ADF @ The Nasher: Yossi Berg and Oded Graf

When you go to see a dance, do you expect to be able to actually see it? Yeah, me too. What about a seat, do you want a seat for an hour-long performance? How about a back on that seat? Yep, that would be necessary for me. And if the performance is general admission, forcing early arrival and competitive seat-claiming, would you expect the damn thing to go ahead and start on time?

If you are with me on these things, you probably do not want to go to dance events at the Nasher Museum at Duke. Even though they often turn out to be interesting–even wonderful, like Mark Haim’s piece a couple of years ago–the aggravation factor is awfully high, and increases with the size of the audience.

The museum atrium is a nice place to present small-scale dance or movement theatre. But–it is flat. There are no risers. People sitting on the floor can see; people sitting in the first row, and maybe the second row of chairs can see; people on the few tall stools in the back can see, except when the performers are on the floor…but folks in between see this:


View of Come Jump With Me in the Nasher atrium from the third row of chairs, 7/10/17. Photo: Coke Ariail.


The other serious issue about the Nasher atrium as a performance space is that its acoustics are very difficult. Even normal conversations are a struggle in there, because of the sound bouncing off all those hard surfaces. When the performance includes loudly amplified music and competing speech, speech loses. So, you may find yourself not only unable to see movement but unable to comprehend the texts that are supposed to be an integral part of a work.

That was certainly the case last night for the Yossi Berg and Oded Graf Dance Theatre presentation of Come Jump With Me. (7 pm stated performance time; at 7:13 the silence your cellphone decree came; at 7:14 the show began–at which point I’d been waiting for 37 minutes.) The two performers, Berg and Olivia Court Mesa, never spoke softly, and they cranked all the way up to scream…and the music/sound went up in decibels along with the voices. While this was effective at transmitting something of contemporary conditions in Israel, these artists’ home, it was not effective at increasing understanding, let alone empathy.

I’ve had the idea for a long time that for art–political or not–to be effective, it needs to distill its ideas and passions, and suffuse that tincture into the viewer’s consciousness. It seems counter-productive to make the audience actually suffer, for example, when the artist could generate an empathetic awareness of suffering and its impacts. If I’m defending myself against assault, I tend not to feel any empathy toward the aggressor.

Come Jump With Me struck me as unnecssarily hostile, and I found myself thinking some horrible thoughts in return. This was a real shame, because there is a lot of smart, witty, stuff in the hour-long piece (which really could have been tightened up to 40-45 minutes). It’s a bundle of contradictions–this is not about Israel/this is loving Israel–expressed mostly in spoken word, with movement playing an illustrative role. There is some very impressive movement, and it’s clear in its picture-making, but there is no dance.

By dint of repetition and tonal changes, Come Jump With Me‘s banal phrases take on meaning, and reveal something of the promise and the trap of the idea and the actuality of the state of Israel, and indicate a miserable state of communal psychology. Mesa’s truly bizarre carryings-on with red, heart-shaped lollipops (suckers, if you will) do nothing to make one think there might be sanity somewhere.

Its tightly circumscribed performance area (demarcated with masking tape) mimics the geographical constriction of Israel, wedged between the Heights and the sea. Again and again, the performers rush from boundary to boundary. “Is this the Holy Land?” Berg asks, reverently, at the beginning. “Is this the Holy Land?” Berg asks despairingly near the end, before breaking the perimeter, rolling himself in the taped boundaries pulled off the floor. As the sound system blasts a refrain of “too many tears,” the two performers kayak away. At least, I thought, they have a paddle.

Many people in the Triangle area will remember the multi-faceted artistic exchange between North Carolina and Israel 20 years ago. Come Jump With Me reminded me of various artworks from that exchange, so I could not see it as fresh, or particularly provocative. But it does make it horribly clear that conditions in Israel have worsened rather than improved in two decades. If that was its intent, then the piece, however exasperating, is a success.

The event repeats July 11 and 12.


Lux Aeterna: Doug Varone and Dancers Close a Brilliant Season at ADF

Just one more night for the 2015 edition of the American Dance Festival. The 82nd season closes as it began, with kinetic consideration of the relationships between painting and dance, or said another way, of dance as a kind of painting. We began with Shen Wei, but these final images are by Doug Varone and Dancers. The concert repeats tonight in the Durham Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m.

