Royal Danish Ballet at the Guggenheim


Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Works & Process
Royal Danish Ballet
Sunday, 20 March 2011

Sunday night’s sold-out Works & Process performance/conversation with dancers of the Royal Danish Ballet and artistic director Nikolaj Hübbe featured excerpts from the legendary company’s upcoming U.S. tour, including highlights from August Bournonville’s Variations, The Jockey Dance, A Folk Tale, and La Sylphide; Jorma Elo’s Lost on Slow; and Hübbe’s new staging of Napoli.

The dancers – a generous group of five principals, four soloists, and one terrific corps member – performed courageously (and victoriously) on a small stage with low-hanging lights and a glassy floor. Not to complain; the auditorium – part of Wright’s original design – offers a privileged, studio-like view of world-class dancing and dance-making.

The Royal Danish Ballet has found a uniquely well-formed artistic director in Nikolaj Hübbe. Hübbe trained and danced in Copenhagen until 1992 when he joined New York City Ballet as a principal. He has an authentic and manifest deep regard for dance and dancers, and an unaffected recognition of his pivotal responsibility for the future of ballet, whatever that future will be.

For his happy few to join him for this workshop presentation, Hübbe chose from the 95 dancers in his company Principals Susanne Grinder, Amy Watson, Jean-Lucien Massot, Thomas Lund, and Ulrik Birkkjær; Soloists Kizzy Matiakis, Nikolaj Hansen, Alban Lendorf, and Alexander Stæger; and Alba Nadal from the Corps de Ballet.

Lendorf, Birkkjaer, Lund, Hansen, and Staeger began the evening with quick, fleet-footed excerpts from Bournonville Variations, which helped to establish a major theme of the evening’s conversation between Hübbe and moderator John Meehan: the deep artistic connection between Bournonville and Balanchine and between RBD and NYCB.

Watson and Massot followed with a strictly controlled duet from Jorma Elo’s insect-y Lost on Slow. Lund and Lendorf danced and whipped with good comedic flair in “The Jockey Dance” from a late (1876) Bournonville ballet, From Siberia to Moscow. Alba Nadal shone in her turn with Grinder, Matiakis, and Watkins as the gypsie girls in a pas de sept from Bournonville’s A Folk Tale, along with Birkkjær, Hansen, and Stæger.

Grinder and Birkkjær danced an affecting Window Scene and Death Scene from La Sylphide and, in a final duet, Watson and Stæger performed the pas de deux from Act 1 of Napoli before the entire group nearly brought down the house (literally, considering those low-hanging lights) with a fearless essay of the Tarantella in the confined quarters of the Lewis Theatre. In all seriousness, the viewer sat in awe of these dancers’ finely honed sense of proprioception – that “sixth sense” of knowing where one’s body is in space.

Well-wrought classical ballet, danced with spontaneity, fire, and, at key moments, breathtaking nonchalance. Inspiring on so many levels.

The program is sold out again tonight (Monday), but the Guggenheim is generously streaming online. For information about the Royal Danish Ballet’s 2011 U.S. tour, visit the company’s website.

Berlinale Forum 2011 – Nesvatbov


Nesvatbov | Matchmaking Mayor
Director: Erika Hníková
Czech Republic, Slovak Republic
Czech, Slovakian

Erika Hníková’s appealing documentary Nesvatbov (Matchmaking Mayor) tellingly opens with a drunk harassing the film crew. Mayor Jozef Gajdoš’s morning loudspeaker announcement follows (led off by Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood”), in which the mayor – a former army general – admonishes the Slovakian village of Zemplínske Hámre, which he sees as being awash in alcohol, low on initiative, and generally disappointing.

The mayor is particularly exercised over the reluctance of the village’s unmarried thirty-year-olds to nest up, and hatches his own strategy to attack the demographic crisis. A matchmaking party, with 18 thirty-something couples drawn from Zemplínske and neighboring villages. “To bring you together, so that our planet does not die out.”

