Dance: Twyla Tharp’s 50th Anniversary Tour Presents “Preludes and Fugues” and “Yowzie” at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts through October 4

October 2, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

There is no choreographer who draws meaning from the simplest gestures as well as the masterful Twyla Tharp. No one gets more out of a flexed foot, the cock of a head, or the pitch of a shoulder. It is the way she achieves these seemingly effortless gestures that is at the root of her genius. Her works, as exemplified by her newest dances, Preludes and Fugues and Yowzie – created for her fiftieth anniversary tour – exist in that special space between classical ballet and contemporary movement. They combine the refinement of ballet with a modern dance vocabulary in a way that seems perennially fresh, spontaneous, and uncluttered.

Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp

In these two new works, as in all her creations, her ability to surprise and delight is ever present. One might attribute it to her use of contrast. She is a master of opposites. There is tension and release – tension as defined by the rigor of classical ballet steps, release as the body relaxing into the jazzy gestures of everyday life. It is this insertion of the everyday into the balletic language that creates a sense of wonder and emphasizes our common humanity. Though a dancer demonstrates technical mastery within the structure of a Tharp ballet, he or she can also shrug it off and look like the rest of us –shaking knees, dangling arms, shimmying torsos. It’s as if an old, aluminum coffee pot is suddenly put on a lavish dinner table set in sterling silver and appears to belong there.

The first Tharp ballet I ever saw drew audible intakes of breath from the audience for precisely this reason. Mikhail Barishnikov, dancing with American Ballet Theatre in the nineteen-seventies, was astonishing audiences in classical roles with his prodigious technique, then, in 1976, he performed in Tharp’s Push Comes to Shove. His body moved with the ease of Fred Astaire. Deadpan but hilarious, he was as human as Charlie Chaplin, and suddenly he was one of us.

The Wallis Annenberg’s Bram Goldsmith Theater proves an excellent and intimate venue for Tharp’s marvelous dancers – John Selya, Rika Okamoto, Matthew Dibble, Ron Todorowski, Daniel Baker, and Amy Ruggiero – to name only half of this cohesive troupe.

It takes dancers of immense skill and musicality to pull off a work by Twyla Tharp. There is an overarching lyrical sweep to the movements, despite sudden juxtapositions, which can only be achieved by really listening to the score. And Tharp chooses her music wisely. After a brief introductory Fanfare with music by the witty John Zorn, we are immersed in Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier – excerpts of which comprise the score for Preludes and Fugues. Tharp briefly states in the program: “Simply put, Preludes and Fugues is the world as it ought to be, Yowzie as it is. The Fanfares celebrate both.”

Daniel Baker, Ramona Kelley, Nicholas Coppula, Eva Trapp-Coppula in Bach costumes

Daniel Baker, Ramona Kelley, Nicholas Coppula, Eva Trapp-Coppula in Bach costumes

Awash in Bach’s music, with elegant and muted costumes by Santo Loquasto and subtle lighting by James Ingalls, we enter “the world as it ought to be” in the company of a delightful and superbly talented group of dancers. The dances combine virtuosity with a kind of impish glee. Nothing feels forced. There are no unnecessary contortions or excesses. What we have is Tharp’s understanding of the human body and how it works, much like a visual artist who understands anatomy, so necessary if one is to abstract form to create new layers of meaning.

Ron Todorowski, Amy Ruggiero with pointed finger, John Selya looking away in Yowzie costumes

Ron Todorowski, Amy Ruggiero with pointed finger, John Selya looking away in Yowzie costumes

As for the movements: In one section, couples dance, positioned in ballroom style partnerships, dipping and sweeping in circles. In a staccato section, a couple hops up and down until the girl climbs onto the boy’s back like two children at play. It feels like one suspended giggle. In the background, another pair cavorts, playing a Tharp version of “flying angel.” Fouettés alternate with judo kicks, classic ballet exercises are interrupted by playful skipping, or, in one case, shaking and shimmying. Towards the end, holding hands in a circle dance, the dancers seem peaceful, as if they are simultaneously emitting a collective sigh of contentment.

Each ballet begins with a Fanfare. The Second Fanfare, also set to music by Zorn, is performed in front of red, translucent sheeting. With clever lighting by Ingalls, the dancers cross the stage, bobbing and darting, and creating a pattern of silhouettes in front of the drape – now and then they cross behind producing the effect of shadow puppets. Their silhouettes, with funny hats, spikey hair, and floppy clothes lead us expectantly into Yowzie and the zany world “as it is.”

Matthew Dibble and Rika Okamoto in Yowzie costumes

Matthew Dibble and Rika Okamoto in Yowzie costumes

Set to a compilation of jazz tunes arranged by Henry Butler and Steven Bernstein, we open on a rollicking, but immensely human “drunken” pas-de-deux performed with uncanny brilliance by Rika Okamoto and Matthew Dibble. The cast is dressed in a mélange of comical costumes – a touch of tie-dyed American hippie, a bit of vaudevillian clown, a rift on haute couture, and an amalgam of what looks like Southeast Asian, Indian, and Mayan bits and pieces – creating a colorful parade of cartoon fashion designed by Loquasto. Also designed by Loquasto is a vivid, abstract painting, hung high and serving as an immense backdrop, much like a massive billboard with the feel of James Rosenquist.

