April 21–May 2, 2010
Reviewed by Clare Croft
Molly Hickok (foreground) and Tymberly Canale in Big Dance Theater's Comme Toujours Here I Stand. Photo by Doug Davis, Courtesy Fusebox.
Only in Texas would an experimental performance festival begin with two-stepping at the state capitol. Austin’s Fusebox Festival, now in its sixth year, eschews the avant garde’s haughtiness, as well as disciplinary boundaries. For 10 days each spring, curator Ron Berry, with assistance from local arts commissioning fund testperformancetest, presents local, national, and international artists who create interdisciplinary work. Rock bands play onstage with dancers. Dancers talk more than they move. And country-western musicians, new music aficionados, and choreographers invade the capitol in the name of the two-step.
Fusebox has grown over the last two years, though thanks to Berry’s wide-ranging aesthetic tastes, its artistic chops have always been high. Berry excels at following developments in performance (and visual art) as artists pull from multiple genres.
This year’s festival struck a balance between local and global, accessible and complex. In T is for Two-Step Austin-based choreographer Allison Orr continued to relish bringing dance to public spaces. The piece, commissioned by Fusebox as a collaboration between Orr and local composer Graham Reynolds, was smaller in scale than the pair’s usual creations, but it still blurred the divide between those who claim “professional dancer” status and those who move beautifully every weekend in Texas dance halls. Reynolds led Texas country-western musicians through arrangements of swing classics and jokes, including the theme from the television show Dallas, as brightly dressed dance hall kings and queens transformed the capitol’s veranda into a dance floor. Eventually much of the audience started singing along, then dancing with the guidance of Texas music star Dale Watson’s soothing chant, “Quick, quick, slow, slow.”
Everything about Big Dance Theater, from the company’s name to its blend of dance’s physicality with theatre’s linguistic battles, positions the New York ensemble as an ideal fit for Fusebox. Their recent work Comme Toujours Here I Stand takes genre-blurring even further, using theater to comment on film and vice versa. The piece is several narratives in one. It tells the story of Agnes Varda’s French New Wave film Cleo from 5 to 7, which follows a pop star awaiting biopsy results, but it also tells the story of the making of the film. Though there are moments in the piece that could easily be labeled “dance”—quirky numbers that have the feel of go-go parodies—seeing Comme in Fusebox highlights artistic directors Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar’s facility with setting an entire stage into motion. The cast repeatedly rearranges the pieces of Joanne Howard’s set—rolling panels, cinematic lights, a giant set of stairs—keeping the context and location shifting. Is this the story of the diva in the film (played spectacularly by Molly Hickok)? Or is it the story of the woman on the film crew fighting with her boyfriend over the phone? The precise, often funny reassemblages give the final moments poignancy. With little scenery remaining, we, like the camera’s eye, zoom in on Hickok as she settles with surreal comfort into her fate.
Fusebox has always featured a range of American and European (usually British) artists. Recently co-presentations with testperformancetest have allowed the festival greater international reach. This year those collaborations included Montreal’s Gravelworks, a dance company led by Frédérick Gravel, and solo Japanese artist Kaiji Moriyama. Gravel’s Sex (Some) Rock Beer and Fries at first seemed merely to make fun of dance, but the piece evolved after half the dancers transformed briefly into a rock band to bang out a PJ Harvey tune. Among the many vignettes that followed, the most striking was a creepy duet for a man and woman. She stood expressionless as he came breath-on-her-neck close and slowly slid his hand between her legs, and then lifted her. Sometimes she did not move, only allowed herself to be lifted. Other times she pointed forward or to the side, and he would follow her direction. The dancers’ blank stares gave the piece a sinister tone that seemed to comment on the politics of touch between men and women in dance.
