foot in mouth: July 2012 Archives

Pilobolus in the era of collaborations.
July 21, 2012 3:59 PM |

So the Pils' month at the Joyce has begun, and the three premieres I was covering for the Financial Times--collaborations all, with DIY video stars, a genius juggler, and a thought-provoking European choreographer--prompted me to take the long view:

Pilobolus has always been about illusion-making: lending the human body fantastical form. Until recently, the spirit of the '60s that spawned the four-decade-old collective from the New England outback had a tight grip on that vision. Its pieces celebrated the liberating magic of transformation--how we are free to be whatever three-headed monster we choose--more than the do-it-yourself means. But technological advances in illusionism (Photoshop, digital animation) plus the influx since 2007 at Pilobolus of outside collaborators whose medium is not always the body have shifted the troupe's emphasis. Now it revels in its hardy, handmade retro-ness. 
  Skyscrapers, a film-dance concoction low on tech and high on charm, repeats last year's success with the YouTube lad band OK Go (1.3m views later, that first effort, All is not Lost, returns to the Joyce). In the video version of Skyscrapers, a man and woman tango languorously across an East Los Angeles streetscape that shifts colours, as do the couple's outfits, with the song's mood. In the live dance adaptation, various couples took turns tangoing across the film-strip landscape, which stopped and started in time with the evanescing hues. Funny and romantic, Skyscrapers captures how songs heard while driving desolate streets can serve as a defining soundtrack to the life seen outside.
Grant Halverson-Skyscraperssmall.jpg Nile Russell and Jun Kuribayashi in a sunny mood. Photo by Grant Halverson courtesy Pilobolus. 

 Collaborations always involve compromise. With Skyscrapers, the Piloboli injected a spirit of goofy fun into the proceedings but left the tango mainly intact. The premiere Azimuth took advantage of no one's talents - neither the Pils' shapeshifting prowess nor guest Michael Moschen's juggling wizardry. A MacArthur "genius", Moschen combines basic ideas about rhythm, shape and pattern to mesmerising effect. What he might have done with these body jugglers! Instead, the athletes cavorted about with balls and rings and poles in a faint imitation of his craft. 
 The thoughtful Moroccan-Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, a Sadler's Wells associate artist, takes the art of collaboration as seriously as he does dance. For Automaton, he translates Pilobolus's organic metaphors into more pressing terms....

  Automaton-Oriel Pe'ersmall.jpg Self-examination: Automaton by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Photo by Oriel Pe'er for Pilobolus.

For what those terms are and how they serve as commentary on where Pilobolus started and where it might go, click here. 

 Speaking of Pilobolus's future, with each passing year I'm more struck by how the format of the old-fashioned modern dance concert--three repertory pieces, each about 20 minutes long-- doesn't suit this troupe--neither the performers' skills nor the ideas or dramas that might make use of them. One third of an hour is just too long. Four minutes--the length of a pop song--is more like it. I think that's why the ensemble has had such a success with the band OK GO--and with their shadowplay at the Oscars.

July 21, 2012 3:03 PM | | Comments (0)
July 16, 2012 1:09 PM |

After French Masters, the opening program in the Lincoln Center Festival's generous, three-program presentation of the acclaimed Paris Opera Ballet, I  thought, if these are the masters, what's left for the apprentices to do? The night's three ballets occupied a narrow range from silly (Bejart, "Bolero") to simultaneously stolid and fussy (Lifar, "Suite en Blanc") to hateful and inane (Petit, "L'Arlesienne"). 

To French music that deserved much better--particularly given the clarified drama that the New York City Opera orchestra under the baton of the POB's Koen Kessels brought out-- Bejart gave us token eroticism; Lifar, lifeless classicism; and Petit, a protracted tale of a brutish ingrate and his relentlessly clingy lover. That could work--two dislikable protagonists--if Petit only realized he had some explaining to do about our putative hero and his tantrums for freedom (danced with great force and feeling by Jeremie Belingard, the performance's one virtue), and if the choreographer didn't hate the petty and clueless woman almost as much as the hero does, who would rather die than be with her. I thought, if this is Frenchness, give me Kansasness, Belgianity: anything.  

But then the run of Giselles began.  

I still have issues with certain aspects of Paris Opera technique--for example, the fact that the jumping comes from the feet and stays with the feet, because of shallow plie; the dancers' drag on the bright, textured music; and the timing of arms vis a vis legs so occasionally the dancers seem too concerned with comportment and not enough with truth. Less bothersome than curious is the modesty of the turnout. It is the chest that is open, the arms that are most eloquent. The legs are strong but not open, the pelvis a tight little knot, particularly in the men. But this Giselle--from the birthplace of the first, the original, Giselle--is incredible.

It has integrity: a dramatic throughline that all of the details support and nuance. O, the glorious, thoughtful, sensitive details. In American Ballet Theatre's Giselle--the one I am most familiar with-- the passages of mime and the dances of the villagers often feel like filler between the "real" dancing, the principals' wowing, histrionic steps.  Here everything counted.   

