La Serpiente, a contemporary dance company based in Morelia, Mexico, performed on Sunday night at the Performing Arts Center at UAlbany. (Photo by Gloria Minauro)
Good dancers deserve good choreography.
But that’s not what happened on Sunday night at UAlbany’s Performing Arts Center. The marvelous movers of La Serpiente had the challenge of making tepid choreography with a thin premise into something meaningful. And despite their efforts in achieving some sublime moments, their talents couldn’t upend the monotony of “Treatise About the Line.”
Choreographed by Laura Martinez Ayala, the industrial-like piece centers on a supple line that stretched from wing to wing. Four dancers, Liliana Rosales Merlos, Francisco Javier Esqueda Plascencia, Francisco Javier Ponce Orozco and Abdiel Villasenor Talavera, interacted with the line – slipping over and under it, caressing it, following it and getting tied up in it.
But the line never spoke, it was just an object that didn’t seem to have any influence on those who encountered it. It was not dangerous or desirable. It was just there, a limp prop that Ayala didn’t use to advance an engaging plight. Thus, for the duration, which was an hour, the dancers were bumping up against a Spadex rope without projecting a message or providing a payoff.
This was difficult to write as the show was part of La Serpiente’s first tour of America. The ensemble is from Mexico, a place where few contemporary dance companies hail, so I wanted to root for them, to express that they were the dancing neighbor to the south that we have been longing to see.
Alas, that was not to be.
However, the dancers were special. Much of their movement was bold, reminiscent of contact improvisation that was popular in the 1970s where bodies launched bodies beyond their solo abilities. The men were especially adept – able to trustingly share their weight to achieve mid-air poses that hint at aggression but also compassion.
The piece also reeked of atmosphere. With an airy and percussive electronic score by Pedro Vargas Madrigal, it felt like the dancers were sneaking around the bowels of an abandoned factory. At times they were stiff and robotic, other times floppy and fluid, but again, it sadly added up to obtuseness.
It did lead to a lot of questions as to what the Ayala was aiming for. Were the players expected to toe the line, step out of line, put their life on the line, cross the line? They did none of these or if they did, it wasn’t communicated. Thus, the outcome was an audience that mentally pleaded for an end.
It was unfortunate that these dancers had to settle for tedious to get a ticket to a North American tour. Let's hope they get second chance and a better dance.
Adam Weinert's "Anthem" is a cautionary tale of where America is today.
Choreographer Adam Weinert asked, if America’s anthem was written today, what would it be?
As portrayed by his work “Anthem,” as seen in Rensselaer’s Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, it would be dark, exclusive and divided. And for the audience who watched it unfold on Friday night, it struck a chord of disturbing truth.
Weinert’s choreography, in which everything but the lighting is black, began with a dancer dressed in judicial-looking robe taking away everything from the already mostly barren stage – a music pod, a large fan that blew wind and a banner that ruffled it’s the breeze. He then climbed the back wall of the stage to sit immovable and perched above the dance or fray as it unfolded below.
In silence, Weinert was the first to come into view. Laying on the floor, he was a restless as he tossed and tumbled as if wrestling with a nightmare. He was also tethered by a long black cloth, that he stretched and pulled, bound to an invisible force from which he tussled to be freed.
Then the rest of the ensemble appeared from a hidden stage door. Holding lights that swing with their movement and cast dramatic shadows on the floors and walls, the five dancers stepped in unison – until they don’t.
A couple breaks off and engages in a duet that was rich with lifts that looked awkward but were meant, I think, to show support. However, as a strob lights started to flash, their unity broke. It felt like bombs were dropping and one of them was a casualty.
There were other casualties too – Brandon Washington danced the tortuous solo representing the Black man in America – always fighting but being pushed to the side. Cynthia Koppe was the symbol of poverty. Wiping the floor with the long black cloth, she stumbled continually, not able to find footing in a society that favors the rich.
Weinert also used this long cloth to teach a societal lesson that despite our differences, we are literally tied together. Even the aloof judge came off his high place to show that he too is a part of the stew as he became entangled with the others.
