News & Notes: DanceAbility, degenerate art, Taymor dreams again

ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks visited Eugene on Friday to see “Don’t Leave Me,” the newest work from DanceAbility. Founded in 1989 by Alito Alessi, the company employs dancers we might consider “disabled” until we saw them move, dancers in wheelchairs or on crutches, perhaps partially paralyzed or with mental or emotional differences.

“Don’t Leave Me” was a collaboration between the company and Francis Bronet, dean of the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts, and the dance is shaped by 15 cubes made of fir, each cube 2 x 2 x 2 feet with five sides open and the sixth solid, designed by Bronet. It’s a successful meeting, as Hicks writes: “’Don’t Leave Me’ is a very good piece that touches on such essential modern issues as speed and slowness, constraint and release, closeness and distance, cooperation and conflict, and the nature of time.”

And like any successful work of art, it gets the viewer thinking.

“And I thought of it again after I’d parked at the Lane Community College campus and was walking toward the theater for the performance. [Assistant dean Karen] Johnson and I hooked up with a young woman in a wheelchair who was also heading to the theater, and of course, sitting in her chair, she saw the world from a lower angle, as Daly later would see it peering out from that floor-level cube. She also traveled a great distance out of her way to follow the ramp access through the campus – I’m guessing we covered about three times the territory we would have if we’d walked straight across using stairs – and that prepared me for one of the points of the dance: How do we arrange space to encourage the freest, most practical, and most encompassing movement through it? And why must those for whom travel is the most difficult travel the farthest? In such matters, dance, DanceAbility, and architecture seem like ideal exploratory partners. Dance poses questions of extreme importance to architects. Architecture does the same for dance. And DanceAbility is at the fulcrum, pointing out what often gets forgotten and reminding both sides of what’s at stake. Plus, of course, making good dance.”

All squeezed in and someplace to go. Photo: DanceAbility

All squeezed in and someplace to go. Photo: DanceAbility


Art serves many purposes, as we’ve written before. Like good journalism, one of them is to afflict the comfortable by showing that there’s more than one way to look at the world. And that’s why, along with school teachers and journalists, artists are always early targets of totalitarian systems. All of which is to provide the briefest of contexts for the discovery of a huge store of “degenerate art,” once confiscated by Nazis in Germany.

Uncovered in the shabby Munich apartment of the son of a German art collector, who managed to snag the collection of 1500 confiscated pieces (the collector, Hildebrand Gurlit may have also bought work at a fraction of its worth from Jews, desperate for money in the Third Reich), the trove includes work by Picasso, Chagall, Matisse, and the German Expressionists, and included dada, Cubist, and Surreal art. From the Guardian report by Philip Oltermann:

“The artworks are thought to have been stored amid juice cartons and tins of food on homemade shelves in a darkened room. Since their seizure, they have been stored in a safe customs building outside Munich, where the art historian Meike Hoffmann, from Berlin university, has been assessing their precise origin and value. When contacted by the Guardian, Hoffmann said she was under an obligation to maintain secrecy and would not be able to comment on the Focus report until Monday.”

In our own market-obsessed time, the question immediately raised was the Euro (or dollar) value of the work, and the answer is an estimated $1 billion, which is what drove a lot of the news coverage. But this question of value is rarely reducible to dollar amounts: How much is a Chagall or Beckmann worth that so frightened the Nazis that they felt compelled to steal it and hide it away?


Julie Taymor's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"/NYT photo by Sara Krulwich

Julie Taymor’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”/NYT photo by Sara Krulwich

After the spectacular crash and burn of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” I was more than usually interested in director Julie Taymor’s version of “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which opened the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, the new Brooklyn home of Theater for a New Audience. Would Taymor pull in her sails? Um, no. In fact she spread a gigantic one above the playing area, which served many functions in the aerial production. Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote that it ” confirms Ms. Taymor’s reputation as the cosmic P. T. Barnum of contemporary stagecraft,” even though it was produced for a tiny fraction of the $75 million “Spider-Man” cost and for a 299-seat theater. About those sails:

An immense sheet rises, falls and twists itself to become a confining roof, a vast sky, a writhing forest floor and an amorous bower fit for a queen of the fairies. Swatches of gauzy white cloth morph into transporting wings. And when the play’s central romantic quadrangle of Athenian youths turns vicious, the myriad sprites who are always standing by provide the squabblers with an endless supply of pillows to fight it out.

And speaking of the Broadway “Spider-Man,” one of the principals, Glen Berger, has written an account of that particular sinkhole that was published just in time for Taymor’s newest show, “Song of Spider-Man.” Mark Harris in the Times says, “Part sigh, part shrug, part snicker, Mr. Berger’s book is a coroner’s report signed, sealed and delivered by one of the parties responsible for the victim’s demise.” I’m not sure how much value an autopsy of a Broadway flop has, speaking of value, except maybe to remind us that spectacle is hard.


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