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.

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“Ex-Stasis”

 

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.

Dancers:
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.

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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.  

 


THE MUSIC CENTER’S 2015-16 SEASON OF DANCE IN LOS ANGELES

May 7, 2015

Los Angeles. This coming season of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center includes Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra (October 8-11, 2015), the West Coast premiere of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The Second City (November 6-8, 2015), The Music Center debut of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan (January 29-31, 2016), Complexions Contemporary Ballet (April 15-17, 2016), Compagnie Käfig (June 17-19, 2016), and American Ballet Theatre (July 8-10, 2016).

At the same time, new Music Center initiatives will showcase some of Los Angeles’ up-and-coming dance ensembles, which are forging new ground and attracting new audiences, and provide ways to engage audiences in their own dance experiences. This includes the introduction of a site-specific series, The Music Center Presents Movies After Dark™ (July 13, 14, 20, and 21, 2015). Held on the nights in which The Music Center theatres are typically “dark,” or not in use, Movies After Dark will present works by Ate9, Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Ana María Alvarez, and BodyTraffic. Also presented will be the return of the much-in-demand Dance Downtown on Friday nights during the summer on The Music Center Plaza (June 5 and 19, 2015; July 3, 17, 2015 and 31; August 14 and 28, 2015), as well as Los Angeles’ National Dance Day public celebration (July 25, 2015).

Dance at The Music Center 2015-2016 Season

Mariinsky Ballet and OrchestraAlexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella (Southern California Premiere), October 8-11, 2015, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

St. Petersburg, Russia’s world-renowned Mariinsky Ballet (formerly the Kirov Ballet) opens the season with the Southern California premiere of its celebrated work, Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. Set to Sergei Prokofiev’s haunting score, performed by the Mariinsky Orchestra, Ratmansky’s Cinderella takes a fresh look at the classic story-ballet with vibrant choreography, feisty humor and a glamorous 1930s twist. Commissioned for the Mariinsky Theatre and premiering in March 2002, the ballet launched Ratmansky onto the world stage. He weaves together a magnificent array of different styles that are interpreted through virtuous classical language along with a monumental, dramatic score. The result is a fresh, witty and sardonic account of the story. Ratmansky combines the grand spectacle of ballet from Soviet Russia with innovative choreography that has a contemporary edge, offering audiences endearing characters and a sense of sophistication.

Cinderella is portrayed as a lonely dreamer and her stepmother as a vicious, tantrum-prone social climber. The choreography builds to a pas de deux of aching beauty and tenderness between Cinderella and her prince. The performances are complemented by spectacular sets and costumes that portray a more modern world of the 20th century. The Washington Post said, “Ratmansky’s treatment echoes the sharp and piercing modernism in the score…” while The New York Times said, “[Ratmansky] appreciates how Prokofiev’s ballet is poised between touching romance and biting sarcasm.”

Founded in the 18th century and originally known as the Imperial Russian Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet is one of the world’s leading ballet companies. Valery Gergiev is artistic and general director of the Mariinsky Theatre.

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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago + The Second CityThe Art of Falling (West Coast Premiere), November 6-8, 2015, Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center

In an example of contemporary dance meets comedic excellence, Dance at The Music Center presents Hubbard Street Dance Chicago + The Second City, with a unique collaboration, The Art of Falling, from two of Chicago’s most creative and compelling companies. This lively, charming and sometimes absurd performance is the brainchild of five choreographers, four writers and more than 30 dancers and actors. Helmed by Jeff Award-winning director Billy Bungeroth, The Art of Falling combines contemporary dance with comedy in three distinct, interwoven storylines punctuated by short vignettes. The cross-disciplinary creative collaboration spotlights the improvisational nature of contemporary performance. “Second City may have pioneered sketch comedy since its formation in 1959, but this latest collaborative project takes the art form to visually spectacular and emotionally satisfying new heights,” proclaimed The Huffington Post, while the Chicago Tribune praised the performance as “Hugely entertaining and strikingly emotional…not-to-be-missed.”

