Người phê bình, Wendy Nicole Duong [Dương Như Nguyện] ngoài nghề nghiệp luật sư, còn theo học the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Lần cuối cùng cô trình diễn bộ môn múa trên sân khấu Hoa Kỳ, vũ điệu hiện đại dựa trên Pachebel’s Canon in D, là năm cô đã 40 tuoi, ở sân khấu Houston cùng với các sinh viên năm thứ nhất đại học cộng đồng Houston, dưới sự điều khiển của giáo sư Debra Quainam.
Bài viết này tiêu biểu cho một loại phê bình ít thấy: đó là phê bình nghệ thuật múa trên sân khấu. Múa là một bộ môn nghê thuật trình diễn (performing art), nhưng bài phê bình về múa lại thuộc về bộ môn văn chương, vì phê bình là thế giới của chữ nghĩa (literary art). Bài này cũng nói tới các đặc diểm của Ngành Múa Hiện Đại (Modern Dance), sáng lập bởi nhà thiết kế múa nổi tiếng của Hoa Kỳ, Martha Graham. Vì thế, các chi tiết về cuộc trình diễn ở Houston’s Outdoor Miller Theater.
VIET PERSPECTIVES MULTILINGUAL FORUM
If dance is the language of expression, where the body, movements, and space replace a poet’s words and portray the world in which the artist lives, then this performance has done its job, quite well, I must say, with much grace, pizazz, and class, without forgoing the popular appeal necessary to mesmerize a public made up of no dance experts. “A Weekend of Texas Contemporary Dance” brings modern dance and its creativity to Houstonians via the Outdoor Miller Theater and the City’s philanthrophist patrons. It also brings together the Sharir Dance Company, the Chrysalis Dance Company, and other veteran Houston dancers together consecutively on the same stage, through a variety of magnificent and innovative choreography that tells clever stories and communicates. This performance combines various themes, different styles of costumes, and a variety of modern dance techniques and staging.
The program is very well divided and arranged, full of varieties and surprises. It begins with an ensemble performance by the Sharir Dance Company, Margo’s World, where popular, well-recognized modern dance movements are fully utilized, for example, quick, complex foot work, swings, , plie, ramplie, and arm extensions. My problems with this piece are: first, I am not sure which dancer is supposed to be Margo, and hence, I can’t tell the theme of the piece — what is the world as seen through the eyes of Margo? And how does she communicate this perspective to me? I only see a bunch of dancers running around in colorful pajamas. Second, the music is too contemporary, quite eery and noisy. The quality of acoustics is not good, and after a few minutes my ears hurt, as there is too much percussion. Third, the color coordination and style of the costumes are quite confusing. (Perhaps this is intended to portray Margo’s world — the chaotic nature of materials and things!) These costumes look like pajamas and rags, bottom flared, loosely fit, dyed imperfectly like Asian Indian batiks. They form contrasting color groups: orange, blue, violet, etc. Seeing these bright colors, dyed into unexpected, uneven shades, on some twenty plus dancers is a trying experience for the eyes. These costumes detract from the lineation and groundedness of modern dance movements.
But then the program immediately changes its ambiance as the fabulous Sandra Organ appears on the stage, mesmerizing me with her ballet style combined with modern techniques. Her strong, expressive body, so linear and muscular in a flowing, yet compact costume of a matted violet shade is a delight to watch. Her movements also take full advantage of what seems to me a Latin influence: hip movements and a salsa-like technique, rendering a lofty sensuality to her choreography. After Ms. Organ’s solo ballet, other solo dancers and duos appear with spectacular strength, dexterity, flexibility and techniques, as well as magnificent solidity and lineation, thereby creating such a contrasting, diversifying scene, completely distinguishable from the chaotic ensemble impact of Margo’s World. This piece, All That You Have is Your Soul, is primarily made up of solos, duos, and pairs (even in the final ensemble, dancers are coordinated in pairs). It is also distinctive and refreshing because the music is expressively jazzy and all vocal (contrasting vastly from the impersonal, new-age percussion effect of Margo’s World).
Next, the rich, diversified nature of the program is illustrated through Fly, danced to Kabalevsky’s the Comedians, an expressive piece full of humor and cleverness, performed by a troop of black male dancers, incredibly strong and talented. They beamed up the stage with vivacious precision and unending energy, expressed through spectacular, very challenging yet flowing body contortions and dance techniques that feature hip hop, urban street dance, and other classic as well as modern dance combinations.
