Tag Archives: fossils

Men + Dance = Men in Dance

11 Oct

I’m pretty sure (as in I know) I write for a predominantly female audience…historically, women have found me more entertaining than men have.  However, I would like to dedicate this post to my male audience…all three and a half of you, and in particular the homosexual readers in honor of National Coming Out Day.  As far as I know, I shall attempt to tie this in with a review of a festival showing I went to yesterday, Men in Dance, featuring all male dancers in works by various choreographers.

First, a little anecdote.  I was in a bit of a foul mood yesterday…but lock yourself out of your apartment, lose your key and not so happy you will be!  Normally I’m a very careful person and I don’t make mistakes but when I do they tend to be of the catastrophic variety.  You know the saying: “go big or go home” and that’s what I manage to do…except I couldn’t go home because I lost my key in the taxi, which of course dropped me off within feet of my doorstep.  Irony tastes like crap, and I’ve been mentally vomiting on myself since (which will probably continue until I fix this mess).  So of course because I’m one of those people that has to beat myself up I didn’t sleep well and was quite tired after a restless night at a friend’s house.  Not to mention I had to do the whole “walk of shame” wearing the same clothes from the day before as my landlord let my roommate and I in with the spare key.  The whole condition was exacerbated by the fact that I had to leave my contacts in overnight thus irritating my eyes, and also because I didn’t have time for a shower before heading to Capitol Hill for Men in Dance.  I don’t even remember how I got there—all I remember is zombie-walking to the bus stop messy-haired and red demon eyed, then somehow managing to appear in front of the Broadway Performance hall.

The show featured a great variety of dance styles, beginning with a preshow where a group of men danced outside, in the lobby, on the stairs leading to the theatre and eventually on one corner of the stage.  As they explored these spaces, sometimes they danced at you…not for you, at you (I almost tripped over one going up the stairs).  The preshow also included a small tap ensemble, clad in black, white and shades of grey pedestrian clothing, executing complicated footwork with such ease I wanted to believe that I too, could do such a thing…but that’s the mark of great hoofers; they make it look insanely easy.  In this sense, I often feel tap is the most deceiving dance form.

Following the preshow came Cypher, a male pas de trois that consisted of a number of dizzying turns and leaps…perhaps, too many.  Here’s the thing about bravura steps…when you have a lot of pirouettes and leaps it’s one of two things; it’s a variation/coda or the piece is being overpowered by an excess of such movements.  When it comes to a modern ballet, I don’t look for specific turns or jumps but what is the effect of a turn or jump?  Does it emphasize a musical phrase or show visual contrast in levels?  I wasn’t feeling much of a sense of purpose, other than to show off…which is an entirely legitimate choice but I felt that the pirouettes and leaps actually detracted from some of the more interesting choreography.  There were wonderful moments of texture—smooth classical lines as well as smaller staccato movements, set to a compelling score entitled Trilobita, which I assume translates into trilobite (and you know I’m a huge fossil geek).  It’s a fine line any time you put in a coupe jeté followed my multiple pirouettes because it can get competition dance-y very quickly.

Following that was an interesting piece with a group of young men performing a…running(?) dance, with a lot of acrobatic maneuvers and tiny jogging shorts.  It was one of those pieces with no music, which tends to freak me out but what’s interesting is that without music, dancers have to tap into a sort of mass, innate, biological rhythm that we often lose touch with.  I imagine it’s the same “force” that informs a school of fish to change directions at the exact same time or a flock of geese to fly in a V.   Speaking of mysterious forces, then came Wade Madsen’s pas de deux, Breath of Light.  This piece was stunning—an intimate duet for two men that really investigated the connection between two people.  There was of course close contact in the partnering but there were also moments where one dancer would run his hand along the contours of his partner’s body without touching him, making tangible the energy that can be felt radiating from another person.

