December 20, 2010

Next Wave Festival at BAM, Boston Ballet, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui



Next Wave Festival
Brooklyn Academy of Music, NYC • September 29–November 10, 2010 • Reviewed by Gus Solomons jr


The audience at BAM’s Next Wave Festival welcomed Pina Bausch’s Vollmond (Full Moon) like a tribute to the late choreographer, whose Tanztheater Wuppertal soldiers on after her death in 2009. The piece is quintessential Bausch, featuring a dozen wonderful performers—including veterans Nazareth Panadero with her foghorn voice and Tallulah Bankhead persona; alabaster, could-be fashion-model Julie Anne Stanzak; and pixie-like Dominique Mercy, who joined the company in 1973.


In typical Bausch fashion, over the course of the work’s two and a half hours, performers suck us into the choreographer’s dark, neurotic world, then spit us into her zany one, through theatrical skits and danced solos. Water is the pervasive element here, poured into wine glasses, spilling all over those holding them, and raining—literally—into a six-inch-deep trough, through which dancers breast-stroke or raft. A huge boulder dominates the big, black void where the action happens.


Bausch’s whimsy abounds: A naked man wanders randomly onstage; two men with mouths full of water spritz one another till you wonder where the water’s coming from. Panadero quips, “Do you know where I learned so many languages? In bed.” Equally salient is Bausch’s lustful masochism: A rail-thin woman nibbles a carrot in one hand and beats herself with a coat hanger in the other; another tries to set her own hair afire; yet another coaches beaus till they can undo her bra in one second flat; a man slaps a woman then winces, and she apologizes to him for hurting his hand.


In the second, more somber act, bucketfuls of water, hurled against the rock, spray like fireworks. But such moments of theatrical excitement are sparse, and the skits-and-solos format grows predictable. Even before the (redundant) quick-time recap of the entire piece, Vollmond has outstayed its welcome.


Ralph Lemon has spent so much time trying the patience of audiences that it’s become his artistic identity. His projects are swathed in intellectual constructs that can feel like thesis dissertations, although they do reflect a thoughtful intelligence that commands respect.


His latest, How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere? is more mixed-media collage than dance work. Lemon shows footage of centenarian Mississippi sharecropper Walter Carter and his wife, Edna, enacting “remakes” of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, both science-fiction film classics. He also recycles a movement passage from his 2004 Come home Charley Patton, the last installment of his decade-long “Geography Trilogy.” And he incorporates whimsical video by Jim Findlay of a meditation fest, featuring Lemon in a rabbit suit, a big floppy dog, and several jungle animals—swan, rhino, giraffe, gazelle.


Kudos for challenging thinking, but the first hour of How Can You Stay is more consonant with 1950s European art house films than 21st-century live performance—packed with too many ideas and not enough action. Lemon sits in a plastic lawn chair, reading. He meditates on Carter’s space fantasy. He describes the demise, due to illness, of his female lover as he and she watched Japanese art films. And he explains what he calls his “drunk dances,” in which he attempts to deconstruct choreography by breaking down dancers’ control, getting them to perform it drunk and high, then having them reproduce those performances sober. Shoko Letton and Mike Taylor’s film accompanies and illustrates Lemon’s beautifully written words.


Things get livelier—if disturbingly so—when the impaired dancing we saw earlier onscreen comes to life. The same cast does a 23-minute expansion of the 3-minute filmed exercise. It’s simultaneously appalling and compelling, watching mature dancers respond to a choreographer’s hazardous, exhausting, and ambiguous commands, driven by sheer willpower and professionalism. In his narration, Lemon claims that it took four years after Charley Patton ended for the cast to speak to him again. After this 23-minute version, one can only hope Lemon’s mistreatment of dancers has finally run its course.


Since forming his own troupe in 1984, Angelin Preljocaj has proved to be a prodigious dancemaker, creating large-scale ballets for Paris Opéra, La Scala, and New York City Ballet, as well as his own 26-dancer company. By contrast, Empty moves (Parts I & II) (2004/2007) is a modest, 65-minute essay in inventive partnering. A master movement smith, Preljocaj captures strikingly unusual connections and transitions between two men and two women. In John Cage’s Empty Words—recorded in a 1977 Milan performance—Cage’s unintelligible speaking of text by Henry David Thoreau stimulates the frustration of his audience, whose increasingly raucous heckling and jeering become the actual score. Preljocaj lets the growing mayhem shape the dynamics of his movement choices. Motifs transform into phrases, canons, duets, and complex entanglements that never relinquish their serenity.


Berlin-based Sasha Waltz gives us a view of catastrophe in her 2005 Gezeiten (Tides). Pairs of people, pressed tightly front to back, drift into a dreary room with three doors and peeling paint. They begin to lean and lift each other in beautifully leveraged and balanced poses, accompanied by live Bach cello music. Eventually, there are 16 individuals in groups, adorning the space with the poetry of physics.


But in the second part, this calm, craftsman-like composition gives way to theatrical, reality-show-crude chaos. The doors shut, and a bout of cabin fever ensues. The refugees attack each other harshly, as outside forces—smoke and fire—keep them confined in their sanctum.


Then in part three, the refugees-turned-inmates indulge in overwrought emotional shenanigans that further foul their nest. They toss chairs, set fire inside the room, and rip up the floor in a virtuosic surreal trashing of Thomas Schenk and Waltz’s set. Is this really the next wave?


