Friday, March 02, 2007

Such a long weekend

Isn't it interesting how art connects across time and space? At the end of the 16th century, an English dramatist writes a play about two star-crossed lovers. In 1936, inspired by the play, a Russian composer composes a ballet. And in 2007, a Montreal based hip-hop dance troupe makes an extract from the ballet the opening piece in their evening's performance.

Attended a performance by the Rubberbandance Group Wednesday evening. Founded in 2002, they combine a variety of contemporary dance styles (the dancer bios in the program talked about things like hip-hop, b-boying, break and hungarian folk dance, as well as classical ballet) with an interest in theatre. Their opening work was this thing called Elastic Perspective which is a series of six short pieces, the first of which is danced to the Dance of the Knights from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet (hence the somewhat tangential introduction). It was fascinating to watch, especially since it's only been a little over a year since I saw Prokofiev's R&J performed as a classical ballet. The contrast between that performance and the spectacle of three men in camouflage pants getting down on the stage with a sequence of heart-pumping moves that were more calisthenic than graceful was hilarious.

At this point you're probably wondering who I am and what the aliens have done with the real me. I mean Falstaff and Hip-Hop!! Okay, look, it's true I don't get hip-hop as a form of music. To me it's the musical equivalent of chewing gum. There's a rhythm to it, but no real substance; and I can't imagine sitting down to listen to it any more than I can imagine sitting down to a dinner of Wrigley's. That said, I see how it makes for a really interesting and challenging sound to dance to, and I love the energy that hip-hop dance performances bring to the medium. Rubberbandance's performance was mostly notable for the way it combined an almost gymnastic speed and agility with a sense of something fractured and angular, the ability to stop in mid-air, an almost cubist idiom of intersecting planes. It wasn't particularly elegant, but it took your breath away, partly because of the raw power radiating off the stage, and partly because every five minutes you had to stop and say "How did he /she DO that?" [1]

Plus, well, the music wasn't all hip-hop (though substantial chunks of it were - and I didn't wince even once - Neela, you would have been so proud of me!). Easily the high point of the show was the final part of Elastic Perspective, which consisted of some frenetic dancing to a song from Verdi's La Traviata. It doesn't get much better than that.


Meanwhile, it's turning out to be a long and interesting weekend. Rubberbandance on Wednesday [2], followed by a festival of films on 'Feminism and Beyond' at the Philadelphia International House Thursday and Friday, followed by a trip down to NYC to catch the Rendez-vous with French Cinema festival at the Lincoln Centre.

Watched a double bill consisting of a short feature titled Plumb Line by Carolee Schneeman followed by a film called Invisible Adversaries by Austrian artist Valie Export. The Schneeman film struck me as pretentious tripe (look, look, I've split the screen into four parts, aren't I clever?) but the main feature was interesting. It reminded me of Bunuel, especially of the Discreet Charms of the Bourgeoisie, though with a much greater focus on gender. The plot, such as it is, involves a photographer called Anna who is convinced that invisible beings called 'Hyksos' are amongst us, taking control of our minds and making us behave in fundamentally inhuman ways (amusingly, this storyline, clearly meant to be metaphorical, has caused imdb to classify the film as horror / sci-fi!). She spends the movie gathering 'evidence' of this phenomenon and arguing about it with her boyfriend Peter, who sees human beings as side-effects to what the calls 'the system' of political and social control. As with any good art film, though, the plot is largely incidental. What is memorable about this film are the specific images / episodes that Export constructs - a baby in a refrigerator, a woman walking around town on skates, the scene where the couple argues accompanied by television sets that replay everything they say with a time delay. Much of the political commentary in Invisible Adversaries is inaccessible / irrelevant to us now, and the overall look of the film feels dated (it was made in 1977), but its artistic vision remains intriguing and the representations of women in media it lampoons dog us to this day.

Relevant as the film's message is, I couldn't help thinking, sitting in the theatre with a half dozen other people, that it was preaching to the choir. The speaker who introduced the film talked about how Valie Export's work challenges the stereotypical gender representations we see around us - and it does - but I'm pretty sure that everyone in that room was already brought into the phoniness of mass media. I mean, really, these were people who'd tramped through the rain to attend a Thursday evening screening of an obscure art film by an Austrian director as part of a festival on feminism. They weren't exactly the kind of people who beer commercials are targeted at.

