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The coming Paris dance season: Some things old, a lot of things new, some things borrowed, and not a lot of red white and blue

by Paul Ben-Itzak
August 27, 2009
Paris, OT (France)
Theatre de la Ville, Theatre de la Ville les Abbesses, Centre National de la Danse, Theatre National de Chaillot, Theatre de la Bastille
PARIS — More than any Paris dance season in the past decade, the edition 2009-2010 promises to be a grand survey of European contemporary dance starting from Diaghilev, touching on some of the major artists of the last 30 years, and projecting into the future with artists you've never heard of from just about all over the world, with the usual and regrettable exceptions of Flamenco, which just gets no respect from Paris presenters even when it's flowering elsewhere (including elsewhere in France), and the United States, the closest semblance of a new artist from the birth-place of modern dance being Savion Glover, making his Paris debut a mere 25 years after he first hoofed it on Broadway.

Counter-intuitively, the strongest, longest — and most eclectic — tribute to the Ballets Russes comes not from Chatelet, where the company was actually born in Paris 100 years ago, but from the Centre National de la Danse, whose programming is usually more contemporary-oriented. The exhibition "Dans le sillage des Ballets Russes (1929-1959)," running January 6-April 10, looks at the dispersed heritage of Diaghilev's revolution following his death, as assumed by his individual inheritors like librettist Boris Kochno and choreographic-dancing giants like Serge Lifar, as well as, of course, the various offspring companies, particularly those that played the casino circuit in the 1950s. There will also be projections, notably of Leonide Massine's "La gaité parisienne" in a film featuring, naturally, Alexandra Danilova and Frederic Franklin, but the most intriguing curating of this wave of the past may be two programs that rest on the shoulders of conservatory students: L'ecole nationale superieure de danse de Marseille will interpret (March 3-5) veteran choreographer Daniel Larrieu's version of Michel Fokine's 1911 "Le spectre de la rose" and Andy de Groat's take on Massine et al's 1917 "Parade." It was Fokine's 1909 "La Pavilion d'Armide" which inspired Diaghilev to produce a season of ballets in Paris, and from March 17 to 19 Le Conservatoire de Paris will present this ballet plus Fokine's "Les Danses polovtsiennes" (1909) and Joseph Russillo's 1978 version of "Rite of Spring."

From more recent history, on October 20 and 21, the CND will present — and re-contextualize — five early site-specific works by Trisha Brown, all from the 1970s. In the epoch, they were performed in the urban environment of New York; for this run, they'll be displayed in the atrium and passageways of the CND's Pantin facilities just outside of Paris.

Brown will also be the only U.S.-based American artist featured in the upcoming season at the Theatre National de Chaillot, the first programmed by choreographer Dominique Hervieu and her partner Jose Montalvo in their inaugural year as sole directors of the TNC as it becomes, effectively, France's first national theater for dance. Brown will bring a program including the French premiere of "L'Amour au theatre" to this imposing space located across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower October 15-18. William Forsythe shows up April 8-10, with the performances of his Forsythe Company of "I don't believe in outer space." And another American who's been based in Europe for a long time, the legendary Carolyn Carlson, brings two works to Chaillot, March 10-13 and 18-20. She'll also take part in "Poetry event," being presented next door at the new Cité de l'architecture et du patrimoine. (Both are located at the Place Trocadero.) And speaking of architecture, that genre-fuser Frederick Flamand, director of the Ballet National de Marseille, is back with another collaboration with an architect, this time Ai Weiwei, April 2-3.

Diaghilev also pops up, November 19-21, this time on a Sadler's Wells-produced program of homages to the Ballets Russes from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui ("Faun," to Debussy of course — hopefully featuring Cherkaoui, whose rubbery androgyny mirrors Nijinsky's, in the title role), Javier De Frutos, Russell Maliphant, and Wayne McGregor. Angelin Preljocaj's latest story-ballet, "Blanche Neige," (Snow White) is back for a reprise December 23-January 9.

There's a generous sprinkling of artists I've never heard of — a good thing — and a stingy helping of Flamenco: None. The exclusion of this most ancient and rigorous of dance and musical arts is bizarre, given both Hervieu's claim, at the presentation of the season this spring, that she would have an expansive vision of dance, and the SRO track record of Flamenco at this very theater.

