Kollwitz's knobby contours; a rich evening of dance; Cho-Liang Lin
The graphic, political art of K"athe Kollwitz, and Paula Modersohn-Becker's exploration of inner life, can be seen at the Danforth Museum. Martha Armstrong Gray's dances at the Joy of Movement showed her ability to float from lyrical angelfish to biting social satire. As German women artists working around the turn of the century, Kath"e Kollwitz and Paula Modersohn-Becker, whose works are on view at the Danforth Museum in Framingham, Mass., faced similar struggles in a male-dominated culture. They also shared a decidedly feminine slant in their choice of women, children, and peasants as subject matter.
Yet despite superficial affinities, their art was radically different in style, content, and ultimate meaning. Kollwitz's graphic art was an empathetic response to the plight of the oppressed and downtrodden. She was a superb draftsman, as is apparent in such works as ``In Memory of Karl Liebknecht'' (1917-20), which presents her familiar groupings of skeletal figures, their hollow cheekbones protruding, and oversized hands grasped to reveal rough, bony knuckles. She employed rich tonal effects and dramatic contrasts of black and white to merge political reality with the world of feeling.
For Modersohn-Becker the figure was a physical manifestation of psychological states. She was, above all, a painter, and although formally trained in the conservative aesthetics of contemporary German art, she made frequent trips between 1900 and 1907 to Paris, where the birth of modernism was erupting in the works of Gauguin, C'ezanne, and Picasso. Modersohn-Becker's artistic career was tragically cut short; she died in 1907, shortly after childbirth. Yet, masterworks like the penetrating ``Girl in a Landscape'' (1901), whose shimmering forms seem to swell with an interior life, demonstrate in a remarkably brief nine years of productivity her internalization of the principles of French modernism.
Kollwitz and Modersohn-Becker were both fueled by rapture -- one for humanity, the other for the individual's inner life. As the Danforth's vivid juxtaposition makes clear, both of their disparate enterprises have proved critical to 20th-century art. Ends April 21.
Last Friday, ``Recent Dances with Friends,'' choreographer Martha Armstrong Gray's retrospective at the Joy of Movement Dance Studio in Cambridge, gave us this area's richest dance evening in a long time. The thematic core of this 16-year Boston veteran's work is curiosity. ``Dances Under Glass'' is a collection of beautiful little dances. One explores angelfish. Ms. Gray and Susan Brown-Verre's sequined hands rise as if on currents, fingers pulsing like gills. You get so caught up in the fish drama that you forget the hands are attached to dancers, until their bodies begin to move as eerily and lightly as the hands.
Another looks into looking inward. In front of projected blank-gazing Edward Hopper paintings, Michael Shannon peers, struggles, covers his eyes. Then he disappears and his shadow dances with an Asian grace through a Magritte empty room. At the end, using three dancers, Gray assembles an African dance, from a flat-footed march to a bunch of syncopated counterrhythms, as if from a kit.
She evokes angelfish gently, but ``Bitter Scent'' is biting social satire. Six dressed-up dancers play musical chairs. They push each other out of the chairs, lay them down sideways to keep others away, then have to lie down to sit in them when it's time.
When a woman collects all the men's boutonnieres and leaves the men lying on the floor, their coats draped over them, it's reminiscent of the figure we saw raped and left in a heap in Twyla Tharp's ``Short Stories'' a few weeks ago. The characters in ``Bitter Scent'' are obsessed with position, not sex. But both groups leave bodies in the wake of aggression. Gray, however, does her moralizing with a freeing sense of the absurd. A couple falls in love and rushes across the stage to each other -- while sitting on the floor. Lumbering avidly, they're hilarious. The alliance is as short-lived as any in ``Short Stories.'' But we laugh at them, while the Tharp dancers' brilliant moves are horrific.
Concert Dance Company did ``Bitter Scent''; Dance Collective did the rest. These are dancers who can get you to look at their hands swimming like fish. You got the feeling they were exploring along with Gray.
Gray's new work, ``Creatures of Prometheus,'' can be seen May 10 at Sanders Theater in Cambridge.
One can easily imagine Igor Stravinsky's pleasure, sitting in a packed Symphony Hall Saturday night listening to Cho-Liang Lin play the composer's only violin concerto (D major) with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The Russian-born American composer so detested both flashy virtuosos and the brilliance of romantic violin concertos that he once admonished a famed virtuoso of the day: ``You remind me of a salesman at the Galeries Lafayette. You say, `Isn't this brilliant, look at the beautiful colors, everybody's wearing it.' I say `yes, it's brilliant, it is beautiful, everyone is wearing it -- I don't want it.'''
Not all that familiar with the violin as a solo instrument anyway, Stravinsky set out to write a vastly different kind of piece that would avoid a rehash of all the familiar runs and phrases of the 19th century. The result is for the violin what ``Rite of Spring'' was for ballet: rhythmically iconoclastic, aesthetically confrontational -- if, arguably, architecturally sound. Often, this is music that makes you wonder why the violin's bridge doesn't break.
What would seem to make Cho-Liang Lin's wonderfully apt reading pleasing to the composer was a kind of self-abnegation evident in everything from facial expression to posture and bowing. There are torturous chord progressions, unexpected stretches of hand, devilish runs, all designed to avoid the sentimental schmaltz of other, more familiar repertoire. Mr. Lin played them with a kind of inspired conservatism -- short bowing, little if any vibrato -- that revealed the underlying structure, without editorializing.
That he pulled it all off in coherent form, without the facile brilliancy and sensational effects that he has proved himself entirely capable of in other visits here, is just one more tribute to an increasing international reputation. That reputation shows no signs of slowing since he won the 1977 Queen Sofia International Competition in Madrid at age 17.