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Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Contemporary Four”

Place a Chill

I have been avoiding writing this and just figured out why:  I don’t want to write about any of the dances except for Marco Goecke’s Place a Chill, and I just realized that I don’t have to!

The Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Contemporary Four featured four choreographies by four different choreographers:

Pacific (Lou Harrison/Mark Morris)
Place a Chill** (Camille Saint-Saëns/Marco Goecke)
The Piano Dance (Cage, Chopin, Ginastera, Bartok, Ligeti/Paul Gibson)
Concerto DSCH* (Dmitri Shostakovich/Alexei Ratmansky)
*PNB Premiere     **World Premiere

The first and third pieces were pretty much cruising altitude for contemporary ballet.  The fourth piece, Concerto DSCH was excellent and exhibited superior creativity and scope. This talented choreographer stands apart from the first and third and, yes, the pas de deux was ever so moving.  There was quite a bit of commentary on communist pageantry in Soviet Russia, like an opening celebration performance for an Olympics in a socialist country.  The soloist in blue bounced about with such virility and energy that I supposed her to, quite literally, symbolize youth.  The male dancer in the orange shorts suit actually did bounce; jumping up and down in place as dancers “ballet’d” (hmm…should totally be a verb), around him.  This stirred the inner whimsy as he seemed to be a weightless ball of pure optimism, light-hearted, and confident.  There was a sense of the “whole” throughout, with groups entering and exiting, executing their movements as if one mind with broad, sweeping arms, large jumps and a loyal commitment to the music.

 

Place a Chill

1.  It’s not ballet, which is the reason I couldn’t compare it to the other pieces.   It’s avant garde modern dance ( for lack of a better designation since, dance, unlike literature and art, just keeps calling anything that’s not ballet, modern or jazz). I love that his choreographies are being performed by ballet companies and next to ballets.

2.  The piece was inspired by the cello player playing the music that is used in the dance.  See PNB’s article.

3.  The lighting was on purpose.  It changed the boundaries of performance.  There was no longer just offstage and onstage.  Dancers moved from a void to a void.  There was no longer the usual beginning and end to a dancer’s stint in front of the audience, rather; bodies moved through circular darkness; in and out of space carved by light.  The dancers were not traditionally lit, often giving the impression of rapidly flitting shadows and flecks of expression illuminated and then lost.  The audience was not permitted the usual full, raw and direct lighting of the dancer and movement, which caused a considerable amount of agitation, confirmed by rustling, coughing, shifting and whispering.

4.  The sixty some black chairs that fell from the rafters were, surely, a nod to the recently deceased Pina Bausch, a member of the Tanztheater who used chairs in many of her choreographies, most notably, Café Muller, where chairs are thrown and pushed out of the way of a sleepwalking woman.

5.  The movements were precise, meticulous and in sync.  Some say it looked like insects cleaning themselves in unison-  it is true that the dancers were exhibiting what seemed to be inhuman, rapid gestures.   The shaking hands and constant arm movement are compelling because in ballet, and most dance, the legs are the workhorses, and the arms accentuate; that is, the legs and feet are usually the focus from intricate foot work to big jumps.  In this piece, the arms and hands did most of the work, shooting out spasms, jitters, winds and juts with rapid fire speed. Sometimes, it looked similar to when a dancer is marking a piece- when a dancer is going over movements in his/her head and allowing the hands and arms to absentmindedly “go over” the movements.  Sometimes, the wrist movements looked like cello player warm ups.

6.  The piece was not “beautiful”, “pastoral”  or romantic.  It was an anti-ballet.  Its purpose was not to separate the dance from the audience as contemporary ballet cannot help so politely doing.  It was dark, disturbing in its perpetual, cellular yawp, and just morosely raw,  revealing the dehumanization and apathy thereto prevalent in our conventions, industrializations, habits, social patterns and even our art; accentuating the impossibility of originality or uniqueness, by always having a duet be mirrored, facing backwards, by another couple; questioning even the status quo of stage performance by challenging the generally accepted lighting philosophy; and most agitating and true, this piece struck me as deeply sad and loudly aware of mortality. I almost wished Goecke had chosen to drop a piano from the rafters, but alas, the chairs were poetry.

