Gigs, dance, art

December 15th, 2009: Jérôme Bel – Cédric Andrieux

@theatre de la ville

Belated last post for the year, as I’ve basically taken the month off from public concert notes while I’m wondering whether I’m going to resume those, and how.

I usually don’t like Jérôme Bel, another of these french guy who are just too smart and cultured for my limited understanding. But this one worked, thanks to its namesake Cédric Andrieux, a dancer who spent years in Merce Cunningham’s company before coming back to France to have an opportunity to dance something else. It’s part of a series, but I have not seen the others.

He just walked on the stage and started to talk about his career, from his childhood to his plans for the future, with a definite emphasis on his Cunningham years — there was actually another section about it the week before that didn’t make it into the longer version. After talking a while, he would perform a bit of the dance he had just talked about, but being alone and dancing in silence, that took another dimension, more physical in a sense, which balanced out the talk.

The long part about Cunningham was particularly interesting, as it included a lot about the tedious training and the choreographer’s teaching method and his use of codes for arm, leg and torso positions. That was especially enlightening when I saw Nearly Ninety², as it explained a few things. His remarks about Cunningham’s lack of interest for a perfect execution of his instruction was valuable insight as well.

I found the show to be very interesting for giving some idea of how a dancer goes through his work. Bel was also insightful in choosing this performer for a very different kind of work, and in putting the show together. Of course, as a dance show, I didn’t like it at all, but with him I don’t think it’s the point at all. I’m glad he found a way to use other people’s dance and have someone else be the focus, this way I guess he didn’t have to hammer me so relentlessly with how smart he is.

December 30, 2009 Posted by | Dance | , | Leave a comment

December 9th, 2009: Boris Charmatz – 50 ans de danse


Trying to clear out my backlog after being sidelined for a while. I actually saw this one twice in three days, but I didn’t mind, because I think it’s a great show, and as it’s a little on the brainy side, a second viewing was nice.

I’ve always thought Boris Charmatz is very smart, but prone to outsmarting himself. Sometimes it feels like he just doesn’t trust dance enough, so he adds other things and often dance is an afterthought if that much. This time the conceptual side of the show was taking a book about Merce Cunningham’s career and going through the pictures in the order they appeared in the book. I don’t know how much his not performing factored into this, but this left it to the dancers to move from one picture to another. That’s more trust in dancers and dance than I’ve ever seen from him. And somehow very fitting as a tribute to Cunningham, in my opinion, because I think his work always struck me as related to pictures. Charmatz has done this show with different casts, but this time they were former members of Cunningham’s company. Some of them actually were in those pictures, so they knew a lot about what took place around and between those. I’d have to see another cast to know what that brought to the show.

Anyway, I think it worked. The book/still origin showed, but it wasn’t an issue. Charmatz wrote he wanted to avoid poses, if that’s true he failed. I’m not sure I want to believe what he writes though. And it doesn’t matter. Because the poses didn’t matter as much as what was taking place in between, except when they were holding those for a while. And there were a few times when they would move as if stuck in those positions, a very blatant play with the constraints of the show that put the lie to those claims of going for pure motion. Having a dancer call out the decade further undermined any slight change the show would have had of taking off from that book, as did having Charmatz turning the pages of the book on the front left of the stage — is that a coincidence that it was the place Cunningham himself would occupy in the company’s studio?

The dancers themselves were probably from different decades, and the very different costumes also went counter to the uniformity that often bothered me in Cunningham’s work. But they shared something as well, an understanding of what took place at those times maybe. Overall, despite the high brow concept, I think it was a very good show, one that took the dance back from the picture perfect book and into more or less aged and imperfect bodies. With all its warts and flaws and its occasional weak moments, the show managed to bring those dance snapshots from the past into the present, and I believe that’s a very proper tribute to Cunningham.

December 25, 2009 Posted by | Dance | , | Leave a comment

December 8th, 2009: Merce Cunningham – Nearly 90²

@theatre de la ville

I think Merce Cunningham thoughtful plans for his company after his death show that he knew this had a fair chance to be his last. But I didn’t get any sense of a farewell or of a look upon his storied past. As usual, his dance remained about the present. And if there were lot of familiar elements in the speeds and the kind of movements, it felt more like another step in the direction he had been exploring these past few years. I think he was still trying new things.

I’ve never been a big fan of his work, and this show had about all the things I like and don’t like about it. On the positive side, there’s the dance for itself, pure movement without story or props. There’s also a really interesting array of different speeds, very slow at the beginning, pretty fast later, then less extreme. I think this is a very rich show, with a lot of different aspects, but very consistent as well. There is definitely something running throughout the show, more specific than Cunningham’s later style. That’s equally impressive and rewarding. And of course some specific movements that stood out for me. The one I liked best was repeated often at the beginning, with a dancer on one leg slowly turning her head and torso to one direction while turning her other bent leg in the other.

Which is also illustrative of what I don’t like much about his work. The software origin of the dance really shows, but in those extreme movements and in a kind of artificial looking smoothness. It does create something unique, but when combined with the high skill of the dancers, it often goes so far in this direction that it becomes almost purely visual. I think that’s what people call abstract about his work, though the word is wrong, just like cold would be. To me the demands of the dance make it impossible to relate to it on an immediate level, it’s an intellectual appreciation, which lacks something. Likewise with the dancers, they’re so skilled there’s not much showing from each as an individual.

I think the explanations of Cédric Andrieux helped me like this show better, in retrospect. Now I can guess some of the things I missed while I was seeing it. And anyway, even though it’s not the kind of dance I like best, it’s still a great show, and it display a real vision and trust in that vision. And it succeeds in making it come true. That’s a lot, more than I can reasonably expect from a dance show.

December 17, 2009 Posted by | Dance | , | Leave a comment

December 7th, 2009: Mathilde Monnier – Un Américain à Paris

@theatre de la ville

This was actually a short part of a tribute to Merce Cunningham that featured a short film about his career, the relevant part of Jérôme Bel’s Cédric Andrieux, and Boris Charmatz’ 50 ans de dance. More about those two later, both are on my schedule.

The evening had been planned as a private celebration of Cunningham’s turning 90, but his death turned it into a public tribute. I don’t know why I was invited while some people I know were not, even though they’ve been going there for longer than me. Anyway, it was one of those rare occasions when I saw no one after five or ten minutes — an otherwise sure bet.

Mathilde Monnier‘s tribute had a kid reading things that Cunningham had written or said about his experience in Paris over the years, including having people throw tomatoes at him — something that puzzles me because of the planning involved, though I never saw it happen — and teaching one of his pieces to the Paris Opera ballet dancers. These were often pretty interesting as he managed to come off as being very confident in his vision and ideas, but with a nice sense of humor and never taking himself too seriously. I’m not fond of seeing kids on stage like this, but I think it was a pretty good idea in this case, probably better than if a dancer had done the reading.

Well, he was actually a dancer, because the second part of this short set had him joined by Foofwa d’Imobilité, a former member of the MCDC. Obviously the kid didn’t go as far as the pro, but that kinda worked too. The dance had a few of the highly technical and so visually potent graphical figures of Cunningham’s dance, some typical arm and leg gestures, but the technical limitations of the kid made it less pure, and more alive and immediate. I didn’t like it much, but that quality made it worth seeing.

December 13, 2009 Posted by | Dance | , | 1 Comment

December 4th, 2009: Audrey Chen – Frederic Blondy – Michael Johnsen – Jerome Noetinger

@atelier tampon

It was my first time there, and the place is nice if a little too cozy for me in a way. It’s not a good fit for me, because I usually stand in the back, and there that’s next to the street and the noise from there often got in the way. It’s probably much better being seated in front.

I had seen each of the four performers before, but never two of them together. Frederic Blondy was familiar from Hubbub and Po-Go, and Jerome Noetinger from too many projects to mention. I had only seen Michael Johnsen and Audrey Chen once, but her Abattoir project has been a favorite of mine whenever it came up on the station, which has been quite often — that basically means more than once a week.

They did two sets, both with Michael Johnsen first playing saw, again in a very interesting way that featured none of the usual sounds associated with this instrument. Harsher, and replacing the smooth continuity with dense blocks that had another way of fitting in together. From way back, his part on electronics suffered from the same problem as what Jerome Noetinger was doing: I just couldn’t hear much aside from the occasional louder burst. That’s a shame because I really liked what Noetinger did with what I think where very short bits of voice recordings for while.

I’m quite fond of prepared piano, and Frederic Blondy was really good at it, exploiting the percussive side by hitting the strings as well as more resonating sounds that blended very well with the cello. Which was what I was here for, anyway. Audrey Chen did many different things, playing with a bow whether in the regular way or not, putting a stick between the strings, picking the chords, or rubbing those balls on the back to build up a very nice drone. She didn’t use her voice all that much though, but I think it was better that way because it wouldn’t have fit all that well with what the others were doing.

As a group, I think it worked OK but not great, but that might come from the acoustic instruments carrying much better to my spot than the rest. That meant I had a hard time hearing the latter unless the former stopped, and that robbed me of much in terms of how they were interacting. I guess I should have gone and sit in front in the light, but that was just not happening. What I could hear was worth it anyway, and I even got the Abattoir CD and a solo one, and both are great, by the way.

December 12, 2009 Posted by | Music | , , , , | Leave a comment

December 3rd, 2009: Gilles Jobin – Black Swan


I don’t remember seeing a show I didn’t like by Gilles Jobin, but this one may be my favorite. Totally different from the previous one, but with some familiar arm positions, and the long poles at the end reminded me of the rubber lines from Text to speech.

At first there just one dancer on stage, her arms often extended, with a lot of circles with a smooth flow at first, then this was slightly changed with a few angles added by her extending her arms. A second dancer joined her, and her dance was both close to and contrasting with the first in its vertical axis, with angles from bending and the occasional quick high kick. The first one left and that ushered another break as the remaining dancer went to the ground, sometimes rolling and something keeping her legs in circling/rolling motion as she stood straight. A totally different take on those opening circles.