After that sensual pas de deux, came the most amazing pas de quatre…linked to Jules Perrot’s famous divertissement for the four legendary ballerinas, Carlotta Grisi, Lucille Grahn, Marie Taglioni and Fanny Cerrito.  Using Cesare Pugni’s same score, choreographer Eva Stone made the piece in the image of four modern women with contemporary choreography and set to out to do the same for four men, but decided to keep the women’s choreography and simply had men perform it.  Under the title Me Over You, the new pas de quatre had four men with diva attitudes trying to outshine one another on stage in a myriad of movement styles, from balletic to modern and even gestures of vulgarity (“the finger” if you must know).  The result was a comedic dance that drew raucous laughter from the audience and squees of glee from those who could tell that Stone even quoted a bit of Perrot’s Pas de Quatre.

The first piece after intermission was a nice solo…modern, lyrical, with interesting points of origin and alighting.  The standout of the afternoon however, was an excerpt from artistic director of Whim W’Him, Olivier Wevers’s new work Monster, which debuted at the festival (Whim W’him will perform the full version of Monster in January).  Monster embodied the anguish felt by homosexuals over the disenfranchisement that comes from being a part of a marginalized population.  The performance was dedicated to the teens that committed suicide because of bullying based on their sexual orientation (although the piece was obviously created and rehearsed before—that kind of dance doesn’t happen overnight…usually).  I’m so pleased to see that such a topic is so forthrightly observed in Seattle’s dance community.  I think this subject matter is often avoided because some people in the dance community feel that evasion of it is the best way to combat so called “negative” stereotypes about male dancers while others are so beyond acceptance that it’s completely a non-issue.  There’s not as much open dialogue about the “middle” and I think that’s whom this dance is for.  Not everyone can grow up in a liberal city like Seattle or New York and those who don’t tend to suffer the most.  I certainly had my share (if not the brunt) of it growing up so I could relate to the piece a lot.  For example, normally in a promenade in ballet, the danseuse is in a position like an attitude or arabesque—something expansive that really fills a space but Monster had these low promenades in a tucked, almost fetal position, trying to make the body look as small as possible as if shrinking away from society.  The truth is, sometimes diminishing (and inadvertently belittling) oneself was the only way to avoid being hurt by others.  At other times there were these huge, sprawled out extensions that expressed the impossibility of trying to contain one’s own spirit.  Both dancers (PNB company members) were sublime, and I really enjoyed watching Lucien Postlewaite in this performance.  I remember seeing him in Balanchine’s Square Dance earlier this year and Monster is such a departure from that it’s great to see such versatility in a performer.  Random note, I’d like to ask him what it feels like to have super strong, obedient legs…does it feel as awesome as it looks?

At any rate, I think it’s noteworthy that Wevers and Postlewaite are actually married, and because this is Seattle it’s not gossip but casual information.  It’s interesting because the sexuality of dancers is as I said, often not discussed because most people in the dance community don’t care one way or another.  Unfortunately it’s jerks outside of the dance community that exploit stereotypes and make fun of dancers, both professional and aspiring.  For that reason, I think some dancers also avoid discussing it for fear that public interest in their personal lives will supersede their professional ones…it’s all very “Anderson Cooper” if you will, who is believed/known to be gay and is sometimes harshly viewed by the gay community for not publically discussing his personal life.  The resentment is perhaps understandable—people want role models but at the same time nobody should be required to discuss something so personal and in that sense I think people who take that route represent an ideal, of the way society should be.  On the other hand, society isn’t there yet and we do need role models and for that we can look to Marcelo Gomes who did publically “come out” and it hasn’t affected his career at all—in fact, he’s often crowned “the most in demand partner in the world.”  So young friends who are gay and struggling with confidence, look to the likes of these gentlemen and know that your success is possible, regardless of stupid people around you.

The penultimate piece was a solo by former New York City Ballet principal, who apparently came out of retirement (though the end of the piece seemed like a farewell to the stage) to dance an Agon-esque solo choreographed by Donald Byrd.  There was something oddly Agon-y about the solo, and perhaps because Boal has danced Agon what, eighty-five million times?  I likened it to a “West Coast Agon” though, Seattle-fied with jeans and a t-shirt (a comment from the peanut gallery noted that the only thing missing was the Birkenstocks).  Then came the final dance of the evening; sharp, modern, percussive and with a clear beginning, middle and end.  Lots of changes of direction, reversals and athletic lifts that made for a high-energy conclusion of the afternoon.

