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TOBI TOBIAS on dance et al...

Sunday, May 8, 2005


    I will post an appreciation of Jock Soto--who will give his farewell performance with the New York City Ballet on June 19--on Monday, May 16.

    posted by tobi_tobias @ 11:59 pm | Permanent link

    New York City Ballet / New York State Theater, Lincoln Center, NYC / April 26 – June 26, 2005





    One way or another, gala programs must be striking.  This season, the New York City Ballet’s boldly shunned both Balanchine and Robbins, the guys who give the company its raison d’être, for five new additions to its repertory—all choreographed by current members of the home team.  Three of these pieces were duets that could be taken, obliquely, as windows on the state of dance today, at least on NYCB turf, and the state of love in these postmodern times.

    Albert Evans’s Broken Promise, set to Matthew Fuerst’s Clarinet Quartet, lets you see what’s best about Ashley Bouder:  the diminutive, taut body—fueled by extravagant but implacably controlled energy—creating sharp, intensely vivid images in the vast space of the State Theater stage.  Her costume, by Carole Divet, suggests what keeps some observers (like me) hesitant about joining her growing fan club.  It’s a sleeveless, backless, cleavage-baring white leotard gaudily studded with giant rhinestones, and it makes her look like a Russian gymnast who’s a sure bet for the gold.  At first Stephen Hanna seems to be there only to support her when needed, conveniently disappearing when he’s not.  Then he gets some of his own high-octane stuff, though it’s interrupted when she hurtles out of the wings to throw herself at him—literally.  Their duets look like physical competitions, sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile, and when the last moves of the dance posit them as lovers bedding down, you’re startled to realize that all that previous athletic bravura must now be understood as foreplay.  What this piece says about love is that the sedentary among us should hie ourselves to the gym, pronto, or we won’t stand a chance.

    Benjamin Millepied’s Double Aria, first performed by his chamber group, Danses Concertantes, in 2003, takes its name from its music—Daniel Ott’s Double Aria for Violin Alone.  (Choreographer and composer have collaborated several times and are now preparing a piece for the School of American Ballet’s annual showcase in June.)  Double Aria puts the violinist (Timothy Fain) onstage so that he’s all the more a partner in the proceedings and, indeed, sometimes a soloist, as the dancers fade in and out of the picture.  These dancers are an extravagantly (almost eccentrically) long-limbed pair, Maria Kowroski and Ask la Cour.  We see them first, then again at intervals, in silhouette, a tactic that emphasizes their shape, as do the repeated vertical undulations and complex intertwinings Millepied assigns them.  Kowroski is subjected by her partner to a certain amount of fling-and-drag—a tactic that has cropped up frequently in new pieces at NYCB.  I suppose nothing personal is implied when the work purports to be abstract, though—you know how it is—some viewers might just take it personally.  The structure of Double Aria wasn’t entirely clear to me, but, giving it the benefit of the doubt, and knowing that Millepied is French-born and French-trained, I thought that it might be one of those subtly clever schemes French intellectuals dream up.  Waiting for the enlightenment that might come with a second viewing, I enjoyed the air the dance had of being a sketch spontaneously improvised to the seductive meandering of the music.  What it tells us about love—or, at any rate, a “relationship”—is that it needn’t engage the soul.
    Edwaard Liang’s Distant Cries, to a plangent Albinoni score, was first seen earlier this season in the repertoire of the chamber group Peter Boal & Company.  Danced here, as it was there, by Boal and his frequent partner Wendy Whelan, it is tinged with the dancegoer’s knowledge that Boal will retire from performing in June and leave for the West Coast to direct Pacific Northwest Ballet.  Liang’s choreography and Whelan’s increasingly sensitive interpretation of her role suggest themes of loss and grief.  (The idea of something irreplaceable’s coming to an end is a particularly big deal at New York City Ballet, going straight back as it does to the death of Balanchine.)  Liang uses his dancers wisely, capitalizing on Boal’s reticence and purity and Whelan’s ability to look utterly fragile and malleable without fully concealing a fascinating will of steel.  The choreography, if not remarkably innovative, is reasonably adept and unaffected, marred only by some inexplicable peculiarities—suddenly flexed feet in an otherwise classical context and a repeated phrase for the arms that looks as if it should mean something, but doesn’t.  What it tells us about love is that, no matter how devoted, it doesn’t last.  Of the messages offered by the three duets, this is the only one to interest itself in tenderness.