As for the dancing, there are pratfalls, ragtime struts, slow motion sequences, bursts of jitterbugging, boxing thrusts, LSD tripping, flirting, vamping, abandonment and loss, and imaginative choreography as only Twyla Tharp can create. It’s all heart warming and glad making, even when we recognize the frailty of human existence within this circus of life. We feel the pleasure and pain of being alive. So take someone you love and head to the Wallis for one of the most exhilarating and poignant productions you’ll see all year.

* * * * * * * *


John Selya, Rika Okamoto, Matthew Dibble, Ron Todorowski, Daniel Baker, Amy Ruggiero, Ramona Kelley, Nicholas Coppula, Eva Trapp, Savannah Lowery, Reed Tankersley, Kaitlyn Gilliland, Eric Otto


Choreography: Twyla Tharp
Music: First Fanfare and Second Fanfare: John Zorn
Preludes and Fugues, Well Tempered Clavier: Johann Sebastian Bach
Yowzie: Henry Butler/Steven Bernstein
Sets and Costumes: Santo Loquasto
Lighting: James Ingalls

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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

Picks of the Week: Sept. 21 – 27 in Los Angeles, Oregon, Chicago, New York, London, Copenhagen, Milan and Tokyo.

September 21, 2015

By Don Heckman

 Los Angeles

Laura Dickinson

Laura Dickinson

– Sept. 23. (Wed.) Laura Dickinson. She’s probably your nine year-old daughter’s favorite singer, her voice familiar from the Disney Channel’s animated hits Phineas and Ferb and Sofia The First. But Dickinson’s vocal skills also include far-reaching jazz abilities, as well. She will offer them in an evening that celebrates her birthday with the introduction of her new big band. In addition, the opening set will be provided by the Eliot Deutsch Big Band. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

Denise Donatelli


– Sept. 24. (Thurs.) Denise Donatelli. Grammy-nominated Donatelli – with her warm, embracing voice, her lively sense of swing and her irresistible musical storytelling – celebrates the release of her new CD, Find A Heart, in a performance and party at Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

– Sept. 24. (Thurs.) :Gianni Schicci. LA Opera presents a rare opportunity to experience Placido Domingo in a prime production of Puccini’s one act comic opera based on an incident in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The Music Center. The LA Opera at the Music Center.  (213) 972-0777.

Bob Sheppard

Bob Sheppard

– Sept. 24. (Thurs.) Bob Sheppard. Straight Ahead. The Southland music world’s busiest, most in demand saxophonist steps to the front of the stage in a rare evening as a front man. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear and see Sheppard in the spotlight with keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz, bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Christian Euman. The Baked Potato. . (818) 980-1615.

– Sept. 25 – Oct. 11. (Fri. – Sun.) The Angel City Jazz Festival. Rapidly establishing itself as one of the jazz world’s most creatively ambitious events. The ACJF justifiably prides itself as the expanding stage for the discovery of new, gifted talent. This year’s program takes place in such varied locations around Los Angeles as Barnsdall Art Parker, Blue Whale, LACMA, REDCAT and more. For more information and a list of artists, click HERE. / (323) 573-2110.

– Sept. 26. (Sat.) The Los Angeles Master Chorale. The gifted vocal artists of the L.A. Master Chorale bring their vocal versatility to a performance titled “The Russian Evolution.” The program encompasses a century of great Russian works from composers such as Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Grechaninov, Ilyashenko and more. Walt Disney Hall.  (877) 689-2356.

– Sept. 26. (Sat.) The Isley Bros. One of the great veteran r&b groups, the Isleys’ stellar career reaches back to the early ’60s. Don’t miss this rare chance to hear the current line up of brothers Ronald and Ernie.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. (562) 916-8500.

Carmen Lundy

Carmen Lundy

– Sept. 26. (Sat.) Carmen Lundy. Carmen is a jazz vocalist who much deserves her frequent rave reviews. But she’s also a gifted songwriter, arranger, actress and painter. Like all imaginative musicians, she’s always a pleasure to hear in a live setting. Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.


Sept. 23. (Wed.) Ashland. The Parisian Musette Trio. “Musette Explosion.” French musette music is an irresistible blend of French folk and cabaret, American jazz and Italian instrumentation. The result is utterly compelling. And the Parisian Musette TrioWill Holshouser on accordion, Ron Horton on trumpet and tuba and David Phillips on bass – have made the most of all those elements. “Musette Explosion,” noted Down Beat, “has respectfully reclaimed 1930’s Paris for the 21st century.” The program is another prime entry in the 2015 Siskiyou Music Project series. It takes place in the unlikely elegance of Ashland’s Old Siskiyou Barn. The Parisian Musette Trio at The Skiskiyou Music Project.  (541) 488-3869.

New York City

Steve Kuhn

– Sept. 22 – 26. (Tues. – Sat.) Coltrane Revisited. What would have been Coltrane’s 89th birthday is celebrated by a band led by his former pianist, Steve Kuhn, along with Coltrane-influenced saxophonist Eric Alexander, drummer .Steve Smith, and bassist Lonnie Plaxico. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.


– Sept. 24 – 27. (Thurs. – Sun.) The Ravi Coltrane Quartet. Tenor saxophonist Coltrane has convincingly taken his impressive skills well beyond the far-reaching shadow of his iconic father. The Jazz Showcase.  (312) 360-0234.


