From left is Daniel Applebaum, Emilie Gerrity, Ashley Laracey and Aaron Sanz as they appear in Jerome Robbins' “The Goldberg Variations.” (Photo by Erin Baiano)
A Saturday matinee visit to Lincoln Center to see New York City Ballet has me thinking about endings – picture perfect ones that linger.
That was the case with both George Balanchine’s “Serenade” and Jerome Robbins’ “The Goldberg Variations,” which were paired on a “Masters at Work” program. The first has one of the most memorable finales in all of ballet – a standing ballerina held aloft slowly yielding to her fate in a deep backbend as the curtain descends. This beloved ending has been viewed as a religious experience, divinity in the flesh.
But it is “The Goldberg Variations,” a ballet that I frankly avoided for years because of its hefty length, an 1 hour and 24 minutes, that alerted me to how much those two works have in common.
It’s long because the Robbins ballet has a lot of music to cover — the popular and pleasant Johann Sebastian Bach’s piano variations, which on Saturday were beautifully performed by Susan Walters.
The piece is Robbins’ way of lifting the veil of time between court dances of the 16th and 17th century and contemporary ballet and modern dance. He starts it off with a couple (Miriam Miller and Preston Chamblee) in a sarabande, wearing elegant attire reminiscent of the dancing days at the palace. The dancers hop, circle and side skip to each other as the music rises, carrying them off.
After they depart, the dance turns modern with groups of men and women reflecting the music passages in ways that are sometimes playful, sometimes peaceful, sometimes passionate, but always unfolding in ways that are pleasing to the eye. (Each of these variations could easily stand alone.) Throughout, their movement emphasizes ballet’s courtly roots are ever present.
Then the piece has the dancers reverts back to the ruffled historic dress and the line through the centuries continues in the opposite direction.
There are 30 variations, and at times, the ballet does seem unending. Only a deep appreciation for the music can keep the mind keenly focused on every note.
But back to the ending. Like “Serenade,” it has a false finale. (In “Serenade,” on first viewing, most applaud at the end of the third movement but then the central woman, on Saturday it was Sara Mearns, falls to the floor and the fourth movement begins.)
In “Goldberg Variations,” it comes when the ensemble beautifully assembles itself into a wall. With some kneeling, some standing and some rising on others’ shoulders, they tightly gather and extend a hand in the direction of the pianist. And while they are posed there, the clapping begins. But then one sees Walters continue to move her fingers over the keyboard, a signal more is to come.
The group dissembles and the original couple returns, this time in modern dress for the final sarabande as the curtain comes down. In the future, I won't be avoiding "The Goldberg Variations."
Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company in their eye-popping costumes by Kim Vanyo worn at the Opalka Gallery.
Over the decades, I have concluded that the best Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company shows are not in your typical theater setting. Her meandering works are well-suited for out-of-ordinary locations — playgrounds, store fronts, city streets and art galleries.
Perhaps it is the size of her contemporary dance ensemble – five to six dancers who are well-served in an intimate setting. Regardless, her return to the Opalka Gallery at Russell Sage College on Friday night, where she was a regular but held at bay by the pandemic, was a welcome sight.
And is always the case, Sinopoli’s dances there were a duet — a choreographic conversation with an artist — this time around it was with Judith Braun and her graceful and psychedelic paintings.
The Braun’s works are large splashes on unframed canvases, mostly black and white designs that feature swirling and straight lines, eyes and words that make one stop and pause. Hanging from tall stanchions on dollies, these works of art became rolling dancers — joining the ensemble to augment Sinopoli’s smart-looking quintet.
For the evening, Sinopoli created four, untitled dances. The first to blues guitar from 1920s had a mischievous feel. The dancers’ feet and calves were the first to appear behind the paintings, moving them as if the paintings themselves had legs. The dancers were also dressed in neon unitards by Kim Vanyo that popped in contrast to the black and white backdrop of the paintings.
But the costume design also complemented to the work with its black accents that trimmed an open back and squiggled down one side. Their boldness also tapped into the hints of color — pink, lime and orange — that Braun occasionally added to her symmetrical works.