Problem is that Zemplínske’s aging youth, while they wouldn’t mind being with someone, also don’t really mind their single lifestyles, living with their parents, following their own pursuits. Monika goes to church, chats with her co-workers at the sausage factory, and spends comfy evenings with mom watching soft-core porn. Jančo spends all his time working on cars. Ďoďo, the most ambitious in regard to the mayor’s objectives, builds a house and stocks a liquor cabinet for a bride that, however, even he doesn’t expect to appear.

Meanwhile, the mayor continues to make his PA pronouncements on everything he finds wrong with the village, always coming back to his campaign of demographic development. He strategizes in his map-strewn office while his steadfast secretary makes forays throughout the village, extending personal invitations “to a social gathering, a singles evening, to get you interested so we can all benefit socially.” But the cozy interiors of Zemplínske’s homes (filmed in bright and cheery HDCam) stand in passive defiance of the onslaught. As the date approaches, we begin to wonder if perhaps this time the battle might not go well for the general.

Read the Forum essay.

Vicky Shick – Not Entirely Herself


Vicky Shick
Not Entirely Herself
The Kitchen, NYC
March 16 – March 19

Vicky Shick moved to New York from Budapest as a child, trained at the School of American Ballet, and moved on to a long and fertile downtown dance career, performing with Susan Rethorst, Trisha Brown, and Sara Rudner, among others. An active dancer still, Shick is performing in Juliette Mapp’s Making of Americans in April and with Rethorst in May.

Working with her long-time collaborators, visual artist Barbara Kilpatrick and composer Elise Kermani, and a fine corps of dancers including Marilyn Maywald, Jimena Paz, Maggie Thom and the choreographer Neil Greenberg, Shick offers in Not Entirely Herself a finely crafted, enjoyably strange dance composition, perceptively lit by Chloe Brown.

An hour of solos, duets and trios with little repetition, Not Entirely Herself is a demanding work especially for the trio Maywald, Paz and Thom. In the sold-out opening performance on Wednesday, all of the dancers performed remarkably with virtuosic turns combined with seemingly improvisational displays of individual personality, including song. An affecting coda featured Shick and Greenberg, offering a playful, masterly exposition of Shick’s choreographic method.

A fantastic amalgam of modern dance, mannerist sculpture, shadow puppetry, song, and body percussion (with endlessly inventive use of a small wooden platform resembling a portable flamenco practice floor). Not to be missed.

Berlinale Forum 2011 – Brownian Movement


Brownian Movement
Director: Nanouk Leopold
Netherlands, Germany, Belgium 2010
English, French
Cast: Sandra Hüller (Charlotte), Dragan Bakema (Max), Sabine Timoteo (Psychiatrist), Ryan Brodie (Benjamin), Frieda Pittoors (Rental Agent), Ergun Simsek (Man 1), Kuno Bakker (Man 2), Gelijn Molier (Man 4)

“For thou wilt mark here many a speck, impelled
By viewless blows, to change its little course,
And beaten backwards to return again,
Hither and thither in all directions round.
Lo, all their shifting movement is of old,
From the primeval atoms; for the same
Primordial seeds of things first move of self,
And then those bodies built of unions small
And nearest, as it were, unto the powers
Of the primeval atoms, are stirred up
By impulse of those atoms’ unseen blows,
And these thereafter goad the next in size;
Thus motion ascends from the primevals on,
And stage by stage emerges to our sense,
Until those objects also move which we
Can mark in sunbeams, though it not appears
What blows do urge them.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things (trans. William Ellery Leonard, Project Gutenberg EBook)

Brownian Movement opens with unfocused flesh tones and the sound of breath. We see a furnished apartment where the bed is the center, a chair facing as in a psychiatrist’s office.

In part 1, Charlotte, a young professional woman, makes a rent payment in cash. She brings her own blanket. We learn that she is a doctor and a clinical researcher, investigating drug-induced hematologic reactions, specifically thrombocytopenia. As she makes her rounds of her clinic, she shops for men who are in one way or another strange – grossly obese, hirsute, coarse, decrepit – to invite to her rented room for sex. She selects them as if setting up a scientific experiment.

