December 2007 Archives
I've got a busy month coming up and won't be around here much, so I thought I'd leave you with some shows to see (those of you in New York, at least).
For a long time, New York City Ballet has begun its winter rep season just after New Year's, so January has long been rich in ballet. What's a recent development is downtown theaters bringing back some of their best work from the past year. (No coincidence: the Association of Performing Arts Presenters holds its annual, New York convention in January.) So now it's a great month for dance, whatever your taste.
Modern dance, pomo dance, contemporary dance:
***NEW***Presented by Chez Bushwick [(718) 450-1356 Limited Seating - reserve ASAP)], Brooklyn: Daria Fain and Robert Kocik's "Components of the Prosodic Body," January 12. (Why is everything on January 12?! help!) I don't know about the title, and the explanation for the performance --"an exploration of the manifestation of language in the body"-- is even worse. (That could describe half of dance and the stack of nouns-- exploration, manifestation, language, body-- is hard-going.) But Chez Bushwick is on a mission to push performance's boundaries every which way. And the presenters are a very smart bunch. So: worth a try.
***NEW***At the Chocolate Factory, Long Island City, Queens: Tere O'Connor's "Rammed Earth," Jan. 12-13, on the end of year best-of lists of BOTH Claudia La Rocco and Roslyn Sulcas of the Times.
At Danspace Project in the East Village: 1. Montreal's Daniel Leveille Danse, Jan. 10-12. Was last here three years ago, before modern dancers took their clothes off so often you began to wish they wouldn't. This troupe's naked bodies were still stark--and somehow transporting. 2. Jordan Fuchs, Jan. 24-26. He's a formalist (and also one of the nice librarians at the performing arts library) without being dry. Why do people assume that formalism is dry, anyway? An attention to structure is a method, not a tone or mood. Fuchs's stuff is subtle, sure, but also evocative.
At Dance Theater Workshop in Chelsea: Last-chance offer! Best-of-last-year reruns by Miguel Gutierrez (Jan. 14-15), Vicki Shick (11), and RoseAnne Spradlin (10), excellent choreographers all.
PS 122's Coil Festival works by a similar best-of principle. Maria Hassabi's "Gloria" (Jan. 11 and 12)--a mesmerizing rough draft of which I discuss here--was highlighted in the Times when it first played , and mentioned in both Roslyn Sulcas' end-of-year best-of round up for the Times AND Gia Kourlas's Time Out best-of. That's probably some kind of record. [Ed. note: paragraph corrected, 12/31.]
At the Joyce in Chelsea, Jan. 29-Feb. 3: Artistic director Christopher House's "Timecode Break." House can be too slick and too conceptual (the combo, at least, is unique), but his dancers are beautiful movers, and even when the dance doesn't entirely add up, there are always moments you're grateful to have witnessed.
At the Joyce: The third in Karole Armitage's dream trilogy to modernist music. The first two, to Bartok and then Ligeti, had moments of such all-over intensity, such rare, storyless depth, that I'm eager to see what she does this time, to eerie, laconic Morton Feldman.
At the New York City Ballet (State Theater), through mid-February: Besides Christopher Wheeldon's final work for the company (for now, I hope), there's lots of Balanchine. I don't think it's possible to see too much Balanchine. Even lackluster performances, which City Ballet is capable of, are worthwhile. There are ballets of his on almost all the mixed-choreographer programs, but if you want the most bang for your buck (a crude way to put it), try the three-part "Jewels" and the programs Balanchine's World; Traditions; Matters of the Heart; and Russian Treasures.
If you can't afford to go to five shows and/or you're not that familiar with Balanchine--yet--I'd do "Jewels" and Russian Treasures, which includes the early "Serenade" (about which I have written at length here), the late "Mozartiana," and "Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2," a late version of the earlyish "Ballet Imperial." Another reason to see this program: The Kirov will be performing "Ballet Imperial" during its three-week stay at City Center in April. The comparison should be illuminating.
