Review: Group Motion Presents 2017 Spiel Uhr Series

by Gary L. Day for The Dance Journal

Group Motion established its Spiel Uhr Series in 1989 to showcase new dance and performance works in conjunction with other local or national artists. Not just dance, the series seeks to feature artists working in music,mime, visual arts, poetry, dance theater and that catch-all, do-what-you-will category of “interdisciplinary performance art.”  This year’s series, curated by Manfred Fischbeck, was presented as a one-evening-only on June 4.

The program was divided into two sections, the first being a two-part piece called “:Syria—a Fractal of WE”; the second being called “Solo Not Alone.””Both fell into the category of “interdisciplinary performance art,” which ended up being highly ironic, since “discipline” was the quality most lacking in the evening’s presentation..

Part 1 of “Syria—a Fractal of We” was essentially a solo act, with Mary Carmen-Webb moving and reacting emotionally to music and a video by Niloufar Nourbakhsh. The video was essentially a series of slides depicting the plight of Syrian refugees, and the choreography, as directed by Manfred Fischbeck, was little more than Ms. Carmen-Webb wandering around the stage being sad or thoughtful or angst-ridden at the sight of the Syrian tragedy.

Part 2 started when Ms. Carmen-Webb was joined onstage by five more women, and the dismal recorded score was replaced by live guitarist Tim Motzer. The program notes told me that “the dance and live music are structured improvisations.” The section was not without interest, thanks to Motzer’s hypnotic playing, but the choreography was at best simplistic and unsophisticated.

The second section, “Solo Not Alone” was perhaps most problematic for me, in that it was one of those “performance art” pieces that was, honestly, more self-indulgence than performance. The performing auteur, Aura Fischbeck, came onstage, borrowed items from the audience, wandered around a bit, spoke extemporaneously to the audience for a while about what she was feeling, played a bit with some of the borrowed items, ran some slides that were meant to explain what this performance piece meant, and jumped on a trampoline. What was the point? I don’t know. I might know if I had read Ms. Fischbeck’s extensive program notes, but if a piece of art’s meaning has to be spelled out to you, it cannot be said to have communicated effectively.

It’s perfectly okay if an artist’s intended message is different from what the audience perceives, because something at least is being communicated. The artists involved in this year’s Spiel Uhr didn’t seem able to communicate anything beyond an adolescent earnestness.

Group Motions 2017 Spiel Uhr series was presented for one performance only on June 4 at the CEC, 3500 Lancaster Ave. For future Group Motion projects, call 215-387-9895, or visit groupmpotion.org.

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9 replies on “Review: Group Motion Presents 2017 Spiel Uhr Series”

  1. Wow Gary! I’m amazed at your lack of breadth in your consideration of my work. Let’s not forget that a writers job is to actually be objective not simply subjective. And I also find your response to the piece incredibly reductive. I understand that you didn’t “get it” but to use the platform of art criticism to be insulting and to cover up for your lack of comprehension of a piece that was deeply investigated and actually a rigorous process both in the creation and the performance of it is really disappointing. Just had to say that.

  2. I have to say that I agree with the reviewer here. While I appreciate that Ms. Fishbeck may have “deeply investigated” her work as well as used a “rigorous process”, it does not necessarily mean that this translates to the audience, evokes an emotional response or even a deeper discussion of the issues portrayed. While I appreciate anyone who actively creates and has the chutzpah to put their work out there, this piece felt disjointed, a bit indulgent and just did not hit the mark for me either.

    On another note, I find the response here to be a bit immature. Reviews are subjective, they are simply the opinion of the reviewer. The so called “objective” dance reviews have evolved to be merely a description of the movements, lighting, costumes, etc for a piece. The fact that the author admits that he did not get it is ok, not insulting. As with any review, you can take it or leave it, or perhaps even learn from it!

    1. Hi Karen. I disagree. A person who is designated to write about art has a responsibility- a responsibility to contextualize the work, to report accurately what occurred and to at the very least read the program, which Mr. Day admits he chose not to do. This shows a lazy and irresponsible attitude towards the work. If you’re getting a free ticket to a performance then you have a responsibility to at least do those things. If you were there then you know that how Mr. Day described the events of the piece are inaccurate to say the least. I think writing about art is a serious business, and should have the intention of educating the public and stimulating intellectual exchange. I don’t believe the piece of writing we are discussing aims to do this. That’s why I have objected to what Mr. Day wrote. Not because he didn’t “like” the work.

  3. I’m looking up Gary L. Day, thinking what gives this guy license to write about dance?

    The Mr. Day I’m referring to is really who he says he is, or was, a sex-show MC, a bar manager, now an office administrator for a stage equipment company.

    So, I ask myself, who and what gave this guy permission to call himself a dance critic ? How and for heaven’s sake can he get free tickets for dance shows while being totally uninformed and ignorant of the artist‘s intention and action? Missing the point, missing and ignoring the fact that “SOLO NOT ALONE” was an evening length performance/dance piece, introducing the intriguing concept of connecting with and embodying influences of 21 individuals as a way of embracing cooperative creation. He says: “What was the point? I don’t know. I might know if I had read Ms. Fischbeck’s extensive program notes….”

    I want to say what was the point of him attending a performance, asking for a free ticket, falling asleep, so it seemed, missing the entire piece except the beginning and ending and presenting his conclusion to the public. It is an insult to the art of dance and to the artists involved. Missing an opportunity to see, to highlight and make reference to the creative vision of an artist.  Maybe it was because he expected the entertainment to be what he prides himself to be;” expert on all things Star Trek and Captain America”.

