Archive for June, 2011

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Rosas danst Rosas, photo by Jean-Luc Tanghe

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker stepped on stage last Saturday night to accept a lifetime achievement award from the American Dance Festival. A few minutes later, the 51-year-old Belgian choreographer was back to perform – unbilled – in her demanding signature work, Rosas danst Rosas. One of the dancers from her company was apparently sick. It was also De Keersmaeker’s birthday. Was her appearance a present to herself or was she pressed into service? No matter.

Though De Keersmaeker didn’t move as intensely as the other three performers at the Reynolds Industries Theater in Durham, N.C., the piece would’ve looked differently than during its U.S. premiere 25 years ago anyway. Time and the march of dance history have a way of changing perceptions.

By 1983, when she made Rosas danst Rosas shortly after forming her company in Brussels, De Keersmaeker had absorbed the previous quarter century of New York postmodern style (she attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1981-82), especially the mathematical repetition employed by some of the Judson Church choreographers of the 1960s.

I was running late (as usual) to a 1986 matinee performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where De Keersmaeker’s fledgling Rosas troupe was about to become the sensation of BAM’s Next Wave Festival. The 550-seat Lepercq Space upstairs, with its general admission seating, was already packed, and I was going to end up at the top of the risers…until I spotted an empty single in the sixth row and couldn’t believe it was available.

All I knew about Rosas danst Rosas at the time was that it was supposed to be “punky” and would last 90 to 100 minutes without an intermission. And it lived up to the billing: four young women forcefully gesturing in precisely timed patterns in a kind of feminist shorthand that transcribed the vagaries of modern existence.

There was not a dancerly moment in sight, only what used to be called “everyday” or “pedestrian” movement: nods of acknowledgment between the quartet, crumples to the floor, stomach and breast grabs, often synchronized or staggered in cannon, with ever evolving but subtle variations you could easily follow. The heart of the piece found the dancers mingling wild and languid gestures while sitting in or lying on school chairs set up in parallel rows at about a 45-degree angle to the audience.

Despite this mechanical relentlessness, driven hard by Thierry De Mey and Peter Vermeersch’s loud, pounding, clock-like soundtrack – the industrial age on fire – Rosas danst Rosas wasn’t pedestrian at all. Instead, its visceral thrills startled, to the point where I haven’t stopped talking about the work since. I know now that my dance education began that afternoon in Brooklyn – I hadn’t seen half a dozen performances at that point. What I didn’t realize until witnessing the piece again last weekend is it’s the perfect beginning for anyone’s.

With the stunning surprise factor out of the way, the simple vocabulary and rigorous structure of Rosas danst Rosas came to the fore – a textbook lesson in how to build choreography.

Photo by Michiel Hendryckx

“You set up a logic in the beginning of those pieces and that logic is regularly followed,” De Keersmaeker says of her early work in an interview with Sadler’s Wells available on the London venue’s iPhone app. “They’re not sweetened up. There’s a very high sense of taking movement seriously and not putting fuzz around it, not hiding things, so that can seem a little bit harsh. But they’re not about entertaining, that’s for sure.”

She also discusses how those first dances reflected where she was in her own learning curve. “They’re small scale…They’re made not with a lot of craftsmanship, because at the very beginning I didn’t have that much craftsmanship.” Instead, she says, the pieces have “intellectual and emotional conviction” and “very strong physicality…They made their reputation by being very mathematical and distant but I actually think they’re very passionate pieces…They’re full of intensity, and they’re very well constructed.”

Here’s a link to Jack Anderson’s 1986 New York Times review of Rosas danst Rosas and Roslyn Sulcas’ from ADF. Below is a video excerpt of the work.

Elledanceworks 14

Posted: June 16, 2011 in Elledanceworks, Local Dance

Elledanceworks company members, photo by Brian Guilliaux

Michele Hanlon and Ronelle Eddings met at Nova Dancing Company in 1997 when Eddings was a company member and Hanlon was choreographing for the group. They hit it off right away and decided to collaborate on a dance event presciently called “Project One.” Project Two became Elledanceworks, now a fixture on the North Texas dance scene.

The 11-member company wraps its 14th season Thursday-Saturday at the Bath House Cultural Center. The program includes six premieres, two previously seen works, and guest company Danielle Georgiou Dance Group, with musician Amy Seltzer performing live. I talked to the co-founders recently for a preview article.

Michele Hanlon and Ronelle Eddings

Photo by Brian Guilliaux

Deborah Jowitt photo by David Dashiell

In a dispute with her editor over the tenor of her criticism — it was consistently too positive — Deborah Jowitt has quit writing dance reviews for The Village Voice after more than 40 years on the beat. And while she may wind up contributing occasional features to the weekly, her departure is a huge loss for the New York dance scene and the dance world in general. Forget John Martin, Edwin Denby, Clive Barnes, Arlene Croce or Sally Banes, all greats in their own right. Jowitt is the best critic the form has ever seen.

Her powers of description are unmatched, which is part of what brought her to an impasse with Voice arts and culture editor Brian Parks. In the Internet age, he needs sharp opinion to compete. But Jowitt is so sharp at describing and contextualizing movement that she never found it necessary to develop a smarmy critical voice. Instead, she gets so far inside the dance that readers who weren’t there can see it.

Jowitt is a top dance historian as well. Her out-of-print but available online and in used bookstores (I’ve found it at Half-Price Books twice) masterpiece, Time and the Dancing Image, is unequaled in its scope and depth. Let’s hope she finds another outlet, which she is seeking, and that the new book she’s working on comes out soon.


Photo courtesy Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Update: Here’s a link to my review in the Morning News, which you’ll need a subscription to fully read; Margaret Putnam’s on Theater Jones; and Mark Lowry’s in the Star-Telegram.

Bruce Wood is the only Dallas-Fort Worth choreographer not named Ben Stevenson to make a name for himself in the past 20 years. But when he lost most of his funding in 2006, Wood was forced to close his decade-old modern dance company. Now, he’s back with a new troupe, Bruce Wood Dance Project, that will test the waters during two nights at the Montgomery Arts Theater inside Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts this weekend. Read my preview story from today’s Dallas Morning News after the jump and check out reports from Art & Seek’s Jerome Weeks here and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Punch Shaw here.

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Time magazine photographer Peter Hapak caught the historic troupe backstage in Havana as the dancers prepared for their first U.S. tour in eight years. Directing the BNC is 90-year-old founder Alicia Alonso, who started the company in 1948. The tour opened at the Kennedy Center in D.C. last week before heading to the Brooklyn Academy of Music; Costa Mesa, Calif.; and L.A. Sarah Kaufman of The Washington Post asks, is the Cuban National Ballet, with its “greatest hits” package of scenes from canonical story ballets, relevant or out-of-date?

Canadian dancer/filmmaker Anne Troake‘s choreography for steam shovels, Pretty Big Dig, is funny and beautiful. By substituting machines for the familiar human body of most dance performances, she isolates the geometric forms and patterns of organized movement without the emotional elements. Thanks to Maria Popova (@brainpicker) for posting it on Twitter.