– Sept. 21 & 22. (Mon. & Tues.) The Music of Charlie Parker. Gilad Atzmon. Israeli alto saxophinst Atzmon revives the classic Parker with Strings performances. Ronnie Scott’s. +44 (0)20 7439 0747.


Ronnie Cuber

– Sept. 24 & 25. (Fri. & Sat.) Ronnie Cuber and the Nikolaj Bentzon Trio. American baritone saxophonist Cuber gets together with Danish pianist Bentzon’s Danish/Hungarian trio. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.



Bebel Gilberto

Bebel Gilberto

– Sept. 23 – 26. (Wed. – Sat.) Bebel Gilberto. The daughter of Brazilian bossa nova master Joao Gilberto, Bebel has built a major career on her own impressive vocal skills. The Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.


– Sept. 23 & 24. (Wed. & Thurs.) Dave Weckl with Makoto Ozone lead a band underscoring the truly international qualities of contemporary jazz. Featuring Tom Kennedy and Gary Meek. Tokyo Blue Note. +81 3-5485-0088.

The 2015-16 Season of Dance and Classical Music at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills

August 28, 2015

The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills opens their 2015-2016 season of dance programming on October 1-3 with:

Twyla Tharp: a 50th Anniversary Celebration, a program of new work by Ms. Tharp, co-commissioned by The Wallis (in partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The Joyce Theatre, Ravina Festival Association & Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University and Texas International Theatrical Arts Society).

Twyla Tharp dancers Matthew Dibble and Rika Okamoto in Yowzie costumes

L.A. Dance Project follows on January 29-30, featuring Hearts and Arrows by LADP Founder Benjamin Millepied with music by Philip Glass; the U.S. premiere of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Harbor Me; and Murder Ballades by Justin Peck.

Ezralow Dance Company performs OPEN on April 29-30, marking the “hometown debut” of Daniel Ezralow’s new dance company. Ezralow has created dances for Hubbard Street Dance Company, Batsheva Dance Company, London Contemporary Dance Theatre, the Cirque du Soleil/Beatles show LOVE, Julie Taymor’s film Across the Universe, and the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.


The Wallis’ diverse classical musical programming – encompassing 17 concerts – starts with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, under the esteemed leadership of Zubin Mehta (November 10 and 11) with two different programs. A gala fundraising performance on November 10 will feature the Dvorak New World Symphony and the Vivaldi Concerto for 3 Violins (Semion Gavrikov, Dumitru Pocitari and Asaf Maoz soloists); a second subscription concert will include Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and Ravel’s La Valse.

Other artists include cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han with The Passionate Cello (January 8), Eagle Rock-based Santa Cecilia Orchestra (January 16) led by Sonia Marie De Leon de Vega, with a program featuring Latino and American composers; the return of Keyboard Conversations® with Jeffrey Siegel performing An American Salute celebrating our country’s most beloved composers (February 27); The Jerusalem Quartet (April 14); and Grammy Award-winning violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Shai Wosner (March 26).

A new East/West: Merging Music & Cultures music series will include Wu Man & The Shanghai Quartet (January 23); violinist Cho Liang Lin with Jon Kimura Parker (February 13) and Bing Wang and Ben Hong (February 20).

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Jerusalem Quartet also make up The Soul of Israel series, which is completed by David Olowsky Trio’s The Soul of Klezmer, a masterful expansion of the Klezmer folk music tradition (March 25).


Colburn at The Wallis: A Concert Series partners The Wallis with the Colburn School, one of the nation’s highest ranked educators of students pursuing rigorous performance training, for an exciting series of concerts throughout the 2015-2016 Season. Featuring rising stars from the Colburn Conservatory of Music alongside celebrated concert artists and Colburn’s renowned faculty, the concerts include Colburn School artist-in-residence, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet (October 30), cellist Gary Hoffman (November 7), Music Director and Conductor Yehuda Gilad and Mikyung Soung, double bass (March 6); and the principal brass players of the New York Philharmonic (April 10).


In an expansion of programming to fulfill its mission to support and celebrate young artists, The Wallis will begin Next Generation @ The Wallis, featuring Taiwanese-American pianist Steven Lin (March 11), jazz pianist Justin Kauflin (January 22) and Sean Chen (February 19), recent winner of UPenn’s eminent 2015 Annenberg arts fellowship for artists – all pianists on the verge of breakthrough.


The Jazz Bakery will also be presenting concerts at The Wallis with a new partnership, The Jazz Bakery @ The Wallis. As one of the premiere presenters of jazz in Los Angeles, The Jazz Bakery brings a long history of curating and presenting jazz to this new concert series at The Wallis.

For more information about the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts click HERE.

Photo by Ruven Afanador

The Central Avenue Jazz Festival This Weekend

July 25, 2015
Brick Wahl

Brick Wahl

By Brick Wahl

In my heart of hearts, my favorite jazz festival ever has always been the one held every year on Central Avenue in the shadow of the Dunbar Hotel. It’s close to the roots of jazz in this town, it has band after swinging band, the musicians play like their lives depended on it, and the crowd is serious jazz loving people. Not college kids or rich westsiders or hipsters or tourists or even jazz critics, just people. Jazz people.

And it’s back again this weekend, both Saturday and Sunday, for the twentieth time. Not sure how many I’ve been to but enough that I keep bumping into people I remember on the street there. I’m gonna run through the acts and time and location and incredibly groovy parking set up (Secure lots! Shuttles! Free!) but if you’re already bored by my banter you can head straight through this link to the Central Avenue Jazz Festival itself and read the same thing but with less words and better graphics.

