Archive for January, 2015

Apollo’s Girl

January 30, 2015


apollo and lyre



Dance on Camera:
Can’t Get Enough of It!

This happens every year. The festival with heroic movement, big ideas, bodies on the ground, in the air, rhythm everywhere and sensory immersion. Incredible variety, breathtaking commitment. With 23 programs in the next five days, with every program shown only once. (No!) If a picture is worth a thousand words, Dance on Camera has enough of them to last a lifetime. (Yes!) What’s a girl to do? First, go to, print it out, take it to the box office and invest in tickets. (Ninety-nine dollars will get you an all-access pass. Do the math!) Second, prepare to be astounded. Here’s some of what you’ll revel in:

girl child

Girlchild Diary (Meredith Monk, 2014)

No one can manipulate the elements of past and present like Monk, and this film is a complex hommage to an earlier work, revisited and remounted — “a meditation on rites of passage,” as Monk describes it. A kind of global road movie that hypnotizes from its first sights and sounds, its communal movement and the singing of its elegant score remind us that ancient people expressed their spirit in just this way. And, as Monk reinterprets ith, the idea has lost none of its power.

dancing is livingDancing is Living (Louis Wallecan, 2014)

Benjamin Millepied is the unmatched poster child for dance. And despite his obvious charm and bilingual smarts, a profoundly talented and musical choreographer with a large and growing palette. ( Dancing is Living follows Millepied’s peripatetic career as he moves at high speed from New York to L.A., to Lyons, to Russia, and back. His commitment to dance is focused on underserved kids in L.A., on the fascination of juking, and (among other things) on creating a safe haven where choreographers can collaborate and rehearse. Millepied is clearly at the top of his game; the film leaves you wanting to spend more time with him and his creative process–perhaps at a slower tempo.

let's get the rhythm

Let’s Get the Rhythm: The Life and Times of Miss Mary Mack (Irene Chagall, 2014)

This is a debut film from a natural born filmmaker, who has moved seamlessly (and joyfully) from teaching music to children to sharing what she has learned from them by connecting the game of handclapping in its many incarnations to a primal, entirely universal rhythmic expression. The stories hidden in the verses that children chant or sing as they clap remind you of Mother Goose; there are meanings with resonance to be decoded. But mostly to be enjoyed. I dare you to sit still for this one!

born to flyBorn to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity (Catherine Gund, 2014)

For Born to Fly, on the other hand, you may want to hug your chair and hang on to its arms very, very tightly. Streb’s dancers, and Streb herself, not only fly through the air, but fling themselves at walls and floors, with seemingly no regard for personal safety. They are deeply committed to Streb and to her regimen, which simply takes no prisoners. You will be torn between marveling at the obvious passion and full-body pyrotechnics shared by the company and meditating on the fact that they work and live on the edge of subsistence, with no accident insurance.

capturing graceCapturing Grace (David Iverson, 2014)

A film that will not have you either wiggling in your seat nor clinging to it, but will definitely inspire you to admire the filmmaker and the subjects who are collaborating on the frontiers of medicine and empathy; they have discovered that dance is a potent agent for keeping the ravages of Parkinson’s at bay. All display the symptoms of the condition yet, when they dance, the symptoms abate. The program is run at Mark Morris’ studio in Brooklyn; teachers and students conquer the difficulties and exult in a final performance that climaxes months of rehearsal. You may need some Kleenex, but you will be exulting right along with the cast. As director Iverson (who has the condition himself) defines it, “This is a film about rediscovery, the rediscovery of a lighter step and the sweetness of motion. And it’s a story about a remarkable community of dancers—some professions, some not—but all coming together to move in space…and in doing so, rediscovering grace. And it is in that rediscovery that each becomes whole.”

allthatjazzAnd, finally don’t miss the newly-restored version of All That Jazz (Bob Fosse, 1979) on a big screen–the only way to savor this once-and-always miraculous capture of huge talents. If you want to know how many nominations and awards it garnered, prepare to spend some time on IMDb. But also prepare to keep gasping at Alan Heim’s editing, which propelled dancing into another dimension altogether long before digital would have made it easier. But not better, because it’s still as good as it gets.
And here’s a 2015 good news update: last year’s Dance on Camera opening night favorite, Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter (now playing at the Quad Cinema in New York) has just been extended another week, through February 5th. (212) 255-2243.

Cooper’s London

January 27, 2015






If the Shoe Fits… See It!