When it comes to Flamenco, the Theatre de la Ville, the standard-bearer for the dance scene in Paris, France, and quite possibly all Europe and even the world, does not do much better, the sole representative being Israel Galvin. What bothers me about Galvin — who I've not seen live — is not so much Galvin but the apparent reason French theaters and festivals are programming him, which reveals their contempt for Flamenco itself. Here's how the Theatre de la Ville hypes his appearance at its larger theater May 31-June 5, 2010: "Since 2005, this Sevillian from a family of dancers has imposed a flamenco defused, paradoxical, hardly orthodox." In other words, don't worry, fans of intellectual modern dance, this is not going to the typical over-emotional, melodramatic, wailing Flamenco. This is real, *sophisticated* concert dance! What's further irritating about the exclusion of this purest of dance forms in Paris in 2009 is that it occurs in a context in which the Theatre de la Ville and other venues continue to program as 'dance' so much which isn't, or which is at least diluted with bad text and acting. And that it is this genuinely passionate, engaged dance which is ostracized while the modus operandi of performer presentation continues to be overwhelmingly dispassionate, ironic, nonchalant or even disdainful.

Now that I've got THAT off my chest, here's what I'd propose catching at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt on the Seine and its Abbesses theater in Montmartre:

First and foremost, of course, will be a series of just-announced events around the already scheduled season of the late Pina Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal, which includes two repertory works, the 1998 "Masurca Fogo," November 22-28, and the 2006 "Vollmond," November 11- 17. (I'd recommend the former.) After this Pina-fest, the most awaited event will probably be the return to the stage as performer of Angelin Preljocaj. Preljocaj sometimes has presenters requesting him to create specific works; this time around, for the first season he's programming entirely by himself, the Theatre de la Ville's director, Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, asked Preljocaj what he'd like to do. The result opens the theater's season September 3-5, when Preljocaj acts and dances Jean Genet's "Un funambule."

Another giant — perhaps the reigning queen of European dance following Bausch's sudden death in June five days after being diagnosed with cancer — returns for her annual extended season in October, when Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's Rosas reprises her 1983 classic "Rosas danst Rosas," October 23-29, preceded by the 2005 "Zeitung." And a real modern classic, Merce Cunningham, will see his 90th birthday feted not only by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in "Nearly Ninety" (December 2-12) but Boris Charmatz's Merce tribute "50 years of dance" (December 8 -12 at Les Abbesses) and Jerome Bel's creation for Cunningham alumnus Cedric Andrieux (December 14-16).

After the Pina Bausch celebrations, the program I'm looking forward to the most is Hans van den Broeck's "We was them" (yes, French theaters typically feature more American-derived titles than actual American artists), up March 16 -20 at les Abbesses. Van den Broeck is one of the few artists whose integration of theater/text serves the dance, which in his case is a propulsive, often combustible treatment of human relations. His fellow Belgians Peeping Tom, equally adept at the hybrid form, return to the same theater March 23-27 with "32 rue Vandenbranden." The company will over-lap with the veteran Maguy Marin, whose latest comes to the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt the same dates.

If Flamenco gets the short shrift, Indian-related dance forms, which resemble the Spanish one in the inter-dependence of music and dance, get their own mini-festival, with mega-artists Shantala Shivalingappa (April 29-30 and May 6-8), Padmin Chettur (May 3-5) and Akram Khan (May 11-15) all in the house at les Abbesses. An onslaught of American artists helps bring the season to a Yankee Doodle Dandy close, with the Lyon Opera Ballet performing Cunningham's "Beach Birds," Brown's "Set and Reset/Reset" and a new work from Ralph Lemon May 15, 16, 21, 22, and 23, and Savion Glover setting a new record for an American artist reaching Paris by bringing da noise to la Seine only 14 years after he wowed Broadway with it, June 9 - 13.

While we're on the subject of solos, I have one more to recommend to you, the return to the stage, May 4-7 and 10-11 at the Theatre de la Bastille, of Carlotta Sagna, one of the most mesmerizing performers around, in her own "Ad Vitam," which riffs on A-words like apathy, ambulance, and anguish, and is inspired by the diary of another A, the choreographer's mother Anna.

Finally, I've spoken here mostly about artists I know because, well, I have something to say about them. But, as I signaled above, what distinguishes the coming season most at all these theaters is, if not the preponderance, at least the increased presence and profile of new or newer artists. For complete line-ups, check the theater's websites:

Centre National de la Danse: www.cnd.fr.

Theatre National de Chaillot: www.theatre-chaillot.fr.

Theatre de la Ville: www.theatredelaville-paris.com.

Theatre de la Bastille: http://www.theatre-bastille.com/.
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