Ballet: The Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

April 13, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg
Joyful, uplifting, poetic – three words that describe Paul Taylor’s choreography in one of his signature works, Airs, and the first dance on Friday night’s program at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Created in 1978, Airs encapsulates much of what is so satisfying about Taylor’s work: expressiveness at the service of intellect, the perfectly calibrated repetitions that reinforce the choreography but never overwhelm it, the gestures that never feel arbitrary or overly manipulated.

The eagerly anticipated return of the Paul Taylor Dance Company to Los Angeles after a ten year absence was marked by a deeply satisfying trio of dances commenting on the nature of man and civilization: from the power of civilization to shape man’s better nature in Airs, to the loss of humanity through the tyranny of war in Banquet of Vultures. And finally, the humor inherent in seeing our own foibles reflected in the insect world in Gossamer Gallants.

Paul Taylor's "Airs"

Paul Taylor’s “Airs”

Scored to an array of selections from Handel, Airs makes reference to man’s higher nature where happiness is in reach and light shines on our endeavors. From adagio to allegro sections, the choreography dazzles with arms sculpting air, bodies tilting in space, and legs and feet beating in rapid-fire succession. The dancers are extraordinarily adept at Taylor’s demanding choreography – one of his most balletic of dances – and though they glow with a free and easy spirit, the precision, strength, and control required for the complex choreography is immense.

The cast of four women and three men (I loved the asymmetry here), featuring Laura Halzack, Jamie Rae Walker, Robert Kleinendorst, and Michael Trusnovec, was splendid. Whether putting one in mind of classical Greek sculpture, wrestling moves, circus stunts, or folk dance, the lyricism of the music and choreography was captured by these seven highly musical dancers.

If Airs is about man achieving the heights, then Banquet of Vultures is focused on the depths. Where Airs soared, Banquet felt anchored to the floor, earthbound and rooted in the degradation of war. Premiered in 2005, Taylor famously commented that it was George W. Bush’s pseudo-military body language, which first inspired the creation of the central malevolent character.

Michael Trusnovec

Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, and red tie, Michael Trusnovec, with his imposing stature, created an iconic tyrant/ bureaucrat, himself little more than a puppet of the relentless war machine. With staccato marionette movements, he swaggered, threatened and abused. Prisoners, dressed in generic camouflage-style uniforms, cowered and ran.

What distinguishes this anti war work is Taylor’s minimalist aesthetic. His music selection and the sculptural qualities of the lighting design served the piece well. Morton Feldman’s 1976 work, Oboe and Orchestra, with its piercing sounds, created the backdrop to this commentary on torture. Feldman’s music never lapsed into sentiment or sensuality, which would have lessened the power of Taylor’s creation. Jennifer Tipton’s extraordinary lighting became the entire set. Sculptural cones of light illuminated bodies in the darkness, angling from the side or defining space from above.

In one of the most stirring images of the piece, a shaft of light defined a circular space that imprisoned three victims. As they writhed within the confines of light, they became as heroic as the ancient figures of the Laocoön. In a stirring sequence danced by Trusnovec and Jamie Rae Walker, Taylor created a macabre pas de deux for predator and prey, which ended in the violent death of the prey (Walker). And in the closing moments, a second figure in a suit and red tie (an iconic uniform created by Santo Loquasto) replaced the first tyrant, only to flap and flounder like a fish on a line. Perhaps another politician inevitably inheriting a corrupt war that he can neither control nor stop?

Though Taylor makes reference to George W. Bush, there is a timelessness to the piece – at moments it has a German Expressionist feel, at other times the Iron Curtain looms large. Like Kurt Jooss’ 1932 ballet, The Green Table, no matter who the politicians or battling soldiers, any and all generations at war can be seen in this shattering dance drama. The evening was capped with a delicious confection called Gossamer Gallants created in 2011.  Insects cavort on stage to village dances from the Czech opera, The Bartered Bride, by Bedrich Smetana. I will never be able to hear Smetana’s music again without imagining dopey, lovesick bugs mooning over predatory females in all their wiggling, vamping glory.

Against a backdrop of a ring of stone towers, insects enacted their mating rituals to hilarious effect in the setting of a Czech village. Particularly engaging was the choreography for the male bugs, helplessly enthralled by the females. Drunk on love, the men’s movements were quirky and unpredictable. The dances for the females, though charming, seemed to draw on a more standard range of typically girlish behavior. When finally the boy bugs realized that the end of romance meant disaster, they moved from interest and enthusiasm to terror and exhaustion. All the nuances of the comedy were deftly handled by the exuberant and accomplished company of eleven dancers.

With Loquasto’s adorable costumes: black and iridescent blue superhero insect suits for men and lime green sexpot suits for the women, the effect was complete. Wings flapping, hands probing, antennae bobbing, the dancers inhabited their characters with unmitigated joy. In the process, they reminded us of the preciousness of all life and the sheer breadth of the body of work born from the inexhaustible mind of Paul Taylor.

To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

Jane Rosenberg Dance Book cover.

Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  Jane is also the author and illustrator of SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children

 


Ballet: Royal New Zealand Ballet’s “Giselle” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

February 2, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

Whether it’s Wilis, bird, sylph, or sprite, nineteenth century ballet is replete with woman as enchanted creature. And it’s no wonder. Place a willowy beauty on point and earth’s gravity faded as the imagination of such choreographic giants as Petipa, Perrot, and Bournonville soared.

Even in the twenty-first century, the fate of jilted girls and bewitched princesses created in the long-ago age of romantic idealism still resonates. In a production of “Giselle” from the Royal New Zealand Ballet performed in Los Angeles last night, we were given a poetic window into the minds and hearts of that romantic age. Fashioned by Johan Kobborg and RNZB artistic director, Ethan Stiefel, after Marius Petipa, this “Giselle,” though produced on a smaller scale, was a deeply felt and intelligently executed addition to the pantheon of world-class productions.