Then a male dancer joined her, and as she rose he would provide support but always staying still as he doing so, pretending to be just an object happening to be there at the moment she put some of weight on him. Another contrast between her flow and his stop and go trajectory. Then Jobin came in wearing rabbit headed gloves, as did the other guy. They alternated in burst of speed, a flurry of movement but again totally different. Jobin was more classical and vertical, the other would use more space, though standing just as upright.

Then the women came back, going through the stage with arms extended like children playing at being planes, with their hands briefly alighting on the crouching male dancers’ backs. That childlike quality was reinforced by the appearance of a few small stuffed horses, which the dancers kept in front as they gathered in a rolling pile crossing the back of the stage, ushering in a more visual part of the show.

Then a single dancer came back, with a long pole, and the low blue light coming from the front was only occasionally reflected by that pole. That was a beautiful sequence, visually ambiguous. As Jobin joined her with another long pole and the light went up, that effect was dampened but not completely gone either. That’s when I was reminded of the rubber lines, the way these were slicing the space, though the pole were moving whereas those earlier lines were not.

The last sequence had more small stuffed horses being pushed around by these poles. Here the dancers going above or below those lines slowly moved by others was even more reminding me of that earlier show. Those lines moving and dividing were another nice effect, as they slowly brought those horses to the front of the stage. After the dancers had left, the last sequence had flashing lights projecting horse shadows on the back of the stage, not really looking like those were actual or moving horses, but close enough to make me think of that, and of what was missing, another delightful ambiguity.

December 11, 2009 Posted by | Dance | , | Leave a comment

November 27th, 2009: Tengir-Too / Byambajargal Gombodorj / Ulzhan Baibussynova / Ardak Issataeva / Raushan Orozbaeva

@cité de la musique

Tengir-Too, at last! This gig was easily the one I had been looking after since the venue’s schedule came out. And having Ulzhan Baibussynova and Ardak Issataeva around only made it even more a must-see show. Byambajargal Gombodorj was a late addition, probably because of her being featured in the soundtrack to a movie that was popular around here. That made no sense in terms of the show’s theme, but I’m not complaining.

Let’s get the whining out of the way first: that late pretend inclusion of Mongolia in central Asia was lame enough, but even the original label “music from the steppe of central Asia” made little sense. That’s no big deal, but their *again* botching the sound aspect is getting an annoying habit. There was a nasty echo on one komuz and worse issues with Issataeva’s and Baibussynova’s voices. I mean people, get your act together, or stick to western classical stuff and spare me the aggravation. Maybe I should consider those issues a tribute to those amazing voices, as they clearly went beyond the expectations of the engineers.

I’m definitely not a fan of the elaborate dress of Byambajargal Gombodorj, but her voice is so great it more than makes up for that. I’m glad I ended up in front, because any PA would be challenged and her voice is really something to be heard. She sang first, then left and only came back at the end, two bits of long song that made me eager for more. I wasn’t that keen the first time I heard her, but she had won me over before the end of that gig and knowing about the long song only made this experience more enjoyable. I guess I’m a fan now, she’s just great. She didn’t sing that long, but these were highlights for me. I’ll put in a plug for a great resource about Mongolian Music for those who are interested.

The performers from Kazakhstan were great too. I still love Ulzhan baibussynova’s voice, the deepest of this evening’s singers, but this time around I noticed her wonderful work with intonations. It was like another part altogether, and only increased my esteem for this performer. Despite the technical difficulties, I liked Ardak Issataeva’s voice better this time, because I noticed a richer texture than the first time. And her dombra playing is just amazing, I just hadn’t paid enough attention to that. She has so many different sound and combines them so well. I hadn’t heard Raushan Orozbaeva before, but I love the qyl-qobyz and her long solo was another great moment. It might be a relatively simple instrument, but in the hands of such a talented performer, it reaches great heights.

Tengir-Too was as surprisingly enjoyable as I thought. I’m usually not fond of fast music, but Kyrgyz music is different. And definitely worth seeing, as the many sounds of the komuz come alive with the theatrics of such skilled performers. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, those elaborate gesture do add something, I guess that’s closer than you’d think to Hendrix’s stuff, in a way, but I actually like the former better. Even the talking/singing part was nice, even though I couldn’t understand a single work. I wasn’t that fond of the female singer’s voice though, and I wish there had been more jew’s harps. But the little there was featured my beloved jygach, and Nurlanbek Nyshanov is a master than made me forget my initial dismay at not seeing Zalina Kasymova, who had impressed me last year. He was great with other instruments as well, many different flutes and chopo choor, which added to some of the disconnect. In that it reminded me of the obvious Andean music, which was still an improvement over the weird connection I felt with Irish music. No explanation for that, as I hadn’t even drank a pint of Guinness in a while — meaning more than one week, not a few hours.

A nice, nice gig, despite the problems, and this time they did come all together for an upbeat song, and even though it was far from seamless, it was nice to see them give it a shot. As a very personal note, I really appreciated the occasional small gestures of appreciation from some of the performers toward others from another country. Irdak Issataeva’s smile during Byambajargal Gombodorj’s second song was the most heartwarming thing I’ve seen in a while.

December 5, 2009 Posted by | Music | , , , , , | Leave a comment