Where to begin? Okay, at the beginning. Before Hilarion's entrance, the peasants dance on in little swirling clusters so when the hapless lover does arrive we know who his people are. And in the second act, the presence of lowlife gamblers--it made me think of Dickens--in the churchyard where Hilarion goes to visit Giselle's grave reinforces the danger and risk involved in his venturing there at night. The gamblers invite him to join their game. He exclaims with exasperation (the mime is so clear, I can quote it), "What do you think?!? I'm here to mourn!" They say, "Well, don't mourn for long because this place is haunted"--and voila! the wilis whisk into view.  The production shows us everything it means, which doesn't have the effect of obviousness; rather it adds to the relish of the storytelling--and suggests a faith in storytelling. 

For everything to count--every coupe, every grapepicker and his girl--Giselle has to exhibit a modicum of class consciousness, and of course the French are up to the task. With their history, they know to allow the peasants their dignity. Giselle's mother (a wonderfully protective Amelie Lamoureux in all but one of the shows) does not bow and scrape before Bathilde et. al. When the aristocrats ask for a dance from Giselle, this French maman tells them, "No, sorry, Giselle cannot dance for you; her heart is bad." No Tots and Tiaras for the French! Hilarion is not a brute (or at least not the tender and striking Vincent Chaillet on Friday); Giselle just doesn't happen to love him. The peasant dances have the downward-driving rhythm of much folk dance but transferred to plucky ballet steps (many pas de chats, pas de bourrees). The peasant pas de deux doesn't look like prima and primo virtuosity in thin disguise, as it does at ABT.  The peasants are granted their own dance forms and their autonomy. They have an orbit outside the aristocrats' sphere of influence.

Giselle's friends in Alexandre Benois's beautiful designs. Courtesy of Lincoln Center Festival. 

Throughout the ballet, foreshadowing increases the emotional impact of key moments. The build up to the mad scene, for example, intensifies the tragedy. Giselle is showing her friends the necklace from Bathilde, Albrecht's gentlewoman fiancee (unbenownst to Giselle), when Albrecht arrives. He recognizes the chain and freezes. Is he going to get caught? When Hilarion shows Giselle the sword--proof that Albrecht is an imposter--it takes her a while to understand what it means. And when she does she begins to unravel. The beatifically beautiful Aurelie Dupont and the extraordinarily handsome Mathieu Ganio were persuasive and compelling throughout, but the lesser known Isabelle Ciaravola, with the stirring Karl Paquette, made me fall in love with this production. 

Ciaravola's Giselle is eccentric from the start--not meek and self-conscious, as Natalia Osipova and Alina Cojocaru played her at ABT, but strange, lost in her own fantasy world, from which she intermittently emerges. When Ciaravola falls apart, she isn't pathetic, she's sort of scary, laughing and weeping in quick succession. Paquette stands aside, to witness her derangement. He is stunned. (The whole stage freezes, so there is nothing to distract us from this tour de force.) In fact, her appeal from the start for him was not just her innocence but her mystery--not just the peculiarity of the "other half," though that too, but something deeper.  Ciaravola and Paquette create this fascination together.  

Ciaravola and Paquette, with the Sylph-like sentinels behind. Look at those expressive chests and fingers! Photo by Stephanie Berger courtesy of the Lincoln Center Festival. 

The thing that takes the most getting used to for Americans, I suspect, is the dancing's lack of speed and force. When Hilarion chainnes along the line of wilis, he does not accelerate. He proceeds evenly. Where's the panic? Because of ABT and NYCB, we tend to associate velocity and speed--in turns-- and height and ballon--in jumps--with passion, desperation, will. The French do not. And maybe, they are beginning to convince me, we lean too heavily on that equation.       

So, go. Treat yourself. Go twice if you can afford it. You have until Thursday July 19. 

Postscript: It's two days since the Ciaravola/Paquette matinee and it is still inhabiting me--not a common occurrence, given how many shows I see.

July 16, 2012 12:46 PM | | Comments (0)
July 14, 2012 1:27 AM |
[Note: if you are here for the discussion of the Paris Opera Ballet, please click here, a new link.]

The Joyce has had some terrific shows this summer, with the choreographers stretching their idioms.

First, there was tapper Jason Samuels Smith in a tribute to Charlie Parker. The start of my Financial Times review

According to the great hoofer Honi Coles, bebop would not have happened without tap: "John Bubbles, of Buck and Bubbles, started dropping his heels. Baapy-do-do, baapy-do-do, bahp-di-do baam baam. And the drummer started listening." This splendid group show in the spirit and to the music of Charlie Parker does not argue for tap's precedence over bop; it simply makes a vibrant and eloquent case for their affinity. 
 The hour started at full throttle with Jason Samuels Smith, its choreographer, soloing to Parker's mad "Bebop", laid out beside the dancer by an excellent five-piece band. Samuels Smith tapped around and inside the riffs as well as on top. His tone was warm and full, and rang from more parts of the foot than seemed possible. He moved in quick jags like a temperamental gab session. 
 This sharp alternation between jabber and calm added drama but broke the musical line. In the female threesome that followed Samuels Smith, the wondrous Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards showed that you did not have to sacrifice one for the other. Rich-toned and nimble, she sustained the rhythms through the rests, as Parker does. Her elegant arms and head harmonised with her taps. 
Samuels Smith and company may belong to the school of Savion in the speed and power of their beats, but unlike the defiantly gawky Glover - the feet behind Happy Feet - these dancers let their rhythms play out in space and across their bodies. Like the original bebop tappers, they dance when they make music.
Charming, hard-hitting Michelle Dorrance. Photo by AK47 Division.

For the whole Financial Times review--more on the return of dancerly movement, plus what Samuels Smith makes for women such as Michelle Dorrance and his attempts at tap musical theatre-- please click here. You only have to free-register once for 30 articles a month.

Then this week, that rare religiously inclined modern-dance choreographer, Ronald K. Brown. The start of my Financial Times review

Choreography and religious conviction do not often serve each other, but when they do - as with Russian √©migr√© George Balanchine or, more recently, Brooklyn native Ronald K. Brown - unorthodox wonders abound. These choreographers let spirit loose from dogma; Brown does so by endowing his humane, hopeful conception of struggle and salvation with a textured, evocative specificity. 
In the first of two programmes this week for Brown's 10-member ensemble, Evidence, the "gatekeepers" in the dance of the same name do not guard Heaven so much as ready the ground (or is it the clouds?) for us. To Wunmi's plaintive voice above aqueous dance music, the dancers encircled the stage - caressing the floor with every step - to clear it of danger. They pointed arrow-straight arms like compass needles. More strange and wonderful, they seemed to trace with their fingertips the pattern of raindrops on a windowpane and volley a falling cloud back into the sky. The movement was deliberate yet soft. The sparks of association were constant without being insistent. Poetic logic, not compulsion, drove the flow of images.

  ronbrown12.jpg Dancers Annique Roberts and Arcell Cabuag. Photo by Ayodele Casel courtesy of Evidence. 

 Brown shares with West African indigenous dance the rolling hips, pumping knees, relaxed feet, wide, grounded stance and residues of story, but his textures are more varied and his meanings richer in ambiguity. Evidence's gloriously eclectic bodies stretch the interpretative range even further and, in the troupe's very inclusiveness, make the dances' spiritual seeking feel genuine and worth cherishing.

For the whole Financial Times review--including what Brown makes of obscure and popular Stevie Wonder tunes--click here.  

July 13, 2012 4:11 PM | | Comments (1)
July 4, 2012 10:30 PM |

Here is the start of my Financial Times report of the irreplaceable Angel Corella's final dance for American Ballet Theatre: 

From the start - in 1995 at age 19, when he debuted at American Ballet Theatre - Angel Corella has radiated a sweetness so genuine it seemed to power his feats of wizardry: pirouettes so fast, for example, that you half expected him to spin out into the auditorium and blast through the back wall like a superhero. 

His warmth also inspired the ballerinas. During Balanchine's gruelling Theme and Variations, longtime partner Paloma Herrera, with her reserves of inwardness, would light up at his affectionate gaze. Diana Vishneva threw herself so completely into the role of Juliet opposite his Romeo that she once crashed into the wings on exiting. 

In recent years, the Spaniard has become a nuanced actor. At this Swan Lake with Herrera - Corella's last dance for ABT and final full-length ballet anywhere - I realised for the first time that the prince's happiness is wedged between burdens: the responsibilities of carrying on the royal line and of freeing Odette from her servitude, and the misery of having betrayed her. The shades of worry and melancholy that now colour his performance bring to mind Corella's own struggle lately to establish a troupe in a homeland in economic crisis and without deep roots in classical ballet. 

Of course we got the crazy turns. The pyrotechnics in the second act drove the audience into a frenzy. But at the entertainments in the prince's honour, this Siegfried visibly receded into rumination. And the suicide into the lake was not the usual spectacular swan dive but a simple fall - a man giving himself up to the waters and fate. 

During the 20-minute ovation when confetti bombs plastered the stage....

For a description of that touching convocation of dancers onstage, click here.

slcorellabows1ro (2).jpg
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor courtesy of ABT.

Corella now turns his full attention to the company he founded and directs, ne the Corella Ballet, now, with its new locale, the Barcelona Ballet. 

It's not been easy to introduce a dance idiom during "The Crisis." But I hope he can hold tight. His dancers are musical and lovely, and believe in this enterprise. Even Balanchine, even with Lincoln Kirstein as his advocate, had to tread water for 13 years before he could have the ballet company he came here for. In fact, Corella probably is thinking of Balanchine: with the move to Barcelona, he is establishing a school, putting down roots.  

July 4, 2012 9:54 PM | | Comments (0)

Topics on Tap

Saturday July 21: Pilobolus in the era of collaborations.
Saturday, July 14: Gamechanging American tap and modern dance
Wednesday July 4 Angel Corella's Farewell 


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This page is a archive of recent entries written by foot in mouth in July 2012.

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