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Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt
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Remember his name - Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola in Sasha Waltz & Guests' "Allee des cosmonautes"

by Paul Ben-Itzak
May 6, 2009
Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt
2 place du Chatelet
Paris, OT (France) 75004
0142742277
Let us now praise modern dancers who should be famous

Paul Ben-Itzak is the publisher of Dance Insider.
Pop quiz: Name a famous male modern dancer who doesn't dance for Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham, Alvin Ailey or Pina Bausch. I thought so. One of the many ways in which modern dance doesn't get as much attention as ballet is in the lack of star fixation. This is not necessarily anyone's fault. Modern is often less about 'the show.' But there's one name you should remember: Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola.

Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola — or JKetc as I'll refer to him from here on so I don't have to keep checking my program to verify the spelling — is a name worth remembering (even if you can't remember how to spell it), if only so that the next time you see him, probably in a spectacle by Berlin-based choreographer Sasha Waltz, whose "Allee des cosmonautes" opened last night at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt along the Seine, you'll know to look for him right away, an important trick in a Sasha Waltz dance-play because there's often so much going on it helps to have an anchor.

One of the reasons a sterling modern dancer deserves his kudos even more than his ballet counterpart is that the areas in which he can distinguish himself are less fixed, thus his virtuosity is more subtle and elusive. Ballet guy has to have good technique, musicality, partnership skills and, for the story ballets, acting ability. Modern guy, well — lets look at what JKetc accomplishes in just this work.

In fact, to stick with the metaphor of the title ('cosmonautes'), JKetc goes where no man has gone before, at least before my eyes. I knew I recognized something in his square, accordion-playing, greased hair, often shorts-wearing typical father of a family, but it was only Wednesday morning, the day after the spectacle, that I realized the image he was going for, and successfully: A silent movie figure, moving laterally across the screen, almost in just two dimensions, jerkily, with that same un-naturalness that often marked very early cinema, trying not to look at the camera but still performing for it. And he added yet another character dimension which I double-dare a ballet guy to even try for without ending his career: Throughout the approximately one-hour show, he performed with his back hunched. I'm not so sure this was a superficial element; it may have even determined the constriction with which he walked and traversed the stage.

Now, for those of you who have not seen JKetc before, we're not talking just about a dancer finding one idiosynchratic way of moving and then sticking with it because it's a hit. In previous works in which I've seen him, JKetc. has been lyrical, and he's been pedestrian; his arsenal is vast.

For the work itself, I can't honestly render a 100%-sure judgment as I caught 'Cosmonautes' the night of the day I arrived back in Paris (where I lived and saw shows from 2000 to 2007) having got little sleep the evening before and, probably due to the train ride plus being out of spectator practice — I haven't seen a show since last August as I've been living in an old stone house in southwest France the better part of the last two years — my own knees started to ache half way through the performance in the constricted seating space. But I can offer at least one observation which is probably valid.

As any dancer reading this knows, some choreographers — some well-known, established choreographers — are infamous for essentially abrogating to their dancers the creation of the work. They direct them to noodle around, with varying degrees of direction, and then put the final work together through a process of editing. There's nothing wrong with this, as long as credit is given. Suzanne Farrell enabled Balanchine to go many places he would not have been able to go without her. Pilobolus co-founder and Momix founder Moses Pendleton is a great example of a great editor who knows how to inspire the best in his performers. Pendleton, of course, credits the dancers present at the creation for their contributions in the program. Sasha Waltz does likewise, indeed the full name of her company, Sasha Waltz & Guests, reflects this, so that Luc Dunberry, Nicola Mascia, Yael Schnell, Takako Suzuki, Laurie Young and JKetc are cited as 'dancers and choreographers.' But the sum is not always as great as its parts — sometimes some parts stick out as just that, with little hint as to their thematic cohesion with the whole — and (with the proviso that my fading in and out may not have been entirely related to the work being offered before me), some of "Cosmonautes''s parts seem to be transparent noodling, as when a munchkin playing the pony-tailed little girl of the archetypical family utters "Happy Birthday" with increasing volume until she's shouting as she throws a tantrum on the back of the couch, an interlude which just seems to be superfluous Euro-modern angst. And for those who haven't seen Sasha Waltz before, the thread may be even harder to follow. My advice: Keep your eye on the man with the accordion. (And to read more about him, try entering in your favorite search engine his name — Esnaola will do — and that of the other publication for which I write ((and also edit)), "'Dance Insider',' where I've frequently sung his eloge.)
Sasha Waltz & Guests' 'Allee Des Cosmonautes'

Sasha Waltz & Guests' "Allee Des Cosmonautes"

Photo © & courtesy of Sebastian Bolesch


Sasha Waltz & Guests' 'Allee Des Cosmonautes' Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola is the man with dark hair, short sleeves, and glasses

Sasha Waltz & Guests' "Allee Des Cosmonautes"
Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola is the man with dark hair, short sleeves, and glasses

Photo © & courtesy of Sebastian Bolesch


Sasha Waltz & Guests' 'Allee Des Cosmonautes' Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola is the man with dark hair, short sleeves, and glasses

Sasha Waltz & Guests' "Allee Des Cosmonautes"
Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola is the man with dark hair, short sleeves, and glasses

Photo © & courtesy of Sebastian Bolesch

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