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Paris Quartier d'eté festival: One reason not to leave the city this summer

by Paul Ben-Itzak
July 15, 2009
Paris, OT (France)
LES EYZIES (Dordogne), France — I know it might seem weird to be writing you from the South of France saying I'd rather be in the muggy polluted city, but from a strictly dance perspective, forget Montpellier, forget Avignon — whether you're looking for flamenco, the best in Belgian dance theater, veteran Pina Bausch interpreters, cirque, or even the Ailey performing in the theater where the Ballets Russes got its start 100 years ago, Paris is the place to be this summer.

With the exception of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater — which continues its three-week season at the Theatre du Chatelet, birthplace of the Ballets Russes 100 years ago, through July 25 — all of the above-mentioned events are under the rubric of one festival, Paris quartier d'eté (Paris quarter of summer), with many of the performances in the regal grounds of the Palais Royal. (I advise arriving early and taking a stroll through the gardens, whether under the shaded rows of trees or weaving through the landscaped gardens watched over by classic sculptures, and sitting a spell around the fountain. There's even a music box shop in the arcades at the end of the gardens opposite to the theater.)

If I told you that the star attraction will probably be a collaboration between Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, the hottest choreographer to emerge in Europe over the last decade, and Theater Stap, a Belgian-based company of mentally disabled performers, you might throw Croce at me, her New Yorker screed "Why I won't review victim art" providing a manifesto for those who oppose what they view as primarily socially (as opposed to artistically) driven art. But the fact is — they're good. Theater Stap isn't just a one-off school play put together by the local center for the mentally disabled, it's an ensemble of trained actor-performers who, rather than being hampered by their 'defects,' play on the unique gifts that this profile has given them. Most notably, their lack of restraint, a disposition which serves Larbi and his other collaborator, Nienke Reehorst, nicely. The thematic task they gave the performers was simple: Relate your dream, simple or grand — to become a judo champion, have a child, sing in a boy's band, change your face. The explosive result, "Ook," plays July 23 - 25 at 10 p.m. in the Cour d'Orleans of the Palais Royal. (Note: Text is spoken in Flemmish, with French sub-titles.)

It may be too early to start talking about a successor to Pina Bausch, who passed away June 30, but if there's anyone more fit to take over her Tanztheater Wuppertal, and who understands her sensibility better than anyone else, it would probably be Dominique Mercy, who worked with Bausch for three decades. In 2001, he took time out for a duet by and with Josef Nadj "Petit psaume du matin." Nadj is one of those choreographers whose work is most interesting when he's performing it, and in Mercy he's found his ame-soeur. The precision and languor of the one-hour work is the perfect jewel-case to display these treasures, with every action and gesture meticulously chosen and delicately delivered. And if that weren't enough, the venue, Le Maison des Métallos in the 11th arrondisement, is totally funky. The show starts at 8 p.m. — July 28 - 30 — so you'll have plenty of time to explore the hip 'hood afterwards as well. (But if you can't make it over to Paris this summer and want to get the flavor of the duet, go here and then click on 'photos' under the photo to see a gallery.)

I haven't seen Nadj's new apparently Kafkaesque solo "Les Corbeaux" (The Crows), which plays in the same space July 25 - 26, also at 8 p.m., but it's probably worth checking out given his strength as a soloist and the program description: "This sounds like a famous novel: 'When Josef Nadj wakes up one morning, after a night of agitated dreams, he finds himself in his bed metamorphosized into a surprising crow.' And finally, real Nadj fanatics might want to arrive early or stick around afterwards to check out an exhibition of paintings by the same which have a rapport with his choreographic work.

If anyone else but Carlotta Sagna had proposed a work based on the concept of a kamikaze-ballerina — clad in a combat-fatique colored tutu, the solo performer appears on stage and immediately announces, "In 30 minutes, I will exist no more" — I might have been skeptical. But Sagna has serious dance-theater chops, so when I heard a few years ago that she'd created a piece inspired by the 2002 Doubrovka theater seizure in Moscow and the idea of women strapped with bombs, I had to check it out. If the work is indeed bombastic, it's not just another artistic retort to violence that ends up simply regurgitating it, but, rather, a meditation — if one can use that word for a show that has one on the edge of one's seat for the duration — on the preciousness of time, as if — as I wrote in my 2005 Dance Insider review — we all had 30 minutes remaining on our account. For this run, the Paris quartier d'eté festival isn't just content to regurgitate the work on one stage. Carlotta Sagna's "Tourlourou" will be performed July 28 at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. in the library of the Paris suburb of Saint-Ouen, July 30 at 7 p.m. in the Ecole Voltaire in the suburb of Nanterre, and July 31 at 7 p.m. in the Square des Amandiers in Paris's 20th arrondisement (currently my favorite for strolling; bring your hiking boots).