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.Gillian Murphy as Giselle and Qi Huan as Albrecht

Led by a superb Gillian Murphy (guest artist from American Ballet Theater) as Giselle and partnered by Qi Huan, the company met the challenges of both acts, from the exuberance of Act One to the solemnity of Act Two. Whether dancing with the youthful abandon of peasant girls or the controlled power of the Wilis (ghostly maidens who punish wayward suitors), the female corps, in particular, impressed with their timing, precision, and musicality. This was no small feat – at only fourteen Wilis instead of the approximately thirty dancers of larger productions, they somehow managed to create the feel of a full ensemble.

There were carefully considered modifications by Stiefel and Kobborg to the “Giselle” first imagined by Perrot and Coralli and later revised by Petipa. The first was a wraparound to the plot supplied by an older Albrecht, who is first seen behind a scrim of painted tree roots, mourning the tragedy of his youth. Thus we see the action unfold in flashback. Though an interesting notion, it was not necessary for comprehension. Albrecht’s maturation and understanding of his folly is inherent in the structure of the role and was poignantly conveyed in Qi Huan’s excellent performance. The replacement of a harvest festival by a peasant wedding celebration was, however, an interesting change of pace, adding another layer to the story. Witnessing a happy, young bridal couple at the festivities contrasted eerily to Giselle’s fate – the rejection of an appropriate suitor, Hilarion, for the love of a man who, unknown to our heroine, is beyond her station and engaged to another.

Gillian Murphy, often seen in the role of the Queen of the Wilis with ABT, here portrayed a fully realized Giselle – transforming from shy, fragile village maiden to ennobled spirit in the course of the two acts. As in the dual role of Odette/Odile of “Swan Lake,” “Giselle” requires the same high level of acting and performance so critical to both ballets. From Romantic arabesques, to pirouettes in attitude, to ronds de jambe en l’air, Murphy supplied us with the technical mastery, the musicality, and the acting chops to give us a convincing Giselle. Only in the mad scene, did I wish for more fluidity and pathos. Without Bathilde’s locket around Giselle’s neck, which functions to unhinge her hair, there were distracting manipulations with the hairdo by Murphy and Maree White, playing her mother, Berthe. Though an adequate portrayal of the onset of madness, Murphy never surpassed adequate here. One longed for a hint of the confusion so poignantly realized in Natalia Makarova’s portrayal: unhinged limbs moving like a marionette, voices unheard by others, and deep physical pain – all contributing to a defining moment in the history of the role.

As Albrecht, Qi Huan shone as the elegant count in disguise as a peasant. From youthful rake to tragic, remorseful lover, Huan seamlessly handled the transitions. In the push and pull of their partnership, Murphy and Huan created suspense and an exquisite tension, particularly in Act Two, when Albrecht dances with Giselle, not yet realizing that the ghost of his beloved is really there. As for Murphy, her fragility in Act One gives way to the heroic in Act Two, as she saves her beloved Albrecht from the fury of Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Abigail Boyle proved an able queen, negotiating the demands of the role with a commanding presence. The role of Myrtha presents a difficult challenge: how to act the part of an ethereal specter and at the same time, convey the authority of a queen and executioner. Though more commanding than ethereal, she still convinced.

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.Abigail Boyd as Myrtha and Jacob Chown as Hilarion

As Hilarion, Jacob Chown had the right blend of earthiness, swagger, and helplessness. He was able to meld technical proficiency with a loose and easy portrayal of the jealous gamekeeper. As Giselle’s mother, Maree White was unfortunately cast, since she was too young for a role usually reserved for an older, character dancer. Clytie Campbell as Bathilde and Martin Vedel as her father, the duke, were appropriately aristocratic; and MacLean Hopper as Albrecht’s faithful subject, Wilfred, cut a fine figure. Lucy Green and Rory Fairweather-Neylan were delightful as the wedding couple of Act One, and as Myrtha’s two handmaidens, Green and Mayu Tanigaito danced with both strength and refinement.

The large orchestra of local musicians, many from the LA Opera, under the baton of Nigel Gaynor, brought out both the piquancy and turbulence of Adolphe Adam’s score. Traditional sets by Howard Jones and nineteenth century style costumes by Natalia Stewart were enhanced by the lighting design of Kendall Smith.

When finally, Albrecht was forced by the Wilis to dance to his death, we witnessed a series of entrechats that startled and amazed. Huan took to the air with his standing jumps, throwing himself into the act with utter abandon. In this moment, the reality of his deed and its aftermath hit. When dawn broke and he was saved from annihilation by his constant Giselle, we felt, with a sharp pang, the power and pathos of this iconic ballet. His later return, as an aged Albrecht seeking death, added emphasis to an already fully realized production.

Photos by Evan Li courtesty of the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

Jane Rosenberg Dance Book cover.

Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  Jane is also the author and illustrator of SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.  


Ballet: Los Angeles Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” at Royce Hall

December 23, 2013

By Jane Rosenberg

Without snow drifts, fir and spruce trees, or chilling temperatures, we, in Los Angeles, must make do with a Christmas season of brilliant sunshine, swaying palms, and stately cypresses. Happily, we have the Los Angeles Ballet to bring us a taste of the holiday with their annual Nutcracker.

With charming costumes by Mikael Melbye and pleasant sets by Catherine Kanner, this production is reimagined by artistic directors, Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary, and set in 1912 Los Angeles.

