Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Architecture vs. Dance

I had sort of vowed to not discuss the performing arts on here too much, because it would seem a conflict of interests. However, I'd also promised to remark on Santiago Calatrava's sets for New York City Ballet as I encountered them.

Well, I did see one of the premiere performances of Christopher Wheeldon's Estancia, which was magical and very intense. Unfortunately Calatrava did something surprisingly un-architectural for it. Don't get me wrong, I'm infinitely impressed by Calatrava's sensitivity to context. The sets were perfect for the piece. He seems to understand that the dancers are the most crucial part of the performance, so while he's doing impressive things, they're relatively understated. The choreography is what really shines through.

Anyway, yesterday some coworkers and I snuck in to watch a dress rehearsal for the new Mauro Bigonzetti piece, Luce Nascosta ("Hidden Light"). Well, I haven't seen the whole thing all the way through, but it's brilliant. Bigonzetti contorts the dancers into these very awkward positions. If you see them in a performance, you won't hear a thing, the dancers are far too professional to make a sound. But seeing them in rehearsal, all the grunts and groans and huffing and puffing of the dancers make clear that what Bigonzetti is making them do is actually extremely difficult. I'm not a dancer (except on the club dance floor), but I assume a professional could immediately see that what he has them doing is particularly challenging. It's an infinitely fascinating piece and quite new and interesting.

Bigonzetti was there at the edge of the Koch Theater stage working with the dancers, and all I could think was "damn, the Italians have such an impeccable sense of style." We all know it's true. We've had our Saarinens and Eames and Kawakubos and McQueens (may he RIP), but the Italians just always get it.

The Calatrava set is the group of nine circles that come together and expand outward again during the progress of the piece. I can't help but feel that the nine circles seem planetary, especially since the central one is lit at times like an eclipse. The original model was on a sort of scissor-like structure that could expand out and contract again. Evidently creating such a mechanism on a larger scale up in the fly space of the Koch was just not possible, so they created a different system to mimic those movements.

I'll have to say it works beautifully. It's so subtle and compliments the choreography wonderfully.

As I indicated, Calatrava has shown an incredible sensitivity to the task at hand. With so many architects out there with oversized egos, it's terribly refreshing to notice that he's truly embraced the genius of both NYC Ballet and these great choreographers to provide them with appropriate backdrops for their work, in a way that won't overshadow it.

Since the damage is already done and I'm discussing NYC Ballet, I'll take this opportunity to mention that there's a new film of Jerome Robbins' New York Export: Opus Jazz.
I've only seen a couple of clips so far, but it looks really wonderful.

©2010, Ryan Witte

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Two Centuries

I wanted to make a quick post for a couple of very different and very sad RIPs.

First of all, Louise Bourgeois has died at the age of 98. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to hear Karen Finley discussing her work at the Guggenheim retrospective a couple of years ago. Granted, Bourgeois lived a nice long, full life, but she was a goddess in the American art scene, and her passing marks the end of an era.

The other one comes as a great shock to me. Designer Tobias Wong, who was truly brilliant and only 35 years old, was found dead in his Manhattan apartment from what is being labeled a suicide. I discovered his work by way of one of my absolute favorite groups of designers, CITIZEN: Citizen. His was some of the best work they featured, because it consistently broke all the rules and even caused a good deal of controversy. A great conceptual artist/ designer has been lost to us.

--Photo courtesy Centre Pompidou.
Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)

--Photos courtesy CITIZEN: Citizen.
Tobias Wong (1974-2010)