Ballet Hispanico’s goal has always been to elevate the voices of Latino artists. Over the years, now all 47, the ensemble did more than convey thoughts and feelings exclusive to Hispanic artists. It has connected those ideas to a universal audience.
The company is flaunting its chops in its week-long stay at Jacob’s Pillow. Onstage at the Ted Shawn Theatre, the 13-member Ballet Hispanico glides across the boards in a showcase that proves it can do it all – quirky contemporary works, stylish Spanish-infused dancing and jazzy jams – and do it well.
The residency is highlighted by the premiere of a Pillow-commissioned dance by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. The saucy “Linea Recta” or straight line is a flamenco-inspired ensemble work that was the evening’s favorite.
Moving to the wild strumming of traditional flamenco guitar as performed by Eric Vaarzon Morel, Melissa Fernandez cut a smart and sharp figure as the woman who opens “Linea Recta.” Wearing a ruffled red train, a cutaway of a flamenco gitana dress, she is striking. She manipulates the train, swinging it around one leg or her body and even holding in her teeth, as she steps and swirls with sexy attitude.
Four men, Christopher Bloom, Mark Gieringer, Lyvan Verdecia and Joshua Winzeler enter like matadors, chests thrust forward and arms cocked back, they lift and whisk her about in a courting dance the respects and reveres her authority.
As Fernandez leaves the stage, the men assert their virility until four women with fans return to continue this razor sharp strut that pays homage to the ancient song and dance of the gypsy.
The evening opened with “El Beso” or kiss choreographed by Gustavo Ramirez Sansano to a compilation of Zarzuela music by Tomas Breton, Ruperto Chapi, Reveriano Soutullo, Juan Vert and Amadeo Vives, was not what one would expect.
I anticipated a romantic interlude for two. But instead, the ensemble piece is constructed like a puzzle with dancers moving in and out of the group with precision to give a peck here and there on a cheek, arm or forehead.
The opening, with Johan Rivera Mendez, was a stunner. Mendez, as also seen in the final work “Danzon” has a unique style of moving that no dancer could replicate. He is a body without bone – twisting, bending, falling and springing back onto his feet like not dancer I know.
The evening concluded with Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro’s “Danzon,” to reorchestrated jazz pieces by Billy Carey and Carl Fischer, Paquito D’Rivera and Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli. Incorporating Afro-Cuban dance with ballet, the piece felt too distilled, making it difficult for the audience to grab on and buy into what felt like a subdued celebration.
Still Fernandez and Verdecia were gorgeous in a shadowy duet, expressing a simmering sultriness that was hypnotic.
Ballet Hispanico will continue its run at Jacob’s Pillow until Sunday, July 30.
Che Malambo from Argentina performed on Thursday night at SPAC.
The muscle and majesty of the gaucho was on vivid display at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Thursday night. That’s when Che Malambo, the virtuosic percussive group from Argentina, dazzled the crowd with the stomp of its feet and the beat of its drums.
On a bare, but well-lit stage, the 14-member, all-male ensemble wielded so much power and energy that by the end of the evening the audience was whipped into euphoria. And the dancers and musicians of Che Malambo loved it – performing with more smiles and fancier and well-placed footwork as the cheers grew louder and the whooping more frequent. Between the drums, the whirling bolas and the fascinating footwork, Che Malambo created a percussive, heart-throbbing scene.
Malambo is a rhythmic stomping dance that originated with the gaucho on the pampas. A competitive sport, it is meant to display strength and stamina among those who practice it. Not surprisingly, it oozes with machismo. With their chests and chins thrusting forward, the dance depicts solid, manly men.
The curtain opened with all 14 pounding on large hand-held drums called bombos. As the rhythms drew the listeners in, the men began to display their stomping that echoed or heightened the beat of the drum.
Wearing heeled boots, the dance looked like a combination of tap, Irish step and flamenco, but with more ruggedness and attitude. There were also many twists of the torso. And dressed in all black, the men appeared wildly menacing and rebellious, willing to fight to the death for their honor and supremacy on the Argentinian plains.
The men also brandished bolas, the throwing weapon that gauchos perfected to lasso prey or horses. With the lights perfectly placed on their balled ropes, they swung them around with laser precision, creating an atmosphere that was both hypnotic and threatening.
While everything was pumped with a shot of espresso, one section of the program featured a quiet guitar. While the relief was probably needed on both sides of the curtain, it felt out of place and fairly dull.
The dancing and drumming was the highlight, especially when the men battled with each other – trying to outdo complicated rhythms. But as the show wore on, the mask of machismo faded into a love fest with the audience. There were smiles all around and ended with a group photo with the audience, jumping and howling, in the background.
Joaquin de Luz in the title role of "The Prodigal Son." (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
George Balanchine made his name by purifying classical dance, transforming it into a form that solely expresses music.
But the founder and creative soul of New York City Ballet also could tell a story – and tell it well. And the final program of City Ballet’s stay at Saratoga Performing Arts Center has keyed into Balanchine’s talent for telling tales.
On Friday night, the company offered up three of Balanchine-made narratives: the tragically romantic “La Sonnambula,” the biblical parable “Prodigal Son” and the lavish fairytale “Firebird.”
All were vibrantly told with no-nonsense choreography that penetrated directly to the heart of the fables. All also included set and costumes that heightened the inherent drama and, in the case of the Chagall designed “Firebird,” could stand on its own.
All of these works are so beautifully conceived and, for the most part, adeptly delivered, it’s nearly impossible to do more than nitpick at their renderings.
