6th of January 2013
THE PETER PRINCIPLE
According to Wikipedia – the ultimate authority on everything and everybody – the Peter Principle is a belief that where promotion is based on success and merit, the worthy will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability.
Through no conscious plan, I happened to see “Peter and the Starcatcher” and “The Old Man and the Old Moon” within a week of each other. It’s hard to miss the similarities between the two shows. Both have casts of youngish males (except for Wendy in “Peter”) and both intersperse music with text and lively action. Both shows left me a little unsatisfied, due, it would seem, to a variant of this Peter Principle (pun too fortuitous not to be intended.)
The former show began its NYC life at the New York Theater Workshop, an Off-Broadway venue in the East Village, and thence with glowing success, moved to the Broadhurst Theater on Broadway. The latter production, created by a collaborative of recent Carnegie Mellon undergraduate drama graduates, calling themselves Pigpen Theater, is currently running at the gym at Judson Church – a recently established Indie theater in the West Village. Both shows are slated to close in January.
In “Old Man,” watching the earnest guys singing and playing their guitars, keyboard, drums, and an accordion; manipulating shadow puppets lit from behind sheets to act out an original myth of theirs, based on various world folklore, you think, “Promising” – vaguely Irish accents notwithstanding. But in act two of the two-hours-plus production the pace begins to flag.
Despite captivating bits, scattered throughout – shipwrecked sailors floating in a hot air balloon, bedeviled by an impish puppet dog, made out of a bleach bottle and a rag mop; or a shadow-puppet version of the Old Man, climbing his endless ladder to refill the leaky moon with light – the piece is desperately in need of trimming.
We know that finally the Old Man is going to find his itinerant wife, refill the leaky moon, restore the universe to balance, and live happily ever after, so get on with it. Whether because no one is listed as director to cut the fat and tighten the pace, or because these young actors have an exaggerated view of their own importance, the second act soon begins to drag.
Photo by Joan Marcus. “The Old Man and the Old Moon,” l-r: Curtis Gillen, Alex Falberg, Dan Weschler, Anya Shahi, Matt Nuernberger, Ben Ferguson, Ryan Melia
Lydia Fine’s shadow puppets and miniature props are wonderfully detailed, and the multi-level stage design (by Fine and Bart Cortright) is physically challenging, though most of the action takes place on the floor level, which is visible to only the first row of the audience. Fine and Cortright make use of flashlights, scoop lights, and a few conventional overhead instruments to create an atmospheric world of light and dark.
Pigpen Theater made a splash at the 2010 and 2011 NYC Fringe Festivals, which emboldened them to take on an extended run off-Broadway, which in my opinion may be premature: Peter Principle! The lack of an objective outside directorial eye to make and keep the show’s tempo effervescent detracts from a potentially enchanting show.
Photo by Joan Marcus. Lydia Fine’s vessel on its sea voyage.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” is a pithier piece – a kind of prequel to “Peter Pan,” written by Rick Elice and based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Its characters are more fully fleshed out and authoritatively rendered than in “Old Man,” and the script is rich with hilarious punning and word play. It is smartly staged and tightly paced by directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers. Its cast of 12 men and one woman (the effervescent Celia Keenan-Bloger as Wendy) do a splendid job with special mention for Matthew Saldivar’s Black Stache – a Groucho Marx-inspired villain who becomes Captain Hook, when in a show-stopping display of physical humor, he slams a trunk lid on his hand and severs it. This is, hands down, the comic highpoint of the show.
Photo by Joan Marcus. “Peter and the Starcatcher,” (center) Celia Keenan-Bolger and Adam Chanler-Berat and the cast
While I enjoyed “Peter” and laughed a lot, I kept feeling it was somehow not quite “big” or “brash” enough to fill a 1000-seat, Broadway house. The intimacy of NYTW were apparently just right – right enough, in fact, to propel them into a Broadway run.
On second thought, perhaps it’s only my expectation about what $120 a seat should be buying that leaves me less than sated. It’s like relishing a delicious, thirty-dollar entrée, and then discovering it’s actually twice the price.
Maybe our expectations have escalated so that we need flying actors, complete with scandal, or ravishing people-as-puppets – i.e., Julie Taymore – or scenery whizzing in and out, up and down, or the cache of movie stars in limited Broadway runs of classic plays to give you that can’t-eat-another-bite, no-room-for-dessert satisfaction on Broadway. I don’t know exactly how the economic model works on and off Broadway, but it’s not hard to guess that escalating production costs make the only financially sensible way to survive is a run on Broadway.
© Gus Solomons jr, 2012
17th of December 2012
LES BALLETS JAZZ DE MONTRÉAL
Tropical storm Sandy wiped out the run of Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal in November, but the Joyce was able to reschedule the company for a 4-performance run, December 13-16. Opening night was graced by the attendance of Pauline Marois, the premier of Quebec, surrounded by an entourage of security, and there was a full house to greet the Canadians.