Weinert, who created with fascinating work with Yebel Gallegos, used lighting brilliantly. The handheld lights, a metaphor for truth, ended up hanging off a wooden structure that I first thought was a stretcher and then a ladder. But this long looking object, carried by the dancers, never rose up to allow a higher reach. It stayed parallel to the floor with the lights hanging down – illuminating only the bottom.
The dancers ended by proceeding off stage in a somber parade. The dancer in the lead carrying the structure forward was blinded by another, a clear signal that America is moving into unseen territory. Others like Koppe struggled to keep up, falling constantly and in the end was battered and left behind.
“Anthem” did what all art should do, make one ponder. And in this case, audiences pondered where we are as a nation. Ultimately, it is a cautionary tale that I fear few will consider.
Limon Dance Company danced the delightful "Waldstein Sonata" on Friday night at The Egg.
Limon Dance Company, one of the oldest continuous running American modern dance ensembles, gave Friday night’s Egg audiences a lesson in the art’s history.
For a dance fanatic like myself, seeing these historic and ground-breaking works underscores the legacy and how far the art has progressed. But I could see that for some in the audience, these works were difficult as they were small and delicate, not layered with bombastic blazes that audiences, myself included at times, expect and find appealing today.
Regardless, I can say I was taken with this four-piece program as it was beautiful, elegant and the dancing was sublime.
Consider the opener, Doris Humphrey’s 1929 “Air for the G String,” to music of the same name by Bach. Though there was a technical glitch with the music at the start, the dance for five women was deeply touching. Wearing long flowing robes of gold, the dancers walk, uplift their arms and twirl with a fluid grace in a way that elevates simplicity to a celestial level. It was divine.
The rest of the program featured works by Jose Limon, founder and artistic director of the company, which was established in 1946. Among the oldest works was his “Chaconne,” a dance created in 1942 for the Humphrey-Weidman Studio Theater. Set to Bach’s “Partita No. 2 in D minor” for violin, the solo, as performed by Savannah Spratt, was a portrayal of strength and dignity. Spratt began in a spotlight, stepped out of it like a matador into an arena to face an undefined darkness. She was regal as her movement swung from soft to sharp, without ever giving ground to the unseen.
Overall, it was a serious program which also included Limon’s 1972 “Orfeo,” a work based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, lovers divided by death. As the story goes, Orpheus’s musical brilliance on the lyre softened the heart of Hades who would allow Eurydice to return to Earth with Orpheus, on the condition neither look back at the underworld.
The dance, set to Beethoven’s String Quartet Opus 95, began with a Orfeo, as portrayed by Nicholas Ruscica, performing a mournful dance. The control and anguish, as he reached out and then folded back in as if his insides crumbled, shot across the house. His beloved, danced by Frances Lorraine Samson, then appeared covered in a long, sheer cloth. Escorted by a trio of underworld nymphs, she was released and the two embraced in a sensuous duet that ended in a kiss -- a fatal mistake sending her away from Orfeo once again.
While I was enamored by these works, the “Waldstein Sonata” was the evening’s most enjoyable. Set to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 21 in C Major, this happy dance was created on four couples who frolic and float in intriguing formations through the bright music.
It was a charming closer to an enlightened evening.
Momix was back in town on Thursday night, performing at The Egg.
Momix is magic.
The dance ensemble – a byproduct of Moses Pendleton’s fertile imagination – is an assemblage of athletes, acrobatics and artists who sweep audiences into a world of illusion where nature and human foibles are elevated to hypnotic beauty or sheer fun.
And those in the know smartly poured into The Egg on Thursday night to see yet another delightful Momix mix – mostly a showing of classics and tidbits from the full-length “Botanica.”
Much of Momix’s genius is channeled through the clever use of everyday props like in the ticklishly humorous curtain-riser “Solar Flares.” Here, vibrating orange pool noodles, along with the scurrying of the dancers, created a vision of a giant insect, flapping its legs and creeping across the stage. Drumming from Mr. Mahalo Head pumped up the dancers and the audience for the high-energy movement and wizardry to come.
