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TOBI TOBIAS on dance et al...

Sunday, April 24, 2005

    Mark Morris Dance Group / BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, NYC / April 19-23, 2005

    This year, the Mark Morris Dance Group brought no brand-new, grand-slam work to its annual season at BAM.  The sole novelty was a piece that had its premiere last fall, way west, in Berkeley, California.  But it’s a honey.  Rock of Ages, set to the adagio movement of Schubert’s Piano Trio in E flat, is a small, quiet dance that, like meditative deep breathing, expands the consciousness until it seems to reach the deepest feelings and an ever-widening understanding of how the world works.

    Its population of four, plainly dressed, enters one by one from the four corners of the stage, briefly converges at the center of the space, then moves on (though a pair pauses briefly, side by side), each person simply continuing along the diagonal path prescribed by his or her first step.  The ending reiterates this action, which is clearly the simple message of the dance:  We exist alone; we meet when we occupy a common space; we interact in passing, our identity left essentially unaltered; we part—because it is only natural that we should.

    Dominating the dance are brief phrases that, after their original impulse, slow and then coalesce into sculptural poses; these, having registered, melt into the succeeding phrase.  Certain gestural motifs keep repeating as if they were lodestars.  In one, the dancer turns her/his back to the audience, extends one leg behind herself diagonally and stretches her arms behind her back, hands clasped.  She turns her head to one side, tipping it downward as if to examine the earth, then suddenly twists it to the other side, and upward, as if scanning the sky.  (I thought of 9/11.  How could you not?)  Elsewhere, a single dancer faces the audience dead on, legs wide, knees deeply bent, arms extended horizontally, as if measuring the space or rooting herself to mark it as significant. 

    The dancers seem to traverse the stage at random (though even the most casual examination of the choreography reveals that their placing and timing are exquisitely plotted).  Encountering one another, they don’t appear so much to be relating as singular personalities with private agendas as simply participating in the same event or sharing, almost anonymously, a common feeling.  (Again I thought of 9/11.  How could you not?)  Occasionally they cluster--in pairs, occasional trios, even all four together, but only very briefly, for the stream of the dance is very fluid—then quickly regroup, exit, reappear.  They look into the distance a lot, occasionally at each other, in a prevailing state of self-contained contemplation.   Some swift and airborne things happen, too, but they’re just accents placed by a master well aware of the pitfalls of self-indulgence.

    The whole dance emanates from the music as if Schubert’s sublime trio were—on this particular playing—being rendered as a quartet.  The choreography has a calm, fated feeling; everything that happens is presented as acceptable and accepted, on a plane that lies beyond the tumult of contradiction.  I wanted it to go on forever; when it was over, I wanted to see it again right away. 

    In the engagement’s four performances, eight dancers, ranging from veterans (among them, Joe Bowie, whom followers of the troupe love like family) to a relative newbie (the heavenly Rita Donahue), rotated in the four roles—in different combinations.  Morris is the last choreographer on earth to consider his dancers interchangeable.  But they are replaceable, instructively so.  The shifting distribution of personnel—a tactic used in other parts of the repertory as well—shows any spectator on a repeat visit how a choreographic text, while remaining stable, is significantly inflected by the performing artists essential to bringing it to life.