7.  One of my very favorites by Goecke is Äffi 

“Devotion” by Sarah Michelson

Sarah Michelson’s Devotion at On The Boards March 11-13,  troubled conventional notions of dance and theater.  The piece was performed on a skeletal stage of black marley floor, metal scaffolding (as when a cathedral wing is being repaired), and religiously evocative oil paintings of the choreographer and playwright (the beginning and end have narration written by playwright Richard Maxwell), suspended above the stage, so the creators of the performance are already canonized, looming above their creation.  The costumes wore track and field suits.  Shorts and tucked in T-shirts, track pants and tucked in sleeveless T-shirts, short tennis skirts and leotards, with contemporary exercise shoes.   Many reviewers have already stated that the costumes, music (Phillip Glass’s “Dance IX”) and even some of the movements, are taking from Twyla Tharp’s  In the Upper Room.   Some say, “appropriated”, others say “tributed” and still others say, “stolen.”  I would venture to say that Michelson’s dance was consciously highlighting the concepts of what dance is, art inspired by art, deconstructing narrative and emotive interpretation so much so, that the piece philosophizes Tharp’s dance, comments on Tharp’s directions and choices, creates a meta effect in terms of dance evolving from dance; but it is no way a rip off or a copy.  The performance was inherently inter-textual and utterly complicated not to mention completely wonderful.

I would not have know the characters if I had not seen a program, as the choreography carries no literal or directly emotive narrative; rather it is a series of stark, staccato and isolated movements (by isolated I mean there is no lyrical transition from one movement to the next) drawing from ballet (fourth position with upper body and arms reaching forward, deep second position plies, jeté to hop), yoga, and track and field. (I also was reminded of an exercise form I did in Germany called {sp?} tempoderum where the group runs and runs in circles and stops to do strengthening exercises.)  Running, backwards running, crawling, inundating repetition made up the choreography.  Jesus did strike a crucifixion pose twice, which was almost silly in it’s juxtaposition to the abstraction, which made up the rest of the movement.

Adam and Even were impressive in many ways.  Adam, an older gentleman, played by the actor Jim Fletcher ran and leapt in large circles on one side of the stage (furthest from the exit), in white track pants and a red sleeveless t-shirt.  Eve, strikingly like a vintage athletic photograph in cropped hair, short white skirt, red leotard and running shoes, ran to Adam and away to the other end of the stage diagonally, over and over again as a cluster of domed lights swung back and forth above the stage like a bell for what seemed like an hour.  The lights were being “rung” by a man just off stage (but visible as there was really no “off stage”) wearing a white suit with a deacon’s collar.  At one point, Eve was about to turn from Adam and run away again and he caught her hand, if I remember correctly, and she froze.  The music (listen to Dance IX if you haven’t) blared for the majority of the performance, seemed to drive this piece into pure poetry as Eve was lifted numerous times and jumped to be caught by Adam, a most dutiful and tired figure next to Eve- wanting so badly to be free but unable to extract herself from Adam’s side (heh heh).  The build up of the whole performance cruxes here in the interaction of these two dancers.  I began to cry, watching the existential pain inevitable in any individual entangled with another. They ran and ran and ran.  Adam lifted her, put her down, lifted her again, put her down…it was an endless interaction in that it feels like it is still occurring somewhere, though I’m not watching it.

Devotion does not create a narrative of movement.  It does not create the impression or memory of a narrative even.  The fourteen-year-old waif of a Mary, a pony-tailed and bony Non Griffiths, seemed to be dancing the mathematics of a memory.  The psychological labor that had gone into what it is to be a mother, once again, entangled so inevitably in another’s (her child’s) life.  Griffiths, so adolescent and small, made an impressive virgin mother.  Jeté to hop, over and over, running in place, walking in plied fourth position with the pelvis leading.  These are not the movements of the Mother of God, rather of a human marking a human experience organically, unobserved.  No virtusoic flourishes to make you feel dazzled and amazed; rather, a barrage of experience at a deconstructed level. Watching her, one believed she could endure anything as she executed the movements with such will.

