Modern-dance heavies

Mark Morris, Paul Taylor and–less heavy–Lar Lubovitch all have seasons this week and next. And I have reviews of them.

I’ll keep adding at the top as the week progresses, so the latest on top.

Friday night (first program) of Lar Lubovitch was one of those times where I felt keenly grateful for the dancers–or, in this case, one dancer, Reid Bartelme–for improving on the material they’d been handed. I generally feel that dancers are only as good as the choreography, but occasionally they’re able to see more in the steps–see it in the right direction–than the choreographer did.  Lubovitch has succumbed to all his worst tendencies on this program–and needs all the saving he can get. 

I should say, I have a real fondness for the choreographer: when I was a teenager he came to the Bay Area with a company that included a young Rob Besserer (lately of Hard Nut fame) and maybe a young Mark Morris (though I can’t recall him, so maybe not), and they did a Phillip Glass dance, North Star, before I’d seen so many Glass dances that I was weary of them, that made me feel that if there were any kind of dancing I would want to do forever and ever, this would be it. Its kinetic appeal, its flowiness, was dance Heaven. I wonder if I’d have that reaction now.

Anyway, here’s some of my disgruntled review of the present-day company, which came out today in the Financial Times:

The first programme in the Lar Lubovitch troupe’s two-week season offers a dumpster’s worth of threadbare moves. The men fall on their knees in triumph or, alternately, despair; they raise their palms to the heavens in exultation. The women signal “helpless glee” by pedalling through the air, hoisted up by partners who proceed to “transport” them – in the non-vehicular sense – by turning them every which way.

The accumulation of hackneyed moves wouldn’t matter if Lubovitch didn’t possess real strengths. The choreographer, whose four-decade career has included commissions from top ballet companies, is renowned for spirals of movement that rise from hips to torso and out the tips of a dancer’s fingers like a luxurious curl of smoke. A whole dance can unfold mellifluously, with group passages swirling into solos, and curves into circles. The downside is a lack of texture and, in a desperate attempt to compensate, those cheesy expressions of passion.

You would think the various species of jazz that Lubovitch uses this season would prove the perfect antidote. Whatever its style, jazz is all about texture – mercurial improvisation against a steady bass line. But somehow the music only throws the dances’ blandness into bolder relief. The rhapsody of Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things”, for example, seems to glue the dancers to the floor. To the saxophone’s bird flight across a continent and its sweet squawks of freedom, Lubovitch offers not jazz but a generic jazziness.

It wouldn’t take much for the choreography to improve drastically, though. Snip the ribbons of movement a few times, tie them into a few knots, crinkle them a bit, and voilĂ . When dancer Reid Bartelme does these things – varying his attack, his gaze’s direction, the movement’s stretch – the dance grows instantly deeper and brighter.

Sometimes Bartelme…


For the whole review, click here.

Here are the first two paragraphs of my Paul Taylor review, in the Financial Times today.

For space reasons, I think, they cut a line–the one about the “speed 
freak love paradise,” which perhaps only makes sense in an intuitive
way, where you understand how seemingly unlike
phenomena, such as the fluorescent colors and power shoulders and
aerobicizing and lizardy amphetamine-fueled thrum, emerge from a common
root. Or maybe it only makes sense if you’re from Berkeley. I blame the
whole tacky, sordid 
decade on Reagan. I remember me and my friend Alison, who lived on a houseboat and seemed quite ready to pull anchor and drift out to sea at any moment, huddling over cups of coffee and wondering why there wasn’t a great outcry in the land about this man our president who kept going on, in his genial, depthless way, about a cartoonish Evil Empire he was
going to make happen. It terrified us.

The Taylor review:

Taylor’s river of dances is so deep and wide that you could see six shows in the current three-week season without repeating a piece. The great American choreographer is consistent in the number of dances he
offers nightly – three, with none longer than 40 minutes or shorter
than 20 – but otherwise he puts a premium on variety. A Taylor evening swerves from the antic to the lyrical to the brutish and apocalyptic –
sometimes within a single work.

opened with a dance from the doomy column. With the dancers swaddled in
those synthetic workout trousers that were supposed to slim your
thighs, sweaty Syzygy reeks of 1987, the year it was made.
Donald York’s synthesiser score of bleeps and blurps must have inaugurated a whole new genre: Trekkie jazz. The movement is all 
flailing limbs and thrashing, discombobulated heads. In stand-out
solos, Michael Trusnovec – spectrally thin this season – gets lost in a
gritty inner world, which pings him with invisible threats and
enticements every few seconds. Straight from the era of “Evil Empire,” Syzygy offers up a speed freak love paradise where paranoia reigns.

The dance has survived its time because it is so indelibly of it. By contrast, the premiere Brief Encounters and the recent, acclaimed Beloved Renegade (reviewed here last year) commune with history, as often happens in….

For the whole review, click here.

And for my Morris review for the Financial Times:

I know everyone is loving his world premiere, Socrates, and, this being Morris, I’ll probably love it too once I’ve seen it a few more times, but the first time around, I felt intermittently irritated by the visualizations of a libretto that is profound in its general drift–and that it has such a drift, that Socrates is such a calm spirit among the storms of other people’s desires–but not in its every word. Do we really need walk acted out? On the other hand, the way Morris multiplies and refracts Socrates, so we see him as larger than his individual life, is powerful, and the Isadorable, Greeky steps are affecting.

I didn’t say much of this in the review–blew most of my 400 words on the dance that really moved me, Morris’s single silent one, Behemoth. A very mystical work: mysterious in the way it progresses and where it takes us.

Here’s the start of my Financial Times review:

In that rare species, the silent ballet, the steps often feel arbitrary, because there is no music to give them an immediate reason for being. But in Mark Morris’s tremendous Behemoth, the moves seem magical–arisen from some secret, unknowable place.
    “Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee,” God boasts about the monster he has created together with the pious Job. The monster to which Job is yoked is outrageous misfortune. For the musically minded Morris, it is silence, out of which supplicants, prophets and martyrs emerge.

    At first, the dance’s steps are opaque. When the 15 dancers in the 1990 work settle into wide squats that declare “I am here”, you wonder where. They circle a relaxed leg in the air like the half-hearted needle of a compass. Eventually, their language becomes more human and pointed, with them shielding their faces from an invisible attack or falling back against a companion in Christlike submission.

   Behemoth does not come to a glorious conclusion. Each time the lights go out in a dance divided by such blackouts, you think, “This could be the end – or it could not”. That’s the thing about real suffering: it is too dark for the dramatic arc.

   Artistic strictures seem to have inspired all three dances at BAM….

For the rest, click here

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