    This one-program engagement also boasted a burnished production of  Morris’s 1995 Somebody’s Coming to See Me Tonight.  Set to familiar songs by Stephen Foster, it illustrates Morris’s great gift for continually shifting tone within a single work, deepening the overall effect of the choreography by playing one mood against another or, more typically and wonderfully, intertwining them to reflect the way in which real life experience sends us multiple simultaneous messages.  At the time of their composition (the mid-1840s to the mid-1860’s), Foster’s songs reflected prevailing sentiments in genteel American culture.  Subsequently they came to be considered over- (even nauseatingly) sentimental.  Nowadays they’re hailed as examples of classic Americana.  Revealing the profound shadings that bodies can lend to words, Morris constructs scenes that find innocent tenderness in love and a final (even welcome) peace in death.  Abutting or coexisting with these echt-Foster evocations are ironic takes on the lyrics that infuse them with bawdy humor or irrepressible gaiety (as in the polka that’s rendered in square-dance formations with an odd man out) and an underlying sense of life’s tragic dimension.  Like almost all of Morris’s choreography, the piece is immaculately structured, with patterning at once surprising and satisfying in the way Balanchine’s is.  The dancers, attentive to details of gesture and feeling, make it luminous.
    The program was completed by Silhouettes, a disquisition on mirror-imaging, as well as From Old Seville, a riff on the excesses and beauties of flamenco style, which is too short, and Rhymes With Silver, a glorification of its Lou Harrison score, which is far too long.  Seville featured Morris, who, though growing ever more portly as he winds down his performing career, is as rhythmically acute as ever, and Lauren Grant, a tiny, swift, well-muscled blonde, who refuses to be upstaged by the boss.  Silver employed just about everyone but Morris, and, if there’s a grander heterogeneous troupe of dancers around, I’d like to know where it is.

    Photo:  Susana Millman:  Michelle Yard and Craig Biesecker in Mark Morris’s Rock of Ages

    © 2005 Tobi Tobias

    posted by tobi_tobias @ Sunday, April 24, 2005 | Permanent link
Sunday, April 17, 2005

    Trisha Brown Dance Company / Rose Theater, Lincoln Center, NYC / April 13-16, 2005





    Celebrating her company’s 35th anniversary and adhering to her ongoing impulse to “make it new,” Trisha Brown devoted the second of the two programs she presented in Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series to recent work.  The brand new piece that copped all the advance notice was how long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume . . . , an experiment with motion capture technology that had its premiere at Arizona State University where it was developed.  (Brown co-opted the title for her piece from an overheard remark made by a techie on the project.  Her maverick imagination found a wry poetry in it.)

    What’s going on here?  Well, to put it as simply as possible, both the ever-shifting visual imagery projected onto a scrim that veils the stage and the sound score are generated by computers receiving information from sensors attached to some of the seven dancers’ costumes (gleaming unadorned unitards in sapphire or vermillion).  The images, in white sparked with bright red, consist of lines (and, subsequently, geometric shapes) that smudge, like skywriting, a few moments after they appear.  Of course these animated graphics are distracting, though that’s partly because dance viewers aren’t used to scenography with a mind of its own (even if the intelligence is conspicuously artificial).  The minimal score, on the other hand, is barely there.

    Meanwhile, the dancers are doing the most remarkable things, many of them diverging from the vertical, the bodies leaning, lunging, jackknifing, plunging or sliding to the floor, arms, legs, and torsos rising to the challenge of tasks hardly within their original job description.  Other aspects of the action derive from commonplace gesture and the groupings of crowds, this pedestrian material, absorbing in itself, unemphatically offset by some odd and beautiful lifts.  Of all the Trisha Brown dances (and anti-dances) I’ve seen over the years, this one seems the most abstract, the most like Merce Cunningham’s work.  The visual designs, however, bring to mind the mid-twentieth century explorations of Alwin Nikolais—all done, it should be noted, with unsophisticated equipment but quite similar results.

    Occasionally the visuals get so feisty, you hardly notice the dancers, who at those moments appear small, insignificant, all but obscured, as if graffiti had been sprayed over them.  Even when the images are more subdued, the scrim necessary for their projection thwarts the dancing, making it look more like something seen on TV than live performance.  Tellingly, all the articles I read in advance of the New York premiere—the experiment was clearly a publicity magnet—made almost no mention of the particulars of the choreography.  Elizabeth Zimmer, writing for the Village Voice, reports that the youngish techno-artists participating in the project complimented the 68-year-old Brown on having “a digital sensibility.”  Has choreographic intelligence, I wonder darkly, become insufficient?

