Monday, October 29, 2012

Artistic Consumption Log, Oct. 22, 2012 - Oct. 28, 2012: Dance Party Edition

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J.—This may well turn out to be a crucial week for me in artistic consumption in one respect: It's the week where I feel like I at least came close to finally understanding dance.

I've seen my share of dance performances over the past few years—and have even put down some of my impressions on this here blog—but though I've responded to some more enthusiastically than others, I admit that, for the most part, I've always found the form to be somewhat difficult for me to grasp in some way. Maybe I've been approaching dance in too theatrical/cinematic a mindset, expecting thematic and character richness of a literary sort when really dance is all about the beauty of movement, whether purely for its own sake or for a higher purpose.

Anyway, I thought maybe I had reached my limit with dance during Astral Converted, that suffocating 55-minute Trisha Brown/John Cage piece that seemed to just go on forever and at random. But this past week, I saw two dance pieces—one a film, the other an actual theatrical work—in which I felt perhaps I was coming close to finally breaking down my resistance to dance.

Plus, I listened to some dance music of a very high order thanks to, well, New Order.

You can read about all that and more in the log, um, let's dance!

Girl Walk // All Day (2012)


Far Out Isn't Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story (2012, Brad Bernstein), seen at IFC Center in New York
Girl Walk // All Day (2012, Jacob Krupnick), seen online at home in Brooklyn, N.Y.
I'm reviewing both of these films for Slant MagazineFar Out Isn't Far Enough for The House Next Door, Girl Walk // All Day for Slant proper—so I'll link you all to those reviews when they're published. All I'll say for now is, Girl Walk // All Day—which is the dance film I briefly mentioned above—has a secure spot in my Top 10 list this year; it's that good.

The Paperboy (2012, Lee Daniels), seen at Quad Cinema in New York
Despite all the condemnation this film garnered at its world premiere at Cannes earlier this year, Lee Daniels's follow-up to Precious is neither an embarrassment nor an underappreciated trash masterpiece. Actually, my cumulative reaction to the film is more of indifference than anything else—the last thing you expect from a film that features not only Nicole Kidman pissing on Zac Efron, but also a crocodile being cut up with its guts spilling out in loving close-up. Occasionally, through the unapologetic bad taste on display in this late-'60s-set tale of racism and sexual repression in the deep South, The Paperboy evinces a welcome awareness of thorny historical, thematic and character complexities; the film is, in part, a portrait of not only characters in states of transition—most notably, the titular "paperboy," a pubescent young man who gets his first taste of sexuality and the messy realities of adulthood—but an entire nation in transition, uneasily trying to shake off its racist past. (The word "nigger," for instance, is made the focus of perhaps its most emotionally wrenching moment, when Efron's Jack Jansen calls a black male character that racial pejorative in the heat of the presence of the black maid (Macy Gray) for whom he has a lot of friendly affection.) If only Daniels, as a filmmaker, wasn't so promiscuous in sacrificing sense to sensation, its vision might have made more of a lasting impression beyond the lurid surface details. (I mean, as far as I'm concerned, did we really need to see those damn crocodile guts? That's as egregious as the rape-intercut-with-fried-chicken montage in Precious.) But no, The Paperboy doesn't strike me as entirely negligible.

Power, Corruption & Lies (1983)


Movement (1981, New Order)
Power, Corruption & Lies (1983, New Order)
Low-life (1985, New Order)
I'm finally catching up with the British synth-pop band that was once known as Joy Division before Ian Curtis died, and while Power, Corruption & Lies is indeed as great as its reputation...guys, I don't know about this Bernard Sumner dude. I didn't mind his mediocre singing in that album or in their previous album, Movement, because the beats, textures and lyrics were enough to compensate for Sumner's barely-in-tune vocals as the lead singer. But while the beats, textures and lyrics in Low-life are as virtuosic and memorable as ever, overall the songs seem to be trying for a deeper emotional affect than Sumner is even close to capable of delivering. I guess people over the years have given him a pass because the songs themselves are so catchy? Because, I mean, on a dance floor, who cares about great singing, right? Anyway, the best song on Low-life is, naturally, "Elegia," the one instrumental on the album; "Sub-Culture" is also quite good—intoxicating in its ominousness—but again, Sumner's rough singing comes perilously close to completely breaking its distinctive spell. (I guess Ian Curtis was no great shakes as a vocalist, either, but his deep tenor voice had a certain alien allure to it that was fascinating to hear however depressive his lyrics were.) Does Sumner somehow get better as a vocalist in subsequent New Order albums? I'll see. Maybe, in their best albums, it ultimately doesn't matter so much.

Brooklyn Academy of Music's Howard Gilman Opera House stage before "...como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si...." This was, in fact, basically the whole set.


"...como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si..." (2009, Pina Bausch), performed by Tanztheater Wupperthal Pina Bausch at Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, N.Y.
So seasoned dance critics aren't considering this one of legendary choreographer Pina Bausch's great works? Well, okay. I'm no seasoned dance critic, but for the most part, this was probably the most sheer fun I've had seeing a dance work maybe ever. Thanks to Wim Wenders's Pina, I went into Friday night's performance of Bausch's final work, "...como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si...," being at least somewhat aware of her innovative blending of dance and theater. But to see it up and close and personal was especially thrilling; for the first time, I felt as if I was actually getting dance in ways I never quite grasped before.

Based on Bausch and her Tanztheater Wupperthal's experiences and observations while doing a residency in Chile, "...como el musguito..." is essentially a plotless series of tableaux depicting the battle of the sexes, in interactions that are by turns romantic, creepy and funny. Considering how many of the female dancers proudly flaunt their feminine physicality/wiles to the men they playfully seduce, one can read an idiosyncratic vision of female empowerment into the work—but to my mind, both sexes are given just about equal praise/ridicule in the love games in which they enact. For me, though, much of the excitement in seeing "...como el musguito..." came simply from seeing dancers speaking dialogue, playing with props onstage, wearing extravagant fashions—in short, doing a lot of things I normally don't see in a typical dance piece. Like the best artistic experiences, I never knew what to expect moment to moment, and even as inspiration started to flag towards the end of this 2-hour-and-20-minute work, the sheer exhilaration of seeing what lovely/crazy things Bausch would come up with next for her dancers to do onstage kept me interested. Dammit, why am I only now discovering the work of this genuine visionary years after her death? (Rest in peace, Pina Bausch.)

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