    Two offerings on the program, by the company’s most frequent providers, supplied some expansiveness to contrast with the restricted duet form.  In his Tālā Giasma, set to the Estonian composer Pēteris Vasks’s Distant Light: Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra, Peter Martins returns to the concerns of his Eros Piano:  A man—perhaps searching for an elusive ideal love, perhaps merely a passerby distracted in the humdrum course of his life—encounters more than one alluring but mysteriously remote lady and finds it impossible to opt for this one or that. 

    This time there are three women (Sofiane Sylve, Darci Kistler, and Miranda Weese), and they appear to be goddesses, or at least nymphs.  Sheathed in palely tinted body stockings, they dance in Mark Stanley’s delicate dawn light.  When the man (Jared Angle, replacing the injured Jock Soto) first comes upon them, they are a benign sisterhood, inclined to lyricism.  Once he engages with them singly, their individual temperaments surface.  Sylve becomes demonic, thrillingly so.  Weese displays an implacable strength, but it is cool and remote, while Sylve’s vehemence is sensual.  Kistler remains gentle and tender, almost pleading with the man to love her, rewarding him, when he responds, in dulcet terms agreeably tinged with pathos.  The three come and go, with the man expressing his confusion (or is it frustrated longing?  or dismay?) in solo passages, then masterminding a final quartet.  Still he never arrives at a choice, and the ballet ends with him standing behind the women’s recumbent bodies, his arms raised toward the heavens.

    The choreography makes much of the women’s extravagant extensions and some sudden, dramatic drops from a supported position on pointe to the floor, as if to claim that modern-dance turf for classical ballet, which traditionally adheres to an aristocratic verticality.  Otherwise, it’s pretty much business as usual, including the quotes from Balanchine.  Here they’re mostly from Apollo (about another fellow who comes upon a trio of lovelies) and are far too many and too literal, co-opting verbatim text only to sully it.  It might also be observed that Balanchine has his hero make a clear selection among the three muses, so there can be a central duet that is key to the firm shape of the ballet.  Martins’s piece seems too long, I think, because it is diffuse.  

    Tālā Giasma also connects, obviously, to Nijinsky’s L’Après-midi d’un faune and, not so obviously, to Bournonville’s A Folk Tale, in which, long ago as a young principal with the Royal Danish Ballet, Martins played the hero, Junker Ove.  On the surface the golden youth of everyone’s dreams, Ove is nonetheless a troubled soul, at odds with his destined bride—and rightly so; she turns out to be a troll.  He eventually meets his proper match—all sweetness, light, and purity of heart—but not before he has been set upon by the supernatural Elf Maidens (cousins, you might say, of the wilis in Giselle) whose first appearance, rising from a trapdoor in a dense fog, is as a single woman who suddenly, terrifyingly, morphs into three.  I’m not saying Martins was consciously thinking about A Folk Tale when he made Tālā Giasma; I’m saying that what one has seen and done remains irrevocably a part of one’s equipment.

    Christopher Wheeldon’s An American in Paris, the only new piece on the program to boast décor and a sizeable cast, was no doubt an attempt to send ’em home entertained.  Despite the blandishments of the Gershwin score, I slunk home depressed at the conspicuous emptiness of the dance and worried about the possibility that Susan’s Stroman’s Double Feature, which reportedly sold a good many NYCB tickets last year, might be evolving into a regularly used genre, in which a popular vintage movie is co-opted for vacuous shenanigans.  Balanchine was no fool.  He understood the need for a cheerful program closer.  To fill this slot he created ballets like Western Symphony, which was colorful and lighthearted and—for people who cared about that sort of thing—had real choreography.  Wheeldon’s effort has innumerable reference points, four drops by Adrienne Lobel ( faux-Cubist takes on tourists’ Paris—a Seine-side quay, the picturesque rooftops, et al.), and lots of pointless agitation.