Now to the dances. The first was fun with Laura Teeter appearing to gossip with a giant head and Erin Dooley hiding her eyes from another. There was a bit of a cartoon feel, but also a grand Busby Berkeley style spectacular as the dancers moved the painting in and around each other in what became a kaleidoscope of moving images.
The ending was also memorable – the dancers and the paintings aligned on a diagonal — all taking their bow.
In the second work, to music by Wayne Shorter, the pieces were rolled off to the side and the dancers ate up the space with rollicking jumps, reels and falls. Here, Sara Senecal captured the imagination with her attack and zest.
Then the audience picked up their chairs to turn their point of view to the other room where Dooley performed a cat-like solo that was steeped in snaky movement and sudden stops, showing off her mettle as a dancer.
The evening ended with a group work that Sinopoli said was inspired by thoughts of the Brazilian rainforest. To music by Dino Saluzzi, it had an exotic feel with the four female dancers moved symbiotically in duos while Andre Robles filled up the room with his larger-than-life joy.
Here's to wishing the company’s next visit to the Opalka isn't another year away.
From left are Berit Ahlgren, Ashwini Ramaswamy and Alanna Morris-Van Tassel in "Let the Crows Come" at University at Albany. (Photo by Jake Armour)
Differences don’t have to divide. Rather classical Indian dancer Ashwini Ramaswamy showed that differences united can create something moving and beautiful.
And on Sunday night at the University at Albany Performing Arts Center, that something was Ramaswamy’s shimmering triptych “Let the Crows Come” — a homage to the transformative power of crows, which took flight with a trio of disparate, but divine dancers.
Bharatanatyam devotee and choreographer Ramaswamy gathered Gaga-trained modern dancer Berit Ahlgren and Afro-modern mover Alanna Morris-Van Tassel for this hour-long work that explored the mysterious nature of the brilliant black bird. And while I was often baffled by the story they told, their movement kept me intrigued, wondering how this beckoning of birds will take flight.
The piece, with music composed by Jace Clayton, Prema Ramamurthy and Brent Arnold, was, as the program notes, based on the Hindu epic poem Ramayama, about a prince who must rescue his wife from a demon.
While the Odyssey-like trials were not obvious, the dance did take its audience on a journey. Divided up solos, beginning with Ramaswamy, the strength and abilities of each dancer commanded the stage that was decorated with one item — a large bowl piled high with rice.
Like many polished Indian dancers, Ramaswamy is a study in gesture. She began with her undulating fingers, dipped in red, and her circling wrists to create the vision of a bird flying off. And while at first pleasantly at ease, her prominent and striking eyes, along with the stomp of her heels started to relate another tale — one of fear and distress. She dropped down low in a stance of attack and pounce, a fighter for an unseen war.
As she departed, Ahlgren took her turn. Bent backward, keeping watch on the sky, Ahlgren’s persona was large and feisty. As her music turned more percussive and confrontational, she matched it, becoming, as her arms shaped like wings told, a large bird herself. She shot arrows and flew.
Morris-Van Tassel took it home with her generous solo. Bent low, she looked to be gathering a harvest, a bountiful meal, in a focused but contented manner. In her, there was a sense of relief and happiness as she appeared to honor the beloved. In her, all things lovely came to the conclusion sealed by a kiss she blew.
In the end, the trio met up at the bowl, scooped it up a handful of the rice and let it slide through their fingers in a cascade of release and abundance.
Where did the crows, symbols of transformation, lead? It looked to be nirvana.
Mark Morris Dance Group performed its uplifting "Gloria" on Friday night at The Egg in Albany.
In times of trouble, there is nothing more delightful than a richly musical cavort from the Mark Morris Dance Group.
It was a great pleasure to see this fine ensemble at The Egg on Friday night, performing as smartly as ever in a show that was rescheduled and rescheduled again and again because of the pandemic.
The fairly large crowd saw two jewels — “Words” from 2014 to music by Felix Mendelssohn played live, and the glorious “Gloria” from 1981 to Vivaldi in D, a work that offers hope of redemption for all of humanity's sins. Sandwiched between the two was “Jenn and Spencer,” a duet to music by Henry Cowell, also played live by a crackerjack duo, Georgy Valtchev on violin and Ryan MacEvoy McCullough on piano.
