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BAM Next Wave.

BAM Next Wave

Brooklyn Academy of Music, NYC

September 28-December 20, 2008

Catching cutting-edge dance at BAM's Next Wave Festival is like finding true love in a bar--unlikely, but you can still have a good time. The 2008 offerings were grandly scaled productions by veterans Bill T. Jones, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Edouard Lock, and Pina Bausch, and an equally lavish work by Stephen Page of Australia's Bangarra Dance Theatre. (The Scales of Memory, by Compagnie Jant-Bi and Urban Bush Women, was reviewed in the April 2008 issue.) There was little groundbreaking in these five works, but in the spirit of the festival's 26 years of presenting cross-disciplinary collaborations intended for large proscenium stages, big ideas were tricked out with eye-catching technology and lush design.

The jewel of the festival was De Keersmaeker's Steve Reich Evening, an exhilarating ode to minimalism with the giddy surprise of great architecture. From the hypnotic opening duet for two live microphones swooshing rhythmically past one another to the final frenetic chorus of drums, De Keersmaeker builds a glittering structure from separate chunks of Reich's music. Two U.S. premieres, Eight Lines and Four Organs, are meshed with older repertory and bound together by Ictus, a Brussels-based percussion ensemble. The six musicians pound out Reich's compositions on marimba, piano, keyboard, and drums with infectious passion; they use the stage as much as the dancers. In flowing silver, white, and gray street clothes, the dancers warm up De Keersmaeker's repetitive steps with a just-rolled-out-of-bed sexiness. In the final section, backdrops sail upwards to reveal raw brick, exposed lights, and thrilling, pulsating sound as the dancers race across the floor. De Keersmaeker gives us a glimpse of the hot inner core of constraint inherent in minimalism, and the finale shimmers with tension and release.

Constraint could have helped Edouard Lock's Amjad, a multi-media fantasy with enough going on to fuel several projects. The score for piano, cello, and two violas by Gavin Bryars, David Lang, and Blake Hargreaves is a reconstructed deconstruct of Tchaikovsky's scores for Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. The music is compelling enough on its own, but Lock goes into hyper-drive. Amjad is a swirl of opaque notions about women, Romanticism, and ornithological flocking patterns. Three screens come and go, sporting black and white projections of barren landscapes, circles of pearls and dead-looking women covered in vines--Aurora perhaps, but somehow more perfume ad. Lock's choreographic tirade includes lightning-fast, mechanical steps that disappear into lighting designer John Munro's flickering celluloid-like gloom. There's enough muscular arm flapping to send any sensible 19th-century prince running for his castle. Lock throws a lot of technique and technology into Amjad, but the aimless calisthenics couched in spectacle are ultimately tiresome.

Bill T. Jones' adaptation of Jane Bowles' 1945 puppet play, A Quarreling Pair, is equally disjointed, but salvaged by Jones' witty original text and a brilliant performance by Tracy Ann Johnson as both Rhoda and Harriet, the sisters who can't live with, or without, one another. From a curtained puppet theater, the sisters gesture in formal silhouette as Johnson speaks in arch, clipped phrases. But when Rhoda escapes into the big bad world, Jones illustrates her adventures with tawdry vaudeville acts that feel gratuitous and forced. A mediocre drag bit and two salacious women in sombreros and black patent slickers are particularly unnecessary. A Quarreling Pair attempts to meld Jones' athleticism with text, music, and video, but Jones' undefined ideas about love and loneliness bog down this strange sisterly duet.


Bangarra Dance Theatre's Awakenings was the most old-fashioned and least successful work of the season. With all due respect to inter-disciplinary experiments, tribal dance and ballet do not mesh well. In an attempt to do just that, artistic director and choreographer Stephen Page manages to reduce Australia's rich Aboriginal past to a glitzy eco-tourist dance complete with a token tribal member (the riveting Djakapurra Munyarryun) and an obscure coming-of-age story involving make-up reminiscent of Gene Simmons in Kiss. Set to ritual chants re-worked for synthesizer by David Page and Steve Francis, Awakenings feels like a well-intentioned artsy documentary that doesn't do justice to either Aboriginal culture or contemporary Australian dance.

Finally, no Next Wave Festival would be complete without Pina Bausch for dessert. This year's work is Bamboo Blues, an oddly unsatisfying homage to India set to Indian blues music--yes, there is such a thing. Peter Pabst's set is gorgeously simple with a gentle wind rippling through yards of gauzy white cotton cascading down from the flys. As with many of Bausch's more recent works, beautiful women with amazing hair and silky dresses fling themselves in paroxysms of yearning. Newcomer Clementine Deluy, resplendent in scarlet, manages to be sexy, tortured, and strong simultaneously. The extraordinary Eddie Martinez and Rather Behr remind us with every move why dance is a sensual art. Bamboo Blues feels flimsy compared to many of Bausch's other pieces, but her fearless and talented dancers fill the choreographic gaps. The piece gives us a glimpse of an India extant only in Bausch's fertile imagination.

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Title Annotation:dance festival
Author:Rinehart, Lisa
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2009
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