Highlights of the Weekend: In Los Angeles

February 27, 2015

By Don Heckman

Stanley Clarke

 

– Feb 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat.) Stanley Clarke and Friends. Bassist Clarke’s “Friends” aren’t identified in the program for this gig. But Clarke, a world class artist with a stellar resume, can be counted on to surround himself with players capable of functioning at his Olympian jazz levels. In other words, expect the best. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Bel Air Wine Festival’s Celebration Day of Wine, Music and Eight Charities. The afternoon gala starts at 1pm and finishes at 5pm. The evening portion of the day is 6pm – 10pm and will include a delectable dinner. The wine festival features wines from all corners of the globe, food prepared by Vibrato’s chefs and world class live entertainment. Hang Dynasty, whose members have worked with everyone from the Steve Miller Band , Stevie Wonder and Elton John to Pink Floyd and Ringo Starr will perform. There will also be a live auction during the evening gala. 100% of the Festival’s proceeds go to eight charities. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Los Angeles Ballet performs one of the great classics in their repertoire, The Sleeping Beauty. Valley Performing Arts Center. . (818) 677-8800.

The LA Ballet's "Sleeping Beauty"

The LA Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty”

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Venice Baroque Ochestra with mandolin soloist Avi Avital. Call it an evening of Vivaldi, performed by an ensemble, and a soloist adept at the special demands of Baroque era music. Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The New West Symphony. One of the Southland’s great large ensembles, the NWS once again displays its far-ranging stylistic mastery in a program featuring Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Opus 27, Saint-Sean’s Concerto No. 2 in G minor for Piano and Orchstra Opus 22, and Stravinsky’s Suite No. 2 For Small Orchestra. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.  (805) 449-2100.

Wilson Phillips

Wilson Phillips

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) Wilson Phillips and Billy Ocean. It’s an offbeat combination, but one with a lot of apeal. The hit-making vocal sounds of Wilson Phillips and the r&b grooves of English born singer Billy Ocean. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8500.

Julian Lage

Julian Lage

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Julian Lage Trio.  Guitarist Lage, a prodigy as a teen-ager, has matured into a world class jcazz artiat.  And here’s a booking not to miss, in which he’s backed by bassist Scott Colley and drummer Eric HarlandThe Blue Whale.    (213) 620-0908.

– Mar. 1. (Sun.) Seth MacFarlane with The Ron Jones Jazz influence Orchestra. Entertainment world multi-hphenate MacFarlane is an actor, writer, producer, animator and, in recent years, a singer. He’s backed by the lush sound and solid swing of Ron Jones jazz Influence Orchestra. Click here to read a recent iRoM review of a MacFarlane vocal performance. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.


Picks of the Week: January 5 – 11

January 6, 2015

As we move into the first weeks of 2015, the iRoM Picks of the Week will begin to reach beyond the Los Angeles-centric choices of the past few years. We will, of course, continue to survey L.A.’s ever-changing banquet of musical pleasures. But we will also begin to highlight and emphasize a broad range of choices reflecting the International perspective which is at the heart of our mission and our name.

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Michael TIlson Thomas

Michael TIlson Thomas

– Jan. 9 – 11. (Fri. – Sun.) The Los Angeles Philharmonic. Michael Tilson Thomas celebrates his 70th birthday by conducting the L.A. Phil. and the Los Angeles Master Chorale in a spectacular, world premiere production of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with video and lighting design. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

– Jan. 9 – 11. (Fri. – Sun.) The Lee Ritenour Band. He’s been called “Captain Fingers” for his impressive guitar technique, but Ritenour is also an imaginative, hard swinging jazz artist. He performs here with the fine backing of Dave Weckl, drums, Tom Kennedy, bass and pianist Makoto Ozone. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Jan. 6. (Tues.) John Proulx Trio. Proulx is on many first-call lists for his fine piano work. But Proulx is an engaging vocalist as well, building a career as a prime entry in the slowly growing cadre of male jazz singers. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Carol Bach-y-Rita

Carol Bach-y-Rita

– Jan. 11. (Sun.) Carol Bach-y-Rita. A singer with a voice to remember, Bach-y-Rita (her name is Catalan) brings convincing interpretations and rhythmic ease to songs reaching from samba and salsa to crisp jazz rhythms, often in 4 or 5 languages. She’s especially worth seeing and hearing in the elegant setting of Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz..etc. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

– Jan. 8 – 11, (Thurs. – Sun.) Pharoah Sanders. The far-reaching jazz explorations of the avant-garde ’60s are still alive and well in Sanders’ adventurous tenor saxophone. An SFJAZZ event at Miner Auditorium (866) 920-5299.