I felt that the element of time was played upon again and again in this piece on different levels.  The performances did not begin, build up and end, rather they moved circularly, steadily and constantly as the Phillip Glass piece repeated throughout with sprinklings of Pete Drungle’s original music. The spoken narration at the beginning and end of the piece mixed a prose interpretation of Adam and Eve in the garden and Jesus and Mary with a contemporary biography read by Michelson. As the main focus was on Mary and Eve in their respective pieces, the men enduring the choreography like a sentence, drew a great deal of empathetic attention from me. I noticed some clip from the text, which focused on the idea of individuality and identity…“You are happy to share an identity”…”now you need space”… “cold attachment for now”…“Mary and Jesus need each other to affirm the other exists”.  Michelson’s voice also talked about a brother’s death and other seemingly autobiographical events, mixing the mythical with the present day.  I would quote some more of the text here if I could read any more of my own penmanship, but alas, my notes are too messy.   The text treated the biblical stories as modern narratives and vice versa. The contemporary story could have occurred a thousand years ago.  Another aspect of dealing with time circularly was the ages of the dancers.  I was surprised and pleased to watch a fourteen year old and a 50 + year old dancing in the same performance. This breaks free from the typical cast of all professional dancers, usually between 18 and 40.

The aggressive athleticism, repetition and endurance cast a gloriously encompassing spell, causing me to become stiller and stiller, mesmerized, as the performance stubbornly broke down expectations, refusing to present any traditional lyricism in movement, or literal narrative throughout the body of the work.  The performance followed a clear method, in my opinion, of negative discourse; recognizing the futility of using a traditional dance vocabulary to show an experience in its raw clarity.

I find so much of “Devotion” to be congruent with “negative discourse”.  The book Modern Poetry and the Idea of Language by Gerald L. Bruns says much on language that can cross over into the language of dance.  Many excerpts struck me as talking directly about what Michelson is doing.  So, I’ve written some excerpts below.  In the first two excerpts, I inserted the corresponding word in double brackets making the ideas relevant to dance as well as literature as the thoughts are true across the board for art.

“The idea that beauty comes into being at the expense of the world brings to mind once more Flaubert’s dream: ‘What seems beautiful to me, what I should like to write, is a book about nothing…’ The point to mark about the dream of such a book, or about Mallarme’s ideal of an absolute purity of discourse, is that it implies a form of literature {{dance}} that feeds upon its own impossibility: it implies an almost violently paradoxical form of literature {{dance}}, one which requires for its creation the failure of language {{dance}}. An entry in Valery’s Analects fleshes out this point: “ ‘The Beautiful; implies effects of unsayability, indescribability, ineffability.  And the word {{movement }} itself says nothing.  It has no definition; for a true definition must be constructive.’”

“…..to eliminate the intention to establish relationships and to produce instead an explosion of words {{movements}}.  For modern poetry {{dance }}…destroys the functional nature of language {{choreography}}. It retains only the outward shape of relationships [the interplay of signifiers], their music, but not their reality {the signified}. The Word {{Movement or Choreography}} shines forth above a line of relationships emptied of their content, grammar is bereft of its purpose, it becomes prosody and is no longer anything but an inflexion which lasts only to present the word {{movement}}…”

“ ‘Language’, Blanchot says, ‘perceives that it owes its meaning, not to what exists, but to its recoil before existence.’ Ordinary speech is just such a recoil- a withdrawal of language away from things into a world of signifieds, in which language itself exists only as a transparent and transitive medium. And yet there remains the primitive impulse of language not to speak of things but to speak things themselves…What Blanchot means is that to speak and yet to say nothing is a way of allowing language to maintain th plenum; and that is to say that a literary use of language, as it approaches the condition of negative discourse –a discourse which disrupts or reverses the act of signification- is a way of holding the world in being against the annihilation that takes places in man’s ordinary utterances…”

I could go on all day finding paragraphs in this book which I feel shed light on the important decisions made in “Devotion”.

Michelson’s dance challenged the usual vocabularly of movement used in performance and questioned the way in which narratives are communicated and received.  She looks at the experience of an event in the physical body and allows that event to be enough without insisting on inundating it with symbols or reference.  What is a story?  How do we tell a story?  How do we experience a personal story? For Michelson, the issue at hand is not what a story means or connotes, but it is how a story means or connotes; she is about process, exercise and the reexamination of meaning through movement. What can be seen as the redundancy of patterns throughout the piece; intead, should be understood as the continual questioning of the placeholders (Jesus Christ = grace, Eve= the fall, Dance= beauty, Personal story=personal identity) in narrative history.  The dance “Devotion” did what was essential in this time. It refused to present answers and instead presented a methodology; a way of questioning what it is that we believe and what it means to understand ourselves in the line of history.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “New Works”

PNB’s New Works festival details can be found HEEEERE.