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s core purpose is to bring artists, art, and audiences together to enrich, engage, educate, transform and change lives through the experience of dance. Currently celebrating its 37th season, Hubbard Street continues to be an innovative force, supporting its creative talent while presenting repertory by major international artists.

Rooted in the improvisational games of Viola Spolin, and founded by Spolin’s son, Paul Sills, along with Howard Alk and Bernie Sahlins, the Second City opened in Chicago in December 1959 and began developing its entirely unique way of creating and performing comedy.

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Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of TaiwanRice (The Music Center Debut), January 29-31, 2016, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

Making its Music Center debut, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, Asia’s most renowned contemporary dance company, and the first contemporary dance company in any Chinese speaking community, presents a stunning production of Rice. With dancers trained in meditation, Qigong (an ancient form of breathing exercise), internal martial arts, modern dance and ballet, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre transforms ancient aesthetics into thrilling original performances that integrate the use of spectacular visual sets.

Created by Founder and Artistic Director Lin Hwai-min, who has been heralded as one of the most important choreographers in Asia, Rice was inspired by the landscape and story of Chihshang in the East Rift Valley of Taiwan, a farming village that was tainted by the use of chemical fertilizer, but which has now regained its title as the “Land of Emperor Rice” by adapting organic farming methods. Lin’s creation includes exuberant, powerful movements that are woven into his story of the land and the contemplation of the destruction of the Earth. To emphasize the messages, the production uses projection of vivid video images of flooding, growth, harvesting and the burning of the fields. The soundtrack mixes Hakka folk songs, Western opera, Taiwanese and Japanese drums and the sound of nature – wind, rain and thunder recorded on-site.

Rice was heralded by The Guardian as “a sharply moving synthesis of man and nature, east and west, death and rebirth…Lin’s own song of the earth.” The New York Times said, “Lin Hwai-min has succeeded brilliantly in fusing dance techniques and theatrical concepts from the East and the West.”

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Complexions Contemporary BalletProgram TBD, April 17-17, 2016, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

New York-based Complexions Contemporary Ballet is a contemporary ballet company run by two esteemed alumni of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Artistic Directors Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. Founded in 1994, the Company has a focus on reinventing dance with an emphasis on the artistic and aesthetic appeal of the multicultural. The Company combines technical precision, athleticism, passion and the occasional pop song, using 20 incredibly trained classical and contemporary dancers.

Winners of many awards, including The New York Times’ “Critics Choice” Award, Complexions has appeared throughout the United States and internationally. Heralded by the Washington Post as “Cross-cultural ballet with attitude…wearing toe shoes has never looked like so much fun,” the Company creates an open, continuously evolving form of dance that reflects the movement of the world and all of its cultures as an interrelated whole. According to Rhoden and Richardson, dance should be about removing boundaries, not reinforcing them, and should transcend a single style, period, venue or culture. The Company will deliver an exciting genre-bending performance that blurs the boundaries of ballet and contemporary dance.

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Compagnie KäfigKäfig Brasil and More (To Be Announced) (The Music Center Debut), June 17-19, 2016, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

In a Music Center first and making its Music Center debut, Franco-Brazilian Compagnie Käfig will explore the confluence of the many arts subgenres that have contributed to the development of Hip Hop globally. Established in 1996, the Company flavors its works with dare-devilish circus skills, street dance, martial arts and the fun and energetic Hip Hop vocabulary. Compagnie Käfig brings the street to the stage with an all-male cast of 11 dancers who combine Hip Hop, Capoeira, Samba, electronic music and the Bossa Nova for a performance that showcases astonishing acrobatic skills along with energy and invention.

Led by Artistic Director Mourad Merzouki, who applies a multidisciplinary approach to the exploration of Hip Hop, the company will present Käfig Brasil, a rhythmic and muscular dance that the Times Union said is, “…animated by waves of energy, as if volts of electricity were travelling from muscle to muscle and limb to limb. Then that tightly controlled power explodes into fireworks.”