- Jan. 9. (Fri.)  The San Francisco Symphony and The Godfather.  Justin Freer conducts the Symphony in a live orchestral performance of Nino Rota’s film score in sync with a screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s film masterpiece.  Davies Symphony Hall.  (415) 864-6000.

Oregon

Portland – Jan. 7. (Thurs.) The Mel Brown B3 Organ Group has been playing at Jimmy Mak’s in Portland for more than 16 years. No wonder George Benson once said “if this band played in New York City, they’d be a sensation.” Jimmy Mak’s.  (503) 295-6542.

Ashland – Jan. 9 & 10. (Fri. @ 7:30 p.m. & Sat. @ 3 p.m.) The Tesla Quartet. The stellar young artists in the Tesla Quartet have established themselves as a significant international chamber ensemble in the few years since they graduated from Julliard. They’ll perform works by Bartok, Dvorak, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Webern, Beethoven and others. Chamber Music Concert Series at Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall.  (541) 552-6154.

New York City

Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

– Jan. 6 – 11. (Tues. – Sun.) The Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour. Here’s a rare chance to experience some of the impressive music from what is arguably one of the finest jazz festivals in the world. The featured players in this stellar aggregation include trumpeter Terence Blanchard, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and the Gerald Clayton Trio. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

– Jan. 8 – 10. (Thurs. – Sat.) The 2015 NYC Winter Jazzfest. The three day Jazzfest, which takes place at theatres and clubs across Greenwich Village offers a rare display of jazz eclecticism. With talent ranging from iconic names to new arrivals, with stylistic explorations of every jazz genre, it provides a brilliant survey of jazz in all its irresistible shapes and forms. The 2015 Winterjazz Fest.

-Jan. 11. (Sun.) Lisa Hilton. Composer-pianist Hilton debuts new compositions from her album Horizons in a live performance with saxophonist J.D. Allen, drummer Rudy Royston, bassist Ben Street, and Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and flugelhorn. Carnegie Hall (Weill Recital Hall).

London

– Jan. 5 – 7. (Mon. – Wed.) Scott Hamilton Quartet. Jazz history, past and present is vividly alive in Hamilton’s buoyant tenor saxophone work. The Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho.

Tania Maria

Tania Maria

Milan

- Jan. 9 – 11. (Fri. – Sun.) Tania Maria. The loving partnership between Brazilian music and American jazz is on full display with everything the versatile Tania Maria sings and plays. The Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.

Switzerland

– Jan. 11. (Sun.) Lang Lang. The gifted young Chinese pianist makes one of his rare European appearances. Stadt-casino – Hans Huber Saal, Basel.

Andorra

Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell

– Jan. 9. (Fri.) Joshua Bell and his violin take center stage with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields European Tour: Andorra. The dynamic program reaches from Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor, Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. The tour also includes performances in Mannheim (Jan. 14), Vienna (Jan. 15) and Hamburg (Jan. 16).

 

Moscow

– Jan. 5 – 11. (Mon. – Sun. The Nutcracker: A Ballet in Two Acts. The Bolshoi Ballet accompanied by the Bolshoi Theatre Symphony Orchestra.

The Bolshoi Ballet

The Bolshoi Ballet

What will surely be a memorable performance in the Bolshoi Ballet and Opera Theatre.

Tokyo

Richard-Bona

Richard-Bona

– Jan. 10 & 11. (Sat. & Sun.) The Richard Bona Group. Bassist Bona, born in Cameroon, burst onto the New York jazz scene in the mid-’90s, quickly establishing his uniquely original style with the likes of George Benson, Branford Marsalis, Chaka Kahn Randy Brecker and others. Since then he’s led a sequence of his own musically compelling ensembles. Tokyo Blue Note.  +81 3-5485-0088.