TangoX2, City Center, January 16-24: Okay, so the theater and the story and the costumes are likely to be cheesy, if the troupe's visit last year is any clue. But chubby, wistful star Miguel Angel Zotto is not to be missed. Last time, he danced in half of the dozens of numbers (partnered by one lithe, long-limbed, faceless member and then another of his harem), and you wished he'd been in all of them. All sorts of tango men are brooding and sweaty. But adorable as a bunny, and touching to boot? Only Zotto.
Saw the show this afternoon. It's about twice as long as it needs to be, but, lord, how those kids can dance! Outrageous choreography! What footwork! What acrobatics! And the musicians--especially the pianist (Gustavo Casenave, stepping in this afternoon for musical director Gabriel Clenar) and the bandoneon player, Hugo Satorre--are sensitive and fantastic. (And I'm usually not terribly fond of tango music.)
My favorite dancers are the tall, classy Cristian Gallardo and Betiana Botana, but this show puts it all together--perfect dancing, drama, wonderful music, costumes, lighting. I'd trim some of Javier Di Ciriaco's rather monotonous song interludes. Do we need so many? And I might take out a musical interlude and a dance here and there to bring it down to manageable length. But, overall, this show is a wow!
Hi, Eva! Oh, I'm glad to hear it. Am going later this week, and now can look forward to it. ("Tango Fire" is at the Joyce through January 6, then goes on a national tour.)
Also I wanted to second your emotion on "Innaviews," snagged from your website (the show ended yesterday, unfortunately):
Full Circle--those endearing hip-hop dancers, Kwikstep and Rokafella--are showing a new version of their popular "Innaviews," directed by Gamal Chasten, at Dance Theater Workshop now through Saturday evening, and the update works. It's a two-person show now with lots more of the full-out dancing for which this married couple is rightly acclaimed. It's partly a wry look at how mainstream media and the entertainment industry get hip-hop all wrong and a tender account of the spark and flight of a love relationship (and working partnership) that's still going strong. It lovingly and deftly traces the history of a couple and a culture undergoing change.
The show engages the audience from its very first moments. Full Circle and their creative team have added new visual elements--clever sets and set-like backdrops, videos and photos--and they have more sharply focused their spoken word segments, stories and comedic vignettes. But they also let their versatile hip-hop dancing do much of the talking, and that dancing speaks with conviction.
Apollinaire responds: "Endearing" is just the word. Also: low key, charming, self-knowing, sexy. It's a pleasure to be in this twosome's company.
I loved the structure of the piece--that they start us off in their home, in their graffiti bed with headboard and baseboard tagged wild style (designed by Garland Farwell. Worth the price of admission alone!). The whole show is about debunking the "outside" view of hip hop and taking us inside. So a bed made up for the public is a perfect place to begin.
I loved that, in undoing media cliches about hip hop--that everyone's in it for the bling and they're all thugs--they managed not to produce a whole other set of cliches (that they live on the streets--and so intensely for their art that problems like paying the bills never occur to them). "InnaViews" makes compelling drama out of the inherently less dramatic middle ground. No small feat!
Probably what I loved most was how Kwikstep and Rokafella portrayed their marriage--how excited they were to find each other a decade back and how they get on each other's nerves even so. (The dancing for that section--the jigsaw of anger and love--told us so much so economically). Their always-young baby, Hiphopito, helped them hold it together.
I loved that when the question "Do we love hip hop more than each other?" rolled by on the screen, they knew there was no simple--and no right--answer. What wise people.
The one nifty thing about this featurette for Newsday on Estampas Portenas, the fantastic tango troupe to hit the Joyce tomorrow in "Tango Fire" (and then tour the country), is the connection the artistic and musical directors make between the strife inherent in Argentine tango (the top vs. the bottom) and the state of being in exile. Here's music director and pianist Gabriel Clenar:
"In the early 20th century, Buenos Aires was a city of immigrants," he explains. People lived in one place and missed another. "And that's where the tango is coming from."
Read more here.
Oh, we are such a gang of grouches!
It turns out my colleague and occasional seatmate Tobi Tobias got to this subject of the trials and tribulations of finding a companion for dance a long while ago--and was advised by her editor to kindly shut her trap, as she reports here in a very entertaining essay on why when you're reviewing, two can be a crowd.
