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Centre National de la Danse
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Pantin, OT (France)
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Of gangs and gongs: Anthony Egea and Myriam Gourfink - "Soli 2", "Corbeau"

by Paul Ben-Itzak
May 27, 2009
Centre National de la Danse
1, rue Victor Hugo
Pantin, OT (France) 93507
01 41 83 98 98
PANTIN (Seine-Saint-Denis), France — Apparently, to goose his party's standing in the June 7 European Parliamentary elections, French president Nicolas Sarkozy just announced he's going to send a couple hundred more police over here to this department (as French counties are called) on the outskirts of Paris to take back several areas which in his view have been over-run by gangs. I have a better idea: Instead of simply squashing all that youthful energy, how about re-channelling it into constructive, creative ends? I propose sending those young citizens over to the Centre National de la Danse which, when one enters its newish, somewhat cold concrete building on the banks of the Ourcq canal at the Paris perimeter, seems more like a library than a place where dance students flock to take exciting dance classes and dance fans to see inspiring dance performances.

Justement, as the French say, it occurs to me that the audience at the CND May 27 for the opening of Anthony Egea's putatively hip-hop solo "Soli 2" was predominantly white (the youth in Seine-Saint-Denis are predominantly colored, French of North African or other African descent) and, except for the kid two seats over from me who finally stopped squirming when the dancer Emilie Sudre took off her top (tastefully — her back was to us for most of this segment, and more about that beautiful back in a minute), predominantly older. And considering that this was a hip-hop solo and the lady was busting to move, markedly sedate. (Sometimes at the CND, I feel more like I'm in a science laboratory than in what is theoretically in part a national hub of experimentation for an art vivant.) But what if a bunch of those excitable youth from all over Seine-Saint-Denis were bussed over to the CND? (And they'd have to be bussed, because therein lies one of the problems at the root of the 25 - 50% employment which leaves some of these youth frustrated to the point they feel they need to burn cars and break store windows: The public transportation system linking them with Paris and other places with JOBS is terrible.)

We'll get back to those youth, and how they and the CND can help each other, at the end of this piece but I can see my editor is chafing at the bit for me to stop stalling and earn my title of dance critic, so let's talk about the choreography of "Soli 2."

Generally speaking I avoid European hip-hop because a) I'm pissed that European presenters keep trying to ignore that the first choreographers to successfully transmit this AMERICAN street dance form to the concert dance stage were AMERICAN, namely Doug Elkins (starting from the modern dance angle and working his way over to hip-hop, and then working it into his vernacular) and Rennie Harris (coming from the other direction). Elkins of course has never, to my knowledge, been programmed by a theater in Paris (though he has hit the suburbs on occasion); never mind that he's his generation's Paul Taylor. (If they don't program Paul Taylor, why would they program the newer version?) Ditto Harris. My theory that French programmers avoid programming just about any Yank choreographer who's emerged in the past 25 years in part so that their own can take credit for styles invented by Americans got new support recently when some Paris friends showed me the CD soundtrack for a new hip-hop version of "Romeo & Juliet" they'd recently seen. On the cover, the creators claimed that theirs was the first hip-hop version of R&J. As the French say, FAUX! Harris did it over a decade ago in "Rome & Jewels," also the breakthrough ballet in which he turned hip-hop into an original vernacular for narrative expression.

The second reason I avoid European hip-hop concerts is I'm afraid they'll just be more examples of putting street tricks on a stage, which might help lofty arts presenters who want to prove they can descend from their ivory tower from time to time but doesn't really push the art of dance, in either a narrative or abstract sense.

