Blogs The Green Room Lightsey Darst

Lightsey Darst is a poet, dance critic, and English instructor. Her book Find the Girl is coming out in April 2010 from Coffee House Press. Photo courtesy Lightsey Darst.

Lucinda Childs’s DANCE

You know that trick with the waterfall—the one where instead of watching the whole foaming collapse, you fix on a single crest as it arises, flies, and crashes? Quickly, the set-up of Dance: Lucinda Childs’s repetitive, patterning steps set against Philip Glass’s mesmeric music, with Sol LeWitt’s film of a 1979 performance cast in Herculean […]

You know that trick with the waterfall—the one where instead of watching the whole foaming collapse, you fix on a single crest as it arises, flies, and crashes?

Quickly, the set-up of Dance: Lucinda Childs’s repetitive, patterning steps set against Philip Glass’s mesmeric music, with Sol LeWitt’s film of a 1979 performance cast in Herculean scale and a variety of angles on a scrim at the front of the stage. What it all amounts to is a radical distortion in what you see, particularly if you sit, as I did, right down front. If you attempt to follow either a live or a filmed dancer, narrative-style, you’ll run into problems: bright others flick across your vision while your original dances rapidly out the wings. You can’t pull back and watch the whole because part of it is two-dimensional and part three-dimensional; more than most dances, Dance explores its four-dimensional space in a way which makes such global viewing impossible.

What’s left, then? The eye alighting, choosing; a line collides with a line; dance is a movement, not necessarily by or attaching to anyone; I want to be in that space where everything happens; epic, glacial, avalanche, ghost, lightning, flank rising shimmering in deep sea, partial eclipse, total, solar, glancing; no one sees what I see.

Antonioni: the temps mort trick: leave the camera running after the actors think the scene is over, so they can fall apart a bit; leave the camera running on the door that closed, so it can settle into closure.
Watch the space someone has just left and you’ll see it gradually fade and flatten. Or reverse: watch a space and wait for it to brighten with life.

I’ve never seen a dance like this.

Sidebar: one of the strange discoveries of late is how close modern dance (to simplify the labels; in terms of what “modernism” generally means—emphasis on the thing itself—this is modern and not postmodern dance) is to ballet. In its original performances it must have been farther off. In fact, here, with the 1979 video projected, we can see this is true. But classic modern companies (and pick-up companies for classic modern pieces), no doubt spurred by today’s dizzying technique, have increasingly opted for ballet-trained marvels who never saw the step they couldn’t do—or undo; what sets these dancers apart from their fellows who stayed in ballet, what makes them “modern”, is their ability to strip flourish, romance, foolishness of all types from their dancing. The arms of the originals flap a bit; hardly anyone here flaps. Childs’s replacement in her solo, Caitlin Scranton, turns as smoothly as a dowel; her giant geometry fills the stage. For pure execution you probably couldn’t beat her. Childs doesn’t. But her performance is so different. She may wear a mask of defiant beauty, but she also wears sneakers and hoop earrings. She flails; she wills. Scranton skips as severely as a Greek column could. I don’t fault her, though; I fault this larger emphasis on platonic perfection and superhuman purity—and more than that, the sense one gets of the classic work being not so much danced as reenacted.
My favorite dancer was a white-blonde imp who smiled in every step: delight moving. It was all alive to her, and she made it alive to me.

To the extent that my thought sinks in technique, though, my imagination flags. Keep moving, keep seeking new ways to look; refuse to look like the person you were an hour ago. Find a novel horizon—make deliberate fragments of the dance, each as precious as a bit of antique statuary—watch the way a kitten would, avidly.
Watch the curve of a back as it moves about the stage, a lit parenthesis in the dark, flexible bow arching and rebounding.
To say nothing of the absolute symmetries that flare up—

After, a friend and I agreed we were happy to have been there. We expect people to expend energy on their children, their jobs, homes, themselves; but when someone pours energy into a nothing like the blank of a theater until that “point that has been fed over years becomes a little bit alive” (Anne Carson), that is a beautiful gift. Nothing can repay that—except an answering enlivening of the void.

Watch the space where nothing is; something is there.

Reggie Wilson and Andreya Ouamba’s The Good Dance: Dakar/Brooklyn

If anyone wants to discuss Reggie Wilson and Andréya Ouamba’s The Good Dance: Dakar/Brooklyn, I think I’ll start things off with a question: What do you go to dance for—and to what extent did this dance give you that? And I’ll give a partial answer. One of the things I go to dance for is […]

If anyone wants to discuss Reggie Wilson and Andréya Ouamba’s The Good Dance: Dakar/Brooklyn, I think I’ll start things off with a question:

What do you go to dance for—and to what extent did this dance give you that?