As with all Morris works, musicality soared with every note and nuance getting a nod of acknowledgement. But it is choreographic structures that Morris creates that won the evening. The 16 articulate dancers enthralled with their spot-on interpretations of Morris’ architectures that the eyes love to meander through.
“Words,” which opened the program, was a suite of dances that started out small with duets that were shielded and then revealed by a cloth held up by passing dancers. As the number of dancers grew in each little piece, the work told a story of independence, unity, joy and sorrow.
Morris drew from his background in folk dancing, thus reeling minds to the situation in Ukraine. And the piece of cloth emphasized that, we the viewer, can only see and thus understand a partial story. We are beings in the dark.
Our difficult relationships are depicted in the duet “Jenn and Spencer,” in which a couple tangles and is unable to reach a détente. The work is a back and forth between the two that is encapsulated in their stilted walk. Danced on Friday by Karlie Budge and Brandon Randolph, it’s a tense work that ends with the woman running off, the strain between the two is never resolved. Though true-to-life, “Jenn and Spencer” can be difficult to watch.
All is forgiven in the magnificent “Gloria.” It begins with a couple: one with a hobbled walk and another inching forward on his belly. As a recording of Vivaldi’s sacred chorale composition filled the theater, the ensemble of 10 dancers rose from crippled to healed, from sinners to saints in an uplifting and gorgeous display that Morris frames superbly.
David Dorfman Dance in the moving "A(Way) Out of My Body." (Photo by Jack Beal)
David Dorfman describes his “A(Way) Out of My Body” an exploration of the “fraility and power of the body” along with collective will and the past.
But what I saw on Friday night at the University at Albany Performing Arts Center exploded that nugget into a quest to hold on — hold onto ourselves, our hearts and our humanity.
Maybe it’s just the times, divisive and hateful, but Dorfman’s work, both frantic and surreal, had me contemplating how we can grab hold of each other, in a loving embrace and not let go.
The piece is still a work-in-progress, with Dorfman introducing it the audience by saying many bits of the dance were refined that very day. However, it is one of the most polished unfinished works I have seen with gorgeous electronic and vocal music, composed by Sam Crawford, Zeb Gould, Jeff Hudgins and Elizabeth de Lise, and performed live by Crawford and de Lise. It also features strong, unforgettable visuals.
The work features six, including Dorfman, who are all dressed in white slacks and tunics that reference 1960s Nehru jackets. Designed by Oana Botez, the white gives the impression they are angelic beings, already on the other side of life. The style brings thoughts of another turbulent time.
It begins with a dimly lit vision of the dancers, arms raised and wrists pinned together. They look suspended like tortured prisoners whose toes barely brush the floor or hanging sides of beef.
The stage brightens and they race in the Dorfman’s signature erratic fashion that is disorienting. High kicks, tilts that upend dancers torsos and spins surprise and warp time and space. Seemly bound wrists are released, hands become claws and scratch the air as dancers appear to be poised for battle.
Then the tone shifts again to tender. Dancers uphold each other, connecting in nonsensical conversation on a stroll, carrying each other and catching yet another as she stumbles. There is another beautiful section in which the dancers appear to be floating underwater.
Dorfman also tells a story of his mother’s struggle with multiple sclerosis and the moment he tried to reach for her hand just as she stumbled down a marble staircase. And then it all clicked. As dancers stretched diagonally across the stage, reaching for each other, touching some and not others, we have the distressing realization we can’t save all.
The only rough spot is the awkward duet with Jenn Nugent and Dorfman, both seeming uncommitted or uncomfortable with the intimacy required.
The ending was gorgeous, however. As de Lise’s divine voice rises, Kellie Ann Lynch and Myssi Robinson struggle on the floor, pushing and hugging. But in the end, they hold each other tight in a long, almost desperately forgiving hug.
Then lights go out, leaving the view to contemplate a moving, personal and instructive journey that holds out hope that brotherly love will prevail.
Albany Berkshire Ballet's "Nutcracker" has a gorgeous set design by Carl Sprague.