There were, in “A Million Kisses to my Skin” two movements that made my evening:   The slowest, most taffy stretched, luxurious pirouette ever.  It was up stage left.  It was as if that soporific fantasy you had of  constantly and without gravity, spinning and spinning, was manifested on the stage from the pocket of your dreams.

I also remember that a man pulled a woman backwards, her feet and legs dangling on the floor, moving like a spider spinning an elegant, masterful thing in her wake.  That was nice. He was propelling her backwards; he was the navigational force, but she was creating something wrought with filigree and elegance in his path.  There were other moments of “well done”, however, much of it was, in my viewing experience not brave enough to be called new.  Be brave good choreographer.  There was a lot of gravity defying after and before that amazing pirouette that seemed to just confirm gravity’s existence. Here is an excerpt from Dutch television of this piece.  You can also find a short clip from PNB on youtube.

“Cylindrical Shadows” held itself in the same hand as the film “Pina” by creating a video in multiple environments. I liked the video and am pleased to see this influence or so I guess it was.  I watched this after I saw the piece on stage, but now, it seems to have been removed from the internet.  Even PNB’s website comes up blank when you click on the video.  I wonder why! Oh my. The piece had some superior choreography and PHRASING!  I mean, good job on the phrasing.  Anyways, here is an excerpt from the stage performance and may I just say, “Yep, we get the whole flame, cylindrical shadow thing.”  This piece is pushy in an adolescent way though I enjoyed it quite a bit minus the absolutely ill-selected spoken word.  Ueber sentimentality is a danger of creating art in the throes of a strong emotion.

The last piece was “Mating Theory”.  It often felt like a college theater class or improvisational choreography class.  It also had delicious tints of the reptilian Cunningham.  This choreographer has a lot of potential, and is fascinated with the power of interaction between dancers. Here is an excerpt.

I CAN’T BLOG…I MEAN DANCE.

Instead of blogging about PNB’s “New Works”.  A performance of 3 dances by 3 different choreographers, I am going to post this old but awesome video.  No offense PNB.  I just can’t do it tonight. I think I drank too much wine at the performance because I’m actually having trouble coming up with a review.  I will write about the performance, but not at the moment. I need to collect my words and fork them together.

Pina by Wim Wenders

 

Pina,  a documentary style film created by Wim Wenders, tributing the late Pina Bausch as well as focusing endearingly on her company’s members, was shown by SIFF at Cinerama this last February 17th, with a special appearance and Q and A with Wim Wenders.   I would like to bespeak my loyalty to this film by stating that I am a devotee of German modern dance and venerate its members, so I cherish that someone has brought Tanztheater to the forefront of the American cultural consciousness, and  it’s Wuppertal founder, Pina Bausch couldn’t be a more deserving subject.   Wim Wenders was a wonderful guest and answered the questions put forth with great sincerity and good humor.

I have been waiting, pining for, fantasizing over, and allying with this film for months and months.  I had a taste, like so many, through the ensorcelling preview; and I was an immediate habitué, watching it over and over again, experiencing a downpour of anticipation and curiosity each time.

I have loved the work of Pina Bausch for some years, and having the opportunity to view her dances on film, on you tube for example, is important; but being able to view them in a format that combines excellent film making, artistic license from someone who knew Bausch and, heaven help us, 3D, is a gift.  That said,  my bootlicking days of the Pina previews are over. There are some accolades to be handed out and some disappointments.  Let’s get down to it.

 

Wim Wenders outdoes himself in regards to location. He depicts both stage performance and choreography performed outdoors; in nature and urban environments.  He breaks up the vignettes and clips with video portraits of the dancers, just watching the camera, with voice overs of their experience as a dancer in the Wuppertal Tanztheater. There are so many moments of true Bausch.  The long gowns, the unstable and volatile and yet obviously powerful woman being caught or guided by the helpful and concerned male.   There was water, dirt, sky, transportation, trees being carried, men in dresses, sleepwalkers and of course, and close to every fans heart, many chairs. The arms, dear God, the arms of that woman are bewitching. There is old footage along with the new footage made for the film, and these  are many excellent ingredients.  There are, for me , gaps.