    Two earlier works filled out the program.  Geometry of Quiet, created in the aftermath of 9/11, is muted, intimate, infinitely tender.  Its rarefied music, by Salvatore Sciarrino, played onstage by the flautist Mario Caroli, evokes a slew of natural sounds such as breathing, ocean waves invading and receding from the shore, wind in a vast tunnel, bouts of coughing, and fragments of birdsong.  Jennifer Tipton’s lighting creates a perpetual dawn in which the sun seems veiled—as if by fog or clouds in the sky or smoke rising from the earth.  Christophe de Menil has dressed the six dancers in the white of angels and medical personnel, and Brown herself has framed the stage in panels of rippling white cloth, giving the dancers long translucent stretches of the fabric that they pull toward the center of the space to suggest shelters or, perhaps, sacred areas.

    Delicacy is the watchword of this dance.  Like Agnes Martin’s paintings, it records a spectrum of subtleties.  In an atmosphere of rapt attention, the dancers execute their small precise gestures, their infinitesimal shifts in weight and placement in the space.  Many of the movements suggest succor—body clasping body, bodies gathering in small, tight clusters.  Very occasionally, the action becomes angry, even ferocious, but these passages are so brief and their execution so fastidious, they never contradict the overall mood.  At the heart of the piece lies a duet for a small man and a tall woman.  Its leitmotif of discrete phrases that resolve in sculptural poses suggests that the experience of a moment may have an ongoing life in history.  The fact that this duet is echoed immediately by a second couple (in which the heights are reversed) reinforces a complementary idea—that individual experience expands into communal experience.  At the finish of the piece, the pale light finally fades altogether, much more swiftly—as in much of human existence—than one would have expected.

    I have a predilection for art in this exquisite vein, and I liked Geometry of Quiet very much.  A colleague sitting next to me found it exasperating.

    Present Tense, made in 2003 but new to New York, offers a good example of Brown’s divine fluidity—the aspect of her choreography that streams directly from her own body, her unique physical temperament.  Set to selections from John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano, it opens with a long male solo (handsomely danced by Neal Beasley) full of squiggles and loping.  The dance then unfurls into a septet that, using a typical Brown tactic, moves laterally in and out of view, much of the action concentrated on the peripheries of the space.  The choreography makes canny observations on how people combine or bond, especially when they’re supporting each other’s bodies, either in pairs or larger groups.  Eventually the participants help each other soar aloft, outstretched limbs slicing the air.

    I thought the proceedings were intermittently funny, but the audience didn’t respond along these lines, at least not overtly, remaining reverently still, as if awed by the evening’s air of a visit to the cutting edge.  And yet the dance was, at the very least, playful, the brightly clad bodies repeatedly trying out moves or spatial relationships, then shaking their heads no and nodding them yes, like little dolls set in motion by a playful inventor in a toy landscape.  Present Tense actually has a landscape—a backdrop by Elizabeth Murray depicting a Keith Haring-like figure neatly sandwiched between the treetops of a forest and low-hanging dark clouds in what I assume is a faux-naif comment on the human condition.

    Photo:  Tim Trumble:  Members of the Trisha Brown Dance Company in Brown’s how long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume . . .

    © 2005 Tobi Tobias 

    posted by tobi_tobias @ Sunday, April 17, 2005 | Permanent link
Sunday, April 10, 2005

    Martha Graham Dance Company / City Center, NYC / April 6-17, 2005

    The trouble with Martha Graham is that, alive or dead, the lady can’t be relied on.  She is, indisputably, one of the key choreographers in the history of Western dance.  The Martha Graham Dance Company’s current City Center season, restricting itself almost entirely to carefully shaped productions of masterpieces like Primitive Mysteries, Appalachian Spring, and Errand Into the Maze, proves this point anew.  However, more often than not, the work of the last third of Graham’s long career was inflated and vague, almost to the point of self-parody, and thus hardly worth conserving in the active repertory.  So the viable Graham canon is limited and, though the power of the company rests with the great old works, neither the troupe’s audiences nor its dancers will accept having their experience confined solely to these pieces.

    For this reason, the current directors, Terese Capucilli and Christine Dakin, commissioned their first new work for the group—from Martha Clarke.  Emerging from Pilobolus in the seventies, Clarke choreographed and directed for major ballet and opera companies and created independent productions that led to her copping one of those MacArthur Awards that lets folks think of you as a genius.  The Graham assignment resulted in Sueńo (Dream), inspired by the Goya etchings collected as Los Caprichos (1799) and Los Desastres de la Guerra (1810-1814)—mordant depictions of the evils rampant in Spanish society and, by implication, in humanity at large.
    Clarke has a fervid imagination (a quality Graham shared without letting it overwhelm her), and an insatiable appetite for the grotesque.  Sueńo is extravagantly picturesque.  Its eleven haunted figures inhabit a very dark stage, where set and costumes are restricted to a palette ranging from black, through ash gray and silver, to a spectral white.  The dancers’ wildly moving shadows create menacing silhouettes on huge mottled panels placed at rakish angles, the constant unsettling fluctuation of the forms augmented by the women’s loose-hanging hair and ragged skirts.  In the same vein, the frenzied movement is intermittently accompanied by laughing, screaming, raucous shouting, sinister whispering, and, at one juncture, the antiphonal hand-clapping of Spanish dance.

    Image upon image whirls before our eyes, depicting violence, sexual depravity, grief, despair, decay—and the near manic pleasure the participants take in their own dissolution.  The populace scuttles around in the gloom, doing forbidden things or having horrific things done to them, spying gleefully on one another’s nasty diversions.
    All this, performed with vigor and abandon, is stunning for a few minutes.  It looks like the introductory passage to a heady, menacing film—after which you’d, quite naturally, expect incident, character, and finally some semblance of story to emerge from the atmospheric vortex.  In Sueńo this never happens.  Although a few specific incidents stand out in the general mêlée—the rape of a redhead by three men, a vicious confrontation between a matador and his human bull/slave—they are very brief, a matter of seconds.  For the most part, the piece goes on for over twenty hectic minutes without rendering anything more than a Carnival in Hell ambiance.  Towards the end, as if Clarke had suddenly realized she’d produced nothing of conventional dramatic substance, one man mounts a precarious towering panel, his neck wrapped in a hangman’s noose.  He harangues the small crowd of death-infatuated revelers below, then leaps from his perch to his “death” (flying effects by Antigravity).  Clarke resurrects him after a bit, and he laughs hysterically, his hands clutching a pair of clanging bells.

    Franco Piersanti’s score, Riccardo Hernandez’s set, Donna Zakowska’s costumes, and Christopher Akerlind’s lighting all contribute mightily to Clarke’s intended effect.  The effect, however, though initially ravishing, does not constitute a dance.  It has little of the quality of Graham’s landmark works—no governing passion, for one thing; no redemption, for another—and, for that matter, little relation to Goya, who never treated the morbid as if it were intoxicating décor.

    The real choreographic event of the season turned out to be the revival of Graham’s 1943 Deaths and Entrances, an evocation of the turbulent lives of the Brontë sisters, its emotional climate as roiling as that of Emily’s Wuthering Heights.  The piece centers on one of the sisters (originally danced by Graham herself, and whom we can take to be Emily, the one cursed by genius, Charlotte and Anne being merely immensely gifted).  This figure works out her terrible conflicts and achieves some sort of ecstatic resolution in a matrix peopled by her sisters, incarnations of their three child selves, rival suitors evocatively called The Dark Beloved and The Poetic Beloved, a pair of auxiliary gentlemen, and an enigmatic collection of props.  A transparent goblet, an enormous seashell (the kind that lets you hear the ocean’s implacable waves in the cleft formed by its swollen pink labial folds), and a pair of phallus-like chess pieces are manipulated by the dancers as if they, at least, knew exactly what the objects signified.

    The dance has been re-costumed by Oscar de la Renta, and the gowns for the women are ravishing.  They provide just enough period reference to make them probable and a huge dose of svelte glamour that connects them to the present day.  Their palette—cinnamon, red violet, and black-striped bronze—gives off a sullen glow and makes an erotic object of the dancers’ skin, astutely bared at the neckline and shoulders.  Referencing mid-nineteenth century dress, the construction is thick and elaborate at the pelvis, while the skirts trail behind just a little, surging and swirling as the women’s rapacious extensions and tormented swiveling animate them.  (The Three Remembered Children’s schoolgirlish dresses are a little overwrought—Lolita-ish, if you take my meaning—but then adults cast as children almost always appear faintly obscene.)

    Graham scorns plot for this piece and refuses even to make her characters and their feelings specific enough to be labeled.  Yet she manages to sweep away the viewer susceptible to her methods and concerns.  I, for one, having read my share of Brontë novels, could easily imagine the three sisters cooped up in the ill-fated family’s home near the wild moors, writing away and dying of TB, entertaining visions of romance and passion as the grave beckoned to them.

    The movement Graham invented for the piece is particularly disturbed (and disquieting).  The super-energized disjunctive phrases, with single gestures set in relief, look as if desire and anguish, storming the barricades of repression, had finally unleashed their lethal force.  Graham convinces you here, as she does in all her top-notch tragic works, that the only life worth living—even if it invites chaos and leads to annihilation—is an existence at emotional extremes. 

    Miki Orihara, who is having a splendid season—in Appalachian Spring, her Bride brings tears to your eyes—is terrific as the Emily figure.  She depicts longing and loathing ferociously, yet remains infinitely delicate.  In one solo passage, having lost both the Dark and the Poetic Beloved, she appears to be a fragile, priceless piece of porcelain that suddenly shatters.  Then, in the next moment, as if through an immense effort of will, she composes herself, absorbs her tragedy, internalizes it, and becomes, body as well as face, a mask—invulnerable because she is unreadable.

    Orihara’s beautiful performances are topped only by those of Fang-Yi Sheu, the most gifted interpreter of Graham to appear in decades.  Sheu shares with Orihara the ability to create a character through an intimate involvement with the persona and the situation and, at the same time, to portray that figure objectively.  No mean feat, this; it’s like using Method and Classical acting techniques simultaneously.   Her dancing per se offers dozens of things to admire.  Her small willowy body seems infinitely fine-boned and malleable, yet her strength is steely and her projection intense.   Details?  In Errand Into the Maze, you watch, fascinated, as she enters the metaphorical labyrinth, her feet, like some feral creature’s, pacing out the path traced by an undulating rope laid along the floor.  The body seems to float, almost formless, above these precise, stalking feet, as if in a trance.  In Cave of the Heart, she gives her Medea hands that work like prehensile claws and a torso and pelvis overtaken—spontaneously, it would seem—by spasms that spell out jealous rage.  But it’s the overall effect that’s most astonishing.  Sheu makes you feel that there’s nothing learned or calculated about what she’s doing on stage.  It’s as if the dance is inhabiting her, making her its vehicle—as if she had relinquished herself to Graham’s imagination.  If you can get yourself into the neighborhood of the City Center, go see her.  Right now.  This sort of dancing is rare, and it doesn’t last forever.

    Photo:  John Deane:  Miki Orihara and Tadej Brdnik in Martha Graham’s Deaths and Entrances

    © 2005 Tobi Tobias

    posted by tobi_tobias @ Sunday, April 10, 2005 | Permanent link
Sunday, April 3, 2005

    Jérôme Bel:  The Show Must Go On / Dance Theater Workshop, NYC / March 24-26, 2005

    The advance word on Jérôme Bel (French-born and -trained, well traveled globally), made him out to be a bad boy—a renegade, an iconoclast, a threat to Things as They Are.  Sort of a latter-day incarnation of early postmodernists like Yvonne Rainer of the celebrated refusal that began “No to spectacle no to virtuosity, no to transformations and magic and make-believe.”  Or of Merce Cunningham, whose tactics were truly radical, truly assaultive.  Turns out, as we discovered at the post-performance Q & A and reception for The Show Must Go On, M. Bel’s a sweet leprechaun of a guy.  And the show he puts on is tame, rather old hat (undertrained, casually costumed performers, mining awkwardness for all it’s worth, have been engaging audiences in staring contests for decades now), and intermittently charming.  God only knows what’s been riling spectators since its premiere in 2001.  Well, just in case you were curious but couldn’t get in—it was a hot ticket—I’ve blogged it.  Here you are.

