Tuesday, June 24, 2008

La Biennale International Festival of Contemporary Dance

I love La Biennale, the organization. I've worked, suffered and delighted with them for many years in their struggle to remain one of the most vibrant contemporary art festivals on earth. Most of you know about the Venice Film Festival, and the art festival. But there is also music, architecture, theater, and, for the last six years, dance.

Since La Biennale is contemporary, its energy hits directly against Venice's ancient structure, and there are many wars and battles fought to get each show on the road. Directors come and go, shaking their head in amazement that anything actuality gets up and on its feet.

Ismael Ivo is the Director of the Dance, and, in addition to being one of the most physically beautiful human beings on the planet, he always manages to put on a beautiful show. Because he is so striking, you are always aware of his presence. The Dance section of La Biennale is probably my favorite. I love to watch dancers move. Unlike other forms of "contemporary art," you actually must be able to dance!

I've only been able to catch two programs so far, mostly because they were at the Malibran, close to my house, not down at Arsenale. The first performance I saw was Stephen Petronio Dance Company from the United States, and the second was Ballet Preljocaj from France.

Here is part of the blurb about Stephen Petronio from the program:

"Music, visual arts and fashion all come together in the choreographer's performance, evoking landscapes of a markedly contemporary taste."

Stephen Petronio opened with Beauty and the Brut. I read the New York Times review by Roslyn Sulcas, and I have to disagree:

"In “Beauty and the Brut,” a commissioned score by Fischerspooner (the art-world-darlings music duo) offers a woman’s voice recounting, in English and French, a pickup on a beach. With its Laurie Anderson-like echoes and deadpan unfinished sentences (“My name is — whatever”) set over minimal electronic melodies, the score alone is a delight."

I think the United States and Europe are moving further and further apart, not only in terms of the disastrous dollar, but in culture itself. I found the score to be incredibly annoying. I LOVE Laurie Anderson, and to compare the Fischerspooner score to Anderson is... well... reaching a bit. Please tell me what is interesting about: "My name is -- whatever" over and over and over? And to hear this whiny American accent say that she is French... at first I thought they were joking. That would have been clever. It was a boring pickup on the beach, lacking any wit, with no point, light years removed from Laurie Anderson's original genius. Just that the performers could dance to the score should be applauded. Think of the wasted opportunity! What one could actually say or at least try to say with All That Time with those wonderful dancers in front of a live audience... and the bit of wisdom we get from America is -- "Whatever." It makes one understand Enlil's point of view about the state of humanity. After intermission, a good part of the audience did not return.

Ballet Preljocaj, on the other hand, I thought was brilliant, especially Eldorado. Here is the blurb from the program: "Angelin Preljocaj returns to La Biennale with the mystical yet carnal dance of Eldorado, inspired by the cosmic dance of Stockhausen's Sonntags Abschies, the last part of the great cycle dedicated to the days of the week, and with his historic piece, Larmes Blanches, a rigourous and sensual dance, contrapuntally constructed around the baroque music of Bach, Balbastre and Purcell.

So, while Americans are dancing to whiny girls on the beach saying "My name is -- whatever" over and over, the French are dancing to the music of the spheres.

I just read this on Wikipedia about Fischerspooner.

"As of May 2007 they have been released from their Capitol Records recording contract and are currently unsigned."

And it's not just the music. I see it in my own little neck of the woods, in YA publishing. America seems to be spitting out product at a frantic pace. After spending way too much time on Facebook, I can see why. Everyone is racing to capture the minds of the masses to consume, consume, consume. It is numbing.

Uummm.... why don't you guys, like, um... bring, like a -- book... umm... you know -- a book... yeah, a book -- to the beach...


Ciao from Venice,


  1. "So, while Americans are dancing to whiny girls on the beach saying "My name is -- whatever" over and over, the French are dancing to the music of the spheres."

    Some Americans, Catt. OK. Many Americans. But this is a big country.

    For instance, we have the incomparable Twyla Tharpe. who's show here in the LA area will be at the top of world class dance. And with Danny Elfman doing the music....well.



    Twyla has worked with everybody who's anybody and did things like the dance for "Amadeus".

    There's plenty of crap in Europe too, so take it easy with the generalizations. After all, Paris is our sister city and they love to show American art.

    Thanks. Dennis in LA

  2. Denn, I think you're being a tad nationalistic. I specifically said that I had only seen two programs because they were at the Malibran, and was comparing those two. They happened to be from America and France. Believe me, if you had heard that score -- and then to have the NY Times rave about it -- you would have felt the same way. If it had been Spain and Croatia, I would have said the same.

    Twyla Thorpe is brilliant. Danny Elfman is a genius. No argument. They were not here. I would LOVE to have that program here in Venice.

    MOMIX, from the USA, was in Piazza San Marco the night before Elton John and I heard it was spectacular. But no one sent me and invitation, so I didn't see it. I can only comment on what I see! If I HAD seen it, and if I felt it WAS as fantastic as I hear it was, I could have compared THAT to the Stephen Petronio presentation also.

    There is no doubt that America is producing some fantastic art. In fact, it's been my recent experience that California is ahead of the curve in terms of exporting profound culture. Everyone I've met lately who has a soul seems to be from California.

    Thanks for reading the blog. I appreciate it.