Hmmm. so here’s what seems to  have happened.  Pina Bausch died.  Wenders decided to make the film anyways, himself and the company in a deluge of grief and abandonment.  This makes the film sincerely raw and sad as you can feel from it the childishly honest confusion that comes with loss.  There is something beautiful and uncomfortable about being invited in to this exposed  place.  There was a film that died with Pina Bausch.  We don’t get to see that film and I think that I wanted to see that film.  That is, no dances were shown in completion.  Only clips were shown, cut off suddenly to cut to a video portrait with voice over from a company member.  There were very short vignettes of dance that could have been enthralling in full.   I am confused at the choice to show clips of Bausch’s work.  Her dances must be shown in full.  They are a narrative of loneliness, pain, joy, redemption and physical poetry that,  casts a spell which I don’t believe should ever be shattered by people talking.  The fourth wall of her dances is imperative in conveying the visceral power of the movement to the viewer; and by watching the full piece of art, as it was intended, the viewer is transformed, altered into a different capacity of mind and body, contemplating the pain and absurdity and beauty and loneliness all in an acute, harsh but affectionate light.   I recognize that Wenders, as he said in his Q and A, that he wanted to introduce her dances to people who were unfamiliar.  This film was for them.  What can I say to that?  Make a film for the people who already love her I suppose.  Even so, the film does not successfully introduce the choreographer to America.   The audience was breaking out in laughter during segments of choreography that did rend at my limbs every time I had watched it in the past.  There was a particular part of Café Mϋller where two people who are clinging to one another are otherwise lifeless like puppets. There is a 3rd person who is separate from the dance, as there often is an external persona acting on the dancers with Bausch, who is moving the woman’s hands and head in various positions over and over again to make the two kiss and to have the man carry the woman, etc.  He re positions her into these poses so many times that the two become suddenly autonomously animated, like wind-up toys, following the pattern of movement exactly as the man had put forth, including the end of the pattern where the man is carrying the woman and drops her because his body is not intentional or willed, rather, limp of self- navigation. This movement pattern becomes faster and faster, invoking panic and pain and inevitability and a proposed lack of self.  The perpetual  repetition buzzes and in the frenetic wave, there is born a deep existential sadness and knowledge.  This is what they were laughing at.  I thought it was just because people laugh when they’re nervous, but they really thought the puppet limpness and the man moving the woman around was funny. This was not nervous chittering.   I believe it must have been the way it was filmed, as I can’t accept that American’s need for slapstick makes them desperate enough to hit up Tanztheater. The fact is, Cafe Mϋller  can’t be fucked with.   One must see it through , and if not in totality, than in the correct lighting and angling with no breaks to voice overs.   The film “Talk To Her”, however, showed clips of Café Mϋller  successfully.  It was filmed well, though you don’t see it from start to finish.  I don’t know quite what happened here.   I want to be wrong. I want to think that everyone should watch Pina because you’ll get an accurate idea of her work, but I think watching it gives only an accurate idea of the company member’s experience with dance, which does not make for an unworthy documentary in the least.

 

it is not Wim Wenders responsibility to educate Americans on how to interpret modern dance.  It is a personal endeavor that the cackling lady behind me was failing at so miserably, I wanted to start a popcorn fight.  I recommend this film despite my hesitations to laud it without circumstance.  It is wonderful to watch the unique and utterly spellbinding choreography and theatre of Pina Bausch, even if the dances are not shown in completion. The dancers have danced for and with Bausch for years and exude the feel and beauty that is Bausch. It doesn’t matter, in the end, if it was my dream film.  This is important and will lead to viewers seeking out more.  One should expose him/herself to this kind of art as quickly as possible.

Video

Girl Walk//All Day Chapter 1

Check out the website: Girlwalkallday.com

Let’s Begin Again!