I've saved the best for last. I don't necessarily mean the best piece — I should also not forget to tell you that Maguy Marin's signature work "May B" plays August 5 - 7 at 10 p.m. at the Palais Royal — but the best feature of the festival. For the Paris quartier d'eté festival is offering more flamenco artists in four days (three) than Paris's two major theaters for dance are offering all next season (one). (Okay, I know this is more a sad reflection on the lack of respect for flamenco as a serious concert-dance by 'serious' dance programmers here.) And no, none of them are named Galvan — well, not Israel Galvan, anyway. It's his father, José, who will be in the house at the Palais Royal July 29 - August 1, beginning at 8 p.m.. Reportedly a legend in Seville, where for more than 40 years he's taught some of the biggest names in flamenco, Galvan, pere will perform with singers David Lagos et Manolo Romero ("El Cotorro") and Ramon Amador on guitar.

On the 29th and 30th, Galvan's show will be followed at 10 p.m. by a performance by Andrés Marín. If Galvan (fils) is getting more respect from general dance programmers because he's not 'just' about flamenco, my favorite male when it comes to extending the flamenco vocabulary is clearly Marin, whose experiments are more micro than macro, adding new (literally) twists to the waist, arcs to the back, and nuances to the fingers. He also seems to be less of a show-off than Galvan (in my VERY limited exposure to the latter). Galvan once danced in a coffin; Marin on a steel platform. Flamenco of course is always a collaboration between the dancers and the musicians, and Marin is also known for bringing with him a team of musical virtuosos. For this engagement, the music team includes the singer Segundo Falcón. (Read more about Marin here.)

On July 31 and August 1, Galvan wiil be followed at 10 p.m. by Rafaela Carrasco (again, as wtih Marin, in a separate show, although there's a two-fer price of 26 Euros being offered, as for the Galvan-Marin tandem). I haven't had the pleasure, but from what my colleague Anna Arias Rubio has written of her, also in the Dance Insider, I can't wait. Opening an evening of the 2005 New York Flamenco Festival, in one segment, Rubio wrote, "As Arcangel sings, Carrasco climbs on top of a chair, crouching. She clutches the train of her dress to her chest and writhes on the chair and the floor. These movements are not traditionally part of the flamenco vocabulary, but because her dance is making the cante visible, she is dancing flamenco."

I've only spoken here about acts I'm familiar with. For a complete list of the dance (and other) programs at the Paris quartier d'eté festival, which runs July 15 through August 9, click here. For more on the Ailey season a Chatelet, part of Les ètés de la danse, go here.
Theater Stap, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nienke Reehorst

Theater Stap, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nienke Reehorst

Photo © & courtesy of Kurt Van Der Elst


Theater Stap, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nienke Reehorst

Theater Stap, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nienke Reehorst

Photo © & courtesy of Kurt Van Der Elst


Theater Stap, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nienke Reehorst

Theater Stap, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nienke Reehorst

Photo © & courtesy of Kurt Van Der Elst


Theater Stap, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nienke Reehorst

Theater Stap, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nienke Reehorst

Photo © & courtesy of Kurt Van Der Elst


Theater Stap, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nienke Reehorst Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

Theater Stap, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nienke Reehorst
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

Photo © & courtesy of Kurt Van Der Elst


Theater Stap, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nienke Reehorst

Theater Stap, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nienke Reehorst

Photo © & courtesy of Koen Broos


Theater Stap, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nienke Reehorst

Theater Stap, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nienke Reehorst

Photo © & courtesy of Kurt Van Der Elst


Theater Stap, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nienke Reehorst Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

Theater Stap, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nienke Reehorst
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

Photo © & courtesy of Koen Broos


Dominique Mercy and Josef Nadj in Nadj's 'Petit psaume du matin'

Dominique Mercy and Josef Nadj in Nadj's "Petit psaume du matin"

Photo © & courtesy of Tristan Vallès


Compagnie Carlotta Sagna

Compagnie Carlotta Sagna

Photo © & courtesy of Compagnie Carlotta Sagna


Compagnie Carlotta Sagna

Compagnie Carlotta Sagna

Photo © & courtesy of Compagnie Carlotta Sagna


Satchie Noro of Compagnie Carlotta Sagna

Satchie Noro of Compagnie Carlotta Sagna

Photo © & courtesy of Bernard Garo


Compagnie Maguy Marin

Compagnie Maguy Marin

Photo © & courtesy of Claude Bricage


José Galván

José Galván

Photo © & courtesy of Javier Olivas


Andrés Marín

Andrés Marín

Photo © & courtesy of Hans Speekenbrink


Andrés Marín

Andrés Marín

Photo © & courtesy of Miguel Ángel González


Rafaela Carrasco

Rafaela Carrasco

Photo © & courtesy of Ana Palma


Rafaela Carrasco

Rafaela Carrasco

Photo © & courtesy of Ana Palma

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