2014 Remembered: Memorable Opera and Dance Performances

December 27, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles may be suffering the effects of a drought, but the year was a deluge of notable performances in opera and dance.

Team a dynamic conductor, James Conlon, with a great coloratura soprano, Albina Shagimuratova, and add the glass harmonica played by rare musical instrument soloist, Thomas Bloch. The result: Lucia di Lammermoor’s mad scene and one of the most memorable moments in LA Opera’s history.

Lucia Di Lammermoor

Lucia Di Lammermoor

 

But this performance wasn’t the only brilliant turn in 2014. Baritone Liam Bonner in Benjamin Britten’s wrenching Billy Budd was a standout with his beautifully modulated voice and truthful portrayal. The LA Opera orchestra and chorus along with the superb cast of principals made this a production to remember. Bonner returned as Aeneas in Dido and Aeneas and his supple baritone and charismatic presence were again worth noting.

We had a wonderfully varied year of opera, with the addition of the bluesy romanticism of Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire starring the incomparable Renée Fleming, for whom the opera was created. Plácido Domingo, the general director of LA Opera, astonished all with his transition from tenor to baritone. Performing the role of Athanaël in Massenet’s Thaïs, he sang with expressive warmth and was thoroughly convincing as the tormented monk.

A Streetcar Name Desire

A Streetcar Name Desire

In 2013, Los Angeles was treated to Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach at the LA Opera. In 2014, UCLA’s Art of Performance series at Royce Hall brought us Wilson’s musical and theatrical high jinks in The Old Woman, based on the absurdist writings of the Russian poet, Danill Kharms, and blessed with the vaudevillian antics of Mikhail Barishnikov and Willem Dafoe. How lucky can one city get – unless, of course, we can arrange another Wilson offering in 2015?

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe

On the dance front, BalletBoyz gave us all male, tour-de-force dancing in pieces by Liam Scarlett and Russell Maliphant.

BalletBoyz

 Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Alexi Ratmansky to Prokofiev’s magnificent ballet score, was presented by The National Ballet of Canada and lingers in the mind with its glorious sets and costumes by Richard Hudson. Ballet Preljocaj’s Les Nuits, inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, was a magic carpet ride of a ballet, exploring not only the mythic, but also woman’s role in society and our cultural prejudices. And the inimitable Paul Taylor and his company gave us a diverse program of elegant and uplifting dance in Airs, antiwar sentiments in the heroic Banquet of Vultures, and delightful insect humor in Gossamer Gallants.

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


Live Dance: Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company’s “If At All” at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

November 21, 2014

 

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles, CA. We live in frightening times and the works created by many international modern dance choreographers reflect our collective fears. Jarring music, the violence of thrashing limbs, writhing torsos, and collapsing bodies have become incorporated into the dance vocabulary of our age. Offering a sixty-five minute exploration in dance of our “existence as individuals, couples, and society,” the Israeli choreographer Rami Be’er draws from this tumultuous vocabulary in If At All.

Established in 1970, Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company is one of Israel’s pre-eminent troupes along with Batsheva Dance. (Click HERE to read my iRoM review of Batsheva Dance’s recent performance in Los Angeles.) But while Batsheva’s choreographer, Ohad Naharin, favors groups of dancers moving in individual patterns, Be’er opts for symmetry and synchronization.

With the latter method, patterns emerge and steps are discernible, allowing us to focus on the strong and passionate roster of dancers who form this company. There are echoes of tribal rites as men swoop in ankle length skirts; there are martial arts inferences as legs kick and fists clench. In a dramatic sequence, a row of male dancers line up at the front of the stage crouched in a version of a yoga child’s pose. Their heads bow and rock up and down, their elbows pound the floor, alternating with their hands. Are they fervently praying or burrowing into the earth?

At his best, Be’er tempers ferocity with whimsy. In a sequence of pas de deux in the second half of If At All, what at first seems like a clash between men and women becomes children at play. Are we to infer that life goes on amidst the chaos? That no matter what the disaster awaiting us, the child within us remains hopeful? Be’er says he wants his audience to go on a journey and form their own associations to his work, and so he leaves us to ponder the questions he asks.

The clues to the answers come from the aggressive music collected for If At All with sound design by Alex Claude and Be’er. Keyboard, mournful cello, dissonant sound effects incorporating sirens, gunshots, chatter, spoken word, along with the occasional song, form a tortured road map that Be’er wishes us to follow. I wonder, on this choreographic journey, whether the movements would have projected the same vehemence had not the music been so harsh. What would we have made of women dancing fervently in carpet squares of light had we heard a Bach Cello Suite instead? Though my question may have little or no relevance to Be’er’s vision, his musical decisions certainly are food for thought.

Kibutz dance men in skirtsThe dancers’ motions are coordinated with the precision of the Willis in Giselle or the swans in Swan Lake. However, the general impression is one of turning inward rather than outward, of bowed heads and rounded shoulders, rather than lengthening bodies reaching heavenwards. The exceptions are the upward leaps of the men and the lifted arms of the women.

In one striking moment a female dancer with long black hair is lifted and held above the heads of a half dozen men like the Chosen One in Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring. But once again, we retreat to the earth as all the principals drop to the ground and the woman rolls over the bodies of the reclining men – a line of logs on a river.

It’s a powerful and poignant moment. One wished for a few more of these to mitigate the harsh reality of twenty-first century man in a dangerous world.

Photos by Uri Nevo courtesy of Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. 

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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

 


Live Dance: BalletBoyz Perform at the Ahmanson Theatre

November 9, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles. A troupe of all male dancers performing at the highest level, rigorous choreography, spare sets, superb lighting, and textured, evocative music – these were the ingredients for a marvelous night of dance at the Ahmanson Theatre, courtesy of choreographers Liam Scarlett, Russell Maliphant and the BalletBoyz.

An associate company at Sadler’s Wells in London, BalletBoyz was founded by artistic directors Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, former principals of the Royal Ballet. Though the name of the company brings to mind the playfulness of youth, make no mistake, this is dancing of serious intent. Hailing mostly from Italy, France, and England, the ten dancers who make up the group perform as an organic whole, moving seamlessly through the off kilter lifts, acrobatic sweeps, and heroic postures of the evening’s choreography.

Ballet Boyz  on ground andhigher

Serpent by Liam Scarlett evokes the fluidity and muscularity of the creature as defined by the serpent of ancient legend and myth. This is the heroic beast of the Greek sculpture, Laocoön and His Sons, not a slithering reptile tied to the earth. And when the dancers pair off, arms meeting arms then deflecting them in quick motions, or a body is lifted upside down with legs pointing into air like the blades of a windmill, the effect is that of athletic games of the ancient Olympics. Scarlett’s choreography, as well as Maliphant’s, makes use of the troupe’s versatile dancers who have internalized the postures of the danseur noble and are able to add grace and sophistication to their performances.

Adding to the sculptural effect, the men dance bare chested and wear flesh colored athletic leggings, which create a pure body surface to act as a canvas for Michael Hulls’ beautiful lighting. In one breathtaking sequence, the white screen that serves as a backdrop for the piece is illuminated with a glowing purple, while the dancers are lit in the gold of late afternoon sunlight. Chiascuro, the use of light and dark to create volume in painting, abounds throughout the piece, as Hull emphasizes the dancers’ forms in a Caravaggio-like tour-de-force.

The Minimalist compositions of Max Richter, from his album Memoryhouse, range from sounds of dripping water to classic harpsichord. But whatever the instrument or style, the music supports and harmonizes with the dance, never threatening to overshadow it.

Much of the movement often drops to floor level – not my favorite aspect of so much of contemporary choreography. It often feels like an easy way to create drama through motions of falling, sliding, and writhing on the floor. In the case of Serpent, however, this has a purpose in line with the theme of the piece. Scarlett creates intricate, elegant choreography that keeps you on the edge of your seat, waiting for the next surprise.

