foot in mouth: October 2007 Archives

Many of the reviews of Julie Kavanagh's recent Nureyev bio have enshrined the author--they're not really reviews but mini hagiographies--while pillorying the artist himself. It's as if the reviewers--principally, Joan Acocella in the New Yorker, who thinks "Kavanagh gave Nureyev too many breaks" -- always wanted to get their revenge and now this bio has given them permission.

Acocella goes so far as to say, "It seems to me that there was a connection between Nureyev's lack of moral feeling and the general unintelligence of his work--both his performances and his productions." Is there an editor in the house? This statement begs too many questions.

About those performances, the way Nureyev gave equal weight to transitional steps and to big ones is an example of his intelligence, him upending the cliches of ballet phrasing. It puts him in the company of Balanchine, who often uses run-on rhythms, so you feel you can't catch your breath. Paradoxically, this enjambment (as it's called in poetry) made Nureyev seem to appeal to our lower "instincts," as Acocella describes it.

If by "intelligence" Acocella means self-consciously pointing to himself as intelligent, Nureyev may have wanted to do something else. He may have wanted to make an existential point about not being able or allowed to stop--or about the big and small within the wash of life. But that's the thing: Acocella's outrageous assertion needs some backup. The review would then have been really interesting.

I know it's a symptom of the age we live in that even the dead aren't exempt from lambasting, but I would have thought that dance critics--who whenever it suits them don't notice the time they're in--would have known better.

Well, a few have: in the process of reviewing Kavanagh's book, my ArtsJournal colleague Tobi Tobias and New York Sun critic Joel Lobenthal, for example, remember how much Nureyev gave to ballet.

My favorite review, though, is from my friend (and regular Foot contributor) Paul Parish. Kavanagh's bio is immoral by way of being amoral. She lets the dozens of Nureyev hangers-on tell the story for her; the book has no reigning voice, least of all that of Nureyev himself (which the recent TV documentary "The Russian Years" and his own ghostwritten autobiography suggest was compelling and unpretentious, even if he spoke as if the tongue were foreign). Kavanagh doesn't bother to decide the relation between the myriad facts of his life. She just stuffs them all in there, to deadening effect. Here, on the other hand, is Paul.

UPDATE: Fantastic comments--by Swan Lake Samba Girl, counter critic, and choreographer Lise Brenner. But don't forget to read Paul's review. (That's why I haven't pasted the comments in the entry: I don't want people to skip over his fantastic review. It's got the best final line of an essay I've read in a million years. Here!)

[Nureyev mania on Foot began with this commentary on the PBS documentary of his youthful days in Leningrad. After the above post, we noted with relief one review and another that did more justice to the man than the bio itself.]

October 19, 2007 12:20 PM | | Comments (3)

Dance critic Judith Mackrell of The Guardian has written a post that credits "the Artsjournal dance blog" for "chatter" and "wishful thinking" in our hopes for an ambassador for dance on the model of Pavarotti.

So does Mackrell go on to prove how stupid this whole topic is? No! She borrows it whole hog for her own column, after making it properly British. (She doesn't want an ambassador for dance worldwide, but a missionary for British dance.)

In case you're curious, our chatter starts here, then goes here
and here
and here
and here and here.

And of course it's all over the place--it's a conversation. A lot of you contributed. Thank you for that!

Tonya Plank (a.k.a. Swan Lake Samba Girl),
who's been contributing all along (thank you, Tonya!), writes in this morning:

Yay, we started a trend! I think Carlos Acosta is a great ambassador for the Brits. I'm dying to read his memoir. I think the person who nominated Nureyev was right on the mark, too. If only he were still alive... Baryshnikov isn't as interested in being in the public eye anymore; somehow I think Rudi would be.

October 15, 2007 4:45 PM | | Comments (2)

For this preview in Newsday, I went to see Hernandez's Ballet Folklorico in the Bronx. Parts of it--the many parts with live music--were so beautiful and sweet, I wanted to cry. (So did a lot of the rest of the audience, it sounded like.)

Anyway, the company is playing all up and down the East coast for the next two months (I mention only the local shows in my Newsday article), so for a treat, catch them.

P.S. Please check out wonderful readers' contributions in the two earlier posts--this, on active audiences, and this, on how Pavlova was doing the Pavarotti thing a hundred years ago. (I know, I know, it's ridiculous: nothing for a week and then three posts at once.)

October 11, 2007 12:04 PM | | Comments (0)

So, this issue Eva got us started on about what sort of ambassador dance (yeah, all of it) could use seems to know no end--with all sorts of unexplored byways.