And I’ll give a partial answer. One of the things I go to dance for is kinesthetic pleasure—the feeling of the imagined body, the mental map of the body, moving along with the performers on stage. You’d think after five years of being a dance critic, not to mention twenty-five years of dancing, my system would be jaded, responsive only to the most unusual or extreme movements. But as far as I can tell, the kinesthetic sense doesn’t work like that. It’s one of the basic, inexhaustible pleasures of life, like sex or eating. Any time I see an arm reaching to the sky, urge spreading out through the ribcage, I feel the same thrill. Even the minute, waving permutations of a hand are magic.

The Good Dance definitely gave me that—all those sweeps and reaches, plus tiny engines of fine-grained coordination. But the pleasure wasn’t unadulterated. Wilson and Ouamba intentionally (I believe) cut through that pleasure in order to find another aspect of the dance.

I’ll stop there. But what other aspects were you looking for? And what did you find?

Ragamala Friday night

Just went last night. Beautiful. During the first scene, I have to admit, my mind wandered a little. But I was completely drawn in by the second scene, and this lasted through the end of the show. I think mostly this was me getting used to the style (also, partly, the fact that the first […]

Just went last night. Beautiful.
cudamani_07Nov16-333_PPDuring the first scene, I have to admit, my mind wandered a little. But I was completely drawn in by the second scene, and this lasted through the end of the show. I think mostly this was me getting used to the style (also, partly, the fact that the first scene is the busiest and least clear). So if you’re going tonight, give your eyes some time to adjust. Oh, and read the program notes, so you know the story.
Dhvee culminates in a battle between good and evil, between Rama and Ravana. Normally we try not to see things in such black-and-white terms, but there’s an undeniable compulsion about that struggle. Rama and his brother Lakshmana (Ashwini Ramaswamy and Amanda Dlouhy) looked like embodiments of rightness from their forthright faces to their open gestures, from their clear steps to their white costumes. Ravana (Tamara Nadel, I Gusti Ngurah Serama Semadi, and others–hey, he has 10 heads) was the opposite, with his stamping, his crimped fingers, and his awful echoing laugh. Even though I knew who would win, I felt in suspense–on the edge of my seat, even.
I loved that the ending took us back to the beginning–it left the story, for me, in an eternal present tense.
If anyone wants to follow up with discussion, here are some ideas:
• the dance/theatrical form here (perhaps considering how it broadens our ideas of dance)
• the story–why is the battle of good and evil such a compelling story for us, even now?
• cross-cultural comprehension (or lack thereof)

Ragamala reviewed

Check out Jay Gabler’s review in the TC Daily Planet. Gabler comments on the difficulty of getting the full content and implications of the Ramayana from a brief summary. Right. . . I slogged through the Wikipedia entry without much success understanding the higher planes of the narrative. I can just add one element of […]

Check out Jay Gabler’s review in the TC Daily Planet.
Gabler comments on the difficulty of getting the full content and implications of the Ramayana from a brief summary. Right. . . I slogged through the Wikipedia entry without much success understanding the higher planes of the narrative. I can just add one element of clarity: embodiment is important in the narrative (and in the culture–I think that’s fair to say). So the doubled characters of Dhvee are in play with the story itself. . .
Gabler says something interesting about the classical tradition:

Both the challenge and the appeal of any classical tradition—think Western classical music, or classical ballet—lie in its practitioners’ commitment to enacting (at its best) profound expression within a strictly circumscribed vocabulary.

This is true–but I want to add a little to it–which is that the language of a classical form makes up a world. Ideally you cross into that world at some point; you cease to see the vocabulary itself.

Ragamala (Oct 1-4)

I’m looking forward to Ragamala this weekend. Think of Dhvee as an immersion in sound, color, dance, acting, story, etc–the multifaceted performance arts of south Asia. I was lucky enough to be at rehearsal on one of the first days when Ragamala (Mpls) joined forces with Cudamani (Bali). Translation, improvisation, everyone excited by everyone else’s […]

Ragamala Music and Dance TheaterI’m looking forward to Ragamala this weekend. Think of Dhvee as an immersion in sound, color, dance, acting, story, etc–the multifaceted performance arts of south Asia.
I was lucky enough to be at rehearsal on one of the first days when Ragamala (Mpls) joined forces with Cudamani (Bali). Translation, improvisation, everyone excited by everyone else’s art, and the gamelan crowded into the corner–if you’ve never heard one, you really have to. It’s an orchestra in itself.

