"Dance, when it works, when the dance conveys either a message or a physical, visceral kind of pleasure or excitement ... is a euphoric experience," says Martin Kravitz, visiting professor of dance at the University of South Florida. "I remember when I was discovering dance, coming out of the theater and not being able to go home, and not being able to sleep, but having to walk for hours and just absorb the excitement of ... being in a room with hundreds, maybe a thousand people experiencing the same thing happening at the same time ... And I feel that if people would have more of that, they would realize a lot of beauty in living life right now, this instant, and not saving up for their retirement only ..." Kravitz hasn't been putting off his moments of euphoria. At age 46, he's an internationally recognized dancer, teacher and choreographer, usually domiciled in Paris. For the past 16 years, he's taught dance and choreography across Europe, Turkey, North Africa, Russia and Japan. He's performed with the Repertory Dance Theater in Salt Lake City, Bathsheva Dance Company of Israel, Lynne Wimmer's company in Philadelphia and the Hannah Kahn Dance Company in New York City.
At USF, a concert titled Seize the Moment for Dance, Music and Text will feature two of his works, performed by university students. It's a special opportunity for area dance lovers to introduce themselves to the imagination of an artist whose choreography, in the words of French critic Yannick Butel, "dominates the space with movement that is precise and totally just."
The first of the USF pieces is "something entirely new for me," says Kravitz. "It's a real performance art kind of piece, where I interviewed ... each of my eight dancers and just talked to them about them. And I had the title before I started: the title is "Forbidden Fruit.'"
The point of the interviews, he explains, was to get the students talking about "something hidden or strange or funny or touching, or something we would be ashamed or afraid to show." Then Kravitz, with the students' OK, used the information as the basis for dances. And in addition "I have them sing, I have them make music on stage for the others when they're not dancing. And it's just a series of portraits."
The second piece, says Kravitz, is "a combination of dance and theater as well; it's very theatrical, but the movement is maybe a little bit more sophisticated and more challenging physically." The work is based on the true story of a double murder in France in the 1930s — a celebrated case about two sister/housemaids who killed their mistress and her daughter (it was also the inspiration for Jean Genet's play The Maids).
The dance, says Kravitz, "is sort of a reflection on the inner life of the people who were involved." Schizophrenia, class antagonisms, lesbianism and incest are all parts of the story, which mattered to Kravitz because "it really is a story about love between these two sisters who are so isolated and so thrown out of the rest of society, and had to build their own world around them." How does Kravitz feel about working with American student dancers? "I'm really enjoying it," he says. "I'm really enjoying the can-do mentality and optimism. So much of Europe is, people see their limitations before they see their possibilities. Even in young people ... They're willing to get their hands dirty here." Kravitz isn't the only choreographer whose work will be featured at the "Seize the Moment" concert. Bruce Steival, Artistic Director of Nevada Ballet Theatre, has choreographed a ballet inspired by the music of Joseph Haydn and employing advance-level dance majors. USF faculty member John Parks, expanding on the success of his work for the Broadway Theatre Project, provides a jazz piece deriving from the musical Ain't Misbehavin'. And faculty member Jeanne Travers and Moving Current co-director Erin Cardinal are also presenting dances. Expect a wide range of techniques.
And also expect the multifaceted message that Kravitz sees as dance's special strength. "A relationship between two bodies can have several aspects at the same time, whereas words have to go through a certain progression," he explains. "A certain caress in dance, or a way of relating to a partner in dance can have in itself a mixture of hate, love, dependence, humor. "And when it's not spoken, it can get you in the gut in a way that's very direct."