NEWSNOTES DANCE BLOG
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FROM THE EDITOR
Recognizing the need to promote the personal accomplishments of creative artists and to inform dance audiences, dance professionals, dance supporters, and the general public about news in the dance world, I have established the NewsNotes Dance Blog. It is my goal to collaborate with the dance community in this effort. Please direct announcements and press releases for inclusion and coverage to Editor/NewsNotes Dance Blog at MARKKAPL1@aol.com
NEWS IN THE DANCE WORLD
2-17-14 - Igor Zelensky has been appointed artistic director of the Bavarian State Ballet beginning with the 2016-17 season.
2-14-14 - Zachary Catazaro has been promoted to soloist at the New York City Ballet.
1-27-14 - Vadim Muntagirov will be joining the Royal Ballet as a principal dancer.
12-19-13 - Alice Renavand has been appointed etoile of the Paris Opera Ballet.
12-7-13 - Johan Kobborg has been appointed ballet director of the National Opera in Bucharest, Romania.
12-3-13 - Sue Jin Kang has been appointed artistic director of the Korean National Ballet.
10-2-13 - James Whiteside has been promoted to principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre.
9-24-13 - Matthew Golding will join the Royal Ballet as a principal dancer in February 2014.
7-15-13 - Charles Askegard has been appointed associate artistic director of the Minnesota Dance Theatre.
7-15-13 - Alina Cojocaru will join the English National Ballet as a principal dancer beginning with the 2013-14 season.
6-19-13 - Jose Manuel Carreno has been appointed artistic director of Ballet San Jose.
6-7-13 - Kevin Irving has been appointed artistic director of Oregon Ballet Theatre.
5-31-13 - Nevada Ballet Theatre has appointed Monique Meunier and Nilas Martins as co-directors of the Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre
5-24-13 - Devon Carney has been appointed artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet.
4-8-13 - Natalia Osipova will be joining the Royal Ballet as a principal dancer beginning with the 2013-14 season.
3-27-13 - Eleonora Abbagnato has been appointed an etoile of the Paris Opera Ballet.
2-26-13 - Edwaard Liang has been appointed artistic director of BalletMet.
2-22-13 - Karina Gonzalez has been promoted to principal dancer of the Houston Ballet.
2-22-13 - The New York City Ballet has announced the promotions of Adrian Danchig-Waring, Chase Finlay, and Ask la Cour to principal dancer, and Lauren King, Ashley Laracey, Megan LeCrone, Lauren Lovette, Georgina Pazcoguin, Justin Peck, Brittany Pollack, and Taylor Stanley to soloist.
2-7-13 - Nacho Duato has been appointed the new artistic director of the Staatsballett Berlin.
1-24-13 - Benjamin Millepied has been appointed the new artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet.
12-21-12 - Anne Muller has been named Interim Artistic Director of Oregon Ballet Theatre
11-29-12 - Danill Simkin has been promoted to principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre.
11-28-12 - Christopher Stowell has resigned as Artistic Director of Oregon Ballet Theatre.
11-15-12 - Helen Pickett has been appointed resident choreographer of the Atlanta Ballet.
11-2-12 - Liam Scarlett has been appointed the Royal Ballet's first Artist in Residence.
9-17-12 - Ivan Vasiliev has been named a principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre.
9-4-12 - Edward Villella has stepped down as artistic director of Miami City Ballet, and Lourdes Lopez has been appointed to succeed him on an immediate basis.
8-22-12 - Assis Carreiro has been appointed the new artistic director of the Royal Ballet of Flanders.
8-7-12 - James Whiteside will join American Ballet Theatre as a soloist beginning with the 2012-13 season.
7-6-12 - Hee Seo has been promoted to principal dancer, and Alexandre Hammoudi has been promoted to soloist of American Ballet Theater.
6-18-12 - Myriam Ould-Braham has been named etoile of the Paris Opera Ballet.
5-24-12 - Polina Semionova will join American Ballet Theatre as a principal dancer beginning with the 2012-13 season.
5-24-12 - Lauren Fadeley, Ian Hussey, Jermel Johnson, and Brooke Moore have been promoted to principal dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet.
5-20-12 - Ana Sophia Scheller and Rebecca Krohn have been promoted to principal dancers of the New York City Ballet.
5-10-12 - Margo Sappington has been appointed artistic director of ADM21 (American Dance Machine for the 21st Century).
4-13-12 - Tamara Rojo has been appointed the new artistic director of English National Ballet.
4-3-12 - Lourdes Lopez has been appointed the new artistic director of Miami City Ballet beginning in 2013.
3-22-12 - Ludmila Pagliero has been named etoile of the Paris Opera Ballet.
3-7-12 - Joshua Hoffalt has been named etoile of the Paris Opera Ballet.
3-5-12 - Joseph Walsh has been promoted to principal dancer of the Houston Ballet.
2-23-12 - Li Cunxin has been appointed the new artistic director of the Queensland Ballet (Brisbane, Australia).
2-19-12 - Sofia Menteguiaga has been promoted to principal dancer of the Tulsa Ballet.
1-10-12 - Founder/Director Valentina Kozlova has announced that the second annual Boston International Ballet Competition will take place from June 12-17, 2012 at the Cutler Majestic Theater in Boston, Massachusetts.
11-1-11 - Christopher Hampson has been appointed the new artistic director of The Scottish Ballet beginning with the 2012-13 season.
9-23-11 - Edward Villella will step down as Miami City Ballet's artistic director at the end of the 2012-13 season.
9-20-11 - David Hallberg will join the Bolshoi Ballet as a principal dancer beginning with the 2011-12 season.
7-14-11 - Chase Finlay and Anthony Huxley have been promoted to soloists at the New York City Ballet.
6-14-11 - Kevin O'Hare will succeed Monica Mason as artistic director of the Royal Ballet.
6-14-11 - Jillian Vanstone has been appointed principal dancer of the National Ballet of Canada.
6-12-11 - Choreographer Kathleen Marshall won the Tony Award for Choreography for her contribution to the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Anything Goes.
6-6-11 - Isabella Boylston has been promosted to soloist of American Ballet Theatre.
5-31-11 - Francis Veyette has been promoted to principal dancer, and Lauren Fadeley has been promoted to soloist of the Pennsylvania Ballet.
5-5-11 - Bridgett Zehr and Zdenek Konvalina, principal dancers of the National Ballet of Canada, will join the English National Ballet, beginning with the 2011-12 season.
5-3-11 - Choreographers Rob Ashford (How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), Kathleen Marshall (Anything Goes), Casey Nicholaw (Book of Mormon), and Susan Stroman (The Scottsboro Boys) have been nominated for Tony Awards for their contributions to the 2010-11 Broadway theatre season.
4-27-11 - American Ballet Theatre has extended Alexei Ratmansky's contract as Artist in Residence through 2023.
3-20-11 - Sergei Filin has been appointed artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet.
2-4-11 - Johannes Ohman has been appointed artistic director of the Royal Swedish Ballet.
1-19-11 - Karen Russo Burke has been appointed the new artistic director of the Dayton Ballet.
1-5-11 - Cory Stearns has been promoted to the rank of principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre.
11-3-10 - Luca Vegetti has been appointed Morphoses' first resident artistic director for the 2011-12 season. Vegetti's original full-length ballet, Bacchae, will premiere in October 2011 as part of Morphoses' fall New York season.
10-29-10 - Ethan Stiefel has been appointed the new artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet effective September 2011.
9-28-10 - The Nevada Ballet Theatre announced the appointment of Cynthia Gregory as the company's artistic advisor.
9-15-10 - Valentina Kozlova announced the first Boston International Ballet Competition which is scheduled from May 12-16, 2011 at John Hancock Hall in Boston, Massachussetts. The Boston International Ballet Competition will consist of three divisions -- Student, Junior and Senior. Margo Sappington and Edwaard Liang will each create a contemporary piece for the competitors. The Gala and Awards Ceremony will be on May 16, 2011.
9-10-10 - Jose Manuel Carreno will retire from American Ballet Theatre at the end of the 2010-11 season. His farewell performance will be in Swan Lake on June 30, 2011.
8-24-10 - Graham Lustig has been appointed the Oakland Ballet's artistic director beginning with the 2010-11 season.
7-28-10 - Nacho Duato will become the new artistic director of the Mikhailovsky Ballet of St. Petersburg beginning in 2011.
7-21-10 - Nilas Martins has retired from the New York City Ballet joining recent retirees Darci Kistler, Albert Evans, Phillip Neal, and Yvonne Borree.
6-13-10 - Choreographer Bill T. Jones won the Tony Award for Choreography for his contributions to the Broadway musical, Fela!
6-11-10 - Susan Jaffe has been appointed to the position of Ballet Mistress at American Ballet Theatre.
5-4-10 - Choreographers Rob Ashford (Promises Promises), Bill T. Jones (Fela!), Lynne Page (La Cage aux Folles), and Twyla Tharp (Come Fly Away) have been nominated for Tony Awards for their contributions to the 2009-10 Broadway theatre season.
4-28-10 - Robert Battle will succeed Judith Jamison as artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in 2011.
3-23-10 - Julio Bocca has been appointed Artistic Director of Uruguay's Baile del SODRE.
2-22-10 - Christopher Wheeldon has resigned as Artistic Director of Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company.
2-18-10 - The Oregon Ballet Theatre has announced that one of the company's principal dancers, Gavin Larsen, will retire at the end of the 2009-10 season. Ms. Larsen will continue to reside in Portland, Oregon, and take a more prominent role as a teacher at the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre.
2-8-10 - Colin Dunne has been nominated for an Olivier Award for his performance his one-man show, Out of Time, which he had performed at The Pit in London in 2009.
2-5-10 - Heinz Spoerli will be leaving his post as artistic director and chief choreographer of the Zurich Ballet after the 2011-12 season.
Bolshoi Ballet Dances Alexei Ratmansky's Lost Illusions
March 1, 2014
By Mark Kappel
Full-length narrative ballets -- whether inspired by plots of obscure books or movies, or classic poetry or novels -- are a rarity in the ballet world where abstraction has been encouraged and is expected.
On March 1, 2014, Pathe Live presented a screening of the Bolshoi Ballet dancing Alexei Ratmansky's Lost Illusions, a full-length narrative ballet inspired by Honore de Balzac's novel of the same name. A ballet based on this novel was commissioned by the Mariinsky Theater Ballet in 1936, based on a libretto written by Vladimir Dmitriev, with choreography by Rostislav Zahkarov, and disappeared from the Mariinsky's repertoire soon after its premiere.
Ratmansky has turned to the plots of story ballets that were premiered during the Soviet era on many occasions, and Lost Illusions is another example of his revisionist interpretations of these ballets.
Premiered on April 24, 2011, by the Bolshoi Ballet, Ratmansky's Lost Illusions focuses on an evolving romantic love triangle in which the young composer, Lucien, meets Paris Opera ballerina, Coralie, who becomes his muse and secret lover. Coralie is impressed by Lucien's music and persuades her benefactor, Camusot (portrayed by Yegor Simachev) to commission Lucien to compose music for a ballet created for her, La Sylphide. Although the production of La Sylphide is successful, Coralie's jealous benefactor sets up Lucien to lose at cards and another Paris Opera ballerina, Florine, seduces him. Ultimately Lucien compromises his art to compose a ballet score that he is not happy with and realizes what he has thrown away for the sake of his career and money.
Ratmansky presents this story in three acts with choreography reminiscent of Auguste Bournonville. There are many choreographic references to that style and period of choreography throughout Lost Illusions. The most specific Bournonville references are in the ballet within the ballet in the first act, which is a choreographic pastiche from Bournonville's La Sylphide.
Throughout the ballet, there are references made to other 19th century ballets -- as well as influences in story-telling from ballets by John Cranko, John Neumeier, and Kenneth MacMillan. When dance movement fails him Ratmansky relies on mime and movement of manipulation of the main characters. There are also moments of choreography in Lost Illusions that seem anachronistic when seen within the context of telling a 19th century tale.
The dramatic scenes in Lost Illusions are presented against the backdrop of ballet studios often depicted in Degas paintings. Yet at the same time Jerome Kaplan's designs were both detailed and stylized.
Although references are made to 19th century styles of ballet, Ratmansky's choreography is juxtaposed against the modern music composed by Leonid Desyatnikov. During an intermission interview Desyatnikov described his music as an homage to Romantic piano music of the 19th century and the score did have those moments. But the score's dissonance, in contrast to the Romantic style of music, was not as effective as it should have been in supporting Ratmansky's style of story-telling.
The man in the middle of this love triangle, Lucien, was danced by Vladislav Lantratov, with Diana Vishneva of the Mariinsky Ballet as a guest artist, dancing the role of Coralie, and Ekaterina Shipulina dancing the role of Florine. All of these dancers gave master classes in acting and how emotion can be communicated by merely standing still.
Although Ratmansky's Lost Illusions was not as satisfying as an example of dance story-telling as it could have been, Lost Illusion was seen -- at its best - in the intimate atmosphere of a movie house -- on the screen.
Royal New Zealand Ballet Makes Joyce Theater Debut
February 12, 2014
By Mark Kappel
Thirty-four dancers strong, the Royal New Zealand Ballet was formed in 1953. Besides the company's performances in New Zealand, international tours have taken the dancers to Europe and Asia, and also touring in the United States.
The Royal New Zealand Ballet makes its Joyce Theater debut from February 12-16, 2014, the company's first New York appearance since its performances at Brooklyn College in 1993.
When the company performed in New York in 1993, the company was under the directorship of Ashley Killar and the repertoire was a mix of established works and creations. Now under the directorship of Ethan Stiefel, the company presented a mixed-bill program which included two pieces created for the company, and one acquisition. The Royal New Zealand Ballet's New York engagement was a homecoming of sorts for Ethan Stiefel, who had been a principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre.
The Royal New Zealand Ballet is a company of well-trained and spirited dancers. Their energy was evident in their performances of the three pieces on the company's mixed-bill program.
The most familiar choreographer among the three on the program was Benjamin Millepied, former principal dancer of the New York City Ballet and soon to be artistic director of the Paris Opera, who was represented by 28 Variations on a Theme By Paganini, choreographed to the Brahms' music of the same name -- a piece he choreographed for the students of the School of American Ballet.
Millepied's choreography has been danced in New York by American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet. His approach to music and its rhythms is usually in counterpoint to expectations. One can expect the unexprcted in his choreography.
The choreography radiated the innocence and commitment of young students but didn't fare as well being danced by mature dancers. As in the pattern of Brahms' music, the ballet's structure was a random series of solos, pas de deux, and ensembles -- danced at dizzying speed.
Notable in the cast was principal guest artist, Gillian Murphy of American Ballet Theatre, and Qi Huan, mature artists who brought depth in the execution of Millepied's complicated choreography.
Also on the program was Of Days, a recent creation choreographed by former Royal New Zealand Ballet dancer, Andrew Simmons. Divided into short pieces inspired by mininalist music by composers Ludovico Einaudi, Dustin O'Halloran, and Olafur Arnalds, this work is one of several ballets that Simmons has choreographed for the Royal New Zealand Ballet.
Of Days is a contemporary ballet which mirrored the minimalist music it is choreographed to. It is an ensemble piece that sometimes missed the mark although it was danced with commitment by the cast of Abigail Boyle, Antonia Hewitt, Mayu Tanigaito, Tonia Looker, Paul Matthews, Qi Huan, Brendan Bradshaw, and Kohei Iwamoto.
Venezeulan choreographer Javier De Frutos created Banderillero, with choreography reflecting a hybrid of modern dance movement and interspersed balletic poses.
Danced to the drumming of Chinese persussionist Yim Hok-Man, De Frutos' choreography is relentless in nature and ritualistic in its repetition -- and marked by anti-climaxes.
Stiefel has put his personal artistic stamp on the Royal New Zealand Ballet in a very short time period and it will be interesting as to how the company's artistic profile evolves.
Tanaquil Le Clercq -- A Life in Dance
February 3, 2014
Jewish Community Center
By Mark Kappel
Tanaquil Le Clercq achieved her fame as a principal dancer of the New York City Ballet creating roles in the ballets choreographed by her husband, George Balanchine, and Jerome Robbins. Among the most notable collaborations was between her and Jerome Robbins -- her acclaimed performances in Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun.
Le Clercq's performing career tragically came to an end at age 27, when she was affilicted with polio. She never was to dance again. Her life of art was marked by fate. She was the muse of two great choreographers -- forging a friendship with Robbins, and marrying Balanchine.
Director Nancy Buirski delved into the short performing life of Le Clercq and her life after dance in the documentary, Afternoon of a Faun Tanaquil Le Clercq, which was given a screening at the Jewish Community Center in New York on February 3, 2014.
Telling Le Clercq's story in the documentary were her colleagues, Jacques d'Amboise, Barbara Horgan, and Arthur Mitchell, as well as her life-long friend, Randy Bourscheidt.
Although there is archival footage of Le Clercq as a dancer, there was very little in terms of interviews during her lifetime.
Her relationship with Balanchine was an unbalanced artistic and personal collaboration -- Le Clercq was his current muse and he had to attain her. The emotional description of Le Clercq's diagnosis with polio and how this disease was treated in the 1950's and the 1960's was illuminating -- and perhaps polio -- with modern medical research -- has become extinct in our time. It seemed that Le Clercq came to terms with polio and triumphed over it. But not without strained relationships with her mother, her husband, and friends.
Although we may never know the real Tanaquil Le Clercq, Buirski's documentary provides a record of Le Clercq's artistic achivements and her influences othe art of dance. A sympathetic and compelling portrait that any dance lover would enjoy.
The Royal Ballet Dances Giselle
January 27, 2014
By Mark Kappel
Peter Wright has gained a reputation through his career to be a careful and respectful stager of the 19th Century classics. He staged his first production of Giselle for the Stuttgart Ballet, and it is a production that has been danced by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and the National Ballet of Canada in New York in the past.
The Royal Ballet has been dancing Wright's current production of Giselle since 1985, and a live screening of the Royal Ballet dancing Wright's Giselle was presented by Fathom Events on January 27, 2014.
Wright's productions of the classics are known for their adherence to the original while making the story and visuals more relevant to modern audiences. He goes to great lengths to revere the spirit of the original productions including narrative details that are often left out of many productions of the classics.
Other than Wright's decision to transform the first act Peasant Pas de Deux into a Pas de Six for three couples, Wright's reverence for Giselle's origins was in evidence in many dramatic details including Giselle's mother, Berthe (played convincingly by Deirdre Chapman) recounting the legend of the Wilis, which connects Act I and Act II of Giselle.
The story-telling details were very much in evidence in this performance -- danced by a cast with different training and artistic backgrounds combining for an interesting mixture in dance styles and story-telling.
The pairing of Natalia Osipova and Carlos Acosta was unique and stellar at the same time. Osipova tends to be a spontaneous and passionate presence in her interpretations of 19th Century ballet roles. That was very much in evidence in her interpretation of Giselle -- particularly in the Act I Mad Scene. She seemed to be shot out of a cannon giving a high energy performance that did not vary with modulation -- yet at the same time embodied the role of Giselle. Osipova's Giselle was youthful, innocent, reckless, passionate, and shocked by Albrecht's deception.
Acosta's Albrecht, in comparison, was low key, temperate, cunning, and manipulative.
The combination of these two very different interpretations did not always blend as well as they should have.
Also notable were Thomas Whitehead as Hilarion giving this sometimes forgotten -- but pivotal -- character some depth, and Hikaru Kobayashi as the Queen of the Wilis.
The Pas de Six was well danced by Yuhui Choe, Valentino Zuchetti, Francesca Hayward, Luca Acri, Yasmine Naghdi, and Marcellino Sambe. Clarity in their dancing and expressing the importance of their place in the Act I celebrations.
The Royal Ballet's corps de ballet emphasized the dramatic details in the staging and were in the moment at all times.
This was a production of Giselle that had larger than life performances by the principal cast which made for a provocative dance performance.
Bolshoi Ballet Dances Balanchine's Jewels
January 19, 2014
By Mark Kappel
On January 19th, 2014, Pathe Live presented a live screening of the Bolshoi Ballet in a ballet that would seem to be a stylistic challenge for the company's dancers, George Balanchine's classic full-length abstract ballet, Jewels.
Inspired by the jewelry displayed in the Van Cleef & Arpels' window, Balanchine created three abstract ballets which were linked through the jewel designs in the costumes and scenery. Each ballet is also an homage to different styles of ballet ranging from the 19th Century to the 20th Century. Premiered by the New York City Ballet in 1967, Jewels has been acquired by ballet companies all over the world.
Balanchine's Jewels is an iconic ballet, and this was an opportunity to see the ballet danced by a company with a very different dancing style from the New York City Ballet. Where the New York City Ballet's style is focused on subtlety, the Bolshoi Ballet is known for a grander style.
The Bolshoi Ballet acquired Jewels in 2012 in a production that was staged by Sandra Jennings, Merrill Ashley, and Paul Boos. In the course of the screening Ashley was seen supervising stage rehearsals and also participated in an intermission interview.
Emeralds, choreographed to music by Gabriel Faure, is an homage to the Romantic style of ballet danced during the early 19th Century. The Bolshoi Ballet's production of Emeralds incorporates the revision of an added ending choreographed by Balanchine in 1976 - a reverential and contemplative ending -- which is in great contrast to Balanchine's original choreography for Emeralds. Balanchine's choreography is similar to the filigree in a snowflake emphasized in the ever-changing stage patterns.
The cast of Anastasia Stashkevich, Ivan Alexeyev, Anna Tikhomirova, and Vladislav Lantratov, with Yanina Parienko, Igor Tsvirko, and Ana Turazashvili in the Pas de Trois, gave carefully and studied performances in their roles. There was a great deal of reverence and only a small dose of spontaneity.
Contrasing music and style, Rubies is set to Stravinsky's Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra. Balanchine's choreography emphasizes an overt American style that is both athletic and musical. The ballet is focused on the middle movement pas de deux which features angular movement and a sense of improvisation.
Danced by the cast of Ekaterina Krysanova and Vyacheslav Lopatin with Ekaterina Shipulina in the leading soloist role, there was a lack of playfulness and abandon in this ballet. It was taken too seriously with too much exactness.
Diamonds, choreographed to excerpts from Tchaikovsky's Third Symphony, is an homage to the 19th Century ballets created by Marius Petipa. Performed with two principal dancers and a large corps de ballet, the style of the ballet is grand and grander.
Of the three components of Jewels, Diamonds was perfect for the Bolshoi Ballet, and was danced with the required musicality -- performing on and through the music. Leading Diamonds with the appropriate grandeur and dignity were Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin.
The costume and scenery designs were not those of the originals by Karinska and Peter Harvey.
The costumes were designed in a derivative Karinska style with the style dictated by the time period each ballet was paying homage to.
The scenery credited to designer Alyona Pikalova delineated similar structure in Emeralds and Rubies. Yet in Diamonds the designs were abstract and very different from the other acts. Emeralds' and Rubies' designs were columns of colored blocks, while the scenery design for Diamonds was a sparkling night sky.
In spite of the few imperfections in the dancers' performances in this production, Jewels is an excellent vehicle for the Bolshoi Ballet's dancers, who, for the most part, met the challenges presented in Balanchine's choreography.
The Royal Ballet Dances The Nutcracker
December 17, 2013
By Mark Kappel
In 1984 The Royal Ballet premiered a new production of The Nutcracker, which was a collaboration of the expertise of choreographer and stager, Peter Wright, and musicologist, Professor Roland John Wiley. The purpose of their collaboration was to recreate the original 1892 production of The Nutcracker which had been choreographed by Lev Ivanov. The production was further enhanced by Julia Trevelyan Oman's costume and scenery designs which were inspired by the Beidermeier era in 19th century Europe.
The amalgamation of these contributions resulted in a production of The Nutcracker that had the visual impact of the opening up of a Victorian Christmas card.
What was the most succesful aspect of this production was its story-telling which told E.T.A. Hoffmann's tale in a traditonal manner -- with traditional classical ballet choreography and mime to convey the story.
On December 17, 2013 Fathom Events presented a screening of The Royal Ballet dancing Peter Wright's production of The Nutcracker which reflected what a production of The Nutcracker should be. Enthusiastic and eloquent dancing, and an emphasis on story-telling -- telling a story for the ages.
Although Wright's production of The Nutcracker was based on the original scenario and structure, Wright did make some modifications. Both of the roles of Clara and the Nutcracker Prince are danced by adult dancers. Drosselmeyer's nephew, Hans-Peter, has been placed under a curse and Clara's journey -- under the guidance of Drosselmeyer -- is intended to free Hans-Peter from that curse. Hans-Peter is also transformed into the Nutcracker Prince, and reunites with Drosselmeyer in the ballet's epilogue.
There is also the traditional battle between the Mouse King and the Nutcracker Prince, and the journey by Clara and the Nutcracker Prince to the Sugar Plum Fairy's Kingdom.
This adaptation of The Nutcracker is still Clara's coming of age story but unlike some other versions of The Nutcracker, Clara moves the story forward, and she and the Nutcracker Prince also dance in the second act divertissements. The Grand Pas de Deux is reserved for the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.
It's in these 19th century works that The Royal Ballet particularly shines -- and the characters come alive not only through how they are danced, but also with how The Royal Ballet's dancers employ their acting skills to make these flesh and blood characters come alive on stage.
Gary Avis' Drosselmeyer is the combination of a magician, master of ceremonies, and godfather, as he guides Clara through her journey with flair and showmanship. It is no wonder that Clara is amazed by him.
Francesca Hayward as Clara portrayed her role with the clarity of her dancing while expressing the innocence that the character requires.
Alexander Campbell in the dual role of Hans-Peter/The Nutcracker Prince was elegant in his dancing and portrayed both innocence and surprise as he encountered his many adventures under Drosselmeyer's watchful eye.
Wright included a wonderful moment in the epilogue when Clara wakes up from her dream and sails out of her house to have a chance meeting with Hans-Peter as he is trying to find his way to Drosselmeyer's house. Clara remembers him from her dream -- and you wonder if these two will meet again in the future.
As in any production of The Nutcracker the highlight is the Grand Pas de Deux danced by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier in the second act. Danced with grandeur and polish by Laura Morera as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Federico Bonelli as her Cavalier, their performance was what The Nutcracker is all about -- the combination of fantasy and emotions danced to Tchaikovsky's majestic and heartfelt music. Morera had a crystalline and commanding quality and Bonelli was the elegant and attentive partner.
The Royal Ballet's corps de ballet shone in t he Snow Scene and in the Waltz of the Flowers -- and also as the guests at the Stahlbaum Family's Christmas Party in the first act. Also the children in the first act gave spontaneous and realistic performances adding to Peter Wright's story-telling approach to this classic ballet.
As it is a rare for touring ballet companies to perform The Nutcracker in New York City, Fathom Events provided a welcome opportunity for New York balletomanes to see The Royal Ballet's exquisite production of The Nutcracker.
Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Performance Project's The Nutcracker
December 7, 2013
By Mark Kappel
Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Performance Project presented its annual production of The Nutcracker at Symphony Space on December 7, 2013. The production itself, a choreographic collaboration of Margo Sappington's new choreography in the first act and Valentina Kozlova's re-staging of Vasily Vainonen's choreography in the second act, combines for an evening of story-telling and dance that is audience involving.
This year's performance was the most polished since the Dance Conservatory Performance Project began performing The Nutcracker. An example of fine-tuning, cogently telling E.T.A. Hoffman's tale, and these student dancers' sharpening their acting skills. All combined for an enjoyable and absorbing dance experience that is appropriate for the holiday season.
The performance is always highlighted by the enthusiasm and commitment of Kozlova's students and this year was no exception.
This year's production featured Margo Sappington as the Baroness Drosselmeyer guiding the story-telling and providing a great deal of magic and intrigue in this production.
Nikita Boris was a sophisticated Clara and was well partnered by Jack Furlong as the Nutcracker Prince. Their pas de deux was danced to Tchaikovsky's most compelling music in this ballet score and that feeling was communicated to the audience.
Another highlight was the Arabian Dance danced by Demitra Bereveskos and Solieh Samudio (a guest artist from the Ballet National de Panama) which displayed the exoticism in Tchaikovsky's music.
The culmination of any performance of The Nutcracker is the Grand Pas de Deux danced by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Hannah Park's Sugar Plum Fairy was commanding and she asserted herself as the ruler of her kingdom. Gauthier Dedieu, a guest artist from the Staatsballett Berlin, was elegant in his dancing, and an attentive Cavalier.
Beckett's All That Fall
November 12, 2013
By Mark Kappel
A highly anticipated theatrical event of this season is Samuel Beckett's All That Fall, which is being presented at the 59E59 Theaters for a limited run of only 39 performances. Anticipation aside, All That Fall is a must see theatrical experience!
Commissioned by the BBC as a radio play and first performed in 1975, All That Fall combines all of the elements that Beckett is known for in his genre of theater -- a mix of existentialism, modernism, and absurdism.
This particular production of All That Fall was presented in London earlier this year for a limited engagement. It is fortunate that it has been transferred to New York and will be seen by a wider audience.
All That Fall's central character is Maddy Rooney, an outspoken and assertive Irish septuagenarian, who is superbly played by Eileen Atkins. It is her journey, and her interaction with the many colorful characters that Beckett has created, that makes us laugh, makes us think, and pushes our buttons emotionally.
Set in rural Ireland, All That Fall follows Maddy as she is making her way towards the railway station to meet her blind husband, Dan - brilliantly played by Michael Gambon -- as a surprise for his birthday. Maddy has three encounters along the way -- three people who offer her assistance during her journey to the train station -- transportation in the modes of horse and cart, bicycle, and limo. These modes of transportation have their fits and starts, and in some instances fail her, but offer marvelous conversations with the cart driver, the bicyclist, and the limo driver that are filled with local gossip. Added to the cast of characters is a snooty spinster who assists Maddy up the station stairs.
There is an abundance of physical comedy in these encounters and details are wrapped in Beckett's sharp wit.
When Maddy makes it to the station platform, she is confronted by the apprehension of her husband's train being unusually late -- and thus begins the unraveling of a mystery.
The train does arrive eventually. Dan, being blind and not being in the best of health himself, is assisted at the station by a young bouy, Jerry, who meets him at the station on a regular basis.
Difficult as it may be, undaunted, Maddy and Dan begin their journey on their own without Jerry's assistance - making their way back home -- making observations along their route, getting out of the way of children who are making a nuisance of themselves, observing the animals in the fields, and contending with rain and wind during their uphill climb -- comparing the journey to climing the Matterhorn. Through the course of the banter between Maddy and Dan we learn that their relationship has been hampered by Dan's ill-health and other challenges.
The conversation during the trek home becomes focused on the need to know why the train was late. Dan is upset, and is reluctant to inform Maddy what happened. All is revealed with the sudden re-appearance of Jerry who has chased after the couple to return an item Dan left behind -- and Jerry reveals that a child fell out of the railway carriage and then under the wheels of the train. Among the unanswered questions is whether Dan had some responsibility for the girl's death.
Although Dan shows anguish when the death of a child is mentioned, it is never revealed whether Dan had a part to play in this tragedy. As the journy home ends, the weather worsens and the couple is caught in heavy wind and rain.
Death is a theme in this play -- a subject matter that Beckett describes with humor and wit. There are many references to death in the interactions the characters have -- also heard are excerpts from Schubert's Death and the Maiden. The cumulative effect is doom, and the end result is a disturbing and thought-provoking play spinning a yarn in a bit over an hour.
Sound effects play an important role in this conception of All That Fall. Beckett conceived All That Fall as a radio play and it was performed as such during his lifetime. As it was for radio listeners and in this staged production, sounds indicate locations, actions, and atmosphere. The sound design by Paul Groothuis sets the tone of this production. The sounds are unobtrusive and test the imagination.
To meet Beckett's requirements that All That Fall be performed as a radio play, the actors carry scripts, props are minimal, there are microphones hanging from the ceiling to stimulate a 1950's studio, and also on stage is a mock-up of a car. All of these theatrical elements give the impression to the audience members that they are watching a studio recording of the play.
Working with the restrictions he has been given -- and a troupe of excellent actors -- Trevor Nunn has masterfully directed All That Fall.
The magnificent performnces by Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon, and the supporting players, Billy Carter, Ruairi Conaghan, Trevor Cooper, Catherine Cusack, Frank Grimes, Liam Thrift, and James Hayes challenge the audience's imagination, and serve the playwright by making Beckett's words come alive.
American Dance Machine for the 21st Century Presents A Benefit Evening
November 11, 2013
City Center/Studio Five
By Mark Kappel
Whether or not your first exposure to a live performance was of ballet, modern dance, theatre, symphony or opera, the Broadway musical is a unique art form and uniquely American. Not only seen on the Broadway stage but on stages throughout the United States -- and all over the world -- and seen by new audiences on television series such as Smash and Glee - it is an art form that has been universally embraced.
When the American Dance Machine was re-established by executive director, Nikki Feirt Atkins, and artistic director, Margo Sappington, there is now a showcase for Broadway choreography to have a new life and be exposed to new audiences.
With that goal in mind, the American Dance Machine for the 21st Century presented a sampling of its expanding repertoire that included the Broadway choreography of Michael Bennett, Jerome Robbins, Randy Skinner, and Susan Stroman on November 11, 2013 in the City Center's Studio Five.
Margo Sappington and Nikki Feirt Atkins of ADM21 have dedicated themselves to creating a living archive of the best of classic musical theater choreography. This presentation was a continuation of their work.
Brand new to the company's repertoire is the iconic Turkey Lurkey Time created by Michael Bennett for the original Broadway production of Promises Promises, a turning point in the career of this choreographer who is best known for the classic American musical, A Chorus Line.
There has been a mystique and fascination about Bennett's Turkey Lurkey Time, a rousing Act I finale number that matched Burt Bacharach's intricate music.
Margo Sappington had an intimate involvement with that production of Promises Promises as Bennett's assistant and with original cast members, Baayork Lee, and Donna McKechnie, Turkey Lurkey Time was recreated for this performance.
With a cast led by Rosie Lani Fiedelman, Jessica Lee Goldyn, and Mara Davi, this staging had the immediacy of the original and created a wave of nostalgia. To its credit ADM21 has brought this piece back to life and for new audiences to see and experience.
Also new to ADM21's repertoire is Randy Skinner's Go Into Your Dance from the Broadway revival of 42nd Street -- inspired by 42nd Street's original choreographer Gower Champion -- where Mara Davi gave an object lesson of what can be communicated to an audience in song and dance.
This program also included other Broadway gems presented by ADM21 in the past including Michael Bennett's The Music and the Mirror from A Chorus Line danced by Jessica Lee Goldyn; Jerome Robbins' Mr. Monotony from Jerome Robbins' Broadway featuring Amra-Faye Wright and New York City Ballet dancers, Georgina Pazcoguin, Amar Ramasar, and Daniel Ulbricht; and Simply Irresistible from Susan Stroman's Contact led by Naomi Kaku as The Girl in the Yellow Dress.
ADM21 continues its journey to present the best of Broadway to a wider audience.
San Francisco Ballet Dances Cinderella
October 27, 2013
David Koch Theater
By Mark Kappel
During the second week of the San Francisco Ballet's engagement at the David Koch Theater, the company presented the New York premiere of Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella, a co-production with the Dutch National Ballet.
Although Christopher Wheeldon has choreographed several full-length ballets, this was the first time that any of these full-length ballets had been presented in New York. This was Wheeldon as a story-teller -- telling a familiar story.
It has been stated that if your play, novel, poem -- or ballet -- included the plot elements of the Cinderella story, you would have a universal tale to tell and you would have a success. Librettist Craig Lucas and Christopher Wheeldon have adapted the story lines of both the Brothers Grimm version and Rossini's opera libretto -- and a few original elements to shape the story of this version of Cinderella. In many respects the libretto for Wheeldon's Cinderella is similar to the tinkering of the book for the current Rodgers and Hammerstein stage muscial version of Cinderella that is being performed on Broadway. Reinventing Cinderella for the 21st century.
Wheeldon's version of Cinderella opens with a young Cinderella coming to terms with her mother's illness and her passing. Cinderella's focus is on a grave marker for her mother and her mother's tears encourage the growth of a tree that harbors her mother's spirit. As Cinderella is represented at a young age, so are the two other protagonists in this adaptation of Cinderella -- the Prince and his friend, Benjamin, are depicted as young aristocrats wreaking havoc in the palace.
