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Paul Ben-Itzak
Performance Reviews
Theatre de la Ville - les Abbesses
Paris, OT (France)

Battling the Dark Spaces - In a World of Conflict, Gerard Violette & Padmini Chettur See Another Path

by Paul Ben-Itzak
May 6, 2010
Theatre de la Ville - les Abbesses
31 rue des Abbesses
Paris, OT (France) 75018
01 42 74 22 77
Originally posted on The Dance Insider in October 2006. Gerard Violette has since retired.

"Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it, I'm crawling on your shore."

— Indigo Girls, "Closer to Fine"
PARIS — As inevitable as conflict may seem these days, the world offers choices. Gerard Violette, artistic director of the Theatre de la Ville — arguably the most critical dance presenter in the world — and its two spaces, closes his season-opening greetings by quoting from Albert Jacquard's "My Utopia" (Stock): "Nowadays, most encounters are opportunities for confrontation, struggle, prize-listing. Yet, nothing matters but the possibility to exchange. It is our view of the other that must be transformed. We must no longer consider him as a competitor…. What I would like to say is you may become what you choose to be. And that other people's happiness concurs to build one's own." To which Violette adds: "'Other views, exchange, other people's happiness….' You're in a theater." I read this Wednesday night sitting in TDLV's 380-seat les Abbesses theater up near the sky in Montmartre, where Padmini Chettur immediately proved the precept in "Paperdoll."

Based in Chennai in the culturally rich Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Chettur trained in Bharata Natyam and earned her experience dancing with the legendary Chandralekha for a decade. She eventually found herself pulled more by pure movement experiments than gender and body politic exploration, and that's lead her to "Paperdoll" which, for the most part successfully, welds a dance form that too often yields to sloppiness, post-modern, onto bodies trained in a form with a lot more discipline. If modern dance is too often diluted by dancers and choreographers who think it means they don't have to have training, imagine the opposite result — the same vocabulary wielded by dancers with minute and exquisite control — and you have "Paperdoll."

I usually start out already jaded when confronting — oops, je m'excuse, Monsieur Violette — a "fusion" work. And what I've seen involving Indian forms, notably Akram Khan's "Ma," though involving Kathak not Bharata Natyam, did not give me high expectations for Chettur's attempt. I didn't realize how smart she is.

Rather than melange gestures from the two forms, Chettur basically applies Bharata Natyam's precision to post-modern phrasing, giving the latter a rare clarity and thus making it more indelible. So when the hand-linked chain of women whose line tableau opens the work — even as the audience is filing in (thank you, Eliot Feld) — slowly starts to wend its way around the stage, and Chettur has the dancers mark out individual paths on contrasting levels with their bodies, even as they stay linked, if the gestures (particularly in the torso) are post-modern or modern in their shape, the execution is more refined. The rope formation also lets her play with tension, as it's pulled left, right, up or down.

Chettur's conception and exploitation of space is also more broad and investigative than we usually see in post-modern dance, which can often seem solipsistic, the performer (or his/her choreographer) more interested in exploring the bubble around him/her than the geography of the larger stage. After framing it with the linked dancers, Chettur begins to dissect it, in the way she divides and deploys her troupe — often one player in front, downstage right or left, and four in back upstage, in the opposite corner. While this is effective in giving matter to the space, the solo choreography is often not as interesting as the group etchings, particularly in an over-long segment when one performer does the post-modern floor-rolling thing. Off her feet — or maybe I mean off that highly-developed center — the Bharata Natyam dancer seemed to founder on one of post-modern's more muddled terrains.

The two other related 'negative' criticisms I would have is that in the latter half of the piece, the unvaried slow tempo of both movement and Maarten Visser score become too monotonous, a drone which has over-stayed its welcome and lost its dramatic effect.

In addition to the choreographer, "Paperdoll" was performed by Krishna Devanandan, Preethi Athreya, Ashwini Bhat, and Anoushka Kurien.

Thanks to the Theatre de la Ville's Michael Chase for translation assistance, and to Caitlin Sims for the Indigo Girls quote.

For Ranja, whose fight against the dark spaces provided the top headline, and much more.
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