Anthony Egea's "Soli 2" for his Compagnie Revolution comes close a couple of times to moving beyond 'look what I can do now' territory, but doesn't stick to it. For the first foray, his interpreter Emilie Sudre gets the credit, for elegant, graceful yet charged legs which delectably sweep the floor around her in circles. For the second, she gets a big part of the credit, for having a muscular back that offered her choreographer a nice canvas to play with. Dancers are made of joints and muscles. Well, so are the rest of us, but dancers have the gift, sometimes, of precise and mighty articulation, displayed on sculpturally marvelous muscles. This is what Sudre offered on the plane extending from her shoulders through her back. Egea explored it a little, to the extent where maybe even the kid two seats over from me forgot about what was on the other side of that back and became fascinated with the terrain. That's what it was like, really, a landscape of cleanly defined limestone mountains, dotted by crevices and similar in dimension if not in scale. If dance often seems to have run out of potential new areas to explore, turning to microcosms like the back might be fertile new ground for imaginative choreographers. Egea might have the potential to be one, but maybe he just doesn't have the attention span, as here he stopped short before he'd exhausted the possibilities.

The audience, meanwhile, moved downstairs for another solo in another mode, that of the mix 'n' match, in which modern choreographer Myriam Gourfink set "Corbeau" on Paris Opera Ballet dancer Gwenaelle Vauthier, for her company LOL.

Often when modern choreographers get the chance to work with ballet dancers, they fall into the trap of making them do all the physical things they're known for doing so well with their ballet companies, notably 6 o'clock extensions, but also jumps, barrel turns, and other fancy flights. Gourfink wasn't interested in that. What she tapped into, rather, was this particular ballet dancer's power of inner concentration and focus, for the mood of the piece, although Vauthier's body control also came in handy for the choreography. But before we get to looking broadly at that, what drew me most of all were those incredible feet. A ballet dancer's feet have got to be some of the most powerful appendages in the world (which perhaps is what also makes them so fragile, as they try to go so many places and occasionally go too far — or are asked to go too far by a brutally imaginative choreographer). It's not every day that I get to examine one close up — and NAKED (the foot), to boot! — so I honed right in on Vauthier's. It might also have been that Sudre's rippling back muscles had put me in the mood for more of the same, in this case the rows of rivulets of the veins in Vauthier's feet, streaming up from her toes. Clad in a ballet slipper, the impact of a foot rising on a toe is usually seen higher up; when the foot is naked and seen close up, the impact and, in my view, the most stellar site is in the foot itself.

That said, Gourfink didn't stop at the feet, and it's a good thing, because Vauthier's power of control extended much farther up, at least into the arms. Ballet dancers' arms have become a lost tool of artistic expression, both in choreographers' exploitation of them and the dancers' minding of their importance — notably in interpreting the work of Balanchine. Here, it wasn't just the savorous slowness of Vauthier's arms as they barely and subtly wafted up and down, one higher than the other, or one curved at the elbow and the other straight out, that captivated and mesmerized, it was also the way a movement initiated in the foot and a leg slowly rising into an angle would somehow seem to ripple up the body and trigger, eventually, the wafting of those arms.

Vauthier's concentration was also incredible; whether focusing on the floor, a point in the distance to the left, or even out into the audience. she created a world apart for herself, no small feat in the intimate studio space. And this is often what I'm looking for in a performance, artists who succeed in creating and taking us into a world apart, without being aloof.

What was at times alienating, to the point of making it impossible to concentrate on the once-in-a-lifetime 30-minute dance performance taking place before us, was the 'music' being pounded out on two large electronic gongs downstage by Kasper T. Toeplitz. I felt like Quasimoto in the bell tower of Notre Dame.

Give that 'musician' the gong!

And give the idle youth of Seine-Saint-Denis a constructive channel for their energy, and at the same time the CND a vital injection of energy, and the opportunity to really connect with and SERVE the community which is hosting it better than it seems to be doing now — by bussing them over to performances like this.
Emilie Sudre in Anthony Egea's 'Soli 2'

Emilie Sudre in Anthony Egea's "Soli 2"

Photo © & courtesy of Jean-Jacques Mahé


Myriam Gourfink's 'Corbeau' performed by Paris Opera Ballet dancer Gwenaelle Vauthier, for her company LOL

Myriam Gourfink's "Corbeau" performed by Paris Opera Ballet dancer Gwenaelle Vauthier, for her company LOL

Photo © & courtesy of Laurent Philippe

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