Posts Tagged ‘Gavin Bryars’

Review – Merce Cunningham Dance Company – CRISES, XOVER and BIPED – Barbican Centre

October 2, 2008

Last night my husband and I went to see Merce Cunningham’s dance company perform at the Barbican. I’m a big fan of Merce: I consider him to be the premiere American modern dance choreographer, and I see him every chance I can since the first time I saw them, in Seattle, when they performed “Beach Birds” at Meany Hall. It blew me away with its effortlessness, and I was really impressed by his commitment to making dance a “gesamtkunstwerk” (hoping I’ve spelled that right), with artists contributing sets and costumes and new music being created just for the dance. Too often dance winds up cutting corners (i.e. any art that’s not movement related) to save money, but Merce doesn’t seem to be touched by this budgetary frame of mind. And in keeping with this, his new piece “Xover” (perhaps pronounced “Cross-over,” though I called it /zover/) had a drop by Robert Rauschenberg and a live performance of John Cage’s “Aria and Fontana Mix,” which I hadn’t heard before, but hey, more John Cage! On the other hand, the last time I saw a Cage/Cunningham production, the person I took with me fairly well actively resented me. Our conversation went like this (after about 75 minutes of weird piano stuff and abstract movement):
“So, were you expecting it was going to be like that?”
“Yes.”
“And yet you still bought tickets?”

This time, however, I had someone with me who is familiar with the vocabulary of modern dance and doesn’t shy away at non-standard musical compositions, so I expected to not get a bunch of anger thrown my way after we headed out the door. And we had the good luck of finally finding a good restaurant to eat near the Barbican, in this case the Pho Cafe, which had the tastiest Vietnamese food I’ve yet found in London.

However, what I didn’t expect was to have a gaggle of giggling, uncomfortable teenagers throwing their attitude during the show. The first piece (“Crises”), had easily hatable “fixed” piano music (a recording) and dancers in rather tacky full body leotards in primary colors (red and yellow, one salmon) doing very abstract movements that the kids seemed to find extremely funny. I was really irritated because I found myself unable to concentrate on the show – what I wanted to do is walk over and give a lecture about not talking through the music and perhaps using the “whisper” as we were NOT sitting in front of the television.

For me, I wasn’t really sucked into the dance – I saw it as more of a museum piece, a chance to watch something which helped illustrate how Merce’s dance evolved to where it is today. It was far more lively than similar pieces I saw performed by the Martha Graham dance troupe – I think there’s something about having the choreographer still alive that keeps the dance fresh. And I wondered (I really wanted to ask!) if the dance was actually performed differently now than it was almost 50 years ago, because I do think dance technique has changed and that dancers are more athletic now than they were in the 50s and 60s. But still, I wasn’t emotionally hit by this piece – it was just absorbed and put into my memory as a reference point for understanding this choreographer’s evolution.

The second piece was “Xover,” and, Terpsichore be praised, the pestilence to our left decided to spend the time in the bar. The rest of the audience compensated for their ill manners, however, because they were overwhelmed with laughter by the score. I have to admit, a squeaky balloon and a woman growling and clucking are rather inherently amusing, but the laughter was so loud I was really worried the dancers’ concentration would break. After Crises’ canned music and musty costumes, it was a pleasure to see the dancers in plain white leotards – they were well set off in front of the garish Rauschenberg drop. The drop fit the music, oddly enough – it was sort of a car crash of images, and the music was bunches of random noises (occasionally freaking me out – a couple of the sounds made me think the theater was collapsing). And maybe there is something funny about how serious dance takes itself, to have dancers doing these seemingly unconnected movements while these unconnected noises bounced around the auditorium, but I enjoyed watching what was happening and didn’t want to be distracted by giggles. Grrr.

Finally came “Biped,” the highlight of the evening for me. Oddly enough, as a piece with light projections (which I normally hate), I actually found it working. Maybe it was because they were done on a scrim in front of the stage – the lights defining and redefining the space where the dancers were performing, creating walls and then dissolving them – and I was entranced by how the stage seemed to be shrinking and growing in front of my eyes. At times I felt like the images were actually appearing in between the dancers, and while the scaled drawings of dancers – projected on the scrim so they looked like they were moving to the front of the stage and then back again – were clearly a product of 1990s technology, I still found it enchanting.

This, I felt, was Merce performing at speed, producing a work that fully integrated the resources available to him – wonderful music (live Gavin Bryars as done by Gavin Bryars, kiss me for my luck in living in London!), costumes that enhanced the atmosphere, and great lighting. I think it was maybe five or ten minutes too long, but it was the only piece of the night where I fully checked out from the cares of the world and lost myself in what was going on stage – until the freaking obnoxious highschoolers lost it again when the male dancers came in and put jackets on the women. Oh God, a costume change, how droll. Could someone make sure these kids don’t come back?

At any rate, a decent evening, and I would see Biped again in a heartbeat. In fact, I wish I could go back and see the second set of performances, but given that my sister is in town (as of today), I think I’d be pushing familial relations rather much if I tried to dip her into the waters of modern dance by doing Merce first.