    Damian Woetzel, playing Gene Kelly, gets to mingle with the requisite generic types of Paris in the fifties:  pert jeunes filles; young matrons in straw hats and gloves; anonymous guys in berets; a lady of the night; several gendarmes; a nun and her Madeleinesque charges (only three, so the “twelve little girls in two straight lines” effect was blown); and a cyclist (on his machine) taking a break, no doubt, from the Tour de France.  He also gets to dance a bluesy duet with his sweetheart-in-pink (Jenifer Ringer, who curls around him like a kitten) and enjoy a little encounter on the side with an adorably saucy Carla Körbes, who emerges from a unisex gang of street toughs.  None of this has any originality as dancing.  And then we find out (surprise!  surprise!) that it was all a dream.  After raiding the film for a few basic situations—and failing to develop them—Wheeldon still counts on our transferring our nostalgic affection for the movie to his pallid show.  Gimme a break!

    Photo:  Paul Kolnik:  Jenifer Ringer and Damian Woetzel in Chrisopher Wheeldon’s An American in Paris

    © 2005 Tobi Tobias

    posted by tobi_tobias @ 9:28 pm | Permanent link
Sunday, April 24, 2005


    Mark Morris Dance Group / BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, NYC / April 19-23, 2005

    This year, the Mark Morris Dance Group brought no brand-new, grand-slam work to its annual season at BAM.  The sole novelty was a piece that had its premiere last fall, way west, in Berkeley, California.  But it’s a honey.  Rock of Ages, set to the adagio movement of Schubert’s Piano Trio in E flat, is a small, quiet dance that, like meditative deep breathing, expands the consciousness until it seems to reach the deepest feelings and an ever-widening understanding of how the world works.

    Its population of four, plainly dressed, enters one by one from the four corners of the stage, briefly converges at the center of the space, then moves on (though a pair pauses briefly, side by side), each person simply continuing along the diagonal path prescribed by his or her first step.  The ending reiterates this action, which is clearly the simple message of the dance:  We exist alone; we meet when we occupy a common space; we interact in passing, our identity left essentially unaltered; we part—because it is only natural that we should.

    Dominating the dance are brief phrases that, after their original impulse, slow and then coalesce into sculptural poses; these, having registered, melt into the succeeding phrase.  Certain gestural motifs keep repeating as if they were lodestars.  In one, the dancer turns her/his back to the audience, extends one leg behind herself diagonally and stretches her arms behind her back, hands clasped.  She turns her head to one side, tipping it downward as if to examine the earth, then suddenly twists it to the other side, and upward, as if scanning the sky.  (I thought of 9/11.  How could you not?)  Elsewhere, a single dancer faces the audience dead on, legs wide, knees deeply bent, arms extended horizontally, as if measuring the space or rooting herself to mark it as significant. 

    The dancers seem to traverse the stage at random (though even the most casual examination of the choreography reveals that their placing and timing are exquisitely plotted).  Encountering one another, they don’t appear so much to be relating as singular personalities with private agendas as simply participating in the same event or sharing, almost anonymously, a common feeling.  (Again I thought of 9/11.  How could you not?)  Occasionally they cluster--in pairs, occasional trios, even all four together, but only very briefly, for the stream of the dance is very fluid—then quickly regroup, exit, reappear.  They look into the distance a lot, occasionally at each other, in a prevailing state of self-contained contemplation.   Some swift and airborne things happen, too, but they’re just accents placed by a master well aware of the pitfalls of self-indulgence.