First, where is it? It takes place on Central Avenue, the epicenter for all that was glorious in west coast jazz in the thirties and forties and even into the fifties, between Vernon Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard. Take the 110 to the MLK exit and head east to Central Avenue. You’ll run right into it.

Parking info is linked here and it’s dreamy. A block shy of Central Avenue on Martin Luther King is Wadsworth Elementary School. It’s free, secure, plentiful and best of all there’s a regular air conditioned shuttle service to carry you the three city blocks to the Festival. It winds you through the charming neighborhood and then stops and the doors open and the sounds of pure jazz fill the bus. You are there. And there’s even another elementary school–Harmony Elementary–that is the same thing. Secure, free and only a block away from the grounds. There’s even a shuttle from there as well, though you can walk the block faster. It’s up to you and your aging knees.

Food and non-alcoholic drink galore, all of it good, some awesome. Peach cobbler to die for. The bean pie man. All that soul food your doctor warned you about. Who knows what else. Plus fruit drinks you are not allowed to pour anything stronger into by law. You read it here first.

There is lots of seating, lots and lots, but never enough. Feel free to bring your own. It is so casual and live-and-let-live no one will care. While people listen here, seriously listen, the vibe is more like the very back of the Hollywood Bowl during the Playboy Jazz Festival, but without the inflatable furniture. Or spliffs. Or smooth jazz.

The Central Avenue Jazz Festival

Because there will be no smooth jazz at the Central Avenue Festival. None that I can see on the schedule this year. Evil types had forced some bogus stuff on the bill the last couple years but from the looks of the schedule this year, all those evil types have been purged. There is not an act this year that is not 100% the real thing. If I am wrong, I will eat my hat, and it’s a big hat.

There are two stages, one at either end, and acts will be appearing in shaded comfort in the lobby of the Dunbar Hotel as well. One stage has more of the main acts, the other more of the newer acts. That varies a bit but that is the gist. Let’s look at the line up on Saturday:


Saturday, July 25 

11:45 am   LAUSD Beyond The Bell All-City Jazz Big Band–the newest jazz generation cooks.
1:00 pm  Henry Franklin: The Skipper and Crew–They call him Skipper (dig the hat) and he has a kicking quintet that wails in a mid-period kind of John Coltrane way. This crowd brings out the best in them.
2:30 pm Alfredo Rodriguez Trio A phenomenal young pianist from Cuba (if I remember right), he puts on a ferocious show of virtuosity and energy and is a blast to watch. Nice guy, and another of Quincy Jones’ discoveries, and lets hope Quincy is there to dig the scene as well.

 4:00 pm Gerald Wilson Orchestra—We just lost Gerald who would be a ninety-something dervish in front of the most exciting big band on the planet, and between tunes he’d regale the crowd of his days living at the Dunbar hotel seven decades ago and playing at the Club Alabam just next door. It never got more magical than that for me. His extraordinarily talented son Anthony Wilson is leading the band now, and the talent on stage are all superstars, even if the jazz world isn’t yet aware of it. Kamasi Washington–a genuine star–should be there too, just erupting in molten tenor flight the likes of which you have not heard in a long time. (And then he’s over at California Plaza the same night!)

5:30 pm And Poncho Sanchez takes us out, and my guess is he’ll really be working the Stax soul and bugulu as well as his signature Latin jazz sound. Groovin’ to say the least.
And that’s only one stage, there’s another:


  Saturday, July 25

There’s three great sounding saxophonists in a row here. I’ve written about the astonishing talent of Glendale’s own Christopher Astoquilca, and caught Aaron Shaw and Braxton Cook on YouTube. All three are highly recommended so tear yourself away from the main stage for a spell and check some of each. I love how the Festival is booking these brand new jazz artists like this. And the crowd pleasing teenaged bluesman Ray Goran plays some searing guitar to finish out the day on the second stage.

12:00 pm saxist Aaron Shaw Quintet
1:00 pm Christopher Astoquilca A-Tet
2:20 pm Saxophonist Braxton Cook Quartet
3:40 pm 15 years old blues guitarist Ray Goran

And then inside The Dunbar Hotel there are two acts, both featuring community programs nurturing the youngest jazz player:

 Saturday, July 25
  A Place Called Home’s band

2:00 pm Beyond the Bell Combo (LAUSD jazz with I believe Ndugu Chancler directing)
OK, that was all just Saturday. Sunday is just as brilliant:


Sunday, July 26
11:30 am Jazz America–more of the scary talented young people

12:45 pm  Barbara Morrison The indomitable singer–one of LA’s best ever–will lord it over the stage and owning every song she performs, no matter who did it first. Essential viewing.

2:15 pm John Beasley & MONK ‘estra It’s hard to say too much about how great this band is. It’s pure John Beasley, in that’s he’s taken all the Monk compositions, rendered them new without reducing their Monkishness one iota, and the result is thrilling. State of the art jazz that never gets bogged down by art…this is maybe the best new big band on the planet. Not that I’ve heard every new big band on the planet, but I’d be shocked as hell to hear anything better than Beasley’s mad contraption. Basically, ya gotta be there.

3:40 pm Arturo O’Farrill Quintet The son of NYC latin jazz legend Chico O’Farrill, he had been leading an orchestra doing his pop’s arrangement. Can’t wait to see what this five piece will do.