The program is once more diversified with the next segment, a wonderful piece, uniquely remembered, and justifiably so, because it combines dance with acting, drama, and narratives. Diary of a Mad Domestic is full of surprises delivered with an entertaining, comic effect. Brooms, cleansing detergents, vacuum cleaners, cords, etc. make their appearance on stage with dancers in casual everyday clothes (shorts, T’s and tanks’s, khakis, etc.) The most hilarious movement comes when a dancer dances to a speech, very dramatic and comical, explaining a light, yet satirical theme about domestic chores. Using a female dancer and female voice for this part, the choreographer perhaps intends even a feminist touch: the relationship between cleaning and women. Clever is the best word to describe this delightful and innovative choreography.
But the most memorable image comes to me when Sarah Irwin’s “Mountain” begins to take form. Five dancers appear, perhaps as space travellers, perhaps even aliens or astronauts, or perhaps as inhabitants of a star-war-planet (at least those are the images suggested to me by their forms, styles, and bodies). Climbing an imaginary mountain or perhaps anticipating the arrival of a travelling saucer (or, interpreted in a philosophical way, maybe the arrival of God himself), these dancers silently and groundedly dance on a pendulum which they must keep balanced. The choreography is so provocative, tantalizing, and breathtaking, so avant garde and into the 21st century that it even creates a chilling, eerie effect, as these dancers slide up and down along a spectrum, on both ends of the pendulum, climbing, bending, falling, shouldering, hanging on, etc. Space, time, energy, and props (rocking chairs, for example) are all fully utilized to perfect precision in this piece. Without such precision, the pendulum or rocking chairs would not stay balanced. To create a dance environment of aesthetics based on principles of physics and gravity is an admirable accomplishment.
It is through these two pieces, the Mad Domestic and Mountains, that I think the choreographers and dancers have successfully used their art to portray (or even prophetize about or comment upon) the contemporary world. The obsessive, futile, repetitive, mundane, demeaning, belaboring, nerve-wrecking, yet futile nature of the act of cleaning, the longing, despair, and trial of those space travelers climbing up and sliding down the spectrum — all of these are poignant reflections of the world in which we live — expressed through dance, not pessimistically or too seriously, but instead, with humor (in the case of Mad Domestic), or with silenced exhaustion (in the case of Mountains). These two pieces make me think as well as enjoy. This must be the ultimate goal in the dancer’s art. First, to entertain and capture attention. Then to portray aesthetics, either via fine lines, rich formations, or beautiful forms, utilizing grace in challenging gravity in order to reach perfection and, in many ways, to make possible the impossible. But then finally the successful artist will make the audience think. Dance, like poetry, is never a trivial art aimed to purely entertain, but cam be a powerful tool of persuasion.
Glistening, by the Chrysalis Dance Company, is a quaint and cute piece, with an all female ensemble cast dressed in bizarre hairdos and see-through silky black or dark dresses, sparkling and loose fitting. It is a creative and stylish product, well done, but resulting in no chilling, challenging, or breathtaking effect upon me.
Finally, the Sharir Dance takes the stage again to finish up the program, with an ensemble dance that contrasts starkly against the beginning act: the chaotic, new-age Margo’s World. Unending Rose, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, is simply beautiful. Dancers dance around, play with, fold, and unfold a deep red cloth into various flowery, symmetrical, or asymmetrical shapes. The Unending Rose is a portrait of grim, grave, and dark beauty. Expressed through movements, the manipulation of bodies, shapes, and images based on a huge red cloth, the clarity of the choreographer’s ideas is achieved in a flowing manner and with tremendous ease.
To diversity the program even further, right after the intermission, three young boys take the stage and perform the most spectacular and passionate drum work. Very stimulating and fun to watch and hear! Since the drum is essential to the training and development of modern dance techniques, I find this add-on segment of drum work to be quite appropriate and motivational.
In summary, this program is a delight, a surprise, and a gift of the dance community in Houston to its city. It typifies the signature of modern dance: strong bodies and not just dainty ballerinas; an empty stage instead of intricate staging, bare toes and heels in lieu of pretty satin slippers and points — all of this starkness and bareness, virility and vitality are all transformed and energized into the kind of startling innovation and creativity that depicts the human experience — that which belongs to contemporary men and women and not heavenly angels. It is comforting and encouraging to know programs like this can be enjoyed free of charge here in Houston. One need not travel to New York to get this kind of performing art. Here, it is brought to the Houston public outdoors, rather than in the typical contours and restriction of a grandiose ballet theater or stage traditionally associated with an elitist patronage.
As a novice to the performing world of dance and yet an enthusiast in appreciation, I feel that this program enriches my modest repertoire and understanding of creative dance movements and concepts, and how creativity can be materialized. This performance deserves its name, the Best of Texas Contemporary Dance.
Wendy Nicole Duong