There was a lot of it. “Marigolds,” featuring five women in frilly skirts to look like flowers bending in the wind, was a vibrant, swaying dance with a middle eastern vibe. The women also showed off their fluid synchronicity in “Baths of Caracalla,” where silken white banners twirled above and around their bodies in the most mesmerizing fashion.
Equally intoxicating was “Aqua Flora,” performed by Amanda Hulen, in which a beaded curtain, that fell over her body became something that looked a glowing massive halo or the flapping wings of a bird in flight.
Momix also dabbled in the purely silly, like in “Daddy Long-Legs,” where a trio dressed as cowboys created the appearance of strutting and riding their steeds with the ingenious use of one stilt. And “If You Need Some Body,” in which dancers toss about floppy dummies that bend and flew at odd angles, was hilarious.
Momix also showed off its mettle and muscles in “Table Talk” with Jason Williams who vaulted and swung his legs about on the table as if it were a pommel horse. “Millennium Skiva,” one of Pendleton’s oldest works, also required strength as two dancers – on skis – rocked back and forth on their runners launching themselves into an otherworldly duet.
All the pieces were short, so boredom was never an option. And once the audience got past the question of “how do they do that,” power of reason was set aside and we all became spellbound.
Momix always does that. They are sensational seducers of the mind and we, as short-term witnesses, were once again the beneficiaries.
La Nina performed with flamenco guitarist Maria Zemantauski and drummer Brian Melick at UAlbany on Wednesday night.
I came for the dance. But stayed for the music.
Not that the dance was bad, but the guitar strumming of the great Maria Zemantauski was a revelation. On Wednesday night at UAlbany’s Performing Arts Center, this flamenco guitarist shared her gift, openly, honestly and purely. And the love affair she clearly has with her guitar eclipsed anything else on that stage – not La Nina’s zapateado nor Brian Melick’s joyous drumming. Zemantauski held her audience in a trance.
Certainly, she was the headliner for this concert that was to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month. And this Spanish music performer could have easily stood alone on the bill as she was able to manipulate her music into sounding like a ensemble of guitars and drums.
Still, her wonderful playing was furthered by dancer La Nina, a mature woman whose dancing rejects flash and zeroed in on rhythmic precision of her rapid and complicated foot work and her bold fingering of the castanets. While she had the elegant stance of a formidable flamenco artist, the regal chest with arms poised behind her back like a dashing matador, La Nina also appeared warm without the badge of vanity that many flamenco dancer often wear. She instead settled on the dance’s beauty and simplicity.
As she snaked her arms and unfurled her fingers and then planted her heels and toes into the floor, she became a straightforward vessel carrying traditional complex rhythms into the future as she wended her way through the Farruca, the Siguiriya and the Alegria and other dances.
At one point, she pulled out a shawl, swinging it above and around her head and gracefully, using momentum to send it falling and wrapping around her shoulders and torso. The fluidity of the flying manton and the soaring music merged into an exquisite display of sight and sound.
Percussionist Melick was a fine accompanist – responsive to both guitarist and dancer with his agile handling of his tambourine and drums, the box, udu and djembe.
But once again, I go back to Zemantauski who beguiled. She was the driver behind the magic. I am grateful I was there.
Miami City Ballet is performing George Balanchine's "Serenade" this week at Jacob's Pillow. It featured on Wednesday night, from left, Hannah Fischer, Samantha Hope Galler, Ariel Rose and Ashley Knox. (Photo by Christopher Duggan)
For those of you who are missing the old days when New York City Ballet spent more than a few days in the region each summer, it’s time to take a trip over to Jacob’s Pillow to see Miami City Ballet.
Certainly, Miami doesn’t have the same scope or history of City Ballet. But they do have the warmth and the chops to perform what local balletomanes long for -- George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. And the Pillow is a gracious host, one that is so commitment to the art that it renovated its main stage at the Ted Shawn Theatre to install an orchestra pit this year.