Pictured: Sasha Waltz’s
Gezeiten. Photo by Gert Weigelt, courtesy BAM


Boston Ballet
Boston Opera House, Boston, MA

November 4–14, 2010

Reviewed by Karen Campbell


Boston Ballet’s new production of La Bayadère, staged by former Paris Opéra Ballet star Florence Clerc, is full of eye-popping pomp and splendor. In addition to gorgeous costumes, stunning scenery, and evocative lighting, this version of the exotic tale includes live music (by Minkus) from the company’s first-rate orchestra. It also features some outstanding dancing throughout, especially from the large corps of women in the iconic “Kingdom of the Shades” scene and the three main principal dancers—recently promoted Lia Cirio, new Georgian-born heartthrob Lasha Khozashvili, and the always elegant Kathleen Breen Combes.


What the work lacks, at least during the mime-heavy first act, is substantive choreography. A new production like this seems the perfect opportunity to create new ways of integrating dramatic storytelling with choreography that actually dances. But aside from a flamboyant display of corkscrew leaps and blistering turns by quicksilver Altan Dugaraa (as The Fakir)—and a feral dance by his skittery, monkey-like cronies—Act I lumbers by with a lot of finger-pointing, swooning, cowering, and heart-clutching.


Act II, set in the palace garden, is more compelling. As Gamzatti (Combes) and Solor (Khozashvili) await their wedding, the entertainment includes charming ensemble numbers. Jeffrey Cirio (Lia’s brother) is a standout as the Golden Idol, springing into vivid, asymmetrical shapes that twist and spin midair.


Lia Cirio owns the role of Nikiya, displaying her heartache at Solor’s betrayal with long, liquid arms and a supple back, suggesting both sensuality and vulnerability. She and Khozashvili share a warm chemistry and beautiful timing in fluid pas de deux that make use of breathtaking lifts. Khozashvili, a spectacular addition to the BB roster, has buoyant leaps that land with cushiony softness. Through crisp turns, sharp fouettés, and fully stretched grand jetés, Breen Combes imbues Gamzatti with nobility and spirit.


Forgoing the cumbersome “apotheosis,” the ballet ends with the opium-fueled hallucination of the “Kingdom of the Shades” scene. Clerc uses 24 rather than the usual 32 dancers, but the slow procession of ghostly women in white seems endless as they gracefully criss-cross the stage. A tour de force of precision, the corps handles this ethereal sequence with poised uniformity that carries into the more expressive dances. The plot drifts out of mind during this “ballet within a ballet.” An antidote to the dated mime of the previous two acts, this final section has a pristine classical brilliance that feels timeless.


Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
White Light Festival

Rose Theater, Lincoln Center, NYC

November 2–4, 2010

Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa


The concept of Lincoln Center’s new White Light Festival—devoted to the spiritual, transcendent dimensions of the arts—might sound a little hokey to your typical hard-charging, multi-tasking New Yorker. But that’s precisely why festival director Jane Moss launched it—to support those parts of our inner selves starving for nourishment in tough times. With Sutra (U.S. premiere) as part of this inaugural season’s mix, Moss has delivered a master stroke. This production, robust in both structure and performance, celebrates corporeality and physical skill while acknowledging the driving force of a disciplined mind. With the exception of composer Szymon Brzóska’s musicians, who hover behind a scrim that renders them ghostly, there’s nothing ethereal here.


In 2007, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Sutra’s Belgian-Moroccan director/choreographer, journeyed to China’s Henan province to study the martial arts practices of the Chan Buddhist monks of the Shaolin temple. The resulting hour-long work marries Cherkaoui’s nimble, playful style—Earl “Snakehips” Tucker crossed with Charlie Chaplin—to the monks’ kung fu moves in a continuously constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed environment.


The dynamic set, designed by sculptor Antony Gormley, consists of numerous open boxes—one metallic, others resembling plywood coffins—of a size just big enough to encase a human body. Throughout the piece, Cherkaoui and a large ensemble of gray-clad young monks refresh the space by rearranging these heavy boxes, creating pedestals, massive walls, enclosures, stacks of bunk beds, and more. They tilt the boxes, drag them, dangle from them, scramble in and out of them, and use them as launching pads. (Coordination is strict, thrilling, and reassuring. While your team israpidly thrusting boxes together, you had better know the precise moment to move your fingers out of the way.) Adjoined boxes serve as frames or platforms as individuals, duos, or groups demonstrate quick-trigger reflexes and earthy power—lunging, whirling, and punching; or twirling swords and wooden poles with lethal force.


The piece opens with the choreographer and the troupe’s youngest monk—an adorable sprite who later proves to be a fierce talent—sitting on an upturned box. They shuffle miniature boxes as if playing a board game. This rearrangement motif recurs throughout, suggesting that Cherkaoui is creator and orchestrator of the central, big-box action. However the choreographer often drops clues that, for all his own clever agility, he has Shaolin envy. Those boxes can symbolize the body-shell that houses the human soul, and Cherkaoui clearly identifies his body with Gormley’s formidable metallic box. He wants to follow the monks as they circle the stage, smoothly pulling boxes behind them, but his box barely budges. Sometimes, when he inhabits it, its walls reflect his flesh; they trap him.


Though an impressive and fascinating spectacle, Sutra largely accumulates rather than advances. At its end, I wasn’t sure I’d learned much that was new. But I’d had a very good time, and it was moving to see Cherkaoui throw down and finally throw in with the monks, in sync as they whipped through their kung fu motions. His dream had come true.