Plus, Tonya Plank (aka Swan Lake Samba Girl), a regular seatmate of mine (whom I met HERE on Foot, of all places) writes in:
Where, where exactly did you hang out, Suki! The Vivian Beaumont, the library, Fiorello's, the fountain? I need to know :)
I actually really enjoyed your (Apollinaire and Eva's) discussion of how you work. It's good to know that people work differently -- some writers come right home and start writing, others let it gel, get some sleep and start the next morning.
As a novice, I've done both -- I used to come right home, especially with a premiere because another blogger told me his audience really appreciated his immediately-after-the-show reviews. But then I started to feel like I was writing too quickly, that I wasn't giving myself enough time to think things out fully, and this was unfair to the artist -- especially for those works that I wasn't too keen on. So I started doing what Eva does -- now, I come home from the theater, have a little snack, sip a glass of wine, think think think, go to bed, and write my blog-post the next day, or even later if it's not something that's going to repeat (like a Works & Process event at the Guggenheim).
Sometimes, if it's something that's been shown a lot (i.e.,: "Serenade"), I go through my Terry Teachout, Arlene Croce, and Edwin Denby books and see what they had to say.
After a while of doing things this way, though, I found that though I'd thought a lot more about the work as a whole, my memory of specifics -- like costumes, music, details of the choreography, etc. -- wasn't fresh in my mind and I worried I was going to misremember something. Also, reading those aforesaid great writers for guidance had the effect of making me all but freak out over something new -- for example, Camille Brown's "Groove to Nobody's Business" at Ailey. I wanted to see it again and again and again to make sure I was getting details right and my interpretations were correct and there was enough there to back up those interpretations, but of course the dance companies can't let you do that!
Anyway, how do people reconcile remembering specifics with giving yourself time to think things through? Just copious notes? Or does your mind after a while begin to become hyper-observant of details? Also, do dance companies ever give out little video / DVDs of the new work so critics can watch them several times the way movie critics do?
P.S. Also, I forgot to say, you can take me as your guest anytime, Apollinaire -- no matter what's showing, I'm ALWAYS happy watching dance :)
And, now that I read Tobi's latest blog entry, I feel badly for talking your ear off the whole time! I'm THE WORST at that -- sorry!! And I'm horrible for always making you point out to me who all the 'important people' are. I promise, as soon as I've seen them all, I'll stop...
But Tonya, I don't know any important people, only dance people! Plus, I think it's ME talking your ear off. Anyway, it's always fun!
To the more serious points, I'm sure Eva will have her own angle and will pitch in as soon as she has a chance, and I have a fever, so I'm going to do this as fast as I can and then flop into bed. I hope I make sense.
No, I've never heard of anyone distributing DVDs, because we're watching a live performance, and so it's supposed to be different every night.
About getting the details "right" in your reviews, I think one of the things you reconcile yourself to as a critic of live performance is error--or perhaps it would be better to call it misprision; what you see is filtered through your own sensibility and interpretation. In fact, it's always the details that strike hardest--that you most want to write about--about which you are most likely to make mistakes, because your attachment to them, the power they had for you, often overwhelms the facts. It's an absurd paradox.
As for whether to write at night or in the morning, one solution to the blurring of the details might be to write THOSE down at night, and then get to the essay after your day of work the next day (you worker bee!). I do the writing right away because I can't sleep thinking I'm going to have to wake up and haul out a whole essay by 9 am. But I do go to bed as soon as I can see the direction I'm taking--and know where I'm going to end up.
As for how much to take notes, I take piles of notes, but somehow never the detail I'm wondering about later that night (were there four chairs or five? Did they walk upstage or downstage before the curtain fell? etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. ) I wish I could risk doing an experiment where I took no notes and then piles, and saw which yielded a more accurate recall. I will say, my notes have gotten more mathematical. For example, I try to remember the kind of thing I'll never recall accurately: the four chairs or five? kinda question. That's not usually the thing, though, that ends up mattering. sigh.