When Drosselmeyer, danced by Nicolas de la Vega, swept into the Stahlbaum’s living room in his floor length fur, I wondered if 1912 Los Angeles enjoyed cooler temperatures. (Also puzzling were the snow-laden trees outside the living room windows.) The fur, however, would have worked perfectly, had the production been set a few years later and Drosselmeyer been cast as a Hollywood, silent-era film director or actor, complete with camera and tripod. After all, what is a moviemaker but a magician – a perfect metaphor for Drosselmeyer? If this was the intention, then Vega had the exaggerated mannerisms of a Valentino heartthrob and the looks to match. His toymaker was all enthusiasm, hugs, and bravado – the menacing quality of the character found in most productions (and in E.T.A. Hoffman’s tale) dispensed with.

In the first act, the cast of children, beautifully coached and surprisingly natural, was a true pleasure. As the troublesome Fritz, Aidan Merchel-Zoric, was deliciously spoiled and raucous. His troop of mischievous boys let loose and enjoyed themselves without inhibition. Seventeen-year-old Mia Katz, in the role of Clara, portrayed a teen-ager on the verge of maturity and eager for new experiences. As the parents of the two youngsters, Colleen Neary and former NYCB principal, Adam Lüders, were a benevolent and touching pair.

In a nice Upstairs, Downstairs touch, two butlers (David Renaud and Brent Slacke-Wolfe) passed champagne and cavorted with Chaplinesque footwork, then partnered a pair of hip-wiggling maids (Andrea Bell and Chelsea Paige Johnston). Danced ebulliently by David Block, the Nutcracker was no passive wooden toy but a life-size doll. When poked and prodded by Fritz, in a hilarious twist, the Nutcracker swiftly poked him back.

This Nutcracker was all goodwill, the darker shades of the original story absent. Even the mice felt more Walt Disney than Tim Burton, particularly in what appeared to be a mouse Conga-line-dance as they playfully snaked around the room or perched cozily on Clara’s bed while she slept. Unfortunately, with the menace absent, the subsequent battle scene lost its power, deteriorating into goofiness and undefined patterns.

“The Nutcracker” Act Two from “Dance Me A Story: Twelve Tales from the Classic Ballets,” copyright 1985 by Jane Rosenberg.

The corps de ballet looked crisp and radiant as the Snowflakes at the end of Act One and charming in the “Waltz of the Flowers” in the second act. With Clara and the Nutcracker’s throne partially obscuring my view of the action in Act Two and the columns at the back of the stage taking up space, the dancing seemed cramped rather than expansive. Though the female corps had solid technique, I found the use of the hands, in general, rather awkward – less graceful extensions of the arms, more distracting punctuation marks. This held true for the female principals and soloists as well. As the Rose in the flower waltz, Bianca Bulle, replacing Allynne Noelle, performed admirably.

Snowflakes Ensemble in “The Nutcracker“

Snowflakes Ensemble in “The Nutcracker“

Rather than the Sugar Plum Fairy, (we are in the Land of Dolls rather than the Candy Land of most productions) we have Clara’s doll, Marie, performed by a radiant Allyssa Bross. One wished for more subtlety and pathos in her performance, however. Tchaikovsky’s score, at its most melancholy in this pas de deux, is certainly a clue that this is a singular moment in the ballet when Clara is invited to witness what mature love is all about – romance, joy, and heartbreak all at once. As Marie’s Prince, Kenta Shimizu, was an excellent partner, dancing with style, grace, and subtle power.

The Land of Dolls of Act Two was a curious locale: a vaguely Persian environment with turbaned inhabitants. Though a duo of heralds, portrayed as movie cliché eunuchs, kept looking out to sea, Clara, the Nutcracker, and Drosselmeyer, arrived by sled. The Act Two divertissements were well danced.

The Arabian coffee divertissement is always a crowd pleaser and this one was no exception.  Alexander Castillo tirelessly partnered a sinuous Julia Cinquemani in a dizzying series of lifts and embraces. As the Harlequin and Columbine dolls of Act One and Two, Robert Mulvey and Isabel Vondermuhll were a piquant pair, and the Russian dancers led by Dustin True (also dancing the Cossack doll in Act One) were skilled, throwing themselves into the leaping, spinning choreography. Mother Ginger became Mother Gingerbread, her skirts a gingerbread house, her head poking out of a candied chimney. Her doors opened to reveal a troop of happy Hansels and Gretels – a revisionist take on the imprisoned fairy tale siblings. Nevertheless, it was nifty change of pace and a striking visual.

One has to applaud this young company, now in its eighth season, for securing a place in the ballet firmament. One would wish, however, that in future, they could raise the funds to bring live music into the equation. No matter how well the Los Angeles Ballet dances The Nutcracker, without a live orchestra to perform Tchaikovsky’s lustrous score, they cannot hope to glow as bright as their promise.

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 Art by Jane Rosenberg.  Photo by Reed Hutchinson.

To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

Jane Rosenberg Dance Book cover.

Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  Jane is also the author and illustrator of SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.  


Photo Review: Lyn Stanley at Vitello’s

December 9, 2013

Photos by Bob Barry and Faith Frenz

Studio City, CA. Singer Lyn Stanley’s first creative expression was ballroom dancing. And she did it so well that she won three events and two national titles in ballroom competitions in 2010. But her affection for, and expertise in dancing were always intimately connected to her equally passionate attraction to music in general and singing in particular.

As she began her singing career, strongly motivated by the music that had always been present in her family, Lyn was constantly drawn to the linkages between music and dance. And when she met the legendary jazz pianist and accompanist Paul Smith – whose credits reach from Ella Fitzgerald to Mel Torme — his guidance led her on the path to the creative vocal career she had been seeking. The release of her first album, Lost In Romance, announced the arrival of an intriguing new musical talent.

Lyn’s performance at Vitello’s last Friday was a stirring display of her fascination with song and dance. Further enhancing the evening, April Williams, Vitello’s musical manager, arranged for the installation of a wooden tile floor to encourage dancing, as Lyn featured many of the songs from her new album. All of which motivated us to present a photo review of this impressive new vocalist in action, backed by the stellar band of pianist Bill Cantos, bassist Kevin Axt, guitarist Grant Geissman, saxophonist Rickey Woodard, drummer Kendall Kay and music director Steve Rawlins.

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“Little Drummer Boy”

“I Just Want To Make Love To You”

“One For My Baby” with Bill Cantos and Kevin Axt

. “My Foolish Heart”

“What Am I Gonna Do With A Bad Boy Like You” with Kevin Axt

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First, third and fourth photos by Bob Barry.  Second and fifth photos by Faith Frenz.


Here, There & Everywhere: Lyn Stanley at Mr Musichead Gallery in KKJZ’s Fall Pledge Drive

November 22, 2013

By Don Heckman

KKJZ, the Southland’s primary jazz radio station, is dependent – like all public radio stations – upon fund-raising events. Most commonly, they consist of the on-air pledge drives that are necessary, but not always the most appealing, programming.

On Sunday, however, KKJZ’s popular deejay personality, Bubba Jackson, hosted a different kind of fund-raiser – a musically alive jazz program in the unusual Sunset Blvd. location of the Mr Musichead Gallery. At first glance, the Gallery could easily pass for nothing more than a store front, surrounded by other small businesses. But the Mr Musichead Gallery, which was founded by Sam Milgrom, a dedicated jazz fan, is a unique art gallery, primarily focused on the intimate relationship between music and visual art.

One step inside the Gallery on Sunday night immediately illuminated the vivid visual linkages of that relationship. Almost every wall offered fascinating examples. On one, an array of illustrations of Miles Davis’ art work. On another, some compelling reproductions of the jazz album art of David Stone Martin.

Lyn Stanley

Lyn Stanley

Further underscoring the Gallery’s connection with KKJZ, the evening also included a live performance featuring the rapidly emerging jazz vocal star, Lyn Stanley. Backed by a stellar trio of pianist Steve Rawlins, bassist Luther Hughes and drummer John Ferraro, Stanley highlighted selections from her recently released album, Lost In Romance.

The result was a fund-raising event at its best, financially aiding KKJZ while providing a great opportunity to hear Stanley in action. Jackson has been one of her early media fans, applauding Stanley for “bringing the Songstress back to jazz,” and adding that “her voice brings life to lyrics that defined the American Songbook.”

And Jackson was right on target. Whether Stanley was romping through a dynamic version of “Fever” or displaying her musical story-telling skills with one gorgeous ballad after another, she drew waves of applause from an overflow audience of jazz fans. Although she is transitioning from a career as an amateur competitive ballroom dancer to jazz vocalizing, music is the creative expression she has been drawn to since she was raised in a musical, jazz-oriented family.

Would that all fund-raising events for public radio and TV could be as entertaining as this one. In addition to memorable music from Stanley and her players there was also the opportunity to meet Sam Milgrom and his Mr Musichead Gallery’s music-dedicated walls of intriguing art. After the performance, Milgrom promised to consider more live music performances at the Gallery. We can all look forward to that.

To learn more about Mr Musichead Gallery, click HERE.

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 Lyn Stanley photo by Faith Frenz.


Ballet: Nederlands Dans Theater 1 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles

October 20, 2013

By Jane Rosenberg

Though “Shoot the Moon” is a small ensemble piece, it says volumes about the singular dancers and idiosyncratic vision of the Nederlands Dans Theater. The third in a trio of ballets performed opening night during the company’s run at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion through Sunday, “Shoot the Moon” was a gripping convergence of contemporary choreography, music, and art.

Set to the second movement of “Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra” by Philip Glass, this ballet, the collaboration of Sol León (resident choreographer) and Paul Lightfoot (artistic director), highlighted the troupe’s theatrical concerns by offering edgy ballet infused with twenty-first century angst. It’s brilliance lay in how that angst was communicated through dance, set design, and video.

Shoot The Moon

Shoot The Moon

Five dancers – three men, two women – paired off and explored their relationships through revolving sets depicting three empty, wallpapered rooms. Reminiscent of a dwelling Gregor Samsa might have inhabited in Kafka’s Prague, these rooms told a story of their own and became part of the psychology of the couples.

Varying aspects of relationships were explored from isolation to rage, commitment to ambivalence, longing to remorse. States of mind were sometimes made visible through stuttering, crippled motions but oftentimes were expressed through extensions of legs while dancers lay on their backs. The legs migrated off the floor, only to climb up and probe the walls. Think Fred Astaire dancing on walls and ceiling while channeling Mack the Knife in Brechtian frustration. The marvelous, elastic Nederlands dancers brought the dance drama to vivid life with poetic intensity. Even the set, designed by the León and Lightfoot, seemed alive, becoming part of the push and pull of the choreography. A window, in one of the rooms, revealed a solitary figure or, at times, a couple standing just outside, perhaps escaping the confines of domestic life. Enhancing the experience was the novel use of live video more familiar in the art installations of Bruce Nauman than on the stage. Above the back walls of the rotating sets, we were confronted with a stationary screen that displayed live video projections. What we glimpsed on the screen were the offstage movements, in character, of a given member of the five-person ensemble, reacting to his or her relationship. And so the audience became voyeurs, witnessing so-called “private” moments away from the stage, which added another dimension and odd reality to the piece.

As for the music, Lightfoot and León have created works to Philip Glass compositions on over ten occasions. Glass’s music has long been a partner to dance. His music supplies a rolling wave of sound, which allows a choreographer to run free. Given the vividness of the performance by the Philip Glass Ensemble in “Einstein on the Beach” last weekend at the same venue, one missed hearing live music rather than recording.

The second ballet on the program, also to movements from a Glass symphony and string quartet, was notable for the screams and vocalizations heard over the score. “Same Difference” was more theatrical than balletic – a surreal nightmare of what the choreographers described as “the chaotic influence the ego has on the individual” but I interpreted as a depiction of European post World War Two trauma.