First, reader Jamie Wright adds his vote to the Rasta nomination:

Is it possible that Rasta Thomas will emerge as dance's Pavarotti? He has teen-idol looks, just married a model, and is still very young. Over the next 10 years or so, I can see him bringing pop and ballet together.

Then shimmyblogger Natalia from Missouri offers a new angle on the whole question:

There's another issue here, which I haven't seen addressed: Do we want shows to turn people on to watching dance or to doing it? It's not the same thing, and although it's not an either/or proposition, if I had to choose I would hope shows inspired people to get off their couches and shake their tail-feathers a little bit. ;)

I think the dance world could use a Michael Jordan more than a Pavarotti. Sure, Pavarotti sold albums, but were kids running around wanting to "Be Like Luciano"?

I think a large part of what MJ did for both the NBA and Nike was to get kids out to the basketball courts as well as into the stands. I don't think Capezio needs to start hawking Air Tidwell pointe shoes or anything, but dance needs a face, someone whom people don't just like watching but who gets them into the studios as well as the concert hall seats.

Eva responds:
Reports of America's obesity epidemic--as well as clear signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome--argue strongly for anything that will, in Natalia's words "inspire people to get off their couches and shake their tail-feathers a little bit."

However, the harder thing, Natalia, is to get people to want to think about and be affected by dance, especially when it is complex and challenging to look at. And, for that, we need someone who will catch the public eye, the public imagination and, one hopes, the public mind.

That's a smart comment, Natalia.

I'm all for a widespread, full spectrum audience, with an overlap dance-lover who enjoys the range from watching to doing. That would be nice. It would be great if spectators became real audience members, people who would pay deep attention and lose themselves in the vicarious experience. But such reflective people are born, not made.

I say that because we're on the verge of a Twyla Tharp festival here in Berkeley, and I can't help reflecting on the last time we dancers had a real grip on the popular imagination, about 25 years ago, when Twyla and Misha were at the peak of their glamor. I distinctly remember sitting next to a woman at a concert of Twyla's who commented, "Golly, the dancers are getting such a good workout up there. I wish I was working out."

It was the era of jazzercise and aerobic dancing as BIG social phenomena, and the dance boom had drawn the newly health-conscious into the theaters. The Joffrey ballet was doing commercials for the milk marketing board. Every high school girl was wearing ankle warmers. So were lots of gays and young urban professional women when they went casual. Dancers looked like the image of self-fulfillment, in the era before AIDS hit.

But, look at the reality: In the '70s we had just gotten OUT of a war, Nixon had shrewdly declared war on cancer, and suddenly everybody's anxieties had been transferred onto their own bodies, but there was nothing else to worry about, really, except inflation.

These are darker times. AIDS HAS hit; massive shifts are taking place in distribution of wealth, though it's beneath the surface and you can't get an overview; we've got a 1984-style unendable war on, more entertainment available than anybody can possibly consume, and no easy way to get in touch with reality. I DO on the whole think you're right, Natalia. I think everybody I know spends too much time in virtual reality and not enough grounded, really here now....

It's so funny you should bring this up, Natalia! It's an issue I used to argue over constantly with this one friend of mine. Or rather, we disagreed constantly. We stopped arguing once we reached an impasse, which happened quickly.

Anyway, his side went like this (poor man, reduced to a sentence while I plan to go on and on): "If watching dance is so great, just think how much greater dancing itself would be!!"

I agree with Eva and Paul that people are too disconnected from their bodies--every new development in technology somehow tends that way. (It wouldn't have to, of course. If, for example, something other than the free market were in control, technological advancement might free us to spend whole days toodling around on our bicycles, b/c we'd make our money, do our dishes, etc. etc. etc. faster than ever.) And I think that one of the ways people become attracted to watching dance is by having done it.

But what makes me leery of just saying, yes, let's ditch the Luciano model and go for Michael Jordan, is that we've hit this moment in the culture when everyone wants to do. No one wants to absorb what others are doing and have done.

There are probably more people writing novels today than reading them, more people wanting to be a celebrity or a model or a dancer on TV than fawning over them. The culture has gone so over the top with participation (blogs are another example: the constant chatter) that I'm reluctant to encourage any more--though, yes, we do need to shake our booties as often as possible.

What drives me crazy about the pro-participation argument--and it's driven me crazy before on this blog--is it usually dismisses the possibility that being in the audience is also a form of participation. It's a very profound form, I'd say; it just happens to be taking place inside a person.

I don't agree with Paul that reflection is simply a talent, something we're born with or not. But a person probably does have to have had some practice at it before it's available to her as an audience member.

UPDATE: This just in: Pavlova did everything we're hoping for from Rasta Thomas--a century ago! Some needed historical background from Susan Hood.

October 10, 2007 10:36 PM | | Comments (1)

Reader Susan Hood offers someone from our very own discipline as a possible model for a dance ambassador:

In the last century, there were many "household names" in the dance world, but the only one who crossed between the "serious" and "popular" was Anna Pavlova.

What became known as the "Pavlova Gavotte" was danced to the tune some of us know as "Glow Worm." In a yellow, faux-Regency costume and bonnet (if I've got the era right--18th century) and low heels, Pavlova and her various partners in this duet dazzled audiences. Their movements were photographed in sequence, analyzed, and taught by mainstream magazines.

Pavlova was a classical ballerina at heart, yet was keenly interested in and aware of classical dance forms of other cultures.

Yet she was a populist for dance in many forms (though jazz was probably beyond her aesthetic reaches). In an age when Irene and Vernon Castle began to popularize social dances for concert hall audiences, Pavlova knew what she could do as the world's leading dancer to engage a vast audience.

Apollinaire responds: Susan, wow this is fantastic history. Thanks so much for writing in.

October 10, 2007 9:34 AM | | Comments (0)

Videographer and dance-on-screen fanatic Anna Brady Nuse, who's got a blog within a blog on Doug Fox's Great dance site, seconds Counter Critic's recommendation of Edouard Lock's "Amelia" and offers these other informed recommendations:

There are a few more exceptional dance films out there that were adaptations of stage works. In all of these cases, I've only seen the films, so can't comment on whether they rival the live shows, but I can say that I was fully satisfied by the cinematic viewing experience.

They are: all the dance films by DV8 (UK) -- "The Cost of Living," "Enter Achilles," "Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men," "Strange Fish;" "Blush" by Wim Vandekeybus and Ultima Vez (Belgium); "Hit and Run" by David Bolger and CoisCeim Dance Theatre (Ireland); and "Opium" by Suddenly Dance Theatre (Canada). These are just a few off the top of my head. They electrified me, and I'm a very jaded dance viewer.

Every year there is usually some gem of a film like these at the Dance On Camera Festival in New York (and elsewhere).

By the way, "The Cost of Living" will be screening this Saturday Oct. 6 at Tinker Auditorium as part of the Alliance Francaise's Fall Festival, Crossing the Line.

Apollinaire responds:
Anna, thank you so much for your recommendations. I'm with you on the DV8 films. They're amazing. And Dance on Camera has a lot of great stuff--and some junk! That's the trouble--knowing how to pick wisely. I'm hoping to write a preview recommendation piece for Newsday to help direct people's attention, but I hope you also offer your recommendations here--or for us to link to.

And yes, people should check out the French Institute Alliance Francaise's Crossing the Line Festival, in its various venues across the city.


Belly dancer Natalia sent this comment a while ago, at the end of a comment I'll be posting next week. She seconds the general emotion here, that dance on film is its own genre--as Tonya would say, you can't just plop a camera in front of a dance and expect it to work. Here's Natalia:

About dance translating to the screen, I do think it is possible to do well, I just don't think it is being done well very often. Just think of the last time you saw a video of a play being performed on a stage --I have never seen a good one. When the camera pans out to the whole stage, the action looks vague and lost, and when the camera zooms in, it seems like actors are never in the well-lit parts of the stage, people are standing too far apart, sets look chintzy and fake, etc. And yet when those same plays are adapted to the screen and filmed as movies, they are almost as vibrant and engaging as a live performance.

These same issues show up in putting dance on video. A lot of musicians have come out with crummy live albums; there is nothing wrong with going into the studio to record; I think dance companies should be open to that, too.

More from Anna Brady Nuse :

Thanks for the shout out, Apollinaire! I will definitely be blogging on the line-up for this year's Dance On Camera Festival, so hopefully viewers will be able to pick out the programs they like. I agree that it's usually a real grab bag.

I also just thought of another dance film I loved as a film more than as a live dance: "One Flat Thing (Reproduced)" by William Forsythe, shot and directed by Thierry de Mey. The film is sooo gorgeous, and it gives you an intimate look at the dancers that you can't have in a concert hall. The trade off is that you don't feel the whoosh of air and the rumble of 30 to 40 tables being run towards the front of the stage. Still, the film is a masterpiece on its own.

P.S. to readers:
I received another great comment re: Pavarotti, which I'll probably post early next week, with my and other regular Footers' responses. And I haven't forgotten countercritic on Morris' musicality in "Mozart Dances." I know there hasn't been too much going on here. See the column on the right, Elsewhere, for some of why: reviews! reviews! I love writing reviews!

October 4, 2007 10:42 PM | | Comments (1)

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