Friday, February 15, 2008

Great Choreographers!

If you're at all interested in dance or art, you need to see the Butler University dance department's midwinter concert, titled "Great Choreographers". One more show, Saturday the 16th at 8pm at Clowes Hall. Make sure you're there! All works are set on the students in Butler's professional-grade dance program, and there are only a few moments in the entire evening that look like student work. I'm always impressed with the quality of Butler's students. The show consists of five separate works: two largely forgettable pieces, an entertaining ballet choreographed by the Ballet Austin's Stephen Mills, and two truly excellent dance works, "Rainmakers" by Cynthia Pratt and "Cloven Kingdom" by Paul Taylor (yes, the Paul Taylor).

"Rainmakers" is the second piece of the concert, and its truly interesting to watch. The choreography is alien and inhuman in places, with dancers rolling as clouds across the floor and insect-like movement from dancers en pointe. The movement, music, and lighting create a synergy on stage that's fun to watch, and yet almost disturbing -- we see the natural inhumanness of a dancer's body enhanced by movement into something almost surreal. It's one of my favorite things I've seen on stage for a while.

"Argelina", by Stephen Mills: a good ballet, with a beautiful pas de deux (and, I might add, excellent lighting!). It was entertaining, yet somehow felt unfinished; this might just be me. It made an interesting contrast with "Rainmakers". Arts leaders have been making much noise about attracting younger patrons into the arts. Cynthia Pratt's piece is the reason younger people should see dance; Stephen Mills's piece is the reason older patrons should keep coming back.

The concert closes with a Paul Taylor rep piece, "Cloven Kingdom". It's one of his signature pieces, and I can see why. The music is a juxtaposition of classical and jarring percussion, and the movement is a combination of balletic grace and Graham-modern sharpness, full of jerking angularity. Taylor can make dance laugh-out-loud funny in places, traditional and smooth in places, and surreally odd in others, and blend it all into a coherent whole that makes sense and is fun to watch. There's a running joke that this piece was a mocking commentary on dance patrons and financial supporters; watching the piece with this in mind adds another level to the movement and choreography, and enhances some of the comic elements. And, I have to add, there's a moment in which the men are dancing in tailcoats -- it really made me flash to Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein. I really expected the music to riff on "Putting on the Ritz" for a moment.

A lot of modern art seems to live by a maxim that sounds something like, "you can be weird, if you're beautiful enough; if you're interesting enough, you can even get by with occasionally being ugly." The Taylor piece really makes this work; it's strange and surreal, but beautiful. And it has moments of ugly, but even in those moments it's so interesting that it's still entertaining. A lot of artists outside of dance strive for this ideal, and generally fail. It's nice to see what they're aiming for, and that it can actually work sometimes.

No comments: