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Flamenco Puro

FLAMENCO PURO
Finds a Place in New York

©2010 Lorena Sandra
Archives: Vol.24 No.4

For those in New York who are truly into "flamenco puro," the Flamenco Festival Gitano!,  presented by the World Music Institute at NYU's Skirball Center on November 13th and 14th 2010, was a welcome treat.  Neither a cahon (box drum), nor flute, nor cello appeared; and there certainly  was no smoke or theatrical story-line.  Instead there was a great deal of excellent music and singing, a couple of costume changes,  the occasional change in background lighting, and powerful dancing that served not to strive for effect, but rather to present a genuine dancing persona.  Both evenings had a "down home" feel that was like a fresh breeze on the scene.
Saturday night featured Pepe Torres, a guitarist as well as a dancer, and the guest artist Juan del Gastor, a guitarist and singer (who also dances).   The program was called Homenaje, an homage to Torres' grandfather, the Gypsy singer Joselero de Moron.  Pepe and Juan are part of a large extended Gypsy family of musical artists, as is the dancer Angelita Vargas, who presented the following night's program Gitaneria, another straightforward depiction of Gypsy music, song and dance.  
As a guitarist Pepe is a beautiful, sensitive and accomplished musician; as a dancer he is an engine delivering power, precision and speed.  His technique, which includes great musicality and speed, is prodigious, as is his energy.  In each of his solos, he let such virtuosity speak for itself, while maintaining a calm, almost modest demeanor.    Being so within the Flamenco tradition and mode of expression, he did not need to rely on flashy expressions or exaggerated poses.   He definitely built excitement, but this being said, there was a reserve that kept him from connecting immediately with his audience.  The viewer observes him with great admiration, but doesn't quite feel with him—perhaps because we aren't sure what he's feeling.
His first solo was a rather austere Seguiriyas, a palo or dance that to most western or classical ears has an unusual, if not to say strange, accent pattern.   However, because of the clarity and precision of the guitars, and the cohesion of the entire ensemble, the variations within the pattern by both the singers and dancer were always apparent and satisfying.  Pepe can dance like a tornado, but he is not afraid of inserting delicate steps as well.  This was followed by two musical pieces for singers and guitar, the second being a duet with the guest artist, guitarist Juan del Gastor, and singer Luis Moneo. 
Pepe returned to end the first half of the program with a spirited Alegrias, again using traditional movements although taking some liberties with the customary format of the dance, which generally  would have the first introductory section followed by a contrasting section, such as a slow second movement in a classical symphony, followed by a faster, more "dancey" section, etc. Instead, as in much Flamenco one sees today, particularly for the men, after the initial letra or verse, the piece was composed of separate blocks of zapateado, or footwork, which built in complexity and speed.  Pepe ended each of these, which included many jumps and turns, with a vigorous closing combination of steps.  These remates were thrilling as they finished, perfectly matching the intensity of the music. 
The highlight of Pepe's dancing came with his final solo, "Solea del Alma Mia," ("Aloneness of My Soul.")  Here the viewer could begin to meet the dancer and participate in the mood.  This very complete number created an arc from start to finish, beginning with a beautiful guitar introduction and variation, followed by three verses of intense singing by each of the three singers.  Only during the fourth verse did the dancer calmly enter to do marking steps that quietly delineated the rhythm of the solea. These were followed by a powerful burst of footwork that clearly pronounced the dominant rhythm.  During the dance his feet created different sounds and patterns, which whether slower and simpler or faster and complicated, always made every sound a moment of clarity.  Further, when he made no sound at all with his feet, the impulse of movement nonetheless was defined by his body to indicate the rhythm.
Clearly the communication among the dancer, singers and guitarists is crucial in this kind of performance.  The very fine singers were Luis Moneo, David Sanchez "El Gayi," and Juan Jose Amador Jr., and the brother-guitarists were Eugenio Iglesias and Paco Iglesias.   Their bonds were nowhere more apparent than at the end of the show when Angelita Vargas came on stage to give us a tidbit of Bulerias in her street clothes, a previewbefore her show the next night.  After much applause, Pepe escorted the revered Juan del Gastor back onto the stage, as the musicians looked on with delight and respect.  Rather than pick up the guitar, Juan began to sing a romantic and lively Bulerias.  He performed comfortably and affably as the houselights came up; midway through the song he stepped away from the microphone to continue with some dancing and lots of charm, easily engaging the audience through his song.  Remarkably, he transformed the occasion from a theatre presentation to a large extended family gathering – he indeed gave us the feeling of a fiesta!
The next night, Sunday, featured the dancers Angelita Vargas and Jairo Barrull, who performed accompanied by the same singers and the Iglesias brothers.  The music and songs were completely different from the night before, even though most all of the palos, or rhythms of the dances, were the same.  The dancers each performed two solos, with Jairo starting off with a Seguiriyas.  He is another powerful young dancer who excels in his extremely fast and precise footwork.  However in between these escobillas (footwork variations), during the song of the stately and somber Seguiriyas, his gestures and movements conveyed little, as he walked about the stage.  For some viewers, including myself, these contrasting portions of the dance are at least equally as important as the pyrotechnics.  Jairo's second dance, an Alegrias, was more pleasing as he more obviously portrayed the aire, the lightness and happiness of the Alegrias, in addition to impressive, if repetitive, footwork.
Angelita, on the other hand, apparently thinks of her dances as pieces that proceed in a continuous line from start to finish.  As was the format throughout the evening, she began to dance her first solo, a Solea, after the three singers had each sung a verse that set the mood and tone of the piece.  Then she slowly entered with some simple marking steps, done without obvious adornments but with her own individual stamp of great presence and solidity.  The highlight of this piece was her extended escobilla, continuously in contretiempo (countertime).  It created a musical, almost lulling effect that was reminiscent of eastern or Indian music.  With smooth connections between the different parts, including the buildup to the fast ending, the piece had the integrity of a complete dance.
The same was true of her final number, a Tientos, which was the plum of the evening.  For this, Angelita changed from her previous black dress with ruffles, to a black dress with large red polka dots and a red underskirt, eye-catching but in no way frivolous, as befits the serious Tientos.  Again she danced after a long introduction by the three singers, and again she proved to be the master of contretiempo and musicality.  Generally her movements were not that different from those in her previous solo, but by this point at the end of the evening, she seemed both more intense and more relaxed, being totally at home in the feeling and the music.  As the speed and spirit picked up by the ending tangos, she arrived there seamlessly, including some sort of humorous interchange with the guitarists.  She is a subtle dancer, who fluidly accents her performance not just aurally, but with hands, hips and shoulders.  It all comes together as a whole that announces, "This is who I am, una bailaora gitana."  