SAME DIFFERENCE

The lighting by Tom Bevoort intensified the drama, creating patterns and the suggestion of a battlefield where an odd assortment of souls traversed the landscape, in particular a stricken soldier, Jorge Nazal, crying out in pain and rage. The ballet did have its humorous moments: Medhi Walerski (who created the opening ballet, “Chamber”) moving like a demented Charlie Chaplin reciting familiar French phrases such as “L’addition s’il vous plaît,” and Fernando Hernando Magadan in drag as an old matriarch. The piece, though interesting, felt as if the choreographers were inhibited, in service to the idea rather than to the dance. When finally, towards the end, the dance did bloom it was with a stirring pas de deux, the couple (Sarah Reynolds and Marne Van Opstal) moving as if with one body, becoming a two headed, four legged being. The sets were designed by León and Lightfoot, who, once again created another beautifully realized environment.

The evening opened with a newly commissioned work by NDT dancer, Medhi Walerski, and composer Joby Talbot, entitled “Chamber.” Inspired by Stravinsky and Nijinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps,” this piece loosely referred to both the music and choreography of the original. After an unclear introduction with a man in full dress and cane (perhaps a reference to the impresario, Diaghilev), the dance opened on the corps at the back of the stage, gliding forward mechanically like a line of comatose Rockettes. It was a riveting opening to an intriguing ballet that at times soared, but occasionally treaded water when it veered into posing rather than sustained movement.

Chamber

Chamber

The lighting by Jordan Tuinman in combination with the bare costumes, suggesting nudity, created startling effects – a chiaroscuro worthy of Caravaggio. The light seemed to create a two-dimensional world on stage resembling a German Expressionist woodcut or the flickering universe of Expressionist cinema. It may have been the ravishing beauty of the dim light, which, though effective in painting a picture distanced me from the dancing.

Chamber

Chamber

This evocation of spring seemed more about individuals struggling to make a personal space outside the group than about rituals that bind people together. While the percussive score referenced Stravinsky, the dancing bodies were insect-like in their posturing. Chests caved in or heaved forward, an individual tried to “dance” out of his skin like a moulting cicada, arms beat like wasp wings. Though the dancers did justice to the choreography and there were breathtaking moments, one longed to see the incredible grace and athleticism of this world-class company featured in all its power. Unquestionably accomplished, NDT once again challenges the audience with its rigor and vision.

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To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  Jane is also the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.

 

 Photos courtesy of the Nederlands Dans Theater.


Dance: Lucy Guerin Inc. at Royce Hall

October 6, 2013

by Jane Rosenberg

Elemental forces were at work on the stage of Royce Hall on Friday, October 4 when Lucy Guerin, the Australian choreographer, presented her North American premiere of “Weather” in a CAP UCLA concert.

Nature’s seasons have long been a romantic lure for choreographers and composers – Petipa, Robbins, Glazunov, Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi, to name a few – but this fascinating piece by Guerin lives, not in the idyllic realm of dewdrop fairies and snow queens, but in the ominous present of twenty-first century weather.

In spite of the formidable terrain – climate change never being far from the mind while watching the piece – Guerin and her skilled dancers achieved a poetic evocation of the elements. Under a ruffled canopy of clouds by set designer, Robert Cousins, the programmatic dance unfolded:

A lone figure undulates to the faint sound of wind, his body tossed by an ever-increasing gale. The sound rises and we discover it’s the whistling breath of the dancer. A man and woman enter and without touching, perform a mechanical dance, a kind of robotic tango. They slowly spin as a cacophony of sounds rise: are they weather vanes rotating in circles or hapless victims? We feel as if something cataclysmic is about to happen.

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Three dancers rush on stage, their arms slicing the air like wind turbines. There is an imperative to the dance and its “music” – an urgency driving the piece.

The electronic minimalist score by Oren Ambarchi rumbles through the floorboards of the theatre. Suddenly the ruffled clouds brighten and, in the space of a breath, the sky sends down tufts of white.

 

The tufts dance for a moment in space and we realize they’re plastic bags – hundreds of them. As they float towards earth, we experience a moment of pure poetry, as reflective and magical as a Japanese brush painting. The dancers collapse into the snowdrifts of bags and rise and fall from the midst of the debris, then playfully romp like children during a first snowfall. But is it snow, or is it waste – the refuse of an ecologically damaged planet?

And then thirty-five minutes into the piece, the dance loses its drive and hovers.

Unable to resist the lure of what could be mined from a single plastic bag, Guerin allowed two of her dancers to explore the bag and its possibilities. Unfortunately, with the music paused for too long and the duo’s movements better suited to a vaudevillian pantomime, the forward dynamic of Guerin’s dance drama lost its momentum.

After what seemed like ten minutes, the dance resumed and equilibrium was restored. Bags were pushed around the stage by reclining dancers, arms moved in intricate, inventive patterns, figures shook and shuddered.

Though in need of trimming down from sixty minutes, there’s no doubt that Guerin, in “Weather,” created movement that was wholly organic to a dancer’s body – movement that arose out of some inner necessity. She has a seasoned intellect, which was deftly communicated through dance, and she raised questions in need of answers.

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To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  Jane is also the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.

 

 Photos by Heidrun Lohr, courtesy of CXAP UCLA.


Ballet: American Ballet Theatre at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

July 13, 2013

By Jane Rosenberg

In Balanchine’s ballet Apollo, Terpsichore reveals dancing to the world.  And in the process this ballet, choreographed in 1928, revealed Balanchine to be the twentieth century’s successor to Saint-Leon, Petipa, and Ivanov, infusing their classicism with a modernist simplicity, which allowed classical ballet space to breathe and grow.  In their opening performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Thursday night, American Ballet Theatre gave us not only Apollo, but also Symphony in C, allowing us to revel in Balanchine’s genius.

