Thursday, October 18, 2007


At Fall for Dance, which Wendy and I went to, they gave out these cards with a 3 companies or more for $15 a piece offer. Being the sort of people who justify what they want by saying, "Oh, I have to buy it, it's on sale," we naturally had to take advantage of this. Which is how we ended up in the second to last row of City Center's rear mezzanine tonight. And which is how you get to read me trying to talk about dance without really describing it, since I don't really have the vocabularly or understanding to do so.

I've been trying to read up on the dances I'm going to see so that I can feel a little less ignorant when watching them but there wasn't a ton to read. Reviews of their recent London performances were only partially helpful because the program is different, and none of the American newspapers had reviews up yet. The only review of this particular show that I found was Tonya Plank's review on her blog, "Morphoses' First Full Program: A Complete and Utter Bore, Unfortunately" which was about as positive as it sounds. It didn't leave me feeling very optimistic going into this evening, but maybe that's a good thing, because it gave me the opportunity to be pleasantly surprised. Because I was neither completely or utterly bored. In fact, for most of the evening I was downright interested.

Which is not to say that I entirely disagree with her assessment. I was interested in what I was seeing, but I didn't enjoy all of it. She points out the prevalence of pas de deux, and the lack of variety in the choreography, and I think those are both valid criticisms. She also, if I understand correctly, particularly disliked "There Where She Loved," and I do think it was less interesting than some of the other pieces I saw tonight. And yet the idea that the entire evening was made up of, "completely meaningless weird abstract shape after completely meaningless weird abstract shape after completely meaningless weird abstract shape," and that the dances did nothing to engage the intellect is a one I can't get behind. And that an entire night of abstract dances--which I'm not convinced this was, anyway--is an insult to the intelligence of the audience is a view that I don't really understand. As I've mentioned before, I have very little experience with dance, but I don't necessarily think that going to see an evening of abstract dances is that different than going to an art show comprised entirely of abstract works--something I've done and enjoyed. The abstraction does engage one's mind. It's just that it engages the mind differently. You might not think about a Renoir and a Kandinsky in the same way, but you will think about both.

More often then being bored, I found myself annoyed. I'd never seen any of Wheeldon's choreography prior to tonight, but watching "There Where She Loved" I immediately understood what Alistair Macaulay was talking about when he wrote of "After the Rain" that:
this dance also exposes how dismayingly passive his presentation of women often is. Perhaps only with a strong-looking dancer like Ms. Whelan can it be tolerable to watch a woman repeatedly swoon, drape herself on her partner’s neck or back, ecstatically abase herself at his feet, and let him lift her like the sail to his mast or the prow to his ship.
I agree that this passivity is distasteful. I found myself thinking at times about how much I would like it if the ballerinas could just dance on their own two feet as opposed to constantly being carried around in various positions. When the women were allowed to dance instead of being carried to and fro, then I enjoyed the piece. And I did find the end affecting, even if that which came before was more frustrating than emotionally engaging. I wish there had been some guidance in the program. Because while I understood the ending (I don't know much French, but even I know enough to understand that) I feel that there were relationships being shown throughout for which I didn't understand the dynamic. The best thing might have been to provide a translation of the song lyrics--although perhaps that would have been too difficult and space-consuming a task.

There were other times, however, when I found the partnering more enjoyable and surprising than obnoxious, such as in "Tryst." I was a bit distracted while watching that piece by the fact that the music undeniably belongs in a bad Sci Fi movie--particularly considering the fact that it includes the sound of a spaceship taking off--but I thought there were times when the movement was beautiful. Particularly the geometry of Bussell and Cope's bodies and the ways in which they connected and disconnected.

I also found "Fool's Paradise" to be beautiful, and was grateful for the occasional breakup of all the pas de deux. I found it most interesting and memorable at these times, when there were multiple couples on the stage moving in the same way, or when the men or women were dancing together.

"Dance of the Hours," meanwhile, was delightful and light, which makes sense given the context, and was a nice break from all the less delight-filled fare of the evening. I felt like it, combined with "Slingerland" which, though also a pas de deux, was not choreographed by Wheeldon but Forsythe, and felt somewhat different in its aesthetic, helped to break up the sameness of the evening. The sense I got from Forsythe's piece was that of anxiety permeating things. That's not something I felt a lot of in Wheeldon's works.

Wheeldon, on the other hand, at moments manages real moments of poignancy, although they never seem to be sustained over the course of an entire piece. It seems to me that Wheeldon's work is neither genius nor revolutionary but it is interesting. In part because the abstraction makes the work like a puzzle I want to solve. I imagine it would help to talk about it, but talking endlessly about the meaning and intention of things after seeing them isn't really Wendy's cup of tea. So I'm trying to muddle along on my own because there's meaning and emotion there, and I can catch glimpses of it, threads that I want to tease out, but I don't know how to unravel them. Those threads are, to my mind, a definite positive. It's also interesting work to me for another, less positive reason, which is that it feels to me like his dances should, or could, be more memorable and affecting than they are.

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