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American Ballet Theatre – Mixed Repertoire including Firebird (The Music Center debut), July 8-10, 2016, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

The 2015-16 season of Dance at the Music Center concludes with five performances by American Ballet Theatre (ABT). ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky brings his choreographic vision in a full evening of works, including his 2012 Firebird and a selection from the Company’s 2012-2013 presentation of Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy. Ratmansky’s reimagined Firebird, set to the iridescent music of Igor Stravinsky and performed by a live orchestra, tells an enchanting tale of a mythical bird who possesses magical powers and helps two lovers overcome an evil sorcerer.

American Ballet Theatre’s “Firebird”

Firebird takes audiences on an extravagant adventure. The ballet received its world premiere under the title L’Oiseau de Feu by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in Paris on June 25, 1910, with choreography by Mikhail Fokine and scenery and costumes by Alexander Golovine and Leon Bakst, and premiered in the United States as Firebird with the same company in New York on January 17, 1916. Firebird, with choreography by Adolph Bolm and scenery and costumes by Marc Chagall, first entered the repertory of ABT on October 24, 1945, at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. This new production, with choreography by Ratmansky, had its world premiere in Southern California at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa on March 29, 2012. The Los Angeles Times said, “…choreographer Alexei Ratmansky has updated the iconic ‘Firebird’ into an extravagant and fanciful adventure…” while The Wall Street Journal called it “…a freshly told fantastical tale.”

Recognized as one of the premier dance companies in the world, American Ballet Theatre brings the highest quality dance and dancers to audiences across the globe. Under the artistic direction of former ABT Principal Dancer Kevin McKenzie, the Company remains steadfast in its vision as “American” and continues to bring the art of dance theater to the great stages of the world.

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Season tickets/subscriptions for Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center are on sale now. For information, call (213) 972-0711 or visit http://www.musiccenter.org/1516dance

Firebird photo by Gene Schiavone


Live Theatre: Robert Wilson’s staging of “The Old Woman” with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe at Royce Hall

November 16, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles, CA.  Whether dancing and crooning like a Dadaist Bob Hope and Bing Crosby or wailing like dying coyotes, Baryshnikov and Dafoe bring a scorching vitality to the stage as they interpret through spoken word, dance, and song the absurdist universe of the Russian poet, Daniil Kharms, as seen through the magic lens of Robert Wilson.

With hints of Russian avant-garde theatre, Surrealist cabaret, English music hall, American vaudeville, and nineteen-seventies experimental theatre of Lower Manhattan from which Wilson evolved (and Dafoe participated in with the Wooster Group); this night of divine lunacy has Baryshnikov dancing flamenco with a pair of dentures as  castanets and Dafoe capering with a string of sausages. They wear dusty dark suits and ties, their toupees are arranged in a curious corkscrew of hair pointing sideways, and their faces are painted Geisha-girl white with black circles rimming their eyes like spectacles.

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe

Mirror images of each other, the duo performs symbiotically: sometimes they repeat the same phrase in unison; sometimes Baryshnikov translates Dafoe’s English into Russian.  But whether they act as the writer and the old woman, or as two best friends, or as the oppressor and the oppressed, together they are a force of nature – clowns caught up in an indifferent world, shrugging off pain with a jab of the arm or a kick of the leg.

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe

Adapted for the stage by Darryl Pinckney, the novella, The Old Woman, is an evocation of a writer and his travails over the taunting corpse of an old woman. Kharms, born in St. Petersburg in 1905 suffered, as so many of his fellow artists did, at the hands of the Soviet Regime. His writings read more like fragments of thought, narrative, and pain wrapped up in a package of absurdist humor.    Pinckney fractures the tale even further, giving us repetitive verbal vignettes compressed into twelve scenes. Sometimes the repetition weakens the work – one could wish for a bit more of Kharms’ text from the story to find its way into the dialogue – other times it adds to the humor.

The evening has its maddening moments with all the repeated phrases, a bit like a stuck recording. But the quiet grace of scenes such as Baryshnikov confiding in the audience in Russian (discreet titles in white positioned on black panels on two sides of the proscenium translate), or Dafoe and Baryshnikov in a poignant embrace offers a counterpoint to the aggressive repetition.

