Posts Tagged ‘dance’

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.

Apollo’s Girl

July 31, 2013

Art, Music, Film

 Apollo+dance+with+the+muses-1024x768-20491 (2)

Fearless Predictions (and a Surprise)

First, the surprise: I have to admit, right off the bat (pun intended) that I’ve just never been able to get excited about baseball. Spent evenings with friends who really got into the game, but remember the intervals between plays seeming endless; the action that had them screaming and rising to their feet for every hit, every run, felt (to a woman who loved tennis and hockey) like perpetual slow motion. I also remember dozing off and, when I grew up a little, remembering urgent appointments elsewhere until I was no longer asked to be part of the couch potato cheering section.

But I promised you a surprise, and there is one: cuban baseballA friend (similarly inclined) recently took me to The Eighth Floor for what was supposed to be a flyover of Stealing Base: Cuba at Bat on our way to dinner.  What a revelation! As it turns out baseball is the Cuban national passion, inspiring prose, poetry and, in the case of this exhibition, a trove of witty and fascinating paintings and sculptures, even some film, on the subject. The flyover was canceled as we loped repeatedly around the show, our delight increasing with each tour and revelation (and some welcome Cuban snacks).  Could we have been wrong all these years? You have til September 2 to discover for yourselves; take advantage of the pleasure, and see what this congenial Flatiron gallery has coming up:

Now for the Fearless Predictions…

4 x 4 Festival. If baseball is a new friend, early music goes back a long way (yes, steinanother pun). And there’s nothing cooler in the dog days than a scrum of viols, sacbuts, theorbos and portative organs to lure you into chilling out with like-minded souls. Led by Avi Stein, who can summon the best players, 4 x 4 is a loose consortium of friends and colleagues who play and sing up and down the Eastern seaboard and around the world, a live organism forever separating and reconnecting as their repertoire demands.

Of course the energy of their shared passion pervades their work, and includes forays into contemporary and pop repertoire, too. QuicksilverBehindthescenesIt’s an attitude reflected in the names of their individual groups (most have at least one of their own): Guido’s Ear, Quicksilver, Apollo’s Fire, King’s Noyseplayful and ecstatic at the same time. Nothing doleful here! Whenever it was composed, it’s music for our time. This year’s four-part feast began last night and continues through August 2. So get thee to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on time (concerts begin at 7pm; admission is free and first-come, first-served; there is a $20 suggested donationmake it it’s a bargain at the price!) Programs:

Film/Video: Opera, Dance

Emerging Pictures has scored another coup Ira_Teaching(its president, Ira Deutchman, is known for his visionary taste and quick-moving distribution skills) with a summer series of top-of- the-line live-in-HD dance and opera performances recorded live at the Bolshoi, The Hague, Covent Garden, and now — throughout August — at La Scala. To celebrate Verdi’s 200th anniversary, the menu includes performances of Aida, Don Carlo, and La Traviata, with big names and bigger-than-life drama: Alagna,  Urmano, Furlanetto, Zajick, Gheorgiu, Vargas.  The programming brings the best of global Angela-Gheorghiu-Vargas-Traviata-RomalyparaLNPara_LNCIMA20130124_0377_5performances to the United States, with options far beyond the stages of the Metropolitan Opera. It’s an exciting (and affordable) idea, with venues all around the country, and technology that permits long-distance live Q & As.  To find out what’s coming up (and where), see

And if you want to see Emerging Pictures current film lineup (some of the best of what’s playing now or coming soon), It’s all good!

Cogito: John Branch

February 13, 2011





Black Swan: A Dissent

by John Everett Branch Jr.

What did I think about Black Swan? My main sensation, during and after this much-talked-about film, was varying degrees of distaste. If the film’s staging of the end of Swan Lakereminds one of the end of Puccini’s Tosca (in both, the heroine plunges from a height onstage), that’s not the only connection one can find; Joseph Kerman dismissed Tosca as a “shabby little shocker,” and while Black Swan is too clever to be called shabby, it seems brutal instead, which is worse.

Trying to think of the film neutrally, analytically, I can see themes and visual elements and issues that would be worth considering if I were being paid to think about the film, among them: the artist’s challenge as a battle with the self, which may seem to be a battle with something or someone else; the goal of losing oneself, the mistake of using death for that purpose; all sorts of Romantic nonsense about things like perfection and death; the theme of the double, the appearance of mysterious others who may be doubles or objects of desire (or both), the frequent and very obvious use of mirror images; the suggestion that the world of professionalized and institutionalized art-making uses up its artists (the character of Beth, played by Winona Ryder, ends up looking like a corpse, and a shriveled, consumed one at that).

But I didn’t get much pleasure out of watching it, nor do I get much out of pondering these elements after the fact. Bluntly put, the film does things that don’t need to be done. To recall Susan Sontag’s three questions, I could more or less say what it’s trying to do, and I think I can say (without doing the analytical and evaluative work) that it does them pretty well, but these things are not of primary importance.