Musicians filled the pit for the first time Wednesday night for the Miami dancers who did not disappoint with their renderings of Balanchine monumental “Serenade” and a moving world premiere by Margarita Armas. The company, as directed by former City Ballet principal Lourdes Lopez, also danced Martha Graham’s “Diversion of Angels” and Robbins’ “Antique Epigraphs.”
“Serenade” was the evening’s knockout. On the smaller intimate stage, the ballet that is cast in a cloud of blue grew in power. Every nuance, the flick of the feet to first position and then in tendu, the turning of the ballerina on her one leg and the melting of the arm over tilted, inquisitive heads, felt enlarged. And thus the beauty, the sadness, the romance and the final ascent to the heaven was also elevated, suspending time and whisking its audience away to another otherworldly dimension.
The orchestra in the pit, performing the Tchaikovsky score with both tenderness and verve, sounded wonderful in the theater. It leaves one hoping that the Pillow, which sought extra donations in order to host Miami City Ballet there, can do the same with other important companies. The live music was expensive, but it added so much.
Interestingly, the Debussy flute and pianos carried Robbins’ “Antique Epigraphs,” which is new to the company. While the flutist Linda Toote and pianists Francisco Renno and Ciro Fondere enchanted, the dancing failed to call forth the plasticity necessary to portray Greek bas reliefs coming to life.
Still the ballet looked beautiful with the all-female cast dressed in long, sheer, sepia-toned tunics with side lighting by Jennifer Tipton that made the dancers glow.
More absorbing was Armas’ “Geta.” Set to Nina Simone’s rendering of “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” the solo featured Renan Cerdeiro appeared to grasp onto a lost cause. It was poignant, heart-felt and Cerdiero cut a striking, sympathetic and memorable figure.
Graham’s “Diversion of Angels,” set to music by Norman Dello Joio, was both a surprise and a triumph. Graham’s works are notoriously difficult for anyone not trained in her technique. Still, the dancers, especially Dawn Atkins and Chase Swatosh in white, were strong and solid, holding endless, difficult poses, among those who frolic with the angels.
Miami City Ballet performs at the Pillow through Sunday. It’s a must-see performance.
Corey Boatner and Yoojung Hahm perform in Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble in "Catharsis." (Photo by Christopher Duggan)
A lot can change in 50 years – and that is certainly the case with Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble.
Performing this week on Jacob’s Pillow main stage, the Denver-based contemporary dance troupe is offering a full scope of its half-century with works dating back to its earliest days -- including a piece by Katherine Dunham and its founder and Artistic Director Cleo Parker Robinson.
But it is the newer works, specifically two from 2017, where the appealing and stirring artistry of this mainly African-American company can be found. Donald McKayle’s “Crossing the Rubion: Passing the Point of No Return” and Garfield Lemonius’ “Cartharsis” are stunners – with gut-wrenching duets at their heart – that I promise one would want to see again and again.
Both seed their power in the group that elicit images of humanity’s struggle – McKayle in expressing the fear and anxiety felt by refugee and Lemonius, the need for a mental health release from the world’s fraught with ever-mounting pressures.
McKayle, a recognized choreographic master, captured the plight of those forced to leave their home because of war, famine and natural disaster in “Crossing the Rubicon.” To music by Anoushka Shankar, a dozen dancers flee. At first, it’s a slow bedraggled and orderly effort. Then later on, their patterns shift to a full-on reckless exodus.
Cast in earth-tone shades, they look dusty, tired, but determined in their flight.
The central duet with Tyveze Littlejohn and Yoojung Hahm was tentative, but also signaled a surrender. As they rejoin the crowd onstage and become separated, one also felt the pain of lost loved ones.
Hahm was also a featured player in “Catharsis,” this time with Corey Boatner. However, instead of connection, in this duet she become, literally, a thing that clings, which he struggles to shed. As he reached out for escape, Boatner’s honesty lured the audience in and thus we all went on the path to deliverance with him.
Even more impressive was the ensemble as a whole. Moving to an eloquent music selection from David Lang, Ezio Basso and Arvo Park, the dancers performed with abandon, evoking a flash of ecstasy.
