That’s what we proved to be–we critics–when Tulsa Ballet hit town, with the governor, Tulsa mayor, secretary of state and members of the Ballet board in tow.
I, at least, was hoping to love them–wouldn’t it have been neat to find, far away from any of our dance capitols, that something great was stirring? It happens all the time in the other arts; take, for example, the Flaming Lips, from Norman, OK, not far from Tulsa. (Their fantastically beautiful “Do You Realize?” is now Oklahoma’s official rock song! Don’t you think The Flaming Lips songs would lend themselves gorgeously to choreography?) But the pieces Tulsa Ballet showcased suffered from the usual problem of mediocre art–that it doesn’t join the general to the particular in any exciting or meaningful way. Everything was in outline. The dancers did well, though, as long as they didn’t have to go up on point (where they got stuck).
Here’s a couple of paragraphs from my Financial Times review:
At first glance, the Tulsa Ballet is not what you’d expect from Oklahoma–for one, because its 27 dancers are all from somewhere else. Directed by Italian Marcello Angelini since 1995, the troupe consists of émigrés from a handful of other states plus South Korea, Colombia, Jamaica, Sweden, Venezuela, the Netherlands, Brazil, Russia, Italy, China, and Japan. “How New York!” I think, impressed to find that the reddest state’s governor has flown out–with TV cameras on his tail–for this largely foreign crew.
But then the show begins, and though the dancing is fine and sometimes even beautiful, the dances seem as distant from extraordinary as Tulsa is from New York.
Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations, to Joplin rags, belongs to the seedy-bar genre of Balanchine’s Slaughter on Tenth Avenue or Tudor’s Judgment of Paris. But Tudor and Balanchine endow their guns- and bodies-for-hire with a level of detail that wrings pathos out of the world-weary scene; Macmillan merely comments on the category, as if completing a school essay test: “If ragtime were ballet, what would it look like? 30 minutes.” Nevertheless, Kate Oderkirk and company star Karina Gonzalez pour themselves into the steps for a very sexy slitheriness.
Soon Young Hue’s This is Your Life, created on the Tulsa dancers last year, is still more disappointing, because the South Korean choreographer’s New York debut actually starts from a promising conceit…..
For the whole piece, click here.
For more “elitist” crankiness, read Alastair Macaulay’s heartfelt belly-aching (as my farmer grandfather would put it) about the So You Think You Can Dance/Dancing with the Stars phenomenon, here. I’ve been wanting to write this piece forever, and probably because I knew it would seem hopelessly snobby–I can’t tell you how many people whose only exposure to dance are these shows ask me eagerly what I think of them–somehow haven’t. I just say I haven’t watched them much, which is true enough, but the reason is that they give me a stomachache.
Macaulay says, in short, that they strip all the forms they steal from of their dance. I agree, and it makes me sad that we couldn’t see some real mambos and rumbas and waltzes, with their breath and ecstasy. I think viewers would love them even more. I have to believe that, of course.
Fast forward to about the one minute mark on this trailer for Henry Chalfant’s great movie Mambo to Hip Hop, and you’ll see what we’re missing. Look at the spell this couple are putting on each other–that’s what the man’s body wave is about, not just a move–and the pace at which they do it lets you feel it, too. I love the way they start by touching foreheads: it’s so intimate.