“The Old Woman”

Wilson’s sets have the strong flavor of Russian Constructivist theatre design from the nineteen twenties and Vavara Stepanova and Liubov Popova’s designs in particular.   Suspended trapezoidal window frames, a giant swing, linear angled and mangled furniture, a chicken coop, and a giant suitcase, all set on a stark stage, form the platforms on which Dafoe and Baryshnikov sit, recline, and cavort. Whether creating a Constructivist pallet of black, white, and red or using vibrant primary colors, the lighting concept of Wilson (light design by A.J. Weissbard) paints the scenes with luscious pops of pigment. But Wilson’s world, though it glimmers with artistic and theatrical influences, is unique to our times and sets the bar for contemporary, Minimalist design and staging.

The recorded music, assembled by Hal Willner, weaves standards like “Tiger Rag” and “Goodnight Sweetheart,” with Tom Waits’ boisterous, carnival-esque “Innocent When You Dream.” In the more pensive moments there is Arvo Part’s haunting music. For a few moments we are treated to the singing talents of Dafoe and, a surprise, Baryshnikov singing sweetly in Russian. As far as the dancing goes (there is no credited choreographer), Dafoe’s long legs kicked, strutted, and spun around the stage like a pro’s.

And Baryshnikov? Just to see him point a foot or display a graceful hand enthralls. But he does far more than that. His body takes on the attributes of in turn, a vaudevillian, an old woman, and a young lady. The duo dances everything from an absurdist tango to a soft shoe with walking sticks. Though the song and dance elements of the piece are not its driving force, let me ask: Could this be the beginning of a beautiful partnership?

Photo by Lucie Jansch courtesy of CAP UCLA.

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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

 


Live Opera: The Los Angeles Opera performs “The Magic Flute” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

November 25, 2013

By Jane Rosenberg

There were unusual doings at the Los Angeles Opera Saturday night. If your taste in opera is locked in the past, you should steer away from their new production of The Magic Flute, but if inventive, visually abundant, and clever re-imaginings of classic operas are  your métier, then this is the production for you.

Originating at the Komische Oper Berlin and the brainchild of the director, Barrie Koskyand the English theater team of Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt, this is a “Flute” for wholly modern audiences who can process a visual field that was both over-stimulating and incessantly entertaining. That the singers and orchestra were able to shine alongside this most dazzling and somewhat distracting production is a testimony to the beauty of Mozart’s opera, the quality of the first rate cast, and the perfection of the orchestra under James Conlon.

Tamino in the opening scene of "The Magic Flute"

Tamino in the opening scene of “The Magic Flute”

The eighteenth century setting was updated to the nineteen twenties and the result was delightful and insightful all at once. As I watched live singers interact with video projections reminiscent of German Expressionist cinema, American silent comedies,and early Disney animation sprinkled with Max Fleischer’s Betty Boop, I was struck by the feeling that I was experiencing “Flute” with the same wonder and enchantment encountered by the audiences of 1791 at Schikaneder’s Theater auf der Wieden on the outskirts of Vienna. Everything in the LA Opera’s “Flute” felt fresh and new, both modern and timeless all at once. There was an intimacy to the evening, perhaps better suited to a smaller venue than the Dorothy Chandler. Nevertheless, the audience felt embraced in the arms of this tender comedy, which brought the musical genre of German eighteenth century “singspiel” to life in the twenty-first century.

There were strengths and weaknesses to this remarkable assemblage of art and song. Here the silent film allusions worked to the benefit of composer Mozart and librettist Emanuel Schikaneder. Replacing the spoken lines (which brings the musical momentum to a dead halt) with written dialogue emblazoned over the characters heads was inspired.

In these “silent” segments, the written lines were underscored with music from Mozart fantasias for piano, played on an eighteenth century hammerklavier and seamlessly blended into the score. This tightened the action, moved the drama forward briskly, and eliminated the musical dead spots, which made for more engrossing entertainment.