The second piece of the evening, Fallen, by Russell Maliphant is a work that uses all the skill, inner resources, and grace of the dancers. We are on a bare stage, no backdrop, just the raw walls of the theatre. The dancers are clad in vaguely military garb: sleeveless jackets, camouflage style pants. The percussive sounds of composer Armand Amar, with its roots in traditional world music, sets the mood with insistent rhythms and propulsive beats.

What captures me here is how Maliphant creates a human jungle gym of movement, shapes, and positions. Again we are aware of sculpture – this time it is the work of Rodin with all its solemn beauty and power. It is a dance of angles and circles, weights and measures, pressure and resistance. Male tribal rituals are evoked as men dance in circles or partners spin each other. Andrea Carrucciu and Leon Poulton dance a martial arts type pas-de-deux with kicks, thrusts, and jabs to great effect; but every dancer in the company rises to the same superb level.

If you haven’t seen Maliphant’s Torsion, created in 2002 for artistic directors Nunn and Trevitt, you can find it on YouTube and you are in for a treat. Torsion is a seventeen-minute pas-de-deux of hypnotic beauty performed in a loft-like setting. In Fallen, Maliphant uses some of the vocabulary of Torsion, enlarged and expanded for the ensemble. For example, there is an often-repeated sequence of movement for four dancers that is magnetic and almost indescribable. While in constant motion, one dancer, with no volition of his own, is lifted from a horizontal position, anchored to the knee of another, and buttressed on an angle by the arm of another. The choreography is remarkable for its subtly and complexity, and the dancers are remarkable for the sheer strength that enables them to perform the steps.

Only two parts of the evening perplex me, but both have nothing to do with the dancing. First is the extended use of rock songs while the audience is sitting and waiting for the show to begin. It has neither a relationship to the dances to come, nor to the subsequent music. The second, shown at the opening of each work, are two short videos of the choreographers talking about the creation of their pieces. Informative though it is, it underestimates the audience’s capacity to understand the work and seems unnecessary, since the dances and the dancers speak so eloquently for themselves.

Performances through November 9:

The company includes: Andrea Carrucciu, Simone Donati, Flavien Esmieu, Marc Galvez, Adam Kirkham, Edward Pearce, Leon Poulton, Matthew Rees, Matthew Sandiford, and Bradley Waller.

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Photos courtesy of BalletBoyz.

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

 


Live Dance: Batsheva Dance Company Performs Sadeh21 at Royce Hall

November 1, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles, CA.  The opening of Sadeh21, choreographed by Ohad Naharin, artistic director of Batsheva Dance Company, appears to be about the individual – about personal inclination manifesting itself in quirks, ticks, thrusts, and abrupt changes of direction. One by one, dancers enter the stage and display their own particular brand of movement in front of a low gray expanse of wall. This segment, entitled Sadeh1 (Sadeh means field, as in field of study), could be interpreted as a catalogue of Naharin’s dance movement system called “Gaga” and the introduction to a series of twenty-one movement sequences.

As I understand it, in Naharin’s dance language, an idea is suggested to the dancer who then interprets it in his or her own way, creating an individual vocabulary of movement. Naharin dedicates Sadeh21 to Noa Eshkol, creator of a rigorous movement notation system using “symbols and numbers to define the motion of any limb around its joint.” A system that can “describe virtually every perceptible movement of the body.” While Eshkol (who died in 2007 at the age of 83) sought to find the essence of common movement, Naharin seems to embrace the idiosyncrasies of individual movement. He is aided in this investigation by the talents of an athletic and committed troupe of dancers.

 

During the seventy-five minutes of Sadeh21, when movements are done in harmony by the group, the results are startling and insightful; at other times, when movements are done in isolation by the individual, they become incomprehensible and grow monotonous. One dancer, twittering in a display of jerking body parts, holds limited interest. But when a line of female dancers, as in Sadeh5, engage in gawkish disco dancing to music that sounds like a robotic tango, then you’ve got my attention. The women, dressed in spandex shorts and deep in thought, dance on, oblivious to men, arrayed in black taffeta strapless gowns, who leap, roll, and lunge behind them. The meaning is vague – perhaps it has to do with listening to one’s inner voices – but the scene is forceful and compelling.

