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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.
Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.
This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.
Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.
Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:
If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.
The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.
Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:
I always knew my ballet career would eventually end. It was implied from the very start that at some point I would be too old and decrepit to take morning ballet class, followed by six hours of intense rehearsals.
What I never imagined was that I would experience a time when I couldn't walk at all.
In rehearsal for Nutcracker in 2013, I slipped while pushing off for a fouetté sauté, instantly rupturing the ACL in my right knee. In that moment my dance life flashed before my eyes.
Stephen Petronio brings a bracing season to New York City's Joyce Theater, where he has performed almost every year for 24 years . His work is exciting to the subscription audience as well as to many dance artists. He delves into movement invention at the same time as creating complex postmodern forms. The new work, Hardness 10, is his third collaboration with composer Nico Muhly. The costumes are by Patricia Field ARTFASHION, hand-painted by Iris Bonner/These Pink Lips. Petronio's work still practically defines the word contemporary.
Stephen Petronio Company also continues with its Bloodlines series. That's where he pays homage to landmark works of the past that have influenced his own edgy aesthetics. This season he's chosen Merce Cunningham's playful trio Signals (1970), which will be performed with live music from Composers Inside Electronics.
Completing the program is an excerpt from Petronio's Underland (2003), with music by Nick Cave. Video footage courtesy of Stephen Petronio Company, filmed by Blake Martin.
Never did I think I'd see the day when I'd outgrow dance. Sure, I knew my life would have to evolve. In fact, my dance career had already taken me through seasons of being a performer, a choreographer, a business owner and even a dance professor. Evolution was a given. Evolving past dancing for a living, however, was not.
Transitioning from a dance career involved just as much of a process as building one did. But after I overcame the initial identity crisis, I realized that my dance career had helped me develop strengths that could be put to use in other careers. For instance, my work as a dance professor allowed me to discover my knack for connecting with students and helping them with their careers, skills that ultimately opened the door for a pivot into college career services.
Here's how five dance skills can land you a new job—and help you thrive in it:
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
We all know that companies too often take dancers for granted. When I wrote last week about a few common ways in which dancers are mistreated—routine screaming, humiliation, being pressured to perform injured and be stick-thin—I knew I was only scratching the surface.
So I put out a call to readers asking for your perspective on the most pressing issues that need to be addressed first, and what positive changes we might be able to make to achieve those goals.
The bottom line: Readers agree it's time to hold directors accountable, particularly to make sure that dancers are being paid fairly. But the good news is that change is already happening. Here are some of the most intriguing ideas you shared via comments, email and social media:
With dancer and choreographer credits that cover everything from touring with Beyoncé to music videos and even feature films, Tricia Miranda knows more than a thing or two about what it takes to make it. And aspiring dancers are well aware. We caught up with the commercial dance queen last weekend at the Brooklyn Funk convention, where she taught a ballroom full of dancers classes in hip-hop and dancing for film and video.
How To Land An Agency
"At times with the agencies, they already have someone that looks like you or you're just not ready to work. Look has to do with a lot of it, work ethic and also just the type of person you are. Do you have personality? Do people want to work with you? Because you can be the greatest dancer, but if you're not someone that gives off this energy of wanting to get to know you, then it doesn't matter how dope you are because people want to work with who they want to be around. I learned that by later transitioning into a choreographer because now that I'm hiring people, I want to hire the people that I want to be around for 12 or 14 hours a day.
You also have to understand that class dancers are different from working commercial dancers. A lot of class dancers and what you see in these YouTube videos are people who stand out because they're doing what they want and remixing choreography. They're kind of stars in their own right, which is great for class, but when it comes to a job, you have to do the choreography how it's taught."
Houston's METdance and the Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance have teamed up to commission a new work from Dallas native (and former Dallas Black Dance Theatre artistic director) Bridget L. Moore. The two contemporary companies will take the stage together in Dallas at Moody Performance Hall on March 16 and at Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts on April 13–15. Visit brucewooddance.org and metdance.org for details on the respective engagements.