The company’s dozen strong, well-trained, and appealing dancers give the first two pieces on the program more choreographic credibility than they deserve. The opener “Zero In On” (2010) by Spanish choreographer Cayetano Soto, danced with obligatory acrobatics by petite red-headed Céline Cassone and all-American looking Kevin Delaney (he’s from Minnesota), and “Night Box,” a world premiere by Chinese dance maker Wen Wei Wang – a disco-flavored throwback to the sixties, which rehashes club moves in a miasma of projected film and flashing lights – are both less than profound, let’s say.
The lighting is memorable, mostly for its activeness. Soto designed the lighting concept for his muscle-bound duet, “Zero In On.” Half the stage has light gray flooring and a lighting beam, hung on a diagonal that starts on the ground, upstage center, and soars to the top of the proscenium, downstage left. It is hung with a few light instruments that “zero” our attention “in” on the dancers.
Light designer Daniel Ranger makes the most of this odd configuration to keep the dancers interestingly lit. They wear off-white leotards and shin warmers, covering all but bare thighs – also conceived by Soto – that turn tem into sexy pawns. The dance’s predictably distorted neo-classic shapes and break-neck pace are driven – predictably – by Philip Glass music.
“Night Box” involves the full company in an ode to urbanity. Choreographer Wang seems awe-struck by the big city. To a collection of techno music, heads bobble in unison in tight clumps; arms pump the air in arrant quotations from the disco lexicon that only music videos can still get away with. During a duet, the others tiptoe across the stage in front, then in back of them. There’s an obligatory aggressive men’s section, jazz runs, and strutting with attitude. It’s an endless collection of clichés that fill time without payoff.
Lighting designer James Proudfoot flashes the lights and lowers and raises lighting pipes, which along with the film helps distract us from the banality of the movement. The progression of scenes leads to a final, relatively quiet duet for the company’s star dancer, Cassone, who seems to be unwell, signaled by her frequent collapses into the arms of her partner. Finally though, she walks towards us, as lights fade.
But the final ballet, “Harry,” also a world premiere by Israeli-American choreographer Barak Marshall sends you out of the theater thinking, at least momentarily, Wow that was a great show. But on reflection you realize that for half the evening it was the performing that you recall, not the material.
“Harry” is theatrical, darkly funny, and so accomplished in its craft that it reminds you what separates real choreography from just skillful dance making. Marshall employs a mélange of musical selections – from Tommy Dorsey and the Andrews Sisters to Balkan Beat Box, Warsaw Village Band, and Wayne Newton – to further the journey of his hero, who is alternately a regular Joe and a mythic hero.
Harry undergoes the travails of a wayward god; he dies and is revived numerous times. He limns TV’s The Bachelor, seeking the woman with the lid that fits his saucepan. He faces a firing squad of powder-filled balloons. The wronged women shoot their men dead, using similar balloon artillery. We hear strains of ‘Stardust” and “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” as well as bits of Klezmer music.
Marshall inserts enough dancing to knit the dramatic scenes together. And those dance passages reveal a unique vocabulary of gesturing and quick direction changes with rhythmic play that is constantly unexpected, surprising, and fresh. A battle scene is a delicious etude of movement canons, and the women in close formation do hand signing – whether or not it’s actual sign language is immaterial. It’s all purposely stylized to indicate deep emotionality without the actual wrenching of guts.
Marshall manages to combine text, narrative, and original movement into an irresistible mix. At the end, the cast faces us, acknowledging that everything is going to be happily-ever-after. There’s even a choreographed encore, which gets performed whatever the audience response. On opening night, most of the audience was eager to see it.
Note: The dancer identities included here had to be inferred from program cast lists. No dancer photos were included in press materials. And the only photos available were of “Zero In On,” in which is a dancer who did not perform with the company. That’s a shame, as the dancers deserve individual credit.
© Gus Solomons jr, 2012
11th of December 2012
ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE THEATER
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Yannick Lebrun and Jacqueline Green in Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort. Photo by Paul Kolnik
It’s a bit ironic that the centerpiece of the Alvin Ailey Company’s Family Matinee on December 8 is “Petite Mort,” which is French slang for orgasm. But since most of the parents didn’t know that, what they and their kids enjoyed was a beautifully composed ballet, entertaining in its virtuosity and invention, and of course, performed with Ailey’s signature urgency and technical prowess.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort. Photo by Paul Kolnik
The 1991 ballet by brilliant Czech choreographer Jiri Kilián begins with six muscular men in gold brocade Speedos, backing towards us with swords balanced on one finger. After their precision swordplay, they sweep a swath of black silk to obscure the stage, and in the wake of its billow appear six women, sitting split-legged in front of the men.
The ensuing series of man-woman duets represent the most sensual of couplings and intertwining of human bodies imaginable. Kilián – who has now largely abandoned choreographing for filmmaking – was a master of finding unexpected, surprising ways for men to lift women. Here, the lifting often involves bodies passing between each other’s legs or men clutching the women’s inner thighs as handles for swooping them through space.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Jamar Roberts and Alicia Graf Mack in Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort. Photo by Paul Kolnik
In contrast to Nederlands Dance Theater renditions of the ballet – whose dancers are mainly ballet trained – all the dancer pairings in this Ailey version, handsomely staged by Patrick Delcroix, put more emphasis on sensuality than linear purity, which adds welcome vitality and emotional immediacy to the dance.