    I read the review of
    Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal at the Prince
    Tribal strength on display
    And this is Mr. Day’s summery of dance:
    I quote:
    “Ever since humans began living in groups to ensure their survival, they have been banging rhythmically on whatever was at hand and moving in sync with the sound, sometimes in celebration, sometimes in confrontation, sometimes in lamentation. This was the origin of dance, and even today we can be made to feel the visceral strength of this primal urge to move to rhythmic sound.”

    I think: THIS IS PATHETIC.
    I’d like to suggest: HOW ABOUT READING SOME BOOKS ABOUT the language of DANCE?

    1. I normally don’t respond to people who disagree with my reviews. I have my opinion, and they have theirs, and we both have a right to voice them. However, Ms. Hermann makes a few comments that beg for a response.

      Regarding my background: yes, I used to manage the Bike Stop, at which I would occasionally emcee sexy contests, and yes, I also used to work at Phila. Theatrical Supply. I’ve also been a theatrical director whose work was considered good enough to be invited to present it to the audiences of the Wilma Theater and La Salle University. I’ve also been a critic for over 30 years for a variety of outlets, focusing on theatre, dance, film and art. Oh, and I’m a produced playwright whose work has been presented in Philadelphia, Dallas and New York. The title of “critic” is not one claimed by myself, but has been granted to me by the several knowledgeable and talented editors, all of whom pay money to publish my opinions. I know what I’m talking about, Ms.Herrmann.

      Second, are you so elitist as to insist that a fan of Star Trek and Captain America cannot be conversant in a wide range of arts? And I will debate you any time, any place about the artistic merits of Star Trek vs. self-indulgent twaddle passed off as “performance art.”

      Then, there is a word to describe the attitude of one who dismisses an acknowledgement of the tribal origins of dance as “pathetic.” It’s called racist.

      Finally, it is to be expected that emperors will be offended if someone dares speak truth about their new clothes.

      1. hmmmm, a bit defensive are we?
        self indulgent twaddle. Wow! Very impressive. You really know how to speak respectfully about people and their work. I think I’ll take it as a compliment that you didn’t appreciate my work. And the name calling is really inappropriate. I guess you can dish it but you can’t take it.

  4. I cannot speak for the first half of “Spiel Uhr” but I can for “Solo Not Alone”. I had seen this piece in San Francisco at the Joe Goode Performance Space and I was glad I had. I found this performance deep and engaging and current with the subject matter of Immigrants and their children as well as it made me think of my family and its characters and the engaging stories that were told to me as a child. This to me was a dance piece overall that had heft of phrase, welcomed multimedia and emotional strength. This piece had a unique style and breadth that gets me to see Aura Fischbeck Dance. “Solo Not Alone” looked like it took a lot of time and effort to accomplish and to craft even with the sometimes challenging subject matter. Now as far as this review and the way it was written, I found it shabby and a “jab” into thin air, not scholarly and informative and it reflects poorly on a “Dance Blog”. America is a great country because you can have an opinion,it is also a great country because we can disagree with your opinion.

  5. Gary Day. I don´t think to be a produced playwriter gives you license to write about dance, there are people that have actually studied dance or witnessed and understood enough to write about it. You don´t need to have an MFA or a Ph.D. in dance, but it helps to study some.

    You were not accurate regarding your vague description of both works. In the case of ¨Solo not Alone” the choreographer´s intent is not even mentioned. The fact that she was following prompts from different artists seems to be a very important factor in the development of the piece. I wonder if you were sleeping or doing what during that very important part of the piece? Also, why not to read a program? (Especially if you are an outsider to post-modern dance and choreographic methods). I find your review misleading and even bias. I do understand that art is not for everyone´s taste and perhaps you were looking for entertainment that night. Perhaps, if you really want to write about all kinds of dance, you should go to see more dance and immerse yourself in the study of the different dance genres and movements that began with the creating of modern dance at the end of the 19th century, and while you are doing that perhaps even research about the post-modern´s choreographing methods. You cannot expect to go see a Broadway show at Judson Church for example and vice-versa… Your review mentions ”Both fell into the category of “interdisciplinary performance art,” which ended up being highly ironic, since “discipline” was the quality most lacking in the evening’s presentation..” Wouldn´t it be important for the reader(s) to know what do you mean by discipline? After your punchline, you left no explanation of what you meant and that is a key piece of information to know your expectations. How was this show not disciplined? Were you expecting to see fouettes, high kicks, and pirouettes perhaps? How is the art you wanted to see looking like then? Why are you not attending shows that would fit your bias if you are not going to put the effort to try to write about different kinds of works?

    Your review is at best primitive and out of your league. As you wrote: ” it is to be expected that emperors will be offended if someone dares speak truth about their new clothes.” So please, don´t be offended, but do study dance, (a lot) or go to a field you are actually familiar with.

  6. I was inspired to reread Tere O’Connor’s 2005 (unpublished but widely circulated) letter to New Yorker critic Joan Acocella http://www.ballet-dance.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=24571. From which I quote: “Joan and the other literalists are crippled by their love of ballet with its addiction to depicting, whether through mimetic platitudes or “abstractions” of themes. It is through this dusty filter that they view all dance. When dance works do not adhere to the clean structures of music or when there is no good/bad paradigm to use relative to virtuosic technical performances, the tone of the writing starts to become pompous and they start pulling out words like abstract, improv, downtown, idiosyncratic and my favorite, post-modern…” to which perhaps Gary Day might, in a huff, add “performance art.” It is the critic’s responsibility to come up with a relevant lens for what she/he is writing about, instead of lazily reducing the discourse due to limited personal perception.

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