By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Alexis Soloski
By Alexis Soloski
By Lilly Lampe
Normand takes account of Russias ardent female ballet fans and onetime wannabe ballerinas who didnt make the cuts. In one very affecting scene, the charming Obraztsova comes out of the stage doornot on her way home, just to meet her admirers. She danced the lead in Leonid Lavrovskys Romeo and Juliet today. One youngish woman has tears in her eyes. A white-haired regular lists the Juliets she has seen, beginning with the great Galina Ulanova; Obraztsova, she says, brought something to the role shes never seen before. She offers a clumsily wrapped packagesomething she knew the young dancer wanted: a copy of The Great Gatsby.
Nothing could be further from the Kirov ballerinas and their quest for perfection than the performer in Sophie Fienness 2006 VSPRS Show and Tell. Fiennes and her camera show lengthy clips from Alain Platels astonishing and shattering piece, set to terrific music based on Claudio Monteverdis 1610 Vespers for the Blessed Virgin. According to an article in the English-language Japanese magazine Metropolis, Platel told composer Fabrizio Casol to contaminate Monteverdis purity, infusing it with a more oriental, more Jewish, more black-sounding quality, in brief: to make it sound more contemporary.
The band plays on what looks like an iceberg of draped white fabric set against a glacier of white rags that extends across the back of the stage. The pure voice of extraordinary soprano Claron McFadden at times degenerates into wailing and moaning as she picks up the dancers tribulations. Platel says in the film that he has worked with people with all kinds of difficulties and is drawn to the fine line between the normal and the abnormal. The dancers of his Les Ballets C de la B, based in Ghent, Belgium, do not address the camera about their career aspirations; their answers to questions presumably posed by Platel reveal what they feel while performing the work, what it triggered in them in terms of memories from their own experiences. We also see audience members speaking outvery intelligentlyin post-performance discussions.
Fienness film begins with a man, his back to us, shuddering, and perhaps fumbling with his clothes. You wonder if hes peeing. Maybe vomiting. Masturbating? When the camera shows him from the front, hes cramming a piece of flatbreadlike a huge pitainto his mouth, into one eye. He doesnt swallow anything, just tears off pieces and throws them on the floor. A woman enters, staggering around on her red high heels and angrily calling out famous names. Where are these saviors? Why dont they come? When she yells for James Bond, a man whos been convulsively undressing and dressing suddenly strikes a cocky pose. As others enter the stage, we see more forms of compulsive behavior. One athletic man and a woman with the flexibility of a contortionist lock their splayed limbs around each other in bizarre ways. The camera swings into close-ups, drops performers out of the bottom of the frame, cuts to a musician, and veers back. The atmosphere Fiennes creates is claustrophobica vision of howling mouths and clawing handsexcept for the few times she shoots the whole stage from the rear.
The performers intelligence and sensitivity provide a startling contrast to their unbridled performing (the choreography comes as much from them as from Platel). Archival clips of mental patients and Africans in a trance ceremony show where some of Platels images came from (one in particular that shows a child rubbing his face obsessively). What can barely be glimpsed in Fienness film is that sometimes the performers are in unison, that they have bouts of dancing in which their wildness is somewhat controlled. After a passage in which they furiously but surreptitiously masturbate, they fall flat on their faces, as if on a signal, and hump the floor.
In the discussions among performers, they often refer to the ecstasy. Im not sure we feel this. We see these peoples shuddering and jerking and crying out escalate until theyre drenched in sweat and exhausted; we see their eyes and hands lifted searchingly. But we dont sense fulfillment. Theres just a quick glimpse of them in the background starting to climb the fabric wall, with one upside-down man reaching for those below. (In an online review of the film in Arts Journal, John Rockwell, who saw Platels piece onstage, wrote that he felt the redemptive aspect of Platels work was underemphasized in Fienness film; you can also read her response.)
Whatever the flaws of either the staged work or the film, they offer a frightening glimpse into the human condition and the mysterious circuitry of our brains and bodies. The brave dancer-creators listed on the companys website are Quan Bui Ngoc, Mathieu Desseigne Ravel, Lisi Estaràs, Emile Josse, Iona Kewney, Samuel Lefeuvre, Mélanie Lomoff, Ross McCormack, Elie Tass, Rosalba Torres Guerrero, and Hyo Seung Ye.
Five other festival films (including a two-hour documentary on the career of Jerome Robbins) will be shown over the course of Saturday afternoon and evening and on Sunday afternoon.