Dance fashion

I don’t
have a whole lot to say about Christian Rizzo, though I would like to, because
his solo outing last weekend at CPR (Center for Performance Research)
as part of the French Institute Alliance Francaise’s enterprising new
festival Crossing the Line,
which we are lucky to have.

French festival is a mini-version of the short-lived European Dream Festival,
which for one month two years ago spread out over 22 venues and encompassed all
of the arts in their most cutting edge aspects. No less than the European
Union–plus a bevy of European embassies–sponsored the Dream, and even so, it
only lasted a season; now in its second year, Crossing the Line has Goldman
Sachs, among other monstrous imploding corporate entities, as its sponsor, so
we’ll see how long it lasts.

For the
Dream extravaganza, we were treated to our second look at Boris Charmatz, a brilliant
young French choreographer. For Crossing the Line, it’s Rizzo, whom I hadn’t heard
of until I heard that it was about time we New Yorkers got to see him.


to Movement Research Journal,

There are
many who have wondered what has taken New York so long. After NYC has seen
Jerome Bel, Xavier Le Roy, Alain Buffard, Boris Charmatz …it seems an obvious omission
not to have had one of the important members of this French generation of
dancemakers–a huge influence on international dance in the mid-’90s.


Wow: huge influence, important, French.

In Time
dance editor and writer Gia Kourlas less histrionically seconds the emotion (and offers Rizzo’s
own words on what he thinks he’s doing).

So maybe he
seemed old hat (and not a very interesting hat, at that) by the time he arrived
Stateside because New York dancemakers who take part in the experimental
circuit that runs from Berlin to–where? Utrecht?– had already absorbed him.

40-minute solo at CPR takes its name from the dancer for whom Rizzo made it,
the statuesque I-Fang Lin, a Taiwanese émigré of France. With the floor
stripped to its cement base, the white walls bare, and a set consisting of movable
equipment–mic stand, speakers, troughs of fluorescent lights laid out like
footlights, a suitcase on rollers–the stage gave off a sanitized warehouse air.
The performance was likewise spare.



 A different set than at CPR, but you get the idea

Lin faced
away from us at oblique angles and spoke huskily into a mic in Mandarin. She dipped into low, wide pliés while settling her arms and
mouth into an Expressionist mold. She lay on the cement, limbs carefully
arrayed. She changed her clothes–to begin, an ’80s navy pantsuit (remember those
power blazers women would wear straight over their bras? Like that), accessorized with Allen
Ginsburg intellectuo glasses a la 1959 and espresso heels; to
end, an elegant beach
dress with matching visor.

And she
moved the props around.

A lot.

She unplugged
the lights to plug them in somewhere else, placed the speakers just so, then
just so again. The performance began with a good five minutes of such fussing, which
recurred during what a less sophisticated artist might call transitional moments

Which may
have been the point–Rizzo leveling the distinction between the show and the
interstitial operations that usually count as the not-show. Rizzo driving the
fourth wall to the wall.

A lot of choreographers
(Jonah Bokaer, Luciana Achugar, Beth Gill) have had dancers double as stagehands, turning the schlepping of equipment into part of the dance. It works when the aim isn’t simply to demonstrate how clever you are. (“Look, Ma, the de-suspension of disbelief!”) When
Achugar whacked down
the fourth wall in her Bessie award-winning “Exhausting Love” (2006), the
effect was to illuminate the rituals of boredom by which we live. (Check out
“Exhausting Love’s” sequel, at Dance
Theater Workshop in a couple of weeks
.) But Rizzo’s “I-Fang Lin” never leaves the building.

fiddling with equipment does really happen. When I’m copyediting, for example, I’m constantly
adjusting the height of my chair. But the difference between me with my
wretched chair and “I-Fang Lin” is the difference between me and, say, the guy doing
the floor design at Banana Republic. He’s got something very definite in mind,
and he’s going to achieve it; my chair will always be too high or too low,
because I shouldn’t be sitting in it, doing this work.