Which brings me to what all those details are for. There are critics who believe that a review is a record of the occasion--a report with the interpretation implied by how it is reported--but I don't think that's an honest reflection of the experience of watching a dance. When you talk to a friend about a dance, the last thing you're going to go on about is what the dancers DID, step by step (unless you're incredibly pretentious, that is, and/or think this is what you're supposed to be doing). You're going to get right to what you liked and didn't like--how you felt and didn't feel, what it reminded you of, how you're putting it together with other things you've seen, etc. And while it's essential as reviewers that we give the readers a portrait of the dance we're responding to, it's not enough to do just that or even mainly that.
Sixth graders may go chapter by chapter, in order, when someone asks them what they liked about a book, but one of the nice things we learn as we grow up is how to distill experience, and this is because we've had other similar experiences. So when you're watching, you focus on those things that you haven't experienced before or those that take a common experience and tweak it--and you think about what it means, these deviations from code.
It helps to know the code, as you do backwards and forwards, Tonya, with ballroom--you know when a couple is doing International Tango or Standard Tango or Argentine Tango, and so you're prepared to make something of it when a dance switches from one to the other. What you make is the art of criticism.
Ok, time to flop into bed.
Eva responds (NEW as of Wednesday night):
First of all, Tobi's essay is brilliant, comprehensive, hilarious and a must-read. I don't care what that editor was thinking: It should have come out five years ago, but I needed a good belly laugh today, and I got it! (So, thank you, Tobi!) Plus the passages about her family are so delightful that I'm praying, praying, praying she'll bring out a memoir! She is such a sharp-eyed and funny woman!
Okay, now to your remarks, Tonya and Apollinaire:
I tend to madly scribble notes in the dark, which has definitely contributed to the deterioration of my Catholic school-trained handwriting over the years. Most of these notes are in no way legible, but I've made my peace with that. I remember what I remember, and I can make out what I can make out. I think the notetaking is a vestigial crutch, and I realize that most of the time, I don't need it.
Dance companies or publicists might be willing to offer DVDs at times--I know the Bessies Awards committee can request them--but in my experience, these recordings of concerts are only helpful for the most straightforward and superficial details about a show. [ed. note: Yes, I should have mentioned that if it's a touring work--especially if it's from Europe--there often is a DVD which you can use to check details. Publicists usually only offer it, though, when you're writing an advance piece.]
To Apollinaire's remarks about how critics reconcile themselves to "error," I'd say that art is always filtered by the eye of the beholder, and most dance artists I've spoken with know this and want this.
About "going to bed as soon as I can see the direction I'm taking...": I don't think it out like that before I sleep on it. I let the subconscious have it, totally--aside from a few words to my mate about it, if she's interested. Besides, I'm usually way too sleepy! LOL!
About not taking notes: I call it the "Tere O'Connor Experiment," and I do it from time to time. Puts me in a different (and non-divided attention) space with the dance, which is what I think Tere intended. [Ed. note: Modern-dance choreographer O'Connor wishes critics left their notepads at home.]
About details not being the point or, rather, not the most important point: I'd agree that a review needs to have a balance of an overall idea, assessment and supporting details. The details should be selective (not overwhelming) and make a strong case for the writer's arguments.
Apollinaire adds: Just to that last point, I think we're on the same page, Eva: details may be very important to coming up with one's arguments, but they shouldn't overwhelm the review itself.
As I sat in City Center last night, writing some notes about the Ailey show, the fellow sitting to the left of me leaned over and laughingly asked, "Is it work? Or is it fun? Or is it both?"
"Oh, both!" I quickly chirped.
"If not," he replied, "poor you!"
Poor me, indeed. Sometimes, it is indeed work with no fun. Sometimes, it is so much fun that I wonder if it should be considered work. For the most part, though, I find this work fun and--far more than that--an incredible privilege. But his question amused me because, as it happens, I've been thinking about what I'm doing when I plop my butt down in front of dance, night after night. Am I working? Am I being entertained? Is it a breath mint? Is it a candy mint?