So what started out as a crappy day (for me) improved vastly by concert’s end.  The festival goes for two weeks and will showcase a different set of works for this upcoming weekend and if this past weekend was any indication, attendance is highly recommended.  Let me just say the audience simply enjoyed watching men dance…because men don’t dance enough (obviously the world would be a better place if they did).  If you are a man (or boy!) in dance and people give you a hard time for it, know that you are or will be loved, so hang in there.  If ignoramuses give you a really hard time…well that calls for a swift kick to the shins.  What do you think the REAL purpose of frappes at barre is?

Title-ating

21 Nov

I went to another Ohio State University show this night, with the unimaginative title of Resident and Visiting Artists Dance Concert.  But there’s something to be said for a title that just tells you what it is in a few words, unfettered by flourishes trying to express some idea.  Unfortunately I was running late (not a surprise) so I missed getting into the theatre for the first piece and had to watch through a door window.  As a result of my tardiness, I also did not get a program, so as I did with the show earlier, I am going into this review with no information, no ideas, and no titles to clue me in on anything.  But there’s something to be said for that too…the idea of viewing a dance with no expectations (literally).  So it looks like I’m going to have to make up my own titles, although my reactions are of course always my own, and you better believe I believe that we are all entitled to that.  Could renaming the dances for my own purposes be potentially offensive to their respective choreographers?  Maybe…maybe not…it’s not really my problem.

I won’t review every piece (C-bus people should really go see the show on their own…it’s a really good show), just a few highlights of the group numbers to entice the imagination.  The first piece I saw through the window looked really interesting…mathematical formations, Earthy-brown costumes and lots of prayerish gesturing.  And prayer beads.  I shall call it, Goddess Hymn.  Svetlana was actually in the piece so I was mad at myself for missing the direct experience, but she had significant phrases stage left, which was the only side I could see so the glass was half full.  From what I could tell, all of the dancers were female (like that’s a surprise), but the music had soothing female vocals as well.  It was very much a “dance,” with codified movement like arabesque turns, chaînés and grand battements, and yet it was structured in such a way that gave it a real spirituality.  I don’t know if it was specific to any religion, but it felt specific to the sensations of spirituality.  I am not religious (when you have a Catholic father and a Buddhist mother, the last thing you want is more religion!), but I do consider myself somewhat spiritual.  If anything, I say yay Daoism…go with the flow and don’t ask questions because those who know the Dao don’t actually know it.  But the point is, when I see something in nature that pleases me, like a beautiful starscape or a simple oak tree, a certain feeling of spirituality is invoked because I believe those things to be spiritual, and that was something I felt a twinge of while watching this dance.

The piece right after it…er, I think…was Into the Æther (I’ve always wanted to use that symbol), and it was painted in varying shades of cool blues and set to a heinous violin soundtrack.  Like sustained, dissident notes that reminded me of one of my worst fears, which is dying in the vacuum of space.  I’ve never had nightmares of drowning or being burned alive, but somehow the image of my body floating in space is something I’ve unpleasantly dreamt of and fear for no logical reason (as if, I would ever go into space!).  Of course, the music is genius depending on who you are, but we all know me.  At the very least, the music was used effectively.  This piece had a lot of dancers doing some very turbulent and aggressive movement, synching in and out and constantly changing tempo.  This is why I was really getting the image of the sky, because to me, the sky is something scattered, especially as you get further away from Earth, oxygen and other gases become increasingly diffuse.  And yet the sky has this awesome power, arguably the most formidable influence on Earth, but it is a power that can neither be sustained nor harnesses.  It can only conglomerate and dissipate, with no will of its own.  At one point the dancers are following each other in a sinuous line like a current of air, following the same path but not in the same way, and another moment they’re all twitching before crystallizing into a certain pose, like snowflakes, and then evaporating into shapeless vapor.  It was all very atmospheric to me and the creative distance to which one is willing to go in modern dance has to be dependent upon how far into the exosphere one’s imagination goes…too bad neither distance is measurable.  It certainly gives new meaning to the phrase “head in the clouds.”