It did come at a price, however. Some narrative points were lost, like Papagena’s transformation from old hag to sexy youth, but it seemed worth the sacrifice if this production can draw and engage an audience beyond the opera crowd.

The Queen of the Night

But the most glaring mistake came in the rendering of the Queen of the Night. The ambiguity of the Queen’s morality, which is central to the plot (is she good or evil?), was done away with. In Act One, she is immediately revealed to be a rapacious spider woman, her gigantic, projected leg-claws chasing and entrapping Tamino, and her enlarged alien head (the masked head of singer Erika Miklósa) bobbing on a high pedestal above. Why would Tamino believe her when she tells him her daughter’s life must be saved from the evil clutches of Sarastro? It puts into question Tamino’s drive to rescue Pamina. Is he in love with her portrait, as written, or is he so terrified by the devouring spider-mother that he saves Pamina out of fear? Why not make her an exotic Weimar cabaret singer of dubious character or a decadent noblewoman, to name a few possibilities. There is no nuance to her character, no movement from worried mother to frightening, narcissistic queen.

Elsewhere the visuals delight. Too numerous to explain at length, they cast a spell over the audience as the singers, with razor sharp timing, interact with the animation: from blowing animated smoke rings to jumping across rooftops. Tamino’s flute (oddly replaced with a naked Pamina fairy – don’t ask) tames a bevy of wild beasts who float in the night sky as constellations.

Papageno and Two Ladies

Papageno, when offered wine by Sarastro’s priest, drinks a pink cocktail with an animated straw from a giant glass to hilarious effect. And in a wonderful touch, when the three ladies padlock his mouth, his lips dance in projection across the screen.

From the first majestic chords to the final notes of the score, the LA Opera orchestra, under Maestro Conlon, captured the vitality of this most ebullient of comic operas. There was a transparent delicacy to the playing, overlaid with a rich luster that conveyed every nuance of the music.

Pamina

Pamina

The role of Pamina, who not only survives her cunning mother and the lascivious Monostatos, but also the paternalistic clichés of the plot, was consummately sung by Janai Brugger. With a Louise Brooks wig, wearing white face, and dressed in schoolgirl black, she let loose a shimmering soprano. When she sings of her loss of love’s happiness in her Act Two aria, she caresses each line with tenderness, and the effect is exquisitely heartbreaking.

As her noble suitor, Tamino was sung by Lawrence Brownlee. His buttery tone and clarity of expression suited the role perfectly. Erika Miklósa, the Queen of the Night, is a seasoned player, having sung the role at least four hundred times. Glorious in Act One, delivering both nuance and power, she floundered in the opening of her famous second act aria and seemed a bit strident in her delivery. Monostatos, conceived as a Nosferatu creature, with a posse of enormous black, scruffy rats instead of slaves, was performed with lecherous relish by Rodell Rosel.

Papageno and Papagena

Papageno and Papagena

The Papageno of Rodion Pogossov was a wall-to-wall pleasure. With a silky, powerful baritone and comic presence that was able to out punch even the most distracting animated effects, he embodied the bird-catcher as silent comedy hero and took us on a joy ride of an evening. Amanda Woodbury as his Papagena sang charmingly. In front of an adorable projection of a dollhouse, replete with dozens of children, the pair performed their closing duet to joyful effect.

The Three Ladies: Hae Ji Chang, Cassandra Zoe Velasco, and Peabody Southwell were a perfectly realized trio; and the chorus of the LA Opera under Grant Gershon sang with an emotional depth that touched the heart. One only wished that Sarastro’s priests looked less like tribal Abe Lincolns and more like the noble characters of the original conception.

With Pamina and Tamino’s trials conquered and the Queen of the Night defeated, we, along with the chorus, exulted in an evening well spent in the company of this very individual production.

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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.  

 

 Photos by Robert Millard courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.