Sensual World

The SENSUAL
WORLD

©2010 Ennis Smith
Archives: Vol.24 No.4

The theater's ability to mirror life struck home as I sat beholding the wonders of the late Pina Bausch's torrential Vollmond.   The show, part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival, arrived in New York at the end of what could accurately be described as The Week of the Monsoon.  During this time a shroud of steel-gray clouds darkened our dispositions as the wind and rain downed trees and power lines.   My joy at having escaped a reported twister was short-lived: the morning of the performance I awoke to a veritable waterfall in my apartment's kitchen, a result of a clogged roof drain.  
Unlike the nightmare of wet sponges, tippling buckets and pans awaiting me at home, Vollmond (translated as full moon) is a mesmeric netherworld where water, shadows and playful, imagistic dance coalesce.  It's also the kind of work that carries contradiction in its every elegant, disjuncture frame.  Good theater doesn't require linear storytelling: Bausch knew that an assemblage of scrupulously wrought stage pictures provides viewers with enough information to concoct their own scenarios.  Emotions, feeling, are the engine that drives her tanztheater, something I was reminded of when colleagues discovered I'd be attending Vollmond.  All took a moment to gush over their experiences: they marveled over the show where a wall of bricks collapsed (Palermo, Palermo), or the one where the stage was festooned with a sea of red carnations (Nelken).  No wonder; it's hard to forget when one experiences a stage world as familiar, and strange, as that encountered in one's sleep.   It's the most beguiling combination of shock and pleasure one could experience without the aid of drugs.
Peter Pabst's set design is a soothing/sinister void of rich blackness dominated by a mountainous crater nestled on a lake that spans the length of the Opera House's stage.  As people drift onstage, the energy shifts to something quite the opposite as Rainer Behr and Jorge Puerta Armenta partner in a centrifugal display of whippet turns and pinwheeling arms, a simultaneous expression of horseplay and martial aggression.  Gradually the full moon begins to cast its spell—here, dancers run in ever-widening circles, there, couples partake of mating rituals (there's a nice visual joke when diminutive Ditta Miranda Jasjfi bestows rapid-fire kisses on Michael Strecker like a duck in hot pursuit).  The levels of madness are subtle and explosive, fueled, as in life, by the seeming excesses of hormones, wine, energy and too-little sleep.  Bausch exploits that hoary bit of a man turning his body into a chair to illustrate how, in a world populated by beautiful, headstrong women, men become willing props who subvert their dignity for attention.  They're also there to satiate assumptions of female desire, as in the silent, repeated bit in which a waiter, on the pretext of filling a glass, drenches a comely miss from head to toe.
"I'm so hungry," exults one woman as she slinks across the stage; the line's come-hither subtext could well be this show's driving machine.  Sex and desire are writ large; much of the dialogue when not underlining the action, provide cryptic aphorisms delivered by the cast with deadpan elan.  At one point, the blowsy hilarious Nazareth Panadero asserts: "What is better—one big glob or a teeny bit of love every day?  In a marvelous Chagall-like sequence both the men and women rush about the stage leaping onto chairs before bending to kiss whoever's sitting there, a orgy of sensuous generosity that radiates back to the last row.    The dance has a lovely languor—the solos undulate, the duets and group numbers are frisky with heat—but the visual effects make it spin.  Moisture, for instance, has never before been used to such libidinous effect.  Rarely dry, the company wears the sheen of water like sweat; the sight of clothes clinging to athletic builds, or wet nipples protruding through fabric carry more erotic heft than mere nudity.  So seductive is the sight of bodies frolicking in the rain that you fight the urge to leap onstage to join them.
The red-haired Helena Pikon delineates comedy and derangement as flip sides of the same coin.  In the first act her quiet, comic inebriation spirals into a thwarted attempt at self-immolation.  Racked with fidgets, she later appears with a carrot and a coat hanger: the appearance of these totems of pregnancy and abortion are indicative of Bausch's ability to shift moods radically, tossing in bits of rue that leavens the general air of bemusement.  It happens again when Dominque Mercy (a long-time stalwart of the company who, since Bausch's death, now shares its directorship with Robert Sturm) wafts onto the stage.   His saturnine presence shifts the evening's tenor, which until then resembles a bacchanalia at the end of the world.  After an initial bit of sly humor (he flicks his "tail" while lolling like a beast on the Serengeti) he drifts into a long solo—floor bound, back and arms arching towards the sky—that is a revelation of wistful regret.  As his body pitches skyward over and over, it's hard not to think of a man who's done with loneliness, and yearns for the heavens to sweep him away.    
It's in its latter half that Vollmond most resembles a dream.  Freud would have loved the moment when the women pace like somnambulistic wraiths in black sheaths.  On top of the rock slab, the bullet-like Behr strips to a pair of red briefs: the tiny dancer as mythic Colossus.  Dressed in white ruffles, the striking Julie Ann Stanzak conjures a new species of being simply by sitting on a chair; Jasjfi's long wet hair sprays drops like diamonds tossed into the air; brightly gowned women slow dance with men dressed only in Speedos, a clever bit of reverse objectification.  Earthlier concerns are addressed when Panadero instructs her man in the proper ways to partner—one should grasp the ribcage, not the waist when performing a lift.  This clever bit of deconstruction is played for laughs, but here Bausch reminds us of the method that anchors the dance, and allows the dream to unfold.
Vollmond culminates in a charming line dance that builds to a water-works display.  As the cast flings water against the rocks and into the air, Fernando Jacon's lighting transforms the drops into fireworks.  The jubilant squeals emanating from the stage voiced the exhilaration felt by us in the audience.  I was sweating fountains of gratitude, happy for an experience that almost (I hadn't forgotten the kitchen floor mess back home) made me forget the dispiriting weather week that was.

