Monthly Archives: September 2014

Sightings of the Sixties

Interest in the 60s seems to come in waves. Anna Halprin, Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, Lucinda Childs, Trisha Brown—these are artists associated with that glorious decade who have never stopped working. At the moment they all are very active, and I can just feel that 60s wave of influence come rolling in. Dance artists of that decade taught us about collaboration, non-conventional structures, and cutting down the theatrics of heroism to the human scale. Below are some of the recent and upcoming events showing the work of these artists.

Steve Paxton in Music for Word Words 1963, a precursor to Physical Things, photo by Al Giese

Steve Paxton in Music for Word Words 1963, a precursor to Physical Things at Nine Evenings, photo by Al Giese

• In SoHo, Cathy Weis has set up “Sundays on Broadway,”  a series that shows documentary films about the notorious “Nine Evenings: Theater and Engineering” in 1966. These have included fascinating screenings and discussions, led by Julie Martin, on John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Yvonne Rainer, and Steve Paxton. (I helped moderate the discussion on the Rainer piece.) The Oct 5 episode focuses on Robert Whitman, who created interdisciplinary pieces that were a cross between theater and happenings. Among his performers were dancers like Simone Forti and Lucinda Childs. Some of the films shown are available through ArtPix DVDs.

Billboard of Rainer exhibit at Getty Center

Billboard of Rainer exhibit at Getty Center

• This week in L. A. a work in progress by Yvonne Rainer titled The Concept of Dust, or How do you look when there’s nothing left to move? is being performed at the Getty Center, co-commissioned with Performa, It’s paired with last year’s Assisted Living: Do You Have Any Money? (2013). Both combine Rainer’s austere yet humorous juxtapositions of movement material with texts drawn from many sources. These performances, Oct 3–4, come at the tail end of the excellent exhibit Yvonne Rainer: Dances and Films, which is at the Getty till Oct 12. Her work also recently enjoyed a retrospective in London’s Raven Row.

• On October 11, Fall for Dance presents a pre-show DanceTalk titled “The Last Seismic Shift: How Did Judson Dance Theater Choreographers Challenge Modern Dance?” Panelists are Lucinda Childs, Yvonne Rainer, and Diane Madden of the Trisha Brown Dance Company. (The companies of both Lucinda Childs and Trisha Brown are performing in Fall for Dance.) Lucky me, I am moderating it.BeastCroppedJulieta Cervantes_

Rehearsal of Yvonne Rainer's Chair Pillow at Raven Row, photo by Eva Herzog

Rehearsal of Yvonne Rainer’s Chair Pillow at Raven Row, photo by Eva Herzog

The Beast by Steve Paxton, premiered at Baryshnikov Art Center, 2010, photo by Julieta Cervantes

The Beast by Steve Paxton, premiered at Baryshnikov Art Center, 2010, photo by Julieta Cervantes

• “Steve Paxton: Selected Works” at Dia: Beacon Oct 17–26 offers a rare chance to see four of his most uncompromising pieces. The program includes the absurdist Flat from 1964, the dance with the one action of its title, Smiling of 1969; the surreal ordeal of Bound (1982), performed by Jurij Konjar; and The Beast from 2010. When he premiered this last piece in 2010, I wrote, “A daunting, awesome stubbornness takes over and he seems possessed.” This program continues Dia’s commitment to showing Paxton’s work. Last year Dia: Chelsea presented the Night Stand, the spare, haiku-like collaboration between Paxton and Lisa Nelson. (I posted my thoughts about it here.) On the subject of Paxton in the 60s, there is no better voice than that of his compatriot, Yvonne Rainer, as reflected in her tribute to him last spring. For full information, click here.

• Anna Halprin’s ground-breaking workshops of the period are the subject of an exhibit in Chicago called “Experiments in Environment: The Halprin Workshops, 1966–1971.” You can see that Halprin’s teaching was a precursor to the current craze for site-specific work. The exhibit resides at the Graham Foundation in Chicago until December 13.