Bat

There is a vagueness that permeates the entire piece. Without context, the audience is at sea. Though the set is minimal, the dancing is complex; but there are few clues to what the movement is about. The most I could come up with is that Naharin might be interested in a kind of alternate view of our species from an animalistic, tribal, physically handicapped, or futuristic perspective. His music choices range from Brian Eno to screaming voices with some Jun Miyake sprinkled in. The screaming voices add confusion rather than context (in one arrangement a lone dancer stands at the front of the stage and cries out a continuous jumble of words as if mentally incapacitated), and since there isn’t enough music to offer rhythmic structure we are once again in limbo, unsure of where we are.

One satisfying section appears to have a political component. Linking arms, a row of men dance, moving in slow motion to what sounds like heroic film music. Their legs rotate in synchronization, carving steps out of space. When they separate, their arms, now free, go through a series of movements. The men no longer appear peaceful as their gestures assume a military aspect.

But these insights are few in an evening that seems to celebrate the anxious maneuverings of the human body. It is the close of the piece that is the most exhilarating. With the gray backdrop, now serving as a scaffold for action, a figure appears, crawling into view from the hidden side of the wall and mounts the top. Standing and facing us for a moment, the dancer then falls backwards and out of sight to the surprise of the audience. He is followed by a succession of dancers who leap off the wall (and out of view) in varying positions. Is it a euphoric investigation of flight, escape, suicide, or anarchy? Not sure, but here we have context: the wall (architecture whether literal or symbolic) and desire (for escape or joy), all wrapped up in Naharin’s individualized movement system. Now there’s a winning combination.

(To read a previous Rosenberg review of a performance of Noa Eshkol’s work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art click HERE.)

Batsheva Dance Company performs Sadeh21 tonight and tomorrow (Sat. & Sunday Nov. 1 and 2) in a Cap UCLA concert at Royce Hall.

Photos courtesy of Batsheva Dance Company. 

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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: The National Ballet of Canada’s “Romeo and Juliet” at the Dorothy Chandler

July 13, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

From opening curtain to final bows, choreographer Alexi Ratmansky, along with his set and costume designer, Richard Hudson, and lighting designer, Jennifer Tipton, hurls us into the very heart of a fifteenth century Renaissance painting in his Romeo and Juliet, created for the National Ballet of Canada and premiering at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion this weekend.

With simple yet evocative sets and exquisite costumes, this production has the immediacy of a Pinturicchio fresco. That artist had the ability to breathe life and personality into the daily doings of the contemporary characters who populated his paintings. Like Pinturicchio, Ratmansky has the unique gift of creating personality, not out of paint, of course, but out of movement. In Ratmansky’s world, legs, feet, arms, torso all speak a language, carrying within them humor, whimsy, pathos, and purpose.

Guillaume Cote as Romeo and Elena Lobsanova as Juliet

For me Ratmansky’s most formidable gift is his ability to infuse movement with wit and levity. He embraces the human spirit in his choreography by exposing our foibles, weaknesses, and desires – those qualities that make us quintessentially human. This aspect of his artistry works to advantage in the early scenes of Romeo and Juliet when the irrepressible youth of Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio, and Juliet is in full flower.

Everywhere we turn, whether in the Market Square, at the Capulet’s ball, or in Act One, Scene Two when we meet Juliet and her nurse, the exuberance and optimism of youth shines with truth. In fact, this very exuberance – this love of life and sense of immortality (so brilliantly exemplified in the dancing of Piotr Stanczyk’s Mercutio) — makes the inevitable tragedy all the more painful.

Guillaume Cote as Romeo and Elena Lobsanova as Juliet

It is in the more serious moments of Shakespeare’s drama where I felt something lacking in the ballet. Perhaps I longed for less movement, less personality, and more stillness. When Guillaume Côté’s superbly danced and deeply felt Romeo partners his Juliet – a childlike Elena Lobsanova – in the post nuptial scene of Act Three, there is a clarity of intention so vivid in the Kenneth MacMillan version that seems clouded here.