Fractured Feedforward

I liked all the pieces that made up Feedforward. Eve Beglarian’s trombone score, a great mix of high school fanfare, cow noise, and ominous color; Karinne Keithley’s funny text; Kara Feely’s costumes, track suits dotted with sketches of glitter; the overall visual design, credited to a slew of people. I liked Neumann’s choreography–the slower bits […]

I liked all the pieces that made up Feedforward. Eve Beglarian’s trombone score, a great mix of high school fanfare, cow noise, and ominous color; Karinne Keithley’s funny text; Kara Feely’s costumes, track suits dotted with sketches of glitter; the overall visual design, credited to a slew of people. I liked Neumann’s choreography–the slower bits more than the sport collisions, actually, the aestheticized tennis strokes, the ballet arms that flick or pop to something different, the deliberate strokes.

And I especially enjoyed the performers: Nead Medlyn and Matt Citron’s perfect comic timing, Andrew Dinwiddie’s solemnly hip-wiggling referee. Among some more conventionally beautiful movers, Taryn Griggs stood out. The beauties (long-limbed, athletic types) sometimes go right through their well-extended lines, but Griggs fills hers out. She has that quality which is often called intention: she appears to have generated the movement herself, to be making the decisions just as we watch her. I hear that Griggs is moving to town this summer–lucky us.

So I liked it all, and I mostly enjoyed myself. All the same, I didn’t find a coherent whole here, or anything particularly inventive on the large scale. A lot of desires and ideas appear to have gone into this, with the unfortunate result that the various desires and ideas overlap and erase each other. For example, I wanted to concentrate on the dancing but the voice-over had me more on the lookout for the next joke. I can imagine plenty of good things emerging from this, as the various collaborators either go their separate ways or pare down their joint art, and I had a perfectly enjoyable evening watching Feedforward, but I didn’t feel that chill of encounter, of change.

Woe is Wampler

I’m feeling very emperor’s new clothes here. Er. . . that was dull. Irritating. Condescending. Adolescent. I’m sorry, that’s not a terribly nice way to begin. But the gloves are off, aren’t they? In my experience (Friday) the “plants” were not nearly so obvious as in that NY review Galen pointed us to (thanks, Galen). […]

I’m feeling very emperor’s new clothes here. Er. . . that was dull. Irritating. Condescending. Adolescent. I’m sorry, that’s not a terribly nice way to begin. But the gloves are off, aren’t they?

In my experience (Friday) the “plants” were not nearly so obvious as in that NY review Galen pointed us to (thanks, Galen). The people behind me chattered non-stop and sang along, causing me to move halfway through, and there was some more misbehavior, but it only reached the level of annoyance/confusion. Since I came in three minutes before the show began and lost my program in the move, I never read the text. Oops. Perhaps that invalidates my entire comment. . .

Let me start over. What did Wampler want from the audience? What did she want to happen to us? We were all stirred up by the plants around us–some to imitation of their energy, some to irritation. So then we find out they were plants and feel, I don’t know, like chumps? Justified? Manipulated? Alienated? It’s not too hard to confuse, manipulate, or alienate, so I can’t see that as an achievement.

Clearly I’m getting nowhere in this response. I just don’t understand what Wampler wanted. In the continuing saga of performer-audience relations, her apparent level of frustration with the audience is. . . well, unreasonable? People have a limited range of things they are willing to do in public. They have their self-respect, they have their manners. Are these such bad things?

Start over (again). Perhaps this was meant to be cathartic and judgment free. Something for everybody: hate for the haters and love for the lovers, something to feel, to get into. That’s the most generous interpretation I can come up with. But even so. . .

People just aren’t that simple. Even audience members.

The TEAM: hmm

On the way out I told a friend that I just don’t think I have the gene to enjoy this kind of performance. That’s how it feels to me. Plenty of people in the audience loved the show, but I was left with the feeling I’d been watching an improv exercise–performed by a group of […]

On the way out I told a friend that I just don’t think I have the gene to enjoy this kind of performance. That’s how it feels to me. Plenty of people in the audience loved the show, but I was left with the feeling I’d been watching an improv exercise–performed by a group of talented and enthusiastic people, no doubt, but still. . . I just didn’t see that anything happened here. The older sister did at last get to kiss a girl, but for a born-again that certainly wouldn’t be the end of it, and we didn’t see the end of it. All I could glean of overall shape is that the performance opened and closed with explosions.

