WASHINGTON, DC: JUNE 2014

Jesse Dance Exchange Masterclass

On June 19th I had the pleasure of teaching a Graham technique class at the gorgeous Dance Exchange Studios. The students were wonderful and I’m hopeful to return to this lovely studio. Special thanks to Managing Director Sarah Case and Resident Artist/Education Coordinator Matthew Cumbie.

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The morning of the 19th, I took a trip to the Museum of American History, where I beheld the original “Star-Spangled Banner” which was beautifully laid out and lit in a way that made it glow. As an added bonus, I took a walk through the civil rights exhibit and was moved by the history our nation, what we’ve accomplished, and what we still must work on as society.

 

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The day before, I took a trip to the Library of Congress, where I spent hours looking over the Martha Graham archives. Especially interesting were the piles of interviews, some for Blood Memory, some for the Halston memorial. There were a few hand-written rehearsal and production notes from the 1989 American Document reconstruction that were curious to read as well.

YUKIO MISHIMA: FIVE MODERN NOH PLAYS

Yukio Mishima

I first became acquainted with the work of Yukio Mishima through his brilliant novel, Confessions of a Mask. While browsing at the Strand yesterday, a book entitled Yukio Mishima: Five Modern Noh Plays caught my eye. I had no idea Mishima was also a playwright. Curious regarding the nature of these plays, I purchased the book and read all five plays in a day. They are simply astounding.

Mishima wrote these plays from 1950-1955, drawing on older Noh plots, traditional themes, and fairytales. I love the dream-like and haunting quality of these plays. Reoccurring themes of searching for and loosing love, age and memory, night journeys, spiritual desire, and death thread themselves throughout these plays. I found strange parallels between these plays and the work of Strindberg, Beckett, and Adrienne Kennedy.

CHARLES JAMES:BEYOND FASHION

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I suggest you run to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to catch Charles James: Beyond Fashion to witness the most innovative display of breathtaking dresses I have ever seen. Upon entering, one is confronted with a constellation of beautiful ball gowns floating in the dark. Harold Koda and Jan Glier Reeder have organized this stunning show, with design by the architectural firm Diller Scofidio & Renfro. The architects employ technological feats of magic that pinpoint seams, zoom in on fabric texture, display x-ray images to reveal inner construction, and animate flat pieces of fabric that wondrously fall into the garment with breathtaking effect.

The erotic power of James’ work is fully felt (due in part to the dramatic lighting) and the dresses are in many ways sensual sculptures which protect, reveal, and imbue the wearer with a certain power. James’ work as a milliner is apparent as he clearly thinks in 3-dimensions as an architect does. His understanding of fabric, cut, and gravity are astounding and the man was clearly a genius. The way he cut fabric to create as few seams as possible for the most dramatic effect is spellbinding. His vast knowledge of fashion history is revealed in his clever use of previous silhouettes and shapes, often combining unrelated styles in a surprising way.

That Charles James was an incredibly well-read, culturally astute, detail-oriented, and forward-thinking is made clear in this exhibit. This is an artist who worked in fashion. I particularly enjoyed reading some typed pages James left for assistants, or wrote in preparation for a memoir. One page listed artist whom he respected and admired (Dali) and others whom he abhorred (Erte). Another listed celebrities he may have had the chance to dress but missed out and would still love to including Ava Gardner, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie. Another page had descriptions of dresses listing inspirations drawing on Vionnet, Schiaparelli, and Pioret, but also detailing how the patterns could be maintained and cut for mass-production at Bergdorf’s.

Charles James was idolized by Halston, and their careers hold many parallels. Halston also started as a milliner and was knows for innovative cuts and draping of fabric. After Halston became successful, he contacted James and presented a large retrospective of his work in 1969. The two men worked together on Halston’s 1970 collection and Halston likened their relationship to the manner in which Balenciaga helped Givenchy. The collection was panned, resulting in the evaporation of their professional and personal friendship. Apparently James was loathe to speak about Halston and very bitter after their collaboration.

The video below shows Halston introducing a Charles James exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in 1982. He obviously still greatly admired and respected James, even after his death:

 

 

KAREN LEE GROUP

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CR Fashion Book Issue #2 DANCE

On June 10th I met with some aspiring models taking part in a day of workshops with the fantastic industry professional, Karen Lee. I worked with them on finding their breath, releasing tension, and using their hands. It was so fun and I was happy to share my passion for movement and shape with these beautiful creatures. They made some great physical discoveries and implemented new tools for their work. I’m looking forward to working with the fabulous Karen in the future, and also deepening my knowledge about the needs of models, stylists, and photographers, and streamlining my physical and compositional skill set to help them enhance their work. Dance and fashion are inextricably linked and I would love to continue to explore this relation. The recent CR Fashion Book by the glorious Carine Roitfeld comes to mind, as does Coco Rocha (a former Irish dancer), Halston and Martha Graham, Chanel and Diaghilev. To fashion! To dance!

