Barry's Dance Review

The Top Ten Reasons I Qualify as a Dance Reviewer


Presented by James A. Doolittle & UCLA Center for the Performing Arts,
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, 10/10-13/96
$20 - $75



Round Purple Button In 1984, Los Angeles hosted the Olympic Arts Festival. I was lucky to have attended the electrifying, two-piece ("Cafe Muller" & "Rite of Spring") performance given by German choreographer Pina Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal. The anticipation of their return had been further heightened by the genesis of her new work. She was commissioned by six Western arts presenters (including UC Berkeley, UCLA, ASU at Tempe, & UT at Austin) to visit their regions & create a piece based on her impressions. With her two-dozen member, multi-national company, she established a residency at UCLA to complete the work. This was the first time she had done this outside of Europe.

The influence of her journey is immediately apparent when you enter the theater and see the life-size grove of California Sequoia's frame the stage (Peter Pabst is her longtime scenic designer). However, as the two-act, three-hour plus piece unspools like a year's worth of dream fragments, the sites-specific influences fade and more universal themes dominate: Fear, hope, aspiration, desperation, human fraility & the strength to endure it; awe of nature & the desecration of the environment; and, most obviously, how female/male contemporary images affect the never-ending battle of the sexes.

There is no obvious dramatic spine supporting the events. We're talking non-linear vignettes, theatrical set pieces, monologues, (Joel Grey, in "Cabaret", would have nicely fit in.), solo dances, duets, full group movement, riveting balancing acts, snooze-inducing hypnotic tableaux, shrieking, laughing, crawling, onstage bathing & showering, classic film clips, a whale sighting, hair shtick galore, and so much more...Images upon images are presented for our interpretation, Pina is loathe to offer easy interpretations. This is a marathon game of 52 Pick-Up using a deck of Rorschach cards.

Long known for her feminist leanings, Pina populates this pristine Eden with Eves who are slaves to and outcasts from the Hollywood-Fashion-Cosmetic cabal (Costume designer Marion Cito does a great job with '50's gowns and slouchy suits). The men run the gamut from common brutes who beat on each other, slap & spank women; to the girliest of guys. The characters take turns supporting one another, literally and emotionally, but that often leads to anger and resentment.

This show is a laugh riot! Really. Trust me. There are many, many hilarious moments. Having sat, ironed, polished, and crawled through five full performances (I was one of 27 males hired as extras for the LA run), I can attest to the frequent outbursts of laughter. The humor is by turn, clever, subtle, slapstick, bizarre and bawdy.

Oh, and what about the dance? Yes, there is a lot, much of it is awesome (Too much of a good thing, some may complain). Pina's ultra-emotional postmodern choreography is not about fancy footwook, but focuses more on a whipping, flexible torso; expansively graceful or sharpely articulated arms; loose wrists and precise, quick hand & finger gestures. The wonderfully eclectic musical choices (by collaborator Andreas Eisenschneider) provide the background for Tango, Samba, swing, jitterbug, and country line dance idioms. There are dramatically engineered lifts that, when the company fills the stage, produce a breathtaking vision.

They are a wonderful mixture of faces and body types. There's not a weak link in the group; they can be alternately described as consummate dancers who can act or consummate actors who can dance.

The male solos, and there are many, contain common elements. They are evocative and draining; emotional and physical marathons. Among my favorite male performances: Daphnis Kokkinos' soul-baring dancing to "Chocolate Elvis" by R. Dorfmeister/R. Huber; an elegant Texas two-step by Brit Michael Whaites & Stephan Brinkmann with the much shorter of the pair leading to "Mr. Sandman" by Les Paul,; the amazing grace & power of Russian Andrei Berezine; bespectacled Fernando Suels speed, flexibility and comedy sense (he also gets to draw on a woman's breasts); and Dominique Mercy who closes the show with a stunningly brave, pour out his guts, summation, that leaves him close to collapse in the wings.

(Maybe there's no connection and I hate to sound like a crunchy granola Californian, but from Pina, a majority of the dancers, down to the stage crew, this is one nicotine-loving company).

Though the males get the more flashy solos, it's the women who are the catalyst of the drama and the comedy. Sultry Medusa-haired Aida Vainieri makes convincing cat screeches while licking the inside of a plastic take-out container. She also plays a dressed to kill woman who, when her lipstick doesn't go on right, screams and has a toddler's tantrum, then does a seductively touching and arrestingly danced solo to "The Last Payday" by Connick/McLean. American Julie Anne Stanzak does a crowd-pleasing turn as a maniacally energetic cheerleader. There is a striking chorus line in which the eleven female dancers, decked out in their colorful gowns do fluttery arm moves, sway together, and toss their long hair in unison side-to-side to the treacle "Sugartime" by Philips/Echols. Is it homage to movie musicals, a commentary on Barbie-like conformity, the waves off Malibu, all of the above...?

Towards the end, several bits are repeated for a sense of closure; such is life. An environmental statement is made as the stage is littered with discarded props: Plastic bottles and a phone book are in stark contrast to leaves and sand and trees. The final exhausting solo punctuates the piece, bringing together dancer and audience in a bond of accomplishment and optimism. Despite the demands this work places on theatergoers, the enthusiastic standing ovation given by the ninety per-cent of the audience that stays until the end is testimony to its success.

Selected Eavesdroppings: "Not what I expected." "Too long and repetitious." "I was sorry when it ended." "It was a religious experience." "Pina has serious trouble with limit setting." "Gave me chills" "I was doing those moves on the way to the john."

Star Sightings: Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, Holly Hunter, John Lithgow, Gina Gershon, Julian Sands, Wallace Shawn

© 1996 by B. L. Weiss

L.A. Times Review by Lewis Segal


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