The most notable change in this adaptation is the absence of the Fairy Godmother. Instead there are four male dancers who represent Cinderella's fate who guide her through her adventures. And in this version, for a lark, Prince Guillaume swaps roles with his friend Benjamin, and it is as Benjamin that the Prince has his first meeting with Cinderella. It is Cinderella's kindness to the disguised Prince that forms the basis for a relationship between them.
Cinderella has her adjustment problems in dealing with her father's remarriage, coping with her tipsy stepmother -- who is portrayed less than evil and more comic -- and her relationships with her stepsisters are also not as estranged as in other versions of Cinderella. However Cinderella is seen exhibiting petulant behavior -- and is not seen as the scullery maid who seems to have a broom in her hand at all times. She is seen serving dinner to her family and another scene doing some cleaning, but you don't have the impression that she is living in poverty and is downtrodden -- and hoping for a better life.
The seasonal fairies have now been transformed to represent Lightness, Generosity, Mystery and Fluidity -- two of the variations danced by male dancers and two of the variations danced by female dancers. It is the Fates who make it possible for Cinderella to attend the ball -- punctuated by Basil Twist's magical image of a carriage -- which whisks Cinderella to the Prince's palace.
Returning to tradition, Cinderella and the Prince meet at the ball, fall in love, and Cinderella departs the ballet leaving behind a golden shoe rather than a glass slipper. The Prince finds her -- and the shoe fits -- and a wedding follows. The only departure from tradition is that Benjamin is entranced by Cinderella's stepsister, Clementine, creating a subplot love story in the ballet.
Wheeldon has chosen to employ Sergei Prokofiev's music for Cinderella. But he has not chosen to follow Prokofiev's blueprint in structuring his version of Cinderella. Wheeldon often conveys each plot element in vignettes -- with blackouts separating each scene. The story is somewhat disjointed and as the story isn't always conveyed in Wheeldon's choreography, his new concepts for his version of Cinderella are often obscured.
In this production of Cinderella it is not the choreography that dominates the ballet but the design team which has collaborated on the overall look of the production as well as contributing much in terms of the plot of this production of Cinderella. Julian Crouch's costumes and scenery play a dominant role in illuminating the story as does Natasha Katz's lighting designs -- as well as Daniel Brodie's projections and puppeteer Basil Twists's creation of the tree and carriage designs. These lavish design elements -- including portraits of prospective brides that wink and frown, and levitating chairs -- overwhelm the production at times.
The San Francisco Ballet's October 27, 2013 performance included in its cast Maria Kochetkova in the title role, Joan Boada as the Prince, Taras Domitro as Benjmain, Marie Claire D'Lyse as the Stepmother, Sarah Van Patten as Edwin, and Frances Chung as Stepsister Clementine. They all brought their characters to life within the choreographic parameters that were drawn for them. However the relationship between Cinderella and her Prince was not consistently passionate and in their pas de deux, there was little eye contact.
The inclusion of a full-length ballet during the San Francisco Ballet's New York engagement was significant. Story ballets appeal to audiences more than mixed-bills. But discovering and creating choreography to convey stories is an art form unto itself. Not every attempt is successful. This particular production of Cinderella was missing Fairy Godmother magic.
The San Francisco Ballet visited New York for a two-week period and it was a huge opportunity for New York audiences to get to know the company and its dancers. I hope it won't be too long before the San Francisco Ballet returns to New York and we can get to know the company even better.
New Adventures Presents Matthew Bourne's The Sleeping Beauty
October 25, 2013
By Mark Kappel
From October 23-November 3, 2013, the City Center is presenting a limited engagement of New Adventures dancing Matthew Bourne's interpretation of Tchaikovsky's classic, The Sleeping Beauty.
Bourne, with The Sleeping Beauty, has completed his Tchaikovsky trilogy and as an inveterate story-teller, Bourne has deconstructed and transformed The Sleeping Beauty into a gothic tale filled with romance and vampires -- a total re-thinking of this familiar fairy tale. All is accomplished with Bourne's frequent collaborator, Lez Brotherston, who has designed the lavish costumes and scenery which serve Bourne's reinterpretation of The Sleeping Beauty.
In presenting the story Bourne includes familiar characters from The Sleeping Beauty while adding or transforming his own. King Benedict and Queen Eleanor are the royal rulers of this kingdom, and Aurora's love interest is not a prince, but the gamekeeper, Leo.
Bourne begins his tale with an homage to the time in which Marius Petipa's original production of The Sleeping Beauty had premiered. Act I is set in 1890 and as the story develops and progresses the time travels from the Victorian Age to the Edwardian Era of 1911 -- then on to the Land of the Sleepwalkers circa 2011 concluding the story's end as described as having taken place yesterday.
In telling his version of The Sleeping Beauty, Bourne sets up the dramatic plot twist that Carabosse had conjured up a spell to make it possible for the King and Queen to have a child. Baby Aurora has entered the world and is a typical pampered princess, but Carabosse is offended that the royal couple is not appreciative of the gesture. It isn't until after Carabosse's death that revenge is taken by Carabosse's son, Caradoc.
The starting point for Bourne's Beauty is Aurora (played by a puppet) in her nursery well-guarded by her parents, governess, and servants. The traditional fairies appear -- although some are male and others are female. It's as if this precocious Aurora has conjured up the fairies who dance for her.
It is at Aurora's coming of age party that Caradoc appears to tempt Aurora with a black rose and casts his vengeful spell. However Count Lilac intervenes and has a plan to counter Caradoc's spell. Rather than a prince, it is Aurora's love, Leo the Gamekeeper, whose kiss will wake Aurora after her long sleep. However to make it possible for Leo to live for another hundred years, Count Lilac bites Leo's neck transforming him into a vampire -- a nerdy one at that -- and when enough time passes, Count Lilac returns to help Leo find Aurora and bring her back to life.
But Caradoc is waiting and when Aurora is kissed, it is not Leo Aurora sees but Caradoc. Undaunted Leo and Count Lilac band together rescuing Aurora after Count Lilac puts a stake through Caradoc's heart. A happy ending with the addition of a royal child -- and all of this to Tchaikovsky's music from The Sleeping Beauty.
Bourne's imagination runs wild throughout this production as baby Aurora is an active toddler played by a life-like puppet, the Rose Adagio takes place in a Rose Garden and is a love duet for Aurora and Leo, and the traditional Vision Scene is danced by a corps de ballet of female and male sleepwalkers. Throughout there are references from traditional productions of The Sleeping Beauty along with a bit of Giselle and a hint of The Rocky Horror Show.
At the October 25th performance, Ashley Shaw portrayed Aurora as a rebellious teenager -- rebelling against her parents and also ignoring social morays by falling in love with a gamekeeper. Dominic North's Leo was lovesick at times and nerdy at other times -- not the love interest one would expect in a fairy tale or in a gothic novel. Liam Mower as Count Lilac and Tom Jackson Greaves as Carabosse/Caradoc portrayed their characters with an air of the sinister and ambiguousness in regard to their intentions.
All of the cast members were committed to Bourne's re-working of The Sleeping Beauty making for an adventurous and theatrical dance experience.
Houston Ballet Returns to the Joyce Theater
October 22, 2013
By Mark Kappel
Many American ballet companies face economic and financial challenges that prevent these companies from performing in New York. Such engagements require self-presenting and in venues that would not allow the companies to present the repertoire that the companies can perform in their home cities. In such engagements New York audiences rarely get the full picture of each company's artistic vision and artistic accomplishments.
One of the companies that hasn't performed in New York often enough is the Houston Ballet which has returned to the Joyce Theater for performances from October 22-27, 2013 with a mixed-bill program that included works by a diversity of choreographers -- works that are known quantities.
Stanton Welch has been the Houston Ballet's artistic director for ten years and this mixed-bill program is a reflection of the artistic stamp he has now placed on the company.
Opening the program on October 22, 2013 was Mark Morris' Pacific, an ensemble piece for nine dancers that was premiered by the San Francisco Ballet in 1995. Morris' Pacific is danced to Lou Harrison's Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano which was played by live musicians.
Inspired by a West Coast sensibility and the influences of the West Coast being on the Pacific Rim, and its varying cultures, Morris created a modern dance piece that is placid. Calm is the word. Groups of dancers and individual dancers move across the stage as if not having a care in the world.
Pacific was danced by the standout ensemble of Ian Casady, Jessica Collado, Oliver Halkowich, Elise Judson, Melody Mennite, Allison Miller, Katherine Precourt, Connor Walsh, and Joseph Walsh.
Two smaller pieces were also danced on this program. One being, Hans van Manen's Solo, set to Bach's Suite for Violin in D minor, which was created for the Netherlands Dance Theater in 1997. This virtuoso piece for three male dancers is a series of solos and dances for three that are as quickly paced as Bach's music. The choreography is quirky, quick, and never boring.
The trio of male dancers was Jim Nowakowski, Connor Walsh, and Oliver Halkowich who beautifully executed van Manen's choreography and did so with showmanship.
The only piece on the program that was choreographed for the Houston Ballet was a vehicle for two of the company's principal dancers, Ben Stevenson's pas de deux, Twilight, set to Rachmaninoff's Elegie. Op. 3 No. 1. Twilight was created for the Houston Ballet principal dancers, Sara Webb and Ian Casady, when they competed in the Jackson International Ballet Competition. Over the years Stevenson created many such vehicles for the Houston Ballet dancers when they have competed in international dance competitions and danced in galas -- tailored to their skills and attributes as dancers.
Twilight is the genre of pas de deux that is both romantic and nostalgic -- a mood created by Stevenson's choreography -- and was beautifully danced by Webb and Casady.
Closing the program was Stanton Welch's Play, an ambitious and sprawling ensemble piece, danced to the music of Moby.
Play begins with the large cast on stage with a video of children playing -- projected on to the rear of the stage. When Play gets started it is now grown-ups at play -- although young grown-ups -- playing in an urban landscape exposing themselves to all kinds of stimuli. The frustration of coping with urban living and a bit of urban rage -- and how this all tests relationships -- is pervasive in Welch's concept and choreography. The choreography itself is organic and vernacular -- and improvisational.
The Houston Ballet dancers committed to Play on an intense level and also with a tongue in cheek attitude. The ensemble of Houston Ballet dancers that comprised the cast were Emily Bowen, Ian Casady, Soo Youn Cho, Jessica Collado, Christopher Comer, Rhodes Elliott, Karina Gonzalez, Christopher Gray, Oliver Halkowich, Nozomi Iijima, Katelyn May, Melody Mennite, Alyssa Springer, Brian Waldrep, Joseph Walsh, and Charles-Louis Yoshiyama.
The Houston Ballet's dancers are wonderful -- and impeccable artists. We should see more of the Houston Ballet -- and more often.
Bolshoi Ballet Dances Spartacus
October 20, 2013
By Mark Kappel
On October 20, 2013, Ballet in Cinema presented a live screening of one of the Bolshoi Ballet's signature works, Yuri Grigorovich's Spartacus. Although other versions had been danced before and after Grigorovich's first production of Spartacus premiered, his produciton is the most familiar and has also been danced during the Bolshoi Ballet's American tours.
Set to a score by Aram Khachaturian, Spartacus is an example of ballet choreography and story-telling during the Soviet era in Russia. There is heroic gesture and psychological solo monologues in which the main characters express their indecision and emotion. Also the story of the slave uprising led by Spartacus against the Roman regime became a metaphor for the Bolshevik Revolution. It is a spectacle in three acts and is enhanced by the enormous resources of the Bolshoi Ballet.
The sprawling story of Spartacus begins with the Roman consul, Crassus, returning to Rome after conquering Thrace. The Thracian King and Queen, Spartacus and his wife, Phrygia, are among the captives. Spartacus and Phrygia are separated with Phrygia joining Crassus' harem -- and Spartacus is forced to kill one of his close friends in a gladiator battle.
Spartacus leads a revolt and rescues all of the slave women. However it is one of Crassus' concubines, Aegina, who discovers Spartacus' camp. Aegina reveals the location to Crassus, and the Roman forces kill Spartacus.
There is no subtlety in Grigorovich's choreography. It is a larger than life style with grand gesture and movement that serves as a signature for each character. Grigorvich also highlights the most important twists in the plot with the visual images of tableaus which depict the principal characters at their lowest point, and also the ones with the most dramatic intensity. These theatrical elements are useful tools in telling this sprawling story.
The choreography for the male dancers in the cast represents the highlights of the ballet. Even in the male ensembles one sees virtuoso dancing and high jumps -- and in the pas de deux, complicated and acrobatic partnering. Add to this spectacle the grand scenery and large ensembles, it is clear there is no other way to communicate and visualize the story of Spartacus.
The title role in Spartacus has been a springboard for stardom when it comes to the Bolshoi Ballet's principal dancers. At this performance the role was danced by Mikhail Lobukhin. Besides his virtuoso execution of the choreogrpahy, there was the deep intensity that he brought to the title character.
Phrygia was danced by Anna Nikulina. Her great moments in the ballet did not come until the famous pas de deux in Act III, and in mourning Spartacus' death, Nikulina expressed warmth and grief in her dancing.
As often the case in stories that pit good against evil, the evil characters seem to have the meatier roles. Crassus, the Roman consul, who is Spartacus' nemesis, was danced by Vladislav Lantratov and his long-suffering mistress Aegina, was danced by Svetlana Zakharova. Their performances wreaked of evil, intensity, and in the instance of Zakharova as Aegina, also seduction.
Considering the fact that Grigorovich's Spartacus was given its world premiere in 1968, it is amazing that it has survived the political changes in Russia and its themes have remained relevant.
San Francisco Ballet Performs Lifar's Suite en Blanc
October 19, 2013
David Koch Theater
By Mark Kappel
On October 19, 2013, the San Francisco Ballet performed a variation on one of its previous mixed-bill programs. Seen for the first time during the San Francisco Ballet's New York engagement was Serge Lifar's Suite en Blanc which was given its company premiere by the San Francisco Ballet in 2013. Set to the music composed by Edouard Lalo for the ballet Namouna, Suite en Blanc was created for the Paris Opera Ballet, and was staged for the San Francisco Ballet by Maina Gielgud.
Both the Australian Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet have performed Suite en Blanc in New York previously to the San Francisco Ballet's performance. All of these companies applied the appropriate style to their performances of Suite en Blanc yet at the same time each company gave Suite en Blanc distinctive performances.
Suite en Blanc is an example of the neo-classical ballet style of the 1940's and confirmed that Lifar was an innovator and a devotee of this style. The subtle partnering, the pure dance elements, and a rousing finale combine for an audience pleasing ballet, while also challenging the dancers to be confident in dancing Lifar's gloss on neo-classicism. There is no room here for being prim and proper.
The opening Pas de Trois, danced with style by Vanessa Zahorian, Taras Domitro, and Jaime Garcia Castilla, was followed by the dynamic performance of Serenade by Sasha de Sola.
Frances Chung followed leading the Pas de Cinq with power and security to be followed by Sarah Van Pattens' technically correct and ironic performance in the famous Cigarette variation.
Davit Karapetyan exhibited his technical prowess in the Mazurka to be followed by Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in a beautiful performance of the Pas de Deux.
Sofiane Sylve ended Suite en Blanc with her stylish rendition of the Flute solo -- and then the rousing finale. This pure dancing -- pure and stylish classical dancing -- showed off the San Francisco Ballet's dancers superbly.
Also on this program were repeat performances of Helgi Tomasson's Trio and Christopher Wheeldon's Ghosts danced by different casts from their New York premiere performances on October 16th.
This second performance of Wheeldon's Ghosts revealed details not seen on first viewing, and the new casts seen in both Ghosts and Trio enhanced particular aspects of the choreography.
Trio was led by the cast of Mathilde Froustey, Joan Boada, Dana Genschaft, Ruben Martin Cintas, Damian Smith, Frances Chung, and Taras Domitro. Although Froustey gave a cautious and safe performance, the rest of the cast was vibrant and winning.
Ghosts received a dramatically deepend performance by the cast of Maria Kochetkova, Vitor Luiz, Lorena Feijoo, Ruben Martin Cintas with Shane Wuerthner. Feijo gave what was a spiritual performance in a ballet about ghosts and spirits -- you felt she was from another world as a result of her expressive dancing.
San Francisco Ballet's Second Mixed-Bill Program of New York Premieres
October 18, 2013
David Koch Theater
By Mark Kappel
The San Francisco Ballet's second mixed-bill program, seen on October 18, 2013 included commissioned works by Alexei Ratmansky, Mark Morris, Yuri Possokhov, and Edwaard Liang, choreographers who have often worked with the San Francisco Ballet in the past.
If there was a theme running through this jam-packed program, it was that all of the choreography presented on the program owed their structure, style and inspiration from ground-breaking choreographers of the past and present. Both inspiration and pastiche were dominant in all of the works.
Alexei Ratmansky's From Foreign Lands was premiered in 2013 and is choreographed to music by Moritz Moszkowski. Reflecting the folk-like Moszkowski music, Ratmansky divided From Foreign Lands into six sections that reflected the national characteristics of the music. Represented were Russian, Italian, German, Spanish, and Polish dances plus a finale Hungarian dance.
However the choreography's theme was that of Bournonville and Bournonville's channeling of national dances in his choreography. As Ratmansky had danced with the Royal Danish Ballet this influence is often seen in his choreography and in From Foreign Lands this influence dominated the ballet. Ratmansky infused some of the choreography with the national characteristics he heard in the music, but they didn't always match, and the choreography seemed overly complicated for what could be simple national dances.
From Foreign Lands received an excellent performance by the San Francisco Ballet dancers.
The piece opened with a Russian Dance danced by Sasha de Sola, Davit Karapetyan, Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz. Quickly following was the Italian Dance danced by Pascal Molat, Sarah Van Patten, Dana Genschaft, and Dores Andre, and the German Dance danced by Simone Messmer, Shane Wuerthner, Luke Ingham, and Luke Willis.
Maria Kochetkova, Pascal Molat, Sarah Van Patten, and Vitor Luiz returned to the stage to dance a Spanish Dance, and Simone Messmer, Sasha de Sola, Dores Andre, Dana Genschaft, Davit Karapetyan, Shane Wuerthner, Luke Ingham, and Luke Willis danced in a Polish Dance. The entire cast was brought back again for the finale Hungarian Dance.
Mark Morris' Beaux for a cast of eight male dancers is set to music by Martinu. From the curtain rising to a scenery backdrop matching the unitards that the dancers were costumed in, one saw the striking visual images that were similar to Merce Cunningham's in his Summerspace.
Morris' choice of angular movement for the dancers was also a reference to Cunningham's influence -- the dancers dancing in group dances and solos that are arranged at random. Although Morris has choreographed many pieces for ballet companies, he has not enlarged his vocabulary to include more balletic movement and still creates in the modern style.
Although Morris did not succeed in creating memorable images, Beaux did showcase the strong contingent of the San Francisco Ballet's male dancers through the ranks and included in its cast, Henry Sidford, Pascal Molat, Benjamin Stewart, Jeremy Rucker, Ruben Martin Cintas, James Sofranko, Sean Bennett, Luke Willis, and Dustin Shane Sperot.
Yuri Possokhov's Classical Symphony, choreographed to Prokofiev's music of the same name, was the only example of anything close to classical ballet on this program. The choreographic vocabulary was neo-classic but the pattern steps and partnering positions ended unexpectedly, and classical lines were blurred. The choreography for Classical Symphony had its influences from William Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, which is also an experiment in developing the classical vocabulary and taking it into a new directions.
This fast-paced piece was danced in exemplary fashion by the cast of Vanessa Zahorian, Gennadi Nedvigin, Frances Chung, Carlos Quenedit, Clara Blanco, and Jaime Garcia Castilla.
Edwaard Liang's Symphonic Dances seeks inspiration from Rachmaninoff's music. Liang's choreography often has Kylian references but in Symphonic Dances there are also references to Balanchine's Serenade. Symphonic Dances is a mood and atmospheric piece in its roots.
At times the choreography was at odds with the flow of the music, and the choreographic pictures were not always clear. But the three pas de deux in the piece were emotionally compelling and inspired by Rachmaninoff's music.
The San Francisco Ballet dancers -- which included Yuan Yuan Tan, Luke Ingham, Sofiane Sylve, Tiit Helimets, Maria Kochetkova, and Victor Luiz in the principal roles -- kept the flow of the choreography continuing through the music's triumphant finale.
San Francisco Ballet Returns to New York
October 16, 2013
David Koch Theater
By Mark Kappel
The San Francisco Ballet has returned to the David Koch Theater for an historic two-week engagement. The last time the company perfomed at the David Koch Theater was in 2006 under the auspices of the Lincoln Center Festival -- and the last time the company performed in New York was in 2008 at the City Center.
During this engagement from October 16-27, 2013, the San Francisco Ballet will present a cross-section of repertoire that will include commissions created for the company and a full-length ballet that is a co-production with a European ballet company.
The San Francisco Ballet has been directed by former New York City Ballet principal dancer, Helgi Tomasson, since 1985, and he has put his personal artistic stamp on the company. He has made a commitment to commissioning new works and these recent commissions will be performed during this New York engagement.
To open this engagement, on October 16, 2013, the San Francisco Ballet presented its first mixed-bill program which included works choreographed by Helgi Tomasson, Christopher Wheeldon, and Wayne McGregor.
Opening the program was Helgi Tomasson's Trio, choreographed to the three movements of Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence, which premiered in 2010. Danced in front of scenery that reflected the Italian Renaissance and choreography that is neo-classical in style, Trio is a pure dance work. There are allusions to Balanchine's Serenade, and a bit of Robbins in response to the music.
The highlight of the piece was the Pas de Trois in which Sarah Van Patten was partnered and tossed about by two competing lovers -- Tiit Helimets and Anthony Spaulding. All danced with passion-filled abandon. The excellent cast also included Vanessa Zahorian, Vitor Luiz, Maria Kochetkova, and Gennadi Nedvigin.
Christopher Wheeldon's Ghosts, set to music by C.F. Kip Winger, had dramatic underpinnings. Underneath there was a story to tell -- similar to stories told in Antony Tudor's ballets. The first image is the moon on a dark night -- dancers moving in groups and in couples -- not certain what and who they are. Becoming clearer as the piece develops is that these people are the ghosts named in the title of the piece. These spirits look back and also look forward into the future.
Episodic in its structure, each section ends abruptly choreographically and musically -- reinforced by blackouts. And an enigmatic conclusion with the ghosts as moving images as the curtain comes down.
As danced by Yuan Yuan Tan, Damian Smith, Sofiane Sylve, Tiit Helimets, and Shane Wuerthner, Wheeldon's Ghosts offered a different aspect of Wheeldon as a choreographer.
The program closed with Wayne McGregor's Borderlands with movement in synergy with a background electronic score by Joel Cadbury and Paul Stoney. Having premiered in 2013 this is a work of the moment.
McGregor's choreographic influences come from the likes of Merce Cunningham and there is often the motif of angular movement, complicated partnering, and movement at a quick pace. McGregor's dance pieces also display dancers as athletes as well as artists. Borderlands had all of these ingredients.
The piece opened with a square piece of scenery rising above the stage -- it was at that point that the lighting effects and the Cunningham influenced movement were melded together. The dancers are costumed in monochromatic unitards -- which also make reference to the score which beats like a metronome.
Ambiguous as McGregor's pieces can be they do bring out the best in the dancers and the cast of Maria Kochetkova, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Sarah Van Patten, Pascal Molat, Frances Chung, Carlos Quenedit, Sofiane Sylve, Anthony Spaulding, Koto Ishihara, Lonnie Weeks, Elizabeth Powell, and Francisco Mungamba danced their hearts out.
This first program reinforced what a powerhouse the San Francisco Ballet is as a ballet company.
Janis Brenner & Dancers Presents World Premiere
October 11, 2013
92nd Street Y
By Mark Kappel
Participating in the 92nd Street Y's inaugural, Dig Dance, Janis Brenner and Dancers performed a varied program at the 92nd Street Y's Buttenweiser Hall, which will be part of a series of performances taking place this weekend.
The theme of these programs is Janis Brenner paying tribute to her colleagues in her world premiere creations and also in collaborations that are to be presented on each program.
Related to the theme of Brenner honoring her colleagues, opening the program on October 11, 2013, was an excerpt from Kyla Barkin's Reflexive, a duet danced by Barkin and Aaron Selissen, which tracked a relationship that was moving on the same and different emotional tracks at the same time. All accomplished choreographically with a bit of tongue and cheek humor.
Featured on the program was the official premiere of Brenner's Where-How-Why Trilogy , danced to the music of David Lang, Tosca, and Joni Mitchell, and danced by Brenner and her company members, Esme Boyce, and Sumaya Jackson.
Brenner's piece is a series of solos that range from contemplative to relationships and loss -- and also compassion. This was the emotional high point of the program communicated effectively by the dancers.
The program closed with Brenner's full company piece, The Mind-Stuff Variations, danced to a commissioned score by Jerome Begin and played live by Begin, Loren Kiyoshi Dempster, and Liz Derham. In addition the dance is choreographed to spoken text which was improvised by the dancers, and excerpts from Mind-Stuff Theory, written in the last decade of the 19th century by psychologist William James.
The text comments on the dancers, the dancers' performances, and their contributions to choreographing the dance as they move through the improvisational choreographic process. There is a bit of humor, the interpolation of the choreographer's demands, self-deprecating humor as well - and physical contact inspired by the text.
The dancers are exposed and the choreography all revealing in a compelling performance by Kyla Barkin, Esme Boyce, Janis Brenner, Sumaya Jackson, Christopher Ralph, Lilja Ruriksdottir, Kendra Isobel Samson, and Aaron Selissen.
An audience's exposure to Janis Brenner's choreography always creates an effective and thoughtful connection.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival - Program Four - Contrasts
October 3, 2013
By Mark Kappel
The City Center Fall for Dance Festival's Fourth Program, presented on October 3, 2013, included the Festival debuts of three companies -- a program of contrasts not only in style but also in content.
Opening the performance was the tap dance troupe, Dorrance Dance, performing SOUNDspace, choreographed by Michelle Dorrance with solo improvisations by the 11 other dancers represented in the cast.
The trend in tap today is for the tapping to create the score that the tap dancers dance to. This approach allows for a diversity of rhythms and new music. The dancing itself is also often limited to the small dancing space of a platform, and, in SOUNDspace, the dancers also danced in the limited space in front of the stage where the movement was restricted to moving from side to side rather than the movement being three dimensional.
In this instance the limited space provided a showcase for improvisation --virtuoso dancing, spontaneous rhythmic patterns -- culminating in a grand finale danced exuberantly by the cast of Megan Bartula, Elizabeth Burke, Warren Craft, Michelle Dorrance, Karida Griffith, Logan Miller, Claudia Rahardjanoto, Demi Remick, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Jumaane Taylor, Caleb Teicher, and Nicholas Van Young.
Doug Elkins Choreography, Etc. made its Festival debut in an adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello, Mo(or)town/Redux, choreographed by Doug Elkins in collaboration with his dancers. Elkins has upated the story of The Moor's tragic flaw to the 1960's, a time of societal adjustments to race relations in the United States, and danced to familiar music of the day including Motown Music, and rhythm and blues.
At the same time Elkins was channeling Jose Limon's The Moor's Pavane which was danced by American Ballet Theater on an earlier Fall for Dance Festival program. Limon's approach is sedate compared to Elkins' approach. But then Limon set his piece in an atmosphere that Shakespeare would have been more at home in, while Elkins' approach is an effort to tell this story in a more contemporary atmosphere.
When listening to the strains of the music of the era one can hear the lyrics without them being sung. Elkins' choreographic vocabulary doesn't evoke the 1960's but current trends in contemporary dance -- the elements seem to compete with each other rather than illuminate the basic plot of Shakespeare's play. Nevertheless Elkins' approach is provocative, and was danced with committed performances by Alexander Dones, Cori Marquis, Kyle Marshall, and Donnell Oakley.
One of the most anticipated Fall for Dance Festival commissions was the world premiere of Liam Scarlett's Fratres, danced to Arvo Part's familiar, "Fratres" for Cello and Piano, and danced by Zenaida Yanowsky and Rupert Pennefather of the Royal Ballet. This marked Scarlett's New York choreographic debut. Scarlett has created ballets for the Royal Ballet and Miami City Ballet, and will be creating a world premiere for the New York City Ballet during the 2013-14 season. This also marked a rare appearance by dancers of the Royal Ballet in New York.
In this piece Scarlett focused on partnering and the entwining of the dancers' bodies through most of the piece. The dancers were rarely separated at any point during this pas de deux, and spatially seemed to dance in a restrained manner in the City Center's large performing space. Both Yanowsky and Pennefather found the choreography's dramatic underpinnings through the music. The choreographic promise was evident and I look forward to charting how Scarlett develops as a choreographer.
The Martha Graham Dance Company provided the gravitas for the evening in its inpired performance of Graham's The Rite of Spring. Premiered in 1984, and employing Igor Stravinsky's epic score, Graham's choreography represented the ritual nature of Stravinsky's music and the rite of passage for The Chosen One.
The Chosen One (Xiaochuan Xie) and the Shaman (Ben Schultz) are the protagonists in this version of The Rite of Spring. But the mixed ensemble of male and female dancers adds to the drama and powerful nature of Graham's approach to this epic music.
It is Graham's straightforward approach in her choreography that makes her version of The Rite of Spring stirring.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival - Program Three
October 1, 2013
By Mark Kappel
Variety is an overused word when describing the City Center Fall for Dance Festival's programming, but the Festival's Third Program, performed on October 1, 2013, was a true example of the definition of variety -- including some surprises -- but this particular program also emphasized artistry.
Opening the program was American Ballet Theatre's reading of Jose Limon's iconic adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello, The Moor's Pavane, which American Ballet Theatre recently revived. Premiered in 1949, it is amazing how Limon adapted the narrative of Shakespeare's Othello in the structure of a court dance, danced to Henry Purcell's theatrical music of Shakespeare's day.
The surprise at this performance was Francisco Ruvalcaba, a member of the Jose Limon Dance Company, who appeared in the four-dancer cast, dancing the role of The Moor, collaborating with American Ballet Theatre's Thomas Forster as The Moor's Friend, Stella Abrera as the Friend's Wife, and Julie Kent as The Moor's Wife.
The intermingling of a modern dancer with three ballet dancers made this performance of The Moor's Pavane one of a kind. The ballet dancers were more restrained in their performances while Ruvalcaba's performance was powerful yet not overstated. Such experiments do not always have successful results but in this instance, one had the opportunity to see distinctive performances by all cast members.
Colin Dunne is best known as the star of Riverdance, but he has been redefining Irish step dancing and is giving it a broader context. Dunne's work is infused with modern dance influences while also employing new technological elements which create new soundscapes for this form of dance.
An example of this and Colin Dunne's artistry was reflected in the American premiere of Dunne's The Turn which had premiered in Ireland in 2013. Dunne dances on a platform which allows him to manipulate the sound his feet make to create a soundscape to dance to and also to allow him to collaborate with composed music. Dunne is enabled to interact with the musicians to create a musical accompaniment and dynamic that is unique.
Although the movement Dunne created is founded in the basics of Irish step dancing, there is the influence of modern and contemporary dance -- and it is Dunne's own personal artistry as a dancer and choreographer that combined together to result in an exceptional piece.
Dunne's The Turn was also enhanced by the addition of live music -- composed by Linda Buckley -- and played by a string quartet of musicians from the Irish Chamber Orchestra. Buckley was also credited with the Live Sound Processing.
Ballet Hispanico presented the world premiere of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Sombrerisimo, a work for a cast of male dancers, and performed to the music of Banda Ionica, Macaco el Mono Loco, Titi Robin, Lisa Gerrard, and Michael Small.
Athletic is the best description of the choreography -- notable also for the use of hats as props as the dancers pass hats between them while also creating an atmosphere of just a bunch of guys getting together -- perhaps smoking cigars and having a few drinks before the end of the evening. Ochoa's choreographic vocabulary was angular yet not in stark contrast to the Latin music that is danced to in Sombrerismo.
The choreography also tested the abilities of the cast of Christopher Bloom, Jamal Rashann Callender, Alexander Duval, Mario Ismael Espionoza, Marcos Rodriguez, and Joshua Winzeler.
Making its Festival debut was Introdans, based in Arnhem, The Netherlands, which performed the American premiere of Nacho Duato's Sifonia India.
Created for the Netherlands Dance Theater in 1984, this was one of a series of Duato works that is focused on ritual dances -- ritual dances with Latin themes. Yet Duato's choreography was reminiscent of the choreography seen in Jiri Kylian's pieces -- particularly, Symphony of Psalms -- and in this instance was performed pitch perfectly by the cast of Merel Janssen, Jamy Schinkelshoek, Alexis Geddes, Jurrien Schobben, Mathieu Di Scala, Alberto Villaneuva Rodriguez, Vivian Sauerbreu, Elena Pampoulova, Aymeric Aude, and Ruben Ameling.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival - Program Two Dominated By Festival Debuts
September 28, 2013
By Mark Kappel
The City Center Fall for Dance Festival's Second Program, seen on September 28, 2013, was a cogent mixture of dance forms and dance styles which featured the Festival debuts of three companies.
Recognized as one of the foremost dance companies in India, Nrityagram made its City Center Fall for Dance Festival debut in Surupa Sen's Vibhakta. Representing the union and separation of people, the theme of Vibhakta is how the human spirit brings people together.
This theme was represented in a duet danced by two female dancers, Bijayini Satpathy and Surupa Sen, with live musical accompaniment. These two wonderful dancers expressed humor and compassion through the movement of every part of their bodies -- often with a twinkle in their eyes.
Also making its Festival debut was the Vancouver-based 605 Collective, a collaborative contemporary dance company that performed excerpts from two of the company's full-length works, Audible and Inheritor Album, and was performed under the title, Selected Play. This piece, danced to original music by Kristen Roos with additional music by Tehn, Ghislain Poirier, and Thom Yorke, explores the relationships of an individual within an ensemble, set against an urban landscape and danced to music that was an audio landscape. Street dancing was combined with modern dance embracing a choreographic vocabulary that was vernacular and organic.
The 605 Collective, which included Laura Avery, Ralph Escamillan, Lisa Gelley, Shay Kuebler, Josh Martin, and Renee Sigouin, danced the choreography with unbridled energy and enthusiasm.
The third company to make its Festival debut was the London-based HeadSpaceDance. The company's co-artistic directors, Charlotte Broom and Christopher Akrill danced the New York premiere of a duet from Mats Ek's Light Beings, choreographed to Sibelius' Andante Festivo. Originally created by Ek for The Cullberg Ballet in 1991, this excerpt explores the relationship between two people in a comic, organic dance, emerging from the dancers' characters and personalities -- including folk dance elements. Although the actual choreographic vocabulary represented was limited, this duet was a theatrical experience from beginning to its enjoyable and satisfying end.
The program ended with the return of the Dance Theatre of Harlem to the City Center stage. The Dance Theatre of Harlem was represented by a performance of Robert Garland's Gloria, premiered in 2012, and choreographed to Francis Poulenc's distinguished choral music. In response to Poulenc's music, Garland choreographed his piece with pristine movement to reflect the gravitas and spirituality in the music. The piece begins and ends with a group of children which represents the present and the future.
Notable were Da'Von Doane and Ashley Murphy leading both the "Domine Deus, Rex coelestis" and "Domine Deus, Agnus Dei" sections.
The Royal Ballet's Metamorphosis at the Joyce Theater
September 18, 2013
by Mark Kappel
In a unique joint venture the Joyce Theater and the Royal Opera House is co-presenting the Royal Ballet in Arthur Pita's dance theatre piece, The Metamorphosis from September 17-28, 2013.
The Metamorphosis has had its own unique journey. With the completion of the renovation of the Royal Opera House in London, a new venue was created, the Linbury Studio Theater. The Royal Ballet has used this space for choreography workshops and choreography projects that would not be at home on the larger Royal Opera House stage. One of the projects, The Metamorphosis, which was premiered at the Linbury in 2011, is opening the Joyce Theater's 2013-14 season.
Pita, who is Portuguese, but was born in South Africa and initially studied dance in that country, pursued his studies at the London Contemporary Dance School. Clearly Pita's choreographic style is drawn from modern and contemporary dance -- and a minimalist and organic sensibility.