That many people have come away saying things like “blown away” suggests that the film works very well—as far as basic function goes, it’s a successful piece of machinery, crafty and even cunning. It maintains tension, it frequently shocks you (keeping you uncertain and in a way refreshing your attention with jolts), and it may surprise you at the end. It capitalizes on many aspects of dancing that would be barely noticed by insiders—the punishment meted out to toe shoes before they can be used, the likelihood of injury—in ways that support its atmosphere and themes. (One almost expects a character to say, “To win all you must risk all,” but the film is smarter than that.) That it divides opinion, as most or all of Aronofsky’s films do, is probably a sign of something dynamic or vibrant, even a kind of vitality, at its core. Though it’s not high praise to say that you will not be bored, that gives the film a certain distinction; much that we experience and consume these days is boring, routine, mundane, or (only slightly better) a sustained annoyance, as Shutter Island was.

Nonetheless, I think Black Swan is wrongheaded, even (if one assumes that it’ll be taken seriously) dangerous. We should long ago have driven a stake through the heart of Romantic confusions about death and art; instead, we allow them to persist, to revive themselves at night, spring up from their coffin, and prey on fresh victims who are young enough (childish enough, inexperienced enough) not to be wary. That, I suppose, is my chief objection to the film. Black Swan traffics in these things without perhaps entirely supporting them; it may, then, be closer to corrupt than to immoral. So is Tosca. (I won’t take the space here to explain that, but you can read Joseph Kerman’s analysis in Opera as Drama; as for Black Swan, I know I’m remiss in not being more specific, but if I’m lucky, anyone who cares to read this will already have seen the film.)

I hope I won’t offend a friend who feels otherwise, but now that I’ve seen it, I can’t say I’m uncommonly impressed by the ballet costumes created by the Mulleavy sisters of the Rodarte fashion company. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with them. A colleague, if I heard her right, wondered why traditional Swan Lake costuming wouldn’t have worked, but since the idea in the story is to present a new take on the ballet, a new look seemed necessary, and the costumes we see are new. However, we don’t get much of a chance to appreciate them, considering the shooting style, nor does one hunger for a better look, as one often does in films with genuinely impressive and imaginative costumes (as in Elizabethor Orlando or Velvet Goldmine). It’s simply good work; you’d be surprised, and disappointed, if the costumes looked wrong, but that the designers have given us exactly what the story calls for isn’t reason for special praise.

I also don’t understand why even experienced film critics, such as Manohla Dargis of the Times, have been impressed by Natalie Portman’s performance. Dargis called it “smashing, bruising, and wholly committed,” observed that the role is “demandingly physical,” and added, “This is, after all, Ms. Portman’s own thin body on display, her jutting chest bones as sharply defined as a picket fence.” So what? Film actors routinely undertake to change their body to suit a character; they add weight to look paunchy, muscle up to look like a warrior, slim down to look sleek. And they routinely train to learn aspects of the life and work they’ve got to represent, as when young men take military training before playing soldiers. It’s long been expected that actors know, or be able to learn, things like period manners and deportment, sword fighting, horseback riding, ballroom and historical dancing; current practice has simply extended the expectations somewhat, calling on Portman to attempt some high-level ballet (which she already had a background in, just as Neve Campbell employed a dance background for The Company). One can recognize the work required without crediting it as exceptional. Nowadays it’s more notable when a film actor doesn’t attempt to transform herself; many women I know were pleased to see a bit of belly bulge on Julia Roberts in Duplicity. If you want to follow the common silly practice of taking films and performers as potential models (we ought to know better), Roberts is the one to applaud.

What I thought about Portman is mainly that she spent most of the film looking tremulous, uncertain, fearful, hesitant. This appeared to be little more than a directorial calculation, so that when she finally showed herself to be commanding and momentarily fierce as the Black Swan (not exactly what the role calls for, or even what the film’s ballet director has kept asking her for, which was seduction), the audience may be pleased.  They were; I was. That’s not the same thing as giving a seriously rich, deep, and varied performance.

As with Tosca, prevailing opinion in the long run may go in favor of Black Swan. If so, I’ll be content to count myself in the minority.

La Danse

September 15, 2009

La Danse

This is Babette’s Feast on steroids for balletomanes, but really for anyone drawn to the impossible dream and glory hotly pursued by the administration, production staff, and étoiles of the Paris Opera Ballet.ladanse Legendary large-scale documentary filmmaker Frederic Wiseman has done it again, shadowing every department, corridor, class, rehearsal, performance, and some low-key (but high-impact) backstage politicking: the delicate preparations for an “event” for Big-and-Bigger Donors, and—worst-case scenario—changes in government pensions for artists and performers. To say nothing of extended sequences of mealtimes in the company’s cafeteria (Condé Nast staffers: eat your hearts out)! “God” (company artistic director Brigitte Lefèvre) orchestrates the entire mechanism, determined to keep it ticking to perfection.brigitte_lefevre_visuel

There are some terrific performance excerpts of everything from Nutcracker to The House of Bernarda Alba and Romeo and Juliet. But, for me, the absolute standout was a slice of Angelin Preljocaj’s The Dream of Medea. You won’t forget it anytime soon. medea

At two-and-a-half hours, La Danse never lags. And, when a breather from the action is needed, there are John Dancy’s lust-inducing shots of Paris. Wiseman, at 79, the film’s producer, director, recordist, and editor, is at the top of his game. Don’t miss this – just eat before viewing and dive into the feast.opera-paris

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