As Lincoln Kirstein, co-founder with Balanchine of New York City Ballet, said: “We forget that much of the ‘modernism’ of adagio movement in our classic dance derives directly from Apollo; that many ways of lifting women, of turning close to the floor, of subtle syncopation in the use of pointes, of a single male dancer supporting three women, were unknown before Apollo.” To see this ballet is to see not only the birth of Apollo, but also the birth of plastic purity in dance.

From the first crystalline chords of Stravinsky’s score, so beautifully played by the orchestra, composed mainly of L.A. Opera musicians, and conducted by Charles Barker, we are transported to a mythic world where gods are born and muses dance the creation of art.  It is a world we wholly believe in without a step, a gesture, or a glance out of place.

as Apollo

Marcelo Gomes as Apollo

In the American Ballet Theatre production, staged by former NYCB dancer, Richard Tanner, we are given a robust Apollo danced by Marcello Gomes.  In stature, he resembled an Olympian athlete – solid, strong, and capable.  There have been more lithe and lanky Apollos, Jacques d’Amboise and Peter Martins leap to mind, but Gomes owned this role last night.  With his black hair and imposing looks, he communicated the grace and imperiousness of a god, putting me in mind of figures painted on Greek vases.  Apollo is a role that requires a dancer with enormous dramatic and physical range.  We are taken from his birth and first steps through his youthful exuberance to his final status as an Olympic God.  All this Gomes accomplished.

Melanie Hamrick as Calliope, representing poetry, and Devon Teuscher as Polyhymnia, representing mime, were at their most charming in the exhilarating coda. Paloma Herrera admirably danced the role of Terpsichore, the muse of dance; but there was that indefinable something that was missing from her interpretation – perhaps a lack of authority that is inherent in Terpsichore’s status as the spirit of dance.  After all, it is her gift that Apollo treasures most, and she is the muse who offers him a glimpse into the infinite in that instant when she, poised on his knee, her back to the audience, stares into the beautiful, blue beyond.

In a well-programmed pairing, Alexi Ratmansky’s Chamber Symphony followed.  However, one wondered whether this detracted from or enhanced Ratmansky’s efforts.  Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8, arranged by Rudolph Barshai, conducted by Ormsby Wilkins, and retitled, Chamber Symphony Op. 110A, served as the mournful score – the composer’s ode to the victims of totalitarian regimes.

"Chamber Symphony"

“Chamber Symphony”

There was a striking parallel to Balanchine’s Apollo  in the single male partnering of three women.  Perhaps these women represented the “artist’s” muses – the “artist” or principal dancer performed by the very musical James Whiteside – or perhaps they represented Shostakovich’s three wives.  Whether meaning was clear or ambiguous seemed up for grabs.  I suppose one clue to this conundrum was to be found in the distracting set design of George Tsypin consisting of numerous tortured portraits, which massed on the upper reaches of the stage.  But the backdrop only served to confuse the movement in the foreground, as did the dour colors of the costumes.  One had to chase the action on the stage, clearing away the visual clutter.

There were rewarding moments, however, in the dancing of the three ballerinas: Isabella Boylston, Yuriko Kajiya, and the ever-luminous Julie Kent – in particular a section where Whiteside received a suffering Kajiya, propelled upwards by four male dancers into Whiteside’s arms, and then just as quickly reclaiming her, only to offer her again and again, a cruel joke on the tormented artist.   Not all the proceedings were gloomy, however.  There were moments of levity; and in fact, Ratmansky seemed at his best in these small, flirtatious moments where his individuality as a choreographer shined through.

The final offering of the evening was Balanchine’s resplendent Symphony in C, dating back to 1947, when it was originally called Le Palais de Cristal and choreographed for the Paris Opéra.  This ballet is a veritable joy ride through the Balanchine technique, a thrillingly regal display of musicality and athleticism.  And who better (along with Stacy Caddell), than the paragon of Balanchine technique and style, Merrill Ashley, to stage this gem.

"Symphony in C"

“Symphony in C”

Composed by a youthful Georges Bizet, the music consists of four movements, each movement danced by a different pair of principals and accompanied by the corps.  The vivacious score, conducted again by Ormsby Wilkins, propels the dancing.  In the first movement a lovely Stella Abrera was masterfully partnered by Eric Tamm.  In the second movement adagio with its exotic flavor, Veronika Part, despite her skills, was too controlled to achieve the abandon necessary to convey sensuality.  In the third movement, Kajiya danced lyrically with an airborne Daniil Simkin who, with his wide grin and effortless technique, impressed.  The fourth movement showed off the clarity of Sarah Lane’s dancing, partnered by Sascha Radetsky, whose dancing drove the ballet to its joyous conclusion.

It’s interesting to contemplate the Russian roots of both Ratmansky and Balanchine.  The former brings with him the fascinating flavor of Soviet-era Russia laced with Chekhovian humor; the later brings us the imperial Russia of snow-laden forests, glowing with the purity of a painting by Malevitch.

American Ballet Theatre continues its Los Angeles engagement with performances of Le Corsaire through Sunday.

Photos courtesy of American Ballet Theatre.

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To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  Jane is also the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.


Ballet: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Alonzo King Lines Ballet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

June 23, 2013

By Jane Rosenberg

On Friday evening, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage was awash with undulating, quivering bodies at the West coast premiere of Alonzo King’s Scheherazade and his latest choreographic venture, Azimuth, in collaboration with Hubbard Street Dance.  Drawing on diverse dance idioms, from Western Classical to Persian, Indian, and African, to name a few, King’s powerful dancers displayed a mastery of his complex and dizzying dance vocabulary. Of the two ballets, Azimuth had the more coherent structure, offering the audience the visual space to contemplate the choreography.