A reinterpreatation of Franz Kafka's novella, this adaptation of The Metamorphosis focuses on Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman with a routine you could set a watch by, and how he is transformed into an insect. His coping skills with this transformation, as well as how his parents and sister react to Gregor's metamorphosis, represents the core of this dance theater piece. It is Gregor's death that provides the catharsis in The Metamorphosis.
Upon enterting the theater one was confronted by an environment of sounds and the actor/dancers on stage -- Gregor in bed, his parents watching television -- Dad reading a newspaper, Mom polishing the silverware -- and little sister doing her home work.
Gregor is trapped in a routine -- beginning his day with the sound of an alarm clock, putting on his suit and hat, grabbing his briefcase, and heading out into the world, commuting, drinking coffee, and a drink after work. The routine repeats itself three times with the only variation being carrying an umbrella when it rains.
Gregor gives his sister a gift of ballet slippers and marking the time passed is the improvement in her ballet technique.
Life changes dramatically when the alarm clock rings and Gregor doesn't jump out of bed -- but is instead transformed into an insect. Gregor's family is terrified and the interactions between Gregor, his family members, the maid, potential boarders, and a co-worker become stranger and stranger.
Edward Watson as Gregor gives a virtuoso performance as he contorts his body into moving like a stricken insect -- articulating the insect even through movement in his feet.
The stress to the Samsa family intensifies in trying to live with Gregor in his new incarnation. Perhaps understanding the need to relieve the stress on his family, Gregor escapes the Samsa family dwelling through a window -- and is assumed dead.
Choreographer/director Arthur Pita has set this piece in a confined space on the stage with stark white designs by Simon Daw, and the action underscored with music composed and performed by Frank Moon.
What brings The Metamorphosis to life is the virtuoso performance of Watson in the role of Gregor as well as the committed and intense performances of Corey Annand as Grete Samsa, Nina Goldman as Mrs. Samsa, and Anton Skrzypiciel as Mr. Samsa.
Playing multiple parts were the excellent supporting cast of Bettina Carpi, Amir Giles, Sam Archer, and Scarlett Perdereau.
As The Royal Ballet hasn't performed in New York since 2004 in its full glory, I hope it won't be long before the company returns to New York.
Dominic Walsh Dance Theater Makes Debut at the Joyce Theater
August 8, 2013
By Mark Kappel
From August 6-17, 2013, the Joyce Theater is presenting Ballet v6.0, a festival recognizing dancers and choreographers who are creating work outside the traditonal large company environment and have formed their own companies to pursue their artistic goals.
The Dominic Walsh Dance Theater made its Joyce Theater debut as a participant in Ballet v6.0 with performances on August 8 and 10, 2013.
The Dominic Walsh Dance Theater was founded by former Houston Ballet principal dancer, Dominic Walsh, in 2002. Based in Houston, Texas, this company has curated and commissioned a unique repertoire that has strong European influences and sensibilities. Choreography as well as design and music combine together in these works -- a collaborative mission.
On August 8, 2013 the Dominic Walsh Dance Theater ambitiously programmed two of Dominic Walsh's pieces, and one by British choreographer, Matthew Bourne.
The centerpiece of this engagement was Walsh's Camille Claudel, a 60-minute work premiered in 2012, which is inspired by the life of the sculptor, and her relationship with fellow sculptor, Auguste Rodin.
Choreographed to a tapestry of music composed by Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, Kinley Lange, Jacques Brel, Henry Purcell, and Jules Massenet, Walsh tells the story of this tempestuous relationship in both literal and expressionistic images. The story is not only told in dance but also in scripted dialogue spoken by actors, and live music interspersed with recorded music.
The style of choreography is modern dance that is both uniform and symmetrical -- and also dramatically compelling. The tensions between the principal characters are not hidden below the surface but are amplified in the choreography itself.
But for Danielle Brown dancing the role of Camille Claudel, the dancers of the Dominic Walsh Dance Theater dance multiple roles including Domenico Luciano dancing the role of Auguste Rodin -- and Louise Cerveaux, Camille Claudel's mother -- the two figures who dominate and transfigure Claudel's life. In dancing multiple roles there is the showcasing of these dancers not only as dancers but as actors as well.
Walsh was also represented by his interpretation of Afternoon of a Faun which had premiered in 2009. This reinterpretation of this familiar piece was danced by Juan Gil as the Faun. This Faun is tempted by all that surrounds him but is particularly intrigued by a group of Nymphs -- led by Tara Lee -- who get his full attention. The Nymphs enter the scene like elegant gazelles crossing an African plain rather than the lush environment of a Garden of Eden. The interpretation is minimalist and to the point.
In 2009 the Dominic Walsh Dance Theater beacame one of the few companies in the world to have acquired a work by British choreographer, Matthew Bourne. The acquisition was the White Swan Pas de Deux from Bourne's Swan Lake in which a male dancer played and danced the role of the White Swan. Domenico Luciano danced the role of the White Swan and Dominic Walsh danced the role of the Prince. Both dancers captured the sense that the Prince saw the Swan not only as a companion but also the Prince seeking out the Swan to console him during the difficult times he was experiencing.
In these times of change there is a search for new forms and styles to revitalize story-telling that is inherent in dance. The Dominic Walsh Dance Theater brings a distinct European sensibility to its work and searches out new forms to tell stories in the 21st century.
Bolshoi Ballet Dances La Bayadere
July 14, 2013
By Mark Kappel
During the summer months Ballet in Cinema will be repeating presentations of the Bolshoi Ballet screenings that were shown during the 2012-13 season. On July 14th, Ballet in Cinema presented the Bolshoi Ballet in Yuri Grigorovitch's new production of La Bayadere which had been shown previously in February of this year, and had premiered on January 24, 2013.
The exotic locale of La Bayadere is India, but it is the ballet's typical plot of a love triangle which has served as the focus for many ballets and operas created in the 19th century. Often described as the ballet equivalent of the opera Aida, La Bayadere's story focuses on Solor, who is in love with a temple dancer, Nikiya. But he is also betrothed to the Rajah's daughter, Gamzatti. The rivalry between Nikiya and Gamaztti results in the murder of Nikya. In this production of La Bayadere the murder plot, of a snake in a flower basket, is hatched by the Rajah and the jealous High Brahmin leaving Gamzatti blameless.
In the West the most familiar production of La Bayadere is that of Natalia Makarova's who staged her production of La Bayadere for American Ballet Theatre with authenticity in mind -- including the restoration of the usually excised fourth act in which a temple is destroyed and all perish. However most productions end with the Kingdom of the Shades Act, a vision scene danced by Nikiya and Solor, during which members of the corps de ballet make their entrance one by one on a ramp -- a stunning theatrical effect.
Although credited as Yuri Grigorovitch's production of La Bayadere, this production also includes choreographic contributions from Vakhtang Chabukiani, Nikolai Zubkovsky, and Konstantin Sergeyev with designs inspired by the sketches by designers of the first production of La Bayadere in 1877.
Although Grigorovitch has stripped some mime in his staging of La Bayadere, the story is told clearly. The magic in the Third Act is the entrance of the Shades. Grigorovitch has the Shades descending from the mountains, navigating four ramps until they reach the stage floor. From a distance, it is a mesmerizing theatrical illusion.
Most productions of La Bayadere have their most powerful effect when both human resources and production resources are employed to their fullest. That was proved over and over again in the Bolshoi Ballet's production.
The dancers portraying the principal roles are integral in telling the story. Svetlana Zakharova as Nikiya is not the submissive temple dancer that one usually sees in productions of La Bayadere. Clearly she knows what she wants in life and what might be required to get it -- and when it appears she has lost Solor to Gamzatti, she is also willing to die for it. Zakharova's dancing was elegant and fluid, and was the paradigm of what a vision should be in the Shades Act.
A new dancer on the scene, Vladislav Lantratov, portrayed Solor as a typical Romantic hero who was burning the candle at both ends. It was hard to feel sorry for him in his dilemma in choosing between Nikiya and Gamzatti. His dancing was light and airy, and impressive.
The outstanding performance came from Maria Alexandrova as Gamzatti. As her character was not part of the murder plot, she had to achieve the balance that she was just as determined to get what she wanted, but she neither wanted to kill for it or be killed. Alexandrova is a powerhouse of a dancer who met every challenge in this production's choreography.
La Bayadere also includes special divertissements that are comical and also require virtuosity. The comedy was provided by the Manu (Dance with Jug) divertissement danced with humor by Maria Prorvich, and the virtuoso variation for The Bronze Idol was danced by Denis Medvedev.
Also notable were the Shadow Variations in the Kingdom of the Shades including Anastasia Stashkevich dancing the First Variation, Anna Tikhomirova in the Second Variation, and Chinara Alizade in the Third Variation.
Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition - Held in New York For the First Time
Juen 29 & 30, 2013
Fiorello LaGuardia High School
By Mark Kappel
The Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition was held for the first time in New York at Fiorello LaGuardia High School after two successful Competitions held in Boston.
Providing performance and educational opportunities for student dancers as well as professional dancers, the competitors were to choose their repertoire from a list of variations and pas de deux, and were also required to dance original contemporary solos, and contemporary solos choreographed by Jacqulyn Buglisi for the women, Viktor Kabniaev for the men, and Paulo Arrais for couples.
Prizes included medals, and cash awards as well as scholarships for further ballet studies -- and in addition contracts for the second companies and/or trainee programs for professional ballet companies including the Houston Ballet II, the Washington Ballet Studio Company, and the Cincinnati Ballet among them.
The distinguished jury included Andris Liepa, Mikko Nissinen, Oleksi Bermertni, Olga Guardia de Smoak, Deborah Hess, Hae Shik Kim, Tadeusz Matacz, Galina Panova-Ragozina, Radenko Pavlovich, Sergei Soloviev, Bo Spassoff, Septime Webre, and Stanton Welch.
Eight-five dancers from twenty countries participated in the Competition.
The competitors were divided into three divisions. The Student Division represented competitors from 13-14 years-old; the Junior Division represented dancers from 15-17 years-old, and the Senior Division represented dancers from 18-25 years-old.
The Competition's Final Round was held on June 29, 2013, for which the competitors chose classical variations or pas de deux to dance. Diversity was not only represented in the styles of the dancers, but also in the stagings of the excerpts from traditional 19th century ballets.
On June 30th, 2013, the Competition's Awards Ceremony and Gala were held.
The Award winners are:
Senior Division - Male
Gold Medal - Ji-Seok Ha (South Korea)
Silver Medal - Kota Fujishima (USA)
Bronze Medal - Yubal Eduardo Morales Rubio (Mexico)
Senior Division - Female
Gold Medal - Chae-Eun Yang (South Korea)
Silver Medal - Min-Hung Kim (South Korea)
Bronze Medal - Assel Kumarova (Kazakhstan) and Ekaterina Smurova (Russia)
Gold Medal - Carollina Bastos (Brazil)
Silver Medal - Sakura Oka (USA) and Jeovanna Simoes (Brazil)
Bronze Medal - Hannah Park (USA)
First Prize - Demitra Bereveskos (USA)
Second Prize - Nations Wlkes-Davis (USA)
Third Prize - Nikita Boris (USA) and Ximena Emiliani (Panama)
The culmination of the Competition was the Gala performances by medal winners and competitors. Among the most poised and polished performances came from two Korean couples, Min-Jung Kim and Heon-Mo Ku dancing Diana and Acteon Pas de Deux, and Chae-Eun Yang and Ji-Seok Ha dancing Don Quixote Pas de Deux.
Also notable were Demitra Bereveskos in the Act II Variation from The Sleeping Beauty, Kota Fujishima in a variation from Flames of Paris, and Nations Wilkes-Davis in a variation from Harlequinade.
Dancers Jaimi Cullen, Amber Miller, Yui Sugawara, and Indiana Woodward danced Jason Ambrose's Women of Tudor, and from past competitions were Gold Meal winner in the 2012 Competition in the Junior Division, Albert Gordon, and Silver Medal winner at the 2012 Competition in the Junior Division, Sarah Steele.
The Gala also included performances of George Balanchine's Tarantella exuberantly danced by Ana Sophia Scheller and Daniel Ulbricht, principal dancers of the New York City Ballet, and Mauro Bigonzetti's La Follia danced by Michelle Wiles, former principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre, and Georgina Pazcoguin, soloist of the New York City Ballet whose performances matched the fierceness in Bigonzetti's choreography.
At the end of the Awards Ceremony, Andris Liepa, President of the Jury, announced that the Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition will be held in Moscow next year. The long-term plan is for the Competition to be held in both Moscow and New York in alternate years.
Ms. Kozlova also announced that there would be a new competition, the International Contemporary Choreographers and Dancers Competition, scheduled for New York's Symphony Space on April 28 and 29, 2014, that would focus on modern dance -- both choreography and performance -- for individual dancers, duets, and ensembles.
The Royal Ballet Dances Giselle
May 19, 2013
By Mark Kappel
Ballet in Cinema presented a live performance of the Royal Ballet in Peter Wright's production of Giselle in New York area cinemas on May 19, 2013 - a performance that had taken place in January 2011.
Giselle is one of the great ballets of the Romantic Era and was premiered at the Paris Opera Ballet. Yet most productions of Giselle are based on Russian productions danced in the late 19th century.
Peter Wright staged his first production of Giselle for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1965 and in addition to the Stuttgart Ballet, it has also been danced in New York by the National Ballet of Canada, and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. It is as near perfect as you can get -- a production that tells the story clearly, integrates the scenic elements into the story, and Wright staged the traditional choreography seamlessly integrating new choreography that enhanced the story-telling and created more opportunities for the dancers.
Wright's choreographic hand is particularly in evidence in transforming the Peasant Pas de Deux into a Pas de Six to provide more dancing opportunities for the male dancers in the company.
Among the story-telling elements was the mimed sequence by Giselle's mother, Berthe (Genesia Rosato), which represented an oral tradition of telling the story of the Wilis and how they take revenge. And throughout the ballet there is mime which indicates the class distinctions between the principal characters.
There is also the revealing moment when Hilarion compares the heraldry on Albrecht's sword and the hunting party's horn which was given its proper moment as it is the moment when Albrecht's masquerade is proven.
Heightening all of these story-telling elements were the dream-like, yet realistic designs by John McFarlane.
This performance of the Royal Ballet's Giselle featured Marianela Nunez in the title role and Rupert Pennefather as Albrecht. They were a well-matched pair with Pennefather's elegance and aristocratic bearing, and Nunez, throughout the ballet, danced the choreography with clarity -- as well as dramatic coherence which revealed Giselle's troubled circumstances in the first act and her ethereal qualities in the second act.
Also notable was Helen Crawford as the imperious Myrthe, Queen of the Wilis, and an example of the fine character dancing within the ranks of the Royal Ballet displayed by Gary Avis as Hilarion.
The Royal Ballet in Christopher Wheeldon's Alice
May 5, 2013
By Mark Kappel
Premiered in 2011 by the Royal Ballet, at that time Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was the first full-length commission by the Royal Ballet in nearly two decades. Ballet in Cinema presented a screening of a performance of Alice that was given by the Royal Ballet on March 28, 2013 and presented in New York area cinemas on May 5, 2013.
Wheeldon, now a member of the Royal Ballet's artistic team, choreographed his own slant on Lewis Carroll's Alice with the assistance of playwright Nicholas Wright as dramaturg, with a new score by Joby Talbot, and designs by Bob Crowley. Emphasizing the collaborative effort that brought Alice to the stage, Alice was co-produced by the Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada.
Mirroring the librettos of The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty, Wheeldon has adapted and linked incidents in Lewis Carroll's adventures for Alice into a series of vignettes which reflect Alice's coming of age and also adding a dream-like quality to her experiences and relationships while in "Wonderland". Many of the important intimates in her life including her mother, Lewis Carroll, and a young gardener she has feelings for, all re-appear in Alice's dream-like adventures.
Wheeldon's Alice opens at an Edwardian garden party - reminiscent of Frederick Ashton's Enigma Variations. There is Alice (Sarah Lamb) interacting with the guests including Lewis Carroll (Edward Watson), Jack the Gardener (Frederico Bonelli), and Alice's mother (Zenaida Yanowsky) all presented in a series of dances as the servants receive the guests, prepare for the garden party, and the guests' departure.
Bob Crowley's ingenious designs -- including video and lighting effects -- allow Alice to travel to wonderland and to experience her adventures with the White Rabbit (Edward Watson), the Queen of Hearts (Zenaida Yanowsky), the Knave of Hearts (Frederico Bonelli), and the tap-dancing Mad Hatter (Steven McRae) as well as an interfering Duchess (Philip Mosley). Familiar characters such as the Cheshire Cat and the flamingos being used as croquet mallets are signposts through the 3-act ballet. The last act culminating in a trial in which the Knave of Hearts may be headed to the guillotine and an Epilogue in which a modern day Alice, Jack, and Lewis Carroll re-appear sitting on a bench after reading Alice.
Lewis Carroll as a photographer and his modern day conterpart taking photos -- frame the beginning and end of Wheeldon's Alice.
There are many pure dance sections in Wheeldon's Alice including a big waltz with choreography inspired by Busby Berkeley, and there are solos in which Alice contemplates her experiences and her circumstances. Not always present is narrative connecting tissue between the pure dance sections and the interaction of the primary characters. Traditonal balletic mime is also missing during some important story-telling moments, and such mime would help in understanding and underscoring the ballet's dramatic moments.
Sarah Lamb was extraordinarily winsome and innocent as Alice, and Frederico Bonelli was ardent as Jack and the Knave of Hearts. Zenaida Yanowsky was scene-stealing as the Queen of Hearts -- particularly dancing a parody of the Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty.
Wheeldon's Alice brings out the Royal Ballet's dancers' strengths as dancers and actors, and serves as an example of a new style of story-telling for the 21st century.
Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Company at Symphony Space
April 20, 2013
By Mark Kappel
Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Company presented its annual Spring Concert at Symphony Space on April 20th, 2013, providing an opportunity to examine the progress of Ms. Kozlova's students, and what always results in an entertaining program of dance.
Included in the program were excerpts from the 19th century classics which were balanced by contemporary pieces. Participants in the performance included young ballet students, ballet students graduating on to professional careers as dancers, and professsional dancers.
In the spotlight were medal winners Veronika Verterich dancing Don Quixote Pas de Deux, partnered by Alex Hammoudi of American Ballet Theatre, and Sarah Steele dancing The Sleeping Beauty Pas de Deux, partnered by Craig Salstein of American Ballet Theatre.
Both Verterich and Steele have grown in their artistic maturity -- well displayed in these virtuoso pas deux -- and Steele was ably partnered by Salstein as was Verterich by Hammoudi. Both Salstein and Hammoudi were commanding in their variations.
Verterich in Primera Vez and Steel in Les Sabres du Paris showed their versatility in these contemporary pices choreographed by Nina Buisson and Cesar Reyes Lopez.
Both Verterich and Steele have been offered contracts by professional ballet companies -- a result for their solid training and coaching, and performance opportunities that they have had.
Additional highlights included Jack Furlong partnering Darrah Brewster in both Flames of Paris Pas de Deux, and La Fille Mal Gardee Pas de Deux, and Hannah Park and Choong Hoon Lee dancing Le Corsaire Pas de Deux.
These students improve with every year and I look forward to seeing their continued progress.
Dance Theatre of Harlem Relaunched
April 10, 2013
By Mark Kappel
When the Dance Theatre of Harlem disbanded about a decade ago, it was thought that one of our major ballet companies was lost forever. In spite of many setbacks, the Dance Theatre of Harlem spent the last nine years rebuilding its organization. After a nine-year hiatus, the re-launched Dance Theatre of Harlem presented its first New York engagement at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Now under the direction of former Dance Theatre of Harlem principal dancer, Virginia Johnson, this engagement was a showcase of the Dance Theatre of Harlem's past and present, and where the Dance Theatre of Harlem will be headed in the future.
The opening night of the engagement on April 10, 2013 included a variety of works in a variety of styles. Some of the works were familiar and there were a few surprises.
Very familiar was Balanchine's Agon, a work that has been a signature piece for the Dance Theatre of Harlem as the company's founder/artistic director, Arthur Mitchell was in the ballet's original cast. The Dance Theatre of Harlem presented its company premiere of Agon in 1971. Simple in design but choreographically like a tapestry.
The staging by Richard Tanner revealed new details in the choreography that are not always in evidence in performances of Agon. The cast of Gabrielle Salvatto, Fredrick Davis, Taurean Green, and Chrystyn Fentroy was step perfect.
New to the company's repertoire was Anna-Marie Holmes staging of the Black Swan Pas de Deux from Act III of Swan Lake. When the Black Swan Pas de Deux is performed out of context it becomes a technical display and Michaela DePrince certainly provided the technical virtuosity one expected -- and this virtuosity also pushed her partner, Samuel Wilson, to dance his best.
Also new to the company's repertoire was John Alleyne's Far But Close, a solemn work danced to a combination of text by Daniel Beaty and music by Daniel Bernard Roumain. The subject of the text is how putting up emotional walls does not allow people to be open to loving relationships. Alleyne's choreography for Ashley Murphy, Stephanie Rae Williams, Da' Von Doane, and Jehbreal Jackson reflected an urban landscape and urban alienation.
Closing the program was Robert Garland's Return, a work created in 1999 and set to recordings by Aretha Franklin and James Brown, in which Garland incorporated classical ballet with vernacular movement. The choreography had moments of spontaneity which reflected the pure joy of dancing. A highlight was the "Call Me" section in which Garland's choreography appeared to be ironic in response to the song's lyrics.
The mix of new works and familiar works presented challenges to the Dance Theatre of Harlem's young dancers that they will have to grow into over time. However the seed has been planted and one looks forward to see how the new Dance Theatre of Harlem evolves.
One must credit all connected with the Dance Theatre of Harlem for their persistence in making this re-launch possible.
La Scala Ballet Dances Notre Dame de Paris
March 10, 2013
By Mark Kappel
The La Scala Ballet has not been well represented in terms of the number of its performances in the Ballet in Cinema series and the only presentation by this company in this season's series is of Roland Petit's Notre Dame de Paris. Based on Victor Hugo's novel this full-length ballet was created for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1965 -- and was performed by the Ballet National de Marseille in New York in 1983. Ten years out of La Scala Ballet's repertoire, Notre Dame de Paris was presented in a screening on March 10th, 2013 -- a performance captured live on February 14th, 2013.
A man of the theatre as well as of the dance world, Petit simplified Victor Hugo's story, and set the action in an atmosphere of minimal design.
In discovering the source for the plot of Hugo's novel, as referenced in the program for the Ballet National de Marseille's performances of Notre Dame de Paris in New York, there is the mention that, "Victor Hugo recounts that when workers were excavating the ditch where the executed criminals of Montfaucon had been thrown, they found two skeletons closely entwined. One was identified as that of a woman from the shreds of clothing that still clung to her bones, the other was that of a deformed man."
The story is set in Paris in 1482 where the archdeacon Frollo (Mick Jeni) has been the guardian of the abandoned hunchback Quasimodo (Roberto Bolle) who has been groomed to be Notre Dame's bell-ringer. Frollo orders Quasimodo to abduct the gypsy girl Esmeralda (Natalia Osipova) but in eluding Quasimodo, Esmeralda encounters Phoebus (Eris Nezha) with whom she falls in love. Esmeralda feels pity for Quasimodo's plight and it is Quasimodo who becomes her hero by protecting her after Phoebus is stabbed and Esmeralda is convicted of the crime. Although Esmeralda escapes once from Frollo, she is not successful the second time and she is led to the gallows. Seeking revenge Quasimodo kills Frollo, ending the ballet with Quasimodo very much on his own.
Set to a score by Maurice Jarre with costumes by Yves Saint Laurent and scenery by Rene Allio, this is a striking and epic re-telling of Hugo's story. And although there is a 1960's veneer in style of design and choreography, Petit's Notre Dame de Paris does not look anachronistic in the 21st century. In fact one can observe how much Petit's work has influenced choreographers of the current day.
Petit tells the story with organic and mimimal choreography yet creating choreographic themes for each of the characters. For instance Petit represents Quasimodo's deformity in choreographic terms with a jutting elbow.
The corps de ballet often is seen in ensemble dances repeating steps to the beating rhythms in the music, and representing a Greek chorus commenting on and observing each dramatic turn in the ballet. It is not only the choreography that tells the story but also the expressiveness of characterization by the dancers in the principal roles.
When the Ballet National de Marseille performed Petit's Notre Dame de Paris at the Metropolitan Opera House, the performances featured the ballet stars of the day including Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, and Richard Cragun. La Scala assembled an equally stellar cast.
Forsaking vanity Roberto Bolle took on the role of the grotesque Quasimodo infusing the character with humanity. Natalia Osipova as Esmeralda exhibited the spirit and emotions of a gypsy girl. Mick Zeni was particularly menacing and venal as Frollo, and Eris Nezha gave a gallant performance as Phoebus.
Ballet Flamenco de Andalucia
March 7, 2013
By Mark Kappel
Bringing the art of flamenco to a wider audience, the New York City Center and Flamenco Festival is presenting Ballet Flamenco de Andalucia in the U.S. premiere of Ruben Olmo's Metafora from March 6-9, 2013.
Olmo's Metafora reflects the blending of music and dance traditions that have evolved in Andalucia more than 200 years ago to the present. The concept and choreography is a tribute to flamenco's full spectrum -- and Metafora is genuinely engaging and hugely entertaining.
Divided into two parts, the first part explores the folkloric origins of flamenco which date from the 18th century. Opening with a quartet of male dancers, in a dance accompanied by live music, the stage is set for the exploration of traditional flamenco -- classic and in all its earthiness and emotion. Alternating with ensembles pieces, duets and solo performances, represented was the entire spectrum of traditional flamenco.
The second half of Metafora is a showcase of how flamenco has absorbed movement from contemporary dance styles and ballet. Ruben Olmo opens this section of the program in a solo that could be easily inserted into the ballet, Don Quixote, with balletic turns and jumps. Moving on to ensemble dances that featured solos by company members.
Both parts of Metafora were highlighted by the solo turns danced by Pastora Galvan and Rocio Molina -- both of whom commanded the stage and who exacted every drop of emotion from the choreography that they danced.
Ballet Flamenco de Andalucia is a company of 19 dancers, singers, and musicians. In addition to guest artists, Pastora Galvan, and Rocio Molina, and company soloists, Patricia Guerrero and Eduardo Leal, the company's dancers included Ana Agraz, Marta Arias, Sara Arevalo, Maise Marquez, Sara Vazquez, Juan Carlos Cardoso, Angel Farina, Fernando Jimenez and Alvaro Panos, who move easily from one style of flamenco to the next.
They are ably supported by Michele Laccorinio and Daniel Jurado on guitar, David Chupete on percussion, and singers, Juana Salazar "La Tobala", and Cristian Guerrero.
Pacific Northest Ballet Performs Romeo et Juliette
February 16, 2013
By Mark Kappel
As part of its City Center engagement, the Pacific Northwest Ballet performed Jean-Christophe Maillot's production of Romeo et Juliette -- a version of Romeo and Juliet that defies convention and places the story in the context of the 20th and 21st centuries.
The ballet opens with the name of the ballet, choreographer, composer, designers, and dancers projected on a scrim -- screen credits that are forewarnings that this will not be a typical production of Romeo and Juliet
Maillot tells the story through the eyes of Friar Laurence (portrayed and danced by William Lan-Yee) who watches the tragedy unfold in flashbacks and in real time -- also participating in the action. Familiar episodes are shortened or excised as the story speeds to its tragic end eliminating the large ensemble dances that have become familiar in other versions of Romeo and Juliet.
This is a minimalist version not only in moving swfitly from one development in the plot to another, but also in terms of minimalist scenery (designed by Ernest Pignon-Earnest) -- stationery pieces of scenery on which light is projected and used in multiple scenes in the ballet. Jerome Kaplan's costumes reflect high fashion which also reflects the timelessness of this particular version of Romeo and Juliet.
Besides the character of Friar Laurence being omnipresent, the character of Tybalt has also been enlarged -- as has the character of Lady Capulet whose interest in Juliet marrying Paris is also of self-interest as the impression is left that she has designs on Paris herself.
The balcony scene for Romeo and Juliet is danced in a playful manner yet in this version of Romeo and Juliet the star-crossed lovers are more knowing than innocent.
Maillot's choreography is dotted with silent anguished screams of despair, angular movement that is reminiscent of Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham -- and no swords or knives in the street scenes. Deaths are noted with blood-stained scarves or red scarves being pulled out of dead bodies.
The only conventional aspect of Maillot's version of Romeo and Juliet is the use of Serge Prokovfiev's score which is the blueprint for most productions of Romeo and Juliet.
Throughout the proceedings there are the ominous apprehensions warning us that the worst is about to happen -- sheer moments of love and joy are not the focus in this version of Romeo and Juliet.
Maillot's Romeo et Juliette was acquired by Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2008 and it was a bold choice of repertoire to bring to New York considering it was created on Les Ballets de Monte Carlo -- and the company had danced Maillot's Romeo et Juliette at the City Center in 1999. Everything about Maillot's production has a European edge and it was interesting to see an American ballet company bring such a production to life -- which it certainly did.
Kaori Nakamura and James Moore danced the title roles on February 16, 2013 with Maria Chapman dancing the role of Lady Capulet.
Nakamura and Moore made for a compelling pair and were attuned to Maillot's unconventional approach to the story and how the story builds to its climax. Lots of plot details are missing in Maillot's adaptation and Nakamura and Moore filled in the gaps not only with their dancing but also in their acting. Chapman's Lady Capulet chewed the minimal scenery and was the focus of every scene that she danced in.
If Maillot's Romeo et Juliette isn't everyone's cup of tea, Pacific Northwest Ballet choice to acquire the ballet represented an artistic challenge.
Pacific Northwest Ballet Returns To City Center
February 13, 2013
By Mark Kappel
Pacific Northwest Ballet returned to the City Center after an absence from the City Center for more than a decade -- although the company had performed at the Joyce Theater in 2010. This City Center engagement is to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary and the ballets danced as part of the opening night performance represented the cornerstone of the company's repertoire.
Honoring the company's affiliation and commitment to the works of George Balanchine, the Pacific Northest Ballet's first performance on February 13, 2013 was of a mixed-bill program in tribute to Balanchine which included three of his seminal works.
Apollo had been created for the Diaghilev Ballet Russes in 1928. Set to a commissioned score composed by Igor Stravinsky, Balanchine's aproach to this Greek myth was as a modernist rather than as a traditionalist.
In the late 1970's Balanchine revised the choreography for Apollo, eliminating the first scene which included Apollo's birth and simplifying the scenic design. It is this revised version that the Pacific Northwest Ballet danced.
This production of Apollo was staged by Pacific Northwest Ballet's current artistic director, Peter Boal, a former principal dancer of the New York City Ballet. This staging is infused with details which provide signposts re-telling the story that is the central focus of the ballet. Although the excising of the first scene also eliminates the back story in Balanchine's Apollo, there is plenty of story to tell in this revised version of the ballet.
Two of the principal roles in this performance of Apollo were danced by former members of the New York City Ballet - Seth Orza in the title role and Carla Korbes as Terpsichore -- joined by Maria Chapman as Calliope, and Lesley Rausch as Polyhymnia. Orza and Korbes were tight fits in their roles and danced their roles with fluency.
Concerto Barocco, danced to Bach's Double Violin Concerto, is another Balanchine work that was not created for the New York City Ballet. It was premiered by Ballet Caravan in 1941. Similar to the other ballets on this program, Concerto Barocco represented bare bones simplicity and focused on Balanchine's repsonse to Bach's Double Violin Concerto.
Two ballerinas represent the two violins who are both supported by a lone male dancer and a compact number of eight female corps de ballet dancers. Balanchine's choreography is as symmetrical as Bach's music and Pacific Northwest Ballet's performance of the ballet on the City Center stage was an opportunity to focus on the intricacies and musicality of Balanchine's choreography.
Pacific Northwest Ballet's cast was Laura Gilbreath and Lindsi Dec as the two violins and Batkhurel Bold as the partner for the second movement adagio. All of the dancers gave well-schooled performances melding the choreography with the music.
The only Balanchine work on this mixed-bill program, that was created for the New York City Ballet, was Agon. Agon is also choreographed to a commissioned score composed by Igor Stravinsky and was premiered by the New City Ballet in 1957. Balanchine's style of modernity reached its apex with this ballet which musically has roots in the French baroque but is striking for its 20th century influences.
Agon is divided up into two pas de trois -- individually led by Jonathan Poretta and Maria Chaplman -- followed by a pas de deux, danced by Lesley Rausch and Batkhurel Bold -- which is modern yet classic at the same time. The entire cast was attuned to the choreography's demands.
The Pacific Northwest Ballet danced all of these ballets to slightly slower musical tempi than one sees these ballets danced by the New York City Ballet, which reveals all of Balanchine's choreography.
Working Women at the Joyce Theater
February 1, 2013
By Mark Kappel
The Gotham Arts Exchange has been in the forefront of pooling resources to make it possible for small modern dance and ballet companies to be able to present performances in New York. On February 1, 2013, the Gotham Arts Exchange presented a themed program entitled Working Women at the Joyce Theater which focused on works created by female choreographers -- choreographers who are expressing themselves in the modern dance idiom. Although these choreographers were working in the same dance idiom, they all offered diversity in their ideas and forms of expression.
Framing the program was Monica Bill Barnes' Luster -- danced by Barnes and Anna Bass. The first part of Luster begins with a video of Barnes and Bass carrying a proscenium arch through the streets of New York making their way to the backstage area of the Joyce Theater -- and making their entrance in person on the Joyce Theater stage. After setting up the proscenium and adding lights and props, Barnes and Bass procede to dancing and to moving to Ike and Tina Turner's rendition of "Proud Mary". They were prepared to provide everything needed for a performance as their props appeared out of shopping bags -- from sequined dresses, to make-up, and roses already thrown up on the stage for their bows.
Bookending the performance was the second part of Luster performed at the end of this program which was danced to music by Lionel Richie -- in front of a video screen showing road vistas as these dancers took their act on the road with wit and humor.
Jane Comfort's Untitled was a pure dance piece. Its choreographic focal point was a male dancer crawling across the back of the stage with a light in his mouth to guide his journey. Light is the metaphor in Untitled as in the final moments of the piece, the male dancer is then surrounded by other dancers with lights in hand.
Janis Brenner's solo, Contents May Have Shifted is a choreographic riff on the gypsy life of a dancer -- travelling on planes. Framed by LED lights circumscribing an airport runway, Holley Farmer navigated the metaphoric runway emphasizing the angular and incisive movement that Brenner created. Mitchell Bogard's set and lighting designs illuminated Brenner's choreographic images. Farmer brought much of herself to this piece -- making it her own. Farmer's performance was one of the virtuoso performances on this program.
Loni Landon's Rebuilding Sandcastles was a response to the damage from Hurricane Sandy. The piece explored relationships as they evolve through the best of times and the worst of times -- emotional connections -- focusing on a man who punctuates the piece as he exits the stage -- all alone.
Carolyn Dorfman's duet, Keystone, delved into the high points of a relationship. A perfect choreographic metaphor for Dorfman's point of view was dancers giving the illusion of creating snow angels on the stage danced to the musical soundtrack of a quirky recording of White Christmas. Jacqueline Dumas Albert and Louie Marin contributed much to relating Dorfman's intent.
Kate Weare's The Light Has Not The Arms To Carry Us was ambiguous in nature but intriguing. One of the world premieres presented on this program, this piece was colored by the effortless performances of the dancers, Douglas Gillespie, Leslie Kraus, T.J. Spaur, and Bergen Wheeler.
Another world premiere on this program, Sidra Bell's Beyond The Edge of the Frame, for Bodytraffic, reflected an urban scene -- urban dwellers seeking out relationships -- life on the edge. The immediacy in Bell's choreography grabbed one's attention and the collaborative effort by the dancers enhanced the piece's effectiveness.
Camille A. Brown created a showcase for her own virtuoso performance in her solo, Real Cool, from a larger work, Mr. Tol E. RAncE. Set to a jazz interpretation of What A Wonderful World, the piece explores the past images of the black minstrel shows including theatrical conventions of the past and how they still remain with us in the present.
Not all of the world premieres are fully realized pieces and will be developed by their choreographers as they evolve. Combined as a whole there is a pool of talented female choreographers who have much to express and this was an opportunity for these choreographers to communicate to an attentive audience.