I've noticed how different it is for me to attend a dance concert alone or with a friend; I realize that, most often, I prefer to go alone. Why? Well, I am working, actually, and when I go with a buddy, part of me is taken up with the social nature of the occasion--all that catching up to do, all that laughter and chatter. I can think of numerous times when it was all I could do to take a quick, unsatisfactory glance at the program notes--let alone peruse the press kit--before the lights went down and the performance began. Not wanting to be rude, I could rarely find a tactful way to interject, "Look, sweetie, I've got to check out these details before the show gets underway. Let's revisit your job crisis at intermission."
But, when I go to a dance concert with a friend, there's a more serious concern, and it's all about satisfaction. What if my friend ends up hating the show? Or, maybe hate is too strong a word. What if they're baffled by it? Or maybe hate is the right word. After all, I once recommended a Dance Theater Workshop show to a dear friend, and she took the initiative and went on her own--with a few of her close friends--and they all came away dissatisfied to the point of fury. She still speaks to me, but I never, ever mention the name of the choreographer in question--one I respect and usually enjoy. Over the past several months, I've taken another dear friend to a string of shows that he has almost always disliked, most often with good reason. As a friend, I feel like I've failed these people somehow. Oh, the guilt...the guilt!
Here's the crux of the matter: For me, it's work, and part of that work is keeping an open mind and taking each dance as it comes, and all manner of dance comes my way. But my friends--ah, my friends!--they're out on the town and hoping for a good time.
Wait! There's more! Some casual dance-goers twitch and fidget at the sight of the Ailey troupe; others twitch and fidget at the sight of anything under the Movement Research banner. Figuring out who to take to what for the best outcome can be a lot of work in itself, and this is a form of work (social direction) that I'm not getting paid to do.
And what about the folks who feel anxious about figuring out what they've just seen and how they feel about it, companions who look to me for definitive answers when I might not yet have any answers of my own? After all, I'm supposed to be the professional dance expert, right? (Please insert laugh track here.)
I've long since given up on inviting friends out to see dance who are--bottom line--not interested in dance at all. But my more progressive, artsy friends--and that covers pretty much everyone--who wouldn't necessarily seek out a dance show on their own or who are very picky about the kinds of dance they see? These are the ones whose ultimate happiness and well-being take up entirely too much space in my head.
Sitting next to some professional colleagues is a problem in a league of its own, one to be avoided if you want to concentrate and not feel the pressure to be witty and on top of things and absolutely sure of yourself. One thing that the Movement Research people, and their kind, have taught me is the worth of process, and coming into alignment with a dance I've just seen is as much a sensitive process as is the making of a dance. I have to give time time, as they say, and not rush to judgment. And I don't know it all.
So, is it work? Is it fun? Or is it both?
Poor me: I suspect, and I hope, it will always be both.
What a brave, funny piece, Eva! I love it! You get at the heart of live performance (and the movies): we're each having a private experience in a crowd--and the crowd, or at least the person next to us, leaks into that experience.
I agree that reviewing may be exciting work, but it is work, requiring a much higher level of attunement than I would otherwise give to anything.
Like you, I find the whole issue of how to put this work together with the rest of my life complicated. Sometimes I've been working alone all day and I'd really like to see a friend--and if I know someone who will love a given show, I don't hesitate to invite her.
But what you're talking about is the show that you can't immediately think of the perfect date for--i.e., most of them. I've gone to shows alone that I later wished I'd brought X or Y because I know she would have loved it, but more often it's the other way around: you bring someone and it just stinks, and if he's not already a dedicated dance viewer you fear he won't ever go to another performance of that kind again. For the sake of dance, I wish I'd suffered alone. Your story about the friend to whom you cannot mention the name of choreographer Z without exciting her wrath is hilarious--and rings true.
I tend to submit the to-go-or-not-to-go-alone question to a complicated calculus of a. friend's taste, b. whether I'm on assignment and how close the deadline is, and c. cost of ticket.
If the show's at 8, and my deadline is 9 the next morning, I'm inclined to want to use my intermissions etc. to work out my thoughts--I only have a few good hours after I get home before I'm brain dead. But even then, if I'm pretty sure a friend will be crazy about the work, I'll bring him: he can energize me, frame things in interesting ways.