    They make the house dark and we, the prospective audience, get cooperatively quiet.  The way it’s s’posed to be.  And then we sit listening to a recorded pop song without anything to look at.  For quite a long time.  The song—Tonight, tonight—favors kitsch sentiments.
    Then more darkness.  And silence.  And then another pop song.  Still nothing to look at.  With nothing else to do, we recall who and where we were when that music, those lyrics were always in the air.

    Very, very slowly, the stage space brightens a little.  There’s no one in it.

    The stage is quite bright now.  Still no one there.  A third song starts.  I guess the idea is that if you look at nothing for a very long time, you’ll be fascinated by anything that finally shows up.  There’s some truth in this, but you’re less likely to perceive wonders in vacancy when you know some director type is using the sensory-deprivation strategy as a gimmick.

    Finally, eighteen people in relaxed, occasionally rakish, street clothes saunter on, string themselves out in a ragged horizontal line and . . . just stand there.  Doing nothing more than looking around.  Mostly at us.

    As they let their gaze shift, their heads travel a little, not much.  Or they shift their weight, just a little.  We examine them back.

    Few of them are handsome in any conventional sense.  Even fewer are securely at home in their bodies.  The program labels them actors, not dancers, but they look more like a bunch of pedestrians for whom performing is far from second nature.

    Suddenly, a big event:  a few moments of club dancing.  Some of the actors turn out to be spectacular movers after all, fluent and pulsing with rhythm.  Others are so-so.  A few are pathetic.

    Then it’s back to 98% stasis.  And staring.

    I like to move it, move it.  One guy moves the curtain behind them.  Others jiggle the looser parts of their flesh—beer belly, slack thigh, luscious breast—as if they were Jell-O.  A petite woman animates her splendid mop of curly hair.  One man works on his privates, his hand decently under his trousers.  (This must be a substitute for a more in-your-face act reported from abroad.  Welcome, dear polyglot troupe, to the land of the New Puritanism.)

    A woman deaccessions layers of her clothing at top speed, stripping down to a plainspoken black bra and bikini, then, keeping up the pace, gets dressed again, then undressed, then . . .

    I don’t need a man.  At the first sound of these lyrics, all the guys split.  The women work on their port de bras and other signature ballet moves.  Few, it would seem, have gone beyond Advanced Beginners level in this traditional discipline.  I imagine we’re supposed to realize how interesting they all are in their effort or awkwardness or whatever and be moved by it.  But the gorgeous blonde breast waggler in Ugg boots and a flirty patterned skirt steals the show.  Ballerina Girl.  She’s all Kirov Dying Swan fabulous doing her adagio, and she’s got a face (Russian?  Polish?) made for the movies.  Note to self:  Find out her name.  [Carine Charaire.]

    The sound-and-light man who’s been operating at the front edge of the stage, practically in the lap of the front-row viewers, abandons his post, ambles lackadaisically into the middle of the space, and, turning his back to us, begins—Private Dance—a private little dance of his own.  No sooner does he launch into it than the femmes depart.  He amps up the sound, fashions himself a spotlight, steps into it.  In due time, having gotten performing out of his system, he reassumes his regular duties.

    The others return to deliver a more or less unison routine of pulsing gestures, jumping a quarter turn as the phrase repeats so as to face north, east, south, and west sequentially.  They do this long enough for you to memorize the phrase and take it home with you.  After this mini-aerobics class, they stand in place, catching their collective breath, once again examining the audience.  We return the favor.  They are, most of them, utterly ordinary.  So are we.  This is not a deeply fascinating state of affairs.  Neither, in Bel’s hands, is it a theatrical one.