However I look forward to the day when such showcases won't be needed and that female choreographers can be referred to as choreographers and their work would be fully integrated into the repertoires of modern dance and ballet companies.
Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Performance Project in The Nutcracker
December 8, 2012
By Mark Kappel
There are many productions of The Nutcracker presented in New York during the holiday season. Not only productions danced by professional ballet companies but also those by ballet schools. Performance opportunities for ballet students offer on-stage experience and a showcase to test their talents.
One of the leading showcases is presented by Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Performance Project which returned to Symphony Space on December 8, 2012 with its annual production of The Nutcracker. With Act I choreography by Margo Sappington, and Act II staged by Valentina Kozlova after Petipa and Vainonen, this production's priorities are not only to be entertaining but also to aspire to a high standard of dancing -- and also to the telling the magical story that the ballet is based on.
What is more important is that the combination of professional dancers, student dancers, and dedicated volunteers and artistic staff creates an exciting whole each year as the student dancers improve with every performance and there are professional dancers engaged that are new to the production.
This production of The Nutcracker includes the Christmas Party, the Battle Scene between the Mouse King and the Nutcracker Prince, the Snow Scene, and the divertissements that make up Act II of The Nutcracker. And there are lots children participating in the production as well.
For this year's performance Veronika Verterich returned to the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy and she was partnered by Daniyar Shmanov, principal dancer of the Kazakh State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet. Both dancers possess academic classicism in their training, and also include musicality and polish in their performances. Verterich now has the experience for her Sugar Plum Fairy to be regal as well, and Shmanov's skilled partnering contributed to a successful partnership.
The Snow Scene was well led by Demitra Bereveskos (as Clara) and Francis Lewis of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Konstantin Dournev, currently a principal dancer of the New Jersey Ballet, interpreted the role of Drosselmeyer with humor while offering the character's magic tricks and being the guide during Clara's dream.
Every year this production of The Nutcracker improves in quality, the dancers improve their stage presence and increase their confidence -- all fine examples of their training.
If you were unable to attend the performance at Symphony Space, this production of The Nutcracker will also be danced at the Guild Hall in East Hampton, New York on December 22, 2012.
The Mariinsky Ballet in
The Nutcracker - in 3D!
December 3, 2012
By Mark Kappel
'Tis the season for productions of The Nutcracker to dominate ballet stages worldwide. However in this digital age, one can also see performances of The Nutcracker in movie houses.
NCM Fathom Events, More2Screen, and Euro Arts Music have banded together to present what is the first screening of the Mariinsky Ballet's production of The Nutcracker in 3D. The screening was presented nationwide in the United States on December 3, 2012.
The Mariinsky Ballet's production of The Nutcracker has its legacy going back to The Nutcracker's premiere in 1892. The Mariinsky Ballet currently has two productions of The Nutcracker in its repertoire and this screening was of the Vasily Vainonen production.
The original choreography for The Nutcracker has been attributed to Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. But through the years, many choreographers have left their creative mark on the choreography. Vainonen was no exception. Vainonen first staged his production of The Nutcracker in 1934, and the Mariinsky Ballet revived this production in 1954. The company has been performing this production of The Nutcracker ever since. As it would not be typical for the Mariinsky Ballet to include The Nutcracker in its repertoire for its American tours, this was an ideal opportunity to see this ballet danced by the company that premiered it more than 100 years ago.
Vainonen presented his version of The Nutcracker in three acts and an epilogue with clear references that the story is part of Masha's dream -- and coming of age. The production is bookended by Masha falling asleep with her Nutcracker Doll and the Epilogue depicts Masha waking up from her dream.
Act I is the traditional Christmas Party during which Drosselmeyer presents a puppet show depicting the story of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, and in addition mechanical dolls to entertain the children. At the entertainment's end, Drosselmeyer presents Masha with a Nutcracker Doll. Vainonen's choreography for the children is formal and there isn't much spontaneity at this Christmas Party. Nevertheless Vainonen sets the stage for Masha's future adventures.
It is in Act II where Masha's adventures really begin as she is involved in the Nutcracker's Battle with the Mouse King -- which seques into the Snow Scene where the Nutcracker Prince and a young Masha (danced by Alexandra Korshunova) are transformed by Drosselmeyer into an adult Prince (danced by Vladimir Shklyarov) and an adult Masha (danced by Alina Somova). It is the adult Prince and the adult Masha who dance Vainonen's showy choreography in the Snow Scene Pas de Deux to be followed by the Snowflake corps in an ensemble dance -- ending with the Snowflakes departing in the background as Masha and the Prince prepare for their next adventure.
In Act III Masha and the Prince arrive in a royal kingdom where the Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, Russian, and Pastorale dances are performed -- along with the Waltz of the Flowers danced by the courtiers.
Vainonen put his own personal stamp on the adagio section of the Grand Pas de Deux for Masha and the Prince, where four cavaliers are integrated into the choreography -- similar to the Rose Adagio in The Sleeping Beauty. Alina Somova and Vladimir Shklyarov danced the Grand Pas de Deux with the required grandeur and showmanship.
Vainonen's The Nutcracker ends with an Epilogue in which Masha awakes from her sleep to discover that her adventures were only in a dream.
All of the dancers danced their roles in a pure style and with a joy of dancing, and seemed inspired by the music, which was gloriously played by the Mariinsky Theater's orchestra under the guidance of Valery Gergiev.
Although the Mariinsky Ballet tours the United States on an annual basis, the company's performances in New York tend to be less frequent on these tours. This screening of the Mariinsky Ballet in The Nutcracker offered an opportunity to see the company in its home theatre in St. Petersburg.
American Dance Machine's First Look
November 14, 2012
City Center/Studio 4
By Mark Kappel
The American Dance Machine for the 21st Century, founded by Nikki Feirt Atkins and directed by Margo Sappington, presented a sneak preview showing of its repertoire at the City Center's Studio 4 on November 14, 2012.
In its continuing efforts to acquire and perform excerpts of choreography from Broadway musicals, ADM has added to its repertoire, "Beat Me Daddy Eight To The Bar" from Bob Fosse's Big Deal, a short-lived musical that opened in 1986. It was also the last original musical that Fosse directed and choreographed. For this performance Fosse's choreography was recreated by Kathryn Doby and a team of Big Deal's original cast members including the show's Dance Captain, Valarie Pettiford.
Big Deal was based on the Italian film, Big Deal on Madonna Street, which Fosse re-located to the South Side of Chicago in the 1930's. The score was a collage of songs from that period and the writers of the music of "Beat Me Daddy Eight To The Bar" were Don Raye, Hughie Prince and Eleanor Sheehy.
Pettiford sang in the dancers -- a young and dynamic ensemble -- who performed Fosse's stylish choreography with energy and showmanship. This was the kind of dancing that would blow off the roof of a theater and with enough energy to return power to any part of the New York metropolitan area where Hurricane Sandy damaged power lines.
The American Dance Machine also presented three excerpts that have become part of the company's repertoire.
Opening the program was "Simply Irresistible" from Susan Stroman's Contact led by Naomi Kakuk as the Girl in the Yellow Dress, evoking a slice of New York night life -- swing dancing in a pool hall that is magically transformed into a dance hall. Stroman's choreography captures the excitement and loneliness of living in New York -- and people seeking connections.
Georgina Pazcoguin, Amar Ramasar, and Daniel Ulbricht (dancing his role for the first time) of the New York City Ballet danced in Mr. Monotony from Jerome Robbins' Broadway, highlighted by Amra-Faye Wright's singing of Irving Berlin's song. Staged by Robert LaFosse, Robbins' choreography for Mr. Monotony is a prime example of Robbins' skill in creating narrative dance -- also Robbins' choreographic response to the lyrics in the song is clear and cogent.
Maria Kowroski of the New York City Ballet (dancing her role for the first time) was partnered by Charles Askegard in Margo Sappington's restaging of Gower Champion's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" from the film, Lovely To Look At -- an example of the great days of movie musicals -- and their glamour.
All three of these pieces were enlivened by the performances of these talented and versatile dancers.
Seeing these last three pieces performed by the American Dance Machine for a second time -- and "Beat Me Daddy Eight To The Bar" -- emphasized the need to archive these important pieces of theatrical choreography and for them to be seen by today's audiences and future audiences. They are part of our heritage after all!
The Royal Ballet in Dowell's Swan Lake
November 4, 2012
By Mark Kappel
The Royal Ballet's current production of Swan Lake was last seen in New York in 1991 and Ballet in Cinema's showing of the Royal Ballet's Swan Lake on November 4th, 2012, was an opportunity to re-visit what has now become an old friend.
The Royal Ballet premiered Anthony Dowell's staging of Swan Lake in 1987 which the company continues to perform to this very day. In preparation for its premiere , efforts were made to stage this production keeping in mind the Royal Ballet's legacy of past productions of Swan Lake and the latest reearch on the original production that was revealed in newly-available archives in Russia. Research for this production was based on a book about Tchaikovsky's ballets by Roland John Wiley which upended the long-held opinion that Swan Lake was not a success when it was given its premiere in Moscow in 1877.
Rather than a medieval setting this production is performed in the time period of late Romanov Russia in the 19th century but follows the blueprint of the Marius Petipa/Lev Ivanov production presented at the Mariinsky Ballet in 1895. The story is told in a forthright and clear manner although there were some anachronistic bits and pieces in the production of this ballet. The use of crossbows and swords doesn't fit the time period nor does the Phantom of the Opera-like masquerade ball that serves as Act III.
David Bintley contributed the choreography for the Act I Waltz which includes both peasants and aristocrats. The peasants dance their sections employing stools while the aristocrats partner each other with ribbons -- a reference to Ashton's ribbon dance in his La Fille Mal Gardee.
Frederick Ashton's choreography for the Act III Neopolitan Dance was inserted into this production and was given an oustanding performance by Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera.
Yolanda Sonnabend designed impressionistic costumes and scenery -- yet detailed to match the era and research on the original production. Straying from traditional design, the Swan corps is costumed in long, tattered tutus -- discarding the bird-like references in other productions of the ballet. All of these changes and revisions have contributed to the impression that this production of Swan Lake was conceived much like a jigsaw puzzle without having an overview.
Yet through the years this production has been danced, the performances of the Royal Ballet dancers from principal dancers down to the corps de ballet have been polished, well-coached and with the characters well-drawn.
Zenaida Yanowsky as Odette/Odile and Nehemiah Kish as Prince Siegfried had their bobbles and off-kilter moments -- particularly in the Black Swan Pas de Deux, but overall both dancers gave polished, sophisticated, and well acted performances in these principal roles.
Notable in supporting roles were the character dancers, Gary Avis as Von Rothbart, Alastair Marriott as The Tutor, Valeri Hristov as Benno, the cast of Helen Crawford, Yuhui Choe, and Alexander Campbell in the Act I Pas de Trois, and Hikaru Kobayashi and Itziar Mendizabal as the Big Swans.
Overall it was a pleasure to see a traditional version of Swan Lake danced with a traditional point of view and style. Not only did the dancing make this production come alive, but also the story was told clearly and concisely.
Ballet Next at the Joyce Theater
October 23 & 24, 2012
By Mark Kappel
The founding of a ballet company in this economic environment is especially difficult. Michele Wiles, former principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre, and Charles Askegard, former principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, have combined to do just that with their company, Ballet Next, which appeared at the Joyce Theater from October 23-28, 2012.
Ballet Next's mission is to present new choreography and for the company's performances to be accompanied by live music. In fulfilling this mission Ballet Next presented two different programs which included commissioned works by choreographers, Alison Cook Beatty, Margo Sappington, Mauro Bigonzetti, Brian Reeder, and co-artistic director, Charles Askegard. And all of these pieces were performed with live musical accompaniment.
The opening night program on October 23, 2012 included the works choreographed by Alison Cook Beatty, Margo Sappington, and Mauro Bigonzetti -- the latter two pieces had been seen in studio showings earlier this year.
Margo Sappington's Entwined, inspired by Erik Satie's Gnossienne No. 2, 7, 5, 3 & 4, evolved from a pas de deux to include a solo (for Michele Wiles) as well as a second duet (danced by Georgina Pazcoguin of the New York City Ballet, and Kristie Latham) and a trio. Entwined is clearly about relationships and people seeking connections. Sappington's choreography embraced Satie's music, and Entwined's performance was highlighted by the dancing of Michele Wiles in her solo, and the dancing of Karina Gonzalez (of the Houston Ballet), and Charles Askegard in the closing pas de deux.
Bigonzetti's La Follia, is a duet that was created for Ballet Next in 2011. Bigonzetti's choreography focused on angular movement, hand movements -- and in general, the whole body moving and interpreting Antonio Vivaldi's quartet sonata. The piece is dominated by tandem duets danced by Wiles and Georgina Pazcoguin, who are the visual instruments of the choreographer. Both dancers gave virtuoso performances.
Alison Cook Beatty's Tinntinnabuli, danced to Arvo Part's familiar "Tabula Rasa", was dominated by ritualistic choreography -- with the music functioning as a soundtrack. The opening section was dominated by a shaft of light cutting up the stage in diagonal shapes with the choreography restricted to limited movement. It was only in the central pas de deux -- danced by Michele Wiles and Jason Reilly (of the Stuttgart Ballet) -- that the choreography opened up with a variety of modern movement.
Ballet Next's second program performed on October 24, 2012 included premieres by Brian Reeder, Charles Askegard, and Mauro Bigonzetti.
Opening the program was Charles Askegard's Stravinsky Divertimento, set to Stravinsky's Divertimento for Piano and Violin, a mirror reflection of choreography and music -- Askegard's choreography reflected the charm and humor in Stravinsky's music. Danced by Askegard himself and Georgina Pazcoguin -- their exuberant dancing exuded both charm and humor.
Brian Reeder's premiere, Picnic, inspired by the 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock, was choreographed to Shostakovitch's moody Cello Sonata in D Minor. Picnic At Hanging Rock was based on the story of the disappearance of several schoolgirls and their teacher during a picnic on St. Valentin'e Day in 1990 -- in Australia. Reeder took an abstract -- yet Tudoresque -- approach focusing on dancers featuring one of the schoolgirls (Michele Wiles) and a sinister man (Charles Askegard) intruding on the peaceful scene. It was refreshing to see a narrative work in an era in which most world premieres are abstract works.
The closing work on this program was Mauro Bigonzetti's BachGround, choreographed to short pieces of music composed by Johann Sebastian Bach.
A work for six dancers -- four female (Lily Nicole Balogh, Kristie Latham, Georgina Pazcoguin, Michele Wiles), two male (Jesus Pastor and Clifford Williams) -- Bigonzetti begins and ends the work with all of the dancers seated on chairs -- paired off on a stage divided by focused light behind the dancerss. In between there is a series of heated duets and solos with the dancers moving every part of their bodies -- never stoping, never taking a moment of pause -- and seemingly expressing fear and rage.
Between these two performances Ballet Next accomplished its mission and in future performances, I hope will continue to expand its vision presenting new commissions.
Stars of the 21st Century Returns to New York
October 18, 2012
David Koch Theater
By Mark Kappel
A ballet gala can be the equivalent of a glorious buffet, and in contrast can be compared to speed-dating. Variety is inherent in such presentations, but perhaps we could have spent more time with the dancers.
With that in mind, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Stars of the 21st Century's first performance, Nadia and Solomon Tencer produced the first Stars of the 21st Century gala in New York since 2008 at the David Koch Theater on October 18, 2012. The Tencers must be credited for their ambitious programming and their organization to pull off these gala ballet evenings. In particular the Stars of the 21st Century gala gave the New York dance season a much needed shot in the arm.
As in the past, this year's edition of the Stars of the 21st Century focused on European dancers from major European ballet companies, and they danced repertoire that was a reflection of what these European ballet companies are acquiring for their repertoires at the moment. Included in the program were the usual grand pas de deux from the 19th century war horses but there was a smattering of contemporary ballet pieces that varied in quality and didn't always show off the dancers. In many instances the dancers transcended the quality of the choreography they danced.
There were numerous highlights in this performance, but notable were the sparkling performances of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux danced by Maria Shirinkina and Vladimir Shklayrov of the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet, and Balanchine's Rubies Pas de Deux danced by Sarah Lamb and Eric Underwood of the Royal Ballet.
Bravura was in evidence in the Don Quixote Pas de Deux danced by Katerina Chebykina and Denis Matvienko of the National Ballet of Ukraine, and in Gsovski's Grand Pas Classique danced by Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin of the Bolshoi Ballet.
However the moments of greatest artistry were inherent in the performances of Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino of the Bavarian State Opera Ballet dancing a pas de deux from John Neumeier's The Lady of the Camellias, Desmond Richardson of Complexions Contemporary Ballet dancing the Moonlight Solo from Dwight Rhoden's Frames, and Alicia Graf Mack and Jamar Roberts of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in an excerpt from Judith Jamison's Reminiscin'.
This performance marked the New York farewell of Vladimir Malakhov, artistic director/principal dancer of the State Ballet Berlin, who partnered Nadja Saidakova in a duet from Angelin Preljocaj's Le Parc.
Other participants in the performance included Olga Esina and Eno Pesci of the Vienna State Opera Ballet, Elisa Cabrera and Mikhail Kaniskin of the State Ballet Berlin, and Svetlana Zakharova and Andrei Merkuriev of the Bolshoi Ballet, who chose to present themselves in contemporary ballet and dance pieces of varying degrees of quality.
All of the dancers participated in the rousing performance-ending finale -- and the many curtain calls that followed.
It can't be emphasized enough how much New York audiences adore these gala evenings of dance -- the virtuosity, the bravura, and seeing unfamiliar dancers for the first time.
Bolshoi Ballet Dances La Sylphide
October 7, 2012
By Mark Kappel
Ballet in Cinema continued its series of showings wiht the Bolshoi Ballet dancing Johan Kobborg's production of La Sylphide on October 7, 2012 -- a performance that took place in Moscow on September 30, 2012.
La Sylphide is one of the gems of the Romantic era of ballet. In the past the Bolshoi Ballet has danced productions of both the reconstruction of the original Paris Opera Ballet version of La Sylphide, staged by Pierre Lacotte, and productions of La Sylphide based on Auguste Bournonville's Danish -- and more familiar -- version. Unlike the Petipa classics of the 19th century, La Sylphide has not been embraced by audiences with the same enthusiasm.
La Sylphide challenges the dancers as they must master a style of ballet that has been curated in Denmark -- along with the training of dancers to dance these ballets with the correct style and technique. Coaching dancers in this particular style is an ingredient in the success of any production of La Sylphide.
Resembling the stories in other ballets of the Romantic era, the plot for La Sylphide is a romantic triangle in which women are placed on pedestals while men are not as reliable and loyal. They often stray. They often betray.
In this instance James strays from his fiancee, Effie to follow a Sylph, a spirit of the Scottish woodlands, and suffers the consequences concocted by a witch who James has not treated kindly. In the end James loses both his fiancee - who marries James' rival, Gurn -- and also loses the Sylph.
The Bolshoi Ballet's current production of La Sylphide was staged by Kobborg in 2008 with new designs by Peter Farmer. Kobborg based his production on the traditional Bournonville version -- a restaging of a production of La Sylphide that Kobborg had staged for the Royal Ballet in 2005. Farmer's designs were distinctive in that they were muted autumnal colors, and James' house was a bit more baronial manor than farm house.
Nothing in Kobborg's La Sylphide is particularly different from other productions of Bournonville's La Sylphide that have been danced by ballet companies in Europe and the United States. But as compared to these other productions, the Bolshoi Ballet's dancers do emphasize dramatic details in the telling of the story in this ballet and certain characters were portrayed in a different manner from other productions.
Not all of the Bolshoi Ballet's dancers have mastered the Bournonville style of dancing which is characterized by allegro patterns and minimal partnering. But Ekaterina Krysanova in the title role and Vyacheslav Lopatin were in control of the jumping and quick footwork that the Bournonville choreography demanded. Krysanova's Sylph was at times a happy Sylph and at times a mournful Sylph. Lopatin's James was lovesick and adventurous.
Interesting was Irina Zibrova's characterization of Madge the Witch which was not entirely her own. Madge, in this production, was not presented with the stereotypical look of an old witch. Far more glamorous in some respects. But what was different in this production was that Madge did not seem enraged enough at James for his unkindness and in seeking her revenge -- rather than gesturing in triumph over James -- she merely strolled off into the forest.
As always the Bolshoi Ballet put its excellent character dancers front and center as exemplified by Zibrova, but also the young dancers, Anna Rebetskaya as Effie and Denis Savin as Gurn, whose roles required as much acting as dancing.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival's Third Program
October 2, 2012
By Mark Kappel
The City Center Fall for Dance Festival's Third Program, presented on October 2, 2012, was diverse in terms of dance styles and content. Ballet, modern dance, and folk dance were included in this program -- classical ballet to contemporary dance to ethnic, and rousing ensemble dancing.
Ballet West, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and directed by Adam Sklute, has not consistently performed in New York. However the company has become more familiar to audiences as a result of the company's participation in a television reality show, Breaking Pointe, which has brought the company international attention.
To open this City Center Fall for Dance Festival program, Ballet West danced Elena Kunakova's staging of Paquita, a piece that was focused on during the run of Breaking Pointe. This was a straightforward staging of this Petipa classic -- stylish dancing ad polished performances from the principal dancers to the soloists down to the corps de ballet. Paquita is an anomaly even in classical ballet with only one male dancer in the cast. Paquita is pure entertainment but also offers many challenges to classical ballet dancers.
Dancing the principal roles were Christiana Bennett and Rex Tilton, who were shown in Breaking Pointe going through the trials and tribulations of rehearsing in, and the performing of ,Paquita.
Shortly before Ballet West's performances at the City Center it was announced that Breaking Pointe would be renewed for a second season.
In contrast was Tu Dance's New York premiere performance of Uri Sands' High Heel Blues. Tu Dance is co-directed by Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands, and Sands danced one of the principal roles in High Heel Blues opposite Yusha Marie Sorzano. Taking its cue from Tuck and Patti's music and lyrics, High Heel Blues is a modern dance duet focusing on the story of a woman' search for high-heeled shoes and a smooth salesman who takes advantage of the woman's obsession. The brief comic duet was clever in that Sands was inspired not only by the music but also the narrative content in the lyrics.
Nan Jombang, hailing from Indonesia, presented the United States premiere of Ery Mefri's Tarian Malam (Night Dances). Inspired by an earthquake that struck the city of Padang -- and its aftermath -- this piece explored how a community copes with this natural disaster.
The soundtrack primarily consisted of chants, and drums -- the dancers created their own rhythm patterns using their voices, body parts as well as the drums. Combined together this was a ritual -- a ritual of mourning.
The legendary Moiseyev Dance Company of Moscow, Russia, presented the rousing finale of this program dancing selections of Moiseyev classics including the Kalmyk Dance, the Tartar Dance, Dance of the Bessarabia Gypsies, and A Suite of Moldavian Dances.
Tracing its roots back to 1937, the Moiseyev Dance Company was founded by Igor Moiseyev, and the excerpts presented on the City Center stage dated as far back as 1938 and as recent as 1959. However these pieces have become classics and are timeless.
All of the pieces require virtuoso dancing and the dancers unabashedly displayed their joy in dancing -- and their joy of dancing crossed the footlights. They are natural entertainers.
Notable were Ramil Mekhdiev, Yury Chernyshkov and Roman Ivashchenko in the Kalmyk Dance, as were Olga Volina, Oleg Chernasov, and Evgeny Masalkov in the Tartar Dance.
The concluding Suite of Moldavian Dances was enthusiastically led by Olga Volina, Veronika Denisova, and Yury Chernyshkov.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival's Second Program
September 29, 2012
By Mark Kappel
The City Center Fall for Dance Festival's second program -- presented on September 29, 2012 -- focused equally on the work of ballet companies and modern dance companies.
Modern dance book-ended this program and even the works presented by the ballet companies had contemporary and modern influences.
Openging the program was Juilliard Dance, an ensemble consisting of students from the Juilliard School's Class of 2013, who danced Pam Tanowitz's Fortune. This ensemble work was choreographed to music by Charles Wourinen. The choreography seemed to be influenced by the form and style of Merce Cunningham and was structured to allow for every Juilliard student to have her or his moment in the spotlight. Danced against a background of yellow, the dancers moved in groups and in processions -- with individual dancers interacting with small groups of dancers. The choreogrpahy was angular and sharp -- a suitable showcase for these Juilliard students.
The Martha Graham Dance Company presented Graham's Chronicle, which had its premiere in 1936. Danced to music by Wallingford Riegger, Chronicle was Graham's response to the rise of Fascism in Europe. That seriousness and emotional response to what was happening in the world during that dark time period was represented in this work which was divided into three sections.
Blakeley White-McGuire danced the solo section of Spectre-1914 to be followed by Andrea Murillo leading a large ensemble in Steps in the Street representing the chaos of war and destruction, and ending with a third section entitled Prelude to Action with White-McGuire and Murillo leading the all-female ensemble culminating in a forceful piece of choreography.
In contrast American Ballet Theatre was represented by Herman Cornejo and Luciana Paris in the series of duets in Twyla Tharp's Sinatra Suite, inspired by five songs sung by Frank Sinatra. In so many ways Tharp succeeded in channeling Sinatra's interpretation of the songs into her choreography -- thoughtful and expressive at the same time.
Sinatra Suite provided Cornejo with the opportunity to be elegant and charming in contrast to the roguish characters he has danced and played in the 19th century classics. Also winning and elegant was Luciana Paris.
Making its Festival debut, the Hong Kong Ballet danced a company commission, Peter Quanz's Luminous, premiered by the company in 2010, and seen earlier this year as danced by members of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet at the Joyce Theater's Gotham Dance Festival.
Choreographed to Marjan Mozetich's chamber string composition, "Affairs of the Heart", Quanz explored human relationships in a series of pas de deux and group dances during which the dancers change partners. Fleeting relationships sometimes ending with emotional, and sometimes, comic and inevitable complications.
The ensemble cast of Miao-Miao Liu, Fei-Fei Wu, Si Yuan Zhang, Fei-Fei Ye, Jia-Bo Li, Wei Wei, Kostyantyn Keshyshev, and Lin Li were beautifully fluid and clean in their dancing in this piece.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival's Opening Program
September 28, 2012
By Mark Kappel
On September 27th the City Center Fall for Dance Festival inaugurated its annual season -- increasing the number of performances -- while maintaining the Festival's sampler presentations.
The City Center Fall for Dance Festival's first program was representative of the diversity set forth in the Festival's mission. The emphasis in this program was focused on modern and contemporary dance with a bit of mainstream dance and ballet thrown in for good measure. I attended this program's second performance on September 28, 2012.
Choreographer/performer, Jared Grimes, danced the world premiere of his own, Transformation in Tap. Set to recorded music by Drehz, Natalie Cole, Sammy Davis Jr. and Jared Grimes himself, Grimes presented a survey of how the genre of tap had developed over decades. That evolution was presented with examples of tap from nightclub shows to the percussive tap of today in which tap creates music and sound -- and other dance forms and styles which Grimes integrated into his choreography -- including modern and post-modern dance, and also a bit of ballet. The tapestry of tap created was entertainment sold to the audience by the effusive personalities of the dancers which included Jared Grimes, Dewitt Fleming, Karida Griffith, Luke Hawkins, and Robyn Baltzer, all accomplished tappers who are also conversant with the forms of tap that have evolved into the present art form.
Taiwanese modern dance and choreographer, Fang-Yi Sheu (a former member of the Martha Graham Dance Company) with Tyler Angle, Wendy Whelan, and Craig Hall of the New York City Ballet, performed in the New York premiere of Christopher Wheeldon's 3 Movements and 4 Repeats -- which had been premiered at the Vail International Dance Festival earlier this year.
Set to Max Richter's Bach-influenced music, with overlays of pop songs, Wheeldon's dance piece was divided into quartets, duets, and solos -- and in between were repeats of the original opening quartet -- the last repeat of the quartet was performed back to front. The choreographic mix was that of modern dance and ballet -- a formula that has been experimented with often in the past. 3 Movements and 4 Repeats is a polished piece and was danced with finesse by its cast.
Making its Festival debut, the Nederlands Dans Theater was represented by Astrid Boons and Quentin Roger dancing Sol Leon's and Pual Lightfoot's comic duet, Shutters Shut. Premiered in 2003 and danced to a poem written and read by Gertrude Stein: "If I told him: A completed portrait of Picasso", this duet was divided up into instant photographs of the dancers as they danced to Stein's poetry and her musical and comic reading of her poetry. The choreography not only emphasized movement but also facial expression. The comedy was expressed with economy and wit.
The U.K. contemporary dance troupe, BalletBoyz, presented the United States premiere of Jarek Cemerek's Void. BalletBoyz, directed by Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, is noted for its collaboration of choreographers and the visual arts -- to the point of inserting video of the choreographers who explain their work -- or explaining sections of choreography before the choreography is performed.
Void was preceded by a video which set the scene of this piece which took place on the dark streets of London in which an ensemble of dancers danced choreography about teenage rebellion and street gangs. A familiar theme and premise. Nevertheless Void was danced with energy and commitment by the ensemble cast of Taylor Benjamin, Andrea Carrucciu, Flavien Esmieu, Adam Kirkham, Alexander Loxton, Jordan Olpherts, Edward Pearce, Leon Poulton, Matthew Rees, and Matthew Sandiford.
Netherlands Dance Theater Dances Contemporary Repertoire
September 23, 2012
By Mark Kappel
Although the Netherlands Dance Theater has toured the United States in the past, its American tours have been less frequent. Therefore it was welcome that the Netherlands Dance Theater made its Ballet in Cinema debut presenting a mixed-bill program of contemporary pieces on September 23, 2012.
The Netherlands Dance Theater's driving force has been commissioning new choreography and the company has been in existence long enough for many artistic directors to put their stamp on the company's repertoire. The company is now directed by Paul Lightfoot, a former member of the Netherlands Dance Theater, who has also garnered a reputation as a choreographer -- choreography that is in collaboration with Sol Leon, another Netherlands Dance Theater alumnus.
The two works choreographed by Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon bookended the program.
Silent Screen, premiered in 2005, and set to music from Philip Glass' Glassworks, was presented in the stage setting of three large screens which showed film fragments of the seashore and a winter forest. Silent Screen focused on a couple in love and their little girl as they moved through various stages of life. During the initial scene there was a paternal figure who wandered off towards the seashore and that same figure appeared on stage and walked to the seashore at the end of the piece. The video also focused on a little girl in a sweater walking towards the audience at the beginning and end of the piece. These video excerpts served as the opening and closure of the story -- with the middle section consisting of random and quick movements danced by the couple and extended family.
Although the focus of the piece was on the parents and what seemed to be affiliated family members, the piece had the atmosphere of an Ingmar Berman movie and the suspense of an Alfred Hitchock movie.
The second Paul Lightfoot/Sol Leon colalboration was a recent premiere, Shine A Light, which in an interview, Sol Leon described as being inspired by how nightmares effect a child. Shine A Light was set to modern music composed by Max Richter and Lera Auerbach, and the piece began and ended with a child-like dancer who was responding to a ghost-like figure. There were abstract references to the effects of war and strife but there seemed to be no literal meaning or story line that would help comprehend what Shine A Light was meant to reveal.
Also on the program was Ohad Naharin's Secus, performed for the first time out of context of Naharin's larger work, Three, which he created for the Batsheva Dance Company. Given its company premiere for Netherlands Dance Theatre in 2011, Naharin used a fusion mix of music -- ranging from popular to sound images -- as a backdrop for his piece.
The dancers were costumed in street clothes and at the beginning of the piece all of the dancers were on stage in a group and peel off to the wings. Although there were dances choreographed for smaller groups, in twos and threes, and solos, the dominant paradigm was the ensemble. The dancers were constantly moving coping with the pressures of an urban environment and the piece abuptly ended with a single dancer on stage.
Completing the program was Alexander Ekman's Left right Left right which focused on rhythm and timed steps danced by an ensemble of dancers. This piece offered the only light-hearted and humorous moments in the program as Ekman parodied aspects of urban life -- including the large ensemble offering a human voice soundtrack as a dancer in a red dress walked slowly behind of and in front of the dancers -- ultimately a parody of a high fashion show. The second section featured the dancers dancing on treadmills trying to keep up with the treadmills' speed as they danced and moved as the treadmills moved in two different directions.
The Netherlands Dance Theatre keeps up its standard of excellent dancers and dancing. And at three hours' duration there was lots of that excellent dancing in a program that might have been more diverse and balanced in style.
Paris Opera Ballet Presents New Production of La Source
August 26, 2012
By Mark Kappel
On August 26, 2012 Ballet in Cinema presented a second showing of a ballet danced by the Paris Opera Ballet during the month of August. This showing was of Jean-Guillaume Bart's new production of La Source which had premiered in October 2011. La Source is another piece of dance exotica from the 19th century that was lost although the score by Leo Delibes and Ludwig Minkus has lived on in ballets choreographed by George Balanchine and as interpolations in other 19th century classics.
La Source was created for the Paris Opera ballet in 1866 with a libretto by Arthur Saint-Leon and Charles Nuitter. This new version was conceived by Marc-Olivier Dupin with a libretto by Clement Hervieu-Leger and Jean-Guillaume Bart.
Set in Persia, the exotic East presents the backdrop for a love affair between the hunter Djemil, and Nouredda. Djemil falls in love with Nouredda, who is being conducted to her intended husband, the Khan of Ghendjib. However Djemil's overt interest in Nouredda is not welcome. In response to Djemil's good works, the spring water spirit, Naila, agrees to intervene on Djemil's behalf.
Djemil follows Nouredda to the court of the Khan of Ghendjib where Djemil attempts to win over Nouredda with gifts. However it is Naila who has the most influence over the Khan who now wishes to marry Naila. Nouredda is rejected by the Khan and Djemil continues to pursue her. Naila agrees to help Djemil in his courtship of Nourredda even though Djemil is aware that Naila will die if she does so. Naila disappears back into the earth and her spring dries up. Naila makes the supreme sacrifice to die so that Djemil and Nouredda will be free to love each other.
Bart's new choreography did not have a particular style or period -- it was academic-like in its structure and presentation. The result was choreography which was strung together with little mime and without providing essential information in telling the story -- helpful to an audience that would not be familiar with La Source's complicated plot.
Christian Lacroix's Caucasus-inspired costumes provided the atmospherics in La Source which was accompanied by Eric Ruf's simple scenery comprised of velvet drapes and a forest of tasseled ropes. Ruf's minimalist scenery was unable to include the magical transformations and disappearances that revealed essential details in the story.
The cast was led by Karl Paquette as Djemil, Isabelle Ciaravola as Nouredda, Ludmila Pagliero as Naila, and Mathias Heymann, as Zael, Naila's elf. Also highlighted in supporting roles were Holwenn Daniel as Dadje, the Khan's favorite; Vincent Chaillet as Mozdock, Nouredda's brother; and Christophe Duquenne as The Khan. All showed off their pristine technique and all delineated the characters they were portraying.
Bart's production of La Source did not speak to whether it was a worthy experiment to breathe new life into La Source. It may be a ballet best left to the ages.
Smuin Ballet at the Joyce Theater
August 14, 2012
By Mark Kappel
Returning to the Joyce Theater from August 13-18, 2012 is the Smuin Ballet, based in San Francisco, California, and which has been under the direction of Celia Fushille since 2007. The performance on August 14th, 2012 was a mixed-bill program which represented the wide variety of works that the Smuin Ballet performs in the company's effort to continue the legacy of Michael Smuin, the company's founder, and infuse the company's repertoire with new works.
Michael Smuin was represented by his Medea, set to excerpts from Samuel Barber's familiar music. Created for the San Francisco Ballet in 1977, Smuin's adaption of this Greek tragedy focuses on the five principal characters -- restricting the story to Jason's dalliance with Creusa -- which provokes Medea's revenge -- the killing of her children.
Smuin was direct and straightforward -- and forceful - in formulating how the story would unfold. The story is told in short scenes which depict the plot points in this tragic story. This is economic story-telling but the emotions and drama are communicated well to the audience.
Susan Roemer's performance in the title role dominates this version of Medea, but Jonathan Dummar as Jason, and Terez Dean as Creusa also draw one into the events as this story unravels.