5:10 pm  Kenny Burrell Big Band You’ve heard of this absolutely legendary jazz guitar player (who, if I remember right, was Duke Ellington’s favorite guitarist). This band recently did a wildly successful show at the John Anson Ford and here he is repeating that success. As you might have guessed, when an icon is leading a band, the ranks are filled with incredible players. What a way to finish he weekend on the main stage.
Of course, there’s a whole other stage:


Sunday, July 26 

12:00 pm Saxist Tony White Quintet. Apparently this outfit cooks. Old pals of mine Gary Fukushima (on piano) and Mike Alvidrez (bass) are in the ranks so I will be down there taking notes and making them nervous.

1:25 pm Excellent young pianist Jamael Dean and his quintet.

2:50 pm I’ve seen violinist Dayren Santamaria steal the show at a couple Mongorama gigs and here she is with her own band  Made In Cuba. Can’t imagine this being less than great.

4:20 pm Trombonist Ryan Porter and his group shook the festival to the foundations last year.You’ve seen him with Kamasi Washington, and Kamasi and much the same crew should be back for this one, grooving massively.

And then inside The Dunbar Hotel on Sunday: 

12:00 pm Very talented, very young saxophonist Devin Daniels

2:00 p  A Place Called Home group back one more time.
OK….be there. Hell, it’s free, the parking is there, there’s a freaking shuttle, and the jazz should be absolutely wonderful. Get off the couch and go. OK, gotta run, I’m late for a klezmer gig. (I am, seriously.)

See ya down there people. It’ll be good to see so many of you again….

Ballet: Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg Performs “Rodin” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

June 16, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

Famous artists in torment are a subject of fascination in the popular imagination. Make it two tormented artists in a romantic relationship and the appeal doubles. Biographies, films, and even novelizations of the lives of, for example: Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, or Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre abound.

In this vein, Boris Eifman, the Russian choreographer known internationally for his heavily plotted, narrative ballets explores the intense relationship of the sculptor Auguste Rodin with the artist Camille Claudel. It is a subject ripe for the Eifman technique, which interweaves classical ballet movement, modern dance, and in the choreographer’s words, “ecstatic impulses” all at the service of psychological dance theatre.

In Rodin, we travel back and forth in time, largely between the mental asylum where Camille was incarcerated and Rodin’s workshop. Architecturally, the set by Zinovy Margolin is a marvel of lines and planes reminiscent of Russian Constructivist theatre sets of the early twentieth century. The angles, multi-levels, and platforms provide the backdrop for the workshop, the asylum, and various other locations such as the dance hall of Act Two.

Set to a selection of late nineteenth, early twentieth century French music by Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Debussy, and Satie, which is woven seamlessly throughout, the ballet has many moments of breathtaking beauty, imaginative choreography, and penetrating insight, all superbly danced by Oleg Gabyshev as Rodin, Lyubov Andreyeva as Camille, and Yulia Manjeles as Rodin’s lifelong companion, Rose Beuret.

Like the clay with which Rodin and Camille sculpt their forms, the choreography in Act One is tied to the earth, reminiscent of Martha Graham’s elemental movements. Echoes of Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography also haunt the piece, and awareness of his declining mental state adds another layer of meaning.

Art and sensuality seem inextricably mixed, particularly in the sensuality of the clay as depicted in Rodin’s “modeling” of form. In a mesmerizing scene, Rodin stands before a group of semi-nude male figures crouching on a rotating circular table. As Rodin pushes, twists, and strokes these figures, he seems to draw form out of this mass of bodies. Slowly a limb extends or a knee juts out, until the figures stand erect, becoming Rodin’s Burghers of Calais. The magic is achieved by Eifman’s choreography, Gabyshev’s raw physical power, and the sculptural lighting of Gleb Filshtinsky.

Notable in Act One is a dance for the asylum inmates, women dressed in cream colored nightdresses and lace sleeping caps, who dance holding pillows, which in turn become babies cradled in their arms, toys they play with, or a repository for their tears. At some moments one thinks of the spectral Willis of Giselle, the victims of their sweethearts’ indifference, at another, the children at play in The Nutcracker, rocking their dolls or frolicking about the Stahlbaum house. Both instances help in heightening dramatic tension.

In a dream sequence, which serves as a counterpoint to the earthier and more tortured dancing of Act One, couples dressed in silky charcoal grays, beautifully conceived by costume designer Olga Shaishmelashvili, dance with classical elegance to Saint-Saëns Dance Macabre. More confused however is the dance of the workshop assistants at the beginning of the act, which looks like a nod to the cowboys of Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo or the sailors of Jerome Robbins’s Fancy Free – cute and lively, but a bit out of place in a French sculptor’s workshop.

All in all, Act One is a gem of dance drama. Even the tortured, angst driven dancing manages to stay just on the right side of romantic sentimentality. Gabyshev’s Rodin as consumed artist and sexual predator has an iconic reality to it. Andreyeva’s Camille as Rodin’s ambitious, sensual, yet unstable student and fellow artist is a passionate performance. And Manjeles is majestic as the long-suffering Rose.

Act Two begins with another striking effect: Rodin creating the Gates of Hell. On metal scaffolding representing an immense doorway, dancers configure into positions reflecting Rodin’s famed relief sculpture.

