Plugged In

May 31, 2012



Place: Mikhail Baryshnikov

Kultur. $19.99. 30 minutes.

In Place, a duet created by Swedish choreographer Mats Ek for his wife and muse Ana Laguna and Mikhail Baryshnikov, the legendary dancers give a master class in graceful aging. He retains a boyish charm; she, her radiance. A new DVD of the piece, directed by Grammy-winner Jonas Aukerland, invites you to witness the subtle details—the phrasing, delicate use of hands, expressive faces—of these two artists. (Baryshnikov was 61, Laguna 54, when the film was made in 2009.)

The 30-minute video opens with black-and-white footage of Baryshnikov and Laguna entering the stage door of the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, Sweden. Filmed from above, he stares pensively at himself in the dressing room mirror, then warms up at the barre onstage. Theatergoers flood into the lobby, captured in time-lapse style.

When the curtain opens, a table sits center stage on top of a white floor cloth. Laguna enters, perhaps struck by some sense memory; then Baryshnikov wanders in from stage left. They move skittishly with their hands and feet, followed by slower, extended phrases. This is a vaguely familiar “place,” albeit one that needs reacquaintance. After weaving in and out along the border of the floor cloth, she peeks underneath it. (The camera films her from below, as if lodged in a well.)

They both step into the bright rectangular light, romping like children, feeling the texture of the table. She takes off his jacket; he removes her shoes. He lifts her tenderly, then caresses her neck with his head. She covers herself with the cloth; he draws imaginary angular diagrams on the table. The clever cinematography, which shoots from all angles, tracks Baryshnikov as he dances saucily to quirky tango music. In a wonderful overhead shot, she drapes him with the cloth and pulls him to center stage.

Both dancers launch into a feisty, irreverent jig, pushing each other playfully. Baryshnikov exits, leaving the cloth neatly behind; she stays, perhaps with unresolved feelings about the encounter. In the end, Place evokes a reminiscence beyond time and space.

was originally part of a touring program for the two dancers called “Three Solos and a Duet.” A filmed record of the whole evening would have been divine, but this is a gem unto itself. —Joseph Carman




Joan Myers Brown & the Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina: A Biohistory of American Performance

By Brenda Dixon Gottschild.

New York, Palgrave Macmillan. 2012.

370 pages. Illustrated. Paper. $27.

Joan Myers Brown, executive artistic director of the Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco), is a captivating woman. When she walks onstage to talk, you first notice that she is stylish. Then you realize that her remarks are flecked with humor born of experience. There is also an underlying tenderness.

In Joan Myers Brown & the Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina, dance scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild does not at first present Brown in full perspective. She allows her to shift in and out of the picture. To a degree, we learn more about Dixon Gottschild and less about Brown.

Eventually we set upon a meticulously detailed journey through the early world of black dance teachers in Philadelphia, women like Essie Marie Dorsey, Sydney King, and Marion Cuyjet. The young Brown studied with them, taught for them, and contributed choreography. Though ballet was her early love, she confronted every style of dance that came along.

In 1951–52 Brown studied with Antony Tudor, who was teaching weekly classes at the Philadelphia Ballet Guild. Following some candid advice from Tudor, she launched into a decade of intensive touring in productions led by black stars like Pearl Bailey, Cab Calloway, and Sammy Davis Jr. She also formed, and danced in, a small touring ensemble called the Savar Dancers.

By 1960 she had opened the Philadelphia School of Dance Arts. Seven years later came her second marriage. And in ’69 and ’70 came her daughters Dannielle and Marlisa. Born in 1931, Brown was an only child, and her mother seems to have played a strong role in her life. We’d like to have known more about that.

A majority of Philadanco’s choreographers are black; most of the dancers are black; the décor is simple or non-existent; and much of the music is what Dixon Gottschild calls “Philly Sound.” It’s eclectic with a choice of influences. So is the choreography.

In addition to her company, which is now more than 40 years old, the artistic and human environment that Brown has assembled in Philadelphia is truly remarkable. There are two satellite companies, the flourishing school, and comfortable living quarters for the dancers. While we meet the dancers, I’d like to have known more about the board, its structure, and its role in the company’s remarkably sound fiscal structure.

Despite all that Brown has done to enrich the dance community with both accomplishments and awareness, Dixon Gottschild’s study is so exhaustive that it tends to overshadow its subject. And then, like a dubious icing on the cake, she appends an afterword by professor Ananya Chatterjea of the University of Minnesota, who writes in part that Gottschild “teaches us to look deeply and thoughtfully at images, texts, and movements in order to recognize blurred-over movements of dis/miss/appearance; historiographic aporias.” She also states that Dixon Gottschild “parses the imbrication of race and cultural production in order to stage a rhizomatic history.”

Is that what Philadanco and Joan Myers Brown stand for? —Doris Hering


Dance on TV


A whopping four new dance shows make their small-screen debuts this summer. Breaking Pointe, on the CW Network, follows the dancers of Ballet West as they rehearse for their spring programs (which included Balanchine’s Emeralds, Kylián’s Petite Mort, and premieres by BW artists). The fact that the show is produced by BBC Worldwide Productions is promising, given that its Agony and Ecstasy (see bootlegs on YouTube) managed to be fascinating without compromising great dance from the English National Ballet. Bunheads, on ABC Family, stars triple threat Sutton Foster (who graced our December cover) as a former Vegas showgirl who has to adjust to small-town life—and teaching at her mother-in-law’s dance studio—after she gets married. Two shows follow new companies—on Oxygen, “25 to Watch” Teddy Forance and So You Think You Can Dance’s Travis Wall and Nick Lazzarini find their groove on All the Right Moves, and A Chance to Dance, from SYTYCD producer Nigel Lythgoe, follows Michael Nunn and William Trevitt (aka the U.K.’s BalletBoyz) as they audition dancers for their American company. Check local listings. —Kina Poon