    The whole dance emanates from the music as if Schubert’s sublime trio were—on this particular playing—being rendered as a quartet.  The choreography has a calm, fated feeling; everything that happens is presented as acceptable and accepted, on a plane that lies beyond the tumult of contradiction.  I wanted it to go on forever; when it was over, I wanted to see it again right away. 

    In the engagement’s four performances, eight dancers, ranging from veterans (among them, Joe Bowie, whom followers of the troupe love like family) to a relative newbie (the heavenly Rita Donahue), rotated in the four roles—in different combinations.  Morris is the last choreographer on earth to consider his dancers interchangeable.  But they are replaceable, instructively so.  The shifting distribution of personnel—a tactic used in other parts of the repertory as well—shows any spectator on a repeat visit how a choreographic text, while remaining stable, is significantly inflected by the performing artists essential to bringing it to life.

    This one-program engagement also boasted a burnished production of  Morris’s 1995 Somebody’s Coming to See Me Tonight.  Set to familiar songs by Stephen Foster, it illustrates Morris’s great gift for continually shifting tone within a single work, deepening the overall effect of the choreography by playing one mood against another or, more typically and wonderfully, intertwining them to reflect the way in which real life experience sends us multiple simultaneous messages.  At the time of their composition (the mid-1840s to the mid-1860’s), Foster’s songs reflected prevailing sentiments in genteel American culture.  Subsequently they came to be considered over- (even nauseatingly) sentimental.  Nowadays they’re hailed as examples of classic Americana.  Revealing the profound shadings that bodies can lend to words, Morris constructs scenes that find innocent tenderness in love and a final (even welcome) peace in death.  Abutting or coexisting with these echt-Foster evocations are ironic takes on the lyrics that infuse them with bawdy humor or irrepressible gaiety (as in the polka that’s rendered in square-dance formations with an odd man out) and an underlying sense of life’s tragic dimension.  Like almost all of Morris’s choreography, the piece is immaculately structured, with patterning at once surprising and satisfying in the way Balanchine’s is.  The dancers, attentive to details of gesture and feeling, make it luminous.
    The program was completed by Silhouettes, a disquisition on mirror-imaging, as well as From Old Seville, a riff on the excesses and beauties of flamenco style, which is too short, and Rhymes With Silver, a glorification of its Lou Harrison score, which is far too long.  Seville featured Morris, who, though growing ever more portly as he winds down his performing career, is as rhythmically acute as ever, and Lauren Grant, a tiny, swift, well-muscled blonde, who refuses to be upstaged by the boss.  Silver employed just about everyone but Morris, and, if there’s a grander heterogeneous troupe of dancers around, I’d like to know where it is.

    Photo:  Susana Millman:  Michelle Yard and Craig Biesecker in Mark Morris’s Rock of Ages

    © 2005 Tobi Tobias

    posted by tobi_tobias @ 9:05 pm | Permanent link
Sunday, April 17, 2005

    Trisha Brown Dance Company / Rose Theater, Lincoln Center, NYC / April 13-16, 2005





    Celebrating her company’s 35th anniversary and adhering to her ongoing impulse to “make it new,” Trisha Brown devoted the second of the two programs she presented in Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series to recent work.  The brand new piece that copped all the advance notice was how long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume . . . , an experiment with motion capture technology that had its premiere at Arizona State University where it was developed.  (Brown co-opted the title for her piece from an overheard remark made by a techie on the project.  Her maverick imagination found a wry poetry in it.)

    What’s going on here?  Well, to put it as simply as possible, both the ever-shifting visual imagery projected onto a scrim that veils the stage and the sound score are generated by computers receiving information from sensors attached to some of the seven dancers’ costumes (gleaming unadorned unitards in sapphire or vermillion).  The images, in white sparked with bright red, consist of lines (and, subsequently, geometric shapes) that smudge, like skywriting, a few moments after they appear.  Of course these animated graphics are distracting, though that’s partly because dance viewers aren’t used to scenography with a mind of its own (even if the intelligence is conspicuously artificial).  The minimal score, on the other hand, is barely there.

