ODC/Dance offered up a powerful performance at UAlbany's Performing Arts Center on Friday night. (Photo by RJ Muna)
There are so many things that make ODC/Dance special. Founder and Artistic Director Brenda Way embraces the visions of other dance makers to play with her fine ensemble of 10. Those dancers, all finely sculpted creatures that embody fierceness and beauty, are steeped into the artistry, helping us make metaphorical sense of this increasingly aggressive, fearful and complex world.
Unfortunately, ODC/Dance, based in San Francisco, has not been seen in the Capital Region for quite some time. Thus, it was with great pleasure to see their return at the University of Albany on Friday night in a program that reminded all why this nearly 50-year-old contemporary dance ensemble (that’s major longevity in the modern dance realm) continues to thrive.
Part of their appeal is a theme I saw repeated in the three of four works and in the premiere of a piece for 22 Skidmore College dance students. It’s the juxtaposition of a duo with an ensemble – emphasizing that even in our most intimate and shielded moments the world still hovers and influences.
This was amplified in an excerpt from “The Velocity of Winter,” the dance for the students. As choreographed by Way and guest choreographer Dexandro Montalvo during a two-week residency at the college, the piece was menacing. The dancers, as whipped up by an interloping conductor (Erika Pujic), became a storm that swirled around couples that were pulled together and torn apart. The power of all the dancers, all in black, upped the energy and gave the feeling of a murder of crows descending. It was powerful. The work can be viewed in full on Sunday at Skidmore.
Montalvo, who has worked in a variety of dance styles including ballet and pop music, obviously has a lot to say. His “Impulse” was my favorite on the bill. Four female dancers moved from one end of the stage to the next in a demanding displayed that showed off their strength, versatility and commanding presence. Set to a percussive score by Else and Miskate, they dominated and devoured the eye.
ODC/Dance also presented a sweet duet with Rachel Furst and Ryan Rouland Smith. Set to music by Teiji Ito and Steve Reich, the dance explored at once tentative and then full out conversation between a couple. Wearing tap shoes at the start, the two sent rhythmic signals to each other, until their courtship became full-on physical, no tap shoes needed. It was fun, nonstop and delightful.
Way’s “Triangulating Euclid” was beautiful. While mathematics was referenced, the dance to music by Shubert, felt like a spiritual journey with couples. In sheer white tops, they peacefully rotate around each other, sometimes upside down. It was serene and lovely – and perhaps a homage to the magical order numbers offered.
Finally, Way’s “Unintended Consequences: A Meditation,” to music by Laurie Anderson, brought the audience back to reality. The music spoke of the mundaneness of the world and how it can slip us into not seeing the subtle changes around us.
The dancers, dressed in green as if they were indoctrinated into an army, were oblivious to the changes as one man stands off to the side alone, disenfranchised. But Way helps us to see. Thanks to her, we will not be caught unaware.
"Dancing with the Stars" stars razzle-dazzled on Sunday night at Proctors in Schenectady.
Everyone knows the real stars in “Dancing with the Stars” are the professionals – those flashy, sometimes sharp, sometimes sensual dancers who dole out so much wit and sass that audience can’t help but be blinded by razzle-dazzle.
And eight of those stars – donning sequins, studs and sometimes very little -- were fully illuminated and fully intoxicating on Sunday night at Proctors.
The road show, the spin-off the long-running ABC series, hits the boards for a one-nighter that sent audiences screeching and swooning over their speedy salsas, breezy waltzes and stabbing tangos. These mavens of ballroom styles – everything from the samba to the fox trot – glided, swirled and hopped with ease and perfection. And they did it with so much style in costumes that dripped elegance and/or sex appeal that even those who think the show was kitschy can’t avert their eyes.
I’m not a fan of the show. But I myself was swept into the glitter and glitz, mainly because these dancers – as led by Emma Slater – were simply top-notch movers. They seamlessly blended styles in brief but breathy numbers set to everything from standards to disco to pop. The scenes from one snappy dance to the next were cut so quickly, there was not time to be bored. This crew -- for their stamina alone -- was impressive.
Slater was the headliner along with one of the 31st season’s actual “stars,” Gabby Windey. Like most the stars on “Dancing with the Stars,” she is not an A-listers. A quick Google search found that Windey appeared on “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.” She was also a former Denver Bronco’s cheerleaders, who alone, looked cute and competent. In the arms of Alan Bersten, she floated across the floor.
But as soon as the real dancers gathered around her, there was no comparison – this group that included Brandon Armstrong, Sasha Farber, Gleb Savchenko and Britt Stewart, were versatile, flawless and most of all, humorously entertaining.
The standout was Alexis Warr who could do it all. She not only hit all the right moves in ballroom, but in modern dance and acrobatic. She was cast in number after number, clearly the show’s workhorse, performing flips, cartwheels and all the barefoot lyrical numbers that found her racing down smoky staircases in flowing gowns into the arms of smitten suitors.