Vollmond, a presentation of the BrooklynAcademy of Music's Next Wave Festival Sept 30-Oct 9, 2010
A piece by Pina Bausch
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch
Rehearsal Directors Daphnis Kokkinos,
Dominique Mercy, Robert Sturm
Set Design by Peter Pabst
Costume Design by Marion Cito
Lighting by Fernando Jacon
Sound by Andreas Eisenschneider
With: Pablo Aran Gimeno, Rainer Behr, Ditta Miranda Jasjfi, Dominique Mercy, Nazareth Panadero, Helena Pikon,
Jorge Puerta Armenta, Azusa Seyama, Julie Anne Stanzak, Michael Strecker, Fernando Suels Mendoza, Tsai-Chin Yu

Blood Dazzler View from the Eye of the Storm

BLOOD DAZZLER View
from the Eye of the Storm

©2011 Melinda Mousouris
Archives: Vol.24 No.4

Blood Dazzler is poet Patricia Smith's groundbreaking poetry collection chronicling the physical and human toll extracted by Hurricane Katrina. Smith has been honored with many literary awards and is recognized as an unparalleled spoken word performer. She collaborated with choreographer Paloma McGregor, a principal dancer with Urban Bush Women, and director Patricia McGregor, her sister, of the Yale Drama School, on a dance/theater production of Blood Dazzler. The project, produced by the McGregors' production company, Angela's Pulse, attracted an outstanding cast of dancers eager to bring Smith's people of the gulf coast to life as a labor of love. Rhea Patterson, also of Urban Bush Women and currently performing in the Broadway show Wicked, starred as Hurricane Katrina. Dazzler opened Harlem Stage's fall series with performances at the Gatehouse on September 23-25. I attended the opening night performance.
Three forces are at play in Blood Dazzler: the weather, the people of New Orleans and the government charged with delivering aid. In Smith's poetry the characters have real voices and inner lives, including that of Hurricane Katrina. It is the power of Smith's voices and the richness of her characterizations that inspire the performers in their interpretive movement and which grips the audience in this powerful retelling.
Dazzler opens with a woman– Smith -- watching the National Hurricane Center radar track the path of "a tropical depression" on television. When Smith is blacked-out to read from her poetry offstage, the stage is bare but for white siding of a small house.
In contrast to the clinical voice in the news report, Katrina is introduced as a non-quantifiable force of nature, possessed of needs, and personified as a woman. "Every woman begins as weather and harbors chaos" is the gist of Smith's prologue. Rhea Patterson portrays a deadly Katrina. In a dress that exposes her back and with a skirt of scarf-like swatches that move with the air, her back to the audience and outstretched arms, she dominates the stage house with strong, rippling movement. In Smith's chronicle, Katrina emerges as a mesmerizing pitiless diva driven to destroy to appease a thwarted sense of entitlement. In dance and projected personality, Patterson sustains Katrina as an awesome presence throughout.  The audience does not need to recall extensive documentary footage to summon up the damage of Katrina; everything in the production and the performances work together to convince of the power of the hurricane and the death and destruction of lives where it struck.
The narrative develops chronologically and psychologically through episodic vignettes. It is mostly the narrator's voice we hear, telling the stories of the characters throughout, but at times the performers speak themselves to tell their story. When words fall silent and we hear sound -- wind, storm and the occasional strain of jazz clarinet.   
The white wall exterior opens to reveal the inside of a modest home.  As the family crosses back and forth collecting belongings to take with them on the road, Katrina lurks around the outside frame like a slithering black flame.  In the performers' activity and gestures, we feel conflict. "The man on the TV say go," says Smith, narrating. "Go, Uh- huh. Like we got wheels and gas. Like at the end of that running there is an open door with dry and song inside." "He act like we're supposed to wrap ourselves in picture frames and bathroom rugs, then walk the freeway, racing the water."
Smith portrays people for whom living with heavy rains and storms are a way of life.    They leave their dog Luther B., with food chained to a tree until they return. "He gon' be all right. He done been rained on before."  Luther B. danced by Eddie Brown, tethered and twisting in the wind, hands bound upward like a hanging body, becomes a returning character until he is "leveled with the mud." As storms rains down, and the flood waters rise, the dancers enact the devouring waves.
The stories in Dazzler of people losing their lives commemorate the fates of real people -- a mother losing a child to drowning because she was carrying two other children; thirty-four residents of a nursing home who were abandoned to die. In the section 34, each of the trapped nursing home residents has an end-of-life story of faith, abandonment, disbelief, suffering, or defiance to tell before finishing on her/his back facing the sky. Liz Mitchell gives a stand-out performance as elderly wheelchair bound Ethel who died when she was left for days in the hot sun outside the New Orleans Convention Center while being assured that help was on the way. One of Dazzler's trusting souls, not one of its caustic disbelievers, Ethel looks up toward "her Savior" and as she fixes on the sky, her limp hollowed out body rises on its  "ghost legs" until Katrina swats her to the ground.
After the rains, come depictions of hunger, disease, heat and homelessness. As a counterpoint to the devastation, Dazzler uses some of the government's own communication to capture paralysis and callousness in its responses to the disaster. Disengaged email correspondence as officials observe the gathering storm plays out on a screen. In two darkly comic sketches, "The President Flies Over," and one of Laura Bush addressing relocated Katrina families, Smith uses material from the Bushes' speeches to display their awkwardness and inability to relate to the families' plight.
Smith in Blood Dazzler does not lay any further blame on the state or federal government for the destruction and suffering caused by Katrina. Instead, she takes the tragedy to the mythological level. This may have been a false turn because it undercuts the real-life people and drama she has created so meticulously.
The segments telling of Katrina's tragic flaw as a nature deity nevertheless create vivid theater. The hurricanes, all named for letters of the alphabet, are siblings.  Here, the dancers are in a vertical line of brazen poses, and as they are named and characterized, they come forward to display the storm feature in which they specialize. "But none of them talked about Katrina," Smith relates, "She was their odd sister, the blood dazzler."  Betsey, elder sister, tall with aristocratic bearing, played by Tiffany Rachelle Stuart tells Katrina, "You got no whisper in you, do you girl? The idea was not to stomp it flat, 'trina."  "All you had to do was kiss the land with your thunderous lips and leave it stuttering."…. "I too enjoyed playing God for a minute. But unlike you, rash gal, I left some of my signature standing. I only killed what got in the way."  
Betsey's reproach wounds Katrina, and in Patterson's performance we see her ego deflated. Before Dazzler concludes, Katrina comes to awareness of how hunger for recognition and the brew of feminist and family issues fed her fury. "I was a rudderless woman in full tantrum," she says, "throwing my body against worlds I wanted. I never saw the harm of lending that ache. All I ever wanted to be was a wet, gorgeous mistake. A reason to crave shelter."
While for me the mythological drama did not add to the depiction of Hurricane Katrina, Smith's gift for creating stories and voices truly inspired the performers and audience, and is extraordinary wherever it touches down.

Francesca Harper Project
The Francesca Harper Project
Fifth Anniversary Season

©2010 Lorena Sandra
Archives: Vol.24 No.3

There is much to admire in the Francesca Harper Project, which performed at Joyce Soho June 4th, 5th and 6th, 2010. Harper, the principal choreographer and dancer, is a statuesque, forceful presence, who radiates not only power, but gentleness and positive energy. The company members are attractive and accomplished, and visually present a variety of shape, size and ethnicity.  Most important, they dance with energy and full-out commitment.  Also very full is the dance vocabulary, taken from ballet and modern techniques, mostly Horton-derived Ailey. In addition there are influences from Elizabeth Streb, Balanchine, and even Broadway shows, as the dancers reminisced autobiographically a la A Chorus Line while their greatly enlarged images were projected on a backdrop screen.
Harper's career includes performing as principal dancer in William Forsythe's Ballet Frankfurt from 1994-1999, during which time she also began choreographing.  In addition to creating an early work for the Holland Dance Festival, she has since done pieces for Alvin Ailey, Ailey II, Tanz Graz, Jacob's Pillow, the Cherry Lane Theatre, as well as her own company.   Many of these are collaborative, multi-media works that use video, song, poetry and spoken word.  Harper has also made recordings as a singer and lyricist.  Her multitude of talents, including music arrangement and composing, can add richness and depth to her dance pieces, but sometimes there is so much going on that the dance experience became diluted and less focused 
Such diffusion occurred least in two shorter pieces that were actually kind of mini-dramas, the premieres, Strangers on the A Train and Deliberate Joy.  Apparently only performed at the opening night benefit, these are both duets with Harper that included the collaboration and performance of two remarkable guest artists, Desmond Richardson and Ronald K. Brown.  Each piece had a definite focus which was reflected by its title, and the specific choreographic movements and structure.  The dancers performed these with a depth in the quality of their movements, whether it was a simple outstretched arm to the side with a turn of the wrist that swept to the front in the opener, Strangers, or the fast running chases, embraces, and jumps that occurred in Deliberate Joy during the second half of the program.  Strangers included some song and spoken word, but with enough judiciousness so that it added to rather than diminished the completeness of the dance.  Deliberate Joy featured the acting prowess of Harper and Brown, as they communicated the supportive nature of their relationship.
The other pieces were a couple of solos for Harper that primarily conveyed mood -- spiritualism in The Calling, and perhaps kind of a frantic longing in La Femme D'Amour. By the time this piece came on in the second half, there had already been numerous sequences containing clinging to and climbing along the back wall, runs, whole body contractions, jumps to the floor, and seemingly arbitrary displays of emotion.  At least this was my impression during a single, first viewing.
The ensemble numbers for the company tended to be fast, spiky, replete with motion, many falls to the floor, and chock full of numerous steps taken from different dance vocabularies. There were some slight variations among the different numbers, such as a very beautiful slow portion in Anthos, or the distinct solos of Bach Remixed (both also premieres).  In the Bach, there was an early solo on pointe that was charming, and charmingly danced, with perhaps a breath of parody that was a concession to our modern outlook.  This was followed by a broader parody that incorporated a number of Balanchinisms, such as jutting hips, flexed wrists and feet, depicting an outlook that became more contemporary as the piece progressed. The costumes were dark navy leotards (tights for the men) and short translucent skirts that had a stiff hem which made them stand away from the body, creating a 'modernesque' kind of tutu. During the dance there was a video backdrop of colorful, circular designs, and words that could be interpreted as either informative or intrusive.
Another group piece was Documotion – ONE -- Rave, which featured movements similar to those before, only with different costumes.  The dancers wore oversized jackets for some of the time, and then removed them to show touches of red and black over their body suits, a red ruffle here, and a single sleeve there.  There were more body gyrations than in some of the other works, lots of wall and floor activity. This dance had a very techno, hip feel in part because of the musical score that included steam engine pulsating sounds and squeals, the dancers' facial expressions, and the costumes.  There was also a nice deconstruction of certain movements, apparent when focusing on individual dancers, involving the head, shoulder and torso.
Chroma Style, which led off the 2nd half of the program, began with the ubiquitous video projection of an anguished couple.  Then the group entered, each dancer carrying a chair, which was lined up across the back of the stage.  The choreography was consistently high energy and aggressive, almost assault-like, in intention, and reminiscent of Elizabeth Streb's action figures.  There was a wonderful, surprising moment–after a black out, the dancers' reappeared sitting upright and quietly in their chairs, but this time they were arranged vertically on the stage.  Then the movement began again, one dancer at a time, gathering speed and energy, until the stage was all movement with a soloist in the center of them all.  Creating much orderly commotion, dancers and chairs flew speedily, and occasionally violently, across the floor.  This piece involved split second timing, and the dancers performed it admirably.
Wonderful moments occurred throughout, for instance, in the finale, Fearless Mine, when the power of the group as a whole could be felt.  The individuals all slowly repeated a gesture of hands, arms and body opening from the heart. Perhaps a complete dance built around such a movement theme would be most effective, rather than having too much of too many things in most of the ballets.

Sankai Juku
SANKAI JUKU
Mesmerized the Audience

©2010 Suzanne K Walther
Archives: Vol.24 No.4

Japanese culture is built on an elaborately developed reticent ritual perfected over a long history.  Ritual prescribes behavior and prevents spontaneous outbursts that might become violent.  Both extremely gentle and moderate behavior and the fierce destructive attitude of a Samurai warrior are parts of the Japanese temperament.  Anthropologist Ruth Benedict reflected this dichotomy when she titled her book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.
These contradictory feelings and temperaments permeate Japanese life and art, and especially the contemporary post-war dance genre called Butoh.Kazuo Ohno is a major figure who invented this dance form.  When he died recently he was a hundred and one years old.  For him war began with WW I. Later he experienced the devastation of WW II.  Those bombs that hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki created a deep awareness in the culture of how life can disappear in an instant leaving grotesquely frozen dead bodies and a lifetime of suffering for the survivors.   This all left a mark on Kazuo Ohno's new dance expression.
In spite of their well-defined native culture, the Japanese are also flexible and can quickly absorb foreign behavior and art forms.  To a great extent that characterizes the development of the Japanese aesthetic of Butoh, in response first to German Expressionism and subsequently to American modern dance and even European ballet.
The October 5, 2010 performance of Sankai Juku at the Joyce Theater resonated strongly with the audience. It is the best known Butoh Company here and also all over the world. Perhaps the western influences in Butoh resonated subconsciously with familiar meanings and emotions in the audience.  While the specific dramatic meaning of a Butoh episode is largely incomprehensible, the emotional intensity it communicates is universally understood.  Sankai Juku's performance of Tobari was presented without intermissions and executed with extreme discipline; the unusually bizarre and striking elements were tightly structured and controlled.  The length, continuity and slow tempo of both movement and accompaniment captivated the audience.
When the curtain went up, the stage was seen to be covered with white sand.  It is the custom of Sankai Juku, wherever they perform, to cover the stage with soft white sand that has been gathered in that particular locale: presumably Hudson River sand in this case.  Centered in the middle and surrounded by the sand, a large mirror-like gleaming black oval sparkled.  It created a separate but contiguous space that looked like a dark water-filled pond.  The lighting and costumes were unusual and powerful; there were many circular spotlights, flickering lights, semi-darkness and occasionally full illumination. The dancers are all male, with heads shaved and the entire body covered with white rice powder.  It is an unearthly image, as if the human body were inhabited by life and death simultaneously.  Often a long gauzy white skirt was worn, reaching the floor and hugging the lower body, or whirling outward as the dancer spun.  At other times the costume was a simple white loincloth giving maximum exposure to the dead-white skin.
Sankai Juku takes its themes from nature, from darkness and light and from birth to death.  The performance built upon itself continuously from beginning to end; an intermission would indeed have weakened its effect. The complete title of the piece, very aptly chosen, was TOBARY: As if in an inexhaustible flux.  Through the unaccustomed movements and the unearthly imagery, the choreography created a strikingly original physical philosophy of existence.  The use of the body was given a writhing, twisting, squirming and wriggling quality that nicely combined strength with feathery lightness. 
The first dancer to appear on stage when the lights came up was standing motionless. Then his knees and torso bent slightly and he lifted an arm high, crooked like a tree limb, and moved one finger.  A second and third dancer arrived, both with arms lifted; one moved fingers and hands, while the other in a large rounded movement created a fist.  This was a typical progression in Tobary : slow, precise, controlled and infinitesimal.   This gestural play unfolded slowly as more dancers arrived and the group moved around very quietly on bare feet, with bent knees and twisted bodies.   Occasionally their hands became predatorily claws. 
They changed formations as changing numbers of dancers appeared on stage. One group returned with very large earrings that contrasted strangely with the bald head.  The lifting and pointing of a toe was a dance event, perhaps accompanied by a dancer turning slowly around his own axis.  All of these various movement parts were skillfully woven together, creating a perfect harmony as the movement never stopped.  Clearly the dancers represented the inexhaustible variability of change that still always remains the same.  The action became more complicated; dancers fell on the floor and lay in a stiff pose, open-mouthed with one leg shooting upwards.   But the harmonious flow of the whole was never broken.   The movement, the slow musical accompaniment and the otherworldly scenery created a hypnotic effect.  The audience watched in complete silence, mesmerized, and I felt myself transfigured and transported to a mysterious realm.
There are ideas for which there is no verbal explanation; they exist only and entirely as a feeling in the body.  Such an idea is physically perceived through muscular empathy and visual immediacy.  It goes beyond ordinary logic, transcending its rigid rules and reaching for the impossible.
Company founder, dancer and artistic director Ushio Amagatsu, in an interview translated from the Japanese, explained the basis of his creation through the meaning of the word tobari.   In ordinary usage it refers to a thin veil that partitions a space.  Its symbolic meaning encompasses all tenuous distinctions between closely related realms: the moment between day and night; between life and death and perhaps resurrection.  It is a time that we are aware of, but in our present awareness we grasp it as a reality coming to us from the past.  It is like the interwoven time and space implied when we look at the stars and know that their twinkle is from the past though we see it as a present occurrence.  It is a cultural affinity for all-inclusiveness that allows for perceiving and accepting reality from conflicting perspectives, a perspective that is unfamiliar and difficult in the strictly linear thinking that is more familiar to us.  Amagatsu finished his interview with a remark that illuminates his creative drive: "For me, impression is more important than comprehension."   The striking impressions Sankai Juku create in Tobary remain with us and we remember them clearly, even though their complex meanings remain beyond verbal explanation.

Paul-André Fortier
Paul-André Fortier
On the Edge in New York City

©2010 Elizabeth McPherson
Archives: Vol.24 No.3

The Canadian choreographer from Montreal, Paul-André Fortier, danced his 30 minute solo 30x30 on 30consecutive days at 12 noon in New York City from July 16-August 14, 2010. The solo, performed outside at One New York Plaza, was part of the River to River Festival and was co-presented by The Joyce Theatre and Arts Brookfield Properties.
At the Wednesday, August 4 performance, the weather was steamy and windy. Fortier's stage space was defined by a square taped in white, and he performed to all sides of the square – no designated front. He wore a white long-sleeved shirt, black pants, black socks, and black shoes. The accompaniment to the dance was ambient city sound – an occasional siren, cars squeaking and screeching, wind whipping around the tall buildings, a helicopter flying by, cell phones ringing, and people chattering. The audience was mostly sitting on the stone tiles adjacent to the performance square, but some were also standing or sitting on the ledge of a planter. There were audience members who had clearly come to see the performance, and others had just happened upon it. Some were eating lunch; some were walking by and then stopped for a minute or two to take in the unusual event; one person dozed off and on; several took photos; a maintenance worker swept up trash. There were both children and adults of various ages, and even a dog on a leash.
The dance fit beautifully into the city surroundings. Fortier moved with a fluid, natural rhythm, showing terrific stamina in dancing for 30 minutes in direct sun at close to 90 degrees. Repeated movement motifs included: swinging arms that accelerated and decelerated with the wind speed; a hail and farewell-like gesture with an uplifted arm; a 1st arabesque-type movement with crisp vertical and horizontal lines; an unfolding and giving gesture with the arms; karate-like arm movements accompanied by sharp audible exhales; and a repeated movement of dropping his head and picking it up with his hands as if it were not attached to his body, and then running. There was constant strong contrast with changing levels and moving at different tempos. Perhaps my favorite moments of the dance were two that reminded me of tight-rope walking, and specifically the great tight-rope walker Philippe Petit. At one point Fortier looked as if he were trying not to fall off the edge of a building looking down over the edge and out as Petit did in preparing for his tight-rope walk between the Twin Towers. There was another moment in which Fortier appeared to be walking a tight rope with intense concentration as he placed one foot carefully in front of the other. The dance ended with Fortier repeating his hail and farewell gesture with the right arm up over his head as he approached the audience on each side of the square and looked different people in the eye. He then backed up out of the square to much applause. How wonderful to see dance out in the environment of the city, becoming part of the landscape!
Too many times, I attend modern dance performances and see that the audience is largely made up of other modern dancers plus a few friends and family members. This insular experience of modern dance where dancers are mostly dancing for each other separates dance from the general public. Taking dance out of the theatres, to people who might not make a visit to see dance in a theatre is an important part of developing and continuing to develop pubic appreciation for the art form, which will strengthen and deepen its significance in our culture.

Young Asian Choreographers
Young Asian Choreographers
at Yangtze Repertory Theater