Unfortunately, the older pieces on the bill felt dated, including “Salome Daughter’s,” by Nejla Yatkin. The 1998 dance was the evening’s final work for seven women that underscored female repression. While predictable, I did like the piece’s message – never underestimate a woman.
Dunham’s piece, the opener, was a jazzy ode to Scott Joplin while Robinson’s was a nod to her church-going youth. I could have lived without both – especially Robinson’s which seemed like an unfortunate spin-off of Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations.”
I mean no disrespect to any of the choreographers – especially Dunham who is so important in the history of Black dance in the Americas. But McKayle and Lemonius tapped into something deeper and that is one reason why Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble could and should thrive for another 50 years.
Ajkun Ballet performed its "Don Quixote" at The Egg on Friday night.
“Don Quixote” is one of ballet’s most beloved works – mainly for its humor and its technically difficult, and therefore, often brilliant dancing.
Ajkun Ballet Theatre’s version, as choreographed by its Artistic Director Chiara Ajkun and performed on Friday night at The Egg, has its charms. Mainly, the dancers are well-trained, enthusiastic and often superb. The costumes, for the most part, are appropriately colorful and frequently beautiful. But this stripped-down rendering, without scenery, is missing one essential that makes “Don Quixote” a favorite – perfect comedic timing.
Thus, much of the antics between Gamanche (Ariel Correa) and Kitri’s mother (Bianca Delli Priscoli), which is central to the humor, felt forced and didn’t generate the belly laughs it should.
However, that little upset didn’t overshadow the fine dancing from the Momoko Burbine as Kitri and Klevis Tafaj as Basilio and others like Telmen Munkherdene as the toreador and the main couple (unidentified in the program) at the gypsy camp. Watching these dancers navigate their roles was a delight.
Burbine was outstanding. Petite, light and appropriately feisty, she threw herself into the arms of her lover as well as laid down the most delicate, but speedy petite allegro from the grand pas de deux.
Tafaj, though he doesn’t sport an elegant ballon, flung himself across the stage in a series of jumps and turns that expressed his joy in his hard-fought nuptial with Kitri. And when the two came together, it was magical. He easily lifted her – with one arm – high above his head. He also tossed her and caught her too, showing that Burbine and Tafaj obviously enjoyed their roles and each other.
Munkherdene was interesting to watch as he pushed so much energy into his dancing that it was nearly impossible for him to control. He has the technique, but now he needs to reign it in to give him the power to hypnotize his audience with it.
The unidentified lead couple in the gypsy camp were equally amazing. The man angerly deployed a whip as she acquiesced, ending her solo in a submissive backbend. Though part of the original 1869 Alexander Gorsky ballet, the duet is terribly outdated. For one thing, gypsy is pejorative, so that needs to change in every version including American Ballet Theatre’s.
And more troubling is a man with a whip. This is domestic violence. Despite the outstanding dancing, this pas de deux begs for an update as watching a man dominate a woman with a weapon is cringe-worthy, if not traumatizing.
Also, the four-member corps de ballet during the camp scenes needed to do more. They just stood in the background and moved their arms to and fro. They looked too stiff and not part of the action at all. (Maybe they were upset by the whip too.)
Finally, though the comedy didn’t always tickle, Correa as Gamache was physically all in. He was both clumsy and self-absorbed as he feigned sophistication in his over-the-top frills. In the end, I applauded his efforts.
While I’m being nit-picky, Ajkun Ballet’s “Don Quixote” is among the best of its full-length works. But it could be better.
Ballaro Dance's "Embedded Memories" replaces fear and shame with pride and strength. (Photo by Becky Osborne)
Wounds not only leave physical scars, they leave emotional ones too.
But healing those scars, taking them to a place where fear and shame are replaced with pride and strength is where choreographer Marisa Ballaro is trying to inspire all to go.