Smuin Ballet alumnus, Amy Seiwert was represented by Soon These Two Worlds, set to selected music from the Kronos Quartet's Pieces of Africa. Soon These Two Worlds is an ensemble piece in which Seiwert responds choreographically to the minuet-like rhythms in the music but without the grittiness of Africa. In the course of the work Seiwert constructs a geometic and fluid paradigm which is notable for its simplicity.
Rounding off this program was Trey McIntyre's Oh, Inverted World, which was premiered by the Smuin Ballet in 2010. In this piece McIntyre explores music by the indie-rock band, The Shins, from its debut album in 2001. Eight dance vignettes correspond to tracks on this album -- seen in interconnecting pas de deux, solos, and group dances, but the choreography did not reflect an overall theme.
With the male dancers costumed only in running shorts - with their group dances reminiscent of a rugby squad, one gets the impression that Oh, Inverted World, has captured the atmosphere of a pleasant Sunday afternoon - a Dances At A Gathering in this modern and busy world.
As always the Smuin Ballet entertains and it did so in this varied program.
Paris Opera Ballet Dances Nureyev's La Bayadere
August 5, 2012
By Mark Kappel
During the month of August, dance activity in New York diminishes until the major venues and major ballet companies prepare for the upcoming season. Ballet in Cinema filled the void with a screening of the Paris Opera Ballet's March 22, 2012 performance of Rudolf Nureyev's La Bayadere, which was shown on August 5, 2012.
On the coattails of the Paris Opera Ballet's hugely successful American tour in June and July of 2012, this screening presented a familiar production to New York audiences as the Paris Opera Ballet performed this production of La Bayadere in New York in 1996. However it was an opportunity to experience an additional view of this ballet and danced by dancers that had not been seen in these roles before.
Premiered in 1992, Nureyev's production of La Bayadere is more lavish than others that have been produced in the West, and although the Paris Opera Ballet danced this ballet well in past years, it now seems that they own it.
La Bayadere's story is typical of mid-19th century ballet plots. There always seems to be a love triangle, and a murder or death of one of the protoganists. In this instance, the warrior Solor is in love with one of the temple dancers, Nikiya. When their love is discovered by Solor's fiancee, Gamzatti, a murder conspiracy is plotted by Gamzatti and the High Brahmin. Nikiya chooses death rather than receiving an antidote to her snake bite --- Solor and Gamzatti are married but Solor regrets his decision inspired by the dream-like vision of the Kingdom of the Shades.
As compared to more familiar productions of La Bayadere, Nureyev's production follows the structure of productions performed in Russia. The ballet ends with the magnificent Kingdom of the Shades and includes such oddities as the "Manu" bottle dance variation. There is also just the right balance between mime and dance to tell the story clearly. The casting of a young dancer in the role of the High Brahmin made him a realistic rival for Nikiya's affections -- an added dose of reality. Also the drama is heightened and aided by the lavish costumes and scenery designed by Franca Squaciapino and Ezio Frigerio -- including Solor's entrance on an elephant.
Aurelie Dupont danced the role of Nikiya with technical purity and was deeply moving in the dramatically heightened moments in the ballet. Josua Hoffalt as Solor was also notable for his technical purity, straightforward acting, and pyrotechnics where required. Particularly notable was Ludmila Pagliero's commanding and sure performance of the role of Gamzatti -- a last-minute replacement at this performance -- who was rewarded with a promotion to etoile which was announced during the curtain calls.
Also notable was Charline Geizendanner in the roles of the Bottle Dance and the Second Shade variation in the Kingdom of the Shades.
Although all of the dancers were stars in their own right, the magnificent corps de ballet of the Paris Opera Ballet as Shades in the Kingdom of the Shades also shown equally.
Paris Opera Ballet in Pina Bausch's Orphee et Eurydice
July 20, 2012
David Koch Theater
By Mark Kappel
Exploring the Paris Opera Ballet's openness to contemporary and experimental choreography, the company's closing program of its New York engagement on July 20, 2012 at the David Koch Theater was Pina Bausch's staging of Christoph Willibald Gluck's opera, Orphee et Eurydice. Created for the Tanztheater Wuppertal of Germany in 1975, this production of Orphee et Eurydice was given its Paris Opera premiere in 2005.
In composing Orphee et Eurydice, Gluck's intention was to reform the structure of operas in the 18th century. Gluck's Orphee et Eurydice was an example of a genre of opera focused on mythological subjects which were enhanced with choruses and dancing. Seemingly a throwback to the Masque, a court entertainment of the ealry 17th century. The focus of Gluck's reform was to replace complicated opera plots and complex music with a simplified style of music and drama.
The Greek tale of Oprhee et Eurydice focuses on its protagonist, Orpheus, who fails to free his loved one, Eurydice, from the Underworld. Orpheus attempts to rescue Eurydice from her fate and from the Underworld's God, Hades. In order to do so, he must not look back into the Underworld as he and Eurydice make their escape and departure -- but Orpheus' tragic flaw motivates him to look back before reaching the Upper World and Orpheus watches Eurydice disappear into the darkness forever. Gluck's opera gives this tale a happy ending as L'Amour takes pity on Orpheus and restores Eurydice to life. However Bausch's production reverts to the unhappy ending of Greek myth. Eurydice dies and Orpheus must mourn.
Bausch has divided the tale into four sections, "Mourning", "Violence", "Peace", and "Death". "Mourning is dominated by Orpheus' mournful solo, and the mournful dancing of an ensemble of dancers. In the subsequent sections of the opera, Orpheus makes his way to the Underworld -- and succeeds in bringing Eurydice out of the Underworld -- only to see Eurydice die a second time.
Rolf Barzik's stark and sterile designs place the action of each section in bare spaces -- decorated with mirrors yet cluttered with objects including a tree suspended on its side or giant high-chairs. It is only in the "Death" section where that stage is truly bare with towering white walls and Eurydice is costumed in the only significant splash of color -- costumed in red.
Bausch's movement of the singers is blocked on the stage in a calculated manner -- often times with the singers singing with their back to the audience or only seen in profile or behind the dancers. When the singers are in musical dialogue they don't face each other or interact with each other.
As is customary in modern day productions of Gluck's Orphee et Eurydice, all of the principal characters are sung by female singers. Orpheus (Maria Riccarda Wesseling) is sung by a mezzo-soprano, while Eurydice (Yun Jung Choi), and L'Amour (Zoe Nicolaidou) are sung by sopranos. Also in musical support were the Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble and Choir in the orchestra pit.
The dance aspect of this opera was presented in stark modern dance and post-modern dance movement performed by mature artists of the Paris Opera Ballet, Stephane Bullion as Orpheus, Marie-Agnes Gillot as Eurycie, and Muriel Zusperreguy as Amour. By far the most compelling performance came from Gillot -- particularly in her solo in the final section of the opera.
Bausch's outlook on art and choreography can be an enigma. Although Bausch's Orphee et Eurydice was well danced, for me Bausch's work still remains an acquired taste.
Although I can appreciate the Paris Opera Ballet's good intentionsin bringing one of Bausch's early experiments to American shores, I woudl have preferred to see the company dance another one of the 19th century classics in its large repertoire or in a program of ballets that were created on this company's accomplished dancers.
The Royal Ballet Dances The Sleeping Beauty
July 15, 2012
By Mark Kappel
Ballet in Cinema presented a live -- but delayed -- screening of The Royal Ballet's current production of The Sleeping Beauty. Supervised by Monica Mason and Christopher Newton, this production was inspired by the Oliver Messel-designed production of The Sleeping Beauty which proved to be an international triumph for The Royal Ballet during its international tours, after World War II, in 1946. At the time Covent Garden was re-opened as the Royal Opera House and Ninette de Valois commissioned this grand and lavish production of The Sleeping Beauty -- in an effort to heighten British morale after the Second World War even though the country was still on rations.
This landmark production included contributions from Ninette de Valois and was based on the notation used by Nicholas Sergeyev. This new production also includes additional choreography by Anthony Dowell, Frederick Ashton, and Christopher Wheeldon's choreography for the Act I Garland Dance. Commissioned to celebrate The Royal Ballet's 75th anniversary in 2006, this production of The Sleeping Beauty was performed by The Royal Ballet at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC that same year.
The production previous to this one was staged by Natalia Makarova and is one of the few Royal Ballet productions of The Sleeping Beauty that has not been seen in this part of the world. This new production is a continuation of the company's tradition and legacy with an effort to be as authentic as humanly possible.
In 1976 American Ballet Theatre gave us a sampling of the Oliver Messel production of The Sleeping Beauty withstaging by Mary Skeaping and Messel reproducing his designs. However that production of The Sleeping Beauty appeared and disappeared within a very short amount of time.
On July 15, 2012 Ballet in Cinema presented The Royal Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty -- a performance that took place last year and proved to be ironic in its casting. One of The Royal Ballet's leading male dancers and a rising star, Sergei Polunin, danced the role of the Prince in this performance and not long afterwards he left The Royal Ballet in mid-season -- so far not to return. Polunin has since joined the Stanislavsky Theater Ballet in Russia.
However the focus of every production of The Sleeping Beauty is the dancer who defies the challenges of the role of Aurora. British ballerina Laura Cuthbertson met the challenges of the Rose Adagio and variations in Act I, the Vision Scene in Act II, and the Grand Pas de Deux in Act III during which she was well supported by Polunin. Polunin danced his variations with a clean and expressive technique. The Cuthbertson/Polunin partnership could have developed into a great one.
Any performance of The Sleeping Beauty offers the opportunity to see a cross section of a company's dancers. Claire Calvert danced the role of the Lilac Fairy with Kristen McNally as her adversary, Carabosse. Calvert was precise and lovely as a Lilac Fairy should be while McNally was appropriately evil.
Also highlighting the performance were divertissements in Act III which had notable contributions by Dawid Trzenimiech, Emma Maguire (who also danced an impressive "finger variation" among the Prologue Fairies), and Hikaru Kobayashi as Florestan and his Sisters, and Yuhui Choe and Alexander Campbell as Princess Florine and the Bluebird.
The reproduced Oliver Messel designs are still vibrant and appropriate for re-telling this fairy tale.
Paris Opera Ballet Dances Giselle
July 13, 2011
David Koch Theater
By Mark Kappel
On July 13th, 2012, the Paris Opera Ballet tipped to its hat to the past, returning to its legacy, and danced the company's current production of Giselle.
Although the ballet, Giselle, received its world premiere by the Paris Opera Ballet, most productions of Giselle danced today find their roots in the Marius Petipa production of Giselle that was staged for the Mariinsky Ballet in Russia. The Paris Opera Ballet's current production of Giselle dates from 1991 and was adapted by Patrice Bart and Eugene Polyakov, who combined their knowledge of Mary Skeaping's landmark production of Giselle and productions of Giselle that had been continously performed in Russia. Since 1998, this production has been performed employing Alexandre Benois' costume and scenery designs which were completed in 1924 for a revival of Giselle at the Paris Opera.
In terms of the staging itself, this production of Giselle did not include too many elements that had not been seen in other productions of Giselle. Seen before were the gamblers at Giselle's grave in the second act as an example. However what was cleverly staged was the Act I Peasant Pas de Deux which included an 8-member female corps de ballet which framed the beginning and ending of the Peasant Pas de Deux and danced group dances through the adagio, variations, and coda of this Pas de Deux -- giving the impression that it was woven into the tapestry of the ballet rather than being the interpolation that it is.
What was impressive about this production and the performance of this production of Giselle was the commitment -- from the principals down to the corps de ballet -- that was an equal emphasis on the dancing and the story-telling. In the Mad Scene every corps de ballet had an individual reaction to Giselle's evolving madness -- giving this production a theatrical spontaneity that is often missing in other productions of Giselle that I have seen.
Also impressive was the uniformity of style in the dancing throughout the performance and a well-rehearesed corps de ballet in Act I and Act II which was vitally involved in telling the ballet's story and creating the mood of every moment in the ballet.
Aurelie Dupont brought great emotion and depth -- and artistic maturity -- to the title role. Her Giselle was understated and focused the depth of emotion in the moments in the ballet where it counted. Mathieu Ganio was an elegant, aritocratic, and remorseful Albrecht. Emilie Cozette commanded the stage as Queen of the Wilis.
But just as important were the performances of Charline Giezendanner and Fabien Revillion in the Peasant Pas de Deux, and Vincent Chaillet as Hilarion -- the character that discovers Albrecht's ruse and propels the plot of this ballet.
The Paris Opera Ballet's production of Giselle gives equal emphasis to the dance and the story-telling -- not a bit of narrative detail is overlooked in this production. It is an audience-involving production which makes it a must see.
Paris Opera Ballet Returns To New York
July 11, 2011
David Koch Theater
By Mark Kappel
Under the auspices of the Lincoln Center Festival, the Paris Opera Ballet is performing at the David Koch Theater from July 11-22, 2012 after an absence of nearly two decades. This is a welcome return. As during its previous New York visit in 1996, the Paris Opera Ballet is still led by Brigitte Lefevre. The repertoire chosen for this engagement focused its emphasis on ballets created by French choreographers and danced to the music of French composers.
The Paris Opera Ballet opened its New York engagement on July 11, 2012 with a mixed-bill program which included the works of the leading French choreographers of the 20th century. Serge Lifar, a neo-classicist choreographer in his day, was represented by his Suite en Blanc which was premiered at the Paris Opera in 1943. Lifar chose music from the score of the ballet, Namouna, which Edouard Lalo had composed for the Paris Opera in 1882.
Lifar molded a neo-classic ballet from this music incorporating into the choreography his own form and style of neoclassicism. Although the Paris Opera Ballet had danced Suite en Blanc during its American tour in 1993 in Washington DC, this was the first time that the Paris Opera Ballet was dancing Suite en Blanc in New York. Lifar's Suite en Blanc is not entirely unfamiliar to New York audiences as the Australian Ballet had danced Suite en Blanc in New York in 1990.
Suite en Blanc is a series of choreographic vignettes punctuated in the pas de deux by lifts that would not be described as classical and with corps de ballet in support that dances in counterpoint to the princpal pair or principal soloist. Yet at the same time the choreography is uncomplicated and stylish. As a whole, Lifar created a unique vehicle as a showcase for the Paris Opera Ballet dancers.
Among the notable performances were Marie-Agnes Gillot in the Cigarette variation, Aurelie Dupont and Benjamin Pech in the Adagio, and Dorothee Gilbert in the Flute variation.
The iconic Maurice Bejart was represented by his idiosyncratic version of Bolero, which previous to these performances by the Paris Opera Ballet had only been performed in New York by Bejart's own company. The Paris Opera Ballet is offering two versions -- one with a male soloist and another with a female soloist. However on the opening night performance the principal role was danced by Nicholas LeRiche.
Bejart's premise is a lone soloist dancing on a table with a corps de ballet surrounding the table -- first sitting in chairs -- and eventually all of the dancers participating in the rousing choreography -- in response to the repeating rhythms and phrases in Ravel's music.
Age has not transformed Bejart's Bolero into a tamer ballet which was emphasized by the LeRiche's virtuoso performance.
The final piece on this program was Roland Petit's L'Arlesienne which was also familiar to New York audiences as it was danced by Roland Petit's Ballet National de Marsille in New York in 1983. L'Arlesienne is set to music composed by French composer, Georges Bizet, who composed the music as incidental music for a play written by Alphonse Daudet in 1872.
Petit was inspired by the narrative in the music -- a tragic story about the ill-fated love between Frederi (Jerome Belingard) and Vivette (Isabelle Ciaravola).
Petit's choreography makes references to folk dance, and at times L'Arlesienne seemed ritualistic in its nature. However being a man of the theatre, Petit's ballet leads in many directions -- yet the narrative is tied together in Frederi's long solo and the final moment's coup de theatre.
Isabelle Ciaravola and Jerome Belingard portrayed and danced Petit's tale with many layers of expression, aspects of their performances which exhibited the chemistry between them.
American Dance Machine Reborn
June 28, 2012
City Center/Studio 4
By Mark Kappel
In 1976 Lee Theodore established the American Dance Machine to serve as a living archive of musical theater dance. The mission was to archive choreographic works from Broadway musicals that could be lost.
With that mission in mind, American Dance Machine for the 21st Century (ADM21) was founded earlier this year by executive director Nikki Feirt Atkins to continue Lee Theodore's legacy -- quickly followed by the appointment of Margo Sappington as ADM21's artistic director.
For its first workshop presentation, ADM21 performed at the City Center's Studio 4 on June 28, 2012, in a program that included excerpts from four musicals -- one of them a movie musical -- and performed by a range of performers who have worked in the Broadway theater and also in the ballet world.
As artistic director Margo Sappington stated before the performance, theatrical choreography serves a very different purpose than choreography in concert dance. Theatrical choreography must tell a story or set a mood -- and often must be integrated into a collaborative whole. Therefore each excerpt presented in this performance included dialogue to put each excerpt in context. It was extraordinary that the four excerpts presented during this studio performance retained their spontaneity and relevance even in the confines of a rehearsal studio.
Opening with "Simply Irresistible" from Susan Stroman's Contact, an ensemble led by Naomi Kakuk as A Girl in a Yellow Dress, and Jarrod Emick as ad executive, Michael Wiley, set the scene for a major change in Wiley's life. Suddenly a pool parlor is transformed into an intimate setting for swing dancing. How the room comes alive is the dynamic achievement of Stroman's choreography. It is the dancing that sets the atmosphere and mood.
A magical moment was Rebecca Riker's performance of "The Music and The Mirror" from Michael Bennett's A Chorus Line for which the dramatic moment was set with a dialogue between Cassie (Rikder) and Zach (Derek Hanson). The choreography expressed Cassie's need to dance and her need for a job to allow her to continue dancing.
Setting a very different mood was "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" from the film, Lovely To Look At -- a moment on a park bench that evolves into dance that is expertly crafted by one of the greats of movie musicals and musical theater, Gower Champion. Staged by Margo Sappington and coached by Marge Champion, Gower Champion captures the moment of courtship and the glamour of the era -- lots of glamour supplied by dancers, Nina Goldman and Charles Askegard.
The fourth and concluding piece was "Mr. Monotony", a dance piece choreographed by Jerome Robbins that had been cut from several musicals before re-emerging as part of Jerome Robbins' Broadway. Staged by Robert LaFosse, the dancers (Amar Ramasar, Georgina Pazcoguin, and Alex Wong), are not only choreographic instruments but are also instruments mimicking musical phrases and punctuating musical phrases -- and forcefully sung by Amra-Faye Wright.
ADM21's program was not only nostalgia -- although seeing these excerpts again reminded me of the first time I saw these pieces performed. This studio performance emphasized how important it is for muscial theater dance to be archived, and also to be seen in live performances by contemporary audiences.
Bolshoi Ballet in Raymonda
June 24, 2012
By Mark Kappel
On June 24, 2012 Ballet in Cinema presented a live screening of the Bolshoi Ballet dancing Yuri Grigorovich's 2003 production of Raymonda. The Bolshoi Ballet danced Grigorovich's earlier production of Raymonda in New York in 1979. It is a production of Raymonda that seems to have successfully meshed the convoluted story line that has often made full-length productions of Raymonda to be well-intended but sometimes have not been easy for an audience to appreciate and comprehend. Raymonda is also rarely seen in the repertoires of North American ballet companies.
The story of Raymonda is set during the Crusades. Raymonda, the niece of the Countess Sybil de Daurice (Yekaterina Barykina) is betrothed to Jean de Brienne, who has joined a crusade led by King Andrei II of Hungary (Andrei Sitnikov). In a dream Raymonda believes she has been abducted by the Saracen knight, Abderakhman. He actually appears in person at a castle ball and offers his hand in marriage to Raymonda. The two rivals for Raymonda's affections, Jean de Brienne and Abderakhman, settle their diferences in combat -- Jean de Brienne kills Aberderakhman and King Andrei II approves of the marriage of Raymonda and Jean de Brienne -- ending the ballet in a grand finale of Hungarian influenced classical ballet choreography. It is this character influenced choreography that stands Raymonda apart from other 19th century ballets -- and was Marius Petipa's last major work.
The story of Raymonda is danced to a glorious score composed by Alexander Glazunov, the Russian royal family's favorite composer, which is filled with Hungarian decoration and detail.
Raymonda is a ballet that is best produced by a ballet company with the necessary amount of human and financial resources. Able to employ those necessary resources, the Bolshoi Ballet's prodution of Raymonda is grand in every aspect.
In his production of Raymonda, Grigorovich has weaved in his own choreography with the choreography of Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorsky, and Leonid Lavrovsky, based on past productions of Raymonda that the Bolshoi Ballet has danced.
Throughout the ballet there are pure dance divertissements which offer plenty of dancing -- the third act is filled with carefully and effectively choreographed variations and ensemble character dancers. The character dancers are examples of the Bolshoi Ballet's forte and they sparkled.
Maria Alexandrova was commanding and technically immaculate in the title role, Ruslan Skvortsov gave a polished performance as Jean de Brienne, and Pavel Dmitrichenko brought out the best of what a character dancer should be in the role of the Abderakhman.
Also notable were Anna Nikulina as Clemence, Yekaterina Shipulina as Henriette, Vladislav Lantratov as Bernard, and Denis Rodkin as Beranger.
Raymonda offers a wonderful showcase for dancers to appear in variations in the Second and Third Acts most notably Chinara Alizade and Anna Tikhomirova in Raymonda's Dream Scene, and Anatasia Stashkevich in the Grand Pas Variation.
Australian Ballet Dances Swan Lake
June 15 & 16, 2012
David Koch Theater
By Mark Kappel
To top off its New York engagement at the David Koch Theater, the Australian Ballet performed Graeme Murphy's contemporary version of Swan Lake. Premiered in 2002 and featured in the film, Mao's Last Dancer, this Swan Lake is one of several modernized and contemporary version of Swan Lake performed by ballet companies and modern dance companies all over the world that have surfaced in the last 20 years. All of these interpretations have reinvented Swan Lake as well as the characters in the ballet.
Murphy's reinterpreted plot is focused on a love triangle that mirrors the romantic complications that plagued the British royal family -- a triangle which included Prince Charles, Princess Diana, and Camilla Parker Bowles. Murphy has preserved the traditional focus of the dramatic action in Swan Lake. A prince who falls in love, but is ambivalent as to which person should be the love of his life. There is no Odile in this version or an evil magician. Instead a Baroness von Rothbart, one of the Prince's former lovers, substitutes as the villain sabotaging Siegfried's relationship with Odette.
This Swan Lake opens in dark silence. However once the overture begins the principal characters are presented and the love triangle is exposed. From there it is on to a garden party celebrating the wedding of Odette and Siegfried.
On her wedding day Odette is consumed with doubt about her affections for Siegfried and obsesses as to whether Siegfried has similar doubts. It is revealed that Siegfried's heart belongs to a former lover, Baroness von Rothbart. As Odette watches the relationship between Seigfried and Baroness von Rothbart bloom, Odette descends into depression. Baroness von Rothbart makes sure that Odette is condemned to live in a sanatorium. Thus removing the Baroness von Rothbart's rival for Siegfried's affection.
At the sanatorium Odette receives a visit from Siegfried which triggers a dream of Odette being among Swan Maidens. Thereafter Odette unexpectedly leaves the sanatorium and when she arrives at a party already in progress it is revealed to Odette that Siegfried is totally under the control of the Baroness. Yet Siegfried falls in love with Odette again -- the Baroness tries to commit Odette to the sanatorium again, but Odette disappears. In his search for her, Siegfried and Odette meet together at the lake where Odette chooses suicide rather than risk a relationship with Siegfried. Siegfried is then condemned to a loveless life and mourning Odette during the remainder of his lifetime.
There is no deception in Murphy's version of Swan Lake. What is depicted is a love triangle of dimension and its reslting psychological damange. Love and betrayal are the recurrent themes in this production of Swan Lake. But as in most productions of Swan Lake, this one also ends in tragedy.
Murphy's reinvention of Swan Lake has great respect for Tchaikovsky's core. However there are many instances where music is re-arranged and music is danced to a slower tempi to underscore the dramatic elements in Murphy's new libretto. Murphy's choreography incorporates some of the traditional Petipa and Ivanov, but is modern -- yet there are no discomforting silhouettes or ugliness.
There are many tension-filled moments in Murphy's Swan Lake where heightened emotions have their great impact. In what could be described traditionally as the Black Act, Baroness von Rothbart dances a dramatically demanding solo set to the Russian Dance which exposes the Baroness' emotional conflicts and her cunning. Also one thinks of the second act of Mat Ek's Giselle in which Giselle, like Odette in this production of Swan Lake, is also condemned to an asylum.
Murphy's vision of Swan Lake is also illuminated by the imaginative costume and scenery designs by Kristian Frederikson.
Murphy's libretto and his choreography allowed for different interpretations of the major characters. In the performances of two casts there were the opportunities to see these different interpretations.
On June 15 it was danced by Madeleine Eastoe as Odette, Kevin Jackson as Prince Siegfried, andLucinda Dunn as Baroness von Rothbart, a cast that differentiated its characters distinctly not only in their dancing but also from a dramatic perspective.
For the June 16th matinee it was danced by Amber Scott as Odette, Adam Bull as Prince Siegfried, and Lana Jones as Baroness von Rothbart -- and in constrast their portrayals of the characters evolved from one dramatic moment to the next.
If Murphy's purpose was to show off the Australian Ballet's dancers in his production of Swan Lake, he certainly succeeded. But I would have also enjoyed seeing the company's dancers in a traditional production of Swan Lake.
Australian Ballet Returns to New York
June 12, 2012
David Koch Theater
By Mark Kappel
After an absence of 13 years, the Australian Ballet returned to New York to perform at Lincoln Center's David Koch Theater.
On June 12, 2012 the Australian Ballet's opening night program of the New York season was a mixed-bill program which included Luminous, a montage of pas de deux --excerpts from major choreographic works in the company's 50-year history -- interspersed with film footage which was a survey of the Australian Ballet's heritage. The Australian Ballet gave its first performances in 1962 under the company's founding artistic director Peggy van Pragh. Through her connections she was able to secure meaningful relationships with prominent dancers and choreographers, and early on in the company's existence, established the Australian Ballet on the international dance scene.
This tradition is being fostered and curated by the Australian Ballet's current artistic director, David McAllister, and Luminous represented what the company has performed in the past, and also where the company is going in the present and future.
The opening excerpt was Petal Miller-Ashmole's choreography for La Favorita Pas de Deux, a frothy and technically challenging piece which was danced with aplomb by Lana Jones and Daniel Gaudiello. Pyrotechnics followed with the Grand Pas de Deux from Rudolf Nureyev's Don Quixote danced by Reiko Hombo and Chengwu Guo -- who portrayed the teenage Li Cunxin in Mao's Last Dancer. Poignancy followed with the performance of the Act II Pas de Deux from Maina Gielgud's production of Giselle danced by Rachel Rawlins and Ty King-Wall.
Neo-classical and contemporary ballet were not ignored in Luminous with a pas de deux from Stephen Baynes' Molto Vivace danced by Amber Scott and Adam Bull which highlighted Baynes' musical choreography, and the William Forsythe-inspired excerpt from Stanton Welch's Divergence, led by Leanne Stojmenov and Rudy Hawkes.
Sandwiched in the middle on this mixed-bill program was Wayne McGregor's Dyad 1929, premiered by the Australian Ballet in 2009 as part of the Australian Ballet's celebration of the Diaghilev Ballet Russes. When it premiered, Dyad 1929 was bookended by another original work by McGregordanced by McGregor's own company which took the Ballet Russes' influences to the present. Program notes indicated that Dyad 1929 was inspired by the public's pre-occupation with Antarctica in the 1920's -- including aviator Richard Evelyn Byrd's accomplishment of flying over the South Pole in 1929.
Set in the environment of white scenery with black dots, dancers dancing in a circle of yellow light and yellow light overhead, McGregor's piece had more choreographic influences from Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham than the leading choreographers who created works for the Diaghilev Ballet Russes. In fact McGregor dedicated Dyad 1929 to the memory of Merce Cunningham. Adding to the minimalist aspects of this piece was the background music of Steve Reich's Double Sextet.
Dyad 1929 did prove to be a showcase for the Australian Ballet's well-trained dancers which included Daniel Gaudiello, Kevin Jackson, Adam Bull, Andrew Killian, Ty King-Wall, Rudy Hawkes, Robyn Hendricks, Lana Jones, Amber Scott, Dana Stephenson, Leanne Stojmenov, and Vivienne Wong.
Also presented on this mixed-bill program was Warumuk - in the dark night, a collaboration between the Australian Ballet and the Bangarra Dance Theatre, choreographed by the Bangarra Dance Theatre's artistic director, Stephen Page. Warumuk -- in the dark night is not the first collaboration between these two companies and as inpast collaborations, the subject matter dominating Page's concepts focuses on the underpinning of the aboriginal culture that is native in Australia.
Premiered in February of this year, Warumuk -- in the dark night, set to music composed by David Page, with costumes designed by Jennier Irwin and scenery designed by Jacob Nash, provides the atmosphere for Page to tell the story of night skies in North East Arnhem Land, beginningat the firstappearance of evening stars.
Page assigned the roles of the sun, moon, and stars to female dancers (Vivienne Wong and Leanne Stojmenov among them) who are employed to retell stories from these indigenous communities. The dancers are bare-footed and the costuming is stylized aboriginal.
Created on the dancers of the Australian Ballet and the Bangarra Dance Theatre, the choreography fuses together in a unique manner, and is a reflection of the spirit of both companies.
Gotham Dance Festival At the Joyce Theater
June 3, 2012
By Mark Kappel
The Gotham Dance Festival has found a home of its own at the Joyce Theater where it has been a presenter of new choreography and a showcase for local, American, and international dance troupes. The Gotham Dance Festival has fulfilled a void in New York's dance community as new choreography is now showcased as often as it should be because of the prohibitive costs. Also it is important to see the work of emerging and less familiar choreographers, and to have that work performed by members of companies not often seen in New York.
On June 3, 2012, the Gotham Dance Festival presented the work of two choreographers, Jodie Gates, former principal dancer of the Joffrey Ballet, the Pennsylvania Ballet, and Ballett Frankfurt, and Canadian, Peter Quanz, a former member of the Stuttgart Ballet, who began early in life as a freelance choreographer. It would not be entirely fair to describe these choreographers as emerging as both of them have had major commissions. Gates has choreographed for American Ballet Theatre II, the State Ballet Berlin, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, and the Washington Ballet, while Quanz has choreographed for American Ballet Theatre, the Mariinsky Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada, and the National Ballet of Cuba. However in spite of these commissions their work has not been performed often for New York audiences.
The Colorado Ballet, based in Denver, Colorado, and currently directed by Gil Boggs, has performed on an irregular basis in New York. For this program, the Colorado Ballet danced a commissioned work from Jodie Gates, Embellish, performed to excerpted Mozart opera arias, and Mozart's Sonata for Violin and Piano, and the Third Movement from Violin Concerto No. 1.
Classical in style yet also contemporary in concept, the dancers weave in and out to the many notes in Mozart's music and also respond to the emotions in Mozart's arias in pas de deux.
The Colorado Ballet dancers, Maria Mosina, Dmitry Trubchanov, Sharon Wehner, Jesse Marks, Chandra Kuykendall, Alexei Tyukov, Catiline Valentine-Ellis, Sean Omandam, Asuka Sasaki, Kevin Gael Thomas, Casey Dalton, and Adam Still danced Gates' Embellish with artistic maturity and were challenged by Gates' unexpected twists and turns in her choreography.
Philadelphia-based Ballet X performed Gates' Delicate Balance, a work inspired by the contemporary and the modern -- in striking contrast to Gates' Embellish. Inspired by the music of Arvo Part, Henryk Gorecki, Gavin Byers, David Lang, and Max Richter, Gates' choreography was equally emotional and gritty culminating in a gripping pas de deux to finish the dance. The cast of Chloe Felesina, Tara Keating, Anitra N. Keegan, Jaime Lennon, Allison Walsh, William Cannon, Colby Damon, Adam Hundt, Willy Laury, and Jesse Sani were in their element in Delicate Balance.
Peter Quanz's Q Dance is a collection of dancers who are currently members of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet or who have been trained at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. Founded in 2010, Q Dance's work is developed with the collaboration of choreographers, musicians, and artists, and consists of a group of nine dancers.
Peter Quanz was represented by two works on this program. The first of which was In Tandem, set to Steve Reich's Double Sextet, was a sophisticated and polished work danced by company members, Alexander Gamayunov, Amanda Green, Emily Grizzell, Sophia Lee, Yosuke Mino, and Jo-Ann Sundermeier. The choreography captured the immediacy and pulse of Reich's music.
Luminous, which was premiered by the Hong Kong Ballet in 2010, is an ensemble piece for 8 dancers set to music by Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich. Quanz's choreography was in a contemporary style but danced at a slower pace to absorb the emotion in the music. Tristan Dobrowney, Alexander Gamayunov, Amanda Green, Harrison James, Sophia Lee, Yosuke Mino, and Jo-Ann Sundermeier illuminated Quanz' choreography with the emotion and expressiveness required.
It was fortunate to see such contrasing choreography by two choreographers wo have a wide range of styles that they are working in. Also fortunate to see dancers from the Colorado Ballet, Ballet X, and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, that are not seen often enough in New York.
The Royal Ballet in La Fille Mal Gardee
May 20, 2012
By Mark Kappel
Frederick Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardee has now become a standard ballet in ballet companies' repertoires throughout the world. The Royal Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada, the Joffrey Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre have performed this Ashton classic in New York. But The Royal Ballet hasn't danced La Fille Mal Gardee in New York since 1976.
Ballet in Cinema provided an opportunity to see La Fille Mal Gardee danced by the company the ballet was created on, The Royal Ballet, for an encore performance on May 20, 2012.
La Fille Mal Gardee has its origins in a production choreographed by Jean Dauberval in Bordeaux, France in 1789. Ashton's version is inspired by the choreographic style of the 19th century and incoporates English pastoral signposts throughout the ballet. As Ashton described, the scene elments in La Fille Mal Gardee look like John Constable landscapes in Suffolk, England. Other English elements include the Maypole Dance and Widow Simone's Clog Dance. Ashton's choreogrpahy is filled with small details that add to the comic aspects of this ballet -- and then there is the Ribbon Pas de Deux which weaves a lover's knot, created by Lise and Colas, that emphasizes the romanticism in the ballet.
Bringing La Fille Mal Gardee into the 20th century, Ashton employed Ferdinand Herold's music -- masterfully arranged by John Lanchbery -- into this confection. The combination of Ashton's pastiche choreography and Lanchbery's arrangement of Herold's music -- with bits of Donizetti and Rossini -- magically produced a comedic ballet that is intimate and touching as well.
The plot of La Fille Mal Gardee is as relevant today as it was in the 18th century. An over bearing mother insists on finding a good match for her daughter -- preferably a wealthy husband -- and her willful daughter much prefers a less privileged farm worker to be her husband. The plot unravels like the ribbons often used in some of the dance sequences in the ballet and all ends well.
This performance's cast was led by Roberta Marquez as Lise and Steven MacRae as Colas. Marquez being an accomplished soubrette ballerina and MacRae accomplished as a demi-caractere dancer, these two dancers were easy fits into these roles. There was lots of chemistry between them as the characters navigated the schemes necessary to make their marriage possible and tomeet the challenges in Ashton's choreography.
La Fille Mal Gardee is also known for the odd assortment of characters in the ballet as well as the need for excellent character dancers to dance those roles. Philip Mosley brought a great deal of feminine charm to the role of Widow Simone, and Ludovic Ondiviela as Alain, and Gary Avis, as Thomas, were just as endearing.
Boston Ballet Presents Varied
May 13, 2012
By Mark Kappel
For its final performances of the 2011-12 season, the Boston Ballet presented a mixed-bill program which included two company premieres. The May 13th, 2012 performance at Boston's Opera House included a revival of Harald Lander's Etudes, and the company premieres of Peter Martins' Barber Violin Concerto, and Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free.
Danish choreographer Harald Lander created Etudes for the Royal Danish Ballet to showcase the improved technical standard of the company's dancers. Etudes is a neo-classical ballet that has been often described as a non-ballet, ballet. The ballet's choreography is a compilaton of academic ballet steps which are linked in predictable patterns. Lander's ingenious structure evolves from basic ballet exercises which build up to a grand finale. The end result is a marvellous introduction to ballet. As the technical requirements in Etudes expose a dancer's strengths and weaknesses, Etudes is a challenge for any ballet company to dance it -- and to dance it well.