Opera: “Falstaff” at the Los Angeles Opera

November 11, 2013

By Jane Rosenberg

The king of bellies landed his large bottom on the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Saturday night and the evening was a triumphant blend of hilarity, pathos, and ravishing music. In this ensemble of marvelous singers, Maestro Conlon has a cast who not only do credit to Verdi’s incandescent score but also match the glorious sound that Conlon drew from the LA Opera orchestra.

Falstaff is without doubt one of the gems of Italian opera. Though a casual listener might think it lacks the show stopping arias of Verdi’s earlier masterpieces, the truth is that the tunes are sprinkled like dustings of sugar throughout the three acts, and one can barely keep pace with the melodic abundance of his score. No mere musical accompaniment to the singers, the orchestra, under Conlon’s inspired direction, lays claim as a character in its own right. The musicians become Verdi’s eighty-year-old voice commenting, cajoling, and embracing life in all its contradictions.

Roberto Frontali as Falstaff and Rodell Rosel as Bardolph.

Roberto Frontali as Falstaff and Rodell Rosel as Bardolph.

Whether singing of his belly as his kingdom (which must be enlarged) or the physical charms of his slim youth, Robert Frontali as Falstaff had the voice and stage presence to bring the character to bursting life. His supple baritone was as expressive as it was potent. He had the knack for confiding in the audience, drawing us in like co-conspirators who wished for his schemes to succeed, just as a parent wishes for the success of its offspring. His partners in crime, Bardolf (Rodell Rosel) and Pistol (Valentine Anikin), added their brand of delicious squalor to the first act.

The warm-toned sets by Adrian Linford contributed to the action. From beginning to end their simplicity, with a suggestion of Elizabethan architecture, allowed the narrative to unfold without interference, enhancing the humor with its windows and balconies and resembling a storybook world that delighted at every turn. In fact, a screen resembling a giant sheet of aged parchment descended at the beginning of each scene onto which a Shakespearean quote from “The Merry Wives of Windsor” or “Henry IV” was projected, adding to the storybook effect and referencing the literary material from which the opera sprang. 

As the merry wives, Carmen Giannattasio (Alice Ford), Erica Brookhyser (Meg Page), Ronnita Nicole Miller (Mistress Quickly), and Ekaterina Sadovnikova (Nannetta) proved an impressive and adorable quartet. In the allegro vivace of Act One, Part Two when the male and female ensembles scheme in their separate groups, we are in Rossini territory, but this is Rossini on steroids at the close of the nineteenth century when music is traveling towards a modernist vocabulary with Verdi pointing the direction.

The Italian soprano, Giannattasio, had a lovely clarity to her voice that in turn thrilled, seduced, and charmed. With the air of a wise matron coupled with the insouciance of a woman secure in her attractiveness, she proved to be an ideal Alice.

Ronnita Nicole Miller as Mistress Quickly, Erica Brookhyser as Meg Page; Ekaterina Sadovnikova as Nannetta; Carmen Giannattasio as Alice Ford.

Ronnita Nicole Miller as Mistress Quickly, Erica Brookhyser as Meg Page; Ekaterina Sadovnikova as Nannetta; Carmen Giannattasio as Alice Ford.

Ronnita Miller as Mistress Quickly, the neighbor of Meg and Alice, and go-between to Alice and Falstaff, once again proved herself to be a formidable and versatile talent.  Able to deliver her obsequious “Reverenza” of Act Two with sly but subtle phrasing, to confront Falstaff with the necessary gravitas and yet infuse the meeting with irony and a knowing wink was immensely satisfying. At home in both the upper and lower registers, one feels she is able to endlessly surprise yet remain secure with both vocal and acting demands. One of the most humorous moments in the staging, thanks to director Lee Blakely, is Falstaff’s “tip” bestowed on Quickly. After she sets up the rendezvous of Falstaff and Alice, the knight, rather than tossing the mistress a coin, as in most productions, hands her a half eaten chicken leg.  What happens next is comic perfection.