Her message of hope and healing is strong in Ballaro Dance’s “Embedded Memories.” As seen on Saturday night at Universal Preservation Hall, the site-specific work is inspired by Kintsugi, the Japanese art of pottery repair that emphasizes the breaks by filling them with luminous gold.
In “Embedded Memories,” those cracks or scars were represented by lights – strung inside costumes and clustered in glowing balls along the floor and ceiling. Ultimately, these lights, Ballaro seems to suggest, guides one from despair to confidence.
The work was offered up with a trio of dancers whom the audience encircled, a reference to connectedness and wholeness. But as the three dancers first appear, they look to run or shed something. They move in place, unable to flee. They wipe and wipe and wipe themselves, only to find that the scar is still there, adhering to their bodies.
Music by a number softly plays in the background while Ballaro reads snippets of stories collected in communities where the company has performed. She speaks of the hurt of injuries, the pain of recovery and the relief and joy in ultimately overcoming.
There are symbolic gestures as when one dancer took the light from another’s head it placed it near her heart. Yet another dancer stripped off a layer of clothing, thus stripping away some of the pain. But no matter what the dancers did – eventually running freely through the space and embracing the glowing balls of white light — the scars remain.
The work ended with the dancers in a prayerful scene, quietly breathing and seemingly accepting their damaged parts.
After the program, Ballaro asked audience members to share their own experiences of trauma by writing an anonymous note and perhaps attaching a Polaroid photo (a camera was available) of the author. Those stories, left on a table in an adjoining room, could end up being told at Ballaro Dance’s next stop.
The program was preceded by a work developed by 13 young dancers who spent a week choreographing their own piece with a similar theme. Led by Nacre Dance Group Artistic Director Beth Fecteau with Ballaro, their work gives one hope that dance, which bears its own scars of blatant disregard, is secure in the dedicated bodies of these budding artists.
The Israeli dance ensemble Vertigo, with Sian Olles and Daniel Costas, brought its dark and dramatic "One. One & One" to PS/21 in Chatham. (Photo by Steven J. Taylor)
Noa Wertheim describes her work “One. One & One” as an “individual’s wish to be whole whilest being challenged constantly by a fragmented reality within the personal, existential and spiritual realms of one’s being.”
But the dramatic piece, as performed on Friday night at PS/21 by the amazing Vertigo Dance Company, is so much more. To me, the hour-long work, was a powerful indictment on the direction of the world at large, one where societies across the globe are ravaged by war and climate change – and each one (and one and one) is a victim.
This excellent Israeli dance ensemble gripped the viewer with its poise and presence. And with music composed by Avi Belleli, which swung from beautiful to frightening, the work held sway.
The piece opened with Sian Olles centerstage, twisting and reaching with her limbs like a strong sapling seeking the sun. Upstage was another dancer who steadily and neatly shook out a bucket of soil. In gray and brown costumes, by Sasson Kedem, that referenced the everyday worker, the line of dirty made one consider farming, the neat rows of a field with Olles as the elegant tree in its center.
The serene scene quickly turned when the ensemble of nine took the stage for what felt like a fashion show catwalk. They strutted to the edge, stared at the audience and quickly turned around to strut off the other way. If "One. One & One" is about individuals, here the one showed the superficial side – a side that the world wants to promote strength and sass.
However, it’s all a cover for what followed, a violent search for meaning and unity as well as endless self-reproach as one navigates a dirty world – literally portrayed by the soil that was by now spread over every inch of stage.
There were many raw moments in the dance including when Olles threw herself again and again at Daniel Costa who seemed to ask for her as he slammed his hands on his chest, beckoning her. He caught her mid-air, protecting her in a flight she seemed compelled to make. This was repeated with all the cast including a section where the women caught the flying men.
All this sent my mind reeling to war and ecological destruction as the music startled with explosions and the dirt dust plumed around the dancers who were falling and staggering. Yarden Oz’s solo, in which she could barely stand and eventually fell lifeless into the others dancer's arms, was especially compelling.
In the end, all but one, Etai Peri, rose above the gritty world like graceful birds or swaying trees. Wertheim signals hopes for not just one, but all.