"The Nutcracker" is the backbone of the holiday season. And more importantly, for countless ballet companies — big and small — it's the foundation of their financial health.
Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a painful blow to companies around the nation and to audiences who adore the experience of being dropped into a young girl's fantasy.
Thanks to vaccines, ballet companies and their audience don't have to endure another year without the magical holiday tradition.
But with several versions of the Tchaikovsky classic in the Capital Region, it may be confusing to choose. Here's my tip: Go see Albany Berkshire Ballet's staging because it's consistently winsome, grand and inspired with a touch of humor.
As seen on Saturday at The Egg, the ballet, as staged by Artistic Director Madeline Cantarella Culpo, was as sparkling as always.
Here are some of the reasons ABB tops my "Nutcracker" list.
The curtain opens to partygoers with personality. So often, the first act Christmas party is just a gathering of well-dressed and well-behaved guests, leaving all the antics and attention to Herr Drosselmeyer, the eccentric toymaker (here danced by Charles Paquette) who carves a special gift for Clara, a nutcracker. But in Culpo's version, each guest arrives with a dash of something special — gentility, fussiness, exasperation. It's fun to watch how they all intersect as the night moves on.
The set designs by Carl Sprague, unveiled in 2000, are still some of the most beautiful seen — an elegant drawing room for Herr and Frau Silberhaus, a wintery countryside for the Snow Forest and a palatial classical European garden for the Kingdom of Sweets.
Aside from all that, the dancing is good. Among the most engaging is Lisa McBride who enchants in the Arabian dance, Ruslan Sprauge who thrills in the Russian trepak, Allegra Holland who is vibrant as Dew Drop and Danny Gonzalez who is a twirling marvel as the Cavalier.
There was one oddity on Saturday afternoon. The music, and therefore the dancing, for the Sugarplum Fairy's solo was cut short, and the fairy herself, danced by Danielle Troyano, appeared tired. Let's hope she recovers before Sunday's encore performance at The Egg.
ABB's 47th annual tour of "The Nutcracker" ends on Dec. 18 in Springfield, Mass. at Symphony Hall.
Kris Seto intrigues in his "The Tip of the Tongue" at the University Art Museum at the University at Albany. (Photo by Patrick Dodson)
Striving — we all do it. For money, for security, for recognition.
But what happens for the Asian-Americans who aspire? Or for that matter, any others who can’t easily blend into white America hegemony?
That is the question that dance artist Kris Seto posed on Thursday night in their site-specific “The Tip of the Tongue” at the University Art Museum at the University at Albany. In the solo dance, performed in the museum and amongst the neon art sculptures of Michelle Young Lee, Seto was a tortured soul, compelled to sell themselves in a world that gives preferential treatment to one’s own.
The dance is brief, just 25 minutes, but it wastes no time, immediately proclaiming to the small audience that this journey is thwarted by an invisible hand.
First appearing on the balcony of the museum, Seto is dressed in an exaggerated business casual shirt and tie (one so wide it covers half their chest). Red paint accented their eyes, perhaps signaling an awakening.
They (preferred pronoun) picked up a brief case and began to walk forward. But as they did, they are thrown back, their limbs in a tumbling tangle, again and again and again.
When able to stand still, they looked down at the audience in a stiff plea. They let loose a silent scream and then their hand gnarled into claws before they stepped down the staircase to the floor unimpeded. Yet any move back up the stairs was a struggle. The symbolism was clear.
When Soto presented themselves to the audience, seated near Lee’s trio of neon art — a Hello Kitty giving the bird, a plastic bag with an electric red Thank You, and a hand with a rose that hides a fist — they was vulnerable.
The closeness to the audience broke the fourth wall. Soto was in our world, we, in theirs and they used it, looking directly into our eyes as a way to demand we saw the humanity.
They then opened their briefcase and a light emitted forth like a pot of gold. They pulled from there a bag of candy that they tore open and tossed about, showering the audience and even massaging their chest with the packets. But clearly, it was for show. The candy man was tortured, spreading sweetness to dull an empty slavery of feeding consumerism.