All the couples – Belen Pereyra and Jermaine Terry, Rachel McLauren and Kirven James Boyd, Jacqueline Green and Yannick Lebrun, Linda Celeste and Glen Allen Sims, and Akua Noni Parker and Antonio Douthit – move seamlessly through their complicated mechanics. But most breathtaking pair is Alicia Graf Mack and Jamar Roberts, both of whom are god-like in their height, elegance, and dynamic power. It’s a gift to have Mack – this season’s poster woman – back in the company after a hiatus.
The program opens with the world premiere of “Another Evening” by in-demand, young dance maker Kyle Abraham, which is a setting of Dizzy Gilllespie’s classic “A Night in Tunisia,” in the epic recording by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.
Abraham himself is a silky, quixotic mover, and the opening solo he’s given Jaqueline Green reflects the aspects of his style. It combines street attitude with modern/ postmodernism, African, and club dance, and Green pulls it off in style. She’s spot lit (Dan Scully’s lighting) and blue floor lights around the periphery obscure what’s beyond the rectangle of light.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Belen Pereyra and Antonio Douthit in Kyle Abraham’s Another Night. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Hope Boykin and Aisha Mitchell in Kyle Abraham’s Another Night. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Other dancers enter from behind those lights at the back and sides – first two, then four, then more. The structure of the piece and its use of space is typical of Ailey works we’re used to. The dance is a fast-paced series of duets, solos, and group passages that maintain the music’s energy. One African-esque unison phrase is either an homage to (or an unconscious appropriation of) Ronald K. Brown, who also contributes often to Ailey’s repertory. Smartly, Abraham occasionally puts a brake on the hyperactivity by having a bunch of dancers stopping dead on one leg with the other foot hooked behind the standing knee, and the focus, arms, and trunks twisting and bending in unison.
Abraham’s dances for his own troupe A/I/M (Abraham in Motion) are less predictably composed, but for his debut outing with the Ailey Company, he has proven that he knows what its audience expects. New Ailey director Robert Battle is wisely trying to stretch the repertory into places stalwart Ailey fans have not yet been – as with “Petite Mort” and last season’s “Minus 16,” a choreographic tour de force by Israel’s most established choreographer Ohad Naharin. Next time – and there should be one – Abraham should be more esthetically daring.
As a tidbit, opening the second act of the program, Kanji Segawa dances Battle’s “Takademe” (1999), a step-for-note matching of Sheila Chandra’s vocal percussion aria, “Speaking in Tongues II.” Segawa’s rhythms and timing match Chndra’s vocal machinations with eerie precision: a showstopper.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Kanji Segawa in Robert Battle’s Takademe. Photo by James R. Brantley
And the perennial “Revelations,” ever-green after fifty-two years has become an interactive experience with the audience, who greets the next music with a cheer, applauds especially difficult-looking moves, and claps in rhythm to the final, “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.”
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations with cast of 50. Photo by Christopher Duggan
In this matinee performance, children from the Ailey School and members of the Ailey II Company join the company in several sections. The students have been well drilled, and the AIley II dancers are but a few seasons away, perhaps, from a place in the main company. Since the 50th anniversary of the dance, the cast has bloated to fifty. At times, the stage is as crowded as a rush hour subway car. In the finale, in fact, the dancing spills off the stage with couples dancing in the aisles.
© Gus Solomons jr, 2012
10th of December 2012
MUSEUM AS THEATER AND VICE VERSA? – SOME SWEET DAY
With the welcome return of power and water to my apartment after Storm Sandy’s havoc, I took myself to MoMA for the last weekend of this latest dance in the museum phenomenon that has recently infused museums with living art. This one, called “Some Sweet Day,” curated by Ralph Lemon featured choreographers Sarah Michelson and Deborah Hay.
In this large-scale project – inspired by the 50th anniversary of the Judson Dance Theater, which bred experimental dance in the 60s – Judsonites Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Hay, paired with younger experimental counterparts, Jerome Bel, Dean Moss, and Michelson, respectively, displayed their artistic viewpoints for an avid public.
The works I saw on the final weekend posed interesting questions about the nature of artistic inspiration not just dance making. First up was British dancer-turned-choreographer Michelson, who’s built a rabid following for her slick, persistent movement essays and, perhaps not incidentally, for her leading dancer Nicole Mannarino, a dancer of impressive stamina and presence.
With the audience sitting and standing on two sides of the atrium and others watching from balconies above, Michelson builds her dance, “Devotion #3,” around a simple motif – hands clasped behind the back, Mannarino moves side to side, toes, heels, toes, then crosses one foot over the other – to which she adds small variations: a high kick, a deep lunge, arms flying overhead, hooking up her leg as if to gaze at the sole of her sneaker. Between stints of ferocious action, she strides across the massive space and continues in another location.
At the same time, James Tyson is doing similar movement material on the floor below – invisible to us in the atrium. For a few brief seconds he joins Mannarino in the atrium, then exits, perhaps to continue on other levels. His role is puzzlingly insignificant for the main audience, which by the end may not even remember his appearance, since Mannarino totally rivets our attention.
