Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dancing, Storytelling Idols (or, No, Really, I Thought This Before Everybody Else Decided A Winner)

You all probably think I'm a spineless wuss for not posting my comments about the Genesis International Dance Competition hosted by the Milwaukee Ballet until after the results were published in the Milwaukee Journal, but honestly, I've been swamped. Really. I'm not going to write that I enjoyed Nelly van Bommel's piece best AFTER it turns out she won just so that it looks like I have the same elegant, informed taste as the judges. No, and it's really going to look like I copied Journal Sentinel critic Tom Strini's comments about how the last piece seemed discordant. But Stella liked it, and she voted for it. I was really looking forward to, as artistic directory Michael Pink playfully referred to it at the last show, a sort of "American Dance Idol" where the audience would play a role in voting for their favorite.

So let's just get on with the post already, and if you don't beliefve that I've simply been too busy to edit and post this unitl today, whatever.

Stella and I started out our Friday evening at the Safe House, and we were joined by Talia The Hip Babysitter and her friend, who ended up having seats near us for the show. Stella figured out how to get into the place without any help from me, which is good, because I'd kind of forgotten everything but the password. The Safe House is a fun place to take an inquisitive 8-year-old kid, but be prepared to answer questions like "What was the Cold War? Why did they call it Cold? Why didn't people just climb over the Berlin Wall?"

After dinner, we walked over to the Pabst Theatre: the Milwaukee Ballet has some kind of contract with the Pabst where they do one show there a year, and of course, its going to be one of their edgier selections (as if dancing to music by William Shatner and Ben Folds last month wasn't edgy.) This year's offering was indeed the Genesis International Dance Competition, featuring three up and coming choreographers, who got 8 Milwaukee Ballet Dancers, a few weeks of time, and basic ingredients to put together something that would impress the judges enough to award the winner the opportunity to choreograph a full-length presentation for next year's series.

First up was van Bommel, and as you know, it turned out to be the winner. It was the longest. I knew this because Stella's root beer came calling, and she squirmed through a good portion of it. I liked it, even though it didn't scream "ballet" at me -- it was more gymnastic, but really precision choreography (and I love gymnastics, too!). I noticed that none of the dancers wore pointe shoes, and the piece never called for it. It was very athletic -- I can very easily picture van Bommel being asked to put something together for a Cirque du Soleil show if they ever got that complex. While it was long, I got the feeling that I'd been given a Cliff's Notes version of the history of a village or something: with changing alliances, changing love affairs, cause and effect, over some 20 year period. But it wasn't heavy -- it was very playful, and at times, playfully erotic. I did get annoyed at the use of dance in the silence --no music, just movement in the hushed hall. The first two times it was effective, but like a writer's italics such a device should be used sparingly. What I didn't know is that apparently this must be the hot new attention-getting dance device, because all three choreographers used it, and unfortunately for and by the third entry, it had gotten old to me. At intermission, we actually ran into van Bommel herself in the lobby. She was bubbly and vivacious, and extremely gracoius as a shy Stella came out of her shell to tell her what she thought of it. We got ourselves a soda, noting the sign that said "Of COURSE you can take your drink in the theatre!" and took a seat. (Man, have I mentioned how much I love the Pabst Theatre? Does anybody NOT love the Pabst Theatre, a place where no architectual feature goes unadorned? You have plenty to look at and take in well before the show starts, and the people managing the place are bringing in some of the best stuff to hit this town in years.)

Next up was Jozsef Hajzer doing a bit that turned out to be the audience favorite, but not big with me. "This music is really severe," Stella agreed with me, bringing to mind the last time we saw the Milwaukee Ballet, and their performance of Balanchine's Agon, set to, as I'd written, severe Stravinsky music. This was music from the same neck of the woods, and the piece was just as severe. I know this was supposed to be music from the country, but I didn't get the sense of that. I didn't like "Agon" and since this reminded me of this, that might have predjudiced me. I liked his ideas, though, I hope we'll see more of him in the future.

Finally, the last piece by Victor Plotnikov. I think Stella liked it best because of all the non-dance additions that made for a visually stimulating piece. The Journal Sentinel Critic didn't like it, and I didn't like it as much as vanBommel's, but it was interesting to watch, nonetheless. I was jarred by it. There was this open book in a spotlight that made an appearance throughout the piece at different positions on the stage. Talia pointed out that perhaps this was a person's intrepretation of reading a book and having the characters come to life, or possibly turn up in a dream. The dream idea makes more sense, because it was really messed up. You had these dancers all decked out in "Puttin' On The Ritz" type outfits, but neither the music or the dance itself suggested Gary Cooper - Super at all. Then they have a costume change to dockers and regular day shirts, and vascillated back and forth between that. And that's how dreams go, I guess. One minute you're at the Beverly Hills Hotel snacking on caviar, the next you're waking up at your desk making plans to hit a Brewer game. But the transistions between each didn't flow for me. Still, I liked the lighting, the focusing on one single element at a time, the book (that the Journal Reviewer hated) that actually tied the whole thing together. But after Stella told me she was voting for it, I decided, in American Idol fashion, to finally cast my vote for Nelly, since my very close second place winner already had a hanging chad from our family.

So I read the results in the paper this morning, and was quite pleased with myself that apparently, I have the same taste as world-renowned dance experts. I'm like new art patrons as regards dance: I really don't know the subtleties of what makes it good, I just know what I like. And I guess even when its abstract, I like a good story and van Bommel told a good, soapoperatic story. And I'm really glad that I renewed my season tickets to the Ballet next year, so I can see what she can do with some more time, money, and the resources of the full Milwaukee Ballet Company. Next up: Romeo and Juliet in May. Stella's really looking forward to that. I've got to work up the heart to brace her for what a really sad story it is.

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