In some part it is due to the performance of Lobsanova – a charming, lithe Juliet full of winning delicacy and grace but unable to transcend childish love to give a convincing portrayal of an awakened woman, tortured by overwhelming passion and her inability to enter into her marriage with Romeo in the full light of day.

Guillaume Cote as Romeo and Elena Lobsanova as Juliet

Much has been written about the age and inexperience of Lobsanova, a second soloist at the National Ballet of Canada when Ratmansky chose her for his Juliet. Now a first soloist, she has been dancing the role for three years. But youth is not a prerequisite for playing Juliet: Alessandra Ferri, at forty, danced Juliet, and her indelible performance was the pinnacle of sexual abandon and dramatic and artistic accomplishment.

It is with the portrayal of Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio’s friendship where Ratmansky reaches the heights, as well as with his inventive patterns and stylistic innovations in the crowd and ballroom scenes. His choreography for the three young men is full of unique partnerings, buoyant lifts, and fanciful footwork. His scenes of swordplay, whether between Tybalt and Mercutio or Tybalt and Romeo have the dash of an Errol Flynn movie minus the clichés. In fact, swords are used repeatedly throughout the ballet. In the ballroom scene’s “Dance of the Knights,” the men of the Capulet house dance without the women but with their swords – a militant note that foreshadows the violence to come and is tribal and primitive, conjuring a feudal society where death is a constant threat.

It is followed by the noble dance of the women, which has a civilizing effect on the room – a room arranged with the grandeur of Veronese’s The Feast in the House of Levi. Though Romeo and Juliet is a drama about men’s violence and its devastating effects, women are not merely passive onlookers in Ratmansky’s production. They threaten, cajole, and stand their ground beside their men. It is for them, however, to mourn the loss of their husbands and sons.

In another beautifully realized moment at the ball, reminiscent of the bride and groom lifted on chairs over the heads of the guests at Jewish weddings, Juliet is lifted by Paris, as simultaneously, Romeo is held aloft by Mercutio and Benvolio. The two future lovers lock eyes as they repeatedly soar above the heads of the crowd. Exquisite details of this sort abound in the ballet, but they are the very details that ultimately intrude on the forward momentum to the inevitable tragedy. Ratmansky has created a fully realized Renaissance world but one where the joy of daily life takes precedent over the mythic tragedy of feuding houses.

Romeo and Juliet illustration by Jane Rosenberg

Romeo and Juliet illustration by Jane Rosenberg

The atmosphere of the ballet, whether choreographed by MacMillan, Lavrovsky, Cranko, Neumeier, or Ashton, owes its life to Prokofiev’s score – one of the greatest ballet scores of the twentieth century. Under the direction of The National Ballet of Canada’s David Briskin, the Los Angeles musicians gave a fine rendition of Prokofiev’s complex music. However, during some of the more percussive sections, the orchestra members under Briskin sounded as if they were keeping time rather than propelling the music forward to create Prokofiev’s explosive sound – one particularly muddy section happening at the opening of Act Three.

There is no doubt as to the quality of the corps of the NBC. And the principals and soloists are standouts in all roles: Piotr Stanczyk, as mentioned, is a pitch perfect Mercutio – so effortless in his humor and swagger that Ratmansky should consider creating a Commedia dell’arte ballet around him. As Benvolio, Robert Stephen is a delightful and potent member of the trio. McGee Maddox’s Tybalt is imposing and lethal. Lorna Geddes’ Nurse is full of fun and vigor, dressed in an abundance of white fabric, which swaddled her from head to toe. The Friar Lawrence of Peter Ottmann is more dance than mime and he deepens the role with his presence. As Lord and Lady Capulet, Etienne Lavigne and Stephanie Hutchison are elegant and moving. And Patrick Lavoie dances Paris with ardor and humanity, particularly in the welcome simplicity of his Act Three, Scene Three solo with Juliet’s four lovely bridesmaids.

One would imagine that if Ratmansky lingered in Canada with his creation, time would season and deepen this Romeo and Juliet, a stunning addition to the pantheon of memorable versions that have gone before.

Photos courtesy of the National Ballet of Canada. 

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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

 


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