Nothing to get upset about


Dance Review: Xavier Le Roy’s The Rite of Spring & Yvonne Rainer’s RoS Indexical

The Rite of Spring is arguably the most influential piece of classical music of the twentieth century. It also happens to be a ballet. That makes it somewhat of a shock that I have never seen a completely successful dance setting of this landmark score of early modernist musical thought. Unfortunately, this remains the case, even after I had the chance to catch two Performa 07 presentations over the weekend, both of which addressed dealing with the canonic work in terms of media, yet with diverging and equally disappointing tactics.

This Is Not a Conductor

The stronger of the two works, Xavier Le Roy’s The Rite of Spring, presented at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, is heavy on the concept and light on the execution. You get it after the first thirty seconds: Mr. Le Roy, in sneakers, tight blue jeans and a red top, his back to the audience, initiates a series of motions that make it looks as if might be conducting the music. The only variations are: 1.) After about a minute, Mr. Le Roy turns to face the audience, and 2.) Mr. Le Roy mysteriously stops the gesticulating at one point and walks stage right, stopping there to look pensive, then, for reasons just as inexplicable, he walks back center and begins mime conducting again.

The sound design, by Peter Bohm, is the most interesting and professionally executed element of this piece, but even that had its flaw. The music, taken from a filmed recording made by Sir Simon Rattle with the Berlin Philharmonic, is piped in strategically through a matrix of speakers that exists beneath each seat of the theater. The effect is overwhelming, in that you feel as if you are sitting in the middle of the orchestra (so why did Mr. Le Roy start conducting with his back to us?). This approach successfully deconstructs the score in a very refreshing way. You hear some instruments closer than others. The brass suddenly sound further away, the woodwinds to your left, the bass drum right under your butt. It fractures the texture of the orchestration by creating relational imbalance. The quality of the audio is intense, but the sound suffers from being under the seats. Many of the piercing sounds (the soprano clarinet, piccolo and certain trumpet parts) written into the score maintained a muffled quality throughout. But the bass pitches were cranking. It sounded as if my downstairs neighbors had a sudden epiphany and realized that Stravinsky was hotter to jam to than the latest Alicia Keys hit (which has been on a steady loop for two months now).

Still, Mr. Le Roy’s “dancing” was one note. He mimed conducting, but loosely, so sometimes it looked as if he were just moving excitedly to the score. In terms of conducting, there is simply no technique; there is certainly no delay between his beats and the entrances of the orchestra, of which, I have to say, Mr. Le Roy had a mostly impressive command. But frankly, it just looked like Mr. Le Roy had a moment of inspiration, ran to his studio, turned the lights off, and just went for it. The problem is he went for it in front of an audience. For the record, I get that this is supposed to create some friction between expectations of sound and movement, it is a concept we’re familiar with, but I have this lingering suspicion that the piece might be better executed by some other performer; someone less goofy, more sensual, and maybe even more physically virtuosic.

Perplexical Indexical

Which brings us nicely to last night’s Performa 07 premiere of Yvonne Rainer’s quizzically outmoded RoS Indexical. Staged at the hidden Hudson Theater, a gilded little opera house tucked into the Millenium Hotel in Times Square, the event was meant to reference the infamous opening night of the ballet at the Theatre Champs-Elysees is Paris in 1913, at which a riot of sorts broke out between camps who thought the music was pure shite, and those who knew its genius.

RoS Indexical is not genius, but it started out on a good note. The dancers (Pat Catterson, Emily Coates, Patricia Hoffbauer and Sally Silvers) enter the stage, which is occupied only by a grubby couch and a card table with four CD walkmans on top of it (what, no iPods?) and four chairs set up around it. They take seat in the chairs and put on the headphones, and after a small pause, you hear them begin to sing along to The Rite of Spring’s notorious opening bassoon passage, using, “Da…da da da da da da da” as a libretto. This is hilarious and a wonderful pomo touch. But before long, you suddenly hear an orchestral version come soaring through the pipes. The singers stop once the prerecord gets to “The Augers of Spring” (that’s the head-banging passage that is likely to make your heart race), the table and chairs are taken away, and the women begin dancing. And that’s what they do for the rest of piece.

The sound score is taken from the audio track of “Riot at the Rite,” a BBC film that attempts to recreate the events that transpired at the opening-night scandal way back when. The only riot that broke out during RoS Indexical was an embarrassingly staged mini-riot that was forced half-way into the piece by thirty or so people who were planted in the audience, who suddenly began shouting, came up onto the stage, swept away one of the dancers, and then calmly, and civilly, took their seats again without any interference from either security or the audience: A sad moment for the dance world, but nothing to riot over. You were more annoyed than incensed.

The whole thing just had a terribly stale feel to it, which can probably be attributed to a reliance on the concept of indexicality to generate content. At one point, several black banners with random words printed on them dropped from the rafters. What does “Aargh” index? “Decay”? “Who? Me?”? Ultimately there is no meaning here, just words.

The costumes, by Elizabeth Hope Clancy, obliquely reference the costumes from the original Nijinksy production, and are made with t-shirts and jersey knits, all mismatched and crossed gartered to create a disheveled sportiness. But they don’t match the cool moderation of John Jasperse’s t-shirt creations for Misuse liable for prosecution, nor the flashy sportiness of David Neuman’s feedforward. They speak more to a cluttered, dingy studio of yore, rather than to the aesthetically rigorous and academically informed work of other contemporary dance artists.

To press the point, there was little to be said of material use. The couch got some treatment with a seated dance at one point, and then at another point the women rolled over the back of it and onto the floor. Kleenex boxes came out and were used as shoes, but that ended abruptly with the planted audience disturbance. And there was no true integration of the film audio score into what happened on stage. Eventually, it just looked like they were dancing to the music.

And the dancing: There is nothing technically or conceptually impressive about the choreography. It holds on to a naivity that was perhaps essential to the development of postmodern dance, but that today, comes off as small-town knowhow. As Claudia La Rocco succinctly pointed out in her Times review of the “An Evening With Grand Union” Performa screening, most New York choreographers have digested the dance work of the 1960s. Unfortunately, Ms. Rainer, who has come out from some kind of choreographic hiding to create this piece, is still chewing on the pulp.

The second and final performance of RoS Indexical is tonight at The Hudson Theater. Showtime is at 7pm.



  1. […] out our double-bill review of both […]

  2. […] C.C. was doing a little research on Yvonne Rainer and this whole RoS Perplexical, and we came upon this article in Artforum. In it, Rainer herself writes about the process of […]

  3. […] Goldberg herself came out and acknowledged that this was some kind of Performa On Broadway affair (Yvonne Rainer’s deflated RoS Indexical had premiered at the theater on Sunday and Monday). But why? And to what purpose? It seems to be […]

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