Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Modern Dance

In professional football, I can point out the successful strategies and executions that bring a team victory -not just in the game, but on a play by play basis.

A good percentage of American males can do the same thing.

This skill can be applied to all sorts of productions: baseball, animation, painting.  Once you have a grasp of the vernacular, every act of creation can be dissected and understood this way.

Dance has always seemed alien to me.  I tune out the ballets in Wagner and get lost watching any steps short of the Nicholas Brothers.

Art Spiegelman should be admired for his energetic pushing of limits, for his tenacity in conquering far off forms like opera and dance.

His "Hapless Hooligan in 'Still Moving'" is one of four pieces being performed by Pilobolus at the Joyce Theater through August 7.   It's an odd vaudeville, largely entertaining and the motion graphics are cute but wear thin.  They compare, unfavorably, to Kentridge's "The Nose" recently mounted at The Metropolitan Opera but still hold a degree of charm.

The piece plays with antique comic strip archetypes.  You've got the Blondie style waif, the cad beau out of Fontaine Fox.  Spiegelman has spent much of his career trying to convince us that comics are something other what the English speaking world wants them to be.  He transports the newsprint tropes -Krazy Kat brick and all -to the dance stage. 

The comic has a long history going to the stage.  Buster Brown at the turn into the 20th Century, L'il Abner at the half way mark, and the Addams Family today.  Amongst the dozens of other adaptations are the most produced musical in America ("You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown") and one of the most popular with budding 8 year old Sarah Brightmans ("Annie").

It's no surprise that Spiegelman, constantly recasting the comic as a high art form, would forgo the popular venue for a high end experimental dance troupe.  Sure, dance may be apples to musical theater's oranges -but the cultural tiering is worth note.

I may not be able to competently criticize dance (and every piece was well performed and enjoyable) but like a dutiful housewife who sees a "go" route connect for a 60 yard touchdown, I can tell a "home run" when I see one.

The final piece on the program -which includes an elegant piece of animation by the talented Peter Sluszka (who you may know from his Emmy Award winning animation on "I Spy"...) -is a "home run", or a "knock out" or some other inappropriate sports metaphor.  "Rushes" is dynamic, funny and moving.  You see this and you immediately understand why people love dance.

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