DanceView Times, international edition
November 10, 2003
Last Sunday marked the close of the fourth annual DancEuropa in Tel-Aviv. The festival featured 14 performances by five visiting European companies—from France, Austria, Holland, and Finland. In the attractive bilingual (Hebrew-English) souvenir program, the head of The European Commission Delegation in Israel states that: “DancEuropa is an initiative of the Suzanne Dellal Center and the representatives of the European Union in Israel to expose Israeli audiences to the richness and diversity of contemporary European dance…as part of the ongoing efforts to strengthen cultural ties between Israel and the European Union.” Additional sponsors were the Tel-Aviv Opera, the municipality of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo, and Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
DancEuropa 2003 was a huge success, both artistically and financially. For starters, five of six scheduled troupes actually performed. Events were very well attended, with overall ticket sales reaching 85%. Last year, following a spate of suicide bombings in Israel, several companies cancelled their participation. The relative calm that prevails at the moment allowed both performers and audience members to get into a festive mood. (Of course, handbags were still searched at the entrance to each performance, but Israelis take that for granted. The same thing happens at every supermarket, movie theater, restaurant, and public building). The one group that did not arrive this year, the Marta Carrasco Company from Spain, fell victim to a labor dispute rather than security concerns: the ship carrying their costumes and sets did not arrive in time to avoid a job action by Israeli customs workers. Happily, the Spaniards will give several performances at Suzanne Dellal in December, as a coda to DancEuropa 2003, taking advantage of the fact that their costumes and sets are already here.
For the first time this year, the performances in Tel-Aviv were divided between two venues: The Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater and the The Tel-Aviv Performing Arts Center (TAPAC). Suzanne Dellal is a flourishing complex in one of the oldest neighborhoods of Tel-Aviv. A century ago, Neve-Tzedek was the cultural center of the young city of Tel-Aviv, with many of Israel’s most distinguished writers and artists living and working there. Today, the neighborhood, much of which had become dilapidated, is being restored; its narrow streets contain interesting shops, cafes, and workshops. Located in renovated historic buildings (including one of Israel’s first girls’schools) Suzanne Dellal Center includes four performing spaces, studios, and an outdoor performance area graced by a small orange orchard. The center serves as the permanent home for the Batsheva Dance Company and the Inbal Ethnic Dance Company.
The Tel-Aviv Performing Arts Center (TAPAC) opened in 1994. One of Israel’s most impressive investments in modern architecture, it houses the Tel-Aviv Opera and the Cameri Theater Company and hosts productions by visiting artists from around the world. Though smaller in scale, it is comparable in local stature and function to New York’s Lincoln Center or Los Angeles’ Music Center. Situated on the corner of King Saul Boulevard and Leonardo da Vinci Street (giving it both Biblical and Renaissance connections), it completes a long city block of cultural institutions that include the Tel-Aviv Art Museum and Beit Ariela, the main public library.
Opening night of DancEuropa 2003, October 9th, was a balmy fall evening with palpable excitement in the air. The audience arriving at TAPAC sported various degrees of casual attire, from casual-casual to elegant-casual, with only a very occasional necktie in sight. The presence of well-known public personalities from the worlds of Israeli entertainment and government added to the sense that this was “the” place to be. Early arrivals could enjoy a fine installation of works by an Israeli sculptor or admire antique Oriental rugs (for sale, by the way) displayed on the floor of the lobby. The auditorium was filled to capacity, the first three rows with young dance students visibly and audibly excited at this rare opportunity to see a classic of modern dance-theater.
The evening’s program was May B by the Maguy Marin Dance Company from France, the signature production with which they have toured the world for nearly 25 years. The show begins with a darkened stage and a group of ten chalky-faced individuals, shuffling across the floor, in a sort of catatonic trance. They adhere to one another in an almost molecular way. They emit strange sounds of baser body functions. They babble, but say nothing that is comprehensible—not to us and seemingly not to their compatriots. They engage in mechanical acts suggesting masturbation and copulation. The details of the dancers’ body language—a rigidly elevated shoulder, a slightly cocked head, a blank stare—convey that they are disoriented and disturbed.
Who are these people? Why do they obsessively move back and forth across the stage? Are they following a leader? It would seem not, since once they reach one extreme of the stage they turn around and follow the rear guard back to where they had started. In their torn and soiled pajama-like costumes, they recall the inmates of an outdated mental institution (e.g. the Asylum at Charenton in Marat/Sade). While we might like to dismiss them as misfits or outcasts, these composite Beckett characters represent the human condition in general.
In the second part of May B, these anonymous gray creatures give way to recognizable Beckett characters, such as Estragon and Vladimir from Waiting for Godot and Krapp from Krapp’s Last Tapes. They inject a bit more color and humor into May B but their antics also portray the absurdity of human existence. If identifying with these hapless figures makes us feel uneasy, off-balance, confused, even revolted, then Marin has captured the essence of Beckett and the theater of the absurd: not just to describe life’s absurdities but to make us experience absurdity while in the theater.