The only Danish reference in Etudes is the Romantic Pas de Deux which references Bournonville's La Sylphide, and is the only departure from what is a series of sequences which are meant to showcase the dancers' techniques and virtuosity.
In 2011 Nicolaj Hubbe (artistic director of the Royal Danish Ballet), and Lise Lander (Harald Lander's widow) - with the assistance of Thomas Lund - restored Etudes to its original form. The Boston Ballet is the first American ballet company to dance this newly-clarified version of Etudes.
In this version there are three male principals, one of whom (Pavel Gurevich) dances theRomantic Pas de Deux with the principal ballerina (Lorna Feijoo). The male virutoso dancing is left to two other male dancers (Jeffrey Cirio and Isaac Akiba). The dancers in these principal roles commanded the stage in Etudes and the Boston Ballet, as a company, rose to the occasion.
Peter Martins' Barber Violin Concerto was created for the New York City Ballet's 1988 American Music Festival, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of the New York City Ballet, and was originally choreographed for Merrill Ashley and Adam Luders of the New York City Ballet, and Kate Jackson and David Parsons of the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Martins paired off each of the New York City Ballet's principal dancers with a principal dancer from the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Each couple danced together and switched partners to dance two pas de deux in two movements of the ballet.
The result is a unique hybrid of neoclassical and modern dance styles danced to Samuel Barber's romantic violin concerto.
The cast of Kathleen Breen Combes, Artjom Maksakov, Misa Kuranaga, and Sabi Varga met the challenges of shifting from one dance style to another, and their performances were as expressive as Barber's music.
In contrast to the other pieces on this program, Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free is an integration of ballet, theatrical dancing, and popular dance. Fancy Free is a slice of American life, a story about three sailors on leave in New York in the 1940's -- set to a rhythmic and jazz, and Latin influenced score composed by Leonard Bernstein. Robbins created a theatrical piece with choreography including the social dances of the time -- a piece of Americana.
The initial success of Fancy Free inspired Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green, and Betty Comden to adapt this ballet into the successful Broadway musical, On The Town.
An important element in any performance of Fancy Free is the cast of dancers who play and dance the roles of the three sailors on the prowl and ready to experience the wonders of New York. The cast of James Whiteside, Jeffrey Cirio, and Bradley Schlagheck brought ingenuousness and charm to the personas of these three very individual sailors.
But there were also strong performances in what were primarily acting roles by Sarah Wroth, Whitney Jensen, and Kimberly Uphoff, as the sailors' prospective girlfriends.
Barcelona Ballet Returns To New York
April 18, 2012
By Mark Kappel
The Barcelona Ballet, formerly known as the Corella Ballet, made its New York debut at the City Center in 2009. The newly-founded company, based in Spain, and directed by Angel Corella, has returned to the City Center for a return engagement from April 17-20, 2012 presenting a mixed-bill program including a commissioned premiere, and two ballets which have been performed in New York previously.
The Barcelona Ballet relocated its base to Barcelona, Spain this year -- which inspired the company's name change -- and there has been a turnover of dancers since the company's last New York engagement. However the artistic philosophy and putting Angel Corellain the spotlightas a dancer has not changed.
Attending the April 18th, 2012 performance, the Barcelona Ballet danced two ballets that were familiar to New York audiences.
Clark Tippet's Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1, created for American Ballet Theatre in 1987, is a classical ballet inspired by George Balanchine and other neo-classicists. It is a classical ballet with a twist at unexpected moments. Led by eight principal dancers and a corps de ballet, Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 was danced with refinement and sophistication by the cast of Yuka Iseda, Alejandro Virelles, Cristina Casa, Aaron Robison, Carmen Corella, Dayron Vera, Kazudo Omori, and Kirill Radev.
Christopher Wheeldon's For 4, is a subtle piece danced to Franz Schubert's Death and the Maiden, and had been created for one of the Kings of Dance presentations. Four male dancers strut their stuff, and Wheeldon makes certain that every part of each dancer's body is in constant motion during every minute of the piece. The piece gained its substance by being danced by "star" dancers. In this instance the cast of Dayron Vera, Alejandro Virelles, Aaron Robison, and Damian Toro projected potential star power.
Palpito, a commissioned creation for the Barcelona Ballet, was a dance depicting the artistic journey of a dancer -- exploring new experiences and moving forward with new ideas. It was Angel Corella, himself, who portrayed that dancer, and perhaps some autobiographical bits and pieces were included in this piece as choreographed by Nuevo Ballet Espanol artistic directors, Angel Rojas and Carlos Rodriguez -- and danced to a commissioned score by Hector Gonzalez.
Palpito, translated as "hunch" from the Spanish, is a clue to the conception of the piece itself. The dancer's encounters are random -- presented in a series of vignettes not only reflecting the dancer's artistic journey but also the Spanish culture.
Choreographically the style of the piece is a hybrid -- including references to ballet, Spanish flamenco, modern dance, and theatrical dancing. Palpito ended with a rousing finale and showed off the company's energetic and dynamic dancers.
Just before the Barcelona Ballet's engagement, it was announced by American Ballet Theatre that Angel Corella will be retiring from the company after the Metropolitan Opera House season. As Corella will no longer be dancing with American Ballet Theatre in New York in the future, I trust that he will be seen dancing in New York with the Barcelona Ballet on a more frequent basis.
Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory New York's Spring Concert
April 7, 2012
By Mark Kappel
Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Performance Project presented Kozlova's Dance Conservatory New York's students in its annual Spring Concert at Symphony Space on April 7, 2012.
The accomplished students and evidence of their hard work made this performance the success that it was. These talented students danced excerpts from the 19th century classics, staged by Valentina Kozlova, as well as new choreography by Margo Sappington and by Nina Buisson, and children's dances choreographed by Olga and Veronika Verterich, Arianna Dedes, and Sharon McPeek.
Two of the students were supported by guest artists from American Ballet Theatre. Sarah Steele was partnered by American Ballet Theatre soloist, Craig Salstein, in the Diana and Acteon Pas de Deux, and American Ballet Theatre's Alexandre Hammoudi, partnered Veronika Verterich in excerpts from Raymonda, which was co-staged by Valentina Kozlova and Olga Verterich.
Other highlights of the program were Margo Sappington's Kata-Wu, danced to a commissioned score by Xiao Fen, and danced by Maggie Yin-Horowitz, and a series of contemporary dance vignettes choreographed by Nina Buisson.
The program offered a diversity of styles in choreography and excerpts from the 19th century classics not only to impress the parents of the students dancing on stage, but also for a general audience. The diversity of choreography also offered challenges to Valentina Kozlova's students which were faced head on.
On display on the stage were the results of weeks of work in coaching these students, and choreographing for these students, and the students rising to the occasion.
The Royal Ballet in Romeo and Juliet
April 1, 2012
By Mark Kappel
Ballet in Cinema, in its continuing efforts to present live transmissions of ballet performances from major European opera houses, presented an encore performance of the Royal Ballet dancing Kenneth MacMillan's production of Romeo and Juliet on April 1st, 2012. with Lauren Cuthbertson and Frederico Bonelli in the principal roles.
Every ballet company in the world seems to have commissioned or acquired a production of Romeo and Juliet -- most of them danced to Sergei Prokofiev's iconic score. Kenneth MacMillan's production of Romeo and Juliet had been a fixture in most New York dance seasons as the Royal Ballet performed it so often during the company's American tours after its premiere in 1965.
As MacMillan had the resources of the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera House at his disposal for his production, he chose to create a grand opera house production with conventional opera-like scenery and lavish costumes designed by Nicholas Georgiadis.
In spite of the grand spectacle that resulted, MacMillan's choreography focuses on the emotional and psychological elements of the story to a greater degree than most other productions of Romeo and Juliet. He also emphasized British classicism in the style of his choreography when it was purer than it is now.
As the Royal Ballet has not performed MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet in New York in several decades, we have missed several generations of Royal Ballet dancers portraying the principal roles.
Cuthbertson and Bonelli danced the title roles with precision and deep emotion. Both dancers were excellent models of refined and classic British ballet style with attention to detail from facial expressions to the smallest gesture. The totality was an exceptionally moving performance.
The advantage of performing a ballet such as Romeo and Juliet in an opera house is having the resources to have solid dancers and character dancers in supporting roles. Particularly notable were Bennet Gartside as Tybalt, and Elxander Campbell as Mercutio.
It was refreshing to see this production of Romeo and Juliet in its natural state and danced by a new generation of Royal Ballet dancers.
Bolshoi Ballet Dances Le Corsaire
March 11, 2012
By Mark Kappel
Although the Mariinsky Ballet has performed its production of Le Corsaire in New York, and American Ballet Theatre has included Le Corsaire in its repertoire on a regular basis, the Bolshoi Ballet's production of Le Corsaire has yet to have its New York premiere. Through the efforts of Ballet in Cinema, a live transmission of the Bolshoi Ballet's current production of Le Corsaire, staged by Alexei Ratmansky and Yuri Burlaka -- with additional choreography by Ratmansky -- was shown in a live transmission on March 11, 2012.
Le Corsaire is one of several 19th century classics that have their roots at the Paris Opera where it was premiered with choreography by Joseph Mazilier. As a dancer, Marius Petipa danced the role of Conrad in Le Corsaire at the Paris Opera, and he staged several revivals of Le Corsaire for the Mariinsky Ballet. It is a ballet, for the most part that has been cloistered within Russia. Very few productions of Le Corsaire have been staged in Europe and in North America.
Le Corsaire is a mix of Byronic romanticism and swashbuckling pirates -- and even includes a shipwreck which had to be a major challenge for scenery designers in the 19th century when Le Corsaire premiered. The story of Le Corsaire finds a young Greek girl, Medora sold into slavery, and who is then saved by the pirate Conrad. It is the adventures, characters switching places with each other, near death experiences along the way, and the many set pieces of abstract choreography that have intrigued ballet audiences. One of the highlights being the Jardin Anime divertissement.
As with most productions of Le Corsaire the score for this production is a hodgepodge of music composed by several composers including Leo Delibes, Cesare Pugni, Pyotr von Oldenburg, Riccardo Drigo, Albert Zadel, and Julius Gerber.
This particular production of Le Corsaire, premiered on June 21, 2007, employing research from the Harvard University Dance Collection for the staging of the choreography, and employing the costume designs from an 1899 production of Le Corsaire at the Mariinsky Ballet, housed at the St. Petersburg State Theatre Library.
Besides taking a peak at theBolshoi Ballet's production of Le Corsaire, this live screening served as an opportunity to see Alexei Ratmansky's vision concerning modern day reconstructions of 19th century classics, and to see the full deployment of the Bolshoi Ballet's human resources and technical resources combining forces to recreate a ballet that could be described as a spectacle among other 19th century Russian ballet spectacles.
But how different was this production of Le Corsaire as compared to others seen in the United States. In this production the Bolshoi Ballet uses all of its resources -- including a large number of dancers -- to create the bustling action in the marketplace scene, and the theatrical illusion come to life in the Jardin Anime divertissement in the Pasha's Palace. The Jardin Anime not only had an exotic flair in its designs but as danced by a large number of dancers, Jardin Anime was transformed into a living painting.
One of the most significant choreographic revisions -- which was a reflection of the revised libretto -- was the pas de trois usually danced by Medora, Ali, and Conrad. Ali was eliminated as a character in this production of Le Corsaire and the revision of the pas de trois was a pas de deux danced by Medora and Conrad. Somehow without Ali's exoticism and sensuality the impact of this pas de deux was diminished.
Alexei Ratmansky also choreogaphed a divertissement in the third act in the style of Petipa which offered Medora even more to dance than she already had to dance in this production.
Many of the set pieces were moved from one act to another. The already mentioned Jardin Anime was moved to the second act, and the infamous shipwreck was moved to the end of the ballet. In spite of these revisions, the story was clearly delineated in the choreography, mime, and the costume and scenery designs.
The cast was led by Svetlana Lunkina as Medora, Nina Kaptsova as Gulnare, Ruslan Skvortsov as Conrad, and Andrei Merkuriev as Birbanto, all danced with refinement and also defined their characters clearly. Bravura dancing was offered at the appropriate moments which was also exemplified by the performances of Anatasia Stashkevitch and Vyacheslav Lopatin in the Act I Pas d'Esclave, and Olga Kishnyova, Anna Nikulina, and Anna Tikhomirova in the Odalisque Pas de Trois.
Les Ballets de Monte Carlo
Makes Joyce Theater Debut
February 15, 2012
By Mark Kappel
Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, currently directed by Jean-Christophe Maillot, made its Joyce Theater debut from February 15-19, 2012. Les Ballets de Monte Carlo has previously performed in large venues in New York including the City Center and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In this more intimate setting Les Ballets de Monte Carlo presented a mixed-bill program of abstract ballets rather than the full-length narrative ballets that the company has performed in New York in the past. This was another side of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo.
Both ballets presented were choreographed by the company's artistic director, Jean-Christophe Maillot, whose work is now included in the repertoires of several American ballet companies. Maillot's preference of dance style in these ballets was modern and post-modern dance. These pieces were significantly different in style from the ballets that Les Ballets de Monte Carlo had danced during previous New York engagements. Both pieces have been in the company's repertoire for some years as Altro Canto I premiered in 2006 and Opus 40 premiered in 2000.
Maillot's Opus 40 had an all-American atmosphere as the ballet was danced to music composed by American compo -ser/choreographer, Meredith Monk, with costumes and scenery designed by American painter, George Condo. Maillot's choreography was a response to Monk's iconoclastic music.
Monk's music featured sounds of a forest and a pastoral setting which Maillot incorporated into this piece. Bernice Coppieters, in the principal role dominating Opus 40, was almost like a lark experiencing the wonders of the outdoors. Maillot's organic movement responded to the vocal and rhythmic patterns in Monk's music.
Opus 40 was primarily an ensemble piece. But in addition to Coppieters, Chris Roelandt, Mimoza Koike, Gaetan Morlotti, and Jerome Marchant were also featured.
In contrast was Maillot's more formalized Altro Canto I, an excerpt from a larger work, which was premiered in 2006. Danced to music in the Baroque style composed by Claudio Monteverdi, Biagio Marini, and Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, with gender alternative costumes designed by Karl Lagerfeld and scenery designed by Rolf Sachs, Maillot's choreography was a response to the music's liturgical and ritual underpinnings. All performed in a dimly lit and murky mist.
At the very beginning of the piece Maillot established a choreographic motif of candle flame with hand motions representing flickering candles. Also dominant was the drop and fall choreography associated with post-modern dance that was structured in group dances, and duets. However the most interesting sections were the "Deposuit" danced by the four-dancer female group of Carolyn Rose, Mimoza Koike, Noelani Pantastico, and April Ball, and the pas de deux danced by Chris Roelandt and Jerome Marchand in the "Sucepit Israel/Sicut lucutus est" section.
Maillot's pieces succeeded most in showing off the 32-member Les Ballets de Monte Carlo as an outstanding ensemble.
Les Ballets de Monte Carlo's engagement at the Joyce Theater was an opportunity to see the company's dancers in an intimate setting contrasting its previous New York appearances where large company works dominated and did not provide the opportunity to see these fine dancers up close.
China Jinling Dance Company of Nanjing
January 8, 2012
David Koch Theater
By Mark Kappel
Making its New York debut from January 5-8, 2012, the China Jinling Dance Company of Nanjing presented its production of the dance drama, The Peony Pavilion, at the David Koch Theater.
Based on a love story, written by Tang Xianzu, and first performed as Kunqu opera during the Ming Dynasty in 1598, the choreographic team of Ying Zhiqi, Lu Ling, and Wu Ning, transformed this ancient story into a dance drama focusing on the courtship of Du Liniang (danced by Hu Qinxin) and Liu Mengmai (danced by Xu Peng) in a version which premiered in 2008.
The plot of The Peony Pavilion focuses on a young scholar (Du Liniang) and the daughter of a high official in Nan'an in Southern China (Liu Mengmai). Both Mengmai and Liniang dream of each other but Mengmai never meets Liniang and dies heartbroken. She leaves behind a self-portrait, which Liniang rediscovers in a market place. Upon the discovery of his dream lover's portrait, Liniang begins a long journey to find her. It is only after the Infernal Judge in the Netherworld releases Mengmai's soul, that the two lovers find each other. Liniang finds Mengmai on her deathbed, but Mengmai is resurrected, and the young lovers are allowed to marry.
The first act of this production of The Peony Pavilion was an expeditious assemblage of exposition. In great contrast the second act is filled with passion as depicted in Mengmai's resurrection and the lovers' duets.
The story was told in a series of episodes which literally presented aspects of the story. But the choreographic focus was on the duets danced by the lovers and the ensemble groups that provided narrative details.
The entire presentation was an elaborate spectacle with choreography that was a hybrid of Chinese folk dance, acrobatics, and modern dance. Combined with effective scenery and lighting designs, t he China Jinling Dance Company's production of The Peony Pavilion made for an imaginative entertainment.
These performances of the China Jinling Dance Company of Nanjing were presented by the China Arts & Entertainment Group -- in collaboration with the David Koch Theater -- under the administration of the Ministry of Culture for the People's Republic of China in an effort to expose American audiences to current and classical Chinese contemporary performing arts.
Alan Ayckbourn's Neighborhood Watch
59E59 Theaters' Brits Off-Broadway Series
December 4, 2011
By Mark Kappel
Alan Ayckbourn could be the most prolific playwright writing in the English language. His many plays have been produced on both sides of the Atlantic and many of them have incubated at the Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough in Scarborough, England, where Ayckbourn had been artistic director for 37 years.
Ayckbourn's plays focus on the flaws of people who inhabit England's middle and upper classes. It's comedy with a razor wit -- and sometimes dark. Presented by the 59E59 Theaters' Brits Off-Broadway Series in its Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough production, Ayckbourn's 75th play, Neighborhood Watch, falls into the dark comedy category.
Clues to how dark it could get was revealed in the somber opening speech by Hilda (Alexandra Mathie) focusing on the dedication of a memorial park named after her brother Martin (Matthew Cottle), a presumed neighborhood hero. The back story of these two newcomers to a suburban community unravels in Neighborhood Watch revealing Ayckbourn's thoughts and concerns about ideological politics, religious beliefs, hypocrisy, and how people can be controlled by power -- and how power can control people.
Set in the middle-class, suburban Bluebell Hills Development, intruders and criminals seem to be having a field day with petty theft, vandalism, and more. Martin and Hilda have recently moved to this suburban community -- bordered by an adjoining neighborhood that has been run down -- and the established residents feel that they have become the victims of a growing crime wave and abuse by police,
Setting events into motion, meek Martin confronts a youngster, he presumes to be an intruder feeling from a crime scene, and the encounter has taken on the significance of a major crime -- representative of a crime spree. Once his garden gnome -- a child hood gift -- is vandalized, this is the last sraw, and Martin transforms from a lamb to a tiger; taking on the over-the-top affectations of a political and religious leader. He forms a neighborhood watch committee integrating the community's resources freeing the residents to take matters into their own hands.
The neighborhood watch committee also takes a keen inerest in the personal lives of the Bluebell Hills Development's residents. However quoting Hilda's call to action, "Tea first. Then war!"
Martin's task is complicated by having to lead a disparate group of comrades in arms. The committee members run the gamut from a paranoid ex-security officer to the local busy body, and an engineer, whose wife is having affairs with every man in the Bluebell Hills Development -- even sparking some passion within Martin, who is entrapped under the control of his sister, Hilda.
But events take a curious turn as lines are crossed by perpetrators, enforcers, and victims leading up to a terrible tragedy.
And leading up to that tragedy Ayckbourn points out the dangers of leaving crime prevention to volunteer activists, and questioning how much privacy are we prepared to give up for absolute security.
Despite the play's underlying darkness, Ayckbourn approaches the subject matter with wit and humor -- and exposes human frailities with all its flaws with that same wit and humor.
Ayckbourn has ably directed his own play and Neighborhood Watch's original British cast is also ideal. These actors have Ayckbourn's characters under their skin. Matthew Cottle and Alexandra Mathie as Martin and Hilda intensely portray how these characters evolve and how they duel with each to the end. Eileen Battye, Terrence Booth, Phil Cheadle, Richard Derrington, and Amy Loughton portray their characters as much more than supporting roles - they are the engine of Ayckbourn's zig-zagging plot -- an ensemble at its best.
All of the components of this production of Ayckbourn's Neighborhood Watch should motivate any avid theater-goer to visit with these eccentric community activists.
Bolshoi Ballet in The Sleeping Beauty
November 20, 2011
By Mark Kappel
Continuing in its series of Bolshoi Ballet live transmissions, Ballet in Cinema, presented the Bolshoi Ballet in Yuri Grigorovitch's new production of The Sleeping Beauty, th eopening attraction of the newly restored Bolshoi Theatre.
A previous production of The Sleeping Beauty, staged by Yuri Grigorovitch, had been seen in New York in 1975, danced by the Bolshoi Ballet at the Metrpolitan Opera House -- two years after its premiere in 1973. That produciton was not Grigorovitch's last word on The Sleeping Beauty. This new production received its premiere on November 18, 2011, a refreshed staging by Grigorovitch with costumes designed by Franca Squarciapino and scenery designed by Ezio Frigerio.
This live transmission on November 20, 2011 offered many opportunities including the opportunity to see the newly-restored Bolshoi Theatre, and to see Grigorovitch's lavish production of The Sleeping Beauty with costumes and scenry designed in Western European fashion.
Grigorovitch's production of The Sleeping beauty streamlines this well-known story ballet down to its essentials while still recreating the atmosphere of a fairy tale. Grigorovitch's major new choreographic contributions include his addition of extra dancers in t he Rose Adagio, enlarging it to the point of being a suite of dances, and the large number of dancers filling the Bolshoi Theatre stage in the Act I Garland Dance. Also Grigorovitch created new choreography for the Hunt and Vision scenes in Act II and new choreography for many of the divertissements in Act III -- including a version of the Cinderella divertissement which is rarely seen in productions of The Sleeping Beauty.
The cast lwas led by Svetlana Zakharova and David Hallberg -- an historic moment for American David Hallberg, and an extraordinary opportunity to see Hallberg blend in with his new colleagues as a principal dancer of the Bolshoi Ballet. This partnership has potential with Hallberg as an elegant partner and Zakharova, a ballerina in the grand manner. Ingredients essential in a successful production of The Sleeping Beauty.
Maria Allash as the Lilac Fairy and Alexei Loparevich as Carabosse were the two perfect foils of good and evil, and Nina Kaptsova and Artem Ovcharenko gave a spirited performance of The Bluebird Pas de Deux.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival - Program Four
November 4, 2011
By Mark Kappel
The City Center Fall for Dance Festival's fourth program, performed on November 4, 2011, was eclectic not only from a choreographic standpoint, but also from a musical standpoint. This program defined variety.
Choreographed by Tao Ye, the Tao Dance Theater presented the U.S. premiere of its adaptation of Weight x 3, a series of two dances set to music by Steve Reich.
Performed by Duan Ni, Wang Hao, and Tao Ye (the Tao Dance Theater's artistic director), the opening dance was a solo performed with a metal rod used as a twirling baton that created hypnotic photographic images as it was spun in a pool light.
This dance was quickly followed by a duet that was choreographically distinctive by the dancers snapping their heads and other parts of the body in repetition. Both sections of Weight x 3 were tests of the dancers' ability to push their bodies to their limits.
Mixing music from samba, hip-hop, capoeira, bossa nova and electronic music, Agwa was choreographed by Mourad Merzouki for the CCN de Cretil et du Val-De-Marne/Compagnie Kafig's 11 dancer ensemble.
The theme of the piece was water and how it is an integral part of humanity's existence. The performance space was bounded and defined by towers of plastic cups, and barriers of plastic cups. The dancers danced in between the confined boundaries of towers and lines of plastic cups -- which were also filled and emptied with water as the dancers used every part of their bodies to respond to the mix of music that the piece was created to.
Merzouki's choreography was defined by its tongue-in-cheek humor and its street-sense style.
The Royal Ballet of Flanders returned to New York on this program to dance excerpts from Christian Spuck's The Return of Ulysses.
These excerpts focused on Penelope's (Eva Dewaele) vigil waiting for the return of her husband, Ulysses (Ernesto Boada), while at the same time fending off the advances of many persistent suitors.
Set to music by Henry Purcell and recordings of popular songs from the 1950's and 1960's,Spuck's use of music was a synergy of irony and parody. A rather violent duet between Penelope and one of her suitors was danced to a recording of "Magic Moments, sung by Perry Como, with the lyrics expressing the irony of the choreography created for the duet.
There wasn't a pointe shoe in sight in these excerpts as Spuck chose modern dance techniques and styles to be represented in his choreography. That combined with the simple contemporary dress costuming in black, created a minimalist feeling to this work.
Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, a company of 17 dancers and seven musicians, danced Alfonso's 2001 creation, Pa' Cuba me voy -- danced to music influenced by flamenco, ballet, and Afro-Cuban and Cuban rhythms.
The three distinctive sections displayed different sytles of social dancing. The first section was a Rockettle-style number but danced to flamenco choreography. This was followed by a dance for three where girl loses boy and doesn't get him back. The spirited finale was a hybrid of flamenco and folk dance styles.
The cast was led by the exuberant Carmen Rosa Lopez, Claudia Valdivia, and Vadim Larramendi, and much credit to the excellent musicians, Efrain Chibas, Ernesto Hermida, Yamile Pedro, Jose Onell Carbonell, Dayron Echevarria, and Mauricio Gutierrez.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival - Program Three
November 2, 2011
By Mark Kappel
The City Center Fall for Dance Festival's third program on November 2, 2011, had an Australian theme with two pieces on the program danced by Australian dancers.
Making a welcome return to New York, the Australian Ballet danced Glen Tetley's Gemini, an enigmatic work for a quartet of dancers, set to music from Hans Werner Henze's Symphony No. 3. Although Gemini has been danced in New York before, the Australian Ballet was dancing Gemini in New York for the first time. This double pas de deux was created by Tetley for the Australian Ballet in 1973.
The unitard costumes designed by Nadine Bayliss andTetley's signature in the air choreography were nostalgic benchmarks. The Australian Ballet's well-schooled dancers, Adam Bull, Lana Jones, Amber Scott, and Rudy Hawkes, executed Tetley's choreography with the fluidity that was expected of them -- an endurance test in of itself.
Continuing the Australian theme of the program, Australian-born Steven McRae, principal dancer of the Royal Ballet, danced a solo tap piece of his own choreography, entitled Something Different. The choreography was a hybrid of tap improvisation with ballet technique danced to the Benny Goodman Orchestra's renditon of "Sing, Sing, Sing". Displaying one of his hidden talents, McRae gave his solo a show-stopping virtuoso performance.
Pontus Lidberg Dance danced Lidberg's U.S. premiere of Faune. Faune was created in 2010, and was danced to Debussy's Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun. Lidberg's transcripted version of Afternoon of a Faun was for five dancers (Adrian Danchig-Waring, Craig Hall, Drew Jacoby, Gabrielle Lamb, and Pontius Lidberg) who exchange t-shirts and tights in what seemed to be the unraveling of a search for the feal "faune" (Lidberg). Produced in the style of minimalist simplicty this was a clever approach to a familiar theme.
Closing the program was the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancing the New York premiere of Ohad Naharin's Three To Max, a collage of past works that were created by Naharin over the past decade. Premiered by the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 2011, this series of ensemble pieces emphasized ritual and repetition which tested the dancers' abilities to make such repetition refreshing and interesting. The dancers met that test in each and every section of the piece.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival - Program One
October 28, 2011
By Mark Kappel
The City Center Fall for Dance Festival's first program lived up to the Festival mission to present a variety of experiences to dance audiences and emphasizing the laudable effort of underwriting the tickets to allow them to be sold at $10 each.
Opening this program on October 28, 2011, was the Mark Morris Dance Group dancing Morris' All Fours. Set to Bartok's String Quartet No. 4 -- and having been premiered in 2003 -- Morris captured the folkloric spirit inherent in Bartok's music. Morris created a sense of community where people were accepted or not accepted. In the large ensemble cast, particularly notable were Aaron Loux, Dallas McMurray, Rita Donahue, and Michelle Yeard, who expressed Morris' intentions clearly.
Lil Buck's choreographed improvision, The Swan, was danced by Buck himself at this performance to the familiar music by Camille Saint-Saens. Buck transformed this classic piece into an exhibition of contortion, flexiblity and showmanship -- proving that dancing in sneakers does not prevent a dancer from articulating his feet and exhibiting a classic line when required. Developed by the New Ballet Ensemble and School in Memphis, Tennesse, and premiered in 2007, Buck expressed originality in his unique approach to this classic piece of dance.
The Trisha Brown Dance Company presented Trisha Brown's duet, Roques. A recent work premiered in 2011, Neal Beasley and Lee Serle danced in tandem and competitively -- in dance conversation -- filling more space on the stage than a larger number of dancers would have. With its veneer of simplicity, Rogues was an example of less is more.
Closing the program was the New York premiere of Edwaard Liang's Woven Dreams, danced by the Joffrey Ballet. Premiered in 2011, this piece for 18 dancers was set to a cobbled score including music composed by Benjamin Britten, Maurice Ravel, Henryk Gorecki, and Michael Galasso.
Liang's choreogrpahy was an elongated adagio for a large group of dancers highlighted by the duets danced by Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels. Up above the dancers' heads was a woven fabric piece of scenery, designed by Jeff Fauer, which emphasized that the choreography was an expression of regret from incidents and relationships in the past and dreams for the future.
Suzanne Farrell Ballet Returns to New York
October 19-23, 2011
By Mark Kappel
Celebrating its tenth anniversary the Suzanne Farrell Ballet made one of its infrequent New York visits at the Joyce Theater from October 19-23, 2011.
Under the directorship of Suzanne Farrell, a former principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, and considered to be one of the primary exponents of Balanchine's choreography and style, the company has been on a mission to present the works of George Balanchine in the versions that Balanchine would have approved as well as reconstructing Balanchine ballets that have fallen into neglect.
For its Joyce Theater debut on October 19, 2011, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet performed repertoire that was familiar, and not so familiar -- an all-Balanchine program filled with a few of Balanchine ballets that are rarely performed. The overview of the program showcased Balanchine's range as a choreographer, his taste in music, and his works simply produced in practice clothes and others costumed with more specificity.
Among the less familiar pieces was Meditation, a pas de deux choreographed for Suzanne Farrell and Jacques d'Amboise, which was premiered by the New York City Ballet in 1963 -- and which had been performed by the Suzanne Farrell Ballet during a previous New York visit in 1999.
Choreographed to Tchaikovsky's romantic Meditation, Elisabeth Holowchuk and Michael Cook danced this piece about the emotional expression of love -- longing for love -- and also how a long relationship ends.
Also less familiar was Haieff Divertimento, created for Ballet Society in 1947, and acquired by the Suzanne Farrell Ballet in 2010. Structured to match the music, the configuration of the cast was a leading couple supported by an additional four couples as corps de ballet. Balanchine responded to Haieff' musical pastiche in his own pointed style. the cast was led by Elisabeth Holowchuk and Kirk Henning -- and in the male principal role, Henning gave all deference to the ballerina in this ballet.
More familiar was the Diamonds Pas de Deux from the Diamonds Act of Jewels, added to the Suzanne Farrell Ballet's reperotire in 2008. Farrell created one of the principal roles in the Diamonds Act of Jewels when Jewels was premiered by the New York City Ballet in 1967. Set to an entire movement of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 3, this homage to the imperial ballet of the late 19th century, was danced with great dignity and reverence by Violeta Angelova and Momchil Mladenov.
Balanchine's iconic Agon, set to Stravinsky's commissioned score, was premiered by the New York City Ballet in 1957. One of Balanchine's masterpieces, it was given its company premiere by the Suzanne Farrell Ballet in 2009. This is Balanchine at his most astringent and concise. The choreography and music blend into a depiction of modern court dances and subtle references to relationships. Balanchine matched the pulse of Stravinsky's music with the interaction of the dancers.
Although this performance of Agon seemed a bit constricted on the Joyce Theater's stage, Elisabeth Holowchuk and Momchil Mladenov dancing the Pas de Deux, Michael Cook dancing the first Pas de Trois, and Violeta Angelova dancing the second Pas de Trois all met the challenges of Balanchine's choreography.
The Suzanne Farrell Ballet's presention of thisBalanchine mixed-bill program presented a wide range of Balanchine's choreographic sensibilities, and presented on the small Joyce Theater stage, one had the opportunity to examine the many details in Balanchine's choreography.
Houston Ballet Makes Joyce Theater Debut
October 11-16, 2011
By Mark Kappel
Although the Houston Ballet has made appearances in New York at the City Center's Fall for Dance Festival in the last few years, the last time the company performed in New York for a season of its own was way back in 1985 -- at the City Center. The Houston Ballet made its Joyce Theater debut from October 11-16, 2011 presenting a season of its own for the first time in more than 25 years.
The Houston Ballet, under the guidance of artistic d irector, Stanton Welch, performed a mixed-bill program including works by some of the most prominent choreographers working today. All of these had a contemporary bent, and all of the works were suited to the stage size of the Joyce Theater.
The opening night program on October 11th, included a familiar work by Jiri Kylian, and two world premieres created for the Houston Ballet by Christopher Bruce, and Jorma Elo.
Jorma Elo's ONE/end/ONE, set to Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, was presented on this program as part of a Nureyev Foundation grant to create world premieres for the Joyce Theater dance series.
Danced by the cast of Karina Gonzalez, Melody Mennite, Melissa Hough, Lauren Strongin, Connor Walsh, Garrett Smith, and Peter Franc, this ballet was given its Houston Ballet premiere in May of this year.
Elo's signature has evolved into brisk-paced choreography with unexpected lifts and unexpected responses to musical rhythms. In the instance of ONE/end/ONE, Elo was as much challenged by the dancers as the dancers were challenged by him. The Houston Ballet's dancers have a clean style that takes some effort to distort. The collaborative efforts of dancers and choreographer in One/end/ONE resulted in the success of Elo's artistic vision.
Also on the program was Christopher Bruce's Hush, a Commedia Dell Arte style piece depicting the life of a travelling circus family. Bruce's eclectic choreography was matched by the eclectic music by Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma that functioned as a soundtrack for this dance piece. Often there was inspiration from Marcel Marceau with characters being defined from within the choreography.
Danced by Kelly Myernick, James Gotesky, Rhodes Elliott, Ilya Kozadayev, Jessica Collado, and Melody Mennite, Hush is a work filled with melancholy and regret which was expressed superbly by the dancers.
The program was completed by Jiri Kylian's Falling Angels, which had its company premiere in 2009 -- a workthat Kylian created under the banner of Black and White. In this piece eight female dancers (Sara Webb, Danielle Rowe, Jessica Collado, Nao Kusuzaki, Katherine Precourt, Emily Bowen, Nozomi Iijima, and elise Judson) are costumed in black leotards, dancing to the continuous beat of Steve Reich's Drumming. Minimalist in presentation, minimalist in choreography, and ritual in nature, Falling Angels was equally inspired by the music it was danced to.
The Houston Ballet dancers distinguished themselves in all three works on the program justifying the company's reputation as being in the first tier of American ballet companies -- and a company that should be seen more often in New York.
Bolshoi Ballet in Esmeralda
October 9, 2011
By Mark Kappel
Ballet in Cinema was launched in early 2011 and since then has presented live transmissions of performances of the Bolshoi Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet in local cinemas all over the world. These transmissions have allowed audiences to view performances as audiences are watching them in their home cities, and exposing audiences all over the world to ballet productions that would not be featured in these companies' touring repertoires.
On October 9, 2011, Ballet in Cinema presented the Bolshoi Ballet's production of Esmeralda, staged by Yuri Burlaka and Vasily Medvedev, based on a libretto by Jules Perrot adapted from Victor Hugo's novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and set to music by Cesare Pugni (with additional music by Riccardo Drigo, Anton Simon, Pyotr Shenk and orchestrations by Reinhold Gliere) -- a production which premiered on December 25, 2009.
Esmeralda, as a ballet, has a long history, with a world premiere in London and Marius Petipa staging several productions during his regime at the Mariinsky Ballet.