    Meanwhile, the dancers are doing the most remarkable things, many of them diverging from the vertical, the bodies leaning, lunging, jackknifing, plunging or sliding to the floor, arms, legs, and torsos rising to the challenge of tasks hardly within their original job description.  Other aspects of the action derive from commonplace gesture and the groupings of crowds, this pedestrian material, absorbing in itself, unemphatically offset by some odd and beautiful lifts.  Of all the Trisha Brown dances (and anti-dances) I’ve seen over the years, this one seems the most abstract, the most like Merce Cunningham’s work.  The visual designs, however, bring to mind the mid-twentieth century explorations of Alwin Nikolais—all done, it should be noted, with unsophisticated equipment but quite similar results.

    Occasionally the visuals get so feisty, you hardly notice the dancers, who at those moments appear small, insignificant, all but obscured, as if graffiti had been sprayed over them.  Even when the images are more subdued, the scrim necessary for their projection thwarts the dancing, making it look more like something seen on TV than live performance.  Tellingly, all the articles I read in advance of the New York premiere—the experiment was clearly a publicity magnet—made almost no mention of the particulars of the choreography.  Elizabeth Zimmer, writing for the Village Voice, reports that the youngish techno-artists participating in the project complimented the 68-year-old Brown on having “a digital sensibility.”  Has choreographic intelligence, I wonder darkly, become insufficient?

    Two earlier works filled out the program.  Geometry of Quiet, created in the aftermath of 9/11, is muted, intimate, infinitely tender.  Its rarefied music, by Salvatore Sciarrino, played onstage by the flautist Mario Caroli, evokes a slew of natural sounds such as breathing, ocean waves invading and receding from the shore, wind in a vast tunnel, bouts of coughing, and fragments of birdsong.  Jennifer Tipton’s lighting creates a perpetual dawn in which the sun seems veiled—as if by fog or clouds in the sky or smoke rising from the earth.  Christophe de Menil has dressed the six dancers in the white of angels and medical personnel, and Brown herself has framed the stage in panels of rippling white cloth, giving the dancers long translucent stretches of the fabric that they pull toward the center of the space to suggest shelters or, perhaps, sacred areas.

    Delicacy is the watchword of this dance.  Like Agnes Martin’s paintings, it records a spectrum of subtleties.  In an atmosphere of rapt attention, the dancers execute their small precise gestures, their infinitesimal shifts in weight and placement in the space.  Many of the movements suggest succor—body clasping body, bodies gathering in small, tight clusters.  Very occasionally, the action becomes angry, even ferocious, but these passages are so brief and their execution so fastidious, they never contradict the overall mood.  At the heart of the piece lies a duet for a small man and a tall woman.  Its leitmotif of discrete phrases that resolve in sculptural poses suggests that the experience of a moment may have an ongoing life in history.  The fact that this duet is echoed immediately by a second couple (in which the heights are reversed) reinforces a complementary idea—that individual experience expands into communal experience.  At the finish of the piece, the pale light finally fades altogether, much more swiftly—as in much of human existence—than one would have expected.

    I have a predilection for art in this exquisite vein, and I liked Geometry of Quiet very much.  A colleague sitting next to me found it exasperating.

    Present Tense, made in 2003 but new to New York, offers a good example of Brown’s divine fluidity—the aspect of her choreography that streams directly from her own body, her unique physical temperament.  Set to selections from John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano, it opens with a long male solo (handsomely danced by Neal Beasley) full of squiggles and loping.  The dance then unfurls into a septet that, using a typical Brown tactic, moves laterally in and out of view, much of the action concentrated on the peripheries of the space.  The choreography makes canny observations on how people combine or bond, especially when they’re supporting each other’s bodies, either in pairs or larger groups.  Eventually the participants help each other soar aloft, outstretched limbs slicing the air.