“Building Environments Score,” Kentfield, CA. Experiments in Environment Workshop, July 13, 1968. Courtesy Lawrence Halprin Collection, The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania

“Building Environments Score,” Kentfield, CA, 1968. Experiments in Environment Workshop. Courtesy Lawrence Halprin Collection, Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania



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This Dancing Life

Whether or not you’re familiar with Ira Glass’s pitch-perfect storytelling on This American Life, you’re in for a treat if you can catch his act on its 30-city tour. Instead of asking other people questions, he’s talking about his own life. And instead of just talking, he is dancing too.

The famous radio personality has teamed up with two dancers who are as funny and curious—and goofy—as he is: choreographer Monica Bill Barnes and dancer Anna Bass. Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host is a delicious show, an excuse to tell stories embellished by dance, and a chance for general audiences to see into dance.

Anna Bass, Ira Glass, Monica Bill Barnes, photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz

Anna Bass, Ira Glass, Monica Bill Barnes, photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz

The boyish, wonder-full side of Glass that we hear over the radio blossoms when he joins Barnes and Bass in step-kicks and baton twirling. How can an untrained person join two professional dancers and not make a fool of himself? First, he laughs at himself before anyone else does. Second, it’s the timing. He’s learned a thing or two from orchestrating his show for almost 20 years. When he’s telling us a story, he plucks the iPad as though it were a harp, tapping it with a flourish to usher in some music or another voice at just the right moment. That sense of theatrical timing enables him to join Barnes & Bass in some of their numbers—and to boost their theatricality.

In his Act II monologue, he is nicely awestruck by the commitment and passion of dancers. After noting that Monica and Anna started lessons at ages 7 and 5, he asks the audience: “How old were you when you starting training for your job?”

The cleverly told stories alternate with dancing, and all three seem to be bursting at the seams to bring you this fun stuff. As jolly as all this is, the show slows down and dips into something deeper.  When Glass was talking about a husband taking care of his dying wife, Barnes & Bass stood on a table set with dishes, not moving. Suddenly one would fall toward the other, allowing the dishes to clatter to the floor.

Naturally, the show ends with a big show number, blasted confetti and all.

Click here for the complete info on the tour, which continues next Saturday in Houston and travels to points west, Midwest, and Miami.

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Vicky Shick’s Everything You See

Vicky Shick’s epic work Everything You See is coming to the adventurous American Dance Institute in Rockville, MD, September 19 and 20. I say epic not because it’s long or heroic or spectacular (it is none of those things), but because it strings many intricate vignettes into something larger, some sort of ceaseless dance-as-thought continuum. Hundreds of tiny ordinary things somehow accumulate into one extraordinary thing.

Left to right: Laurel Tentindo, Lily xxx, Heather Olson, photo by Alviar Goro

Left to right: Laurel Tentindo, Lily Gold, Heather Olson, photos by Anjola Toro

It’s layered visually, so you see one dance in front of you, and another one behind a translucent screen that bisects the space horizontally. Barbara Kilpatricks’ ingenious costumes too are layered, adding to the eccentric look of the 10 performers. I’m one of those eccentric people. I wear a bubble-wrap tutu with shreds of tulle hanging from it—and of course, my glasses.

This is our third version, and each time I learn something new about Vicky’s approach. Or, since Vicky is purely intuitive and not at all methodical, I learn something new about the alchemy of the choreography, visual element, and sound design by Elise Kermani.

Here’s an irony that I caught onto this time: Although each little bit of movement material is made of stops and starts—a swipe here, a scoop there, a little peck on the cheek that’s almost hidden—putting these hundreds of puzzle pieces together has created a pleasant sense of ongoingness that you can just roll with. Everything You See casts a soft, intimate spell.

Last year, when I was just realizing about this spell, this is what I wrote.

Marilyn and Jon Kinzel

Marilyn Maywald and Jon Kinzel

You can never see all that happens in Everything You See. You experience the two simultaneous planes of dancing no matter which side you choose. Sometimes I think the audience might see it this way: The dancing in front of you is in Technicolor and the dancing behind the screen is in Sepia. (Lighting is by Carol Mullins.) Or maybe the first side is the present and the far side is the past…a memory. Kermani’s sound track, with its snatches of song and sound effects, encourages this feeling of memory.

The best way to see Everything You See at ADI is to sit on one side on Friday night and the other side on Saturday night. It’s the same piece, but you will see different, constantly changing dance-scapes. Click here for more info.

Me in costume

Me in my tutu

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Homans & Taylor: Going Backwards?

What’s going on with these newly announced institutions? Are ballet and modern dance retrenching back into their separate silos?

Just when the dance world has become so stimulating with its jumble of influences from all over the world, and when classical ballet and contemporary dance are criss-crossing in interesting ways, we have recently seen announcements for two major initiatives that stake out claims for a certain kind of dance—a limited kind of dance that is easy to name.

The two are Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance  and Jennifer Homans’ Center for Ballet and the Arts. There’s a ring about each name that implies that the form in question is endangered, and that these initiatives are meant to protect them in their purity.

Some of the most exciting dance I’ve seen lately would not fit into either category. Wayne McGregor’s Chroma, Arthur Pita’s Metamorphosis, JR’s 8-minute Les Bosquets for New York City Ballet, Mats Ek’s Bye for Sylvie Guillem. I suspect that these hybrids are exactly the kinds of things these two initiatives are protecting against. But if you take a quick look at the most successful festivals, they are the ones that juxtapose different styles next to each other, for example Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, NY City Center’s Fall for Dance, and the Vail International Dance Festival. Audiences—especially young audiences—like seeing the mashup of genres that reflects our current culture onstage.

It seems to me that both Homans and Taylor want to stop time. Clearly when she wrote the notorious last chapter of her book Apollo’s Angels (posted as “Is Ballet Over?”  in The New Republic in 2010), she was mourning the loss of Balanchine. Her book judges all of current ballet against that frozen standard. But it’s a different time now and we’re seeing an explosion of vibrant experimentation from Crystal Pite, Helen Pickett, Akram Khan, and many more.

Paul Taylor's Esplanade, photo by Lois Greenfield

Paul Taylor’s Esplanade, photo by Lois Greenfield

Regarding the Taylor effort, modern dance morphed into postmodern decades ago when Merce Cunningham broke from Martha Graham. His aesthetic was so entirely different that we needed a new name. Merce blew two big ideas wide open: structural unity and the close relationship of dance to music. Neither has been the same since. Of course there’s a historical value in the grounding of Taylor’s company in American Modern Dance, but the American influence that has spread across Europe is that of Cunningham’s and post-Cunningham dance artists like Trisha Brown and Steve Paxton.

At the most visible modern dance company in the world—Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater—Robert Battle is breaking boundaries. He’s extending beyond the modern dance idiom with works by Rennie Harris, Aszure Barton, and Wayne McGregor, while still carrying the torch for Revelations.

Chroma, by Wayne McGregor, with Ailey dancers Vernard Gilmore, Alicia Graf Mack, and Linda Celeste Sims

Chroma, by Wayne McGregor, with Ailey dancers
Vernard Gilmore, Alicia Graf Mack, and Linda Celeste Sims

In the case of Homans, she seems not to be aware of what’s going on in the dance world. Ballet companies have been embracing contemporary dance for years. The Royal Ballet, which commissioned Wayne McGregor’s astounding Chroma in 2006, just announced that it is acquiring Israeli choreographer Hofesh Schechter’s Uprising. In years past, the Paris Opera Ballet has commissioned Trisha Brown, Sasha Waltz, and Saburo Teshigawara. I’ve heard that, with the arrival of Benjamin Millepied, the dancers of the world’s oldest ballet company may be improvising gaga-style.

In addition to classical dance companies, some of the top international ballet stars are getting tired of dancing the classics and are seeking stimulation in contemporary dance. Three current examples are Wendy Whelan’s Restless Creature, Osipova and Vasiliev’s Solo for Two, and CONTEXT: Diana Vishneva, a festival of contemporary dance that she inaugurated last year in Moscow.

The description of the Homan’s Center for Ballet and the Arts makes it clear that it will elevate ballet, albeit in collaboration with the other arts, as the form of dance worthy of serious study in the university.

While it’s necessary and wonderful to preserve existing art forms, it seems to me like these two initiatives are going backwards, holding on to a time that is past.