Unfortunately, problems arise as Act Two progresses when the proverbial kitchen sink syndrome derails the ballet. What had been a precisely structured examination into the life of art, tackling issues of creativity, recognition, fame, love, and madness turns into a pastiche of nineteenth century dance references and an unnecessary heightening of the angst ridden choreography. A harvest wine dance à la Giselle, with girls in brightly clad peasant dresses, grows out of nowhere (justified by Rodin’s dreaming of his first meeting with Rose), followed a bit later by a Parisian dance hall cancan scene when Camille leaves Rodin for the bright lights of the big city. Both are crowd-pleasers, no doubt, but Eifman’s showmanship here gets in the way of his artistry. Further compromising Act Two is the overstated tension within the love triangle of Rodin, Camille, and Rose. The tortured dancing grows repetitive and dilutes the undeniable power of the first act.

Where Eifman succeeds in Act Two is in turning the hammering of stone, done first by Camille, and then in the ballet’s final scene by Rodin, into blazing dance movement. His back towards us and bare chested, Gabyshev works away at the stone, his body torqueing side to side; and we are left with the image of the artist as Hephaestus forging life out of the furnace of human will and desire.

Photos by Gene Schiavone courtesy of Eifman Ballet.


Rodin: Oleg Gabyshev
Camille: Lyubov Andreyeva
Rose Beuret: Yulia Manjeles


Choreography: Boris Eifman

Music: Maurice Ravel, Camille Saint-Saëns, Jules Massenet, Claude Debussy, Erik Satie
Sets: Zinovy Margolin
Costumes: Olga Shaishmelashvili
Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky, Boris Eifman

* * * * * * * *

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 Music: The Best Memorial Day Party Ever! Paul McDonald’s Big band at the Typhoon Jazz Restaurant.

May 28, 2015

By Norton Wright

Santa Monica, CA. One of the unique experiences on today’s jazz scene is “Big Band Night” at Typhoon Restaurant at Santa Monica Airport in Los Angeles. On Memorial Day evening listeners are ready to experience a veritable bacchanal as the band on stage is Paul McDonald’s big, powerhouse, 17-piece orchestra.

The band hits at 8 p.m. but you should get to the Typhoon as early as 6 p.m. not just for the scenic view of the flight line’s airplanes from the restaurant’s top floor, because it is you who are about to fly. The excitement is palpable – and wow, does it ever grow!

McDonald is already there in the working togs of shorts and a t-shirt setting up the band’s music stands, laying out the charts for each band member, positioning eleven microphones with their maze of cables leading to the sound mixing board of Typhoon’s indefatigable audio engineer, Toro. These two gents have worked together before and move deftly through the all-important sound check under the watchful eye of Typhoon’s owner, Brian Vidor.

Vidor has run this massive, jazz room for twenty-five years, his crowd of regulars is already piling in to the bar and the restaurant’s thirty tables. The conversation level begins to boom! Lots of gleeful greetings, talk of jazz, what’s going to happen tonight? You get the feeling that this jazz ritual has been going on forever. Evocations of Shelley’s Manne-Hole, Donte’s, The Lighthouse, maybe even Toulouse Lautrec’s Bal Taberin. Lautrec always surprised, so like him, what has McDonald got up his sleeve tonight?

7 p.m. – one hour to show time, but already the band members are arriving. They’re old friends, gathering early, clearly enjoying one another’s company. Adjusting the lights on their music stands, organizing their charts, unpacking their instruments, their pace leisurely like cool gunslingers again prepping for a night at the O.K. Corral.

7:30 p.m. – Paul McDonald reappears in sartorial splendor, dark suit, necktie, neat handkerchief in his breast pocket. He’s mellow but also keenly attentive to any missed details in readying for the band’s 8pm start. He greets his band members, then moves about the restaurants saying hi to old friends, but he’s regularly checking his wristwatch. This is a genteel producer and showman at work. He sees his band settling into their seats and holds up ten fingers to them. Ten minutes before start time. The crowd is quieting in anticipation. Five fingers to the band, five minutes to go!

Paul McDonald

Paul McDonald

8 p.m. – McDonald at his electric piano counts off the up-tempo beat for the opening number  – and the band explodes into “This Can’t Be Love”! The sax section puts you away, drummer Steve Pemberton drives the band up and over, and the night flight takes off! Paul Young is 200 pounds of roaring trombone solo, Ron Barrows, super casual in a baseball cap, answers with his own sizzling trumpet solo, and you start to remember that all theses musicians are solo stars in their own right.

The Paul McDonald Big Band

The band quickly propels through the applause into the second number, the Cubop standard “Mambo Inn,” and you hear why McDonald has added a second percussionist to the band. MB Gordy’s array of conga drums, bongos, and timbales absolutely crackle with polyrhythmic intensity.

About now you may be thinking that the guys in this band are awesome – but wait till  you hear the band’s two lady musicians. There are all kinds of ways of being beautiful, and Barbara Loronga’s trumpet and Lori Stuntz’ trombone are just outrageously gorgeous! Loronga’s soloing throughout the night (deftly using a mute on some numbers) reminds of Lee Morgan’s blazing yet note-perfect virtuosity – and in the night’s most poignant moment, as the classically-trained trombonist Stuntz is soloing through her beautiful take on West Side Story’s “Tonight, Tonight,” the hushed crowd is so moved that from the back of the room some start to reverently sing the lyrics.