I ended
up wishing Lin would just pile the extension cords and the speakers and the fluorescent
tubing and the suitcase and the changes of clothes in a heap and get on with it,
whatever it might turn out to be



Crossing the Line closes tonight
with a double dance concert of Rachid Ouramdane and Pascal Rambert at PS 122
in the East Village. Here are my thoughts on Ouramdane’s piece (scroll down a bit) at DTW this past spring

Not to mire you in too many
choices, but tonight’s also the last night to catch Ann Liv Young’s “The
Bagwell in Me” at The Kitchen, in Chelsea. I’ll
write more about it later, but this karaoke theater piece is moment-defining,
with its careless, easy transgressions of things one feels weird about being
easily transgressed. Young deploys a brilliant strategy for getting us around
and over the blasé state of mind that an overtitillated culture offers as the only exit.
And with a persona that’s dumb, beautiful, bossy, and utterly lacking in
self-consciousness, she’s the perfect performer to be doing her theater. Here’s
Gia Kourlas’s Times profile, from last Sunday.

UPDATE: Here’s Claudia La Rocco’s review (it seems she didn’t like it!), and here’s counter critic (who didn’t like it, either!) and here’s Andy Horwitz of blowing it and every bit of pretentious anti-dance dance he’s ever seen to bits. (Go, Andy!–though I will say, it’s not fair to judge the work by what the artist says about it, or what she says about herself, or about her peers–and certainly not by what is reported that she said. Young’s remark to Kourlas that she “hates” what others make may have been one of those comically self-dramatizing overstatements –like the poet Marianne Moore saying, “I dislike poetry too,” or me saying to some modern-dance detractor, “Yeah, I hate modern dance, too.” Who knows. But Kourlas does have a habit of using a choreographer’s words to advance her own critical agenda. We all do it to some extent, but hopefully not to the detriment of the artist herself.)

In any case, I’ll really have to make a case for Young now! I should say that I haven’t liked everything she’s done–in fact, the first piece I saw I loathed so much, I booed. But this time around, I thought she had something important going on–and it isn’t Karen Finley redux. It’s Karen Finley for this precise flame-out moment.

More later. (And here it is). 

Photo by
Christian Rizzo, borrowed from Time Out New York.

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  1. Local Hero says

    In conjunction with the dance work listed above, Christian Rizzo also brought two renowned projects to CPR: the haunting installation in collaboration with Caty Olive, “100% Polyester,” and “Fantômes et Vanités nº4,” an explosive self-portrait of an artist shedding light on his creativity that is at once both spectacular and melancholic.
    Each of Rizzo’s three premieres occupied a different space in the facilities at CPR. “100% Polyester,” conceived as a dance without bodies, was an ethereal shadow game created by the play of movement of two dresses suspended from the ceiling choreographed by the gentle wind of fifteen fans, staged in CPR’s small studio.
    Rizzo’s “Fantômes et Vanités nº4,” a 50-minute film commissioned by the Cinématique de la Danse, was shown in an abandoned office. The film is described as a “self-portrait in which the subject never appears.”
    All three works are New York City premieres.
    CPR is also a rare venue in NYC which can show performance, film, and installation – all under the same roof. Most multidisciplinary arts organizations give a lot of ink to this kind of thing, but few deliver: CPR does so (and is designed specifically for it), quietly and effectively.
    Thank you for letting readers know about the other elements of the show. I was dispirited enough by the live show (I mean, the one with a person) not to have much attention or curiosity left for the other two elements. I watched a bit of the film and spent some time before the windowed installation.
    As regular readers to this blog may have noticed by now, the spur for these posts is usually something I’m wondering about, intrigued by, admiring of–and I go from there. I never pretend to be comprehensive. For example, even with the performance, I didn’t mention the sound score.
    That said, it’s FANTASTIC that CPR would bring someone that it knows and that many of us here (or at least I) don’t know has a track record and has generated curiosity and admiration. It’s not the organization’s responsibility that the work be good or not: it can’t guarantee that. All it can do is give an artist a forum and cross its collective fingers.
    And, yes, CPR is a fantastic thing in its many, interlocking aims. And I wish it a long and fruitful future.

