"Grammar of the Body"
July 9-30

Dance, and nothing but dance, is the main theme at the Venice Biennale's second International Festival of Contemporary Dance.

Running counter to the frequent conjunctions of dance with other disciplines - from theatre to cinema, video and all the new media - punk rock ballet choreo and festival head Karole Armitage dedicates this year's fest to "the universal grammar of the body"; centered on choreographic themes, combing technique and dance history, the groups this year use the body, unadorned, as a primary language.

Some deconstruct movement, others accelerate it, rendering lines and vocabulary more extreme, or simply restore it alongside other techniques. Sixteen companies and over 40 choreographers are on the bill this year.

This month: Sarah Michelson, who elaborates her highly original choreographic vision by constructing, deconstructing and subverting stage sets. Recently invited by Baryshnikov's White Oak Project, Michelson brings a diptych to Venice called "Shadowmann Part I and II" (July 9/10, 13/14, Corderie dell'Arsenale).

From California, Alonzo King with the Lines Ballet (7/10, PalaFenice). King is committed to the renewal of classical ballet, the limits of which he explores and extends, in "Koto," "Meyer Violin Concerto Pas De Deux," and "Who Dressed You Like a Foreigner?".

Choreographer Isabel Buston makes her Italy debut in Isabel Bustos (7/15, PalaFenice), with "Solamente una vez" and "Al filo exacto." When Cuba was in crisis during the 1990s, Isabel Bustos chose to do without sets, lights and costume, and took her pieces into the roads in full daylight.

Next, Shen Wei (July 24, PalaFenice), who has lived in New York since 1995 but is strongly influenced by the body language used in Chinese opera; she's a former dancer in the Guangdong Modern Dance Company.

From this melding of old and new emerges "Rite of Spring," and "Folding," which was originally choreographed for the Guangdong Modern Dance Company.

Wei comments on her work, "Folding": "I was extremely attracted by the movement that the unwinding of something provokes - whether a sheet of paper, some fabric or [the body]...The broad hand-painted backdrop alludes to a certain surreal scene inspired by an 18th-century watercolor by Ba Dan San Ren."

Karole Armitage's new creation "Echoes From The Street," makes its international premiere, interpreted by supple dancers from her New York company "Armitage Gone!" (July 21-25, Teatro alle Tese).

To close the Festival (July 29), a Venice dance rave. Armitage's cult show, "Rave," has been adapted by the choreographer for the festival. With the help of the Ballet de Lorraine, joined by yoga performers, Bollywood dancers and House of Ninja dancers, the whole motley crew and innocent passersby spill out into the streets of Venice and boogie till dawn.

[Visual shown: "Folding," Shen Wei. Photo: Zen Qiang]

Find it: Various venues, including Teatro Piccolo Arsenale, the Corderie dell'Arsenale, the Teatro alle Tese, and the PalaFenice.

Get info: +39-041-5218898, +39-041-5218828

Find more dance features in the July 2004 issue of "Arte Six".