(This review is for a performance seen on October 2nd, 2008. Alternate view posted by The Teenaged Theater Critic here.)

Peepolykus return with “Spyski” – great £5 deal!

October 2, 2008

This morning’s Metro was touting a £10 offer for tickets to see Spyski, by Peepolykus, whose Hound of the Baskervilles left me in stitches two Mays ago (apparently I didn’t bother to review it at all – wait, I did, just not here and not much). The show’s at the Lyric Hammersmith and I’m all hot to see it, only now I see Last Minute has tickets for £5, which is even better! Now all I need to do is get a pair for tomorrow, somehow, though it looks to be sold out!

Coming up later today: review of Merce Cunningham at the Barbican. Summary: modern dance master, and the evening is worth seeing just for “Biped,” which is genius and features a live Gavin Bryars score.

The Gavin Bryars Ensemble: A Man in a Room, Gambling (Tate Modern)

February 28, 2008

Tonight J and I were lucky enough to get to the Tate Modern to see Gavin Bryars and his ensemble perform “A Man in a Room, Gambling,” a piece based on a spoken word performance by Juan Muñoz.

The concept was pretty cool: as I read it, it was spoken word about a person’s thoughts during the course of a night of gambling, or, as described in the program, “strategies employed in card games.” In fact, it turns out the spoken bit is about how to cheat at cards, starting with three card monte, then dealing from the bottom of the deck, how to “fake” cutting the cards, and how to hide a card you’ve palmed after the hand is over. Hah! According to Mr. Bryars, Muñoz’s thought was that the various pieces were supposed to be little one off radio slots, rather like “The Shipping News” (for Americans, imagine that poet of the day thing Garrison Keilor does), that stood by themselves but had an air of strangeness to them, meant to be heard as you were going from one thing to the next. In between, there was a piece called “The North Shore,” a piece Bryars made in honor of his friend Muñoz, whom he described as “a great artist and a good bloke.” It was built off of one of the pieces from the Gambling series, though I couldn’t tell which one.

My review of the show was … well, Bryar’s music can be very difficult for me to put temporal order to. One minute you’re doing one thing, one the next, and while I might hear little themes that I sort of briefly recognize, or hear stylings that I enjoy, I find it difficult to string it together in my head. This is where listening to a CD can really help, because you can build it up over and over until it makes a structure that you can comprehend. Live music is so very here and now, a series of seconds taking place one after the other, that it can be hard for me to feel like I’m moving rather than just having sound images flashing at me, one after the next. Baroque music isn’t like this. That said, the narrative provided by the voice, which called up very striking visuals and was even sequential and goal oriented, was a good companion to the music. And I liked the music, but modern stuff just isn’t as easy as earlier stuff.

Conclusion: well, I guess I need to go see who this Muñoz guy is and why Bryars thought he was worth collaborating with in the first place. The exhibit at the Tate goes on through the end of April, so there’s plenty of time. And if YOU’RE interested, if you click on the link, you can listen to Juan giving away the trick to dealing from the bottom of the deck. My guess is that J will be practicing them now that he’s heard all of the secrets. Finally: three card monte: you can never win. Juan said so.

Show order: From A Man in a Room Gambling (1992); Number 2 (Three card trick), Number 4 (Shifting upper pakc to bottom), Nmber 3 (cutting), Number 8 (Getting rid of extra cards). The North Shore (1994). Then Number 16 (Taking cards from teh bottom), Number 9 (Three card trick, Mexican Row) and Number 10 (Dealing from the bottom). I wanted desperately to stay afterwards and have my picture taken with the great man himself, but … well, I can just hope there is a next time!

(This review is for a concert that took place Thursday, February 28, 2008.)

Review – Wheeldon’s “Morphoses” (2007) – Sadler’s Wells

September 22, 2007

Last night was the Wheeldon Company’s Metamorphoses program at Sadlers’ Wells, and a better night for ballet aficionados could hardly be imagined. Well, okay, it wasn’t all perfect, but the highs were the sort that have kept us going to see this stuff for years, rolling the dice and hoping to get lucky. (And with music by Part and Bryars and Prokofiev, even the down time was great.) The two best pieces in this program of mostly short bits were the first and the last, both by Wheeldon. “Morphoses” had four dancers doing a variety of athletic, innovative partnering to music of Ligeti. I felt like I could never anticipate what they would do next.

The last piece was practically two pasted together; first a pas de six, then a m/f duet. For this, the woman came back on stage with her feet bare and her hair down. To me, it felt like she was naked – utterly vulnerable. The man was barefoot and bare chested. Their dancing was so intimate I felt like I was intruding to watch them. Every lift was perfect and strong; I felt like the dancers were revealing their true selves to each other while they danced, and we were the fortunate eavesdroppers on a very private moment. It was a fantastic end to the program and left me thrilled about the entire evening and looking forward to seeing them again.

(This review is for a performance that took place September 21st, 2007.)