Yayasan Bali Purnati | The Bali Purnati Center For The Arts

PRESS: The Nothing Festival

Nan Melville for The New York Times

Nan Melville for The New York Times


Choreographing From Scratch With No Recipe
Published in The New York Times on April 21, 2007

There’s been plenty of wordplay in preview discussions of The Nothing Festival, which opened at Dance Theater Workshop on Wednesday night with the first of two programs featuring the work of eight choreographers over the next 10 days. So a warning: more coming up.

Conceived of and organized by the choreographer Tere O’Connor, the festival has as its premise that the eight artists had to create a work from nothing. As the news release explains it, “His desire was to create an oasis stripped from the marketing, fund-raising and production challenges that seem to overshadow the process of making a dance.”

The motive is admirable, if a trifle tenuous. Isn’t every artist essentially starting from nothing, no matter what they might have presented to theater directors or financiers? Isn’t the meaning of a work always discovered, to some extent, by its creator during the process of making it? Of course the categorizing of art by the ever-expanding marketing departments of theaters is tedious to artists. (At this very performance I heard a Dance Theater Workshop staff member talk about “expanding our brand.”) But does it really change the rehearsal process?

Perhaps the demand to clarify things in advance does have an impact. In the first program of works by four choreographers (the second program begins next Wednesday), three of the four pieces were amateurish and sketchy enough to warrant further riffs upon the festival’s title.

These works — by Douglas Dunn, Hijack (Kristen Van Loon and Arwen Wilder) and Sam Kim — all seemed to be (to put in kindly) at a workshop stage, as if the choreographers had confused starting from nothing with showing nothing. Presumably Mr. O’Connor wanted to free these choreographers from habitual constraints, but the result was mostly a self-indulgent free-for-all that replaced the disciplined shaping of raw material with self-expression. That is not choreography; it’s just acting out.

The one exception to the general awfulness was designated a work-in-progress. Dean Moss and Ryutaro Mishima’s “States and Resemblance” did seem unfinished, but it had a resonance and coherence that set it apart. The two men spend much of the time moving very slowly together to the soft boom-box-produced sounds of Caetano Veloso, occasionally smiling at each other in complicity. 

A woman (Restu Kusumaningrum) arrives onstage, strewing black disks over the floor; later she appears wearing a mask and deftly wielding a fan. At one point the men’s movement accelerates; at another they arch backward slowly, lighted from above on an otherwise dark stage. At the end they each place a disk over their faces, to strange and sinister effect. 

There is a world here, and images that cohere, and there has been thought, process and elimination. The meaning of “States and Resemblance” is unclear, but that doesn’t matter. It’s clearly about something.

Visit www.dtw.org for more information on New York’s Dance Theatre Workshops

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