After suspending themselves upside down, they then slipped away, an unappreciated, but temporarily seen voyager.
I like this thoughtful piece and I love the title “The Tip of the Tongue” too. It indicated something there but momentarily unattainable. Perhaps there was to be a message of hope here — strivers may eventually thrive.
After five decades, Pilobolus continues to delight audiences. They are celebrating their golden anniversary in "Big Five Oh!"
Pilobolus always electrifies, mystifies and intoxicates.
The ground-breaking dance ensemble did it again on Friday night at The Egg in Albany — pulling the audience into a mind-bending sweep of its amazing 50-year history as one of the most collaborative, athletic and charming troupes out there.
The company has frequented the area often and each time draws a crowd that, sadly, most dance groups no longer can gather. And they wasted no time in showing the audience why in “Megawatt.”
The 2004 piece for the now six-dancers ensemble (obviously the pandemic has reduced their ranks) was an instant knockout. To music by Primus, Radiohead and Squarepusher, the dancers squirmed onstage on their bellies using just their shoulders to drag them forward. As they made it across to the other wing, they appeared to be zapped by an electrical current that flipped them over to cross the stage on their backs.
The synchronization and rhythms of the movement held ones attention. Then they surprised as they writhed and shimmied to high-voltage jolts that are charged by the electronic music.
The dance was an act of endurance for the dancers who have few quiet moments to restore themselves to calm. It was a wild ride, that when it was done, has the crowd cheering.
The pleasant evening continued with the primal “Shizen,” a 1978 work performed by Quincy Ellis and Hannah Klinkman, that evoked thoughts of early life. The audience watched as two independent bodies were strangely drawn to each other and then survived and thrived on synergy.
The work, cast in shadowy light to meditative music by Riley Lee, also amazed as it takes a strength that is beyond the capacity of most. Much of the movement was painfully slow, a demonstration of brawn and control. Yet the subtleness was apropos.
The evening, which was one of the first full programs of dance since the pandemic, also featured the glorious 1981 “Day Two,” which appeared to refer to the day when God created the sky. The dancers first flashed in a glowing light (day one) and instantly take flight, leading the audience through to the explosion of Earth into a planet of land and sea (day three).
To music by Brian Enos and David Bryne and the Talking Heads, the dance had many delightful scenes of flights and one of the best endings to a dance piece ever — the ensemble glided on their butts across the stage on a stream of water.
The company also performed the slapstick solo from Michael Tracy’s “Empty Suitor” from 1980 with Paul Liu as the bungling gentleman with top hat and cane to Ben Webster’s interpretation of “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
And the company also pulled from its 2009 “Shadowland” for its newest piece “Behind the Shadow.” Created by its current co-Artistic Directors Renee Jaworski and Matt Kent, the work, like all that Pilobolus does, enchanted, this time, with optical illusions.
If Pilobolus keeps this up, it will flourish another 50 years. Let’s hope.
Rennie Harris Puremovement American Street Dance Theater performed "Nuttin' But A Word" at The Egg on Friday night. (Photo by Brian Mengini)
Rennie Harris has no peers.
He’s the only choreographer of street dance that is elevating the art so it can speak to the masses. And thus be appreciated by them too.
His dances tell a story. His dances take advantage of stagecraft, creating a world audiences are willingly to immerse. His musical choices surprise, but are strangely ideal.
Harris knows too what is pleasing to the eye, synchronicity and symmetry, so that attention remains trained on his amazing dancers.
Watching his company, Rennie Harris Puremovement American Street Dance Theater performed on Friday night at The Egg, all I could think of was Harris is the George Balanchine of hip-hop.
Harris lovely pushes the art beyond its roots without destroying its heart. He gives agency to hip-hop and club dance, thus proving its power should not be contained in the small display box it is now placed.
All this could be seen in “Nuttin’ But A Word,” a work that lit up the stage.
The program with just six dancers was an invigorating suite that acknowledges Harris’ innovations while upholding this highly personal dance style.