For this reconstruction, the stagers employed research material from the Harvard Theatre Collection for the choreography and sketches housed in the St. Petersburg Museum of Theatre and the St. Petersburg State Theater Library to recreate the costumes and scenery.
The producers of this production chose Petipa's 1899 production to reproduce as it was felt that Petipa would be open to reproducing the best of Perrot's choreography and intent from the past. The producers added male dancers to the corps de ballet and revised choreography but all of these additions and revisions seemed to be blended together.
The complicated plot focuses on the gypsy girl, Esmeralda (danced by Maria Alexandrova), who marries a destitute poet, Pierre Gringoire (danced by Denis Savin) to save his life but falls in love with Phoebus de Chateaupers (danced by Ruslan Skvortsov), who is Captain of the Royal Archers. Their romance is tested by Phoebus' engagement to Fleur de Lys (Yekaterina Krysanova) as well as Esmeralda's admirers. Phoebus is assisted in his exploits by the bell-ringer of Notre Dame, Quasidmodo (danced by Igor Tsvirko) -- those exploits including the capture of the villain of the piece, Claude Frollo (portrayed by Alexei Loparevich). Interspersed in all of this action, gypsy dances, and swordplay is a ballet divertissement which includes the familiar Diana And Acteon Pas de Deux (danced by Anastasia Stashkevich and Vyacheslav Lopatin) -- the version choreographed by Aggrippina Vaganova, which is presented during a court entertainment with the principal dancers revealing themselves from within a tapestry.
This production of Esmeralda, with a running time of nearly 3-1/2 hours, was danced and performed by the Bolshoi Ballet dancers with great conviction -- they were in the moment not only as dancers but also as actors -- which made the rather complicated narrative in Esmeralda understandable.
This live screening offered an audience the opportunity to experience a rarely seen ballet performed often by the Bolshoi Ballet but not seen during the Bolshoi Ballet's international tours.
Mariinsky Ballet Dances Bizet
July 16, 2011
Metropolitan Opera House
By Mark Kappel
The third of three programs presented by the Mariinsky Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House, on July 16, 2011, was a mixed-bill program which was flavored with a musical theme. Both ballets presented were choreographed to music composed by Georges Bizet, but were the work of choreographers who had contrasting styles.
The narrative work on the program was Alberto Alonso's Carmen Suite, choreographed to Rodion Shchedrin's percussion/string arrangement of Bizet's music from his opera, Carmen, and excerpts from L'Arlesienne, and La Jolie Fille de Perth.
Alonso's Carmen has been performed in New York including performances danced by the National Ballet of Cuba, American Ballet Theatre, and Ballet Internationale.
Using Shchedrin's percussion arrangements to form the musical and rhythlmic patterns as a backdrop, Alonso devised his version of Carmen for a small cast and reduced the story to the basics. At times the reduction is more abstract than narrative.
The principal characters of Carmen (danced by Uliana Lopatkina), Jose (danced by Danill Korsuntsev), and the Toreador (danced by Evgeny Ivanchenko) play out the story of betrayed relationshps in the simple setting of a bull ring arena. Non-narrative duets were meant to to tell the story while relying on the audience's knowledge of the familiar opera -- the streamlining resulted in few details.
All of the principal characters were haunted by the figure of Fate -- their destiny is tragedy. By reducing the story to its basics, Alonso's Carmen Suite becomes a Greek tragedy. Part of this conception is a corps de ballet which sits in high-backed chairs and comments on the action as would a Greek chorus. The action is set in a stunning environment of black and red.
Alonso's Carmen Suite has its kitschy quality but that was overcome by the excellent cast -- in the particular, the charismatic Uliana Lopatkina.
As a companion piece for Alonso's Carmen Suite, the Mariinsky Ballet completed this program with a performance of George Balanchine's Symphony in C, set to Bizet's symphony, which the company had danced in New York in 1999.
Balanchine created one of the best company pieces ever choreographed -- and the Mariinsky Ballet has the resources and the number of dancers required to make this jewel sparkle.
The cast of Viktoria Tereshkina with Andrian Fadeyev (First Movement), Yekaterina Kondaurova with Evgeny Ivanchenko (Second Movement), Yevgenia Obraztsova with Vladimir Shklyarov (Third Movement), and Maria Shirinkina with Alexei Timofeev (Fourth Movement) danced the ballet with precision and musicality.
The multi-colored costumes for each movement designed by Irina Press created a rainbow of color on the stage.
The Mariinsky Ballet's performance of George Balanchine's Symphony in C was the highlight of the company's season at the Metropolitan Opera House.
Mariinsky Ballet Dances Anna Karenina
July 14, 2011
Metropolitan Opera House
By Mark Kappel
On July 14, 2011, the Mariinsky Ballet presented its second of two collaborations by Alexei Ratmansky and Rodion Shchedrin at the Metropolitan Opera House.
This second collaboration was Anna Karenina which Ratmansky had created for the Royal Danish Ballet in 2004, and received its Mariinsky Ballet premiere in 2010. Ratmansky choreographed his version of Anna Karenina to Shchedrin's ballet score which Shchedrin's wife, Maya Plisetskaya, had employed for her version of Anna Karenina, which was premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet in 1972.
Although few ballet versions of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina have been performed by Russian ballet companies, the Mariinsky Ballet has performed two of them. One by Andre Prokovsky and the other by Alexei Ratmansky -- both of which were created for ballet companies other than the Mariinsky Ballet.
Based on Leo Tolstoy's expansive novel, Ratmansky's version of Anna Karenina seemed constrained by Shchedrin's score and its musical episodes -- which are not always connected by dramatic and story-telling tissue.
At the beginning of the ballet, Count Vronsky (Andrei Yermakov) is seen at Anna Karenina's funeral remembering their relationship. And there is the recurring incident of a peasant being killed by a train throughout the ballet -- the first occurrence when Vronsky meets Anna Karenina (Yekaterina Kondaurova) for the first time. Although, in what seems to be a happy marriage with Alexei Karenin (Islom Baimuradov), Anna Karenina succumbs to Vronsky's advances, she leaves her husband and her son behind -- and when Vronsky loses interest in her and she is shunned by society, Anna Karenina reaches the conclusion that suicide is the only way out.
Anna Karenina is vicitmized by the two men in her life and the systematic sexism prevalent in 19th century Russian society -- and there are also dramatic threads from The Lady of the Camellias that Ratmansky has woven through his version of Tolstoy's story.
Ratmansky chose a minimalist approach in telling this emotionally complicated story, by focusing on the primary protagonists, eliminating the novel's subplots, and employing very few dancers on stage. He also used the 21st century technology of video projects, designed by American lighting designer, Wendall Harrington -- replacing conventional scenery -- but enabling the ballet to move from one scene to another in the most expeditious manner. There is also a major scenic piece, a railroad car, that travels on a stage turntable -- but it is, unfortunately, not effectively used.
The passion-filled performances by the principal dancers made up for some of the emotional gaps in this version of Anna Karenina, but this epic story needs a grand opera style production rather than Ratmansky's chamber-style production.
The Mariinsky Ballet Returns to the Metropolitan Opera House
July 12, 2011
Metropolitan Opera House
By Mark Kappel
The Mariinsky Ballet has returned to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York after an absence of more than a decade. In the intervening years, the Mariinsky Ballet has performed at the City Center, but the company's return to the Metropolitan Opera House, produced by the Lincoln Center Festival, has been a much anticipated arts event.
The Mariinsky Ballet's one-week engagement from July 11-16, 2011 will include three different programs which are linked in terms of the composers of the ballets chosen to be danced, and a focus on the choreography of Alexei Ratmansky. Two of the ballets are collaborations between Ratmansky and composer Rodion Shchedrin.
The first of their two collaborations that I have seen was Ratmansky's The Little Humpbacked Horse. Based on the 1834 poem, Konyok-Borbounok, by Pyotr Yershaov -- the poem's story has been the inspiration for versions of this ballet choreographed by Arthur Saint-Leon, Marius Petipa, and Alexander Gorsky.
Shchedrin's score was composed for a 1960 version choreographed by Alexander Radunsky, which starred Shchedrin's wife, Maya Plisetskaya, and Vladimir Vasiliev. Employing this score as well as the minimal costume and scenery designs by Maxim Isaev, Ratmansky's version for the Mariinsky Ballet premiered in 2009.
The story of The Little Humpbacked Horse focuses on Ivan, a peasant's son, sharing adventures with a magical humpbacked horse carrying out the tasks imposed upon Ivan by an unreasonable and loathsome Tsar.
All ends well as the dim-witted Ivan falls in love with a Tsar Maiden, and together they trick the Tsar into accepting challenges that cause his own death.
Ratmansky's story-telling formula is disconnected vignettes and dances that challenge one to seek out the narrative elements. The first act was filled with exposition and it wasn't until the second act that the characters were defined and there was interaction between those characters. It was at that point that The Little Humpbacked Horse began to spark.
Vladimir Shklyarov as Ivan, Ekaterina Kondaurova as a Young Mare, Vasily Tkachenko as the Little Humpbacked Horse, and Viktoria Tereshkina as the Tsar Maiden sailed through Ratmansky's complicated choreography. The highlight being the second act duet danced by Shklyarov and Tereshkina which was imbued with self-deprecation and passion.
Ratmansky's version of The Little Humpbacked Horse is an amusing entertainmgn but would have been better served with a clearer method of story-telling.
Something's Coming, Something Good - West Side Story and the American Imagination By Misha Berson
By Mark Kappel
West Side Story is now recognized as an iconic musical that broke conventional barriers and was instrumental in re-thinking what could be achieved in musical theater. The premise alone, a musical about gang wars on New York City streets, in the 1950's, exploring social and racial injustice -- and several of the characters who die in the process -- was revolutionary in and of itself.
There have been many books written by the individual creative team members which have explored their involvement in West Side Story. But until now all of these thoughts, perspectives, and backstage stories have not been merged into one volume. Misha Berson, in her "Something's Coming, Something Good -- West Side Story and the American Imagination", has cohesively brought together all of these details and documentation into a readable re-telling of West Side Story's path to Broadway and its implications, not only for Broaday and for musical theater, but also how its score influenced composers and how its choreography influenced dancers makers for years afterwards -- and still does.
One of the influential innovations in West Side Story was the telling of most of the story in dance terms. Even the book scenes were influenced by dance and movement -- and the choreography incorporated many styles as well as the social dances of the era.
Jerome Robbins, as director and choreographer, told as much of the story in dance as in dialogue and song, and his collaborators (Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim, and Leonard Bernstein) are legends in their own right. And in spite of West Side Story's relatively short initial Broadway engagement, many thousands of people not only have claimed to have seen West Side Story during this engagement, but also claimed they were also present at its opening night.
In a series of lectures at Lincoln Center's New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Laurents stated that the inspirtation for West Side Story was not Romeo and Juliet, but was inspired by gang wars in Los Angeles -- and the story idea had been developed through discussions between himself and Leonard Bernstein. A fact confirmed in Berson's book. He also didn't like the film version of West Side Story, and West Side Story's Broadway revival in 2009 -- which Laurents directed -- included revisions which were meant to correct the record and enlarge the vision of this musical. That revival included surgical cuts in the dance sequences, the score and the book, and the translation of lyrics and dialogue into Spanish.
I had seen the two Broadway revivals of West Side Story and the film version, but Misha Berson has examined many other productions of West Side Story over the years. In her book, "Something's Coming, Something Good - West Side Story and the American Imagination", she provides detailed information -- contemporary and historical -- about its original production, how the production was conceived, and how West Side Story holds a special place in the development of the American musical.
But what is notable about Berson's approach is revealing the social and historical context in which West Side Story emerged in the minds and talents of the collaborative team, and providing sources that a reader can investigate herself or himself.
Royal Danish Ballet's La Sylphide
June 18 & 19, 2011
David Koch Theater
By Mark Kappel
The Royal Danish Ballet concluded its New York engagement with weekend performances of Nicolaj Hubbe's production of August Bournonville's La Sylphide. A production based on the original 1836 production and danced to the score composed by Herman Sverin Lovenskhold.
As Russian ballet companies dance different productions of the 19th century classics through the years, the Royal Danish Ballet has adopted that same pattern with its Bournonville classics. Hubbe's production dates back to 2003 -- before he became the company's artistic director -- and it is his vision of La Sylphide that was presented in these performances. Some details from previous productions were missing and there was a feeling that the production had been streamlined. I missed those details as those details had so much meaning in regard to the story-telling. In spite of the revisions, the essence of the best-known of Bournonville ballets was apparent.
La Sylphide was danced by two different casts, Caroline Cavallo in the title role and Mads Blangstrup as James (June 18th) with Lis Jeppesen as Madge the Witch, Nicolai Hansen as Gurn, and Camilla Ruelykke Holst as Effy; and Susanne Grinder in t he title role, Marcin Kupinski as James (June 19th) with Mette Bodtcher as Madge the Witch, Alexander Staeger as Gurn, and Louise Ostergaard as Effy.
What both casts had in common was their ability to execute well-articulated mime and in the moment conviction in their performances. That commitment and the clarity of their dancing made this production come alive from mastering the intricate patterns in the Scottish reel -- infusing the steps with musciality -- through the dramatic ending of this tragic ballet.
A very important element in the success of these performances of La Sylphide was the excellent portrayals of the character roles -- in particular Lis Jeppesen and Mette Bodtcher as Madge the Witch imbued the ballet with pathos and the audience felt the conflicts that the protagonists were experiencing.
Paired with La Sylphide on June 18th was Hubbe's staging of Act 3 of his production of Napoli danced by Amy Watson (Teresina) and Alexander Staeger (Gennaro). Although the modern details are not as harmonious with the traditional as they could be, Bournonville's style came across through the dancing.
One June 19th was a repeat performance of Flindt's The Lesson danced by Thomas Lund as the balletmaster, Ida Praetorius as the pupil and Gudrun Bojesen as the pianist. Lund's performing was the balletmaster had great emotional impact and the ballet was that much more disquieting.
Both of these very different pirces were danced with the same dramatic immediacy and commitment -- a wonderful attribute of the Royal Danish Ballet's dancers that is integrated into the ballets that the company danced.
Royal Danish Ballet's Return to New York
June 15, 2011
David Koch Theater
By Mark Kappel
The Royal Danish Ballet's engagement at the David Koch Theater from June 14-19, 2011, is the company's first New York engagement in more than 20 years. Now under the directorship of Nicolaj Hubbe, whose previous affiliations as a dancer have been with the Royal Danish Ballet and the New York City Ballet, this was an opportunity to see how the Royal Danish Ballet has evolved.
Hubbe decided to open this New York engagement with a mixed-bill program which included two creations for the Royal Danish Ballet and an excerpt from a classic August Bournonville work. This low-key approach to re-introduce the company to a New York audience was both provocative and audacious.
Opening the program was Flemming Flindt's The Lesson, created originally for Danish television in 1963 and staged in Paris and for the Royal Danish Ballet the following year. Based on Eugene Ionesco's La Lecon, with music composed by Georges Delerue, Flindt's version has transformed a teacher of mathematics into a ballet teacher who is a serial abuser of his students. Flindt's sadistic balletmaster (Thomas Lund) torments his pupil (Ida Praetorius) while a pianist (Gudrun Bojesen) functions as an enabler to the balletmaster's predatory attacks. Lund fully captured the balletmaster's psychotic behavior while Praetorius presented the naive foil to that behavior.
Flindt's the Lesson still creates uneasiness for the audience member but is effective as a theatrical experience.
As a resultof Jorma Elo's recent commissions for American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet, his work has been visible and exposed widely during New York dance seasons. Premiered by the Royal Danish Ballet in 2008 and set to music by Antonio Vivaldi, Elo's Lost On Slow is an ensemble piece for six dancers (J'aime Crandall, Lena-Marie Gruber, Jodie Thomas, Charles Andersen, Alban Lendorf, and Christopher Rickert), which unlike other Elo's works, is not fast-paced and there is more clarity of movement. The female dancers are in pointe shoes and tutus, and the male dancers are supportive partners -- a contemporary gloss on 19th century classical ballet. The choreography is angular and stops in fits and starts, but there is continual flow. Although its lighting design provided some atmosphere, the near darkness that Lost On Slow was danced in did not always make it easy for the audience to see the dancers on stage.
Bournonville Variations, which was staged by Nicolaj Hubbe, in collaboration with Thomas Lund, is a strange hybird of Bournonville steps inserted into a neo-classical structure. A piece for 12 male dancers, inspired by the daily classes formulated by August Bournonville, there is a juxtaposition of the past and present.
The ballet opens on an exposed stage with a sign quoting Bournonville, "Dance is an art, for it requires a calling, knowledge and skill." The dancers appear on the stage in rain coats and after removing those rain coats, they are revealed in costumes of contemporary designs which partially duplicate the costumes you might see in a Bournonville ballet.
The series of variations, duets and group dances includes steps from Bournonville's daily classes, and are set to music arranged and orchestrated by Martin Akerwall. The impression is that of a Bournonville ballet seen through the prism of George Balanchine.
Highlightedby the virtuoso dancing of Andrew Bowman, Nicolai Hansen, Alban Lendorf, Ulrik Brkkjaer, Jonathan Chmelensky, James Clark, Eliabe D'Abadia, Gregory Dean, Christian Hammeken, Marcin Kupinski, Julien Roman, and Alexander Staeger, Bournonville Variations is a showcase for a new generation of Royal Danish Ballet male dancers.
The mixed-bill program concluded with a rousing performance of the third act of a new production of Bournonville's Napoli. Assisted by Sorella Englund, Hubbe revised Napoli placing the action in Napoli, Italy in the 1950's with references to Fellini and the poverty of the time.
In Act III Bournonville'sPas de Six and Tarantella are danced by dancers in traditional Italian costumes from the 19th century. However bystanders are costumed in 1950's style dresses, andin working class street wear and uniforms.
One is very much aware that the setting is a working class neighborhood in Italy.
The biggest surprise is seeing Teresina (danced by Susanne Grinder) and Gennaro (danced by Ulrik Birkkjaer) arriving on the stage for their last entrance on a Vespa scooter.
This new production of Napoli, premiered in 2009, includes anachronism and incongruence but the Bournonville choreography was danced with exhilaration and enthusiasm (particularly in theTarantella led by Lena-Marie Gruber and Jonathan Chmelensky), and was representative of the Royal Danish Ballet's traditions.
National Ballet of Cuba
June 10, 2011
Brooklyn Academy of Music
By Mark Kappel
Due to the strained political relationship between the United States and Cuba, the American tours by the National Ballet of Cuba have been infrequent. We are in a time period when the restraints have been eased, if not entirely lifted, and the National Ballet of Cuba's performances in the United States have been more frequent and welcome. After an absence of a decade, the National Ballet of Cuba returned to perform in New York at the Brooklyn Academy of Music from June 8-11, 2011.
The repertoire chosen for this engagement was The Magic of Dance, a highlights program that included excerpts from the 19th century classics -- all staged by Alicia Alonso, the company's founding and current artistic director -- and Alonso's neo-classic work, Gottschalk Symphony.
For the National Ballet of Cuba's June 10th performance, the company presented a diversity of its dancers in a variety of roles steeped in the 19th century classics. What these stagings of the classics all had in common was choreography that was a throwback to the ballet styles of the 1950's, focus on dramatic detail, and musicality.
Giselle had been one of Alicia Alonso's signature roles and special care was given to the excerpt from this ballet that was included in The Magic of Dance. In this excerpt Act II opened with Hilarion mourning at Giselle's grave while at the same time gamblers were rolling dice for their amusement. Thereafter the focus was on Hilarion's death (Hilarion was danced by Ernesto Diaz) in which the malevolent Willis were evil incarnate -- with arms and hands looking like spikes and ready to kill. That sense of evil was also emphasized in the performance of Veronica Corveas as the Queen of the Willis. One of the interesting dramatic detals in this battle between good and evil was the Queen of the Willis' wand bending in half when confronted by Giselle's enduring love for Albrecht.
In contrast to the evil represented by the Willis were the characters of Giselle (danced by Barbara Garcia) and Albrecht (danced by Ernesto Alvarez) who were sympathetic in the true Romantic tradition. Both dancers depicted a style that was Romantic in every aspect but also colored the forgiveness by Giselle and the acceptance of forgiveness by Albrecht. Barbara Garcia and Ernesto Alvarez danced the roles of Giselle and Albrecht with that tradition and style in mind. Alvarez not only danced well through his romantic encounter with Giselle's spirit but also showed his journey towards redemption.
The Sleeping Beauty is a grand ballet that cannot be well represented in a short excerpt. Butan anticipatoryatmosphere wascreated with the company's corps de ballet dancing the Act III Polonaise in a grand manner, setting the scene for the entrance of Aurora (Anette Delgado) and her Prince (Dani Hernandez) to perform the Grand Pas de Deux. Delgado and Hernandez, particularly in their musicality, executed the choreography in an assured manner and with clarity.
It is rare when a major international ballet company dances a full-length production of The Nutcracker in New York. A ballet danced by professional and school companies in the United States, it is the most identifiable of all ballets. Here the Cubans presented the Waltz of the Flowers led by Grettel Morejon and Aymara Vassallo followed by the Grand Pas de Deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Yanela Pinera) and her Cavalier (Alfredo Ibanez). Dancing a version of the Grand Pas de Deux that had its roots in the 1950's Ballet Russe style, Pinera and Ibanez were given the opportunity to present a pas de deux that was far less austere and more musical than the Balanchine version one sees most often in New York.
Following an intermission the excerpts continued with the Mazurka from Coppelia led by Mercedes Piedra and Javier Sanchez, and followed by the Act III Grand Pas de Deux from Coppelia danced by Amaya Rodriguez and Jose Losada. What spoke effectively in this staging of excerpts from Coppelia were the folk dance elements which were carried over into the male solo variation in the Grand Pas de Deux. Those details seem to be lost in American ballet companies' productions of Coppelia. Alonso's staging included the necessary comic elements and the principal dancers let the choreography speak to the comedy.
What has become a signature work for the National Ballet of Cuba is its exuberant production of Don Quixote. Don Quixote is a showcase for the dancers' pyrotechnical technique and showmanship. Besides the character dances being danced with a Latin flair, there was plenty of pyrotechnics in the Grand Pas de Deux from Act III of this ballet. Presented from Don Quixote were scenes from Acts I and II including the Matador Dance and finishing off with the third act Grand Pas de Deux danced by Sadaise Arencibia and Alejandro Virelles.
Following the lightheartedness of Don Quixote, was the bittersweet White Act of Swan Lake feturing the White Swan Pas de Deux danced by Viengsay Valdes and Camilo Ramos. The Cuban swans seemed to be a bit more vicious than the Swans we may be used to. However Valdes and Ramos captured the pathos of this particular moment in Swan Lake.
The finale was the Creole Party from Alicia Alonso's Gottschalk Symphony, featuring a pastiche of Latin influenced dance forms and neo-classicism with an enthusiastic cast led by Barbara Garcia, Alejandro Virelles, Sadaise Arencibia, Jose Losada, Yanela Pinera, Ernesto Alvarez, and Anette Delgado.
For better or worse, the National Ballet of Cuba's lifeblood is steeped in the ballet style of the 1950's honoring Alicia Alonso's tradition which, to some, seems staid. I, for one, appreciate the dancers' showmanship and their goal to entertain an audience which is somewhat in collison with the low-key sophsiticated style of dancing in the 21st century.
The Best Is Yet To Come: The Music of Cy Coleman
59E59 Theaters Americas Off-Broadway
May 26, 2011
59 East 59th Street Theater
By Mark Kappel
The 59E59 Theaters' Americas Off Broadway presented the New York premiere of the Rubicon Theatre's production of The Best Is Yet To Come: The Music of Cy Coleman. Devised and directed by one of Cy Coleman's collaborators, David Zippel, this tribute to the prolific Broadway composer, Cy Coleman, is a survey of the Coleman catalogue and songs Coleman completed before his passing in 2004.
Coleman was a child prodigy, who had played in major venues in New York between the ages of 6 and 9, and became a jazz pianist. He then moved on to another chapter in his career as a pop song writer, and then on to another career as the composer of Broadway musicals including Wildcat, Little Me, Sweet Charity, Seesaw, On The 20th Century, Barnum, City of Angels, The Will Rogers Follies, and The Life. The Best Is Yet To Come is a compilaton of Coleman's diversified musical styles and his equally brilliant collaborators including David Zippel, Carolyn Leigh, Dorothy Fields, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Ira Gasman, Michael Stewart, and Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
The Best Is Yet To Come is a tightly-knitrevue -- without fill-in patter. Why speak when Coleman's music and his collaborators' lyrics communicate on their own -- and excellent voices can be heard. Also notable were Don Debesky's orchestrations and Billy Stritch's musical direction.
The cast of six plus seven musicians gave interpretations of Coleman's music with the sassiness and emotion required. All combined to entertain an audience that is won over as soon as these great artists step on the stage.
The cast assembled is the cream of the crop of Broadway and New York cabaret stars including Lillias White, Billy Stritch, David Burnham, Sally Mayes, Howard McGillin, and Rachel York.
Lillias White is particularly associated with Coleman's music having won a Tony Award for her performance in Coleman's The Life. White owns the song, "The Oldest Profession", and gave a rendition filled with emotion, power, and irony.
However all of the cast members offered individual interpretations of Coleman's music most notably Sally Mayes' performances of "Every Breath I Take" from City of Angels, and "Nobody Does It Like Me" from Seesaw, Rachel York for her rendition of "Come Summer", and the medley of "Hey Look Me Over/The Doodling Song", Howard McGillin for his performance of "You Fascinate Me So", David Burnham's take on "Witchcraft", and Billy Stritch's subtle and emotional take on "It Amazes Me".
Besides those familiar Cy Coleman tunes, also outstanding were Coleman's compositions that have yet to be heard on Broadway. From his musical about Napoleon and Josephine came "Only The Rest of My Life" and "I'd Give The World" (the latter sung by McGillin). And from Pamela's First Musical, "It Started With A Dream".
Colelman's music spans a range in styles and songs that define characters in the many musicals he composed. In a little over 80 minutes it would be impossible to include every note of Coleman's music. But how do you choose from an embarrassment of riches. First and foremost The Best Is Yet To Come is an overdue tribute to Cy Coleman's achievements as a composer for Broadway.
Even better, experience The Best Is Yet To Come yourself.
Boston International Ballet Competition and the Boston Ballet
May 13 & 14, 2011
By Mark Kappel
Boston became a focal point for dance as the location of the first Boston International Ballet Competition and the spring performances of the Boston Ballet.
Founder/Director of the Boston International Ballet Competition, Valentina Kozlova, former principal dancer of the Bolshoi Ballet and the New York City Ballet, faced a huge challenge in establishing a new international ballet competition. Drawing dancers from 23 countries, the dancers participated in three rounds of competition which included classical variations and contemporary solos. Solos which the competitors were required to prepare before their arrival in Boston. The contemporary solos were choreographed by Margo Sappington (Christina's World, set to Chopin's Prelude #21 in B Flat) and Edwaard Liang (an excerpt from As Above So Beloved, set to Vivaldi's Violin Concerto in E Minor) which were posted on the Competition's web site. Also the age limit was lowered to allow younger competitors than one would normally see participating in an international ballet competition.
From May 12-16, 2011 at John Hancock Hall in Boston, Massachusetts, dancers from ages 13 to 25 competed for prizes and recognition by an elite group of jurors. Observing Round II of the competition on May 13, 2011, which included the contemporary solos and classical variations, it was fascinating to watch dancers at various stages of development facing the challenge of learning a contemporary solo by a leading choreographer, and interpreting it and making it their own. It was truly a test of technical skill and artistry.
The dancers' skills were observed and adjudicated by a jury of international judges which included Mikko Nissinen (President of the Jury - Finland), Oleki Bessmertni (Germany), Hae Shik Kim (South Korea), Andris Liepa (Russia), Maria Luisa Noronha (Brazil), Violette Verdy (France), and Septime Webre (United States).
The standard of dancing was at a high level with notable dancers from the United States, South Korea, Canada, and Japan.
The award winners were:
Gold Medalist - Jin Sol Eum (South Korea)
Silver Medalist - Alicia Fotino (United States)
Bronze Medalists - Maggie Yin Horowitz (United States) and Hannah Park (United States)
Silver Medalists - Thamires Cuvas (Brazil) and Minju Kang (South Korea)
Bronze Medalists - Yoshiko Kamikusa (Canada) and Ayaka Fujii (Japan)
Gold Medalist - Ji Young Chae (South Korea)
Silver Medalist - Yae Gee Park (South Korea)
Gold Medalist - Young Gyu Choi (South Korea)
Silver Medalist - Andile Ndlovu (South Africa)
Bronze Medalists - Rodrigo Almarales (Cuba) and Brooklyn Mack (United States)
Gold medalists in the Senior Division, Young Gyu Choi and Ji Young Chae of South Korea, donated their cash prize to the Boston International Ballet Competition for the organization to send a dancer of its choice to next year's Seoul Competition.
Based on the mutual respect that developed between the competitors, it is my hope that the city of Boston and the international dance community will embrace this new competition.
Under the guidance of Mikko Nissinen, the Boston Ballet continues to improve on an upward trajectory in its dancing standard. Providing a challenge to the company's dancers and to the company's audience, the Boston Ballet presented four works by the master choreographers, Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine, at Boston's Opera House on May 14, 2011.
George Balanchine was represented by Divertimento No. 15 and Symphony in 3 Movements. Divertimento No. 15, staged for the Boston Ballet by Susan Hendl and Russell Kaiser, was one of the few ballets Balanchine choreographed to Mozart's music and is Balanchine in a pure neoclassical style. Divided up into ensembles, pas de deux, and variations with emphasis on filigree choreography, the dancers are entirely exposed. Notable in the Boston Ballet's cast was Lia Cirio, Erica Cornejo, Whitney Jensen, and Misa Kuranaga.
In contrast to the neo-classical style of Divertimento No. 15, Balanchine showed his modernist side in Symphony in 3 Movements, presented in its Boston Ballet company premiere, Created for the New York City Ballet's Stravinsky Festival in 1972, Symphony in 3 Movements was one of the highlights of the Festival and is one of the gems that Balanchine created during the last decade of his life.
Staged for the Boston Ballet by Susan Pilaare, Balanchine followed Stravinsky's pulsating modernist music creating fleeting visual images. But Balanchine's approach to the ballet was similar to an artchitect refining a complicated structural design. Utilizing its resources, the Boston Ballet provided a solid cast to dance one of Balanchine's most abstract of ballets.
In presenting Jerome Robbins' two ballets, revealed were Robbins' contemporary version of the narcissistic faun and the other ballet a gathering of nymphs that might have tempted the narcissistic faun.
In his iconic version of Afternoon of a Faun, Jerome Robbins set the scene in a ballet studio where two dancers seem more focused on their images in a mirror than with each other. The narcissistic atmosphere was ably created by Rachel Sossar and Jaime Diaz.
Jerome Robbins' Antique Epigraphs, another Boston Ballet company premiere, offered another contrast in the style of Robbins' choreography. The all female cast danced choreography alluding to that of Martha Graham. Staged by Christine Redpath and Jerri Kumery, and danced by KathleenBreen Combes, Lia Cirio, Erica Cornejo, and Luciana Voltolini, Antique Epigraphs stood out on its own as a unique piece in Jerome Robbins' volume of work.
Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Performance Project Spring Gala 2011
April 16, 2011
By Mark Kappel
Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Project's spring gala concert at Symphony Space on April 16, 2011 embraced programming that was different from previous concerts. The general level of performance of Kozlova's students improves with every year. But her advanced students also danced their assigned repertoire with more sophistication.
Kozlova and Olga Verterich staged excerpts from the classics, as in past years, and the students had the opportunity to dance new choreography as well. Programming that heightened the challenges for Kozlova's students.
Sarah Steele, winner of the Gold Medal at this year's Berlin TanzOlymp Competition danced the Pas de Deux from the Wedding Scene of La Bayadere with Albert Davydov of the New Jersey Ballet. Alicia Fotino, winner of the Bronze Medal at this year's Berlin TanzOlymp Competition danced Vainonen's Flames of Paris Pas de Deux and was also partnered by Albert Davydov.
Veronika Verterich, Bronze Medalist at the Grigorovich 2010 Sochi Ballet Competition expanded her artistic horizons performing Victor Gsovsky's Grand Pas Classique and Margo Sappington's Night and Day, partnered by Vitali Krauchenka of American Ballet Theatre.
The Dance Conservatory's students also danced excerpts from Paquita, Don Quixote, and La Bayadere, as well as choreography created by Margo Sappington, Nina Buisson, and Anuta Rathe -- all part of an effort to challenge the students and strive for an even higher standard.
In spite of the miserable and rainy weather, in attendance was a supportive and appreciative audience.
Janis Brenner & Dancers - 5 Decades II
April 7, 2011
Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church
By Mark Kappel
In 2009 Janis Brenner celebrated five decades as a performing artist and choreographer at Joyce Soho.The success of those performances promptedMs. Brennerto return to the Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church from April 7-9, 2011, topresent 5 Decades II, a second retrospective of Ms. Brenner's performing and choreography career which emphasized that there is more to come.
5 Decades II was another excellent survey of modern dance. Brenner's major contribution to the evening was the world premiere, The Mind-Stuff Variations, a collaborative work with her company members, choreographed to original music by Jerome Begin. Inspired by William James' "Mind-Stuff Theory", Brenner's piece was a synergy of dance movement and spoken word -- filled with humor and thoughtfulness.
In this program Ms. Brenner was seen as a performer in two solos, Seraphic Songs and Pastorale from Mary Wigman's Swinging Landscapes. These contrasting solos -- Seraphic Songs being ritualistic and spiritual, and Pastorale, with flowing choreography -- defined Wigman's contribution to modern dance and Brenner's commitment to prevent these dances from becoming merely museum pieces.
In 1976 Murray Louis created a full-length Cleopatra for the Royal Danish Ballet and on this program, Kyla Barkin and Aaron Selissen danced one of the duets from this unique piece. This duet for the mature Cleopatra and the young Marc Anthony was an example of Louis' signature sculptural choreography.
The remainder of the program was devoted to Ms. Brenner's work as a choreographer. The duet from Ms. Brenner's Pieces of Trust was danced by Sumaya Jackson and Chris Ralph with the appropriate intensity, and the ensemble of Kyla Barkin, Esme Boyce, Janis Brenner, Sumaya Jackson, Christopher Ralph, Aaron Selissen, and Chen Zielinski danced Ms. Brenner's popular HeartSTRINGS.
This absorbing evening of dance was illuminated by the excellent lighting designed by Mitchell Bogard.
Martha Graham DanceCompany At LincolnCenter
March 17, 2011
Rose Theater at Jazz At Lincoln Center
By Mark Kappel
The Martha Graham Dance Company has had its ups and down since the passing of its founder in 2001. Martha Graham's unique vision has had a lasting impact, not only on dance, but alsoon our contemporary culture. There was the necessity to protect her creations. Righting the company's artistic ship under the direction of Janet Eilber, the Martha Graham Dance Company is celebrating ists 85th anniversary, and made its debut appearance at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center from March 15-20, 2011.
On March 17, 2011, the Martha Graham Dance Company presented a program of classic Martha Graham works which were also prime examples of Martha Graham's collaboration with designer Isamu Noguchi. These works were also examples of Graham's individual approach to creating narrative dance pieces.
Chronologically the oldest work included in this program was Graham's Appalachian Spring, which premiered in 1944. Set to a commissioned score by Aaron Copland, Appalachian Spring is Graham's reflection on the aspects of American expansion and the resiliency of the American spirit.
The optimism in the piece is represented in the role of the Pioneering Woman (Katherine Crockett) and the resiliency is represented in the characters of the Bride (danced by Blakeley White-McGuire) and the Husbandman (danced by Tadej Brdnik) who are building a house in the American wilderness. The underpinnings of religious faith is represented in the role of The Revivalist (danced by Maurizio Nardi).
It is in Appalachian Spring that Graham's feelings about the American spirit are near the surface.
In stark, and dark, contrast was Graham's Cave of the Heart, herinterpretation ofthe Greek tragedy, Medea, which premiered in 1946, and is set to a score by Samuel Barber. Graham skillfully defined Medea'sfatal flaws as her passion leads to the death of her rival and her children. Mikki Orihara gave an outstanding performance in the role of Medea, and was ably supported by her fellow dance-actors, Katherine Crockett as the Chorus, Tadej Brdnik as Jason, and Jacquelyn Elder as the Princess.