With the departure of Mistress Quickly in Act Two, next up is Alice’s husband, Ford, (Marco Caria) intent on tricking and humiliating Falstaff. One character played off the other with delightful results. Ford plied Falstaff with gold, wine, and flattery; and there was much humor inherent in the handsome Caria begging Falstaff to intercede for him in seducing Alice. Caria presented a colored baritone with all the ardor of a romantic tenor. When he raged against Alice whom he now believes is cheating on him, the orchestra raged along with him and together they created high drama and raucous comedy all at once. With Falstaff off stage dressing for his seduction of Alice, Ford’s aria took on shades of Otello, the music first exploding then suddenly shifting gears with the score shimmering at Falstaff’s silken and bejeweled entrance.

The antics of Act Two in Alice’s home with characters hiding in corners, dirty laundry flying in the air, and men piling in the room to rout out Falstaff had the inspired zaniness of a Marx Brothers movie or an episode of “I Love Lucy.” Giannattasio, with her effortless soprano, sets the scene for the trick played on Falstaff.

The young lovers (Ekaterina Sadovnikova as Nannetta and Juan Francisco Gatell as Fenton) are about to be discovered in the Act Two finale of "Falstaff.

The young lovers (Ekaterina Sadovnikova as Nannetta and Juan Francisco Gatell as Fenton) are about to be discovered in the Act Two finale of “Falstaff.

However, it is the young lovers, Nannetta and Fenton, who in this scene ground the opera. The singers Sadovnikova and Juan Francisco Gatell formed the perfect partnership to bring home the poignancy of true love. With her nuanced soprano and golden curls, Sadovnikova was the embodiment of Nannetta. Gatell’s lustrous tenor had enough yearning and enthusiasm in every note to convey his overflowing love for her. From first act to last they remind us of why we love, marry, and procreate. Their honest desires are what we aspire to in youth and long for in old age. Fenton’s refrain: “Bocca baciata non perde ventura,” (Lips that are kissed never lose their charm) and Alice’s answer, “Anzi rinnova come fa la luna,” (Instead, they renew it like the moon) never leave our consciousness, weaving a spell of magic throughout.

In the final act, after Falstaff has been dumped in the river in a laundry basket, he climbed from the orchestra pit onto the stage, collapsing on his back like a beached whale. What follows is a wonder of orchestral imagination. Frontali reprised his “Va John” from Act One, this time though he’s defeated and broken. Then suddenly the horns announced the entrance of a goblet of wine and in the time it takes for one gulp, the music and Frontali trilled to zestful life.

The opera concludes at midnight in a magical park under a huge oak where a trap has been laid for Falstaff. Lounging on the sturdy oak, Fenton, waiting for Nannetta, sang rapturously of his love. His aria seemed a marked contrast to the lecherous follies of old age, and yet his song emphasized man’s common desire for love no matter what the age.  Nannetta and Fenton are Verdi’s children and the children of us all.

Since Falstaff has allowed himself to be tricked again into meeting Alice, he appeared, as requested, dressed as the Black Huntsman sporting a pair of enormous antlers. The rest of the townsfolk are in on the trick and all the players disguise themselves as fairies, witches, and mischievous spirits. Draped in white gauze, Sadovnikova, as Queen of the Fairies, mesmerized the audience with her ethereal soprano. Blooming with beauty, one knew she was entitled to a full life of love with her young suitor rather than the old lecher, Dr. Caius (Joel Sorenson filling in for an indisposed Robert Brubaker) whom her father insists she marry. Though Falstaff is scared out of his wits by a taunting chorus of men and women and justly punished for his scheming by the townsfolk, he remains wholly true to himself and his belly to the bitter end.  “Man is born a jester,” Frontali sang triumphantly and we are glad of it to our very core!

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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 Robert Millard courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.


