A FALL SMORGASBORD: CATHERINE GALLANT, EMIO GRECO, WILLIAM FORSYTHE, AND LUCINDA CHILDS

Reviewed by Christopher Atamian

In the past month I attended four very different performances that were all interesting for different reasons.  Readers will forgive me for giving brief overviews of each rather than the more in-depth analysis that they undoubtedly deserve, but lack of time and deadlines preclude me from doing them full justice!  

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On September 26, I had the pleasure of seeing Catherine Gallant/Dance present a series of rarely performed works at the Joyce Soho.  (Photo above of Gallant/Dance performing Isadora Duncan taken from Moving Arts Project.) These included works by Gallant herself, as well as José Limon, Isadora Duncan and Anna Sokolow.  Gallant’s company is rather unique because it is composed of dancers of all ages and body types—it was refreshing to see older women on stage (as in over 30!).  While they may not always have had the same power and lift as their younger counterparts, they displayed a welcome maturity, elegance and presence.  This was particularly true in the sublimely wistful 16 Waltzes Op. 39, choreographed in 1903, also referred to as “the many faces of love.”  Set to Brahms waltzes and as performed by Loretta Thomas, Eleanor Bunker, Michelle Cohen, Francesca Todesco, Marie Carstens and Gallant, the piece lulled the viewer into an almost blissfully intoxicated state.  It was also refreshing to see Anna Sokolow’s 1953 Lyric Suite, set to music by Alan Berg performed by Francesca Todesco, Eleanor Bunker, Michelle Cohen and Chriselle Tidrick.  Another highlight of the evening was the athletic Kristen Foote, a member of Jose Limón, interpreting Isadora Duncan’s Revolutionary (ca 1920-1924), with music by Alexandre Scriabin.  Foote displayed remarkable strength, vitality and grace in this simple but powerful piece.  That she could capture with each step and arm thrust the spirit of the October Revolution and spirit us, the audience, away to a Russia so distant in time and place, is a tribute to this remarkable young performer.  While one or two of the other pieces presented were arguably a bit lackluster, my only regret was that a larger audience hadn’t attend the performance, for Gallant is a historian and choreographer, a dancer and archeologist of dance history who brings to the stage pieces that we might never otherwise see.  We owe her a small debt for her good work and taste.

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Emio Greco (photo above by Jean Pierre Moran) came to the Joyce in late September to present the second in his Dantesque trilogy, popopera[purgatorio]. I’ve already written a review of the performance for Dance Magazine which should be out in a few months so I won’t go into any detail here.  While I understand the issues that some critics may have had with the performance, Greco’s intellectual take on dance, the offbeat look of the dancers themselves, as well as the original, spasmodic movement vocabulary were interesting enough to me, although it wasn’t necessarily the most memorable show of the year. All told, the dancers gave a sexy, brassy performance. They also wielded and played the electric guitar-one for each dancer–with some panache.

 The Forsythe Company

The Forsythe Company

I was rather surprised by the generally enthusiastic reviews of William Forsythe’s cacophonous mess Decreation (photos above by Julieta Cervantes) at BAM (October 7-10).   I am a huge fan of BAM, of their New Wave Festival and of William Forsythe who is obviously one of our great choreographers-in fact some of the most exciting performances that I have seen in the past years have been choreographed by Forsythe, including an outstanding Juilliard Spring Repertory Concert performance some years back of Limb’s Theorem III which included a wonderful, young Riley Watts contorting his body in the most fantastic ways, an amazing rotating globe and choreography that made the dancers appear almost super-natural or alien in their physicality.  But try as hard as I could, I couldn’t find anything noteworthy about Decreation, which is based on an essay by Canadian writer Anne Carson that examines lives unraveled by love: Sappho, Simone Weil and Marguerite Porete, a medieval mystic who was burned at the stake for not renouncing the views that she expounded in her book The Mirror of Simple SoulsDecreation begins with Dana Caspersen re-enacting a nasty spat with a past lover while George Reischl repeats her speech in German: they are both barely understandable and contort, grab at shirt, face and body in such visually unappealing ways that they look like two inmates in an insane asylum-perhaps an apt metaphor for something or other, but what is the relation to a failed relationship?  That it drives you mad? That’s it’s just exasperatingly distorting to the soul? And every time Reischl screams out “It’s a spiel” (so what’s new, love’s a game?) I wanted to reach out and well, slap him. At another point in the performance a women grabs her breasts with one hand and her crotch with the other, hanging on to her private parts as she is sandwiched between two male counterparts.  Decreation came off as a questionable mix of dance theatrical elements and surreal or post-modern theater-oh yes, and occasionally someone actually moved, as if to remind the audience that they were at a dance performance.  Certainly this work is complex, but in an abstruse and frankly ugly way: everyone on stage contorts in such odd and unappealing ways and David Morrow’s soundtrack is so grating that you aren’t quite sure how to enter the piece as a viewer. Forsythe received a standing ovation from a few people in the audience which proves, I suppose the old adage de gustibus non est disputandum. (Of the reviews that I have read so far only Tobi Tobias had the courage to call a spade a spade-so I will link to her review here, and to be fair, to Roslyn Sulcas’ altogether more positive New York Times review)

 

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Finally, a redeeming, exquisite Lucinda Childs performance at the Joyce on October 6.  The highlight of the night was Childs’ Dance (photo above by Nathaniel Tilleston), which was accompanied by Sol Lewitt’s wonderful film projected onto a translucent screen, so that one could watch the dancers performing live with the original 1979 filmed performance simultaneously juxtaposed over them.  While this staging doesn’t work as well in a small theater like the Joyce, the dancers were simply exquisite as they performed relatively simple but quick steps (sideways jumps and turning jumps in arabesque) over and over again, mostly in straight lines, changing direction here or there, making absolutely exquisite patterns that have been likened elsewhere to Persian rug designs.  At first the execution seems almost identical, as do the dancers costumed in identical unisex black outfits, but each one actually added his or her own idiosyncratic head tilt or subtle interpretation. It’s not easy to choreograph to music as purposefully repetitious and as fast-paced as Phillip Glass but the dancers acquitted themselves famously, as if floating on a seemingly effortless ethereal cloud for close to an hour.  It was refreshing to see work of such distinction and quality: one felt transfixed as one should by great art.  (Childs, almost seventy, also danced a brief piece with less success, but how nice to see her up there anyway!)

 {A random aside:  After another recent performance, I was discussing Ulysses Dove and his remarkable Red Demon with another dance critic (Dove passed away from AIDS in 1996) and about the past twenty years of choreography.  She gently reminded me that the generation that we lost to AIDS in the 80s and 90’s has left a large hole in our choreographic heritage-between older choreographers and the debatable quality of much of what we now see in contemporary dance.  I will go one step forward and say that while I am all for free expression and believe that anyone who wants to should try his or her hand at choreography, that we have way too many people of middling talent presenting dances today-which is neither good for dance nor for its reputation with the general public.]

2 Comments

  1. Very well said indeed . . . interestingly in the 60s/70s/early 80s it was easier and cheaper to rent space and put on a little show (without the glossy postcards, etc.) . . . but nobody really paid any attention!

  2. Very well said indeed . . . interestingly in the 60s/70s/early 80s it was easier and cheaper to rent space and put on a little show (without the glossy postcards, etc.) . . . but nobody really paid any attention!

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