Misty Copeland’s Program
Ballet Across America 2017
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
April 19, 2017
by George Jackson
© 2017 by George Jackson
The blueprint for the program Misty Copeland curated must have looked as bright as a sunny spring sky. There would be a technical piece based on ballet traditions, a dramatic work relevant to African and world history, plus some pop fun poked at what may be coming tomorrow. In addition, film would provide a danced overture to the three pieces of live fare on stage. The actual outcome disappointed. It wasn’t the dancers’ fault.
Photo: The second section trio (Owen Thorne, Kayla Rowser, Jon Upleger) from Paul Vasterling’s “Concerto”. Photo by Teresa Wood.
South Africa’s anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela and Winnie, the second of his three wives, have become historic figures who intriguingly combined heroism and very human behavior. In “Madiba”, Jeremy McQueen doesn’t tell their story although he tries, using music by Carman Moore. Plenty of characters appear on stage – Black South Africans who act ritualistically sometimes but realistically at other times, a squad of Military Officers who are white and move like mechanical toys. Also, dancing firebird-like as Africa’s wildlife, are two Blue Cranes. Nelson Mandela’s Mother resembles the Statue of Liberty. Another solitary figure is a friendly-yet-glum, white Guardsman. The cast, assembled especially for this Black Iris Project and rehearsed by Charla Genn, worked hard - particularly Andile Ndlovu as Nelson Mandela and Daphne M. Lee as Winnie. McQueen had given them lots of steps and stances that didn’t coalesce as dance. Still, Ndlovu’s Mandela emerged as an individual utterly committed to his tasks and likeable.
Daring dance and facile dance coexist in Dwight Rhoden’s “Star Dust” for Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Much of my problem with this piece is David Bowie’s music. Its drone caused Bowie’s not uninteresting word texts to be incomprehensible and made watching painful. The dominant topic of this danced, mugged and well lit (by Michael Korsch) suite of 9 songs is space flight. Rhoden comes up with a space stalk that seems to be happening in low gravity. It gives the impression that the dancers are wearing shoes with magnetized soles. The weighted steps are executed flatfoot and on pointe. Men as well women walk on toe. Another innovation is a pause in the phrasing of extensions that makes adagio seem to be free floating despite effort. If only Rhoden had explored such motions more and not kept hammering at them over and over again. Men seem more prominent than women in Complexions, but all the dancers do rock, jazz, ballet, pulsing and such with bite.
Misty Copeland will, I hope, keep on dancing. Curating a program or directing a company don’t seem to be her thing for now.
Andile Ndlovu as Nelson Mandela and Kimberly Marie Olivier as Nelson Mandela’s mother in Jeremy McQueen’s The Black Iris Project’s "Madiba." Photo by Teresa Wood.
Complexions Contemporary Ballet in "Star Dust".Choreographed by Dwight Rhoden. Photo by Teresa Wood