Also, if it's an expensive ticket I work harder to find someone. Often people are gratified to have an expensive experience, whatever its artistic merits. That makes sense to me.
The situation when I almost always go by myself is, like you, when I don't have a clear sense of who would like it--or when I've called a few people and no one can go and I suddenly feel weary of inviting and inviting.
I used to always try to go with friends, but I don't try nearly so hard anymore. Going alone has its own, meditative pleasures. I usually dwell a bit closer to the art (and perhaps closer to the audience as a whole, too) when I'm alone, for better and for worse. So even when the dance is lousy, the night and my thoughts are clear.
We're on the same wavelength. And you wrote:
I'm inclined to want to use my intermissions etc. to work out my thoughts--I only have a few good hours after I get home before I'm brain dead.
I need to let things percolate because experience of dance is complex and shifting, and especially so when dance is at its best.
I definitely need to sleep when I get home! I don't start my writing until the next morning!
You also wrote:
But even then, if I'm pretty sure a friend will be crazy about the work, I'll bring him: he can energize me, frame things in interesting ways.
That can work the other way, too, when you have a friend who can quickly pinpoint what's wrong with the work, and that isn't necessarily the most dance-savvy person. I've gotten some remarkable insights from people who are either coming from a different artistic perspective or who are not at all invested in dance in a way that might make them overlook what's problematic or ineffective in the way a dance is presented to an audience. It helps to get out of the insular bubble we sometimes have around ourselves.
Apollinaire: Yes! three cheers for the civilian dancegoer!
Dance writer Suki John writes in:
I used to review a lot of dance in NYC, before I veered into academia. Once I went solo to a doubleheader matinee and evening performance of ABT at the Met. In between shows I hung out around Lincoln Center and in the process met the man who became my husband. A nice outcome for a day of "work" watching great dance alone! Thanks for bringing up those many moments of scribbling in the darkened theater -- I enjoyed them greatly.
Apollinaire responds: Wow, what a great story. Thanks for writing, Suki.
Eva responds: You know, Suki, your marvelous story could encourage more people to get into dance criticism! What an incentive!
I promised to write something about Matthew Neenan-- showcased in Pennsylvania Ballet's one week, two-program visit to City Center last month. So before I forget any more, this:
It probably tells you less about Neenan than about the current state of ballet choreography that his "Carmina Burana"-- to the gorgeous and dense Carl Orff cantata about fickle Fortune-- could cause me such pleasure and relief without actually making a deep impression.
It was the work's playfulness, in all its parts, that seemed so rare. The steps, the choreographic design, the translucent boat-tent-wedding canopy by set designer Mimi Lien, Oana Botez-Ban's parade of compellingly strange costumes, from monkish wraps with skin-thin folds that worked like wings (see photo below) to lacy asymmetrical tattoos etched into the dancers' unitards to variations on Moulin Rouge dancing-girl bustles: all fun! without being crude or corny or just plain dumb.
Tone and sentiment have sunk many a contemporary ballet. When a friend who, you know, has a life walks out of the theater never wanting to come back, she hasn't even gotten to how the piece works as ballet, she's stuck on its cluelessness: "This guy really needs to get out more! This dance exists in a cultural vacuum! Etc., etc., etc." Neenan wouldn't have elicited that response.
And he is an avid choreographer. "Carmina Burana" featured all manner of groupings--large groups upstage with smaller ones downstage, trios with a big mob, everyone together. It was wonderful to be spared the endless duets that have become ballet's stock in trade. Plus, the steps were interesting. I looked forward to each new section (and there were many!) even though I didn't really know what was going on. (The dance did seem to be following the lyrics to Orff's songs, which I would have been better off reading ahead of time. When a dance is to song, could we please have the lyrics printed in the program?)
Finally, Neenan knows a good dancer when he sees one. Most of the Pennsylvania dancers are not top notch, but Baltimore School of the Arts and School of American Ballet graduate Jermel Johnson (above), who entered the Pennsylvania corps after a two-year(!) apprenticeship, was incredible, dancing the role that Neenan made for him with articulate, full-bodied beauty. The company should promote the man, or count on losing him.
Photos of "Carmina Burana" by Paul Kolnik: Jonathan Stiles and Laura Bowman (top); Jermel Johnson (bottom).
For more on Pennsylvania Ballet's '07 season at New York City Center, here's my post on their rendition of Balanchine's "Serenade."
Note: Once you have thoroughly forgotten Performa '07, I'll have time to post something on it. Am interested in the notion of Conceptual Dance--what it is, how it works, or does it? My prompt is not the much-publicized Yvonne Rainer piece, which sucked so completely it's not really worth discussing, but the more worthwhile pieces of Jerome Bel and Xavier Le Roy.
Also, I will add my voice (and arguments) to people's complaints that the dance component of Performa was too scant and too scattershot. They might have added, too dull and too sedentary. The contributions all harked back to the '60s, as if nothing had happened since--or before. (Hello? Heard of Cunningham?)
It grieves me that the art world can't approach dance without excising the dance part. It grieves me more that despite its evident condescension, the art world's imprimatur means so much to contemporary dance experimentalists. If art people have to leave out the dance from dance to give it their attention, I say, forget them (and their ooooooooooodles of money)!
Here's the whole incredible paragraph...
"They pay us," Nureyev once said, "for our fear." Sure, vanity, self-indulgence and cruelty ran rampant throughout his short, tempestuous life. But he faced death with defiance not only when he was dying. In daring to be so vehemently, disobediently alive, he faced it, for us, every time he stepped onstage. Great dancing, unlike good dancing, is an experience of beauty laced with pity, a haunted happening in the shadow of our transience. Dancers are willing slaves to the time and gravity that rule us all, and dancing is mortality in motion. Ultimately, even Rudolf Nureyev was not paid enough for his courage.
And here's another paragraph--the best explanation I've read for why he would have danced so far past his prime:
In his final years, Nureyev insisted on literally, excruciatingly, dying before our eyes, giving performances so ragged and inept that audiences whistled and demanded refunds -- which suggests something besides simple flouting of the cardinal rule that performers should know when to retire gracefully. He was ill, but the stage was his only real home, so he stayed there. He demanded, somehow, that we see the suffering human behind the Dionysian god. He continued to the end in that transparent recklessness that was his deepest gift as a dancer. Nureyev, like Maria Callas (as Clive Barnes once noted), popularized and changed his art form forever, with a combination of technique, dedication and respect for its tradition, while simultaneously blowing it wide open with a kind of divine individual desperation.
From Foot contributor Eva Yaa Asantewaa: That whole review rocks, but Nureyev's own words--"They pay us for our fear"--rock steadiest of all.
Apollinaire responds: I'm glad you liked it, Eva. Re: Nureyev's words, other performers have told me about that pure, primitive terror of being out in front of the spotlights, like a gladiator. It surprised me. I'd always assumed that performers, being performers, weren't so prone to nerves. But, in Nureyev's case especially, it makes sense. He holds so little back, as if he had to propel himself past his fear.
Choreographer/dancer Clare Byrne writes in: Wow, very interesting. This makes me think there's nothing humans are fascinated in seeing more than someone self-destruct or be destructed right in front of their eyes: the inevitable witnessed.
This is why we can't get away from "The Rite of Spring" and its variants -- it's the only, the one, the single all-encompassing theme, and choreographers and dancers know it.
Apollinaire responds: Interesting point, Clare, that dance involves a level of sacrifice (in all sorts of senses) that people can't turn away from.
It's probably why the dance feature story that will not die is about the dancer who wears herself to the bone (sometimes literally) for Dance. Readers--and editors--can never get enough of that one.
[Nureyev mania on Foot began with this commentary on the PBS documentary of his youthful days in Leningrad, moved on to outrage at the reviews of Julie Kavanagh's new mammoth biography that used the occasion to trash Nureyev, and relief at one and then another review that did more justice to the man than the bio itself.]
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Joe Horowitz on music
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary