Since Thursday, I have officially seen work by 18 discrete artists, companies, or collaborators, and it’s not even over yet.  Here’s a preemptive recap.

Best art-imitates-life moment: Jack Ferver’s mock q&a, when he referred to the “American Producers’ Association of… Producers.”

Most excellent use of multimedia: Live music.  Unfortunately, this reflects that I see too much canned-music dance and not enough fully integrated multimedia work, but how often do any of us get to see a real collaboration between choreographer and composer?   Dancemaker Morgan Thorson and Brooklyn band LOW’s Heaven, in an encore presentation at PS122, so equally and seamlessly integrated the two arts that it almost felt like a new genre.  On the other hand, the work in progress presented by dancers Nora Chipaumire and Souleymane Badolo with master drummer Obo Addy reminded me that music and dance should be produced simultaneously, in conversation with each other.  It’s timeless.  If only it could happen more often.

Most embarrassing diplomacy failure: The denial of WCdance performance visas.   In a program announcement for the Japan Society’s Contemporary Dance Showcase, Artistic Director Yoko Shioya explained that the Taiwanese dancers were not granted visas because Immigration does not consider them “skilled in performing a culturally unique art form which is unique to a particular country, nation, society, class, ethnicity, religion, tribe, or other group of persons,” nor did the performers qualify as “internationally recognized artists.”  This is the first time in the 13-year history of the Showcase that this has occurred.  From Shioya’s announcement:

The whole process was an unfortunate development.  It is difficult to document traces of cultural origin in contemporary dance, although they certainly exist.  As for the criteria of “international recognition,” it is precisely the aim of our Contemporary Dance Showcase to expose emerging East Asian dance companies to international audiences, some for the first time.  I hope that the rejection of the company’s visa does not portend a pattern of shutting doors to emerging artists from abroad.

Most fun way to process the dizzying array of performances: Enter Urgent Artist’s APAP Challenge!  Submit your one-sentence reviews to the Urgent Artist blog, then wait for the glories of champion-hood to find you.

I am now utterly exhausted with lists and recaps.  A more in-depth post on the Japan Society event is in the works, but in the meantime, what have you been seeing?

Fairy Tales, Part One: Peter Stoneley and Midsummer Night’s Dream

I’ve been thinking about fairy tales a lot recently.  In December, I read Peter Stoneley’s Queer History of Ballet, a frustratingly incomplete account of queer resonance in and around ballet.  It’s disappointing that the author doesn’t explore much of the 20th century, focusing instead on the era when people remained in the closet.  His entire text hangs on suggestion; this is one of the least gay books “about” queerness I have ever read.

I’m hoping that richer scholarship will be laid on top of Stoneley’s work, but there are some gems.  One highlight is his section on fairies– a point of convergence for ballet and homo culture.

Stoneley offers a brief history of the fairy in lore and art, from the three Greek Fates to a race of enchanted Others unable to join human society.  He contrasts the Romantics’ celebration of these nature-beings to the Victorians’ repulsion by their excesses, framing the ballets of these periods in that context.  Then, consider:

There have been many points in the fairy’s history where the idea of the fairy might seem to correspond to modern stereotypes of homosexuality.  Homosexuals have often been seen as dangerously and excessively sexual.  The homosexual could be identified in the same way as the fairy.  Much as she moves her hands quickly to hide the fact that her fingers are all joined together, the homosexual too may be over-expressive, as he tries to divert and attract attention at the same time.  Homosexuals have their special places; they are supposed to love to dance, and they are preoccupied with ‘glamour’.*  They are thought to lament over and to revel in their difference.  And so on.

Stoneley doesn’t just present the fairy character as a convenient site of cross-identification for gay men; the ballerina herself, princess or fairy, served this role and has been the subject of male impersonation for at least a century before the Trocks.  He indicates that the fairy is also– beautiful and grotesque, pleasure-seeking but lacking conscience– a potential symbol for the “curse” of homosexuality itself at this time.  The love that dare not speak its name was confined to whatever joys could be attained in shadowed secrecy, and Stoneley cites Hans Christian Andersen’s** The Ice Maiden (later balletified to The Fairy’s Kiss or Le Baiser de la fee) as a strong contender for this reading of the fairy.

* “Glamour” is the “power that causes one to see the fairies as they wish to be seen.”
**Andersen himself was apparently a lifelong ballet patron and friend of Bournonville.


By coincidence, a friend lent me The Fairy Tales of Herman Hesse while I was still reading Stoneley, then my mother received a collection of Grimm’s stories for Christmas.  It started to feel like fairy tales were seeking me out.  I’ll post more on these texts later, but for now I’d rather focus on New York City Ballet’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, which opened Wednesday night.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (C) Paul Kolnik

One of the “fairy-est” ballets I can think of, Balanchine’s version tells Shakespeare’s fantasy/comedy from the perspective of the winged creatures; humans are mere interruptions (and opportunities for mischief).  Appropriately, it is Puck who narrates the action in the trailer for the current production.

When I first saw the ballet, I was struck by the fairies’ specific movement characterization.  Fluttering, twinkling arms fill the stage in the opening scene, setting Midsummer immediately apart from Balanchine’s linear modern works and grand classical tributes.   No doubt his intention was to convey magic and flight rather than webbed-fingered outcasts, but he certainly nailed “other.”

Of course, Balanchine’s “other” is spectacularly beautiful, and according to the rules of classicism, the ballet moves from chaos to harmony, enchanted forest to civilized wedding.  The central pas de deux of the first act exploits the mismatched adorations of Queen Titania for the donkey and he for a nibble of grass.  It’s comic gold, but in the second act this frivolity must be put aside.  True love– the kind that inspires lifelong commitment– is the subject of the second act duet, a divertissement danced by an entirely new couple free of any misguided wanderings in the forest.  Yet Balanchine (following Shakespeare) slips in a twist at the end: the festivities fade and the stage is transformed again to the darkened wood.  We return to the realm of the fairies.  King and queen reconcile then exit, but Puck—like a magnet for activity—draws the other fairies to him before rising into the sky.  It is, after all, his impish logic that reigns here.

Movement Research Kicks Off 2010

The first Movement Research showing of the new year was packed; there was a line around the block despite the freezing weather.  I chatted with a young Austin dancer living in town for ADF’s winter intensive, and she explained that many in the audience were students in her workshop.  They were so excited to come to Judson Church for a taste of New York dance– which warmed my heart if not my toes.

It was a good night for a full house, since the showings were particularly strong.  Artist-in-Residence Jillian Pena put 4 women in pastel 80’s dancewear, set them up behind a backlit glass set (a two-way mirror, it would seem), and ultimately paired them with members of the audience– including Circus Amok’s Jennifer Miller.  With headphones providing prompts, volunteers performed on the fly with the rehearsed dancers, which was a fun way to start the evening and welcome the audience.

Molly Lieber and Eleanor Smith later performed with the same intriguing counterpoint I saw in their work at The Tank, working again with live musicians Aaron Harris and Yos Munro.  I am really loving this team.

Tadashi Kato has an interesting movement quality, though I was not drawn in by his airy choreography or soundscape of buzzwords like “intolerance” and “ecological destruction.”

The surprise treat of the evening came with the closing duet by Jennifer Monson and Yvonne Meier, announced just last week.   They’ve been dancing together since before I was born, and they are undeniably master artists.  Monday they were particularly silly, and their goofy movement intelligence drew plenty of cheers when they finished.

End of Year Reflections

Inspired by the endless best-of-2009 lists, decade-wrap-ups, and Evan’s own recap on Dancing Perfectly Free, I thought I’d take a stab at my favorite dance events of the past year.  There is so much that I missed, so in addition to being highly subjective, this list is also woefully incomplete.  But enough apologies, onto the praises!

Yanira Castro’s Dark Horse/Black Forest presented by PS122.  This work absolutely knocked me over– twice in a row.  Set in the bathroom of the Gershwin Hotel, two extraordinary dancers (Heather Olson and Joseph Paulson or Luke Miller and Darrin Wright) made us terribly uncomfortable by sharing intimate moments with us.  I learned the joys of having a performance invade my personal space, and I had the absolute pleasure of writing about it for the Rail.  It will be presented at the Skirball Center ladies’ room at Dance Gotham 2010, January 9 and 10.

Laura Peterson Choreography’s Forever. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

Laura Peterson’s Choreography’s Forever at DNA.  So much that I loved about formal dance in one clean performance.  Danceviewtimes ran a fantastic review in February.  Laura Peterson Choreography’s newest work, Wooden, will be shown January 12-13 at HERE Arts Center in a shared program with Johari Mayfield, and you can catch another look at Forever at the APAP showcase at DNA.

Ursula Endlicher’s Website Impersonations at Center for Performance Research.  Another dance installation that worked its way under my skin, the piece exposed the fundamentals of human learning and understanding by reflecting the virtual world.  The butoh-trained dancers were phenomenally intelligent and mature.  My review for the Rail is here.

Kate Weare Company at Danspace Project.  This was my first brush with these artists, and I was utterly enraptured, my memory of the show a blur.  The choreographic craft, understated power of the dancers (Jennifer Nugent’s devastating presence hangs in my consciousness), and musical cohesiveness combined to produce an emotionally weighted, deeply satisfying evening.  I left feeling that I had witnessed something divine.  Deborah Jowitt’s thoughts are here.

jill sigman/thinkdance's ZsaZsaLand. Photo by Gary Chou.

It’s wonderful, if not that common, that a show’s ambitious concept is fully realized.  I saw the revival of John Jasperse Company’s Becky, Jodi and John at DTW, which considered aging and art-making with humor and sensitivity.  There was a strange delicateness to it that seemed perfectly appropriate.  Read Claudia La Rocco’s thoughts on the first production.  Totally of-the-moment was jill sigman/thinkdance’s ZsaZsaLand at Office Ops, a brightly-colored, darkly-familiar celebration of excess and denial in response to the economic meltdown, war, and related crises.   I wrote about it here, and you can read Deborah Jowitt’s view here.  Finally, Dan Safer/Witness Relocation’s The Panic Show at DNA was delightfully spot-on dance theater exploring anxiety, and hilarious to boot.  If you missed it, there will be another showing at the APAP showcase at DNA.

Aside from the dancers mentioned already, I wanted to give a little space to three more: Judith Sanchez Ruiz, Jodi Melnick, and Natalia Osipova.  I saw Sanchez Ruiz in REPLICA, a duet with Jonah Bokaer for the LMCC Sitelines series this summer.  Both are fluid, clean, “quiet” dancers, absolutely beautiful movers with a post-modern clarity stripped of flash (Bokaer cut his teeth with Merce Cunningham, Sanchez Ruiz is in Trisha Brown’s company).  Sanchez Ruiz has a touch of bounce that distinguishes her from Bokaer, as if a rubber ball was in her body– but softly!  The bounce pours from her face, eyes and mouth in a way that is not “emotive” but pure dance.  It’s enthralling.  She was named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” for 2010, and will be performing solo work at Danspace Project this February in a shared program with Souleymane Badolo. Jodi Melnick performed at The Kitchen before gracing John Jaspere’s show at DTW.  Claudia La Rocco’s NYT review captures some of the subtlety and magic of her movement.  And it may come as no surprise that I adored guest artist Natalia Osipova’s ABT performances this spring, particularly Giselle.  I wrote a short preview for the Rail anticipating her US debuts, but Alastair McCauley’s review confirms that she nailed it (Giselle, at least).  Robert Gottlieb praises her here.  This summer, we’ll finally get to see her Don Quixote, and she’ll dance the lead in Sleeping Beauty as well.

A few honorable mentions– first to Vanessa Anspaugh, whom I saw at Food for Thought at Danspace, and blogged about here. Her work will be performed at DTW’s Fresh Tracks in February.  Second, to Molly Lieber and Eleanor Smith at the Tank, to whom I devoted an extensive post on this site.  They will perform at Movement Research at Judson Church on January 4.  Third, to Christopher Williams for the scale of The Golden Legend at DTW (my response is here; Deborah Jowitt wrote a great piece for the Voice).  Finally, to Mark Morris’s Romeo and Juliet, for the exquisite music (and, I concede, I had a soft spot for his gender-bending Mercutio and Tybalt).   Like many, I love Prokofiev’s familiar 1940 score, but to hear the 1935 version, sweeter and somehow richer, blossoming from the orchestra pit was an experience I am glad not to have missed.

Whew!  What a year.  I’ll look forward to catching some of what I missed at APAP and PS122’s COIL Festival in January.

Jeremy Wade Interview

I’m thrilled to announce that my interview with Jeremy Wade was published yesterday on Critical Correspondence.  Manga, butoh, ecstasy, dismembering the audience…  read it here!  Then catch his show at Japan Society this weekend.  I can’t wait to see it.

Short Takes

Tere O’Connor at Dance Theater Workshop. Gina Performa asked me for my autograph, a cheeky start to a fun evening.  I wrote a short review for the Urgent Artist here.  Even shorter version: O’Connor makes good dances.  And the piece looked like something I’d see at BAM.

Kinetic Cinema: Liquid Films. Great mix of art classics, historical footage, and new work.  Dancers performing in water seems to beg for nudity.

Words on Dance at the Paley Center for Media. Film of Evelyn Cisneros interviewing Maria Tallchief in 1998.  It is obvious why the world (and George Balanchine) fell for Maria Tallchief– what grace and charisma!  What undeniable American charm!  Plus snippets of her dancing onstage and in MGM’s Million Dollar Mermaid… speaking of liquid dance films, I should watch more Esther Williams.

Bill T. Jones at The Joyce.  Overly institutional (comissioned for the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth).  I wanted more challenges– this is a piece about American history, no?  No passion or urgency here.  I miss Jones’s physical presence onstage.

Ursula Endlicher at The New School. The room was all wrong– a terrible space for interactive work.  None in the audience took up Endlicher’s proposal that we dance with the performers.  Perhaps because we would have had to climb over solid rows of desks to get there.

Maura Donohue curates Food for Thought at Danspace Project. A highlight of my week– high theatrics from Monstah Black, utter hilarity from GogGoVertigoat, and a high-energy finale by Jamal Jackson Dance Company.  I’m particularly grateful to have seen Vanessa Anspaugh’s We Are Weather; its beautifully spun relationships are still with me.

Mari Osanai and Yuko Kaseki, CAVE New York Butoh Festival at Dance New Amsterdam. The festival has moved into a new phase (butoh-khan) and I have moved, ever subtly, from total befuddlement to the faintest glimmers of connection (if not understanding) regarding butoh.  I hope to compose a longer post.

Inside and Outside the Institution: Curating, Producing, Presenting panel discussion at Center for Performance Research. Invigorating discussion of new media work, if the title was deceptive.  “Inside the Institution” was present in full force, though one of those institutions was the young, experimental venue EMPAC.  “Outside the Institution” was implied, at best.  At least someone from 3LD or even PS122 could have been included?  Still, a great start to a Sunday.  I’ve been compelled to seek out new media events ever since.

PERFORMA 09 presents Anne Collod’s Anna Halprin. I have not yet been disappointed by the Judsonites.  Heady and unsatisfying as the work can seem on paper, I am convinced, from the snippets of new work and recreations I have seen, that those artists were nothing short of brilliant.  Then, one always wonders, how much has changed in the decades that have passed?

Speaking of the Judson pioneers, I did not see Deborah Hay and Yvonne Rainer, perhaps my personal most anticipated dance event of the season.  I am trying to stay Zen about it.  What’s done is done.

Sara Joel’s Dance, Film, and Body

This summer I had my first encounter with Sara Joel, seeing her solos Enfold and Surface at the SummerDANZ: Emerging Artists program at DTW, and getting another look at Surface at the Solar Powered Dance Series at Solar One.  Her work stood out at both events.  Joel is an artist who excels at making beautiful, simple art whose focus is her own pregnant body.

Tonight I finally saw her 2007 film collaboration with Jody Oberfelder, Rapt (cinematography and editing by Leslie Avery Gould), at Kinetic Cinema’s Liquid Films evening curated by Amy Greenfield.  I am fascinated by my own fascination with her; there is nothing complicated about her movements or concepts– in a lot of ways they’re downright conventional– but there’s something undeniably compelling in her swirling, swimming, swinging imagery.

In the film screened tonight, Joel is underwater in a silky, trailing red dress, and as in Enfold, her pregnancy is not immediately apparent.  The bold garment shifts from a cloud around her to an umbilical cord to a shedding skin, and in the last images, she gathers together a rose from its petals (shot in reverse) then releases the pieces to float to the surface.

Depending on your view, her’s could be a hopelessly outdated, idealized vision of femininity, or an empowering testament to the grace and creative potential of the female body.  My critical, studied eye sees Woman-as-Womb, Body-as-Vessel (reject! reject! down with patriarchal concepts and Rousseau’s Sophie!) and Joel does situate the pregnant form in otherworldy, “nature” realms: the air and the water.  But the work also rejects our Western medicalization of the body and its functions.  She doesn’t really do anything dangerous, but there is a touch of “fuck you, hospitalized birth and fear-induced epidurals” to hanging from the ceiling upside-down with a third trimester belly popping out.

But what I think really makes it all work is that it isn’t so overtly political or goddess-worshipping.  She’s a dancer (former Cirque du Soleil) making dances that are informed by her own body’s talents and capabilities.  Short, soft movement poems of roundness and life.

This Friday: Tough Decisions

One of the best and most frustrating things about living in New York is that the realm of cool stuff to do and see is so much wider than the realm of what can be done.  Even for dance.  This Friday is coming at me like a speeding train, and I am indecisive in the face of so many options!  Competing for my attention (and yours?) are:

Food For Thought at St Marks Church
Danspace’s food drive series, just in time for Thanksgiving, is just $5 with two cans of food (or $10 without).  On Friday, the passionate and multi-talented Maura Donohue curates.  I am not familiar with all of the artists, but I’ve been curious to get another look at Monstah Black since his studio showing at DTW.

60×60 Dance at the World Financial Center Winter Garden
One-minute dances by 60 choreographers.  The Urgent Artist tipped me off about this series here (scroll down).  It sounds refreshing.

Facebook User Labor Enactments by Ursula Endlicher at the New School’s The Internet as Playground and Factory Conference on Digital Labor
I know that’s a mouthful, and visiting those links may or may not illuminate what it is that is actually going on.  I just know that I saw Endlicher’s last show (reviewed here in the Rail) and I want to catch as much as I can before she jets out of New York and off to Japan for her next installation.  The New School performance starts at 6:00 PM.

Performance Club goes to Cycatrix Aptitude at 100 Grand St
I hate to miss PClub events (though I do, often), and Claudia’s phrase “Psychopoetic Romanian Vaudeville” is so appealing.  But I’d still need to RSVP.
Here’s hoping some of you may decide to spend your Friday evening at one of these events, so I cannot see them all.
Update: The Ursula Endlicher event is at 66 West 12th, Room 404.  Admission is free but you must register.

New Works at The Tank: Molly Lieber and Eleanor Smith

When the lights went out on Molly Leiber and Eleanor Smith’s Blanket Saturday night at The Tank, you could feel the collective “wow” coursing through the audience.  Quietly but undeniably expressive, Blanket was a work of absorbing beauty and unexpected power.

There were no interpretive notes or explanations in the program, but the title implications were clear in performance: connection, comfort, physical contact.  Separation anxiety.  Blurred boundaries of self—are we separate, or are we one?  Is a body whole, or a part?  The dancers were inextricable halves, whether actively touching, dancing in unison, or maintaining counterpoint while unable to see one another.

Equally essential to Blanket was another pair, musicians Aaron Harris and Yos Munro of the Brooklyn band Steel Phantoms.  Using silence, ambient electronic hums, wordless vocalization, shimmering percussion, claps, and bursts of full, toe-tapping and head-bobbing music, sound fit dance like a glove.  Harris and Munro’s connection to each other mirrored the dancers’ relationship, and they remained exquisitely attuned to the stage.

That stage bore sultry, casual bodies.  They began on opposite sides of the stage, slumped against the wall, but came together to pose.  Positions didn’t call attention to their own performativity, by quoting beauty pageants or dance technique manuals.  Instead, they made simple, pleasing shapes, interesting on their own but also loaded with shades of dependence—at once tender and uncomfortable.  When they separated, the space between them was charged with those tensions.  Their outstretched arms drifted toward each other without ever reaching directly.  When dancing together in a swell of sound, they moved as one.

I was repeatedly struck by their choreographic craft.  Meaning poured through the formalism, and action was nonchalant, neither pedestrian nor dancerly.  Gaze and focus for each body were brilliantly chosen.  Their movements were often loose at the joints, sculpted in their path through space, and totally engrossing.  My mind’s eye is still flooded with striking images: the back-to-back contrast of slumped plie and arched releve like yin and yang; one sweeping the other across the stage by her arms, as she twisted, legs glued like a mermaid, across the floor on her belly; stacked bodies rowing and pedaling; two straight backs, a foot apart, adjoined to circling arms that overlapped like teeth on gears; figures on opposite corners, making a micro-adjustment in sync (did anyone else see that??)

When they grabbed each others’ shoulders—a messy, lunged action—it felt extreme.  A raw emotional outburst in a dance otherwise restrained by suggestion.   Immediately it was tempered by repetition and form.  The dancers veered in diagonal, suspended in a needy, groping action that, failing to escalate, regained its essence as composition.  Dance with a capital D.

The carefully balanced dynamic had been shaken, though.  Soon after, one of the bodies just gave out, or gave up.  The other, with childlike denial and desperation, manipulated her like a ragdoll through the final passages.  It was funny (some laughed) but also sad, and scary.  Insistent on continuing, she looked frustrated by loss even while testing mischievous limits of the control she now exercised over the other’s actions.  Finally, a whisper into her ear brought the dancer faintly back (first her eyes opened, then she consented to the last simple movements).  This uneasy resurrection, pregnant with unanswered questions, ended the show.

Brooklyn Rail Is Out! Plus, Richard Foreman’s Star, Ladies, and Ducks

Check out the Brooklyn Rail online or grab a copy at your coffee shop or independent bookstore!  I can point you to some places to find it in print; just leave a comment if you need direction.

Also, reviews for Richard Foreman’s Idiot Savant are starting to pop up (see New York Times, Huffington Post, and Epoch Times).  I was very fortunate to catch see a preview/rehearsal of the production two weeks ago at the Public, and walked out in a fog of happy bewilderment.  Foreman’s work is largely opaque to me, yet its completeness is fascinating.  Though this play is, by all accounts, deeply concerned with language, it is highly physical as well.  Willem Dafoe stars as the title character, weighted against two sensual women and a small ensemble of male (and duck) bodies.  Alenka Kraigher is riveting– a suspended, ethereal, cooing presence– while Elina Löwensohn is her earthier, spunkier rival.

Supposedly, it’s Foreman’s last show, so catch it if you can.  Idiot Savant runs through December 13.