Hay’s “Blues” is based on her impression that the regular museum audience is overwhelmingly white. She deploys a group of white women in black leotards – like the pioneers of modern dance, Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Hanya Holm, Valerie Bettis, etc. – who silently form and reform a circle in various locations throughout the atrium. The audience migrates to surround each of their circles, while a dozen dancers of color, each wired with an earpiece and microphone taped to their faces, dance amidst them. The dancers are responding improvisationally to the music in their ears, which is later revealed to be a song, made up by Hay in Paris that reminded her of the blues.
The contrast between Michelson’s obsessive control and Hay’s laissez-faire approach, which allows maximum freedom for the performers, creates a relation between the two works, which are stylistically a galaxy apart.
Seeing dance performed in a museum setting raises different questions about it than seeing it in a theater. Without theatrical trappings – lighting, costumes, etc. – we’re less concerned with execution than artistic intention. Michelson’s piece raises the issue of how complicit a dancer is in her own exploitation. Hay’s work could be interpreted as a comment on racism, considering the hierarchy of roles of the white and black dancers in her cast. The white women in black draw attention by mere dint of their silent presence, while the multi-racial performers in colorful clothing, excluded from the inner sanctum, must work harder to draw our attention. At one point they surround the sacred circle but are not allowed inside it. This might also refer back to the exclusivity of the Judson Group, which included no one of color, although some in the downtown community did share their esthetic point of view.
Coincidentally, another movement artist performed in a museum – Arturo Vidich at the Museum of Art and Design. His showing culminated a three-month residency there. Far from a finished piece, Vidich presented studies for “The Daedalus Effect and other dilemmas,” improvisational ideas he’s been exploring in collaboration with a series of artists who made objects for him to interact with. The finished piece will be presented later this season.
The showing (November 9-10) took place not in a spacious gallery but in the museum’s small basement theater. The space is suitable for lectures and perhaps string quartets – the stage is too shallow to accommodate a grand piano – but hardly adequate for theatrical performance of any kind except maybe puppet shows.
Vidich distributes his sculptures around the space – an aisle, the front row on the left, there’s a loaf-like lump with curved wires supporting it like a daddy long-leg spider; In the right aisle stand two rectangular prisms, one with a silver helix hanging inside, the other with an LED lamp. Spread across the stage is a two-foot high, blue cylinder with white cords radiating from holes near its top, a light on a stand, and a Vornado floor fan.
As the audience enters, Vidich in salmon jeans and a gray T-shirt chats with friends or sits under the spider. When the presentation starts, Vidich emerges from offstage right, pushing the podium and wearing a contraption on his back. He proceeds to manipulate all the props, moving up one aisle and down the other, getting entangled treacherously in the hardware, toppling over, and extracting himself.
Onstage, bare-chested and wearing a monochrome facemask, Vidich dances his unique style that combines elements of modern dance, club dance, and world dance. His body is a miraculous instrument, as beautifully proportioned as Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and even more muscularly articulated.
He sinks to the ground and rebounds on steel-spring legs, stands on one high-arched foot while fluidly distorting his torso. On the cramped stage, he twists himself into precarious balances and springs out of them with feline agility.
Although this showing does not represent a finished piece, it has much more in common with artistic process than either of the pieces at MoMA. Vidich’s showing, which showed more about process deserved a gallery setting, while Michelson’s and Hay’s pieces would feel completely comfortable on a theater stage.
© Gus Solomons jr, 2012
Tere O’Connor has highly refined notions about how to make dances, and he is devoted to old-fashioned compositional craftsmanship. Although his inspirations range widely, his motion-based dances defy the artistic fashion of the moment. His new dances at New York Live Arts (November 27-December 1) show him continuing to refine his choreographic vision, free of political undertones, literal connotations, and sometimes transitions.
“Secret Mary” and “poem” unfold mysteriously and inevitably on NYLA’s big, bare, black stage, shifting from one series of motifs to another, as each is developed – or not – to the extent O’Connor needs to. The dancers wear clothing assembled by James Kidd, and Michael O’Connor’s lighting combines subtle shifts and radical changes that effectively underscore the dancing.
O’Connor’s movement defies stylistic cubby-holes, although fast footwork passages and his decorative use of arms dancers’ make it obvious there’s ballet in his background. He elicits kinetic contributions from his diverse dancers, and encourages them to move with precision but without affect. His work thereby remains abstract, although it’s cast fills it with humanity moments of literal-ness.
l-r: Tess Dworman, devynn emory, Mary Read, Ryan Kelly
In “Secret Mary,” danced without musical sound by Tess Dworman, devynn emory, Ryan Kelly, and Mary Read, some are more comfortable than others with O’Connor’s non-presentational-ism. When reedy Read attempts to get floppy, her strong technical roots peek through; rather than embodying the quirkiness, she demonstrates it from outside in.
On the other hand Dworman has a natural, pedestrian ease without blurring her shapes or dynamics. Former ballet dancer Kelly immerses himself convincingly in O’Connor’s eccentric vision. And androgynous emory, who deliberately erases – even in her program bio – all reference to gender, moves with confident determination and soft-edged clarity.
The dance moves along with minimal recapitulation; the mysterious journey progresses, sweeping us along in its wake. O’Connor’s movement is its own message, but occasionally an image it evokes is ineffably literal. Fussy hand gestures in places seem to indicate food preparation (O’Connor is a gourmet cook.) And he final moment looks like a murder; it takes you aback, emotionally.
