Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fall for Dance, September 17th

I went to the first night of Fall for Dance on Wednesday and enjoyed it very much. I'm actually going to see all the programs this year which I'm excited about. A friend and her boyfriend who are in town came with me which was particularly nice. With my regular dance-going companion off in vet school learning to save the animals I'm left to drag other people off to shows with me so I was delighted that they enjoyed themselves. 

The first group of the night was Shen Wei Dance Arts. They were performing excerpts from a piece called Maps. I was looking forward to seeing this group and, to my surprise, found the dance interesting without being particularly appealing on a personal level. I can't help but wonder if I would have liked it more if we had seen it in its entirety instead of in excerpts. I also wonder if going to their Web site before attending might have allowed me to connect more to it as they have a lot of information about what the dancers are doing and what the intention of the choreography is. Something that I think is great. Less great? That it's one of those obnoxious flash sites that doesn't allow me to link directly to the information I'm talking about. 

As I think about it, I wonder if the reason it didn't engage me emotionally is because it seemed so divorced from anything other than the exploration of movement as its own end. I'm not saying that's not worthy but that I don't think it's what I enjoy most as a member of the audience. I found it interesting how one dancer would begin a certain movement and then the other dancers would pick it up and I also found myself following some of the patterns avidly. But what I kept coming back to was that no one on the stage ever touched. It seemed dehumanizing in a way to me and overly repetitive. Those two things being connected to my way of thinking. 

The second group to dance was Pichet Klunchun Dance Company doing a piece called Chui Chai. The program explained the story that the dance told and while I couldn't actually follow that I still found the dancing to be incredibly beautiful. The dancers control, particularly in their slow movements is amazing to me. The silent beginning of the dance, with women dressed in gorgeous ornate costumes moving ever so slowly, was marred by a cell phone going off and a man who felt the need to get his two cents in by yelling about it--as if adding to the disruption isn't also disrespectful to both the performers and the audience. Honestly, good manners aren't difficult. Anyway, I found that I couldn't take my eyes off the the dancers' fingers, the way they bent them back and moved them so precisely and how noticeable the subtle changes are. The other thing that fascinated me was the way that, when walking quickly, the dancers seemed almost to be gliding because their bodies never changed height. I don't know if I'm describing that right.  I felt fortunate to have a chance to see this.

After the intermission was Keigwin + Company performing the "Fire" segment of Elements. It's funny. Occasionally. Not, I think, nearly as funny as it's meant to be. Mostly it seems like the dance is going for cheap laughs. Look at how silly these dancers look in these unflattering costumes with the corsets and the bathing caps. Look at how incongruous it is to see them doing hip hop. It was just frivolous, but while frivolity can be a great deal of fun, in this case it seemed lazy more often than not. 

The final work of the evening was the National Ballet of Canada in Jiri Kylian's Soldiers' Mass. Like Shen Wei in Maps, Kylian frequently uses dancers moving in unison and creating patterns or picking up a movement from one dancer and repeating it, to create his effect. And yet if the dancing in Maps seemed dehumanizing then Soldiers' Mass is its opposite. The ballet's power comes from the fact that its soldier dancers are never anything more or less than humans. The comradeship, the fear, the grief, the bravery of the soldiers...those things are the point of the ballet. And although it's sad it's not entirely dark as there felt to me to be a strain of hopefulness running through it. I kept thinking--perhaps because it's the war I've read the most about--of the trench warfare of the first World War and the soldiers just sitting and waiting. Although I thought that at times it didn't work perfectly--I'm not sure here how to explain how I felt--I did find it quite moving. 

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