I remember Clifford Leech, a great scholar of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, insisting that one of the more under-rated and under-known of Shakespeare’s contemporaries was Thomas Dekker and that this was a damned shame. (No, not the current Thomas Dekker, a film actor and musician born in 1987, but the playwrightThomas_Dekker(writer) born around 1572 and thus only eight years younger than Our Will.)

The Elizabethan/Jacobean Dekker collaborated on most of his extant works, on such successful and admired dramas as The Witch of Edmonton (with Ford and Rowley, 1621), Westward Ho! (with Webster, c 1607)) The Roaring Girl (with Middleton, about 1609?). He worked mainly with theatre companies that were rivals to Shakespeare’s. He worked with, made enemies with, made friends again and collaborated with Ben Johnson. He wrote political and other pamphlets of some notoriety that give us amazing and fascinating glimpses into the life of his times; and he lived in Debtor’s Prison for seven years from 1612. His work spans and spins around the various fashions of the Elizabethan Golden Age of theatre and then shifts to the Jacobean style and fashion under James I. He dealt with plagues, coney-catchers (criminals), the War of the Theatres and London life; His one undisputed solo masterpiece is the 130px-The-shoemaker-holiday-a)now-rarely-performed The Shoemaker’s Holiday; and the Royal Shakespeare Company has just mounted a sparkling and endearing new production that explains why Clifford Leech rated Dekker highly.

This new production of The Shoemaker’s Holiday is consistently energetic, brilliantly designed to interest the eye and to convey the era in which the play is set, and so full of apt activity throughout that it invigorates the audience, yet is paced to allow the characters to have moments of stillness and contemplation. Phillip Breen’s direction breenof the play cleverly and sensitively convinces us easily of the masterpiece that it is. I came away wanting to read the text to get more of a grip on the action and the language and certainly hoping that this production will inspire even more directors to attempt new interpretations (though this one is more than satisfying). Having never seen the play before, I was relieved that it lived up to its high reputation.

Like all masterpieces, The Shoemaker’s Holiday is very much of its erayet timeless; a dramatic comedy not about aristocrats, but firmly centred on the artisan classes living in a recognizably urban and teeming London. Set clearly in the time of its writing, it constantly provokes topical comparisons: we cannot help thinking about Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Middle East today, or of ruthless bankers and corrupt politicians, as the play unfolds. Perhaps this is because Dekker himself was doing the same slippage of references. Instead of the contemporary wars in Ireland, he seems to be setting his tale in the time of the French The-Shoemakers-Holiday-15-2014-261x541 (1)wars a century of so before. Breen’s meticulous staging, with Elizabethan costume, and the visual allusions, convey layers of meaning to the audience at high speed. The cast is well-drilled in movement, meaning and a sure conviction of the poignancy of the tale underlying the madcap japes and jollities for which it is famous.

While Henry V was celebrating heroic victories like Agincourt down the street at the Globe theatre in 1599 , at the Rose theatre Dekker was shwoing the impact of war on the Home Front (akin in its meaning in some ways to the 1944 Selznick film Since You Went Away!) The subject of the play is part comic Romeo and Juliet: an aristocratic young man, Rowland Lacy (appealingly portrayed by Josh O’Connor), is in love with the bourgeoise Rose Oatley (charming Thomasin Rand), and neither family is very happy about what they perceive as an unfortunate misalliance that must be stopped at all costs. Forced to go off to wars in shoesFrance, Rowland secretly returns to hide in London as a Dutch shoemaker (much comic cod Dutch is spoken by him as a running joke). How he learned to speak Dutch and also make shoes is one of the delightful back stories to this play. And from then on we follow his fortunes among, and sympathies with, the artisans.

Meanwhile, Ralph Damport (a very touching Daniel Boyd) is forced to leave his new wife for the fighting. And who makes him do that? The very Rowland Lacy who is our hero. Ralph returns maimed and desperate to find his lovely Jane (Hedydd Dylan) who has disappeared. She is, in fact, about to be tricked into a marriage by the salacious and wicked aristocrat Hammon (Jamie Wilkes) who has shown her Ralph’s name among the war dead.

With David Troughton dominating the action at times as the Falstaffian shoemaker boss Simon Eyre, who rises to be Lord Mayor of London by the end of the play (a nice bit of social hopefulness for 1599?), the busy skein of plots is convincingly and clearly conveyed and the deeper pains and issues of the characters are amply implied or shown among all the rough-and-tumble.