Doug Varone Dancers in LUX, at ADF July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Doug Varone Dancers in LUX, at ADF July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

It begins with the heart-opening Lux, from 2006, in which eight dancers dance by the light of the moon, the moon. (Dancing must be the most ancient art, after singing perhaps.) As lighting designer Robert Wierzel’s full moon rises in the sky upstage, and Philip Glass’ The Light surges and recedes like the incoming tide, they frolic and frisk, twirling and tumbling, Liz Prince’s fluid dark-revealing-light costumes flaring around them. They dance. This is not concept in motion, it is not calculated performance movement. It is the soul expressing its state of joyous oneness with a universe at once orderly and always in flux. Doug Varone is a humanist, I think, an artist for whom the human experience always lies at the core, and that includes both physical and psychic experience. Some of the most primal of both experiences find expression in Lux.

Doug Varone, THE FABULIST, at ADF July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Doug Varone, THE FABULIST, at ADF July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Varone has also lived long enough to attain some wisdom about our bifurcated states of being. He merges them beautifully in the solo for himself that he premiered at ADF last year. The Fabulist was very very new in 2014; in the intervening year it has muscled up, become more clear and definite. Again, the lighting and costuming are important to the stage pictures. The stage is black–then there appears a man in a sharply focused, narrow cone of hot light (powerful design by Ben Stanton). Doug Varone, not at this life-stage a slim-built man, seems both presented like a jewel and imprisoned by the light. He begins to dance, and stories unfold from his body, stories from a lifetime, stories like flesh on the skeleton of a human. Tears began to flow from my eyes almost immediately, and at times I shook with stifled sobs. Of course, this might have happened just from listening to the accompanying music, David Lang’s exquisite Death Speaks, but I also think that the man in the light would have brought them without the music, with his danced memories of blazing passion and his acceptance of Death’s empty presence along the dark edges.

The finale is a new work co-commissioned by the American Dance Festival and The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. In Recomposed, Varone works with, or from, pastel images by the American Expressionist Joan Mitchell. In the pastels, you can read the artist’s struggles with color, line, placement and relationships, but those records of her clarifying of her inner state have often made me uneasy–too close to chaos for my order-loving self. I’ll never look at them the same way again, after seeing the process kineticized at stage-scale. Before the moment depicted below, the dancers wear sheer white coveralls over their bodysuits, and late in the piece begin removing them, as images clarify, to reveal the definite blacks and clear colors that had been obscure (costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung). The choreography and the dancing are not dissimilar to those of Lux, but the tone is very different. Once again, Varone demonstrates his musical acuity, setting this piece to Michael Gordon’s Dystopia. Moving in Robert Wierzel’s splendid, gorgeous washes of colored light, the dance-makers place and arrange and overlap, overturn and scrub out their marks, making an ever-disappearing record of effort and dissatisfaction. Until–a turning point…something is right, something can be added to, something is worth keeping. Out of unknowingness, fear and obfuscation, something is created. A picture. A dance. A life.

And it is good.

Doug Varone Dancers, arriving at clarity in RECOMPOSED, in its premiere at ADF, July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Doug Varone Dancers, arriving at clarity in RECOMPOSED, in its premiere at ADF, July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Prepare your best adjectives! Ticket give-away for Miro show at the Nasher

The nice folks at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University are offering 2 tickets (regular adult admission is $16) to see the Joan Miró exhibition there to lucky readers of The Five Points Star. Here’s the contest: The Star loves description. Many editors have tried to tame her adjective-knobbed sentences to no avail. The greatest among them was forced to retreat from the rule of one adjective only and NO adverbs…almost whimpering, he said, OK, pick three out of the five. All right! With three adjectives you can build a dimensional view.

SO, use the comment function to send me your best descriptors of Miro’s work. You may write a complete sentence, or not, but you must poetically place three descriptors together. Anyone who can successfully get five into the line-up goes to the top of the pile. The Star will choose the two most vivid entries. Winners will pick up their tickets at the museum desk. You must include your name and your email address along with your entry. (I will not publish your email address.) Have fun! Contest ends at noon, Monday, January 19, 2015. The two winners will be notified that night.

In case you’ve been hibernating, here’s the basic info:

“Miró: The Experience of Seeing” at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University—now in the final weeks.
The Nasher Museum is the only East Coast venue for this presentation of the final 20 years of Spanish-born artist Joan Miró’s career. The exhibition features more than 50 masterpieces, some of them more than 6 feet tall. All of the art is on loan from the Reina Sofia Museum in Spain. The exhibition is on view through Feb. 22, 2015.
Plan your visit around Spanish wine tastings and other special Miró-related activities:

Before you go: Watch the 30-minute public television documentary about the Miró exhibition on UNC-TV:

 More information:

A tour of the Miro exhibition in the Nasher galleries. Photo: J. Caldwell.

A tour of the Miro exhibition in the Nasher galleries. Photo: J. Caldwell.

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