    I thought the proceedings were intermittently funny, but the audience didn’t respond along these lines, at least not overtly, remaining reverently still, as if awed by the evening’s air of a visit to the cutting edge.  And yet the dance was, at the very least, playful, the brightly clad bodies repeatedly trying out moves or spatial relationships, then shaking their heads no and nodding them yes, like little dolls set in motion by a playful inventor in a toy landscape.  Present Tense actually has a landscape—a backdrop by Elizabeth Murray depicting a Keith Haring-like figure neatly sandwiched between the treetops of a forest and low-hanging dark clouds in what I assume is a faux-naif comment on the human condition.

    Photo:  Tim Trumble:  Members of the Trisha Brown Dance Company in Brown’s how long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume . . .

    © 2005 Tobi Tobias 

    posted by tobi_tobias @ 8:35 pm | Permanent link
Sunday, April 10, 2005

    Martha Graham Dance Company / City Center, NYC / April 6-17, 2005

    The trouble with Martha Graham is that, alive or dead, the lady can’t be relied on.  She is, indisputably, one of the key choreographers in the history of Western dance.  The Martha Graham Dance Company’s current City Center season, restricting itself almost entirely to carefully shaped productions of masterpieces like Primitive Mysteries, Appalachian Spring, and Errand Into the Maze, proves this point anew.  However, more often than not, the work of the last third of Graham’s long career was inflated and vague, almost to the point of self-parody, and thus hardly worth conserving in the active repertory.  So the viable Graham canon is limited and, though the power of the company rests with the great old works, neither the troupe’s audiences nor its dancers will accept having their experience confined solely to these pieces.

    For this reason, the current directors, Terese Capucilli and Christine Dakin, commissioned their first new work for the group—from Martha Clarke.  Emerging from Pilobolus in the seventies, Clarke choreographed and directed for major ballet and opera companies and created independent productions that led to her copping one of those MacArthur Awards that lets folks think of you as a genius.  The Graham assignment resulted in Sueño (Dream), inspired by the Goya etchings collected as Los Caprichos (1799) and Los Desastres de la Guerra (1810-1814)—mordant depictions of the evils rampant in Spanish society and, by implication, in humanity at large.
    Clarke has a fervid imagination (a quality Graham shared without letting it overwhelm her), and an insatiable appetite for the grotesque.  Sueño is extravagantly picturesque.  Its eleven haunted figures inhabit a very dark stage, where set and costumes are restricted to a palette ranging from black, through ash gray and silver, to a spectral white.  The dancers’ wildly moving shadows create menacing silhouettes on huge mottled panels placed at rakish angles, the constant unsettling fluctuation of the forms augmented by the women’s loose-hanging hair and ragged skirts.  In the same vein, the frenzied movement is intermittently accompanied by laughing, screaming, raucous shouting, sinister whispering, and, at one juncture, the antiphonal hand-clapping of Spanish dance.

    Image upon image whirls before our eyes, depicting violence, sexual depravity, grief, despair, decay—and the near manic pleasure the participants take in their own dissolution.  The populace scuttles around in the gloom, doing forbidden things or having horrific things done to them, spying gleefully on one another’s nasty diversions.
    All this, performed with vigor and abandon, is stunning for a few minutes.  It looks like the introductory passage to a heady, menacing film—after which you’d, quite naturally, expect incident, character, and finally some semblance of story to emerge from the atmospheric vortex.  In Sueño this never happens.  Although a few specific incidents stand out in the general mêlée—the rape of a redhead by three men, a vicious confrontation between a matador and his human bull/slave—they are very brief, a matter of seconds.  For the most part, the piece goes on for over twenty hectic minutes without rendering anything more than a Carnival in Hell ambiance.  Towards the end, as if Clarke had suddenly realized she’d produced nothing of conventional dramatic substance, one man mounts a precarious towering panel, his neck wrapped in a hangman’s noose.  He harangues the small crowd of death-infatuated revelers below, then leaps from his perch to his “death” (flying effects by Antigravity).  Clarke resurrects him after a bit, and he laughs hysterically, his hands clutching a pair of clanging bells.

    Franco Piersanti’s score, Riccardo Hernandez’s set, Donna Zakowska’s costumes, and Christopher Akerlind’s lighting all contribute mightily to Clarke’s intended effect.  The effect, however, though initially ravishing, does not constitute a dance.  It has little of the quality of Graham’s landmark works—no governing passion, for one thing; no redemption, for another—and, for that matter, little relation to Goya, who never treated the morbid as if it were intoxicating décor.

    The real choreographic event of the season turned out to be the revival of Graham’s 1943 Deaths and Entrances, an evocation of the turbulent lives of the Brontë sisters, its emotional climate as roiling as that of Emily’s Wuthering Heights.  The piece centers on one of the sisters (originally danced by Graham herself, and whom we can take to be Emily, the one cursed by genius, Charlotte and Anne being merely immensely gifted).  This figure works out her terrible conflicts and achieves some sort of ecstatic resolution in a matrix peopled by her sisters, incarnations of their three child selves, rival suitors evocatively called The Dark Beloved and The Poetic Beloved, a pair of auxiliary gentlemen, and an enigmatic collection of props.  A transparent goblet, an enormous seashell (the kind that lets you hear the ocean’s implacable waves in the cleft formed by its swollen pink labial folds), and a pair of phallus-like chess pieces are manipulated by the dancers as if they, at least, knew exactly what the objects signified.

    The dance has been re-costumed by Oscar de la Renta, and the gowns for the women are ravishing.  They provide just enough period reference to make them probable and a huge dose of svelte glamour that connects them to the present day.  Their palette—cinnamon, red violet, and black-striped bronze—gives off a sullen glow and makes an erotic object of the dancers’ skin, astutely bared at the neckline and shoulders.  Referencing mid-nineteenth century dress, the construction is thick and elaborate at the pelvis, while the skirts trail behind just a little, surging and swirling as the women’s rapacious extensions and tormented swiveling animate them.  (The Three Remembered Children’s schoolgirlish dresses are a little overwrought—Lolita-ish, if you take my meaning—but then adults cast as children almost always appear faintly obscene.)

    Graham scorns plot for this piece and refuses even to make her characters and their feelings specific enough to be labeled.  Yet she manages to sweep away the viewer susceptible to her methods and concerns.  I, for one, having read my share of Brontë novels, could easily imagine the three sisters cooped up in the ill-fated family’s home near the wild moors, writing away and dying of TB, entertaining visions of romance and passion as the grave beckoned to them.

    The movement Graham invented for the piece is particularly disturbed (and disquieting).  The super-energized disjunctive phrases, with single gestures set in relief, look as if desire and anguish, storming the barricades of repression, had finally unleashed their lethal force.  Graham convinces you here, as she does in all her top-notch tragic works, that the only life worth living—even if it invites chaos and leads to annihilation—is an existence at emotional extremes. 

    Miki Orihara, who is having a splendid season—in Appalachian Spring, her Bride brings tears to your eyes—is terrific as the Emily figure.  She depicts longing and loathing ferociously, yet remains infinitely delicate.  In one solo passage, having lost both the Dark and the Poetic Beloved, she appears to be a fragile, priceless piece of porcelain that suddenly shatters.  Then, in the next moment, as if through an immense effort of will, she composes herself, absorbs her tragedy, internalizes it, and becomes, body as well as face, a mask—invulnerable because she is unreadable.