Me?  I like it terrestrial, with my feet firmly planted on mother Earth.  Hence, simple interpretations and a devout love for ballet.  And there was a touch of that, in a screwball, theatrical staging of a work set to Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival of the Animals.  Despite a nefarious decision to exclude the Aquarium movement (which I can only assume is a personal attack on my integrity), this was the action-packed and comical Looney Tunes performance to the classically romantic music.  I’m not kidding…there was a classic “search” scene, complete with exaggeratedly cautious steps and binoculars, a scene with dynamite, and a Scooby-Doo style chase for the finale.  But it wasn’t just people portraying animals, because there was a turning of the tables as well because most of the characters were actually human.  So it was really like a commentary on the animalistic characteristics of people…or, people, portraying animals, pretending to be people.  You’ll have to choose your own adventure I’m afraid.  With Aquarium absent, Fossils was my favorite musically, and the premise for it was a crotchety ballet teacher, who I shall call Madame Jelena Danyushka Baraksanova, and she basically dictates a class, without words in her old school way.  Of course The Swan was included, and paid tribute to Fokine’s Dying Swan, but with the dancer *ahem* as a child, who can barely walk on pointe, and has epic stage fright, which can only be resolved by a colossal, rainbow colored lollipop.  By the end she does evolve into the more familiar swan, complete with bourées and undulating arms, but instead of the tragic end where the swan settles into that pose on the floor we all know, laying her head to rest with her final breath to trickling piano notes, this swan gets her lollipop, and we are treated to the image of an undulating tongue.  I’ve never seen a tongue choreographed into a piece before, but there’s certainly a first for everything.  P.S. Tortoises will have you laughing until you can’t breathe.

Anyway it was a fantastic show and C-bussers have one last chance to see it on Saturday, November 21st, 8pm at Sullivant Hall.  And speaking of Sullivant Hall, that building needs to get its act together.  Apparently the swan was even questionable to dance for fears that the ill-supported stage would collapse under the concentrated weight of a dancer on pointe.  First of all, that’s one of the funniest images I could ever think of (up there with a mitten exploding because a cricket set one foot in it when there were already too many animals inside) and second, that stage is ridiculous.  Why it was ever built that way, and why it apparently has no support underneath is beyond me.

Rattle me bones

4 Oct

First post of October, one of my favorite months of the year!  I’m also writing this on about two hours of fragmented sleep, which is probably not a good idea and guarantees zero well thought out…content…but you only live once.  I love October because it puts me in the mood for many things…the changing leaves (I’ve always loved the smell of dead, wet leaves), anything involving pumpkins, and All Hallow’s Eve.  It doesn’t really make sense that Halloween would be one of my favorite holidays, considering I don’t go trick-or-treating, attend costume parties, or go to haunted houses, but there’s something about the cheery atmosphere, the symbolic characters, the massive amounts of discounted chocolate (the solution to all problems), and yes, pumpkins.  I do think some aspects of Halloween are pretty lame, and the lengths to which some people will go for costumes is wasteful, but I can’t help but admire the festive spirit.  Plus, one of my favorite memories of one of my best friends occurred on a beggar’s night, when a little child jumped out of a bush and startled her, and without thinking she said “God damn you!”  Good.  Times.

In terms of music, Halloween is ALL about Camille Saint-Saëns Danse Macabre for me, one of my absolute favorite pieces of all time.  Although in a past life I was definitely an orchestra patron who walked out of a Stravinsky concert outraged, I was most defos fascinated by Saint-Saëns.  Most balletomanes would know his name from The Dying Swan set to Le Cygne from Le Carnaval des Animaux.  Although, let it be known that Le Cygne is not my favorite movement, but rather Aquarium and Fossiles are instead.  It’s all a part of my geeky nature…just as I had aspirations to see Carlos Acosta, the Bolshoi Ballet, etc. so do I have aspirations to see certain sea creatures, with whale sharks being the current flavor (it was sea otters before, which was accomplished at the Seattle Aquarium where I bought a magnet).  Whale sharks are going to be tricky though because they’re raised in captivity in far fewer places, most of them in Asia, and I’m banking on my best bet being the Georgia Aquarium, which is also one of the few aquariums to house a manta ray.  Ideally, I would love to dive with whale sharks off the coast of Thailand or Australia, but that’s a much more complicated matter.  Anyway, Saint-Saëns, Aquariums, awesome, Fossiles, wonderful, and the latter quotes Danse Macabre in a major key, bringing us back to the original topic.