Although Scheherazade had a number of inspired moments, as when Scheherazade and Shahryar dance, bound together by rope from ankle to ankle, the overall effect of the eight segments was of an overly ornamental and cluttered procession of non-stop motion. In particular, arms, ceaselessly cutting the air or describing curves, added to the confusion. In stating his intentions, King calls the title character the “symbol of the savior,” weaving “tales not to save her own life, but to save humanity from its unending, retributive response to injury.” A thoughtful premise, and at its best it seeped into the choreography, but at its weakest it became a mere stylistic display.

Scheherazade from “Play Me A Story: A Child’s Introduction to Classical Music” copyright 1994 by Jane Rosenberg.

Even with his female dancers on point, King doesn’t give them characteristically feminine movements. In Azimuth, where the women are not on point, the androgynous steps of male and female are satisfying; however in Scheherazade dancers on point seemed to render the work awkward and strained, minimizing the sensuality of a piece that begs to be erotic.  Kara Wilkes, in the featured role, was able to overcome these limitations, with her elastic fragility and innate gracefulness.  As Shahryar, David Harvey brought a subtlety to King’s choreography and delivered a seasoned performance.

The music, based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s lush symphonic suite, was interpreted and re-imagined by Indian tabla musician, Zakir Hussain. One wished the instrumentalists were there in person. Unfortunately, it suffered in recording.  In part, Hussain gave us an Arabic infused version of the original music, which was quite effective, putting me in mind of Duke Ellington’s interpretations of Tchaikovsky and Grieg.  But these segments were interwoven with a series of disconnected percussive sections, which, though interesting in themselves, interrupted the flow of the dance.  A heavy silk backdrop created by Robert Rosenwasser was appropriately luxurious as were his costumes, co-created with Colleen Quen.

Hubbard St Lines duoAzimuth, danced by both King’s company and the Hubbard Street dancers was a more successful merging of dance and music.  And with quieter choreography, one was able to appreciate the intricacies of the movement of torsos and legs. Though performed by a larger ensemble, with the vivacious and skilled Hubbard Street dancers on board, clearer patterns and a cleaner structure made for a more successful piece than its predecessor. Meredith Webster’s mastery of King’s aesthetic, along with her athleticism, shone bright in her solo and in her final dance with David Harvey.  Original recorded music by Ben Juodvalkis complemented the dancing but felt a bit like a new age tour through world religions.

Sandwiched between King’s two productions, but by no means less important, was a lovely poem of a dance entitled Little Mortal Jumps, choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo, Hubbard Street’s resident choreographer.  Opening with a vaudevillian sweetness and poignancy, the human scale of the piece immediately absorbed and entranced, and the versatile Hubbard Street dancers performed it to perfection.  In one section, the ensemble that had gathered on stage fled, leaving two dancers, male and female, helplessly mounted on blocks, attached like Velcro puppets to the walls and just out of reach of each other.  As they unzipped their coats to extricate themselves from the walls, they began a childlike exploration of each other.

As Little Mortal Jumps proceeded, it grew darker, but all the while maintained a sense that, although we may be tossed about by the vagaries of life, through our shared humanity we can persevere with humor and courage.  The set, by the choreographer, used large, black minimalist blocks as partitions, merging visual art with dance in a symbiotic way.  The lighting by Michael Korsch and costumes by Branimira Ivanova completed the harmonious whole.  The music, a compendium of various artists from Tom Waits to Philip Glass, informed the dance while the dance informed the music – one couldn’t ask for much more.

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Photos by Margo Moritz. 

To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for ChildrenJane is also the author and illustrator of DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.


Live Jazz: the 35th Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl (Day #2)

June 18, 2013

Review by Devon Wendell

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson

Hollywood, CA.  For the most part, it’s not just the music that has made The Annual Playboy Jazz Festival a Los Angeles summer tradition, but instead, it’s the music combined with the ever present party atmosphere.  And this year was no different. Amidst the clouds of pot smoke and spilled beer on the ground, The 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival featured an eclectic blend of artists in the genres of jazz, funk, pop, blues and more.

Before getting to my highlights of Sunday’s program, I thought I’d include just a few exciting additions from Saturday’s show to follow up on Mike Katz’s coverage.

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

From pop to bop, the amazing 21 year old saxophone titan Grace Kelly played a stellar set which included be-bop and pop influences, playing bop style instrumentals and catchy pop infused jazz vocal tunes.  Kelly proved to be one of the most original and fascinating new faces in jazz. Her childlike vocals on “Nighttime Star,” fused with her vast knowledge of both bop and post-bop saxophone playing was astounding.  When she plays alto sax, you can hear Bird, Art Pepper and Jackie Mclean, but with a new, youthful, feminine and energetic swing to it.

Kelly was joined by the legendary Phil Woods (also a major influence on her alto sax playing) for “Man With The Hat,” which the two had recorded together in 2011.

Woods was in strong form and Kelly played like a waterfall, with endless ideas and a superb technique. This was easily one of the finest moments of the festival.

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter’s performance at the festival demonstrated why he has received so many accolades from all over the world. This time out, Porter focused more on his gospel and R&B influences than jazz during his brief set, which made it all the more interesting.

This was the case on Porter’s rendition of Cannonball Adderley’s “Work Song,” in which Porter opened the song with a few verses of Leadbelly’s “Alberta.” Porter’s controlled and carefully crafted phrasing along with his magnetic stage presence brought the Bowl crowd to church.

Sunday’s program had a lot more fire and electricity than Saturday’s.

It’s hard to imagine combining jazz and rock piano with a dance ensemble but acclaimed pianist Elew (joined by Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble) did just that and made it work.