Picks of the Week: Oct. 28 – Nov. 3

October 29, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Amanda McBroom

Amanda McBroom

– Oct. 30. (Wed.)  Amanda McBroom.  The singer, actress and songwriter (“The Rose” is one of her songs) takes a break from her busy acting career to make a rare musical appearance in Los Angeles.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

– Oct. 31. (Thurs.)  Kate Reid and Larry Koonse Duo.  Guitarist Koonse, who is at the top of everyone’s rhythm section list, has a strong musical connection with singer/pianist/educator Reid. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Nov. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.)  Vivaldi with Perlman.  Violinist Itzhak Perlman conducts and solos with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program of Vivaldi, Weber and Berlioz.  Walt Disney Hall. /2013-11-01  (323) 850-2000.

– Nov. 1. (Fri.)  Bob Sheppard Trio. He’s a prime, first-call tenor saxophonist, but Sheppard is also a versatile woodwind (clarinet, flute and other saxophones) artist as well.  Hear him in the warm acoustic ambiance of Herb Alpert’s elegant jazz club.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

Karrin Allyson

Karrin Allyson

– Nov. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.) Karrin Allyson.  Multiple Grammy nominated Allyson performs superbly in genres reaching from folk to cabaret to jazz to bossa nova and beyond. Her L.A. performances are rare, and always worth attending.    Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

– Nov. 2. (Sat.)  Joanne Tatham.  “Soundtrack New York: Music from Movies Made in Manhattan.  It’s a fascinating idea for a program of songs, with dozens from which to chose.  And Tatham delivers it well, via her warm, seductive sound and musical story-telling skills.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

Pat Senatore

Pat Senatore

– Nov. 3. (Sun.)  The Pat Senatore Trio.  With Josh Nelson, piano and Mark Ferber, drums.  Bassist Senatore leads a stellar group of players in a CD release party celebrating the release of the Trio’s new album, AscensioneVibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

– Oct. 30 & 31.  (Wed. & Thurs.)  The Four Freshmen.  Their history dates back to the late ‘40s, when the Freshmen were creating harmonically lush, jazz-driven jazz vocalizing, accompanied by their own multiple instrumental skills.  This is a younger version of the Freshmen, but their music continues to be richly compelling.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

Seattle

– Oct. 31 – Nov. 3. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Gerald Albright. He’s well known as a much-admired, contemporary jazz saxophonist, but Albright is also a multi-instrumentalist who brings genre-crossing sounds to all his performances.   Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York City

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

– Nov. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.)  Arturo Sandoval.  Every performance by Cuban-born Sandoval is a stunning display of his musical range and instrumental eclecticism.  Whether playing Dizzy Gillespie-influenced trumpet, rhapsodic piano, dynamic drumming, or singing, he does it all with complete musical mastery.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

Oct., 31 – Nov. 3.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Vijay Iyer Trio.  Pianist Iyer’s Grammy-nominated Trio is an engaging vehicle for his playing, which incorporates aspects of his Indian heritage with his dynamic piano style.  Jazz Standard.

– Oct. 29 – Nov. 2. (Tues. – Sat.)  The Ron Carter Nonet. Carter has performed as everyone’s favorite bassist on more than 2500 albums.  But he’s less-known as a composer and band leader in his own right, who should be heard at every opportunity.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

London

Dave Holland

Dave Holland

– Nov. 2 & 3.  (Sat. & Sun.)  Dave Holland Prism.  Prism is the latest in bassist Holland’s numerous ensembles.  And like all his musical efforts, it leads his listeners through inventive musical adventures.  Ronnie Scott’s.   +44 (0)20 7439 0747

Copenhagen

– Nov. 1 & 2. (Fri. & Sat.)  The Ben Sidran Quartet.  “Don’t Cry For No Hipster.”  The versatile Sidran, a Renaissance jazz man, moves comfortably from performing jazz, rock and beyond to work as a producer, educator and radio host.  Here, he’s on piano and vocals, backed by Bob Rockwell, tenor saxophone, Billy Peterson, bass and Leo Sidran, drums.  Jazzhus Montmartre.    +45 31 72 34 94.

Milan

– Oct. 30 & 31. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Jack DeJohnette Group.  Drummer DeJohnette, always creatively curious, leads an ensemble that features the equally inventive clarinetist/saxophonist Don Byron Blue Note Milano.     +39.02.69016888.


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