In the audience, Susan Watson, one of the original performers in 1958’s production of West Side Story, is so taken by the by the grace of Stuntz solo that she gets outright weepy!

A word about composer/arranger/pianist/bandleader Paul McDonald’s consummate showmanship and his West Side Story medley that closes the first set. In this first hour, you’ve already been treated to the amazing speed of Gary Herbig’s alto and Dean Roubicek’s tenor on every solo they take. (Eric Morones is in the hunt too, joyously jousting with Roubicek as to who’s the fastest sax in the West). Mike Parlett is at home with the entire array of woodwinds from alto sax to flute, and young Caesar Martinez equally impresses, doubling on baritone sax and clarinet.

So adding some of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story score to this hot mix heralds a heart-thumping finale! McDonald kicks it off on electric keyboard with a dazzling solo, Ken Wild switches from acoustic bass to electric bass propelling the band into overdrive. The familiar themes of  “I Want To Be In America,” “Maria,” and “Tonight, Tonight” rise up in McDonald’s arrangement joyfully reminding of Bernstein’s jazz heart, — and in the last bars of this West Side piece Tony Bonsera’s trumpet goes stratospheric! What a way to end the first set!

Now what can McDonald do to top this in the upcoming second set? And he’s got the additional challenge that during the intermission the packed crowd is now roaring in conversation. But if Leonard Bernstein was a good choice to end the first set, how about another American musical icon, Aaron Copeland, to start the second set?

And so it is that without any introduction, the band just blasts off the second set with the opening of Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, the four-person trombone section (Young, Stuntz, Duane Benjamin, and Robbie Hioki) sounding the profound gravitas of the fanfare as the trumpet section soars atop, all in a display of brass firepower so awesome that it immediately quiets the reveling crowd. McDonald moves the number into a jazz groove with a keyboard solo evidencing what an exceptionally intense, soloing artist he is, and again MB Gordy’s congas – and tambourine! –  add wicked, hard-throbbing grooves to the fanfare. It all would have made Aaron Copeland kvel!

Next, the night would be incomplete without a blues number, and McDonald gets into it at the keyboard with his own composition, “Forget About The Past,” so down that it poses the question, “Why do the blues make listeners so happy?

The crowd has been waiting for Steve Pemberton’s drum solo and he does not disappoint, starting with brushes on snare and cymbals, then letting that soft touch escalate into dynamite drumstick work and kicking off the tune “Seven Steps” with trumpeter Jeff Jarvis burning the joint down with his fast and fiery solo.

So is there another surprise that showman McDonald can call forth in this last set to top off the evening? Yes, and she arrives in the person of the lissome songstress, Marianne Lewis. If you’re not acquainted with Lewis you may wonder how she is going to fare in a big-band context given that her website credits include her choir directing, leading of spiritual, consciousness-raising, empowerment groups, and listing CD’s of her own song compositions sung with gentle jazziness. You may be expecting Mother Teresa — but you are blissed out when Lewis arrives on the bandstand in a sexy, slinky, black-lace evening dress! With three excellent background singers, Jacquelyn A. Brown, Ramon Pratt, and Valerie Chevanaugh Fruge – she launches into “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Something’s Gotta Give” and a jazzy, funky take on Earth Wind & Fire’s “In The Stone.” Clearly Lewis is bringing it tonight, and you’re in for a very good time.

Later after a quick costume change into a short white lace dress, she spots heartthrob singer, Dave Davis, in the audience and gets him to join her on stage for an impromptu and flirtatious duet on “Do Nothing ‘Till You Hear From Me.” During the song, Davis fixes on Lewis’s come-hither dance moves and short dress as if hoping for a wardrobe malfunction. Clearly this wolf is appreciating the swan in more ways than one, and the crowd just loves them.

As the evening heads for the finish line, the band and Lewis run through “Stormy Weather,” “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” Sergio Mendes’ “Mas Que Nada” – and by the time the band hits its  arrangement of Tower of Power’s  song, “A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing,” everyone in the crowd is up and DANCING!

It’s an exuberant finale — and what a memorable way to end a Memorial Day weekend!

P.S. The Paul McDonald Big Band is such a celebration of jazz music , soloing stars, and genuine surprises that this orchestra merits bookings at the likes of the Playboy Jazz Festival, the KJAZZ Radio Summer Benefit Concert, and other major jazz venues.

And L. A.’s Chamber of Commerce, City Council, and Mayor Eric Garcetti should be proud to have the legendary Typhoon Restaurant as “Big-Band Central” in Los Angeles. In just the last month this attractive and spacious location has hosted the jazz orchestras of Emil Richards, Clare Fischer (directed by Brent Fischer), Steve Spiegel, Mark Hix, Tim Davies, Mike Price, and Charles Owens.

For anyone coming to visit our city, of course Disney Philharmonic Hall, the fountains of the California Center, the New Getty Museum, and the like are must-sees.  But no visit to Los Angeles is complete without catching Big-Band Night at Brian Vidor’s Typhoon Restaurant so aptly located at Santa Monica Airport where the great American art form, jazz, proudly takes flight every week.

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To read more posts by and about Norton Wright click HERE.