Elew and Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble

Elew and Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble

Elew stood up while playing, looking like a mad scientist while he stared intensely at the audience. The Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble did graceful, ballet interpretations of Elew’s readings of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” and The Killer’s “Mr. Brightside.”

Elew fused the stride piano styles of James P. Johnson with Horace Silver. Though asking a lot of the festival audience, this was a fascinating experiment both visually and sonically.

Chris and Dan Brubeck

Chris and Dan Brubeck

One of the purest jazz acts of the festival was The Brubeck Brothers, lead by Dave Brubeck’s sons, Chris Brubeck on bass and trombone, and Dan Brubeck on drums.

The two were joined by Mike Demicco on guitar and Chuck Lamb on piano, making up a tight, focused, and dynamic quartet. The brothers paid a warm, heartfelt Father’s Day tribute to their legendary father, Dave Brubeck who passed away on December 5, 2012.

Their set included many Brubeck classics such as; “Kathy’s Waltz,” “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” and “Take Five.” The group performed these songs with elegance, dynamics, and devotion. Pianist Lamb’s use of well spaced block chords were reminiscent of the late Brubeck’s piano style and Chris’s fusion style electric bass locked in tight with Dan’s soft and melodic drumming. Demicco’s guitar solos were tasteful and served the compositions perfectly.  Altogether, they produced a terrific performance – one that Dave Brubeck would surely have been proud of.

Taj Mahal

Very few artists know the history of American blues like Taj Mahal. At The festival, Mahal was joined by The Real Thing Tuba Band which consisted of four tuba players (Earl McIntyre, Howard Johnson, Bob Stewart, and John Daley) with Mahal playing acoustic guitar, dobro and harmonica. John Simon played keyboard, with Buddy Williams on drums and Larry Fulcher on guitar.

If anyone else tried this format, it would be a cluttered mess but Mahal had the brilliance and wit to pull it off.

The Mahal set consisted of country blues standards that he has been performing for decades – tunes such as his own, “Going Up To The Country, Paint My Mailbox Blues,” “EZ Rider,” as well as Fats Dominos’ “Hello Josephine,” Charlie Patton’s “You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond” and “Way Back Home.”  The tubas played the harmony parts that would normally be sung by background singers, while occasionally soloing tastefully.  Mahal and the band’s set brought some much needed blues to the festival, taking the audience on a journey back down South to the true roots of American music.

Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones

To celebrate Quincy Jones’ 80th birthday, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra performed a set of such Jones big band classics as “The Birth Of A Band,” “G’Wan Train,” “Nasty Madness” (which Jones had written for Count Basie) and Jones’ arrangement of  Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’.”

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

The Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra, conducted by John Clayton, was superb on these big band swing blues classics. After a proud Jones took a bow from his Bowl seat, The great jazz flutist Hubert Laws (who’s known and worked with Jones since 1969) joined the Orchestra on “Hello” and “Killer Joe.” Laws’ fluid and melodic style danced over the slick and funky rhythms with syncopation and ease.  This was not only a touching tribute to Jones but a wonderful insight into big band arrangements which were inspired by Count Basie, and Jay Mcshann’s earliest works.

Very few artists can combine traditional forms of jazz with pop and fusion like Bob James and David Sanborn. Together with James Genus on bass, and Steve Gadd on drums, James and Sanborn brought their smooth and soulful sound to the festival.

Bob James and David Sanborn

Bob James and David Sanborn

James’ fluid and inventive piano style blended perfectly with Sanborn’s confident, melodic playing and it’s always great hearing Steve Gadd on drums in any setting. The high point of the set was Sanborn’s composition “In The Weeds.” Here, Sanborn broke free from many of his smooth jazz clichés and played some hard-bop tenor sax in the vein of John Coltrane and Joe Henderson.

India.Arie

India.Arie

India.Arie brought her unique style of “acoustic soul” to the festival. Arie’s songs, such as “Because I Am Queen,” “I Am Light” and “I Am Not My Hair, were filled with self empowering lyrics and a sound that fused vintage soul with gospel, hip-hop, and even folk rock and reggae. Arie’s vocals were at moments sweet and delicate, then tough and preachy. Her graceful stage presence and physical beauty provided a perfect match for her songs of inner strength and spirituality.  Unlike so many female R&B artists of the day, Arie has a style of her own with soulfully crafted arrangements and poignant lyrics.

Sheila E rocked The Playboy Jazz Festival last year. Although her set this year felt a little more laid back and less focused than last year, no one puts on a show like Sheila E.

Sheila E and Pete Escovedo

Sheila E and Pete Escovedo

Her set opened with The USC Trojan Drumline marching onto the stage, followed shortly by Sheila, who raced to her drum kit in a short black leather skirt. After several long drum and conga solos, she welcomed her father Pete Escovedo to the stage for a Father’s Day jam on Tito Puente’s classic “Oye Como Va.” Escovedo played timbales while his daughter pounded furiously on congas.

Sheila E

Sheila E

Pop Escovedo departed, and Sheila dug into some of her biggest hits of the ‘80s: “Love Bizarre,” “Holly Rock,” “Koo Koo” and a steamy version of “Erotic City”, written by her longtime collaborator Prince.

Though Sheila E’s set consisted of too many over indulgent jams with drum solo after drum solo, followed by the guitar hysterics of her bandmate, Nate Mercereau, it was Sheila’s sensual stage presence and magnetism that had the entire Bowl crowd on its feet.

She brought audience members up onstage to dance and engaged in many crowd pleasing sing alongs, as she danced suggestively from her drum kit, to her congas and her timbales.

And, as the final act, Sheila E’s success at getting everyone on their feet was the best way to end the 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival.

And so another Playboy Jazz festival has come and gone. Though there were no conga lines going through the crowd this year, the lineup had something for everyone, a little jazz, rock, pop, blues, funk, Salsa, fusion, but most importantly, a lot of fun.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


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