GRAHAM II SEASON MAY 31 2014

 

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It was a joy to convene for dinner with other Graham II and Martha Graham Dance Company alums at Malaparte on Bethune Street before heading over to see the Graham II season at Westbeth. The evening began with excerpts from Martha Graham’s “Night Chant”, which I had never seen before. I was struck by the beauty of the choral passages in this piece, especially the women’s entrance in which they hung in a deep contraction and spiraled around in a back attitude turn. Countless group entrances and phrases demonstrated the earth-bound, taut, and bodily extremes Martha Graham works with. Especially riveting was the final section in which sections seemed to overlap and converse with each other until finally a group of men crossed the stage with women lifted over their heads in a beautiful upside-down V shape that called to mind a flock of birds. All of this swirled around the beautiful Jaclyn Rea, who had a slightly different quality of movement than the chorus. I found “Night Chant” to be an imaginative work steeped in ritual, imagination, mystery, and calling on Graham’s rich history and love of Native American culture.

Darshan Singh Bhuller staged an edited version of  his “The Virgin Queen” on Graham II and it was refreshing to see the dancers in this piece. I particularly liked Mr. Bhuller’s use of court music. The use of projections added to the dance quite strongly in some sections, but it also obscured the faces of the dancers often, which was a bit problematic for me as this piece is a work of dance theatre and calls for storytelling and use of drama. Seeing faces would have added much to the dance. Mr. Bhuller’s use of groups quickly surging into place was effective, as was a particular moment in which projections of frames began to whirl around as a group of dancers lifted the queen above their heads and spun her around. I would like to see this piece in it’s entirety.

Robert Cohan’s “Forest” was beautifully staged by Mr. Bhuller to feature Charlotte Landreau and Gildas Lemmonier in a marvelously quiet, expressive, and intimate duet. Staged to the soundscape of wind, rain, and thunder, the piece took place in it’s own world, where time became inconsequential. The dancers were fully revealed here and demonstrated unwavering technique as well as theatrical magnetism. I was particularly impressed by the stealthy and plastic manner in which their feet left and returned to the floor. They were grounded, yet graceful and elegant in their use of gravity and shift of weight. Mr. Lemmonier was especially adept and developed an almost serpentine quality toward the middle of the work. I could have watched them all night.

The evening closed with Martha Graham’s “Temptations of the Moon” and when the lights came up I was immediately enamored of the beautiful pastel color palette employed by Halston. The women’s dresses, with a type of connected fishtail, were absolutely theatrical and beautiful as they moved through space. The men were handsome, bare chested in tights with borders at the waist and calf. I found “Temptations of the Moon” very interesting in it’s use of Bela Bartok’s 1923 Suite for Dance. It’s curious to me that in many of Martha’s later works, she chose previously composed music to work with (such as Nielsen, Stravinsky, Bartok, Joplin, etc.) when in the beginning of her career she was instrumental in developing the idea that the music and dance be created together, and that sometimes the music should really serve the creation of the dance. But that’s another conversation. I particularly enjoyed the men’s chorus and seeing Graham phrases that I hadn’t thought about for a long time. The tone of this piece is quite sophisticated, and the dancers did an admirable job of pulling of this rarely seen work. I hope it remains in the Graham II repetoire for a while so we can so it again, and also for the dancers to continue to develop the wonderful qualities they began to work with here.

Virginie Mecene and the faculty at the Martha Graham School continue to cultivate new interpreters of this wondrous repertory.

 

 

 

LA BAYADERE at ABT MAY 24th 2014

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The iconic Met chandeliers

Tonight I attended ABT’s La Bayadere at the Metropolitan Opera House. I had seen this version of the ballet a few times before, but forgot how much storytelling goes on at the beginning. I especially enjoyed the scene between Nikiya (A. Cojocaru) and Gamzatti (M. Copeland). The interaction was taut with theatrical drama, and just enough opulence to make it very enjoyable. I could watch them simply walk and stare each other down all evening. The women confronted each other with urgency and commitment, which I always enjoy.  The famous Kindgdom of Shades scene was executed respectfully by the corps de ballet. I counted 24 dancers that were dived into 4 horizontal lines of 6, 3 horizontal lines of 8, and 2 perpendicular lines of 12. This happened beautifully after that long and luscious serpentine diagonal crossing that slithers across the stage about 4 times before dispersing into more square formations. The corps de ballet really danced as one unit, and it was beautiful to behold such sophisticated simplicity executed so truthfully. H. Cornejo was in wonderful form as Solor. Turning, jumping, and lifting in the most admirable way. The Golden Idol is usually one of my favorite moments, but something about the dance failed to ignite the sense of majesty and wonder that I recall having upon seeing it in the past. Everything was in working order, but nothing impressed about this soloist. Alina Cojocaru really stunned in her final solo during the wedding scene. Especially gorgeous to behold were a series in which she lowered onto one knee, with the other leg extended diagonally to the floor as if in arabesque. She’d hit this shape and then melt achingly further into the ground in a way that I found tragic and beautiful.

Of course certain elements of classical ballet, and specifically La Bayadere stir up questions regarding the politics of representation and approproiation in my head. La Bayedere is a primarily Russian creation of a French dance language based on an Indian story. What to make of the Indian-esque gestures and costumes that have been appropriated and implemented into the technique and style of classical ballet? I wonder what a classical Indian Odissi or Kathakali dancer would think of this ballet. Is La Bayadere embedded in layers of misogyny? Nikiya is a slave with no agency and Gamzatti nearly kills her in order to keep her man, the valiant Solor. Is the sometimes pliant and quivering, sometimes stiff and erect ballerina a representation of the phallus? At any rate, I enjoyed the evening as a witness to the spectacular artistry and technique brilliantly executed by ABT in this performance of La Bayedere at the Met.