Clearly “Dancing with the Stars” does not mind cliches. And neither does its doting fans, mostly women, who were rewarded with showers of streamers that rained down on them.
I didn’t mind either because the dancing was fine.
Kayla Xu presents ballerina Lauren Lovette with a bouquet at the end of Northeast Ballet's "The Nutcracker" at Proctors.
‘Tis the season for “The Nutcracker” and there was none better locally than Northeast Ballet’s rendering of the holiday classic.
There were many reasons, but the most convincing one was the Schenectady ensemble’s guest stars that this year included ballerina Lauren Lovette and New York City Ballet Principal Taylor Stanley. These two, as the Sugarplum and her Cavalier, were delightful to behold on Sunday afternoon at Proctors – inspiring both the Christmas spirit and awe of their inimitable style.
Lovette, though technically now retired from City Ballet, was charming as always, throwing her whole self into the role as queen of the Land of Sweets with her unflappable gusto. Stanley, who is among today’s greatest dancers, proved his versatility in this classical role. While known for his prowess in contemporary parts, often as a soloist, his gracious gentility and depth, which is always present, shined.
But it wasn’t just these two. Artistic Director Darlene Myers engaged a host of dazzling artists including the acrobatic Melody Rose and Tyler Stewart in the Arabian divertissement and high-flyers Darko Borso and Petro Pitula in the Ukrainian dance. Also, light and lovely on their feet were Luigi Crispino and Luciana Paris in the Snow pas de deux.
It has been years since I have seen Northeast’s version of the popular Tchaikovsky ballet and perhaps what struck me the most was how well the local student dancers looked. Myers has honed them into a fine, tight group with dancers who beautifully and adeptly led the Waltz of the Flowers (Payton Casey), the Snow Pas (Macy Swicz) and Marzipan (Millie Ellenbogen).
Most everything about this “Nutcracker” was enjoyable. The costumes in the first act party, where Clara, danced joyously by Kayla Xu, was introduced to the audience, were appropriately colorful and sparkly. The mice were adorably menacing and the Nutcracker’s cheese camouflaged cannon was a humorous touch.
Of course, Mother Ginger and her brood who lives under her skirt was also a highlight, with audiences clapping along to the music.
There was almost nothing to not like – except for those awkward lifts between the Nutcracker, danced with commitment by Robert Titsworth, and Clara that can be cringeworthy as they never appeared smooth.
Regardless, Northeast Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” left audience skipping happily into the holidays.
"Serpentine" is two-hour solo for a naked woman who slides, twists and slams her body along an oily floor.
A naked woman, a floor of glistening with oil and two hours of repetitive movement. That’s what Daina Ashbee’s “Serpentine” entails.
As performed in the lobby at Rensselaer’s EMPAC on Friday night, the show is hardly entertaining. Rather it’s a mediation for the solo artists – in this case Greys Vecchionacce – to repeatedly indulge in sloth-like and snake-like slides, twists and violent body slams across the floor.
It’s the kind of piece that makes one uncomfortable, to want to look away, to beg for it to end. But as the audience sits at the edges of the stages – a sort of runway for Vecchionacce’s journey – there is no escape. At the end of each section – repeated four times – she ends face down with her face planted into the floor, her head just inches from the feet of her viewers.
She then arises and stares into the eyes of those sitting closest to her. And then she does it to every audience member there – slowly walking the aisles – facing off with each and every one.
But that’s the end of the section. “Serpentine,” with its eerie electronic organ score by Jean-Francois Bloudin, begins with the dancer on the floor with her legs and arms folded under her chest. The only thing exposed is her back and her head.
The lights start off as bright, only dimming at the end of each repeated section. First one leg slides from underneath her frame, then another. She lifts her head to one side and stares at the audience. Then she lifts it to the other side and does the same. Her arms emerge. She briefly rises on her wrists and then she draws them out straight over her head, with her fingers reaching out to something unseen.
She rotates onto her back, crawls, slides down flat and eventually undulates like an inchworm, advancing to the other end of the slick stage. Most disturbing is her heaves and calls as she slaps her body down onto the floor. At times, it’s unbearable to watch and hear.
Then after she rises and stares into faces with her own somber eyes, she returns to the other end of the stage and does it all over again and again and again. The only change is the lights slowly darkened. And as they dim, the floor reflects her Vecchionacce’s body, deepening the visual impact.
The piece, though I would not want to see it again, has me thinking about the Biblical seduction of Adam and Eve. They are naked and content and then the serpent lures them to indulge in the forbidden fruit. Afterwards, the two are ashamed and banished from the Garden of Eden.
Is Vecchionacce Eve or the serpent? Or are we? Or am I just trying to impose meaning on something that has none.
One thing is for certain, “Serpentine” is memorable, an experience that is not meant to be enjoyed, but endured.
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.