    Orihara’s beautiful performances are topped only by those of Fang-Yi Sheu, the most gifted interpreter of Graham to appear in decades.  Sheu shares with Orihara the ability to create a character through an intimate involvement with the persona and the situation and, at the same time, to portray that figure objectively.  No mean feat, this; it’s like using Method and Classical acting techniques simultaneously.   Her dancing per se offers dozens of things to admire.  Her small willowy body seems infinitely fine-boned and malleable, yet her strength is steely and her projection intense.   Details?  In Errand Into the Maze, you watch, fascinated, as she enters the metaphorical labyrinth, her feet, like some feral creature’s, pacing out the path traced by an undulating rope laid along the floor.  The body seems to float, almost formless, above these precise, stalking feet, as if in a trance.  In Cave of the Heart, she gives her Medea hands that work like prehensile claws and a torso and pelvis overtaken—spontaneously, it would seem—by spasms that spell out jealous rage.  But it’s the overall effect that’s most astonishing.  Sheu makes you feel that there’s nothing learned or calculated about what she’s doing on stage.  It’s as if the dance is inhabiting her, making her its vehicle—as if she had relinquished herself to Graham’s imagination.  If you can get yourself into the neighborhood of the City Center, go see her.  Right now.  This sort of dancing is rare, and it doesn’t last forever.

    Photo:  John Deane:  Miki Orihara and Tadej Brdnik in Martha Graham’s Deaths and Entrances

    © 2005 Tobi Tobias

    posted by tobi_tobias @ 8:32 pm | Permanent link



Tobi Tobias lives in New York City, where she writes about dance and other things worth looking at. More

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had three particular passions. . . More

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There is nothing like dancing after all.  I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished societies.

- Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (Sir William Lucas, to Darcy)

A dancing couple reveals its degree of mutual understanding. The harmonious movements of the Count and Countess d’Orgel showed an accord that only love or habit can give. (Un couple qui danse révèle son degrée d'entente. L'harmonie des gestes du comte et de la comtesse d'Orgel prouvait un accord que donne seul l'amour ou l'habitude.)

- Raymond Radiguet, Count d’Orgel’s Ball Le Bal du comte d'Orgel)

Dance speaks the hidden language, the language our ancestors have given us, the language that is beyond language.

- Martha Graham

. . . that most exposed form of self expression, dancing . . .

- Marianne Moore

When I discovered dancing, I learned to dream.

- Diana Vreeland

The body always has the last word.  (Le corps a toujours le dernier mot.)

- Laurence Roussel


Wonder Women
There's a subdivision of feminist thinking that condemns the beloved storybook ballets of the nineteenth century for their ostensible political incorrectness. All those sylphs and Wilis, it maintains, all those maidens suspended in states of enchantment represent women as frail, vulnerable creatures, deprived of power over their own destinies, the victims—often in the name of love—of dominant men... More

Taglioni's Shoe: Memory & Memorabilia
I was standing before a glass case -- in a museum or library dedicated to theater memorabilia, I think. Or perhaps an exhibition space in an opera house. Where? New York? London? Paris? Can't recall. When? No idea. Perhaps decades ago. All I remember... More

New York City Ballet's Sofiane Sylve
Sofiane Sylve's sheer physical vitality feels like an engine that energizes the entire theater, filling it with joy. More

Peter Boal & Company; Paige Martin and Caitlin Cook
Retiring from the stage in June, Peter Boal, longtime New York City Ballet principal and a bastion of pure classical dancing, appeared with his chamber company for perhaps its final season. . . . Paige Martin and Caitlin Cook: A program curated by pomo dance celebrity Sarah Michelson should have been more striking. More



The RÉUNION DES MUSÉES NATIONAUX (The National Museum Association’s Photographic Agency) offers a photographic catalogue of some 200,00 holdings of French museums.  It can be searched by artist, country, period, subject, and so on.  You can make a personal album of your favorites on the site.  New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and D.C.’s National Gallery have similar services, but the French one is the most ambitious and extensive.  Text in English as well as French.

AddALL is an ultimate umbrella for finding used and out of print books online.  It doesn’t have the atmosphere of Foyle’s, Powell’s, or even the Strand, but it will give you every opportunity to need yet another bookcase.

PROJECT GUTENBERG More books.  No bookcase required.  Over 6000 free electronic texts.

CALLIGRAPHY LESSONS ONLINE  Learn the italic hand and make yourself legible.  Don’t miss the animation.

Color charts of HERBIN INKS.  If you have to ask, you’ll never know.

THE NEW YORK TIMES Because it's there.



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