DanceView Times, New York edition
Volume 1, Number 4 October 20 , 2003 An online supplement to DanceView magazine
Letter from New York
at least the past two decades, dancegoers have been told so often that
the reason the magic seemed to go out of the art was our own fault. We
were too old, and in wondering why cherished works had eroded we were
really just trying to hold onto our youth. Nothing is forever, and change
is inevitable. Young dancers have no idea about what the past was like
and certainly have no interest in finding out. Dances are made for particular
individuals, and once they retire, their qualities can never be restored
to the choreography. The great choreographers really found us worthy of
disdain, since they, themselves, were never interested in revisiting where
they’d been. Dancing made for one era will never have any appeal
for subsequent eras. One by one, the voices of protest were quieted, with
illness and mortality completing the job that, during the 1990s, a new
generation of newspaper and magazine publishers began. During the 1990s,
nearly every major dance critic in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington,
D.C. who was old enough to have seen and remembered theatrical dancing
from the 1950s and early ‘60s was either fired, forcibly retired,
or died in harness; for those who retained their positions, either the
number of their reviews that were actually published, or the length of
them, or both, were markedly decreased. This was no one’s best scenario,
of course. Print news was in trouble, and, the rationale goes, dance writing
is never read. In the same spirit, trade book publishers, seemingly overnight,
stopped publishing new, serious dance books and dropped their dance backlists
entirely: dance books don’t sell. And it’s true. They don’t:
why would anyone want to buy a history of The Sleeping Beauty
in the U.S. if the only interesting live productions of that ballet are
The drop curtain for the revival of the Metropolitan Opera's revival of its unusual 1981 Stravinsky triple bill features an abstract design and reads "Stravinsky 1882." This is presumably from the original production, which was timed to be unveiled on the eve of the composer's centenary, I found myself thinking that this time they could have had a curtain that read "Ashton 1904" given that the central portion of this triptych, Le Rossignol, features choreography by Frederick Ashton, whose centenary we are about to observe.
see far too little of Ashton's choreography in New York these days (although
ABT has greatly improved that situation the past two years by adding two
of his greatest works to its repertory), this opportunity to renew acquaintance
with a piece of choreography from his later years was most welcome. Ashton
choreographed the central roles of the Nightingale and the Fisherman
on Natalia Makarova and Anthony Dowell, who had repeated them the
only other time this triple bill was revived, during the 1983-84 season.
This time around, they were performed by Julie Kent and Damian Woetzel.
A Spunky Don Q from the Cubans
Remembering the grand productions the National Ballet of Cuba once brought to the Metropolitan Opera House in decades past, and even knowing that Cuba's economy has fallen on hard times since then, it's still a bit of a shock seeing the meager production of Don Quixote which the Cubans brought to City Center on their most recent visit, which concluded on the 19th. The skimpy sets and cartoonish drops looked beneath the standard of a second-string regional company here, and the costumes, with their overly bright colors and fussy, overwrought details made me wonder whether a big-budget Cuban production would be much of an improvement. It also didn't help that the Alicia Alonso has reworked the ballet's story: here, in a prologue, the oppressed Spanish masses of the early 19th Century beg for aid from the statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, which come to life, presumably to help free Spain from the invading French. Here, Gamache, the bumbling suitor of Kitri, is Camacho, a French aristocrat whose amatory whims are enforced by a pair of equally bumbling French soldiers. And, while the Don's new provenance as a prayer answered doesn't prevent him from being the recipient of the occasional "don't mind him, he's crazy" gesture from the happy-yet-oppressed townfolk, here he is much more central to the ballet's story—for example, Kitri and Basil (not Basilio, here) don't sneak off in the general pandemonium at the end of Act I, but, rather, the Don himself fights off Camacho and his soldiers, so that the would-be lovers can make a peaceful exit on a peasant-drawn wagon.
of Money, Literature and Art; what about the dancing? The dancing is quite
fine, thank you. Really fine, in fact.
An Unsettling Journey
Having been unaware of Akram Khan, whose reputation has apparently been growing in dance circles for some time, before this past summer when his company performed at Jacob's Pillow, and having only the most superficial knowledge of the subtleties and complexities of Kathak, the Northern Indian classical dance tradition that Khan studied intensively and integrates into his choreography, I entered the theater for his company's New York debut at the Joyce theater feeling at a disadvantage.
choreographer born in England of Bangladeshi parentage, Khan brought his
2002 hour-long work Kaash, which is performed by his five-member
company. While perhaps missing some of its implications and associations—the
way it invokes the Hindu God Shiva, for example—I was struck by
the authority and sense of visual presentation this young (29) choreographer
displays. This is a serious, disciplined choreographer, one who knows
how not to over-extend his material. At a time when so much work is over-amplified
and shapeless, Khan's highly developed sense of craftsmanship and command
of the overall stage picture is impressive.
(Originally published as an Extra on Saturday, October 19, 2003.)
Breathtaking Virtuosity, Unabashedly Itself
Ballet of Cuba
It's a rare delight in these days of bland and blurry International-style ballet to see a company which is so unabashedly itself as the National Ballet of Cuba. The Cubans dance with a rare attention to detail and homogeneity, and revel, unapologetically, in their muscularity, even among the women. No reed-thin waifs here! At least, none were in evidence at City Center Thursday night.
began with artistic director Alicia Alonso's staging of bits of the second
act of Swan Lake, a last-minute substitution for Les Sylphides,
caused by an amazing fit of peevishness by the Fokine estate and
American Ballet Theatre (who had purchased a three-year "exclusive"
license for the ballet from said estate). After the unfortunate beginning,
where the curtain rises (and mercifully falls) on the corps of swan-girls
glaring at the audience and all-but-hissing, this is a fairly traditional
production, and one which showed off the great strength of the Cuban women.
Perhaps the corps of the Kirov, Paris Opera Ballet or even ABT are as
strong—perhaps—but where these companies, indeed, most companies,
these days work to mask this strength behind a carefully cultivated appearance
of lightness and ease, the Cubans, while never graceless, don't take particular
pains to hide their strength.
Cunningham Dance Company
Rolling the dice gives a moment of wonder, the imagination conjuring. A split-second later, the dice at rest, the mind becomes active.— Merce Cunningham
Of all of
the multiple innovations in the work of Merce Cunningham, the use of chance
is the most confusing. Such a clear thing, this toss of a die, or a handful
of pennies, and yet chance is the Holy Ghost of Dance—the part of
the Cunningham Trinity taken on faith, and dimly apprehended. The independence
of dance as an art form–the notion that dance does not need music,
but may simply coexist with it—still may seem heresy to some, but
as an idea it is well understood. The separation of dance from story is
now old hat, or old enough, though still giving rise to the notion that
Cunningham's dances are "abstract," when dance, because it is
done by people, can never really be abstract. But chance! Chance makes
people think of randomness, of disorder, of improvisation, of fate and
fortune, of things made up as they are happening, or just before. Nothing,
though, could be further from the Merceian truth, which is quite the opposite.
His is not the unhinged Miltonic world of Paradise Lost, where "Chaos
umpire sits," and "Chance governs all." Not in the slightest.
In his world, Merce governs all, even when by a kind of non-doing, this
latter being neither benign nor malign, but a kind of sovereign absenting
of ego. Even when Cunningham does not make choices—as when, for
instance, he leaves the decor to the art director, or some similar personage,
who chooses the artists; and likewise hands off the music—he has
chosen the chooser. The truth is that in his world, Cunningham is God.
Every choice, or non-choice, is made by him.
What's On This Week
23, February 18 and 21
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