I wonder about the “heartland” the TEAM presents here. Those kids weren’t recognizably Midwestern–at least, they didn’t exhibit any of the characteristics that I’ve come to know as Midwestern in the seven years I’ve been living here. Instead, they were just garden-variety hicks, the sort careless persons might imagine living anywhere in the US. In fact they rather reminded me of the stereotyped versions of Southerners that Midwesterners so love to put on. So at one level this performance read as a pretty easy skewering of some straw folks: the Midwestern born-agains, relentlessly ignorant, cloaking their own desires under religious or patriotic language, shopping at Walmart, etc.

Then again, the kids had their moments of nobility, and the Northeastern adults seemed pretty flawed themselves. I don’t know quite what the TEAM are up to here, or how it’s supposed to work on us. It didn’t work on me, at any rate.

Pichet Klunchun and myself

This post refers to Galen’s post and Sally’s reply a bit, but I thought I’d separate it because I have a slightly different take. First, I just finished my review of this for mnartists.org. Look for the review on Monday. I approached the performance from the cultural angle–what does this say about our ability to […]

This post refers to Galen’s post and Sally’s reply a bit, but I thought I’d separate it because I have a slightly different take.

First, I just finished my review of this for mnartists.org. Look for the review on Monday. I approached the performance from the cultural angle–what does this say about our ability to view dances from other cultures, etc–and I’m not going to rehash that in this post.

Like Sally, I wondered about the dialogue. How much were these two actually talking to each other? I got the sense that very little was actually going on during the performance–in two ways. First, they’ve certainly performed this plenty of times, and they have a routine, if not a script. But even taking the conversation at face value, would you really call that a conversation? Bel and Klunchun mostly refusing to understand each other, with only moments of artistic sympathy–really, it depressed me.

Also like Sally, I got stuck on this idea of risk versus purchase. The sniffy classicist in me wants to respond that there’s nothing wrong with knowing in advance what you are getting, that this is akin to the vital processes of rereading and revisiting, that knowing the outlines of what you’re getting prepares you to see more of the inside this time–and also that continually seeking new stimulation is characteristic of children and drug addicts. But I don’t think, on reflection, that Bel meant to rank gambling above purchasing.

Gambling–is that really what you feel you’re doing when you buy a Walker ticket? “They didn’t buy anything!” Bel exclaimed when explaining why disgruntled viewers don’t get their money back. All they bought was a chance. There’s something to that, isn’t there?

Speaking of disgruntled viewers, I did see a few people leaving before the end, and frankly I didn’t blame them. It was quite long for a lecture-dem type of thing, and I thought mostly aimed at the dance/contemporary performance crowd.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s “Wild Cursive”

First, I want to explain that I am not writing formal reviews for Re:View. I still do that for mnartists.org and the Mpls-St Paul blogs, which is where you can find my formal review of this performance (look for it later today). Instead, I’m going to use this space for more informal, glancing thoughts, and […]

First, I want to explain that I am not writing formal reviews for Re:View. I still do that for mnartists.org and the Mpls-St Paul blogs, which is where you can find my formal review of this performance (look for it later today).

Instead, I’m going to use this space for more informal, glancing thoughts, and for questions.

“Wild Cursive”: I perceived each movement phrase as a sustained encounter between the brush and page. I clearly saw when the brush was lifted from the page–the pauses, the full stops. For me, this performance lives in the drama of the sustained phrase. How will the artist continue what he or she has begun? How will one movement evolve mindfully into the next? How will the artist continue to move forward in time without letting any of the myriad distractions time brings disrupt the impulse of the movement?

And, over time, I noticed the aggression here–not only the martial arts moves, the loud breath, the shouts from one performer–but the feeling of suspense, of each phrase as a battle with an unseen antagonist. I was reminded of the tightrope act of a line of poetry or a sentence in prose. Also, I noticed the isolation of the performers. Even when gathered in large groups, they all seemed to go on fighting their individual battles. Unison was no comfort. This sense of an ongoing struggle left me wondering–what, then, are the stops? Little deaths or little kills?

I’ve described them already as the moments when the calligrapher lifts the brush from the page, but this simply transposes the question to another artistic medium. Earlier yesterday I was with a group of poets, discussing the question “what is a line break?”–which is yet another way of posing the same question. So, let me ask you: what are the stops?

I’ll be back to discuss this further–or whatever else you’d like to discuss.

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