Dance at the Music Center Presents: Tania Pérez-Salas’s “Ex-Stasis” and “Made in Mexico” at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles

May 17, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

In the magnetic opening sequence of Tania Pérez-Salas’s Ex-Stasis, a lone woman stands in a spotlight, long hair shrouding her face. Music erupts and, as a scattering of dancers recline on the stage, watching her intently, she begins her solitary dance. At first her movements appear to be simple rifts on Sixties’ rock or Seventies’ disco. Momentum builds: her arms flap, her head whips, her hair flies, and her torso shudders. Throbbing with intensity, she merges with the pulsing music, becoming a Maenad in a Dionysian revel. Does she express joy, rage, animal desire, or all three at once? It’s a breathtaking foray into raw emotion – a precisely choreographed, yet uninhibited exploration.

If only the choreography continued at this level of investigation – then the ecstasy of Ex-Stasis could have opened our minds and bodies to the rewards and perils of letting go. As it progressed, however, clichés mounted; and the ultimate experience was dampened by a loss of focus owing, in part, to curtains of thin, plastic sheeting used to mostly distracting effect.




In one effective sequence, however, the plastic sheeting works as a poetic device. Three female dancers, topless and wearing nude colored briefs, stand at evenly spaced intervals behind the wall of translucent plastic. They press various body parts against the material; they push, claw, and tug at it, turning their bodies this way and that. References abound: fetuses in the womb, hatching larvae, sci-fi creations in the laboratory. The plastic, however, continues to be used scene after scene, and its overuse overwhelms the choreography, which becomes merely a push/pull with the sheets.

When finally an ensemble takes the stage and we have an opportunity to see what the troupe can do, for no discernible reason the dancing occurs behind yet another wall of plastic, obscuring our engagement with the dancers. Even when at rest and hanging in the background, the sheeting distracts us from the dancers. This is partially the fault of the lighting design, which flattens and obfuscates the dancers rather than creating sculptural, solid, and vivid forms.

Tania Pérez-Salas, born in Mexico City, founded her company in 1994. Though they have traveled to dance festivals worldwide, this is their first time in Los Angeles. For their short run at the Ahmanson Theatre, they are performing both Ex-Stasis, choreographed in 2010 and Made in Mexico (Macho Man) from 2014. Though both dances date from the present century they have the feel of decades gone by.

The dance vocabulary used by Pérez-Salas could be a catalogue of popular dance moves from the nineteen seventies: undulating torsos, rocking pelvises, arms held overhead and spun, and the bouncing bodies of boy bands from the sixties. She also favors collapsing bodies onto the floor, all too ubiquitous in contemporary choreography. One might call it Pop Art in dance, but given her statements about channeling emotion and instinct, this seems too intellectual a slant for her perspective on movement.

Made in Mexico suffers most from its references to the past. In her statement of intent she seeks to “illustrate male and female gender roles in contemporary Mexican society as perceived through the culture’s strong emphasis on masculinity…” – a relevant and commendable objective to be sure, but one that suffers from an over reliance on clichés and stereotypes.

Riding a bucking bull or horse, fingers pointing like guns, male strutting and posing, are all movements that conspire to undermine any subtlety Pérez-Salas achieves in the more nuanced segments. What does compel is the coupling of male and female partners in their dominant/submissive entanglements. Office chairs, rolled across the stage, are used to often surprising effect, as they become a third partner in the dance.

Unfortunately, two women, dressed in disco black, dance in a scene that, for me, derails the piece. They strut in high heels and shiny leggings – the image of punk party girls. Reveling in their powerful femaleness, they mouth the words to “Complejo de Amor,” but the impact is lost, made comical by the reference to karaoke. For sheer power and a statement on female gender roles, nothing beats Angelin Preljocaj’s chorus line of women in his ravishing, Les Nuits, as they move from super-model posturings to gestures of domination and anger.

Pérez-Salas walks a tightrope in Ex-Stasis and Made in Mexico. She’s caught between her desire to make commentary on male and female stereotypes and the dangers of allowing her dances to fall into those stereotypes. Perhaps one of the two pieces paired with her 1998 work, Waters of Forgetfulness, or The Hours, inspired by Michael Cunningham’s novel, would have been a more diversified introduction to her work from a choreographic, musical, and visual standpoint.

At its best, her vision offers us a theatrical, entertaining, and sensual experience provided by a troupe of committed dancers who manage to carve out their individual personas in these two works. In the future, one hopes that we, in Los Angeles, will see more subtle explorations from this choreographer who clearly has a passion for dance.

Jairo Cruz, Nicole Erickson, Veronique Giasson, Sabra Johnson, Eduard Martínez, Sarah Matry-Guerre, Marcus McCray, Jose Roberto Solís, Diana Sorokova, Po-Lin Tung, Myrthe Weehuizen

Production Ex-Stasis:
Choreography: Tania Pérez-Salas
Music: Meredith Monk, Monolake, Pan Sonic, Chris Isaak, Gustavo Cerati y Digitalverein
Scenography: Juan Alberto Orozco
Lighting design: Xóchitl González Quintanilla
Costume design: Sara Salomon, Miguel Garabenta
Music editing: Tono MX, Claudio Pezzoti y Federico Quintana

Production: Made in Mexico (Macho Man)
Choreography: Tania Pérez-Salas
Music: Nortec Collective, Tropa Vallenata, Todos Tus Muertos, Panóptica Orchestra, Rojo Córdova & Cuarteto Latinoamericano, Javier Álvarez
Lighting design: Gabriel Torres Vargas
Costumes: Cía Tania Pérez-Salas

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Photo by Andrea Lopez, courtesy of Dance at the Music Center

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


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.  



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