Saturday, March 19, 2005

REV: Theatre vs. Dance

One of my own personal interests (and one i'm currently doing some personal work on -- to be announced sometime in the fall i think) is the philosophical boundary between theatre and dance, which serves which, is there a continuum, and most important, what possibilities lie ou there. So, timely is a new piece by Matthew Bourne, Play Without Words, and this nice observation from The New York Times.

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK
What's the Story: Is It Dance or Theater?

By JOHN ROCKWELL
The New York Times, 19 March 2005

Whether Matthew Bourne's "Play Without Words," at the Brooklyn Academy of Music through April 3, is theater or dance is a matter for reasoned discussion among the aesthetically minded. I think it's dance, pure if not so simple. But my main interest is why Mr. Bourne, like several other European choreographers, seems so eager to market his dance as theater.

On the aesthetical plane, dance and theater often blend. Dance contains theatrical elements; theater can convey its messages through movement as well as words. As in the work of Robert Wilson, among many others, and Mr. Wilson has several times over the last two decades tried his hand at choreography.

"Play Without Words" ingeniously expands upon Joseph Losey's 1963 film "The Servant," itself based on Robin Maugham's book. There are doublings and triplings of the characters, providing contrasting filmic points of view as well as a wonderfully creepy, horror-movie aura. Evil seems to exude from every corner.

Not everyone admires Mr. Bourne's actual movement invention, and he himself has downplayed it, perhaps as part of his self-image or to deflect criticism or as a marketing strategy.

But the movement in "Play Without Words" is at its best very compelling, particularly a scene in which three servants dress and undress our tripled feckless hero, or a leggy, doubled table-top erotic duet between the hero and a servant girl in a tennis sweater.

Layers of popular and artistic choreographic history are evoked, particularly the social dances of the early 1960's and jazz dance.

No matter. This is theater, Mr. Bourne insists. He designates himself as having "devised and directed" the piece, although elsewhere in the program he grudgingly credits himself as "director/choreographer." "Play Without Words" was commissioned by Nicholas Hytner and first seen at his National Theater in London.

This is all part of a pattern, best evidenced in New York by the run of "Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake" on Broadway. "Swan Lake" is a canonical dance classic subjected to the kind of updating long familiar to those who have seen contemporary European balletic and operatic stagings. That it was very good, sexy, ingenious, even choreographically noteworthy, made Mr. Bourne's decision to peddle it as theater all the more galling.

Read the rest here.

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