Category Archives: Dance

Monday chatter: Naipaul, Tharp, Moje

Here is poet Derek Walcott on novelist/essayist V.S. Naipaul, both sons of the Caribbean and Nobel-decorated literary lions:

The plots are forced, the prose
sedate and silly
The anti-hero is a prick named Willie
Who lacks the conflict of a Waugh or Lawrence
And whines with his creator’s

Nicely done! According to the Guardian, their antagonism stretches back to the ’70s, and it was mostly fanned by a Naipaul essay that praised Walcott’s early
work. Which must mean he hates the later work, right? Anyway, Walcott goes after Naipaul on the usual grounds — that he embraced the “Raj” of the English literary tradition, became a snobby pedant about it, then roamed the Third World trashing the traditions he found there. But Naipaul’s House for Mr. Biswas was good! (Turn about on the superiority of early work is fair play.)

Scatter loves a good literary scrap, and we doubt that Mr. Walcott will manage to wound Mr. Naipaul. I have followed Naipaul ever since Mr. Biswas — admittedly less in recent decades — and I’ve actually enjoyed his excursions to struggling countries around the world. I’m not sure how he manages those LONG quotes without taking notes or employing a recording device, but I’ve found him an antidote to any tendency I might have to idealize the Third World, and I don’t think he’s as Imperial as Walcott thinks he is, though undoubtedly far pricklier in person than I can imagine.

Quick thoughts on Twyla Tharp. The New York Times today has a story about Tharp’s preparations for a new ballet for American Ballet Theatre, mostly laudatory, though it does mention her recent Broadway fiascos based on the music of Bob Dylan and Billy Joel. Tharp’s high-energy, edge-of-disaster, comic approach to dance is firmly part of our internal choreography now, I think, not to mention a certain amount of slinky slithering and attendant sexual awareness. But I wonder: What does a world look like in which a choreographer with her considerable gifts has the financial security to maintain her own company over her lifetime as a choreographer AND work on various projects in Vegas or Hollywood or Broadway, not to mention other dance companies? What sort of investigations was she unable to pursue?

Finally, a couple of in-town mentions. We at Art Scatter strongly recommend that you take a peek at our Scatter-colleague Bob Hicks’s story about glass artist Karl Moje in The Oregonian this morning. Portland is going to be Glass Central this month! And also take a look at Inara Verzemnieks’s story on Horatio Hung-Yan Law’s Tai Chi project at South Waterfront — and Scatter kudos to Linda K. Johnson for her artist-in-residence projects in the district!

Working for the green, a panel discussion

Here at Art Scatter central, we’ve always thought of ourselves as environmental. Meaning simply that we believe that we share and shape a variety of environments — physical, cultural, political, literary, etc. You can carve them up as thinly as you want, but you also have to realize that they don’t stay sliced — they intrude on each other, for better or worse. Maybe connect is a more value-neutral word than intrude. Anyway, yes, environmental, and even literally so. We even have an “environment” category.

But we don’t talk about it in a specific way. Art Scatter doesn’t know solar cells. Art Scatter doesn’t have a platinum LEED rating. Despite Art Scatter’s best intentions, we are sure that we are using non-renewable energy sources as we type. One way or another. In fact, we are pretty sure that this laptop is going to be the very devil to recycle, when it blows its final gasket. (This is how technologically bereft Art Scatter is: We think our computer contains gaskets that might be blown.) So, even this construct, Art Scatter, which you would think we could manage sustainably, isn’t green.

Which is all just the preamble to the topic at hand — a report from Pacific Northwest College of Art’s Idea Studio on Friday morning at the Gerding Theatre at the Armory. The panel discussion, led by Susan S. Szenasy, editor-in-chief of Metropolis Magazine, wrenched me into thinking about the environment, the physical environment, in a much more concrete way. I’ll discard my one disappointment first: The panelists really didn’t answer the question in the title of the program, “How innovative is Portland in the quest for a sustainable city?” — which led me to think we were in for some thoughts about how to stimulate creative engagement with the problem of energy use/greenhouse gases/global warming/sustainable living/etc. This didn’t happen.

What we got instead, though, was interesting in its own right: Several intelligent people, each deeply involved in thinking about and employing sustainable practices in the world, contributed their thinking about the provocative questions posed by Szenasy, who in her opening salvo ordered them to be honest and forthright. I knew I was going to like this panel! For those who want the short-form version, here’s what the group agreed on: Portland is still a national leader in green practices; a lot of the reason for this is historical, not just our own initiative; at this point, we need to think much more boldly about making our future much more sustainable than we are now, and the panel was optimistic that the stars were starting to align politically to help make this happen (Sam Adams as mayor on the local level, a possible Barack Obama Presidency); at the same time, we have to be practical about what improvements we can make at any given time; don’t build an 8-lane I-5 bridge (it just encourages driving).