DéjàWaltz, by the abcdancecompany of Austria, explores, extends, reinterprets, and plays with an icon of Austrian culture, the waltz. This is a new company (founded in 2002), with fifteen dancers representing various races and nationalities. The seven who danced in Tel-Aviv could easily pose for a United Colors of Benetton ad.
The novelty of DéjàWaltz begins with its set, props, and costumes. The stage resembles rather bare cabaret. Martini glasses are lined up on a ledge that runs across the back of the stage. A large section of the stage floor is strewn with rows and piles of CD’s, like dominoes waiting to be arranged to fall in succession when the first one is toppled. At the back right of the stage is a disk jockey with his equipment, preparing to provide the music for the evening’s entertainment.
When the dancers emerge, the men appear to be wearing tuxedos, perfect for an evening of waltzing – well, almost perfect, since they wear no shirts under their tuxedo jackets. Crisp, long-sleeved white shirts are worn instead by the women—without skirts or pants. The ersatz tuxedos of the men have two white stripes down the side of one leg—as on a running suit—and the other leg is cut very short.
The music begins: a waltz by Chopin. The familiar melody soon gives way to something much more modern and dissonant. Throughout the performance, this pattern repeats itself. Familiar waltzes by Chopin, Strauss, and others mutate into discordance, sometimes bordering on cacophony. A Strauss waltz becomes a Stress waltz. Loud static emanating from a mis-tuned radio and a needle scratching across an LP were only some of the audio effects to which the audience was treated/subjected. At times, the music was so jarring that it interfered with enjoyment of the dancing. The music credit in the program reads “Live music by DJ Beware”. It could be that these sounds emerged from an electronic keyboard rather than from pre-recorded disks. It was difficult to tell. When these aural assaults ended, the silence was divine. Was that the point?
Nonetheless, the dancing of the abcdancers was fresh, athletic, and virtuosic. The ensemble danced in every possible combination, including two men who waltzed as a couple. Perhaps the standout performance of the night was a brilliant solo by a young woman of Asian descent, using a large ring of lights as a prop. Those CD’s from the floor were moved around, stacked, and manipulated in various ways and, by the end of the evening, the martini glasses had been thrown and smashed.
The image selected by DancEuropa 2003 for its program cover and advertisements was a picture of Tero Saarinen, from Finland, performing his tour de force Hunt, superimposed on the symbol of the European Union, a ring of twelve stars. The third and last performance that I attended at the festival was that of Saarinen, founder of a troupe that bears his name, presenting two solos. The first, Man in a Room, was choreographed for him by Carolyn Carlson. It depicts the anxiety of an artist, is said to have been inspired by the spirit of Mark Rothko, and includes the dancer’s daubing of paint from tubes on his own body.
Hunt, Saarinen’s second and considerably longer solo, is a stunning multimedia piece set to the pulsating rhythms of Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps (“The Rite of Spring”). From its raucous debut in Paris in 1913, when hostile audience reaction threatened to turn the The Rite of Spring into The Riot of Spring and newspaper headlines renamed it “Le massacre du printemps”, Stravinsky’s path-breaking creation has inspired scores of choreographers to retell the primitive tale of fertility and sacrifice.
Saarinen, audaciously, dances the Rite of Spring alone, riveting the audience’s attention for a full 40-minutes. From the program notes: “Unlike most versions of Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’”, Saarinen concentrates on one single person—his masculinity/femininity and the fading of beauty.” The strong Asian influence on Saarinen’s movements and costume reflect the years that he spent studying and dancing in east Asia (Japan and Korea). He begins the performance bare-chested, in a leotard. Then, from above, a multi-layered skirt is lowered. Made of overlapping rectangles of a stiff, seemingly metallic fabric, it is reminiscent in its angularity of Samurai garb. Dazzling lighting effects by multimedia artist Marita Liulia include the projection of changing images on Saarinen’s upper body, face, and hands (see photo) as well as on the layers of the skirt. At times the projected lights make the twirling skirt segments look like feathers. His arms and torso are transformed into the segmented outer layer of an animal’s skin, within which can be seen images of the dancer himself.
For almost all of Hunt Saarinen restricts himself to a small area of center stage, surrounded by lights. With his bare feet rooted to the floor, he manages to manipulate his arms, legs, and upper body in countless ways, with extraordinary muscular precision and expressiveness. This discipline of standing in one place yet moving at the same time pervades Saarinen’s dancing (both in Man in the Room and in Hunt). I was reminded, appropriately enough, of Igor Stravinsky’s famous dictum about creativity in The Poetics of Music: “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution…The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.”
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