Scads of cinders but scarce a diamond in Christopher Wheeldon’s version of “Cinderella”. In this retelling of the folk fairy tale, the world is as nasty but not as well made as in Alexei Ratmansky’s staging (2002 for the Maryinsky). The story was re-raked for Wheeldon by Craig Lucas, and originally presented by Dutch National Ballet in 2012. San Francisco Ballet acquired it a year later. It turns out that Lucas’s libretto complicates rather than enhances the story’s moral. Wheeldon tackled staging the dances with what seems haste, as if he couldn’t wait to be finished – especially Act 1 is replete with signs of his impatience. The best choreography is contained in Act 2. The final Act 3’s dances have unfulfilled promise. Audience response at Kennedy Center was maximum for the production’s spectacle, special effects such as a gigantic tree’s swarming foliage, the raising and lowering of a constellation of chandeliers, and panoramas of cloud drift. In the title role, opening night’s Maria Kochetkova showed, for the first time in my experience, a grown up woman’s warmth and wisdom.
Maria Kochetkova and dancers of the San Francisco Ballet in Christopher Wheeldon's "Cinderella."
When on the evening of Cullberg Ballet’s first performance after more than a decade, I learned that Deborah Hay’s “Figure at Sea” would be preceded by a 45-minute lecture, "a continuity of discontinuity", by the choreographer, my heart sank. It just seemed a low point of a presenter’s trust in an audience’s ability to come to terms with unfamiliar material. I am glad to say that I was wrong. Never did I think that Hay could communicate with a large audience, such as Zellerbach's 2,500 seat auditorium. Her concepts of continuity and discontinuity — and the opposite -- may have been fairly abstract, yet her explanations on how the concepts influenced her dance-making were crystal clear. Her manner of presentation -- informal, with a sense of humor and direct addresses to the listeners -- made this less a lecture than a perspective into the evolution of this artist’s thought processes going back to the 1960's. Could “Figure at Sea” stand on its own? Absolutely, because it is a superb realization of dancerly essence: movement in space and time.
American Ballet Theatre's now traditional Fall season is a treat for its audience, which gets to see interesting one-act ballets, full of fine dancing from the corps and soloists (as well as the principals), with few tutus in sight. The October 26 program stood out for its varied and interesting choreography and its well-rehearsed, dynamic dancing in works by Sir Frederick Ashton, Alexei Ratmansky and George Balanchine -- a wonderful line up.
Just before departing to perform overseas, Dakshina – Daniel Phoenix Singh’s small company that explores both Indiadance and modern-dance – organized a weekend of performances by diverse groups and individual artists trained in South Asian traditions. Of the two Saturday events I caught, one was a free studio demonstration by small squads of young women who clarified technical aspects such as anatomic turn-out and different types of body stances. The demonstration’s final example, by the elegantly refined Vyjayanthi Vadrevu, featured runs on stretched heels. The other presentation was a theatrical solo of a sort not uncommon in India that, due to its length, comes to seem like an act of self sacrifice. This particular dance, by Indira Kadambi, lasted just 70 minutes.
This company pulled off the finishes to its three pieces of George Balanchine choreography by dancing as if there were no tomorrows. Passages of group action and assembly throughout the program blazed. The spirit of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet possessed those on stage and spread to the public. It is no secret that the company is on death row. Next season (2017/18) will be its last ever. Suzanne Farrell plans to work on other projects and undoubtedly so will most of the individual dancers. Balanchine’s ballets can be seen around the globe. So why be sentimental? Singularity! An example of Farrell’s insightful stagings with her pickup family of artists is “Gounod Symphony”, her repertory’s latest rarity.
The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in Gounod Symphony, choreography by George Balanchine. Principal dancers Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook (center) with the ensemble. Choreography (c) The George Balanchine. Photo (c) Paul Kolnik.
The music for ABT's Fall gala was French and so was the main event, the American premier of Benjamin Millepied's "Daphnis and Chloe", choreographed for the Paris Opera Ballet in 2014. It was well-received in Paris, but perhaps it is a case of vive la différence, since the ballet, though strongly and enthusiastically danced, was a bit tedious. The evening started out with lots of strength and enthusiasm as the young dancers from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis school paraded through Alexei Ratmansky's "Rondo Capriccioso", set to bouncy dance music by Camille Saint-Saëns.
The reasons to fall for Austin McCormick’s spectacles of crystal, papier-maché and greasepaint hit you the moment you walk into the hall of the Irondale Theatre. Inside a dilapidated church gymnasium, he had installed draperies, prosceniums and massive chandeliers. The juxta-position of glamour plastered on decrepitude was gagworthy – right out of Peter Brook’s and Jean-Jacques Beineix’ playbooks. But you don’t have to love “Paris” for its looks alone.
Jacob Karr and Todd Hanebrink in “Paris.” Photo by Mark Shelby Perry.
