Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dance: December Dance Creations at Juilliard

Rarely do I start this way, but ugh, this was just no good. The program started weakly, and while I preserved hope that it would improve, it only got worse. These were the performances of the sophomore, junior, and senior classes of the Juilliard Dance program, and while I know that the dancers themselves are quite proficient, the choreography and staging, not to mention the music, left everything to be desired.

The show came with a lengthy introduction from conductor James Conlon, who lectured on the musical compositions that were chosen to accompany the dancers—each a suppressed work of a composer thumbed under by the Nazi regime, these pieces of music had not been performed live since that time, and never before in the U.S. This all seemed interesting enough (indeed, I would like it if every show I went to see came with such an informative introductory lecture; oh, how I miss school) until I actually heard the soporific music. It wasn't completely dreadful; there was one bit of Schulhoff's Ogelala during which the orchestra ceased playing and the stringy strains of a banjo were wound around by the lilting wails of a soprano, and these sounds wafted into the theatre through an open door high above us and to far stage right, the entrance to a box seat, perhaps. This was a truly avant-garde and beautiful moment (and it is rare that these two things, like banjo and soprano, come together), but it soon ceased, and the orchestra again picked up its traditional brass and melodramatic strings.

The dancing is, I'm sorry to say, even less worthy of discussion. The first piece, performed by the sophomores, was called Prelude to a Drama; swathed in steam, the girls wore lengthy gowns and the men went topless in tights, and everyone flitted about in a manner designed to offend absolutely no one except me, much like elevator music, chicken noodle soup, and Monet's Waterlilies. The second piece, performed by the juniors, was called Proximity Effect, and abided by an opposing aesthetic, something of Tamara de Lempicka, Ayn Rand, and the 1980s, but all desexed. Costumes again were dreadful, but the stage was undressed beautifully, revealing all of the black-painted guts of lights and cables and conduit. I preferred to watch it to the dancing. The last piece, and the worst, and the favorite of my theater-going companion, was performed by the seniors and called No Longer Silent. It was hyper-theatrical, more movement-thought than dance, more concept than art, and it was also brutally ugly. It was not without any take-away for the budding choreographer (the dancers, for example, were often divided into three groups, and would dance within their groups, in formation, in a way that would be appealing had the choreography been more interesting), but for the stranded audience, a breath of soprano-wound banjoy was the only respite in a parade of hideous, meaningless drama.

I won't go on to comment on the hollow mockeries of titles given to these three pieces; I will only point out that my companion quite enjoyed two-thirds of the show, and that all, therefore, was not lost. All the same, I will not be going back, and I will also warn choreographers against ever putting so many bodies on the stage at one time.

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