The five dancers in the longer “poem” – Natalie Green, Heather Olson, Michael Ingle, Oisin Monahghan, and Silas Riener – inhabit the space for its entire 42-minute duration. No one exits, even when we are focused on a solo or duet; everyone is engaged throughout in an ongoing, evanescent life.
l-r: Silas Riener, Michael Ingle, Natalie Green, Oisin Monaghan, Heather Olson
Animated physical conversations give way to leisurely chats. Olson and Green lounge on the ground, calling “switch” and shifting position. In their duet, Olson and Ingle stand close together, arms in a high vee-shape, poking the air above and beside their heads. The three men lie on their backs, shaping their legs into kaleidoscopic patterns.
l-r: Silas Riener, Michael Ingle, Oisin Monaghan
O’Connor’s choices of dancers ranges broadly in degree of physical articulation from Ingle, who is more of a dramatic than lyrical dancer, to former Cunningham Company star Riener, who is hyper-refined technically and balls-to-the-wall athletic in his attack. The onstage compatibility of such disparities serves to increase the power of O’Connor’s vision, and his disparate choices coexist compatibly.
Photo by Ian Douglas
© Gus Solomons jr, 2012
23rd of October 2012
SUNHWA CHUNG – KO-RYO DANCE THEATER
In her concert at Dance New Amsterdam (Ocyober17-20), Sunhwa Chung opens with a Korean traditional solo, “Of Love and Memories.” Then, her company of eight Asian and white dancers performs her featured full-company works, “Epilogue,” “Arirang – We Go Beyond the Crossroad,” and “The City From the Sky: Coming Together,” along with three smaller dances, all in her brand of Western modern dance.
In “Epilogue,” eight dancers carry folding chairs onto the stage, line them up, re-arrange them, and use them in various ways for support. Dressed in street clothes, the dancers focus frontally; we don’t really know who they are to each other or why they are so agitated. Music by Clint Mansell and Zbynek Matejo drives the action.
The premiere, “Arirang,” is a suite that reflects on Chung’s departure from Korea and assimilation to the United States. The assimilation is apparent in the borrowed modern dance tropes that comprise her choreography. Hands swiping across the face, crisscrossed arm shapes, side tilts in parallel passé, and falling rolls over the hips are among her favorite motifs; they recur persistently. White blouses and black skirts, embossed with a large white donut shape make the women dancers seem like either a team or facets of the same person.
After a sweetly defiant opening violin interlude by nine-year-old Sarang Chung West – Chung’s daughter and a rugby player on her school team – the tone of the work is consistently dark and intensely emotional; it remains on a single dynamic level throughout. Live music by Korean percussionist Vongku Pak on traditional instruments has an evenness that matches the movement. Lighting by Miriam Nilofa Crowe shifts sometimes abruptly to alter the stage space from mellow washes to shadowy streaks to diagonal pathways. It’s effective if not very refined.
We can see Chung’s grasp of compositional craft; a trio counterpoints a quartet, dancers use the full range of the limited space, they flow between levels, entrances and exits flow without seeming arbitrary. In short, Chung adheres to elements of “good composition.” In a couple of passages, the lack of an extra male means that, with obvious difficulty, a woman must act as a lifting partner for another. Anxiety and a sense of impending doom pervade the piece without the emotional contrast to provide context.
The dancers execute the movement efficiently, but because of Chung’s vaguely articulated emotional intentions for her characters, it’s difficult for the performers to rise to individual distinction or achieve clarity, although at least one does: Frenchman Benjamin Gaspard displays electric physicality and piercing focus; his kinetic vibrancy so excels that he captures our visual attention, whenever he is onstage.
After intermission, a trio, “Inevitable Convergences: The Last Story,” finds Gaspard narrating (in French) and dancing in a kind of “No Exit” situation with Alissa Wall and Ishiguro on, in, and around three of those ubiquitous folding chairs, they used in “Arirang.” Soaring, orchestral music by Stephen Warbeck swallows the dance.
“No One Knows But You” is Chung’s contemporary solo paints a portrait of a woman, confronting – or seeking – her own truth in a mirror that stands in an upstage corner of the stage. She wears a magenta shift and uses high heels as her prop – both or one or none. It is a counterpart to “Love and Memories,” where the traditional garb of delicate pastel chiffon and an umbrella hat depicts a fragile, stylized woman without her own agency. Chung’s committed performance in both solos makes them convincing.
The obligatory “upbeat” finale, The City from the Sky: Coming Together,” uses one of Danny Elfman’s pounding, familiar movie theme songs alongside equally catchy music by Hwang Sang Jun and Kodo drumming. Urbanites in black suits and white shirts dart laterally across the stage, throwing in occasional somersaults and attention-pulling tricks. At ninety minutes, the show gives us more than our fill of mid-20th century modernism – competent but by now irrelevant.