She looks at the woman she is in her furnished apartment having sex with these patients. What will they do to me? Curiosity. She does not judge them; there is no morality. At the same time, she looks at the woman she is when she is with her husband and son, devoted, loving. How am I different now?

A pivotal visit to her husband’s worksite – Max is an architect – brings part 1 to a close.

Part 2 has the brightness of a painting from the Delft school. A sense of cleanliness and order as Charlotte faces psychiatric therapy and professional judgment. In therapy, she cannot articulate, except to say “I want to touch Max, it’s automatic. He’s very handsome.” Asked why she chose those particular men, “I shouldn’t tell it. It only makes it worse.”

In her psychiatrist’s waiting room, Charles Le Brun’s (d. 1690) physiognomies – comparative drawings of human and animal faces.

After Charlotte’s hearing before the medical tribunal, she sits in a ruined overgrown graffitied place, among the garbage, listening to the birds and sirens. Looking up in innocence to the heavens. She weeps.

In part 3, the family has moved to India, where Max has a job designing a building and Charlotte has borne twins. Charlotte visits the worksite alone. Everybody is away. Max has followed her, he looks through the building of his design for his wife. She is there alone. Eyes closed. In contact with his rough building. In reverie.

Max lies awake at night, weeping. “Sometimes I don’t know who you are anymore.” The long silences where everything that is said is final and cannot be taken back.

In the end, they drive across a vast plain. Charlotte enjoys things for what they are. Sinless. Not made for this world.

Format: 35mm, Cinemascope.

Read the Forum essay.

Berlinale Forum 2011 – Man Chu


Man chu | Late Autumn
Director: Kim Tae-Yong
Republic of Korea (South Korea), Hong Kong, China, USA 2010
English, Korean, Mandarin
Cast includes Tang Wei (Anna), Hyun Bin (Hoon).

A young woman waits in an empty diner outside a lonely bus stop. Pie and a cup of coffee. She touches neither. Every sound of footsteps, she turns. She smiles. “Hi. It’s been a long time.”

Man chu opens with Anna staggering down a suburban street, bloodied, face bruised, clothes torn. We learn that she has killed her abusive husband. Seven years later, serving out the sentence for her crime, Anna is given two days’ compassionate leave to attend her mother’s funeral in Seattle, tied to prison by a cell phone that rings periodically and which she must answer, giving her location.

As Anna’s bus pulls out of a station, Hoon, a young dandy and rent boy, jumps aboard. He doesn’t have enough money to pay for his ticket and asks to borrow money from Anna. He is Korean, Anna is Chinese – he seems to assume a bond? Deciding whether to give a stranger 30 bucks.

Thus two unlikely misfits meet and fall in love, despite all odds.

Man chu, a remake of a 1966 Korean film of the same name, is ravishingly filmed with a RED camera transferred to D-Cinema Cinemascope, featuring deeply affecting lead performances by the Chinese actress Tang Wei and South Korean actor Hyun Bin and strong supporting performances, including two white dancers who silently act out a beautifully composed break-up scene choreographed by Dayna Hanson and dubbed by Anna and Hoon in a brilliant sequence filmed in a derelict amusement park.

Anna and Hoon speak to each other in English, when Anna decides to speak at all. (Tang Wei achieves the lion’s share of her unforgettable performance in silence.) In one emotionally devastating scene, Anna tells Hoon her story step by step in Chinese. He interprets by her face and responds to each sentence “Hao” (good) or “Huai” (bad). Though it is evident he does not understand, his responses reveal deep empathy, which Anna recognizes in an extended sequence of acting without words – one among many in this profoundly actorly film.

One slow dissolve on Anna’s beautiful face is destined for the annals of film history, I think.

Read the Forum essay.

Update: US Distributor – CJ Entertainment America (2011)

Berlinale Forum 2011 – Traumfabrik Kabul


Traumfabrik Kabul | Kabul Dream Factory

Director: Sebastian Heidinger

Germany, Afghanistan



Films are not discrete objects, but cultural expressions.

