LaMaMa of New York is in Paris! It would be useless to look for the motley, provocative troupe which used to shock the right-thinking public of the sixties. During those years, LaMaMa had openings in Rome, in Paris, in Amsterdam, in Copenhagen with comedians, dancers and singers crowded around workshops, performing in street shows, breaking conformity. Today, Ellen Stewart, who created LaMaMa in 1963, did not come with her troupe but with two dancers. In the scope of a tribute to her by Maison des Cultures du Monde, she chose to introduce John Kelly and Maureen Fleming, who were unknown in Paris. One is inspired by the paintings of Egon Schiele, the other uses Eros as a model.
"In 1965, we were at the American Center, on Raspail Boulevard, with America Hurrah, said Ellen Stewart. In this play of Jean-Claude Van Italie, a huge fashion model was destroying everything in her motel room. Immense penises were filling the space. This set designed by Robert Wilson was among those which started with LaMaMa. After the premiere of the play, the manager of the American Center gave me twenty-four hours to clear out of Paris!"
Ellen Stewart displays a magnificent white head of hair, tamed by a few scattered braids. How old is she? As old as her energy which remains intact. In 1966, in an interview to the New York Post, she admitted she was already a grandmother. This black American woman has had a strange destiny. Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, she was dreaming of designing clothing when she arrived in New York, in 1950. She worked for Saks for seven years before starting LaMaMa. Her brother who wanted to become a movie director was financed for a long time with her successful designer work.
"Robert Wilson started at LaMaMa, but also Tom O'Horgan, who directed more than fifty plays before his Broadway triumph with HAIR. Each season, we program over sixty productions, always sticking to our idea of discovering new talents". She is the one who discovered Andrei Serban, gave Sam Sheppard a chance, invited for the first time to the United States, the Polish Jerzy Grotowski, the Japanese Tanaka Min. LaMaMa became a famous springboard for dancers: Meredith Monk, Donald Byrd, Mimi Garrard, Kei Takei, Douglas Dunn, the Trockaderos, a group of transvestite boys performing very personal versions of a classical repertoire. More recently, at the beginning of the eighties, Karole Armitage, enfant terrible who escaped from Merce Cunningham, David Rousseve, a Creole breaking off from Princeton, have performed their first shows there...
A sour note, however; the one of Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane. "Bill and Arnie were rehearsing at LaMaMa when they decided a few days before the premiere to play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. They were in a hurry to succeed!", says Ellen Stewart. Le Monde
John Kelly and Maureen Fleming, whom she is introducing in Paris, have been performing at LaMaMa for over ten years. He comes from Ballet Trockadero. She, set on a podium or lying on the floor, naked, sculptured by light, performs a contortionist dance inspired by Japanese butoh. She studied with Tanaka Min and Kazuo Ohno. This dancer is amazing in Eros. She unfolds an arm, a leg, because her movement is so slow, its direction obscured up to the last moment. Next to the postures held by Maureen Fleming, the ones of the Indian Kama-sutra are for beginners. The woman dancer is both a man and a woman, a heap of stones, a statue carved in a marble worthy of Rodin.
Maureen Fleming, delayed by the snow storms in New York, arrived in Paris just a few hours before her show, even though she was deprived of half of her set and costumes, she wanted to dance. We will remember the almost painful memory of the arches she bends with her neck and the snake like laces unwound by her spinal cord.
"Without all these artists, I would not have gone anywhere", concludes Ellen Stewart. After Zagreb and Dubrovnik, where she will host a few workshops, she will fly to the Philippines to work with dancers of different tribes. Then, she will go to Vietnam to create a Dionysos with the puppets of Teodora Skipitares. John Kelly will be Dionysos. In May, Ellen Stewart will land in Crete, and in July in Spoleto, the summer home of LaMaMa.