Hello dance lovers.  I have been gone for awhile.  I haven’t even shown Blanche Neige to my friends yet; but it will happen.  In the thick of my dance performance attendance hiatus, I came across this awesome video “Girl Walk All Day Chapter 1”.  Check it out and pass it on.  It is an amazing project with all the digs RIGHT HERE at Kickstarter.  Do you like Girl Talk?  Do you like dance?  This project is to be a 71 minute music video.  It is fun, joyful and inspiring.

Blanche Neige

Blanche Neige (Snow White), choreographed by Angelin Preljocaj with costumes by the fashion mogul Jean Paul Gaultier and the music of Gustav Malher, is a made for film ballet that I saw at SIFF, Seattle International Film Festival.  I was terribly disappointed that Pina by Wim Wenders was not being shown and was not at all familiar with this performance.  I enjoyed it a great deal and not just because of my malibu and coke (I know, classy).  I left only to fall more in love with the piece daily and am often online watching clips, and tearing up at a healthy (or possible unhealthy) number of those viewings. 

Drawing from the iconic images of the animated Disney version and throwing in some kink, this ballet faces off the child’s tale and the gory adult folklore.  The erotica was carried in the vehicle of Gaultier’s creative attire .  The costumes make every character provocative and lusty.  From the evil Queen’s S and M inspired costumes to the tight and swoon worthy  Matador like get up of the suitor to Snow White’s white dress that wrapped in a breech cloth fashion and flowed in two strips along her body. Every costume is phenomenal and adds an important layer of mood and demand of the ambiance in the ballet. The women of the court had uneven hem lines and ribbon wrapped around and around the bodice bringing off the effect of straps and binding in lingerie or of suggestive, Heidi dresses, you decide.

The music was wonderful and I wonder if they clipped up some of the pieces and did not play full compositions.  The music enveloped the ballet with such a natural ease,  and with such a seductive sound, I have developed quite the crush on Mahler, much like crushing on a rock star.

The ballet starts with a woman in all black, with a black veil enclosing her face, writhing in the pain of child birth.  On her back, pushing herself backwards with her feet, her dress is slit and falls away from the full length of one of her bare legs as she puts her hands on her bulging stomach, moving her palms in large circles around her belly.   It cuts away to the King approaching, discovering his now dead wife.  She lays there, still, arms encasing her daughter, Snow White.  This is the first time I’ve even considered the mother of Snow White, and she comes to play a pivotal and haunting role in this interpretation. 
Father and daughter are close and their love is strong.  We watch her grow up in time lapsing dance sequence, from baby to little girl to young woman.  There is a ball, seemingly in her honor.  It seems like an engagement party where her beau presents himself.  The wedding party, in their wonderful costumes, group dance in a very true to ballet opening fashion.  Think of the Christmas dinner celebration in the Nutcracker, or any beginning of almost any ballet (though the choreography was modern as this is not a traditional ballet). There are often long, formal group dances.  The choreography was lovely

, but it was not holding it’s own with the other acts.  The evil Queen enters and is a violent beautiful thing.  She is terrifying, and malicious and violent.  She has two cats that are with her throughout the ballet.  I can’t help not only feeling sorry for the company members who were cast as cats, but I also came to find their presence and constant “side-show” acting tedious (the mirror scenes have the cats stretching and pawing at the reflection with a cat in the mirror in perfect sync.  They were over used and annoying. However,  no criticism is to suggest that I am not worshiping this piece.  The cats were a nod to the childhood memories we have of animated films and the ever present side-kicks to both vilians and heros/heroines, and they did saturate some of the terrifying hate emitted by the Queen.

  Here is a bit of what this blog post will include.  I will be showing some friends this ballet and perhaps guest blogging some of the rest which will include:

* The hunters taking the heart of the deer:  The dancer was a topless female with antlers, a plastic, shiny, large heart hanging from her neck.  She moved in methodical, clock like increments; tick tock tick tock, to conceptually interpret the small and quick movements of deer.  This choreography is what began my now constant laudum for this ballet.  …..

* The 7 dwarfs aerial, trapeze inspired dancing on the mountain.

*The brutal and disturbing scene of Snow White being killed by the poisonous apple

* The visitation of Snow White’s mother’s ghost

*The lamentation of the suitor

*The celebration and damnation of the Queen


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