It opens with Danzel Thompson-Stout, alone on stage, in “Worth.” He presents his struggle, revealed in his twisting and shaking and his falling and rebounding. He’s a seeker in world that doesn’t always allow entry to all. But as his spotlight disappears, so too do his barriers. It’s a somber and sobering opening to what follows, an explosion of unified energy that is staggering.
The dancers – all in black loose fitting street clothes and sneakers — then join together in “Continuum,” where they recreate the dance circle, with each taking turns to show off their moves. Here, one sees the astounding technical capabilities of Harris’ dancers – fluent in street and club dancing as well as traditional African – a mix that is vibrant.
While all of the dancers are wonderously adept, two stood out, Joshua Culbreath and Emily Pietruszka. Culbreath, slender and slight compared to the others, he dominated with his agility, speed and fluidity.
Pietruszka, who somehow appeared in nearly every piece, was tireless and perfect — hitting the right moves hard and precise throughout the 75-minute duration of the show.
Moreover, the musical selections were nothing one would expect – Al Jarreau’s syncopated “Round, Round, Round;” Cinematic Orchestra’s “Man with a Movie Camera” and Dharfar Youssef’s “Sacre The Wine Ode Suite.” Again, it shows Harris’ ability to move outside of hip-hop's current narrow confines that many artists indeed like to keep it.
The evening ended with the exhilarating “Get Down or Lay Down,” set to Mandrill’s “Can, You Get It,” proving that Harris' company is tops, a giant growing and serving the art.
Lauren Lovette as she appeared on Saturday afternoon in Jerome Robbins' "Opus 19/The Dreamer" at Lincoln Center at her final performance with New York City Ballet, (Photo by Erin Baiano)
After months of pandemic shutdowns and digital performances, New York City Ballet has rebooted, opening its Lincoln Center doors to patrons once again.
And while in-person performances are enthusiastically welcome, even for the staid New York audience, this season also marks endings. Principals Abi Stafford, Ask LaCour and Maria Kowroski are retiring.
And so too is Lauren Lovette.
The vivacious and spritely dancer made her final curtain call on Saturday afternoon in a program that revealed her ability to sweep up her audience in otherworldly romance.
It started with Jerome Robbins “Opus 19/The Dreamer.” And then George Balanchine’s “Serenade,” In both, she was, as usual, charming.
In “Opus 19/The Dreamer,” she danced the ethereal force that soothes the tortured soul of the dreamer, Joseph Gordon. He expressed his anguish by tossing his arms and head about as an army of 14 corps dancers watch over him – side stepping, but containing his distress.
Among the corps emerges Lovette — who is a wave – moving in and out of Gordon’s dream as a balm. Yet she was also a power to propel him forward in a chase for the elusive embrace. Not surprisingly, Lovette was ideal.
I like this work, set to Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major with soloist Kurt Nikkanen, not only because it is spiritual, but because it is one of Robbins’ many nods to the masterful Balanchine. For example, Lovette’s part underscores Balanchine’s affection for women as mystical, unattainable creatures while Gordon’s part took inspiration from Balanchine’s “Apollo,” a portrait of a man struggling with himself.
While a beautiful work, nothing is more satisfying than “Serenade.” This rightly beloved ballet, set to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, was also perfect vehicle for Lovette who appeared as the woman touched by and transcending death.
Her tiny frame revealed her sympathetic fragility. And the ending, with her being raised to the heavens in a surrendering backbend, was symbolic of Lovette’s departure. She gave her all to ballet and thus the audience, and now will ascend in honor to a new life chapter.
The afternoon also included a pas de deux by Mauro Bigonzetti for Kowroski and Amar Ramasar, who himself will retire in the spring. “Amaria” or “to Maria,” is set to Scarlatti sonatas, as performed at the piano by Craig Baldwin. Kowroski, in slippers, and Ramasar entangled in a duet that emphasized their flexibility and long and limber limbs. But mainly, it too was symbolic, showing that both dancers – so central to City Ballet – are cutting their attachments, no longer marionettes for a choreographer, but forever strong, memorable figures just the same.
Of course, as tradition dictates, the company joined Lovette onstage for her final, flower-filled bow – a moving tribute that will be repeated next week when Kowroski departs. It’s the dawn of a new era at City Ballet.