Photos by Lexi Namer
© Gus Solomons jr, 2012
6th of October 2012
KEITH HENNESSY/CIRCO ZERO
Performer/philosopher Keith Hennessy likes to flaunt rules. During his aptly titled “Turbulence (a dance about the economy),” the San Francisco-based artist declares in one of his impassioned declarations that his performers are “private contractors,” which freaks out the administration at New York Live Arts where they’re playing (October 4-6), because they’re supposed to be covered by workmen’s compensation and have proper deductions taken, etc.
Hennessy breaks down for us the budget of this work, for which he’s received more funding than for any other in his career. Most of the comparatively lavish funding, of course, went to airfares and hotel rooms, although the performers are getting paid a moderate fee. And he takes pains to point out that, no, the foreign performers are not working illegally in the U.S.; instead, they’re part of this “research project” that is “Turbulence.” Oh, and by the way, does NYLA have special insurance for the trapeze that hangs onstage from the grid and supports as many as three or four performers at a time during the show?
The décor comprises flattened cardboard boxes taped to the white floor and the rear wall into a “carpet” and “mural” of sorts. Hennessy and his fearless performers produce skillfully modulated chaos, determined by an improvisational structure that includes a certain number of events that must happen, though when and where are not determined.
The cast is in action as the audience enters the theater. Lanky Irishman Ruairi (Rory) leads various audience members to onstage seats, where they can watch the action up close and personal. He offers to share with us the whiskey he and others are tippling. We simply submerge in the multi-ring circus of exotic episodes, sampling bits like a buffet and marveling at the range of the performers’ imaginations. The start and finish of the performance are purposely vague, and the audience is encouraged to hang out with the performers – naked and clad – afterwards.
Jessem Hindi produces an ungodly racket with his computer and electronic toys, plopped on the floor amid a tangle of cables. (I’m glad I accepted the earplugs offered.) Seated at a table at the side, lighting designer Shelby Sonnenberg plays with the lights: a warm wash of light turns dark and shadowy; house lights go on and off willy-nilly; rolling instruments pick out individual actions to highlight.
Through the apparent chaos, charismatic Hennessy keeps referring us back to the notion of economic inequity. He channels his rage at the unfairness of the economic system into this intense theater experience, which – save its prescribed landmarks – is never the same twice. Between his own vigorous improvisation stints, he sits and chats with the audience before rejoining the fray. All his collaborators exude personality and presence, but you never miss Hennessy. Even his most inconsequential move captures attention.
Groups tussle in twos, threes, and more, climbing on and lifting, and carrying each other in good-natured bouts that are simultaneously combative, sensuous, and loving. Guest artist Ishmael Houston-Jones makes love to Hana Erdman’s feet, kissing, stroking, and rubbing them on his face. A swath of gold, sequined fabric sweeps through the action, perhaps symbolizing the filthy lucre of capitalism.
One of the required landmarks is a pyramid of kneeling women from the audience, whose heads are wrapped in triangles of the shimmering gold fabric. Another, presumably, is Houston-Jones’s stripping naked and having the cast swaddle him in pink chiffon and cover him with the golden “shroud” and Hana Erdman’s black platform high heels.
Later, the cast hefts Houston-Jones to their shoulders and struggles up the stairs, bearing him aloft in a ritual funeral – the golden calf, stripped naked and borne to its just reward.
Very pregnant, Canadian guest artist Dana Michel capers around, her belly seeming to grow with each new entrance. Portly Empress Jupiter, as flamboyant as his name, wears a series of lacey black sheaths over loud patterned clam digger pants and comments to the audience about the onstage happenings. Upstage, Jesse Hewit turns cartwheels and somersaults. Gabriel Todd disco dances down front in his skivvies in a remarkable show of stamina, as other cast and audience members join and leave him, endlessly doing his side-to-side “pony” step.
You watch whatever episodes of the non-stop action you like, and there’s plenty to take in. People shed clothing or don garments that others have discarded. Periodically, Hennessy clears the clothes off the floor, as if grooming his nest. And he shows some aerial skills on the trapeze, tangling upside down and every other which way with Julie Phelps and Emily Leap. Downtown diva Faye Driscoll, who happens to be in the audience, joins in some trapeze pulling and pony-ing in the Occupy spirit.
Hennessy’s iconoclastic work is metaphoric on myriad levels. Commentary from him and his cast refer us back to his theme of economic inequity, so the matrix of random action really lives up to the dance’s parenthetical subtitle. It “unearths the power in refusing the ve
3rd of October 2012
DD DORVILLIER / HUMAN FUTURE DANCE CORPS
Music has traditionally provided the sea upon which to set dance steps afloat – according to, I think, George Balanchine or someone equally noteworthy. In her new “Danza Permanente,” performed at the Kitchen, September 26-30, DD Dorvillier appropriates none other than Ludwig von Beethoven’s String Quartet #15 in A Minor, Op. 132, “Heiliger Dankgesang” (Song of Holy Praise), as the ocean, on which to set sail. But when the music is that auspicious, and you can’t even hear it during the dance, you can’t help feeling that you’re being swindled somehow.
l-r: Naiara Mendioroz, Walter Dundervill, Nuno Bizarro, Fabian Barba
The dance painstakingly translates the rhythm and structure of the score, note for note, into movement. For the duration of the first movement, Assai sostentuto, the conceit is fascinating. The game of tracing the musical lines becomes a kind of game; we note the instrumental interplay, assiduously embodied by Naiara Mendioroz and Fabian Barba as the voices of the violins, Nuno Bizarro as that of the viola, and Walter Dundervill, the violincello.