Making sense of what one sees on stage involves options. Is the author of what happens trying to create a whole world or telling just one tale or is the intent to shape patterns? In the instance of choreographer Tim Rushton’s “Black Diamond”, I set out resisting the temptations he offered to explore an alternate universe or follow a story line. There was no way to do either without imposing my own imagination on his. So, what was Rushton up to designing action?
Danish Dance Theatre in Tim Ruston's Black Diamond. Photo by Soren Meisner.
Hope Mohr Dance’s Annual Bridge Project, in which Mohr has introduced or re-introduced artists such as Lucinda Childs, Simone Forti, Susan Rethorst, Dusan Tynek Dance Theatre, Molissa Fenley and Yvonne Rainer, has become a much-looked forward to event. The performances cleans one’s viewing palette even as they open perspectives on recent dance history. If this year’s “Ten Artists Respond to ‘Locus’” raised as many questions as it purported to answer, it was also the most ambitious project Mohr has yet undertaken. The challenge was to have ten local artists — only three of them were choreographers — learn Trisha Brown’s 1975 “Locus” and create their own response to it. Everyone, musicians, painters, a poet, theater and performance artists had to learn Brown’s original, taught to them by Diane Madden, Co-Artistic Director of the Trisha Brown Dance Company.
Artists: Peiling Kao (left) and Tracy Taylor Grubbs. Photo credit: Margo Moritz.
Paul Taylor established Taylor 2 in 1993 to perform versions of his works on smaller stages which might not accommodate the larger company. The company tours widely and also works in arts programs in schools, so the dancers in the six-member group are seasoned and accomplished performers. Many of Taylor's larger works are redone for fewer dancers (which can help reveal more nuanced relationships) but his smaller ones are danced with the original choreography. The audience at the Schimmel Center saw the complete "Aureole", Taylor's 1962 sublime and revolutionary modern dance blanc set to Handel's music (unfortunately, on tape).
The cast more than the choreography makes Dance Theatre of Harlem a ballet company. While all three pieces on the program called for such things as anatomic turn-out and the women wearing toe shoes, two of the works required alien accents in pronouncing the classical step vocabulary. Particularly in the first item, “Front Porch” by Ulysses Dove (1947 – 1996), the language of ballet seemed suffused. The dancers’ bodies moved not as if they were made of flesh and blood, muscle and tendon, but like memorial statuary, like marble entities just woken from their everlasting stance in order to dance.
Anthony Javier Savoy and Lindsey Croop. Photo by Rachel Neville.jpg
"Dances at a Gathering", Jerome Robbins' marathon exploration of Chopin, was paired with the Russian "Firebird"; two American ballets with an Eastern-European heritage. "Dances" works best when the dancers react as a community, rather than performing a series of dances. This feeling is illusive, and, in this performance, came in fits and starts. There were late substitutions and some debuts (Robert Fairchild in mauve, Harrison Ball in brick, and in his New York debut, Chase Finlay in green), which may have affected the delicate balance, but there were many beautiful and moving moments as the ten dancers flocked together.
On its current visit to the USA the Cullberg Ballet from Sweden wasn’t scheduled to perform in Washington, DC. However, the Embassy of Sweden’s cultural counselor Linda Zachrison persuaded three of the company’s members –artistic director Gabriel Smeets and two dancers - to detour for an event: the presentation of a solo and a discussion. The dance was choreographed by Brazil’s Cristian Duarte to a sound score by his countryman Tom Monteiro. Comments on it and about the Cullbergbaletten’s current aesthetic came from the company’s three representatives and the audience.
Samuel Draper in “Glow”. Cullberg Press Photo by Urban Joren. .
“Tesseracts of Time,” “Fall,” “Cry,” “Marguerite and Armand” Jessica Lang Dance, Royal Ballet Flanders, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, The Sarasota Ballet Fall For Dance Festival: Program 4 New York City Center New York, NY October 5, 2016
Fall for Dance has always allowed New York City's dance lovers to see big stars for small change. Bringing Alina Cojocaru back for another too-infrequent appearance here was more than a prog-ramming coup. We had the privilege of watching an artist changing seasons: Cojocaru entering autumn.
Alina Cojocaru and The Sarasota Ballet in “Marguerite and Armand.” Photo by Stephanie Berger.
This show was easy going, like Damian Woetzel’s previous production here. He mixes the performing arts casually yet astutely. “DEMO: Heroes” was part party, part rehearsal. Most likely the title’s “DEMO” means several things, alluding to demonstration, to democracy and its people, and to demonically divine inspiration. The participating artists were shown at their most typical and in unexpected contexts.The heroes mentioned included warriors, activists, innovators, role models. When overly ambitious intentions threatened, Woetzel’s light touch dispelled their shadows. At least one dance item was incredible.
Photos: dancer Lil Buck and vocalist-guitarist Kate Davis in performing in the tribute to David Bowie.. Photo by Teresa Wood.