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Mandeville Auditorium, UCSD
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I’m afraid San Diego hasn’t been a very good host this year. We’ve failed in our diplomatic duties of hospitality. We profess a desire for cultural exchange, yet fail to take advantage of the opportunities to do so. ArtPower! at UC San Diego, the university’s multi-arts presenter (of which I am an employee) brings international dance throughout its season, this year welcoming Compagnie Ea Sola from Vietnam, Rubberbandance from Montreal, and most recently Ultima Vez from Belgium (in addition to the domestic Ronald K. Brown/Evidence Dance Company). Yet two weeks ago when Ultima Vez presented choreographer Wim Vandekeybus’ Spiegel, a thrilling, absorbing creation that pulled from twenty years of his own choreography, the dance community was barely to be found. It was a sad showing and one that fell significantly short of ArtPower!’s projections. So, what’s your excuse?

I know UCSD is, like, the most inconvenient place to see a show EVER. But thanks to our handy new Happy Parking service, your parking permit is included in your ticket so no need to purchase one and there’s a shuttle to take you from the ArtPower! parking lot (P604) to Mandeville Auditorium. So that excuse is no longer valid.

I know Mandeville is, like, the worst performance hall EVER. Visually it’s completely uninspired, the continental seating is a pain, and don’t even get me started on the “orchestra pit.” We hate it, too. It’s still no reason to stay away.

Ok, the show was on a Wednesday. A school and work night. The middle of the week. You had to work all day, the last thing you want to do is negotiate the theater. I understand. Trust me, I had to work all day, too plus I have to work the show itself. At least all you have to do is show up and sit down. And let me tell you, this show was worth it, and then some.

Was it the price? I find that hard to believe. Our prices are a steal compared to the prices at, say UCLA or Berkeley who have comparable programs. They beat the opera and symphony, too. Plus there’s a host of discounts for students, groups, donors, etc. If you’re a true dance fan, as I know you are, you consider this an investment. This is part of your training, the expansion of your knowledge of the world of dance, a deeper understanding of this art form and a show of support for those organizations that make it happen (making no profit in the process – I promise).

It can’t be that you’re not interested, right? Between ArtPower!, the California Center for the Arts in Escondido and, recently, the La Jolla Music Society, San Diego is graced with national and international touring companies maybe a dozen times a year. Maybe. So why the dance community doesn’t show up in droves to support that effort and demand more is beyond me. It can’t be that you’re not interested, that you see enough local dance and don’t need to see more. I don’t buy it. So I won’t even validate that option.

So you’re out of excuses and yet you weren’t there. You missed the shocking physicality that took Europe by storm when Vandekeybus introduced it in the 80s, that violent aesthetic affectionately dubbed “Euro-crash” that inspired a generation of choreographers and still makes its mark today. You missed the brilliant integration of props, ranging from an upside down chair, to cinderblock bricks, to dangling hooks that helped the work move seamlessly from playful to dark to disturbing to humorous to downright frightening and back again.

Many of Spiegel’s sequences come from works created decades ago yet all felt completely relevant and timely. In a post-performance discussion, the eloquent Vandekeybus expressed his surprise that the violence of his oldest work would feel so reflective of our current society. It’s a sad comment on the state of the world that such is the case and yet a credit to the longevity of this choreographer’s vision and his dark take on our lives. Spiegel is not an easy piece to watch but, like a car wreck, you find that you can’t look away. Of course, you have to be there in the first place.

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