by Byron Woods
In this section: Reconstructions: Donald McKayle's Games and Past/Forward's showings of Laura Dean, Hanya Holm and Erick Hawkins; a girlchild education of a different sort by Jiri Kylian; Maguy Marin's umwelt; plus the new stuff -- good, bad and ugly -- by Mark Dendy, Larry Keigwin, Robert Battle. Oh, and Paul Taylor. Among others.
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On the decidedly opposite end of sexual politics, Jiri Kylian’s Evening Song constituted one of the creepiest works of the season, and a wholly different cultural “education” of young women, as three men from the Limon company so gracefully—and systematically—limited the possible range of movements of the three women that were clearly their subordinates. So good were Kylian’s human border collies that they rarely even had to touch their charges—except for that telltale pat on the head toward the end. Pfeh.
Paul Taylor’s works gave us the good, the bad and the ugly. The Bach-fueled drama of Promethian Fire was thrillingly danced with full commitment, and his 3 Epitaphs still got laughs while showing some of the barriers modern dance has busted through.
These, however, came after Taylor’s muddy, formless, plotless—and pointless—Changes. Taylor’s incoherent work, which had absolutely nothing new or interesting to say about the 1960s, was publicly humiliated by being placed alongside Twyla Tharp’s Sweet Fields, a work with clear lines, an interesting and well-articulated vocabulary, and an artist’s unique revisioning of her source material, a set of sacred harp and shaker hymns.
Cleo Parker Robinson’s dance ensemble gave Donald McKayle’s 1951 inner-city, just-before-coming-of-age work Games the proper amounts of sass and pathos, the same night Doug Varone explored the gripping drama of a long-time marriage at the bitter end, in his 1988 short story in dance form, Home.
Though its slow beginnings now sound a bit like The Who, things accelerated soon enough in the reconstruction of Laura Dean’s 1980 work, Tympani. ADF dance student standout Megan Harrold defined a new magnetic center in the work as she whirled across stage.
Though it was only made in 1984, the reconstruction of Hanya Holm’s Jocose seemed much older: a tentative, fragile early fusion of ballet vocabulary and contemporary moves; a somewhat brittle joke by now, I fear.
If the multicultural cast toned down the orientalism in Erick Hawkins’ New Moon—but not Lou Harrison’s music—the cast still experienced systemic costume malfunctions when clothed in Melody Eggen’s reconstructions. The womens’ body coverings became see-through as they passed by David Ferri’s lights—when, that is, they didn’t balloon whenever the dancers whirled about, to repeatedly suggest the shape of an old McDonaldsland villain, the Evil Grimace.
Such are the hazards of art.
The new works were much more of a checkered outfit. Bill T. Jones regaled us with a cascade of images, moves and words in his springboard piece for next year’s work on Lincoln. It was technically as much a world premiere as Shen Wei’s newest—but not necessarily improved—thoughts on his 2004 bid at gesamptkuntswerk, Connect Transfer. If the new piece abridged his solo, late in the work, that would be useful, but the rest of these improved thoughts might bear thinking through again. Perhaps after the Olympics.
New-generation Butoh artist Muramatsu has clearly come into his own with the ghastly gosh, I am alive… The same cannot be said for Dai Rakuda Kan’s Secrets of Mankind. The goal of training dance students in Butoh is commendable. It is also clearly doomed to failure when it’s attempted over six brief weeks followed immediately by a performance. This was the second time in recent years when an audience got baby Butoh when it was expecting something else. Now that the same mistake has been made twice, there’s no reason it should happen again.
Not to be misinterpreted here: We note, with deep approval, that what student Jake Schlichting termed “Butoh boot camp” had largely convinced him to abandon his ballet classes to study abroad next year. Butoh training should obviously continue each year at ADF. The training group just shouldn’t be performing it on mainstage.
Mark Dendy’s new work led M.C. Escher and the audience through a Klein bottle or two in that riveting four-dimensional maze of a work he constructed, Preliminary Study for Depth: The Upper Half of High and Low. Darkness and Light, the new shadow work by Pilobolus with Basil Twist, put the audience through some changes too. Though it bore the hallmarks of a technology just being acquired, further study and development is clearly indicated.
Larry Keigwin’s jokes have gotten better—that or he’s battered down our resistance, it’s hard to tell. His new work, Air, was a party piece—even if his new composition for PARADIGM was ultimately not a laughing matter.
Gus Solomons, jr. and Carmen deLavellade are rightly revered in the dance world. We saw them humbled on this stage, clearly unable to fully execute the moves tasked them by Keigwin and Robert Battle in two other new commissions. Solomons and deLavellade resorted to mugging their way through both works. Then, in a post-show talkback, they revealed they had clearly told the choreographers they couldn’t begin to perform the works as originally crafted. All parties had thus been informed. Yet we saw what we saw. For shame.
Uncomfortable questions about curation were raised in other quarters as well. In a season devoted to “the riches of the modern dance repertory,” Aydin Teker and Khadija Marcia Radin’s work seemed totally out of their depth.
As a group, the recent works, those created within the last decade, were the most successful. In Zvi Gotheiner’s vision of Stravinsky’s Les Noches, a community divides itself into a series of couples in a process as compelling and stark as the composer’s own jagged polyrhythms; bravo. A cotillion far more savage than this—in a mental ward that could have been dreamed up by Tennessee Williams—took place in Robert Battle's nightmare dance, Promenade.
Even harder to take—and significantly longer—was Maguy Marin’s umwelt. Its reflective panels, shaken by powerful wind generators at the corners of the stage, attempted to confront the audience with how precarious our current environmental situation is. It was tempting to read the work as placing her company members in a shelter, or ark of some sort, looking out at a gathering storm—and us, unprotected, in the open beneath it.
A demonstrative quartet danced out their differences in Ronald K. Brown’s Walking Out the Dark, while Doug Varone’s dancers splurged beneath a rising moon in Lux.
The 2008 Season Review concludes in the next post. Leave comments, below. Your remarks won't publish immediately, since we have to screen replies for spam, but all legitimate responses will be posted.