Isaac Akiba of Boston Ballet in Forsythe's The Second Detail, photo by Gene Schiavone

Isaac Akiba of Boston Ballet in Forsythe’s The Second Detail, photo by Gene Schiavone

The good news is that since Apollo’s Angels was published in 2010, Homans has discovered some of the leading lights of ballet, like William Forsythe (with whom she conducted a mutually admiring BAM talk last fall) and Alonzo King. These two key figures have exerted a huge influence on the ballet world for decades, but in Homans’ 600-page history of ballet, Forsythe was mentioned only in an endnote on page 440, and King not at all. So I say kudos to Homans for beginning to open her eyes and seeing what’s around her. This bodes well for the think tank—because before you can think you have to see.

Likewise, Taylor has changed too. When he first announced his idea in February, he was quoted as saying he wanted to remount masterworks from Graham, Humphrey, and Limón. Well, someone must have clued him in to the fact that the Graham and Limón companies themselves are struggling to find audiences for their masterworks, because the later announcements have shifted the emphasis to supporting a new generation of choreographers.

Hopefully, once these two centers are up and running, their initial ideas will continue to evolve. But the similarity between the two makes me ask, What would I want to protect in the dance world? I think it would be the cross-pollination between ballet and modern dance. Since 1973, when the Joffrey dancers joined the Tharp dancers in her ground-breaking Deuce Coupe, the intersection has been exciting to me. But tracing that history is another story….


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DanceNow at Joe’s Pub

The coziest, coolest way to start the fall season is the four-day run at Dancenow Joe’s Pub Festival. Part of the fun is that you get to vote for your favorite, and then all four winners re-appear in an Encore on Sept 13. There is bound to be something delightful, something dark, something borrowed and something blue.

Chelsea Murphy and Magda San Milan in SInger/Songwriter

Chelsea Murphy and Magda San Milan in SInger/Songwriter

I saw the opening program last night and it was hard to pick just one fave. All the performers were engaging—and I found both old and new “crushes.” The five-minute time limit is heaven sent. If you go on Sept 13, you might see one of these from the first night.

• Sydney Skybetter got things off to a nifty start. Dancers Kristen Bell and Jordan Isadore embodied a strong beat with sharp moves in It’s Not Nepotism If You Do It to Yourself;  they were sexy in a nicely androgynous way. They could have, but didn’t replicate the “swagger” that’s so valued on So You Think You Can Dance; instead they wore slightly rumpled business suits that were refreshingly non-gender-defining (costumes by the performers).

Mark Dendy, all photos by Yi-Chun Wu

Mark Dendy, all photos by Yi-Chun Wu

• Mark Dendy, in an excerpt from his Dystopian Distractions! Part 1, enacted a ridiculous speech by Donald Rumsfield about meeting Elvis Presley in Las Vegas. Dendy’s precise gestures were chillingly ludicrous. Wearing a gas mask (costume by Stephen Donovan), he was fascinatingly unmoored. Dendy’s a master and this was a riveting performance.

• In her swoopy, grounded dancing, Gibney Dance’s Natsuki Arai managed to be strong yet vulnerable—not unlike the poignant Patsy Cline song used for this excerpt of Gina Gibney’s Always.

Sean Donovan and Javier Perez in Jane Comfort's Excuse Me, But…

Sean Donovan and Javier Perez in Jane Comfort’s Excuse Me, But…

•Jane Comfort’s Excuse Me, But… for two very fussy characters (Sean Donovan and Javier Perez) who kept asking for their food to be perfect. The skit got funnier as it progressed, ultimately equating food attachments with all-out sexual desire, sending the audience into cascades of giggles and guffaws.

• Completely new to me was the duo Chelsea Murphy and Magda San Millan. What a couple of nutty women—in the best sense. After opening their act with mock sincerity, they swerved from apologetic to raunchy in Singer/Songwriter, surprising us with their bawdiness at every turn.

• David Parker and Jeffrey Kazin, downtown’s resident vaudevillians, ended the evening with a scintillating tap rendition of the Jackson Five classic “I Want You Back.”

For info on tix for the next three nights and Dancenow NYC’s final blowout Encore, click here.

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