Plugged In

December 15, 2011

The latest in all media





BAM: The Complete Works

Edited by Steven Serafin

Published by Brooklyn Academy of Music in association with The Quantuck Lane Press. 384 pages.

359 photographs. $65.

We think of BAM as the American home for Pina Bausch and William Forsythe, and for way-out pieces by Ralph Lemon and John Jasperse. But back in the day, Isadora Duncan, Frederick Douglass, and Mark Twain appeared there too.

As part of a 16-month celebration of its 150th anniversary, BAM has published this handsome and heavy tome, BAM: The Complete Works. It traces BAM’s history back to the opening in 1861—with a program of Mozart and Verdi and a visit from Mary Todd Lincoln. The founders wanted a place for “innocent amusements.” The array of high-toned music, dance, film, theater, and art we see at BAM today is anything but innocent, of course—unless you take innocent to mean dedicated to the arts regardless of commercial pressures.

Threaded through the narrative are sidebars that serve as introductions to some of the major choreographers of our time. Read Nancy Dalva on Merce Cunningham, Joan Acocella on Mark Morris, Roslyn Sulcas on William Forsythe, Deborah Jowitt on Ralph Lemon, and Charmaine Warren on Alvin Ailey. Dance Magazine writer Susan Yung has contributed pieces on Martha Graham, DanceAfrica, Bill T. Jones, Pina Bausch, and Twyla Tharp.

But more than that, this is a magnificent visual feast, with page after page of stunning photographs that reflect the boldest aesthetics of each era. Isadora Duncan, Agnes de Mille, Pearl Primus, José Limón, and Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn are pictured, as are works by Twyla Tharp, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Lucinda Childs, Suzanne Linke, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Ohad Naharin, and more. Especially in its Next Wave Festival, which premiered Trisha Brown’s glorious Set and Reset in 1983, BAM was often the sumptuous face of the avant-garde. This book places the most provocative dance in the context of provocative artists in other fields like theater director Robert Wilson, composer Philip Glass, and filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.

Among the many reminiscences is a particularly magical one from Akram Khan, who appeared at BAM as a child performer in Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata in 1987. As a 14-year-old, he was so enchanted by the Majestic Theater (now called the BAM Harvey Theater) that he chipped off a piece of the exposed stone wall to hold the memory with him. He knew “it was a terrible thing to do,” and 22 years later, when he returned to the Harvey Theater as a choreographer, he returned that little memento to somewhere close to its rightful spot. In doing so, he had an epiphany about the real site of memory: one’s body. —Wendy Perron


Left: Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan’s Wang Wei-ming in
Song of the Wanderers. Photo by YU Hui-hung, Courtesy BAM.



Screen Media Films. 93 minutes. $24.98.

The world of competitive Irish dancing lends itself easily to an entertaining documentary. The paraphernalia alone—the curly wigs, glittering dresses, rhinestone-studded socks—is peculiar enough to pique any outsider’s interest and make them wonder: Why the over-the-top pageantry? Who are the young dancers underneath all that gear, achieving phenomenal feats of the feet (with no help from their upper bodies)? How did they get so good at that, and what’s motivating them?

, directed by British filmmaker Sue Bourne, peers into that world—but only partially answers those questions—on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the World Irish Dancing Championships in 2010. It follows nine individual competitors and one ceili team (a group of eight) through their journeys to claim first prize—or get as close as they can. Overly invested (emotionally and financially) parents and teachers resembling drill sergeants (“Feet feet feet; out out out; more more more!” chants one instructor to his striving pupil) are also key players. This 93-minute film is a snapshot of a subculture that, since the international rise of Riverdance in the 1990s, has spread its influence worldwide.

Bourne introduces us to an idiosyncratic cast of characters, whose stories, as she spins them, drum up the same kind of suspense as an episode of American Idol. Will the adorably mild-mannered John Whitehurst, a minuscule British prodigy with a forgetful streak, remember his steps when he gets in front of the judges? Who will triumph in the Girls Age 10 category: the prim and pampered Julia O’Rourke of Long Island, New York, or the grittier, yet more gracious Brogan McCay of Derry, Northern Ireland? (“They’re just my own wee wishes in my own wee world,” McCay says of her hopes to take home the gold.)

While the dancers and their narratives hold our interest, Bourne too readily indulges our appetite for reality TV–like rivalries. Ultimately, she merely presents her subject, rather than probing some of the more culturally significant questions it raises. As a former competitive Irish dancer who, while enjoying the thrill of the movement, felt a pang of futility every time I donned my burdensome dress, wig, makeup, tanning lotion, shoe buckles, and knee socks (secured with, yes, sock glue) for a championship, I would love to see a documentary explaining how this image-focused sport evolved out of a humble folk tradition. The competitive spirit in Irish dance has a rich history. JIG, however, leaves the dancing and the dancers untethered to the past, powered only by the immediate drive to win. —Siobhan Burke


Mariinsky Label. 94 minutes.


What does a Russian institution doing Balanchine look like? Satisfy your curiosity with the new Jewels DVD, performed by the Kirov (Maryinsky) Ballet. Taped in 2006, a slew of principals and soloists star in Balanchine’s 1967 masterpiece, including the now-retired Zhanna Ayupova in “Emeralds”; Irina Golub and Andrian Fadeyev in “Rubies,” with Sofia Gumerova as the female soloist; and Ulyana Lopatkina and Igor Zelensky in “Diamonds.” While the dancers’ readings can be at odds with how New York City Ballet, for example, would interpret the dreamy lyricism of “Emeralds,” the off-kilter sexiness of “Rubies,” and the warm regality of “Diamonds,” the Kirov’s performances of the scintillating choreography are still noteworthy. The DVD also provides an opportunity to see Lopatkina, Zelensky, and Golub—dancers who are much beloved by Russian audiences—up close. The eye-catching Daria Sukhorukova, now a principal dancer with the Bavarian State Ballet, brings a melancholy loveliness to the walking pas de deux in “Emeralds.”

The editors have done a nuanced job, balancing wide and close shots of the sparkling Karinska costumes. They’ve even incorporated an overhead perspective, akin to seeing the ballet’s patterns from a balcony view. The DVD also includes an interview with the Kirov’s general director Valery Gergiev about Balanchine, the “Georgian son of the Maryinsky.” —Kina Poon


Where does Camille A. Brown’s work get its unstoppable energy from? Do dancers have a difficult time executing what Edwaard Liang, himself a blazing technician, creates? How does Noémie LaFrance come up with the startling visual elements in her work? Find out in Choreography in Focus, DanceMedia’s online video series. Dance Magazine editor in chief Wendy Perron sits down with a choreographer each month to talk both general dancemaking—his or her approach, what he or she looks for in a dancer—and about specific projects. Spliced with performance footage of companies from all over the country, the series is designed for both dancers and budding choreographers who want to know more about the field’s most in-demand dancemakers. As Helen Pickett says, “The possibility of the body is infinite.” Find it on —K. P.