The program also included Graham's Embattled Garden which was given its first performance in 1958. Choreographed to a commissioned score by Carlos Surinach and danced in the environment of Noguchi's forest of poles and a tree, Graham's tragic-comedy retells the biblical story of Adam (Oliver Tobin) and Eve (Mariya Dashkina Maddux) adding two intruders, The Stranger (Maurizio Nardi) and Lilith, Adam's first wife (Carrie Eillmore-Tallitsch). Graham's Garden of Eden is transformed from a calm setting into an arena of conflict and passion.
The Graham dancers are committed to Graham's vision and meticulously danced these works. This program was a wonderful survey of Graham's choreography -- an important program for dance students to have experienced.
State Ballet Theatre of Russia Performs Swan Lake
January 21, 2011
New Jersey Performing Arts Center
By Mark Kappel
The State Ballet Theatre of Russia, based in Voronezh, Russia, has been touring in North America since 2006, performing the great Russian classics. The company performed its production of Swan Lake at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center's Prudential Hall, in Newark, New Jersey, on January 21, 2011.
The State Ballet Theatre of Russia's production of Swan Lake is credited to Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov and Konstantin Sergeyev, with the overall production directed by Dmitry Korneev. With costume and scenery designs by Valeriy Kochiashvili, the company's production of Swan Lake was a reflection of 1950's Soviet-style ballet, a retro productionrather than a modern one or a production of Swan Lake that harked back tothe ballet's 19th century roots.
An indication of the focal point of this production of Swan Lake was on the show curtain -- both a white swan and a black swanwere depicted -- the eternal battle between good and evil.
Interpolations from the Soviet era included the intrusive Jester anda happy ending, and the dramatic element of the Act 3 Spanish dancers forming Von Rothbart's entourage. The story unfolded at a quick pace with little time for dramatic impression.
Directed by the company's artistic director, Lyudmila Sycheva, the State Ballet Theatre of Russia's corps de ballet performed as a unit and the engine within the production itself. And there was a stylistic unity and precision in the corps de ballet's performance.
Thedual role of Odette/Odile was danced by Svetlana Noskova, and Prince Siegfried was danced by Alexander Lityagin. Although their performance did not produce the chemistry to ignite the drama in this production of Swan Lake, their story was told in a straightforward and forthright manner. In particular, Lityagin is an elegant dancer suited to the princely role of Siegfried.
The State Ballet of Russia's performance of Swan Lake was enthusiastically received by the New Jersey Performing Arts Center's audience.
2010 Brits Off-Broadway Festival - Bonnie Langford
December 19, 2010
By Mark Kappel
The 59E59 Theaters annually presents the Brits Off-Broadway Festival which showcases playwrights and actors, and theatre companies from Great Britain.
In presenting"Bonnie Langford: Christmas in New York", the 59E59 Theaters' 2010 Brits Off-Broadway Festival made it possible for New York audiences to experience the opening of a Christmas cracker.
Bonnie Langford has two arms full of theatre credits on Broadway, inLondon's West End and on tour in the United Kingdom which have included roles in the legendary musicals, Sweet Charity, Me and My Girl, Peter Pan, The Pirates of Penzance, 42nd Street, and the Donmar Warehouse's revival of Guys and Dolls.
She began her career on the musical stage appearing in the first London production of a musicalized version of Gone With The Wind, followed by her portrayal of Baby June in the London production of Gypsy opposite Angela Lansbury -- a production which toured the United States and was transferred to Broadway -- and in which, Langford made her Broadway debut at the age of ten.
Langford's West End stage career had her appearing in the original London cast of Cats, and more recently she has toured inthe UK in Fosse. After taking over the role of Roxie Hart in the London production of Chicago, Langfordreprised Roxie Hart in the Broadway production.
Infused with energy and the instinctive talent to entertain an audience, Langford's intimate one-woman show threaded the needle with music and anecdotes that focused on her performing career as well as on the opportunities that were presented to her that she grabbed with both hands. Including songs from the musicals she has appeared in and special material peppered with stories about her working relationships withleading ladies of Broadway and the West End, Langford's outpouring of effervescence was metaphorically comparable to trying to re-cork a champagne bottle.
Singing excerpts and selections from Gypsy, Gone With The Wind, Cats, Peter Pan, Funny Girl, Sweeet Charity and Chicago, as well as special material including the Flanders/Swan parody, "A Word On My Ear", Langford displayed her versatility as an appealing cabaret performer.
Langford is a welcome addition to the New York theatre and cabaret scene.
Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Company - The Nutcracker
December 11, 2010
By Mark Kappel
Valentina Kozlova's and Margo Sappington's production ofThe Nutcracker was danced by Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Company at Symphony Space on December 11, 2010.
What has now become an annual event, the performance was highlighted by Margo Sappington's performance as Baroness Drosselmeyer, Alicia Fotino as Clara, and the Bronze Medalist from the Yuri Grigorovich Competition for Young Dancers, Veronika Verterich as the Sugar Plum Fairy, partnered by Emanuel Abruzzo as the Sugar Plum Fairy's Cavalier.
Every year the standard of dancing improves with Kozlova's students notonly presenting an appropriate classical style but also showing artistic maturity and confidence.
Both Valentina Kozlova and Margo Sappington have made changes and additions to their production of The Nutcracker -- all enhancements -- and withthe new production values, the performance of this Nutcracker is also enhanced year after year.
American Ballet Theatre at NJPAC
November 20, 2010
New Jersey Performing Arts Center
By Mark Kappel
The New Jersey Performing Arts Center has become an important player in presenting all forms of the performing arts since its doors opened about a decade ago. Ballet companies such as American Ballet Theatre, the National Ballet of Cuba, Miami City Ballet, and the Stuttgart Ballet, have been among the beneficiaries of NJPAC's commitment to presenting dance in the New Jersey/New York metropolitan area.
American Ballet Theatre returned to perform at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, New Jersey on November 20, 2010 after an absence of a decade.
As American Ballet Theatre cancelled its annual season at the City Center in New York, this performance at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center was the company's onyly appearance in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area this fall.
The mixed-bill program chosen for this performance included two ballets that American Ballet Theatre had premiered during its Avery Fisher Hall engagement in October of last year.
One of those premieres was Alexei Ratmansky's Seven Sonatas, set to seven of Domenico Scarlatti's "Keyboard Sonatas". Influenced by Jerome Robbins' piano ballets, Seven Sonatas set a mood and Ratmansky used the dancers wisely. Seven Sonatas provided the showcase for the virtuoso performances of the cast which included Christine Shevchenko, Xiorama Reyes, Stella Abrera, David Hallberg, Herman Cornejo, and Gennadi Saveliev.
The second premiere was Benjamin Millepied's Everything Doesn't Happen At Once, a large ensemble piece set to music by David Lang, flooding the stage of the NJPAC's Prudential Hall with 24 dancers, and six musicians. Beginning with a group dance and then focusing in on the centerpiece pas de deux danced by Isabella Boylston and Marcelo Gomes, Millepied filled the borderless stage with dancers moving in diverse patterns. The piece's sections were separated by blackouts and the ballet ended in a blackout immediately after one of Danil Simkin's virtuoso solos. The piece was William Forsythe-like influenced in its sparseness, intricate partnering, and angular silhouettes, and was veneered with a European sensibility.
Also on the program was Paul Taylor's Company B, acquired by American Ballet Theatre in 2008. Taylor's choreography was inspired by the recordings of the Andrews Sisters and in Company B, Taylor recreates the atmosphere of life in Washington DC during World War II. Company B celebrates the American spirit, and in its tongue and check fashion, is highly entertaining.
Although entering American Ballet Theatre's repertoire recently, the company's dancers, Marian Butler, Gillian Murphy, Misty Copeland, Simone Messmer, Elizabeth Mertz, Lauren Post, Mary Mills Thomas, Arron Scott, Craig Salstein, Sascha Radetsky, Roddy Doble, Grant DeLong, and Isaac Stappas, now own it.
Capturing the audience's attention was the workman-like process of the stagehands preparing the stage, musicians being set up, and the dancers warming up on the stage, during the intermission before Everything Doesn't Happen At Once when the curtain was lifed and all was exposed. An unusual behind-the-scenes look at the labor intensive efforts that are required to produce dance performances.
Broadway Musicals - The Biggest Hits and The Biggest Flopsof the Season - 1959-2009 By Peter Filichia
By Mark Kappel
The failures and successes during a typical Broadway theatre season are dissected by critics, audience members, writers, composers, and theatre craftsmen for hours on end. The unique American art form, the Broadway Musical, attracts the most attention these days as enthusiastic and devoted audiences spontaneously respond with standing ovations at the end of performances and wait at theatre stage doors for autographs -- and then there is "Glee!"
As Broadway aficianados are able to debate the best and the worst on the internet these days, they have a large appetite for information -- particularly behind the scenes stories.
In his book, Broadway Musicals, Newark Star Ledger's theatre critic, Peter Filichia, provides readers with a unique and knowledgeable survey of the musicals he has deemed hits and flops -- decade by decade and year by year from 1959 to 2009.
Each hit and flop has its own narrative sprinkled with information about backstage connections, and what might have been the ingredients that resulted in the successes and failures of these musicals.
Filichia's profile of a hit is that it is the musical that motivates a stampede to purchase tickets at the box office, and a flop is defined as a musical, that no matter the marketing, advertising and discounts, does not intrigue the public enough to purchase tickets.
Then there is the criteria of whether a musical made money -- or not -- and what were anticipated expectations for these musicals. Expectations that have become more and more importantin the internet age as a musical in an out-of-town tryout or in New York previews can have its flaws exposed before opening night.
There are many reasons why Broadway musicals fail and succeed. The road taken seems to be different for each musical and Filichia does not come up with a formula that will result in a Broadway musical smash or a Broadway musical that implodes even before the curtain goes up. Each musical has its own story and that is what is intriguing about Filichia's Broadway Musicals.
Even flops have redeeming qualities. Among them legendary flops,"Mata Hari", "Darling of the Day", and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" -- are more memorable for the route they took to open on Broadway and those flops that never made it to Broadway.
Filichia defends his choices with contemporaneous backstage stories which include comments by original cast members or original creative team members who provide some insight as to why a Broadway musical emerged out of the process with universal acceptance or why a Broadway musical morphs into a universal failure.
These stories offer the "why" some musicals resulted in failure or success -- and "what if" -- changing directors, choreographers, composers, book writers that might have made a difference. Often flops are a result of bad producing and hits are a result of luck and fate.
Esteemed flops such as "Chess" and "Merrily We Roll Along" have been revisited in London and perhaps might be revisited on Broadway in the future. "Whistle Down The Wind", a big hit in London, but didn't even make it to Broadway.
Of course one person's flop could be another person's hit. As every audience member has experienced, one person's entertaining evening in the theatre could be another person's evening of torture.
In his book, Filichia challenges the reader to enter the debate.
Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake
October 16, 2010
By Mark Kappel
In 1998 when Matthew Bourne's unconventional and deconstructionist version of Swan Lake made its Broadway debut, its impact onthe American dance universe was significant, as much as it was on the Broadway theater universe. Bourne turned the fable of Swan Lake into a provocative experimental dance theatre piece that turned the plot upside down and made, what were then current, references to the British Royal Family.
Fifteen years after its world premiere and twleve years since its New York premiere, Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake has returned to New York for a limited engagement at the City Center from October 13-November 7, 2010.
In traditional productionsSwan Lake's Wagnerian themes are presented as a conflict between good and evil as well as the sexual awkaening being experienced by a young Prince Siegfried -- whose reticence in deciding to marry may be influenced by being a victim of the Peter Pan syndrome and the psychological influece of a smothering mother figure represented by the Queen.
The most conspicuous departure from tradition in Bourne's Swan Lake is the role of the Swan which is played by a male dancer -- with a male corps de ballet of Swans -- and it is this male Swan that the Prince encounters in search for affection. The Queen remains the grand manipulator as her parenting skills are questioned and how she influenced the psychological and emotional development of the Prince.
Bourne's Prince is not only a facing a conflict between good and evil, but also his sexual identity as he is sexually attracted to the male swan and isintriguedby other male sexual figures that are presented in Bourne's reworking of Swan Lake's plot.
Abandoning the familiarclassical choreographyin Swan Lake, Bourne chooses vernacular and modern dance choreography to tell his version of the story.
In the intervening years between this production's premiere and its present form, Bourne has tweaked and streamlined his interpretation of Swan Lake. In so doing the references to the British Royal Family of the 1990's have been somewhat neutralized and what is portrayed is a dysfunctional family that is universal.
Also the comic elements have now become more prominent and the story is threaded through this Swan Lake with more clarity. The ballet is not entirely focused on the conflict between good and evil. There is now much more ambiquity.
Bourne's Swan Lake is energized by the excellent performances of the dancers in the production's principal roles. Nina Goldman's Queen is unfeeling and icy towards her son but at the same lascivious and lusty. As she is a youngish Queen her confrontation with the Swan's black counterpart is now more believable and seductive.
Jonathan Ollivier's Swan and Stranger are counterweight opposites and were both danced and portrayed with strong presence. Simon Williams' Prince exuded innocence and as each important person in his life prevents him from growing up, his emotional turmoil is that much more compelling. This Prince is a victim of those around him, letting him down at every turn.
In contrast to the heavy drama was Madelaine Brennan's perfectly timed comic performance in the role of the Prince's Girlfriend.
Bourne's re-invention of Swan Lake has evolved since its Broadway debut -- and has evolved in a positive direction making Bourne's intentions clearer and making this Swan Lake both thought-provoking and entertaining. Another result of this Swan Lake, as an evolving piece of art, is that it has also achieved a universality that makes it current and relevant -- and will stand the test of time.
Dancers Over 40 - Agnes de Mille: From Ballet to Broadway
October 11, 2010
St. Luke's Theatre
By Mark Kappel
Dancer Over 40's first event for the 2010-11 season was a tribute to Agnes de Mille held on October 11, 2011 at St. Luke's Theatre in New York. Titling this tribute as "Agnes de Mille: From Ballet to Broadway" one was prepared for the overview and examination of de Mille's extensive work inconcert dance, her work for ballet companies, and her work on Broadway.
Agnes de Mille was a visionary but she was also a trailblazer as a woman in a man's world. She not only choreographed ballets for major ballet companies and for Broadway musicals -- she was also one of the few director/choreographers who has worked on Broadway.
Her vision, her persistence, her outspokenness, and her assertive methods in the creation of her work and how she mined the talent out of the dancers she worked with, were aptly described bythe participants in the two panels that were assembled for this tribute to Agnes de Mille.
Providing insights into de Mille's ballets, Paul Sutherland moderated a panel which included Gemze de Lappe, Christine Sarry, Crandall Diehl, Gail Reese, and Bill Guske, most of whom worked with de Mille while de Mille was associated with American Ballet Theatre. All of the panel members discussed de Mille's unique fusion of ballet and vernacular dance, comic timing, and how story and drama, threaded through the choreography, were important elements in how de Mille's ballets were danced.
The panel of Gemze de Lappe, Bambi Linn, Iva Withers, Hope Clarke, Paul Berne, Stuart Hodes, Kathleen Marshall, and moderator, TedChapin, focused on de Mille's work on Broadway with particular emphasis on the creation of her choreography for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, Oklahoma and Carousel. There seemed to be a consensus that de Mille's goal was to emphasize story-telling and emotion in choreography -- and every step had meaning. Also emphasized was the succinctness and clarity that de Mille demanded from the dancers when dancing her choreography.
Video clips served up de Mille's lack of fear in expressing her opinions about dance, art, and politics -- often putting people in their place.
It is fortunate that de Mille's work is documented for the ages. One of de Mille's duets from Paint Your Wagon, danced by two young dancers (Elena Zahlman and Joshua Nieto of New York Theatre Ballet), juxtaposed with the video of the same duet danced by its creators, Bambi Linn and James Mitchell, represented hope that de Mille's choreography will be passed from one generation to the next for years to come.
In all Dancers Over 40 presented yet another interesting and important tribute.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival -
October 9, 2010
By Mark Kappel
The fifth and closing program of the City Center Fall for Dance Festival on October 9, 2010 featured another showcase for diverse styles in dance.
This program featured the New York debut of the Dresden Semperoper Ballett of Germany dancing William Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. TheDresden company's artistic director, Aaron Watkin, had been a member of William Forsythe's Ballet Fankrufrt, which might have influenced the choice ofrepertoire that the company danced.
TheVertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, choreographed to the final movement of Schubert's Symphony No. 9, is a non-stop series of solo variations, pas de deux, and ensemble sections for five dancers (Anna Merkulova, Leslie Heylmann, Chantelle Kerr, Maximilian Genov, Jon Vallejo) which is a test of speed and agility. The well-school dancers from Dresden executed Forsythe's Balanchine-like choreography with clarity and verve.
Also on the program was Hee Seo and Jared Matthews of American Ballet Theatre dancing Frederick Ashton's Thais, a romantic and exotic pas de deux that was created for Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell. Ashton's choreography makes allusions to La Bayadere and Scheherazade, and makes a major choreographic statement in the short duration of a pas de deux. Seo and, Matthews, who ably partnered Seo, captivated the audience with their interpretation of Ashton's choreography.
The Tero Saarinen Company of Finland, founded in 1996, presented the American premiere of Carolyn Carlson's Man in a Room. Created as a solo for Tero Saarinen, Man in a Room's inspiration came from the life of contemporary painter, Mark Rothko.
Set to Gavin Bryars' "A Man in a Room Gambling" and music by the Finish rock band, Apocalyptica, the voice over often juxtaposed a gambler's life in comparison to the life of an artist. Rothko's primary colors were represented as Saarinen frequently changed his pants whichhad designs incorporatingRothko's primary colors, as well as paint that Saarinen threw randomly on his body.
In Carolyn Carlson's slice ofRothko's life, one sees an artist experiencing the anxiety of creation and survival while in John Logan's Tony-Award winning play, Red, Rothko was seen as overcoming anger.Thanks to Saarinen's performance there was an emotional balance in Manin a Room.
Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, A Dance Company gave a committed performance of Brown's spiritually inspired Grace, a work Brownoriginally created for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Ritualistic in nature and sincere in its performance, this was an appropriate finale for this year's City Center Fall for Dance Festival.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival - Program III
October 3, 2010
By Mark Kappel
The City Center Fall for Dance Festival's third program,which was presented on October 3, 2011, once again spotlighted the Festival's emphasis on variety.
Opening the program was Shu-Yi & Company from Taiwan, making its American debut in Shu-Yi Chou's Ravel and Bolero. Set to a short excerpt from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana as a prelude to Ravel's Bolero, choreographer Shu-Yi Chou placed his Bolero on a leaf-strewn stage with an oscillating fan blowing on the leaves. An ensemble of dancers drop and fall on the stage in groups and as individuals in counterpoint. The movement was not only accompanied by music but also by the dancers' shouts, groans, and screams until two of the group members emerge and then fall backinto the group. Throughout his Bolero, Shu-Yi Chou created repetitive patterns in his choreography that supported the theme in, and momentum of, Ravel's music.
Emanuel Gat Dance was represented with the American premiere of Gat's solo, My Favorite Things,danced by Roy Assaff and danced to John Coltrane's arrangement of Rogers & Hammerstein's My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music. Integrating Coltrane's musings on Richard Rodgers' iconic music, the choreography also exhibited Gat's musings with interesting floor work and varied use of space. Throughout Assaf commanded the stage.
Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith of the San Francisco Ballet danced a pas de deux from Yuri Possokhov's Diving Into The Lilacs, set to Boris Tchaikovsky's Sinfonietta for String Orchestra. Possokhov's unexpected and note for note response to Tchaikovsky's music gaveTan a showcase for her skills as an adagio dancer while Tan was ably supported by her partner, Damian Smith.
The Paul Taylor DanceCompany offered up the closer of the program, Taylor's Company B, a nostaglic series of dances recreatingthe atmosphere of war-time Washington DC, choreographed to the recordings of the Andrews Sisters. Taylor's chorepgraphy captures a knowing innocence of those years which is inspired by the Andrews Sisters' unique stylings of music made popular during World War II. As always the Paul Taylor Dance Company gave a quality ensemble performance. But the performances of Francisco Graciano in Tico-Tico and Robert Kleinedorst in Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy were particularly noteworthy.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival- Program I
September 29, 2010
By Mark Kappel
Although the programming goal for each of the City Center Fall for Dance Festival's performances is focused on presenting a sampler of dance styles, the City Center Fall for Dance Festival's first program on September 29, 2011 also emphasized ensemble dancing.
What might be the focal point of this year's Festival was the presentation of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company which is currentlyin the midst ofits two-year Legacy Tour. On this occasion the Merce Cunningham Dance Company danced Cunningham's XOVER, which was given its world premiere in 2007, and was given its New York premiere during the City Center Fall for Dance Festival. Representing a classic collaboration by Cunningham, John Cage, and Robert Rauschenberg, this performance of XOVER was a reminder of the important contribution that Cunningham has made to the art form.
John Cage's score was dominated by random urban noise, while Cunningham's meticulous angular choreography was set against a conventional urban photographic montage. Cunningham's classic and controlled movement was set within and set against urban chaos.
Seeing Cunningham's expert dancers (Brandon Collwes, Dylan Crossman, Julie Cunningham, Emma Desjardins, John Hinrichs, Jennifer Goggans, Daniel Madoff, Rashaun Mitchell, Marcie Munnerlyn, Silas Riener, Jamie Scott, Melissa Toogood, and Andrea Weber)in XOVER, one is reminded that we may not see Cunningham's works performed with the same skill and subtlety in the future.
Gallim Dance's artistic director, Andrea Miller, created an of the moment piece in I Can See Myself In Your Pupil, for her company that required acrobatic and physical comedy skills from the dancers as well as contorting themselves in quirky solos and group dances. Miller's choreography, as performed by the company's dancers (Billy Barry, Caroline Fermin, Andrew Murdock, Troy Ogilvie, Francesca Romo, Dan Walczak, Jonathan Windham, and Arika Yamada), made a direct connection with the audience and resulted in a reciprocalaudience response.
In Vistaar, Indian Odissi dancer and choreographer, Madhavi Mudgal, created a series of rhythmic dances which were danced in patterns that filled the City Center stage space. Vistaar's choreography was ritualistic in nature and was performed in a refined manner by Madhavi Mudgal, Arushi Mudgal, Diya Sen, Snehasini Sahoo, and Shalakha Rai.
Miami City Ballet returned to New York in an energetic and dynamic performance of Twyla Tharp's The Golden Section, an ensemble piece set to music by David Byrne. Originally created in 1983 -- and acquired by the Miami City Ballet in 2010 -- Tharp's style was not as clearly defined as it is today and there were vernacular choreographic references from jazz to modern that were randomly interpolated into the structure of this piece. The Golden Section was enthusiastically brought home by the cast of Jeanette Delgado, Patricia Delgado, Sara Esty, Tricia Albertson, Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg, Callie Manning, Isanusi Garcia-Rodriguez, Renato Penteado, Renan Cerdeiro, Yann Trividic, Carlos Miguel Guerra, Yang Zou, and Alexandre Ferreira.
Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Performance Project - Spring Gala
June 19, 2010
By Mark Kappel
The joy of observing ballet students as they develop in their training is always absorbing. One always has such an experience when attending a performance produced byValentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Performance Project. It is not an accident that Valentina Kozlova inspires improvement and a high standard of performance from her students. Then there is the additional ingredient of being given the opportunity to work with choreographer, Margo Sappington, in the creation of new works.
This mentoring process was on display in Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Performance Project'sSpring Gala at Symphony Space on June 19, 2010. This process was in evidence in Kozlova's staging of Paquita in which the students were committed to this ballet in terms of its technical challenges, which were performed with a sense of grand style.
Kozlova also staged a variation from Marius Petipa's Satanella, and the Pas de Deux from Harlequinade, and there were contributions by Nina Buisson, Ingrid Roberg -- as well as Margo Sappington's choreography for Raggio Di Luna, La Piccolino, Bossacucanova, and the rousing Grand Finale, all of which allowed these students to grow artistically.
Besides the students in this performance, Ekaterina Smurova of the New Jersey Ballet and Vasiliy Baldin of Manassas Ballet Theatre danced Esmeralda, and Albert Davydov of the New Jersey Ballet danced Harlequinade and The Sleeping Beauty with Veronika Verterich.
These students must be seen and watched to monitor their continuing progress.
Michael Bennett: A Joyful Noise
May 17, 2010
By Mark Kappel
Dancers Over 40, a non-profit organization which was established to provide support for the needs of mature dancers and choreographers, presents tributes to history-making Broadway choreographers,to support its mission and enhance its fundraising activities. Thereby raising funds for those in the dance community who need financial assistance and providing a forum to document the creative process and back stories that are informative in describing how Broadway musicals have evolved into the American musical theater classics they have become. These tributesnot onlyrecognize the contributions of the choreographersbut alsothe dancers whocollaborated with the choreographers.
On May 17, 2010 at St. Luke's Theatre, Dancers Over 40 presented a tribute to Broadway choreographer, Michael Bennett, Michael Bennett: A Joyful Noise.
Born inBuffalo, New York, Michael Bennett pursued his dancing career on Broadway appearing in Subways Are For Sleeping, Here's Love, and Bajour, before beginning his notable career as a choreographer and as a director/choreographer.
Best known for his work as the director/choreographer of A Chorus Line, Bennett made his choreographic debut with A Joyful Noise in 1966. He was also the choreographer for Coco, Henry Sweet Henry, Promises Promises, and Company; co-director and choreographer of Follies, and was director/choreographer of Seesaw, Dream Girls, and Ballroom. It was unfortunate that we lost this great talent at such a young age.
In this tribute to Michael Bennett, which was moderated by Harvey Evans, panelists discussing Bennet's work included Bob Avian, Kelly Bishop, Baayork Lee, Margo Sappington, Larry Fuller, Carolyn Kirsch, Nancy Dalton, Steve Boockvor, Karin Baker, Rita O'Connor, Dorothy Danner, and Joy Serio Dunbar. The panelists presented their personal memories about Bennett's creative process that resulted in the successes Bennett's musicals became.
Among the film clips shownwere Turkey Lurkey Time from Promises Promises, Poor Little Person from Henry Sweet Henry, Always Mademoiselle from Coco, and footage from Follies. In these clips there were examples of how Bennett solvedproblems of story-telling in dance terms, and in the instance of Coco, where there was little choreography to speak of, how Bennett moved dancers, costumed in Coco Chanel's creations, on turntables, creating the illusion of movement.
Michael Bennett's choreography has not been incorporated into recent Broadway revivals of Company, Follies, and Promises Promises. Audiences who have seen these revivals were missing an inspired element that have made these musicals classics. It is fortunate that Bennett's choreography will be forever preserved for future generations in revivals of A Chorus Line.
Boston BalletPresents The Company Premiere of Danilova/Balanchine Production of Coppelia
April 17, 2010
Opera House, Boston, Massachusetts
By Mark Kappel
The Boston Ballet became the first American company, outside of the New York City Ballet, to acquire the Alexandra Danilova/George Balanchine production of Coppelia with its performances from April 8-18, 2010 at the Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts.
Premiered by the New York City Ballet in 1974 at the Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, New York, this production of Coppelia has become a staple of the New York City Ballet's repertoire. Set to Leo Delibes' tuneful score with new choreography by Balanchine inthe ballet's third act, theBoston Ballet's production waspresented with refurbished and redesigned costumes and scenery -- costumes designed by Robert O'Hearn and Kenneth Busin, and scenery designed by Robert O'Hearn and Benjamin J. Phillips -- which had been commissioned by Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Judith Fugate took charge of thiscompany premierewith Garielle Whittle assisting onthe staging of the children's choreography. To their credit the production was meticulously staged and highlighted the musical elements in the choreography.
The original production of Coppelia had its world premiere in 1807 at the Paris Opera Ballet with choreography by Arthur St. Leon. Coppelia's libretto was based on the Charles Nuitter interpretation of E.T.A. Hoffman's Der Sandman, which was, in turn,influenced by the Romantic literature of the 19th Century that produced Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the prototypes for robots that were exhibited in world expositions in Europe.
The focus of Coppelia is a toy maker (Dr. Coppelius played by Sabi Varga) who fashions a mechanical doll that he wishes to infuse with a human spirit and bring to life. It is the doll Coppelia that comes between the two protagonists, Swanhilda nad Franz, as Franz becomes infatuated with the doll. Swanhilda and her friends follow Franz into Dr. Coppelius' house and Swanhildasees her opportunity to take revenge on Franz and Dr. Coppelius by switchingplaces with the doll, Coppelia,thereby bringing the doll to life.
This production captures the original spirit of Coppelia in the first and second acts, and differs fromtraditional productionswith new choreography by George Balanchine in the third act where Balanchine also inserted the male solo variation from his Sylvia Pas de Deux into the Grand Pas de Deux.In additionBalanchine included many children's roles in this production of Coppelia, an opportunity to show off the students of the School of American Ballet at the time of its premiere and thereafter, and suits theresources of the Boston Ballet which also supports a school with talented students to showcase.
Overall this production of Coppelia was a marvelous vehicle for the Boston Ballet and its principals dancingin this performance, Erica Cornejo and James Whiteside -- the kind of light entertainment that is a remedy for troubling economic times.
Richmond Ballet Returns toNew York
April 6 & 7, 2010
By Mark Kappel
Five years after the company's New York debut, the Richmond Ballet returned to the Joyce Theatre where the company performed from April 6-11, 2010.
Founded in 1957, the Richmond Ballet became Virginia's first professional ballet company in 1984, and has been a frequent visitor to New York. This engagement commemorated Stoner Winslett's 30th year as artistic director of the Richmond Ballet. Winslett's tenure has been a remarkable achievement, but even more so when one recognizes that Winslett is one of a few female artistic directors in chargeof a major American ballet company.
The dance pieces presented on the Richmond Ballet's two mixed-bill programs were all commissions and a significant number of those commissions were from modern dance choreographers. This mix of choreographers and ballet-trained dancers has evolved into a successful formula for the Richmond Ballet.
Program A was presented on April 6th, which opened with Stoner Winslett's reverential interpretation of Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances. Ancient Airs and Dances had been premiered by the Richmond Ballet in 1986.
In her ballet, Winslett chose to create patterns, for four couples (Valerie Tellmann, Kirk Henning, Maggie Small, Jesse Bechard, Cecile Tuzii, Igor Antonov, Shira Lanyi and Phillip Skaggs), within group dances and pas de deux which were inspired by the exuberance in the music. Stylistically Winslett also respected Respighi's references to the Baroque Era.
In contrast to Winslett's Ancient Airs and Dances was the second piece on the mixed-bill program, Jessica Lang's To Familiar Spaces in Dream. Lang's work was an exploration of space circumscribed by the movement of white boxes and white towers (representing giant piano keys) as much as the movement of the dancers themselves. The dancers moved these white scenic elements on the stage to define the dancing space infusing the choreography with the added facet of defying formality.
Created to the music of Philip Glass, Craig Armstrong and John Cage, the music provided a soundtrack for the manipulation of the dancers' bodies as well as the manipulation of the white boxes and the white towers.
The Richmond Ballet's Program A closed with Mauricio Wainrot's Voyages, a dance piece which defined itself by virtue ofthe inclusion of ritualistic movementperformed to a broad spectrum of traditional music. Most of the seven dances in Voyages were notable for the matrix of separate group dances for women and men -- women and men that rarely interacted. Wainrot's choreography was focused on athleticism, reminiscent of Robert North's Troy Games.
The Richmond Ballet's Program B, presented on April 7th, included an additional three commissions.
William Soleau's Misa Criolla, choreographed to music by Ariel Ramirez, was a response to loss and how one overcomes loss. Soleau's choreography transitioned from the solemnity of mourning to remembering happier times. The mourners (Cecile Tuzii and Igor Antonov) were consoled by the sense of community and the spirit of their village with the choreography fluidly responding to Ariel Ramirez's music. Misa Criolla was the only work presented by the Richmond Ballet to have a dramatic source and dramatic intensity.
Program B opened with Val Caniparoli's Violin, which was an interpretation of Biber's Passagalia for Solo Violin. Dividing the Passagalia into sections Canaparoli's first movement was a dance for men; the second movement was a dance for women; and within the remaining sections, the groups intersected to include a series of pas de deux -- and ended in a spirited finale.
Colin Connor's Vestiges was comprised of quick fire choreography danced to Michael Nyman's relentless music. Conor juxtaposed modern dance movement and Bolshoi acrobatic lifts in the composition of Vestiges -- producing a stream of choreographic ideas one right after another.
As in past New York visits, the Richmond Ballet performed dance pieces created for the company's dancers. The Richmond Ballet deserves credit for its commitment to the commissioning of new works.
In all six pieces the Richmond Ballet's dancers gave polished and committed performances. All six pieces' energy levelswere increased as a result of the dancers' positive and eager to please performances.
Corella Ballet Y Leon Makes American Debut at City Center
March 20, 2010
By Mark Kappel
Spain has a vibrant dance scene but it is dominated by contemporary ballet companies and flamenco dance companies. Most of the ballet dancers trained in Spain have pursued their careers abroad.
Government support for ballet companies in Spain has only recently been instituted. This new interest in establishing classical ballet companies in Spain and providing employment for Spanish-trained dancers, motivated the founding of the Corella Ballet Castilla Y Leon, which began rehearsals in 2008 at its home base, the Palace of Santa Cecilia in La Granja de San Ildefonso in Segovia, Spain.
This company of 60 dancers, founded by, and directed by Angel Corella, made its American debut at the City Center from March17-20, 2010.
Angel Corella's career flowered while a principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre and he is one of the many Spanish ballet dancers who have pursued their careers abroad. Besides being the company's artistic director, Corella is also one of the company's principal dancers and he also contributed choreography that was performed during the City Center engagement.
In founding the ballet company which bares his family name, Corella has been wearing many hats and has also involved his family -- his sister, Carmen Corella, is associate artistic director and a principal dancer; and Angel Corella's brother-in-law, Herman Cornejo, principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre, frequently appears with the Corella Ballet. Although the Corella Balletwas making its American debut, many of the company's dancers were familiar to New York ballet audiences.
The establishment of a new ballet company in Europe is rare and it was a risk for the Corella Ballet Castilla Y Leon toreveal its growing pains in the fish bowl atmosphere that is New York.
The Corella Ballet presented a mixed-bill program on March 20, 2010 which included three commissions and a company premiere.
Showcasing the unique talents of Carmen Corella and Angel Corella, sister and brother danced Maria Pages' flamenco style duet, Solea, set to flamenco music composed by Ruben Lebaniegos. The Corellas danced this bravura, gala-type piece with humor and a command of the stage.
The two other commissions were divergent in style with Angel Corella's String Sextet choreographed in the neo-classi-cal/Balanchine mold, while Epithemeus, choreographed by company member, Russell Ducker, was choreographed in the style of William Forsythe. Both pieces were well-meaning in regard to showing off the company'sdancers. But there were moments of lack of craft in both ballets -- including instances of empty stages, and entrances and exists that werenot as fluid as they could have been. There was potential in both pieces, and I am certain that with more experience and opportunities that both choreographers will evolve in future ballets.
In Corella's String Sextet, notable performances were given by Kazuko Omori, Yegven Uzlenkov, and Herman Cornejo,and Ashley Ellis and Fernando Bufala were notable in the Third Movement of Epimetheus.
Christopher Wheeldon's DGV (Danse a Grande Vitesse) was also included in the mixed-bill program, presented as a New York premiere. Set to music composed by Michael Nyman, DGV was commissioned by the Royal Ballet in 2006.
Inspired by urban landscape and performed in a scenic landscape of metallic rubble, DGV travels the same road as Jerome Robbins' Glass Pieces which examines the pace and anonymity of urban life. Wheeldon's choreography was complex in contrast to Nyman's minimalist music.
Although DGV is virtually an ensemble piece the four principal couples -- Carmen Corella with Sergey D'yachkov, Adiarys Almeida with Herman Cornejo, Natalia Tapia with Angel Corella, and Ashley Ellis with Fernando Bufala -- dominated the choreography with their stage presence.
One looks forward to seeing how the Corella Ballet Castilla Y Leon evolves in frequent New York engagements.