Friday, May 9, 2014

Round-up: Turkish activism; Akerman closes in on Bausch; ballet fiction

Coming after a few dry presentations (Movement Research Studies Project panel on Vulnerable Bodies and the Embodiment of Resistance, Gibney Dance Center, May 6), Turkish dance artist Tan Temel held my attention with the clarity of his witness as a participant in the anti-development, Occupy-like protests in Istanbul's Taksim Gezi Park. His brief talk also greatly benefited from a slide show of vivid photos from the early days of the Taksim Gezi sit-in, demonstrating the activists' confident and peaceful creativity. Inspiring! (An audio recording of this panel will be made available on iTunes. Click here for play or download links to recorded Movement Research events.)

Chantal Akerman's 1983 film, One Day Pina Asked... (Dance Films Association screening/discussion at Gibney Dance Center, co-presented by Gibney Dance Center's Sorry I Missed Your Show, May 7), looks quite different from Wim Wenders's grand, gorgeous and better-known Pina (2011), and feels different, too. Akerman's choice of a passive but magnifying camera zoomed right in on Pina Bausch's dancers rehearsing or performing puts the viewer right into the mix. It's a dancer's-eye view. Remember the scene in Nelken (Carnations) where a pack of men crowd a lone woman, touching and increasingly manhandling her body? From a proscenium theater's potentially safe, intellectualizing distance, Bausch's imagery is already disturbing. But try it this way, and your skin will crawl. The encounter of two extraordinary artists--Akerman and Bausch--produced a documentary of rare sensitivity and power (distributed by Icarus Films).
image description
Novelist Maggie Shipstead
(c) Michelle Legro

Astonish Me, a novel by Maggie Shipstead (Knopf, 2014), astonished me a bit less than I would have expected, given the raves from book critics, some of whom spun remarks off the title (derived from Serge Diaghilev's challenge to Jean Cocteau: Ètonnez-moi). And it almost lost me, early on, with its account of a bland suburban mismatch--the stay-at-home mom who fled a low-level ballet career and never got over a brush with international intrigue; the husband who desired her first, married her somehow, but still can never quite feel sure of her. But, in the nick of time, Shipstead won me back with a scene centered around a fit of inappropriate, uncontrollable and infectious laughter. That's when I threw in with this writer. Even so, I can't say that I ever came to like or feel empathy for her characters, two generations worth. I never really settled into the narrative's chronological jumble, and at no time did I think the central "secret" would surprise any character or reader. But I did enjoy and rely upon Shipstead's shrewd, finely rendered insights into the psychology of her characters and their relations. This is where she truly shines. (ISBN: 978-0-307-96290-4)

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