©2010 David Lipfert
Archives: Vol.24 No.3

For its eleventh showcase for new Asian dance, Yangtze Repertory Theater of America offered a trio of world premieres.  This edition called Bubbles: Variations in a Foreign Land opened on September 17th smack in the middle of New York's East Asian community at Flushing Town Hall's spacious auditorium in Queens. Three works by young Korean transplants to the US with three quite different approaches to dance composition made for a varied evening.
In All My Socks Have Holes Eun Jung Choi used a multi-media approach to revealing how longer-term expat's memory transforms itself over time.  As primary illustration she became narrator who began to tell of being in the US as a student and hearing news that her parents at home suffered severe injuries in a car accident.  Several restarts of the story were each subtly different and formulated in increasingly removed language.  She began the piece with partner Guillermo Ortega tossing her wool socks with large holes, per her descriptive notes to symbolize holes in how events are remembered.  Choi is a formalist by training and here tended toward an abstract vocabulary.  So while it was tempting to match her movements with the specificities of the text and notes, it became a frustrating exercise.  One motif stood out--her arms locked in a rigid oval that after several twists became a self embrace.  Ortega's more angular oval was more amenable to fluid passages.  Often they stood angled against each other, but this served to emphasize Choi's lack of emotional content.  One  moment when the two were seated together blowing bubbles may have contributed to the evening's subtitle, Bubbles.  Toward the end the dancers changed from a casual green dress for her and short-sleeved patterned shirt and maroon slacks for him to aqua stretch versions of same.  Throughout Federico Restrepo's lighting, a video counterpart to the dancers greatly enhanced the presentation.  Alban Bailly contributed a sound score resembling electronically enhanced seagull cries and occasionally joined Choi and Ortega in a pose.  But ultimately there were not enough ideas to sustain the thirty-five minute length.
Eunhee Lee tried for less in her sketch Mothers, but achieved more.  Three ages were on view beginning with a young girl in a spiffy white dress sliding backwards across the darkened stage.  As she passed the projection light, her silhouette briefly traveled across the rear as well.  A young mother (Lee) wore a black top and hiked up red skirt. She is joined by a chunkier dancer in white dress who represented her mother in this trio. In this piece men and women voiceovers in Spanish and English about love and motherhood plus Grace Jaeyun Shin's video on similar theme almost overshadowed the dancers.  But with Lee's vocabulary and concepts in line with Movement Research, the overall feel was relaxed and natural.  A few moments in quick tempo provided welcome contrast from Lee's mostly languid concept to show the interrelatedness and role exchangeability among the three women onstage.  Toward the end there was a moment of pure joy with shots of Manhattan Chinatown grandmothers playing cards outdoors.
Jung Woong Kim picked the theme of life from conception to birth seen from the vantage of the parents.  Atop three dancers, bass player Joshua Morris lay with his golden bass making a crest as stand-in for a mother's characteristic later-term bulge.  As the performers gradually extricated themselves, movements were mostly slow and deliberate.  Kim, in white top and white quilted pants by Laura Quattrocchi, frequently leaned shoulder to shoulder against Marion Ramirez in the reverse of Lee's costume.  Joshua Bisset in dark blue tunic over black pants added a third compositional element for Lee's combinations and interactions that often achieved great beauty.  In one interesting sequence to represent movements inside the womb, the three dancers trotted in a circle, each in turn collapsing at the touch of the preceding one.  Here Lee as director didn't or, wasn't able to get his same released fall and springy recovery in his colleagues.  Morris added interesting accompaniments in this largely silent piece but Restrepo's combination side and focused lighting truly made this piece shine.

Hawaiian Dance
Hawaiian Dance with
Luana Haraguchi

©2010 Elizabeth McPherson
Archives: Vol.24 No.3

Luana Haraguchi presented a lecture demonstration in Hawaiian Dance at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City on August 4, 2010. She was accompanied by one adult, Rose Golez, and two children, Katie Sauer age 6 and Brigita Bryant age 10 – all accomplished Hula dancers. They wore skirts or dresses with bell-shaped skirts, leis around their necks, and wreaths of leaves on their heads, with bare feet. Hula is included this summer at the National Museum of the American Indian because Hawaii being a part of the United States means that its native people are Native Americans, explained Haraguchi.
Haraguchi began by teaching us all the word Aloha that, depending on context, means hello, goodbye, love,  and breathe of life. One can only wish that every language had such a glorious word. She explained that there was no written language on the islands of Hawaii many, many years ago so that family genealogy, history, and legends were passed down through Hula. It is the hands that tell the story, much like sign language. Hands together in front of the body, opening out and up refer to the sky. Hands together then opening straight out refer to the land. And wavy arms in front refer to the ocean.
Haraguchi also introduced some of the percussion and wind instruments that are used to accompany Hula: gourds with seeds that rattle, a rock on a string that whistles when twirled, rocks used between the fingers much like castanets, and a bamboo instrument that one blows. Singing also accompanies the dances, and Haraguchi sang with each dance segment.
The Hula dancers presented two dances, with the audience learning a dance in between the more formal presentations. The dancers and audience members worked with a basic foot pattern of stepping on the right foot with the left foot touching in front as the right hip extends right. Knees are soft and bent at all times. The steps are reversed and then repeated. In the dances shown, while another step pattern might be interjected, the dancers keep returning to the basic pattern. The movements are fluid, with accents here and there, but nothing sharp or too direct. It has a feel like the rippling of the ocean.
There were two camp groups at this lecture demonstration along with around 40 other people of varying ages spread out in the rotunda of the museum. Haraguchi directed groups of the camp children to stand up and learn parts of one dance, inviting other audience members to join them as they liked, although only a couple of non-camp children from the audience did. The foot pattern was the basic one described previously with arms added in to tell a story -- one arm lifted at a time, and then two, softly opening and folding. (Frankly, I would like to have understood more clearly what the dance meant.) Haraguchi corrected the children saying, "Do not forget the feet as you concentrate on the arms!" She also noted that hula is "simple to learn, but difficult to master." The children she brought with her have already been studying for several years.
At the end of the session, Haraguchi took questions from the audience and participants. One student asked if she had been doing the dance correctly. Haraguchi answered, "If it was from your heart, then yes." Another child asked what kinds of costumes men would wear to dance the hula. Haraguchi replied that today men wear shirts and pants, but many years ago, they would have worn the same costume as the women – an intricately designed skirt.
The lecture demonstration seemed to captivate the audience, both children and adults alike. I enjoyed seeing the educational format with much give and take between performers and audience. In this type of setting, one can learn and be a part of another culture if only briefly, instead of merely looking at it from the outside.


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