Saba Sahar has been a policewoman for 18 years in Kabul. She is also an actress, director and producer. The fearless, incorruptible police officer from Qanoon. She regards her film work as education.

“The goal of my films has always been to show women that we are strong and in a position to do something. We merely have to take it to heart that we want something, in order to achieve it. To be able, you always also must first want. That’s the message. I love cinema, because it’s a school all people understand. Educated and uneducated people understand cinema, equally. That’s why I began working in film.”

Traumfabrik Kabul follows Saba Sahar on her quest for financing for a mobile cinema road show in the provinces, “To help show what a woman is.”

She started work in the golden era of Afghan theatre & cinema in mid-late 80s, pre-Taliban, and like many others had great hopes for peace with the coming of the Taliban. Instead intellectuals and artists were forced to flee the country.

In one remarkable sequence, we follow her into a spectacular mountain valley. Buying yogurt from village girls. “I like you. You are brave girls.” Jamming with village musicians. Playing tabla with one hand, holding her 10-month old daughter in the other.

“From the country of resistance.”

Read the Forum program.

Berlinale Forum 2011 – Folge Mir


Folge mir (Follow Me)

Director: Johannes Hammel
Austria 2010

Cast: Daniela Holtz (Frau Blumenthal), Roland Jaeger (Herr Blumenthal), Charlotte Ullrich (die andere Frau Blumenthal), Simon Jung (Pius), Karl Fischer (Religionslehrer Denoth), Oskar Fischer (Roman).

A beautiful woman, smoking a cigarette, looks at a peeling building. The camera stays with her, she is smiling.

A film about the way a leaking broken ceiling and cheap light fixture can break your heart. A family lives in a crummy flat overlooking an ugly waterfront. Everything from evening meals to weekend trips is agony. Everything is strange, a little off.

Crystal-clear black-and-white Cinemascope images of an unhappy family are composed in a post-narrative structure, juxtaposed with cheerful low-res Super 8 home movies of a better life.

“You can’t believe how suddenly things can subtly change.”

In one world, a kind waitress serves Frau Blumenthal a latte machiatto; in another, a sour waiter throws her out onto the street, a madwoman.

In one world, she’s riding her bike in her summer dress in the sun, with the sound of surf and seagulls. In another, she’s trying to learn to ride on a dismal street, constantly looking to see who is watching her.

And religion is a sad affair, through which children are indoctrinated to a life of disappointment and failure by a sadistic teacher. Folge mir is the textbook.

As Frau Blumenthal, Daniela Holtz and Charlotte Ullrich are radiant and unforgettable.

Folge mir is Johannes Hammel’s debut as director of a feature film. He works in Vienna as a freelance filmmaker, cameraman, and producer.

Read the Forum essay.

Berlinale Forum 2011 – Unter Kontrolle


Unter Kontrolle / Under Control
Germany, 2011, 98 min
Director: Volker Sattel
Section: Forum

“A tour of different places related to the nuclear industry in Germany and Austria: active and disused nuclear power stations, training facilities, the International Atomic Energy Agency, an institute for risk research, the Annual Meeting on Nuclear Technology, a permanent repository for radioactive waste, as well as research centers. Images that are a cross between science fiction and an industrial film. Carefully composed and framed in Cinemascope.”

What are we seeing? Neurons, radioactive tracings. A uranium fuel rod. The control room.

What are we hearing? The hum of electricity.

Admitted to workplaces and meetings, we see men committed to ensuring that nothing happens. These places are overwhelmingly male. Cheesy girly calendars are everywhere.

An industry abandoned. What to do with unused plants. An amusement park in an abandoned plant. A scary twirling ride inside a cooling tower.

“In the water basin of a research reactor, our gaze falls on a magic light that veils a fuel rod downright mystically. The bluish glow penetrates even solid matter. Physicists call this phenomenon the ‘Cherenkov effect.’ Unleashed by the splitting atoms, hidden with this uncanny illumination is extremely intense radioactivity.”

Read the Forum essay. Visit the film website.