Moriyama’s butoh-esque performance followed Orr’s two-steppers on the festival’s opening night, a pairing that immediately thrust festival goers into Fusebox’s breadth. Moriyama has the kind of intense presence that captures an audience. After the first portion of his The Velvet Suite, which involved so much flinging of his long red hair that it looked more Bret Michaels than butoh, the piece arrived at a gorgeously agonizing pace. Joined by violinist Koichiro Muroya and a slowly descending orb of red flowers, Moriyama alternated between walking, squatting, and crawling, often while tearing at his bare chest.
Back in July, the Bolshoi Ballet grabbed international headlines after canceling the scheduled premiere of a new full-length ballet just three days before opening night. The ballet was Nureyev, and, as it was centered on the life of an openly gay male dancer who defected from the Soviet Union, it was widely speculated that the decision was an act of censorship.
Further theories of political motivations arose as Kirill Serebrennikov, the project's already-controversial director, was being questioned in connection with an embezzlement investigation. But according to the Bolshoi, the ballet was pulled due to it simply not being ready, and was not canceled but postponed; a tentative premiere was set for May 2018.
But it looks like Russian audiences will be getting to see the new ballet far sooner than they might have hoped.
The dancers file into an audition room. They are given a number and asked to wait for registration to finish before the audition starts. At the end of the room, behind a table and a computer (and probably a number of mobile devices), there I sit, doing audio tests and updating the audition schedule as the room fills up with candidates. The dancers, more nervous than they need to be, see me, typing, perhaps teasing my colleagues, almost certainly with a coffee cup at my side.
By itself, a competition trophy won't really prepare you for professional life. Sometimes it is not even a plus. "Some directors are afraid that a kid who wins a lot of medals will come to their company with too many expectations," says Youth America Grand Prix artistic director Larissa Saveliev. "Directors want to mold young dancers to fit their company."
More valuable than taking home a title from a competition is the exposure you can get and the connections you can make while you're there. But how can you take advantage of the opportunity?
New York Live Arts opens its 2017-18 season with A Love Supreme, a revised work by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and collaborator Salva Sanchis. Known as a choreographer of pure form, pattern and musicality, De Keersmaeker can bring a visceral power to the stage without the use of narrative. She has taken this 2005 work to John Coltrane's famous jazz score of the same title and recast it for four young men of her company Rosas, giving it an infusion of new energy.
Photo by Anne Van Aerschot
Before too long, dancers and choreographers will get to create on the luxurious 170-acre property in rural Connecticut that is currently home to legendary visual artist Jasper Johns.
If you think that sounds far more glamorous than your average choreographic retreat, you're right. Though there are some seriously generous opportunities out there, this one seems particularly lavish.
Every dancer has learned—probably the hard way—that healthy feet are the foundation of a productive and happy day in the studio. As dancers, our most important asset has to carry the weight (literally) of everything we do. So it's not surprising that most professional dancers have foot care down to an art.
Three dancers shared their foot-care products they can't live without.
Dancers trying their hand at designing is nothing new. But they do tend to stick with studio or performance-wear (think Miami City Ballet's Ella Titus and her line of knit warm-ups or former NYCB dancer Janie Taylor and her ballet costumes). But several dancers at American Ballet Theatre—corps members Jamie Kopit, Erica Lall, Katie Boren, Katie Williams, Lauren Post, Zhong-Jing Fang and soloist Cassandra Trenary—are about to launch a fashion line that's built around designs that can be worn outside of the studio. Titled Company Cooperative, the luxe line of women's wear is handmade in New York City's garment district and designed by the dancers themselves.
Royal Ballet dancers Yasmine Naghdi and Beatriz Stix-Brunell recently got together for a different kind of performance: no decadent costumes, sets, stage makeup or lighting. Instead, the principal and first soloist danced choreography by principal character artist Kristen McNally in a stark studio.
The movement is crystal clear, and at the beginning, Naghdi and Stix-Brunell duck and weave around each other with near vacant stares. Do they even know they have a partner? And how should they interact? The situation raises a much larger question: How often do we see a female duet in ballet?