Music and movement enhance the experience of this often-neglected play. The king who appears quasi-ex machina at the end might be Edward VI or Henry V (even though the show was written in the reign of Elizabeth I and played before her by royal command. Why a King in the era of a Queen? It doesn’t matter. He’s an ideal and idealized monarch, a mixture of royal metaphors.

shoemakers marriageAnd though the play ends as a comedy, and with dancing and marriages, and is quite a romance in its way, and even though there is much gentle sweetness in the writing (along with the satire), the dark shadow of looming battles in France is invoked in the final sequence. Rowland will have to go to war after all, and Ralph, though reunited with his Jane with the help of his artisan peers, will still have to live with his injuries and disfigurement for the rest of his life.

The Shoemaker’s Holiday is playing in repertory at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until 7 March 2015

Apollo’s Girl

January 22, 2015


apollo and lyre




Miss Hill: Worth Waiting For…

Who doesn’t need good news in 2015? Especially when it’s about a film that has everything going for it: Its run begins on Friday, January 23 at the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13 Street, NYC (212) 255-2243. Bonus: the filmmaker will be there at 7pm on Friday and Saturday, and at 4:30pm on Saturday and Sunday. Even bigger bonus: the film has been extended another week (through February 5); don’t miss it!

posterMiss Hill: Making Dance Matter was a labor of love for Greg Vander Veer, whose own life and career have, like Miss Hill’s, taken some unexpected turns. With a passion for documentaries, this Vermont native’s fate was sealed by four years at Hendrix College in Little Rock, Arkansas. “This school was in the Princeton Review as a best buy – being the best college for the least amount of money. It was wonderful; very small, and they didn’t have a film department. So I studied history and joined their interdisciplinary program, where I went to Australia to study film. I didn’t have to learn a language (that kind of narrowed it down) and discovered the country’s amazing documentary industry. I liked the people, did well and wanted to live there. But as an American I wasn’t going to get any funding. So I came back and moved to New York.”

For a few years I was a pedicab driver until I was ready to start making films. I wrote to Al Maysles because I loved his movies. His generosity of spirit—he’s so giving! And I was lucky enough to become an intern and eventually to work for him.” But working with dance was accidental. Vander hill 6Veer’s first film (Keep Dancing, with Donald Saddler and Marge Champion) was launched at a party where someone told him about the legendary pair. Of course, one thing led to another as he became immersed in the dance world. And Miss Hill first came to life when Vander Veer met a board member of the Martha Hill Dance Fund at a bar. (This, people, is how things often happen.)

I didn’t know Martha Hill; I wasn’t that familiar with modern dance. But it was important for me to make a film that told a bigger story. I wanted to explore people’s emotions and options so that a general audience could understand them. Hill’s decision to give up dancing herself to enable other dancers must have been very hard–and the audience can feel it. And what happened with Balanchine is so typical of human nature; the competition, and he had all this stuff on his side.”

As with every film, the hardest part of making Miss Hill hill4was raising the money for it. Vander Veer credits the Martha Hill Dance Fund, with its enormous list of executive producers. All were volunteers, inspired by the sense of community Hill built in her lifetime. “A community that really changed the dance world,” he adds.

A third meeting (on CraigsList, when he was still working on Keep Dancing) is what gave Vander Veer the team he needed to turn ideas into movies. Editor Elisa Del Prato answered his ad and convinced him to work with her. “She’s really got a gift for rhythmic cutting…we sit in tandem, working together. She doesn’t like to do things in the normal way—arguing, fighting, disagreeing. We’re just there the whole time, editing the film. We complement each other. The music of the editing and the structure of the story are really independent of one another, but in perfect balance. Elisa doesn’t care about story that much—she didn’t research Martha Hill; I did. I’m there for the story. It’s a good balance, although it kept shifting throughout the process. As director, I had the final decision, but she was persuasive!”

With two films finished, the team is wrapping up a third, far from the subject of dance: shot on location in Ethiopia by Peter Buntaine, it entwines ecology with ancient history, mystery, and the natural world. It’s got science, and the impact of everyone in the forests—atheists, priests, flora, fauna—the conflicts of those who struggle to protect and those who destroy It will include music recorded in the field and an original score. We suspect it will push the envelope a bit. And Vander Veer admits there is also a new project on the horizon, which he will announce in a few weeks. Stay tuned…

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