell, I found as much to support as to contradict it.
Following its seasons commemorating Rudolf Nureyev ten years after his death and George Balanchine on his centenary, London’s National Film Theatre has come up with a bicentennial celebration under the title “Dancing Bournonville”. This comprised four programmes, each shown twice, spread through the month of August.
The opening bill was fascinating for its inclusion of ten short films made a whole century ago, in 1902-06, by the Court photographer Peter Elfelt using, amazingly, a camera he made himself, by hand, from his sketch of one seen at the Paris Exposition. Of course they were made in silence, but a piano accompaniment by Elvi Henriksen has been added, and the film is projected in a version with every second frame printed twice to alleviate the flickery effect usual in early movies. It’s great to see fragments from “La Sylphide”, “The King’s Volunteers” and “Napoli” given by such historic names as Ellen Price, Valborg Borchsenius and Hans Beck, but perhaps even more so to catch unknown dances from “Il Trovatore” etc. including numbers by Beck and Poul Funck (who he, you may askI certainly did).
"The Water Station"
Amidst the cacophony of the classroom, teachers of young children know that whispering has the effect of surprising them into a heightened state of alertness. Shogo Ohta, the minimalist playwrite, uses the same technique in his play "The Water Station" (Mizu no Eki) presented by the Pacific Performance Project (P3) at the HERE Arts Center. The play is performed without spoken text and in mesmerizing slow motion. Ohta states, "The fact of human presence implies the presence of life and of consciousness," and that action in adagio allows us to go beyond the familiar act of looking and achieve the philosophical experience of seeing. And indeed, this is what happens in this beautiful and powerful play. As the actors walk, kneel, and drink from a perpetually running water spigot, our attention is gently seized by the beauty of their mundane movements. We are compelled to look closer at their faces and body language. What we see is a universe of human emotion condensed into a look over the shoulder, a hand drawn to the face, or a bit of hair pulled in distraction.
Copyright © 2005 by DanceView