You heard about the Doug Varone performance -- this weekend, in Chapel Hill -- right? [Editor's note: This performance closed Sunday, June 29. Varone's company performs at the ADF next Monday-Wednesday, July 7-9, In Reynolds Theater. ]
The Long Leaf Opera Festival is restaging his production of the 2005 Ricky Ian Gordon opera Orpheus and Euridice, with the original leads -- soprano Elizabeth Futral as Euridice, clarinetist Todd Palmer as Orpheus, and Varone's dancers -- as the final offering in their 2008 festival. The one remaining performance: Sunday, June 29, at 2 pm, in UNC's Memorial Hall.
No, the dance snobs weren't terribly impressed with the 2005 Lincoln Center premiere. (Perhaps they missed the news that Gordon's AIDS-era libretto was inspired by the film Black Orpheus, and not earlier operatic masterpieces by Gluck or Monteverdi.) But others clearly were.
The Long Leafs have a long history in the region. They've consistently had the most adventurous programming of the handful of regional opera groups.
The down side? Their community-level orchestras and vocalists and fluctuating direction and sets and costumes haven't always matched their stated ambition to stage professional-grade productions of English-based opera.
But since Varone is directing his original performers -- and the work is for three solo musicians, without orchestra -- most of the usual variables seem to have been taken out of the mix here. The one remaining question mark: the pianist in this three-musician ensemble -- the one role not identified anywhere in the extensive publicity on the festival's website.
Ticket information, here.
Excerpts in this video preview from Martha Graham Dance Company's performance of Steps in the Streets at the 2008 ADF. The opening introduction is by the company's artistic director, Janet Eilber.
It is an easy -- and a thoroughly useless -- thing to be intimidated into silence or critical complicity by a "masterpiece."
New audiences and critics may be mindful of the meanings an artwork has been given in the past. But if they're encouraged, by anyone, to stop there -- if someone convinces them that they have nothing new of value to say to a masterpiece, or no right to say it (without the appropriate advanced academic degrees) -- they are swindled of their birthright, which is this: to determine, for themselves, what meanings an artwork has to them, now.
Why is this a birthright? Meanings -- and aesthetics -- change in a culture, over time.
Let's consider the theater for a moment. In a space far less than the 72 years since the premiere of Martha Graham's Chronicle, a bombastic, declamatory aesthetic once considered the apex of live theater was replaced by something very different. What's now viewed as the artifice of the elocutionary movement was once valued as something else.
At some tipping point, a gesture on stage that once conveyed the height of drama is read by new audiences as communicating melodrama instead.
Where does the tipping point occur? The dance and theater historians don't decide. The audiences do, at every single performance. They did it last evening in Page Auditorium. They're doing it again, tonight.
Martha Graham's work has said much to many people over the years. But the all too avoidable question under the circumstances also happens to be the primary critical question:
" What does this work say to us, now ? "
Could we have identified Steps in the Streets' "clear political message" without Janet Eilber's pre-show explication ? ( Come to think of it, can we identify it even with it? ) Would we have known anything of what the work was "about" without those words?
What, if anything, does this suggest about the artwork's current ability to communicate on its own terms -- without someone having to speak for it?
Were there actually three couples -- or just three female leads -- in Diversions of Angels ? What characterizations differentiated the three women from one another, and just how deep did those characterizations go?
Now, apply the same questions to their male partners -- if, that is, we can actually remember them. Weren't they merely universal donors -- interchangeable ciphers? What, if anything, is suggested by the fact that none of the men's costumes were different -- and that the one non-couple male was dressed the same as the others?
What do the qualities of movement in these works communicate to us -- not 60 or 70 years ago, but now?
The floor is yours. Take the stand, and respond in comments. We have to moderate responses, due to spam, but all non-spam comments will be posted.
[Ed. note: Brian Howe, a widely ranging culture critic and reporter, writes frequently for the Independent Weekly and other publications. He joins us today as a guest blogger.]
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold…
ADF, June 25, Reynolds Auditorium. Featured Works: Rapture by Khadija Marcia Radin; aKabi by Aydin Teker; Umwelt by Compagnie Maguy Marin.
These three dances could hardly be more different, yet taken together and in sequence, they seem to comprise a narrative of spiritual disintegration—Yeats’ prophecy made manifest.
The center and the gyre were established in the first piece, the Sufi whirling dance Rapture by Khadija Marcia Radin. On a stage cast in cool blue, as a narrator recited the truth-seeking poetry of Jelaluddin Rumi, Radin drew us into a comforting maze of ritual. She twirled in one place, first slowly and with great restraint, then faster, with accumulating gesture and inflection, as if caught up in the great eddies of the music’s yawning vowels. Eventually, she broke free from her stable axis to twirl in ellipses around the center she’d abandoned. At the time it felt like freedom, although later, after the two subsequent pieces developed the narrative, it would feel like a symbolic prelude to deracination—the center’s breaking point. The gyre that Radin widened would soon fly apart, accelerating like the cosmos itself.
Actually, we're not asking if you could walk a mile in Ayden Teker's shoes. Instead, today's challenge is (simply) this:
If you had to put what Teker's aKabi was ultimately about into one sentence (and not a page), could you do it?
Okay. Now how about Maguy Marin's umwelt ?
As always, we have to screen responses due to spam, but all legit replies will be posted. Send your best shots to comments, below.
The woman spun.
The dancers clomped.
The winds blew.
The audience bailed. (Well, some of them, at any rate.)
Yep, looks like we're in for another one of those "Is that dance?" nights.
Your thoughts, please, on Khadija Marcia Radin's Rapture, Aydin Teker's aKabi, and Maguy Marin's umwelt, in comments, below. (Due to spam, we have to moderate incoming responses, but all legitimate replies will be posted.)
The raging debate on whether Pilobolus' new work, Darkness and Light, is actually a dance at all takes us back . . . all the way to Plato's cave. (Um, would someone alert Dr. Gerry Myers, ADF's perennial philosopher-in-residence? He's needed, just now.)
Until the good doctor weighs in, critic Byron Woods asks the symposium these pointed questions: Are Pilobolus' recent Oscar and Oprah appearances really art? Is Darkness and Light? Or did its world premiere just present "the shadow of modern dance—but not the thing itself?"
The answers may surprise you. Tomorrow's headlines today, just below; click to read on.
Maybe all the talk about Darkness and Light is actually beside the point. What do you think was the strongest work of the night?
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There were differences in opinion in the talkback after Thursday's world premiere of Pilobolus' Darkness and Light.
Some gushed over the live shadow-and-color-play projected on the Page Auditorium screen.
But then there were those thinly-veiled suggestions that it wasn't even dance, that the dancers did their best to counter. (Which, actually, is more than we can say for Pilobolean choreographers Robby Barnett and Jonathan Wolken, who were missing in action when collaborator and master puppeteer Basil Twist and their dancers were on stage, taking part in the lively post-performance discussion.)
Where do you come down on this?
Is Darkness and Light dance?
If it isn't, what is it?
Would it have been if we could have actually seen the dancers?
Fourth and final question: Does it matter if it is or not?
Respond in comments. We'll be moderating responses (have to, due to spam); all legitimate replies will be posted here.
"If Pure kids us, it's to get us to stop kidding ourselves," says critic Byron Woods in his analysis of John Jasperse's world premiere. The central questions the new work poses? "What exactly is 'pure' movement, 'pure' dance? Is such a thing possible? And if so, is it actually desirable?"
Read the reprint from this week's Independent Weekly, below.