Occasionally, one of the dancers counts off a vocal “one, two.” The dancing largely comprises prancing footwork below with torso tilts above with shaped arms that stretch overhead or tilt the trunk from side to side like pump handles. It’s intriguing for its short 15-minute duration.
But when we reach the second movement, Allegro ma non tanto, we’ve got the conceit, and it seems time for more than literal translation. The rhythm continues to rule, but since the accompaniment we actually hear is an arrhythmic, atmospheric soundscape by electronic harpist Zeena Parkins, there is room for – and we begin to expect – some further elaboration on the textural quality of the dancing, on the expressive intention of the music, its presumptive emotional connotations.
l-r: Dundervill, Barba, Bizarro, Mendioroz
As the earnest dancers begin to perspire, we note how sweat patterns darken the dress shirts and runners’ shorts costumer Michelle Arnet has fitted them with. The woman, Mendioroz, wears a muted tangerine color, her partner violin, tall, youthful looking, Ecuadorian Barba has a magenta shade. The viola, elegant, ramrod-erect Bizarro from Portugal, is in bright goldenrod, and powerfully intense Dundervill, the cello, is in a copen blue.
The dancers rarely touch each other – save for one swooping lift of Mendioroz by her three partners. And they look at each other only when their eyes accidentally meet – except for one brisk passage where Bizarro repeatedly swings his arms overhead with a flourish, each time focusing on a different person. Most notably, Dundervill invests every phrase with an intensity of focus and commitment that breathes vibrancy into it; whether or not the choreographer has told him her version of what his intention should be, his vivid presence tells its own compelling story.
To her credit, Dorvillier endeavors to pursue provocative intellectual propositions in creating her dances, and to judge by the warm reception of her audience, her rendering of this concept captured their interest. But Dorvillier’s diligent exercise in musical mimickry looks like the first draft of a multi-layered treatment of the concept that craves further exploration. It’s the scaffolding, on which to build a fully formed being that hasn’t yet found its poeticism.
photos by Paula Court
(c) Gus Solomons jr, 2012
14th of July 2012
SCOTT LYONS AND COMPANY
“The Private Life of Chickens” grew out of its creator Scott Lyons’s decision to give up his vegan diet. Rumor has it the project was also, in whole or part, his Master’s thesis in dance. If this is in fact the case, don’t even get me started on diminishing qualifications for a terminal degree in dance! Lyons’s curiosity about barnyard fowl led to appreciable research and thence this movement theater piece, which alighted upon the stage at Dance New Amsterdam, July 6-7.
Scott Lyons as Gretta
Basing his piece loosely on the traditional tale of Chicken Little, Lyons and three appealing women performers strut, cluck, and cackle on stage, while an earnest, British news reader (Bradford Scobie) narrates from a video screen. When Scobie is not eyeing the onstage silliness with a bemused smirk, he taunts the chickens from the screen with a flashlight and pelts the barnyard with rubbery penises from a fast food container. I guess they don’t make rubber chicken nuggets.
Lyons, whose background is in theater as well as dance, performs with the intensity of a coltish young actor, combined with the ungainliness of an eager non-dancer, and his lack of inhibition knows no limit. What he has apparently failed to research sufficiently is how to sustain narrative focus and humor, i.e., when enough of a joke – visual or otherwise – is enough.
l-r: Anne Bloom, Amii LeGendre, and Lindsay Gilmour
Dressed by Nicole Asselin like whimsically hilarious chickens – hoodies with red crests, white-rimmed, Hollywood starlet sunglasses, plastic raincoats, and bloomers made of upside down T-shirts – Lyons’s cohorts are his greatest assets. Understated Amii LeGendre is a geyser of wry sarcasm; wide-eyed Anne Bloom is comically clueless; and Lindsay Gilmour with her dancerly legs poses and clucks, in Hurculean efforts at attempting to lay an egg.
A mock military/industrial debate generates a few deserved guffaws, when the four hens peck at each other’s policies between doing iterations of a generic dance phrase. And you can’t help chuckling at the ridiculousness of four grownups dressed up like advertising mascots for a fast-food joint.
l-r: Gilmour, LeGendre, Bloom, and Lyons
Lyons does build some genuine dramatic tension with the machinations of the barnyard denizens to ward off the impending doom of a falling sky. But his Julia Child imitation outwears its welcome during the first of its several subsequent reprises. When the obsession with the sky falling switches to that of laying an egg for the gravy that Gretta (Lyons) intends to slather on some store-bought roasters, the piece loses rigor. It devolves into “schtick,” like a fraternity party skit, with situation and characters no longer evoking the humor.
l-r: Bloom, LeGendre, and Gilmour
Jay Ryan’s lively lighting is a big plus, and Benjamin Cerf coordinates his sound and video design seamlessly with the live action; a larger TV screen would have made it even more effective. And let’s not neglect rigging designer Scott Parks’s downpour of wafting feathers to eulogize the demise of Mary Beth (Bloom), whom Henretta (LeGendre) – for whatever reason – suffocates with a downy pillow. Lyons’s character Gretta finally manages to produce a puny little egg from the neck of his inverted-T-shirt groin, which in his enthusiasm, he accidentally smashes.
