Why blame Chekhov?

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  April 2, 2007

Treplev comes across as wimpy rather than inspired. You can’t imagine the self-important Trigorin seducing Nina. And is there a suggestion of incest between Arkadina and her son in the play? No use wondering about this, because Chekhov has long since taken his spirit elsewhere. Dumped (off stage) by Trigorin, Nina resorts to dancing a sort of Dying Swan act in a men’s club, and they use her for target practice, symbolically killing her dreams of freedom. Treplev crawls back into his cage, not even allowed Chekhov’s solution of suicide.

To someone who didn’t know the play, Eifman’s Seagull might be a credible ballet — clear, well-danced, and smartly produced. Other than the clumsy movement innovations and the repetitious duets, it could make for an entertaining evening. But without its pretext of Chekhovian profundity, it would still be pretty banal.

Exaggeration and simplified discourse seem to be the favorite ways of getting the audience’s attention these days. Even the new logo of Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal — [bjm_danse] — represents a mannered identity. The two works at the ICA theater last weekend, sponsored by CRASHarts, both served highly flavored portions of style.

070406_inside_bjm
MAPA: Communal rhythms supporting the eloquence of individuals.

At the beginning of MAPA, by Rodrigo Pederneiras, a line-up of dancers moved downstage toward the audience — it was the third or fourth time I saw this surefire configuration last week. The MAPA move was a slow walk with a jutting hip. You got to study it while the line advanced; you could note the way each dancer sank into the hip or pushed the opposite shoulder forward, which ones indulged in the simple transfer of weight and which ones held their torsos balletically still.

This walk formed the basis for the rest of the dance, an eclectic series of variations on rhythmic patterns, some African, some made up, by composer Marco Antônio Pena Araújo. Like the music, which sent melodic lines riffing over rhythmic motifs, the dancers worked off a repeating step pattern that sometimes proliferated into decorative stunts and created a propulsive background for solos or small groups. A lot of world-dance forms are structured the same way, the communal rhythms supporting the eloquence of individuals.

The [bjm_danse] dancers’ dynamism got rerouted into hyper-histrionics in Aszure Barton’s Les Chambres des Jacques. The Canadian-born Barton is one of the hot new New York choreographers, working in a post-parody style. Les Chambres mapped out a territory of behavioral signs and phenomenal physicality, where matters of romance are taken out and exploded before they can do any harm.

From diverse but high-context musical accompaniments, like tangos and klezmer music, the dancers extracted certain characteristics to develop into movement or mime. A recording of what I thought was a French-Canadian singer/step dancer evoked a hearty, rough-hewn rural type you could imagine hanging out and ogling village girls with his cronies. Baroque arias by Vivaldi conjured melodramatic encounters. A schmaltzy tune on accordion and cello cooked up nose-to-nose duets and lines of dancers sidling along holding their crotches.

I don’t remember the actual dance parts going on for any sustained periods of time, but the acting and attitude, the mugging and gesturing, were non-stop and never less than flamboyant.

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