  2. says

    I saw the performance at CPR and was thoroughly bored and unimpressed. Of course, I don’t understand Mandarin. Maybe to Mandarin speakers, the text made it worthwhile. But then, knowledge of Mandarin wasn’t advertised as being a requirement to appreciate the piece. Granted, the performance was free, but nonetheless all the seats were taken and a lot of people were trying to get in. Everyone was excited. Afterward, everyone looked around at one another and seemed to be thinking, is that all?
    Apollinaire, I don’t know that a presenter doesn’t have a responsibility to present good work. If the work is not good, people will be less likely to return. I wonder if CPR missed an opportunity there. How many people who attended (this needed and well-intentioned out of the way venue) will never return because they felt their time was wasted? If you keep hearing people say, you’ve got to come see this show, and then you go and it sucks, you’ll start tuning it out, and then if a good show does come along, you might not risk going. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself.
    I’m a presenter, and I struggle with that constantly. We present a lot of new work, and I die inside every time I think the work is not inspiring. I keep wondering what to do about that, how to build into the system a way to insure that a work is ready before it’s put before an audience. I think most artists don’t want to be chaperoned like that, for better or for worse.
    Dear Christopher,
    Good to hear from you!
    I think all presenters want to present good work, but as you note from your own experience, when it’s a premiere you just have to cross your fingers. And even when it’s not a premiere, work doesn’t always translate from one venue (or cultural context) to another.
    But, yes, it IS worrisome–this problem of people coming out to a show and ending up feeling disheartened enough to choose a known quantity the next time around. I think it’s one reason audiences for postmodern dance are small: you have to be committed to the field to be able to get past all the poorly realized or just plain bad stuff out there.
    That said, making dance is HARD. It’s funny, it’s less evident when you see a Christian Rizzo, where whatever the problem is, it sure isn’t lack of polish: every single millisecond, every tiny adjustment, looked deliberated over. But last night I went out to the Duo Theater on Fourth Street in the East Village (, a really beautiful jewel box theater that is taking the dive into dance (with a big push from the dance community, who is salivating over the space.) The five choreographers had only found out about their commissions about a month ago, so most of the stuff was half-formed. And wacky: to a person the choreographers were in pursuit of outlandish ideas, sometimes beautifully outlandish. (Maybe they hadn’t had enough time to tame their natural proclivities.) Anyway, all of the pieces were a bit too long, and all but Maria Hassabi’s gorgeous sculptural solo tended to fall apart at one point or another, but because of that it became clear how hard it is to sustain a mood, a tone, a dramatic impulse, an idea: anything. The night had the perverse effect of making me grateful for every moment that works in a dance. For some reason, people–myself included– tend to come away from a show feeling disappointed if it didn’t work as a whole. But so little–of anything, in art or life–works as a whole that it’s too bad it weren’t easier to be more content with partial successes. That said, partial isn’t an easy position to maintain. Evidence: my response to Rizzo.
    Thanks for writing (and sorry for being so slow to get this posted),

  3. says

    Your point about partial successes is a good one. Very often I found myself thinking–and saying–that, given the lack of time to make the piece, well, there were some good moments and I could see where it could go. I almost take for granted that today’s underfunded artists will present flawed pieces and we have to try to see around the flaws and focus on what the artists did manage to pull off well. And actually, in a sense, that can involve the audience more. It’s like when Shakespeare addresses the audience in the prologue to “Henry V” to say that he can’t possibly stage the 100 Year’s War in a satisfying manner so, please, just imagine it. Who knows, maybe choreographers could work with their space/time limitations in this way, at times (acknowledging and incorporating them) rather than fighting against them and losing.
    I also want to say that I am sure that I will give CPR another try, because the couple of times that I have met Jonah [Bokaer, who with choreographer John Jasperse created the space and got the funding together and does a lot of the curating], he has impressed me as a thoughtful and ambitious person, and I am hopeful that he will have some successes there.
    Hi, Chris,
    I’m not sure it’s a matter of making ourselves do what we aren’t inclined to do–for example, “seeing around the flaws”–as much as it is taking something for what it is. I love your “Henry V” example: Shakespeare’s making art out of necessity. A good model!
    And I second your emotion re:Jonah and CPR. Jonah has already shown he’s capable of great curating, with the Ambush series throughout Bushwick, among others, and both he and Jasperse have ties to the experimental scene in Europe, so, pace Rizzo, we can get to see things that are turning heads there.
    Thanks for writing!

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