    I don’t believe in an interventionist God.  They couple up and embrace, then walk around seemingly at random, next—I don’t believe in the existence of angels—couple up again, also seemingly at random.  The third time they embrace, they stay that way in silence until the next song begins.

    This show goes on and on.  I think maybe we’re at the halfway mark.

    One member of each couple manipulates his/her partner like a dance teacher molding a student into an approximation of ideal posture.  Then one supports the other in precarious leaning positions.  Few are adept at this or even comfortable doing it, but they persist, mild-tempered descendants of Sisyphus.  The persistence—the doing of the assigned task despite the absence of skill—seems to be the point.  (Clever of Bel to maintain an amiable air as he strikes his blow against classicism.)  One fellow, who has gradually assumed the role of dance captain or scout master, parts the back curtain so the rest of them can walk off into a space that’s safe from our eyes, then follows the last figure into this sanctuary.  Or trap.  (After all, they might cease to exist if we weren’t looking at them.)  Somehow, this passage is touching, perhaps because it evokes so many theatrical and actual exits we’ve witnessed.

    The empty stage goes dark, apart from a streak of light from under that back curtain.  (Is the gang partying in there?).  Now the spectators are bathed in red light.  La vie en rose.  Are we supposed to ogle each other as if we were providing the entertainment?  Most of the audience fails to respond to the invitation, stares straight ahead at the dark, empty stage, studiously examines its program.  Blackout.  Total darkness throughout the theater while the recorded music plays steadfastly on.  Well, we refused to look at each other, we insisted upon staring at a stage devoid of life.  Now we can continue to gaze outward at nothing whatsoever or look inward at—what?  No one lights a candle, not even a teeny-tiny pocket flashlight.  (Certainly not a Zippo—it’s against the fire laws and, besides, we’ve given up smoking).  No one curses the darkness.  European audiences, those advance reports said, were not so tame.

    Strips of light glow faintly along the aisles.  Music starts up only to be ruthlessly cut off.  The Sound of Silence.  We’ve been put on spare rations.  People just laugh.  Is it so remarkable that no one gets overtly angry?  The proceedings aren’t radical enough to get anyone passionately engaged.  Indeed, veteran onlookers (including me) experienced this kind of stuff in boot-camp form in the sixties.

    The full cast line-up reforms—pretty straight and tight now—at the front edge of the dance floor.  Glaring light pours down on the stageside bodies and spills over onto us.  Few of them, more of us, smile.  They stand with their arms at their sides or locked behind their backs.  I’ll be watching you.  Even M. Son et Lumière is staring at us.  You don’t need no Bible.  Just look in my eyes.  One by one the performers give up and walk off.

    The group returns equipped with portable disk players and earphones.  Son et Lumière rises from his tech table and gives them a conductor’s gesture for starting.  They click their On buttons.  So now we’re watching them standing still, listening (presumably) to music we can’t hear.

    They start singing out phrases.  If they’re singing what they’re hearing, everyone is listening to his/her own tune.  Each repeats her/his phrase over and over again.  Apart from a septet that shares a single player, everyone has his/her own one-track mind.

    They drift off, leaving one of their number behind—I’m still standing—then reassemble to sing Killing Me Softly With His Song.  Now they lie down, feigning sleep, with their mouths shut, while the song continues and we realize they’ve been lip synching.  Was this possibly the last, but not the first time they had us fooled?

    When Bel and his admirers talk about his work, the words conceptual and ironic come up a lot.  I don’t think Susan Sontag, a high priestess in these domains, would have applied them to this simplistic, ingenuous show.  Still, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  Its good humor was mildly diverting and, after all, one must keep up with the times.

    Photo:  Briana Blasko:  Members of the cast of Jérôme Bel's The Show Must Go On

    © 2005 Tobi Tobias

    posted by tobi_tobias @ Sunday, April 3, 2005 | Permanent link


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