photos courtesy of Scott Lyons and Company
© Gus Solomons jr, 2012
18th of June 2012
THE AUSTRALIAN BALLET
Celebrating its 50th Anniversary and making its first trip to the U.S.A. in more than a decade, the Australian Ballet brought four U.S. premieres to the David Koch Theater at Lincoln Center (June 12-17). As if to prove they go another way, the Aussies’ repertory included versions of classics, choreographed by contemporary dance makers – “Giselle” by Maina Gielgud, “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev, and Graeme Murphy’s “Swan Lake.”
The full company roster includes over sixty dancers, most of whom Artistic Director David McAllister brought for this comprehensive season. Along with members of the fourteen-dancer Bangarra Dance Theatre, directed by of the Stephen Page, they provide an impressive array of talent. The mixed bill program on June 12 ranged from classic to contemporary to indigenous, for a stunning display of the dancers’ versatility.
The opening act, named “Luminous,” capsulated with film clips the history of the down-under company to give the audience come context. The movie – compiled by The Apiary with music by Robert John and voice-over artist Robert Grubb – played like a TV show with “commercial breaks” consisting of five dance excerpts, calculated to display the wide stylistic range of the company.
The Act II pas de deux from Gielgud’s version of “Giselle,” which features Rachel Rawlins and Ty King-Wall, is a standout. Lanky, fresh-faced King-Wall proves an able partner for Rawlins, whose technical and expressive power makes her Giselle arguably the most magically ethereal we’ve seen.
Diminutive pair, Reiko Hombo and Chenwu Guo, exhibits uncanny control in Nureyev’s re-imagining of Petipa’s “Don Quixote.” Musical director Nicolette Fraillon leads the New York City Ballet Orchestra in a slower than usual tempo of the familiar Leon Minkus music, exaggerating the dancers’ absolute command of the ballet’s difficult balances, lifts, and leaps. Hondo’s obligatory fouette turns become doubles, and Guo’s Martial arts-inflected jumps stretch the classical form and ignite the crowd.
A pas de deux from “Molto Vivace” by Stephen Baynes, set to music by Handel, represents a contemporary love duet. Adam Bull wafts Amber Scott weightlessly, and these two principal artists continue to affirm the company’s technical command and artistic prowess.
The act closes with the pas de deux and ninth movement from Stanton Welch’s “Divergence,” his setting of Bizet’s “L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2.” Costumes by Vanessa Leyonhjelm’s put the men in back and belly-baring unitards with lacing across the abs and the women in horned bras and removable tutus that look like broad Elizabethan ruffs.
photo by Lisa Tomasetti. Artists of the Australian Ballet in Welch’s Divergence
The choreography is self-consciously “modernist,” with symmetrical ranks of dancers twitching their knees and making angular arm gestures that somewhat distract from the soloists’ efforts in the center of this frenetic frame. Eventually, the women discard their tutus, and all sixteen dancers line up, front to back, in front of a fiery red-lit cyclorama and do cascading port de bras. It’s a deft assemblage of effects, geared to pure visual impact.
British choreographer Wayne McGregor’s own company, based at the Sadlers Wells Ballet is aptly named Random Dance. How interesting it is to watch Australia’s lithe dancers deftly negotiate the arbitrary convolutions and contortions of his “Dyad 1929,” which he presumptuously dedicates to Merce Cunningham! Its naïve, frontal use of space is the antithesis of Cunningham’s sophisticated spatial three-dimensionality.
photo by Lisa Tomasetti. Kevin Jackson and Lisa Jones in McGregor’s Dyad 1929.
Set to Steve Reich’s relentlessly persistent Double Sextet, McGregor’s ballet is meant somehow to reference the discovery of Antarctica (as we glean from the program note.) White backdrop and floor, sparsely dotted with rows of black dots, and a rising and descending horizon-line of yellow fluorescent lights (stage concept by McGregor and light designer Lucy Carter) and the brief white, black, and beige costumes by Moritz Junge set the gelid environment. Maybe the dancers’ perpetual motion, done at maximum physical tension throughout, is a warming tactic.
A unique attraction of the repertory is the collaboration with Bangarra Dance Theatre, in which Aboriginal and classical dancers blend seamlessly. Stephen Page’s “Warumuk – in the dark night,” with a lush instrumental score by David Page is based on Yoingu lore. The ballet explores astronomical imagery – the Milky Way, shooting stars, the celestial Seven Sisters, tides of the moon, and the mystery of a lunar eclipse.
photo by Jeff Busby. Artists of AustralianBallet and Bangarra Dance Theatre in Warumukv-in the dark night.
Sets by Jacob Nash and shadowy lighting by Padraig O Suillieabhain complete the imagery, setting the dancing in evocative, primitive locales, where athletic, floor-bound, animal-like movement becomes a metaphor for astronomical themes. In seven sections, Page’s expert massing of bodies and clear, simple motion create pungent images of nature.
© Gus Solomons jr, 2012