People who hang with me are forced to pose with dinosaur bones.  And yes, I've made her do this on more than one occasion.

People who hang with me are forced to pose with dinosaur bones. And yes, I've made her do this on more than one occasion.

I was fortunate to play Danse Macabre as a part of an orchestra, although my favorite arrangement is a chamber version for violin and piano, from the album Devil’s Dance, by Gil Shaham and Jonathon Feldman.  Another great track on there is Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Caprice Fantastique, but the whole album is really good and highly recommended, with endless potential for great dances.  As far as Danse Macabre is concerned, I love the time signature (it’s a waltzy three), and the texture is a bizarre juxtaposition of lyrical and bony…a lot like me, which I guess makes it easy to feel at home with it.  It has an element of playfulness to it that you wouldn’t expect from a dance involving death, and interested in seeing how people would interpret this, I of course carried out my usual excavations through YouTube, this time coming up with three unique interpretations.  The first is a fairly run of the mill “the Wilis have come out to play” group dance called La Melodie, and I have to say that I wasn’t particularly moved.  It was a little too technical and got “stuck” in several places, and although not every dance needs a story, I do think that it should evoke some kind of feeling and it was rather flat.  Are the Wilis happy to be playing?  Or are they somber as they journey into the underworld?  In all fairness, the choreographer mentions that it was their first classical work, but I do wish there was some more risk taking.

Next we have a solo from now San Francisco Ballet principal Tan Yuan Yuan, performing a modern solo entitled “Startling Dream,” and accordingly stiffness in her port de bras and the pencil straight lines of her legs were used as a way to convey the awkwardness of the music itself.  It’s an interesting solo, marred by a heinous competition number fluttering from her leotard.  It doesn’t say who conceived the choreography, but I like the real sense of desperation and terror that we often feel in nightmares.  Interestingly enough, I’m not bothered by the lack of a setting, and I think the all black stage enhances the piece, kind of like a body floating in nothingness, which my nightmares sometimes look like.  And sometimes in those nightmares I’m wearing a high cut leotard too.

Last, is a brilliantly disturbing interpretation by a famous Norwegian choreographer, Kjersti Alveberg.  I looked for a website on her, and her bio alone screams “creative mind” (something about her being a gypsy living in the universe of her unconscious where it matters more “who we are than who we want to be.”  She’s deep…and this coming from someone who takes fortune cookies seriously).  Her Danse Macabre is by far the most imaginative and the most grotesque (maybe even too much…I mean speaking of nightmares, her dance might give me them for a week), and her imagery is so creative…reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil but without the concern for acrobatics and impressing audiences, just pure art.  I think it really touches on an innate morbid curiosity humans have, where you can’t look away no matter how unsettling it can be.  It’s an utterly fascinating video dance, although I was a little disappointed with the very end, because the end of Danse Macabre is a cheeky plucking of two notes, which is one of the moments in the music that I find just a little saucy, and pardon the imagery but it’s like a “giving of the finger” if you know what I mean.  It’s a great moment that was purposely edited out, but I have to question that decision.  Tan Yuan Yuan’s solo only used an excerpt and didn’t have this, and La Melodie had it, but didn’t give it enough pizzazz.

So, I’m exhausted, and I’m sorry this entry isn’t particularly funny…when I’m tired most of my humor manifests in slapstick, and I’m glad none of you saw how I tripped coming up the stairs or shampooed my hair twice because I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing.  And WOW I had a lot of typos…