by Byron Woods
What threatened to be "a year-long Festival of the Feet" when it was announced in March turned out better than we'd feared.
With some exceptions.
This version of our comprehensive season wrap is verifiably our last word on ADF Season 2008. With 1,100 more words than the story in our print edition (including our views on Meredith Monk, Maguy Marin, the Japanese Festival and Acts to Follow), this report has all the juicy stuff we couldn't cram onto the pages of this week's copy of the Independent Weekly.
Buy the ticket -- click on "more" -- and read the verdicts (in this and the next two posts). Then leave your reactions in Comments, below. As always, your replies won't appear immediately, since we have to screen for spam. But all legitimate responses will be posted.
Split Stages, Split Decisions
ADF's 2008 season instructed, frustrated -- and occasionally, amazed...
Review by Byron Woods
The lovers’ most heartfelt wish can be put into one word. Here it is: Stay.
It’s no less true for those who deeply love the dance.
Stay, Zvi Gotheiner, Laura Dean, Doug Varone and Takuya Muramatsu: choreographers who brought us visions of darkness and light, stories of fearsome symmetry and equally fearsome chaos.
Stay, Yukari Ota and William B. McClellan, Jr., Shani Collins and Paul Matteson, Sara Procopio and Brooke Broussard: dancers whose singular presences embodied and conveyed ideals.
Stay, Promenade, Rust, Promethean Fire, Sweet Fields: works that comforted, challenged, prompted our consciences and inspired.
Stay and warn us further, Maguy Marin, though the tutelage be harsh.
Stay, students: David Brick, HeJin Jang, Kate Abarbanel, Yve Cohen, Yvette Luxenberg, Lorna Troost, Megan Harrold, Leah Ives and storyteller Dana Caspersen, whose most courageous movements, questions and experiments in choreography taught us much and helped to light the path ahead.
Stay, needed teachers: Dot Silver, Carol Richard. Your leaving here this past year leaves us less.
Stay, ghost, said Thomas Wolfe.
Stay, sang Paul Buchanan. Stay, and I will understand you.
“This could be a recipe for disaster,” I muttered to myself, gazing at the March press release which described a season full of shared-billing showcases for the 2008 season of the American Dance Festival. “Great: A year-long Festival of the Feet.”
Long-time dance-goers will recognize the name from the 2004 and 2005 seasons: hybrid evenings in which three companies performed different percussive folk dance forms on the same stage—Indian Kathak, tap and flamenco the first year; African, tap and Irish dance the year after.
No, it wasn’t a useless concept, and at least one worthy artistic conversation, between Pandit Chitresh Das and Jason Samuels Smith, began during those programs and continued long afterward (including here, during the 2006 season).
But we were appropriately critical of the slam segues that occurred at times when cultural worlds collided.
And we were even more critical of showcase programs content with presenting 20-minute sets by world-class dance groups—companies whose ranks had obviously been sharply reduced for the occasion. These seemed an affront to what should have been ADF’s standards of curation.
Then, on top of that, the festival charged the season’s highest ticket prices for nights containing the briefest amounts of actual dance on stage.
Small wonder we called it dance tourism on the (not-so) cheap at the time.
There were echoes of these issues during the 2008 season, starting with the opening night.
Yes, the Parsons Dance Company appeared—in the sole person of Davis Robertson, during the six minutes of Parson’s “floating” piece, Caught.
PARADIGM was similarly cut from a company of eight to its two co-founders, Carmen deLavallade and Gus Solomons, jr., for all of the 14 minutes they had on stage on June 30.
Though initially slated to perform two works on June 24, Khadija Marcia Radin and colleague Mahbud John Burton were permitted seven whole minutes to be with us in what was all too short a moment of Rapture, the same night others walked out on Maguy Marin’s hour-long umwelt.
Imbalance was the word as well for Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company as it briefly interjected the quirky choreography of Alwin Nikolais among Trisha Brown’s extensive sets in their June 12 concert.
In the same vein, Martha Clarke’s eight-minute Nocturne seemed a poorly rehearsed afterthought, designed to give Pilobolus a fig-leaf of deniability as the only company not forced to share an evening during the 2008 season.
But where festival management—and audiences—both got mugged repeatedly while walking down memory lane in 2007, this season’s track record on reconstructions was a lot better.
We savored Ailey II’s soaring interpretation of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, and a particularly crisp rendition of Jose Limon’s The Moor’s Pavane. We then traced some of Doug Varone's inspiration back to Limon's not as frequently-seen solo, Chaconne, which effectively conveyed a nostalgia, but for the present moment.
Not that all works were as uniformly successful. If the movement vocabulary Eleo Pomare crafted for the mother in Las Desenamoradas seemed now only appropriate for an old Joan Crawford thriller (and simply bizarre when juxtaposed against John Coltrane’s music), McClellan’s embodiment of Talley Beatty’s 1947 Mourner’s Bench appeared heartfelt, lyrical, fresh—and still daring.
True, Trisha Brown’s evening didn’t put her best work forward, even in an anniversary season that claimed to “make the dances the star.” Her PRESENT TENSE seemed an almost monochrome affair when compared with works from The Trilogy, Five-Part Weather Invention, or her operatic cycle.
But Nikolais’ trippy projections, geeky sounds and oddly mirrored images thoroughly—and amusingly—defamiliarized the human body about a generation and a half before the word “deconstruction” was first coined, while his imaginative Tensile Involvement had dancers craft a stage-wide cat’s cradle with multi-colored elastic bands.
After last summer’s (perhaps deliberately) abortive attempts to place their work in inappropriate hands, I was unsurprised to see Eiko and Koma alone on stage again. Given the dangerous political posturing now taking place at our nation’s boundaries, their 1989 work, Rust, provided a far too timely reminder of what bodies at an unfriendly border actually look like: discards, slowly twisting, caught on a chain-link fence.
Then came the lyricism and understated humor of Lar Lubovitch’s Concerto Six Twenty-Two. How far can we say we have truly come since 1986 when the frankness, love, sadness and final parting still silences us in the male duet at the heart of its second movement?
The answer’s much more obvious, however, when a similar question is applied to the Martha Graham works we saw. Though on opening night the damning word “petrified” showed up more than once in my notes on Steps in the Streets, the night after it was better. Still, the herky quality of movement kept reminding me of the factory scenes in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
Instead of seeing three couples in love in her Diversion of Angels, we saw three women—who weren’t that clearly differentiated—being worshipped and catered to at some length by laughably interchangeable drones. Was it really always thus?
Of the three works we saw, her earliest, Lamentations, was ironically the most “present.”
But the pre-show explication given by artistic director Janet Eilber suggested that Graham’s works were no longer able to clearly speak for themselves.
When the work was performed I asked, “Are we able to identify Steps in the Streets´ “clear political message” without these clarifying words? Come to think of it, can we identify that message even with them?”
Similar, and similarly uncomfortable, questions apply at this point to Meredith Monk’s Solo from Education of the Girlchild.
Patti Smith used the term “babelogue” – a discourse in some way associated with the tower of Babel – to title a spoken word piece on her Easter album. At first, Monk’s solo appears to be babelogue itself: an undecipherable vocal discourse superimposed on a relatively simple yet alien physical discourse.
These give the sense of having come from a lost, simpler folk culture that was only advanced enough to craft the dancer’s simple, folk-based garb. But those granny glasses and the platinum wig which the dancer reverently takes off (after enacting a woman older than herself) contradicts such interpretation. So much for ethnographic authenticity.
Monk’s work seeks to show us the similarities between the maiden at the end and the crone at the beginning; but a feeling of harangue besets the lengthy, strident vocals of the mother’s section.
The question of necessity is raised in reference to so determined a work's incomprehensibility: Does Girlchild wish to communicate anything to us besides the alien quality of the depicted “culture’s” body language and tongue? Has the audience, in fact, been cast in this work as some pre-verbal girlchild only able to experience the characters’ speech as music and nonsense syllables, and unable to comprehend the rest? If so, the point is made well before the monotonous and poorly-tuned piano finishes its 35-minute cycle.
Another composer, John Cage, once famously said, “I have nothing to say, and I am saying it, and that is poetry.”
But at this point, Monk’s Solo seems to strive far too earnestly for the impenetrability it conveys. Ironically, it tries so hard only to say so little — that it doesn’t seem worth all the effort.
The 2008 Season Review continues in the next two posts. Leave comments, below. Your remarks won't publish immediately, since we have to screen replies for spam, but all legitimate responses will be posted.