Tonight it's Godard's Numero Deux (it's strange - I've never thought of Godard as a particularly 'feminist' film-maker; but then, the strangest people turn out to be 'feminists'). Blogging will be slow this weekend, but next week is spring break, so I promise to make up for it (what was that about a long Murakami-like short story?).


[1] Everyone except the gentleman on my right, that is. He, it turned out, had taken the name of the company to heart, and his recurring query after very piece was "But where are the rubberbands?". May the Lord protect me from the literal minded

[2] Insert obligatory joke about how only a PhD student could think the weekend starts on Wednesday.


Anonymous said...

A hip-hop dance troupe and I not invited? Cruelty, thy name is Falstaff.


J. Alfred Prufrock said...

This post is so moving. I posted about it (on my OLD blog)


Vivek Kumar said...

Indeed the dialectical realistic criticism employed by you may be seen under the countenance of Foucauldian tactic reversal - of the unholy trinity of Parmenidean fountainhead; of the Cartesian paradigm, of foundationalisms (in practice, fideistic foundationalisms) and irrationalisms (in practice, capricious exercises of a psychosomatically buried source) new and old alike. [1]

It is utterly moving.

[1] With due apologies to Mr. Roy Bhaskar. Whoever he might be.

Revealed said...

Rubberband Man sounds adorable. I think he had a valid question, anyway! Where *were* the rubberbands??? It's like the Emperor's New Clothes!

Princess Stefania said...

Hang on. I'm not sure if I got this right. But a bunch of people hip hopped their way through La Traviata?!
That's - that's sacrilege!

Anonymous said...

you actually compared hip-hop to wrigley's? this is ridiculous. it's exactly the sort of elitist attitude i've grown to expect from bloggers like you. i wonder how many actual hip-hop/rap artists you know about and i wonder if you've gone beyond what the guardian and the nyt have to say about hip-hop as a culture. it's not just about being able to dance to a "challenging" rhythm. there's life behind a lot of the lyrics - tupac shakur, 50 cent, kanye west, run dmc, eminem, nas and a host of other extremely popular (not in your part of the world, it would be safe to say) artists have gone through a lot of strife and then came out on top - and their lyrics represent that... more than booty, gansters and rolling weed.

i understand if you don't appreciate it; it caters to a different audience; but don't be condescending either. if you can't write about something without somehow making it sound like it's beneath you, then i suggest you don't tackle the topic at all.

Tabula Rasa said...

i wonder if this anonymous would have said the same sort of stuff about beneath you if you'd dissed rachmaninov's xth concerto or something. chip on the shoulder.

z said...

"the ability to stop in mid-air, an almost cubist idiom of intersecting planes"
Excellent! Imagine and freeze-frame. And a new appreciation for the cubist art form emerges!

Falstaff said...

n!: my apologies. This performance was one among a bunch of performances that I bought tickets for at the start of the year, and I'd forgotten what it was about till I actually got there.

JAP: Ya, ya. Some people have successful careers, a rich and rewarding careers and get invited to write by national newspapers. Others spend Friday nights watching obscure French films because it's the only way they can convince themselves that their lives have meaning. And both of them covet each other's grass.

vivek: Errr...okay, though I have no idea what you're talking about.

revealed: No he didn't. What's in a name anyway. Can you imagine going to a performance by John, Paul, George and Ringo and asking where the insects were?

princess stefania: Oh, I don't know. I thought it was hilarious.

anonymous: Let me say how strongly I disapprove of your elitist attitude to chewing gum. It's not just something to keep your jaws going, you know - there's technology behind the product. Companies like Wrigley's spend years of effort and millions of dollars before they come out with the right flavour and consistency of gum that comes out on top and the products represent that - more than fresh breath, mint and bubbles.

I understand if you don't appreciate chewing gum. It caters to a different audience - but don't be condescending about it either. IF you can't complain about comparisons to chewing gum without making it sound like it's beneath you, then I suggest you stop wasting space on my blog with your comments.

TR: Yes, such insecurity.

z: Thanks. Somewhere Picasso is break-dancing in his grave.