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The Kirov takes it on the chin

It’s been fun watching from afar the struggles of Alastair Macaulay, the erudite, entertaining and occasionally uber-quibbly lead dance critic of the New York Times, to explain his love/hate relationship with the Kirov Ballet. The Kirov, that bright and shining survivor of the isolated and inbred Soviet art world (the company is based in the royal-bubble city of St. Petersburg, now a favorite haunt of the globe-trotting old and nouveau riche, and is known on its home turf as the Mariinsky) has spent the past three weeks in residence at New York City Center, and Macaulay has been by turns enthralled and unamused.

Unamused? Downright irritated is more like it. This morning, in his review of the Kirov’s final performance in New York, Macauley gave it to the dancers squarely on the chin — a chin, he complains (and I exaggerate only a little here) that the female dancers hold so resolutely high and upwardly angular that its determined thrust makes it seem almost a fifth limb to be integrated into the five positions. “In consequence,” he writes of dancer Alia Somova’s physical relationship to her onstage lover, “she was literally looking down her nose at him. House mannerisms like this make the Kirov’s kind of classicism seem the least sensible in the world.”

Now, I haven’t seen the Kirov dance since 1999, when I was in St. Petersburg and took in a performance of Marius Petipa‘s supremely nonsensical “Le Corsaire” — a sublime performance in a blatantly showmanlike style that had been rooted out of Western ballet traditions many decades before. It was a bit like jumping into a time machine, and that was a good deal of its charm.
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Mary Oslund: the wonder of the dance

bete-3.jpgAt the conclusion of Bete Perdue, Mary Oslund’s beautiful new dance, singer Lyndee Mah, still in the glow, said it was like a symphony. I think she was talking about how it cascaded by, sometimes in unison, all eight dancers carving space similarly, according to his or her “voice,” sometimes in solos or duets or trios that mixed, matched and reformed, sometimes in pairs of duets or even four duets, weaving in and out, occasionally interlocking. It swept by, pulsing with action, small moments and large, establishing its own time. When it was over, how long had it been going on? It was hard to guess, it was so absorbing. And so, yes, like a symphony.

If someone had taken a psychogram of audience members during the performance it would have registered many different states, and that’s like a symphony, too. Let’s see: delight, reverie, anxiety, keen attention, even a series of undifferentiated states that could turn into almost anything, from aggression to love, the stem cells of all our emotions. But mostly satisfaction, not as in “fat and happy,” but as in this typifies the complexity, tension and release, and ultimate harmony of great art.

That’s not a claim I make lightly. But building on the great success of last year’s “Sky,” this dance finds Oslund creating something amazing at both the smallest and largest levels, micro and macro. A shoulder shrug from dancer Keely McIntyre sends a shiver of recognition and contains deep expressive possibilities. So does the rush of multiple dancers, arriving and departing, lifting and being lifted, sliding past each other in erratic orbits. Like a symphony, it’s too much for the brain to process, but you can “understand” it in your own particular way as a whole.

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Deborah Jowitt out at Village Voice

images-21.jpgI heard from Art Scatter friend Tim DuRoche that the Village Voice has let go Deborah Jowitt, its dance critic of 40 years standing, along with film critic Nathan Lee. Confirmation comes from dance critic Elizabeth Zimmer at the Arts Journal. The only other source I could find on the internet was Gawker (sorry), but it seems to be true. According to Gawker, she will be able to freelance for the Voice. Perhaps she will.

As the print media disassembles itself, arts writing of all sorts has become an early casualty, even “popular arts” such as film. Every week, it seems, brings news on the newspaper business website Romenesko that another critic position has been eliminated at a major newspaper. And as Gawker points out, the alt.weeklies — and the Voice was the ur-alt.weekly — have not been immune. The Voice has previously discharged the eminent pop music critic Robert Christgau, after all. Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times eliminated its dance critic position, leading Lewis Segal to take a buyout from the paper. Segal is an excellent critic, and the idea that the LAT Times will go without his writing is sad — there is great dance in LA.

Back to Jowitt, for a moment.
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Balletptomaines at the museum


In Paris they were called abonnes.

In Moscow and St. Petersburg they were balletomanes.

Lincoln Kirstein, the impresario who founded New York City Ballet with George Balanchine, rolled his eyes and referred to them waspishly as “balletptomaines.”

One way or another, they are nuts: nuts for the ballet, for the dancers, for the social swirl, the easy access. The ones who know every step, and know better than the choreographers how the steps ought to be combined. The ones who give money to the company and assume they’ve bought the right to make decisions about how it’s run. The starstruck, the shoulder-rubbers, the bedazzled. The gents who love the bodies — in an entirely aesthetic sense, of course. The best friends a ballet company can have, and a bane on its existence.

Degas' Dancer Looking at the Sole of Her Right Foot

The Portland Art Museum’s current exhibition “The Dancer: Degas, Forain, and Toulouse-Lautrec,” which continues through May 11, 2008, gives an almost unseemly amount of attention to the abonnes, those wealthy and well-connected Parisian gentlemen of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who, by virtue of their season subscriptions to the Paris Opera and other performance halls, had unprecedented access to the backstage life. Some of Degas’ prints in the exhibition touch on the subject, but they are the compulsion of Forain and to a certain extent the exhibit as a whole, throwing the thing into a curious imbalance: Forain, by far the least important of these three artists, becomes the defining figure in the show.

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