“La Sonnambula,” the opener, was the weakest of the three, mainly because the Coquette, danced by Rebecca Krohn, and her dreamy Poet, danced by Chase Finley, didn’t appear to be fully invested in their roles. Their purported love was on the surface. Yet it needs to be vibrant for the audience because without that, the story is reduced to well-worn steps.
The Sleepwalker, on the other hand, was danced with absorbing enchantment by Sterling Hyltin. With her hair down and staring straightforward, Hyltin becomes the otherworldly creature, the irresistible object of the Poet's betrayal.
This is the core of the story, but without Krohn and Finley abandoning their reserve, “La Sonnambula” doesn’t crush the audience, as it should.
“Prodigal Son” does. Joaquin de Luz was amazingly sharp as the reckless young man who longs to be free, but is wrecked by the wanton greed of the world. De Luz is demanding in his desire for frivolity and the Siren, danced by Maria Kowroski, calculatingly takes advantage of his weakness.
Set to music by Prokofiev, the best parts of the work are the symbols inherent in the movement, including Kowroski’s arm and splayed fingers that rise above her head in triumph. It looks like a multi-headed snake swallowing its prey.
The eye-popping “Firebird” finished off the night. Teresa Reichlen danced the magical bird that aids the Prince from the evil wizard. But what stands out in this ballet is the designs. The curtains by modernist Chagall are gorgeously lit by Ronald Bates and Mark Stanley.
The costumes are also elaborate, imaginative and abundant. If one is not interested in the dancing, one could spend every second of the 30-minute ballet ogling the details in the costumes. No viewer could ever take it all in.
The final tableau, with the Prince’s bride standing to display her red dress, is a stunner. That alone is worth seeing.
As usual, the orchestra played the tremendous Stravinsky score with power and grace. The ballet is befitting the grandeur that New York City Ballet lends this small upstate city for two weeks every year.
Bravo to every member, onstage and off.
Sterling Hyltin and Joaquin de Luz in "Odessa" (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
Two ballets made their Saratoga Performing Arts Center premiere on Wednesday night – Justin Peck’s “The Decalogue” and Alexei Ratmansky’s “Odessa.” And while Peck’s stark work for New York City Ballet likely deserves a second look to be appreciated, Ratmansky’s ballet stung on first showing.
The memorably devastating dance, set to Leonid Desyatnikov’s “Sketches to Sunset,” is based on Isaac Babel’s tale of Jewish gangsters in the Ukrainian city after the Russian Revolution. The atmospheric and emotive music that included bells and mournful strings, set the scene and fed the dancing of potent men and fragile, frightened and abused women.
The cast was outstanding serving Ratmansky’s vision of dystopia with commitment. Joaquin de Luz and Sterling Hyltin were especially impressive, performing as lovers trapped in a harsh world. Hyltin plays De Luz’s oasis. She is an angel who soothes and casts out his demons, despite her fear.
The corps de ballet of six men and six women, operating as the collective soul as well as backdrop, heightened the scene that Ratmansky created. Troubled and dark, the ballet is not for the faint of heart – but for those willing to look at the cruelty evoked by men who seek and hold power.
Ratmansky’s vision for “Odessa” was clear. Peck’s work, to a piano score under the same title by Sufjan Steven, was less so. Rather than setting a straight path for the dance, Peck looked to be experimenting with lighting and movement. Each of the dances was well-formed. And the dancers delivered many meaningful moments, particularly Gonzalo Garcia. He shined in his solo, lending the ballet a bit of pathos. But taken together, the ballet felt disjointed, united only by the music and costumes.
Susan Walters, at the piano, was marvelously precise and affecting.
Wednesday evening opened with Peter Martins’ “Jeu de Cartes,” to music by Stravinksy. This ballet, as the title indicates, is a card game where the dancers are cards that are shuffled and reshuffled.
There is not much to see here, except for the beautiful costumes by Ian Falconer. Megan Fairchild was the flirtatious Queen of Hearts who toyed with the King of Diamonds (Harrison Ball) and the King of Clubs (Aaron Sanz). But the Jack of Spades danced by Joseph Gordon was the one to watch. In everything he has danced this season, he had added a flair and style that is eye-catching.
Fairchild was also terrific, as she seemed to spin endlessly, as she bounced from royal card to royal card.
Unless you love the music, it’s difficult to be absorbed, in even a well-played “Jeu de Cartes.” It feels too contrived and humdrum.
No matter what is onstage, the music in the pit has been excellent all summer. Bravo to New York City Ballet Orchestra, which sends the music soaring each night.
Joaquin De Luz with Tiler Peck in "Dances at a Gathering." (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
I was once told that Jerome Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering” is a delicate ballet. One little misstep and the dance for 10 sinks like a cooled soufflé.
The problem is, it’s an hour long and during that hour, not much happens. Couples convene, dissemble and reassemble. But there is hardly any big moments, just tender or sweet ones.
Being a lover of bold strokes, I ventured to Saratoga Performing Arts Center with some trepidation to see New York City Ballet in “Dances at a Gathering” on Tuesday night. I felt like “Dances” was something to be endured while I awaited the delightfully funny “The Concert (Or the Perils of Everybody).”
I was pleasantly surprised. Once I resolved to strap myself in for the long stroll through the park, I was able to take in the simplicity of the ballet and enjoy its for what it is – a homage to Chopin’s airy piano pieces and to youthful spontaneity.
Of course it helped that the ballet began with Joaquin De Luz, a City Ballet treasure who infuses a blissful wonder into everything he does. He surveys the nearly cloudless sky and what is easily imagined as a sprawling landscape -- and likely to Robbins’ mind a wide canvas to draw on the friendships of the 10.
Among the best dances was the one between Indiana Woodward and Joseph Gordon who were animated in their lively duet. Tiler Peck, who naturally exudes a girl-next-quality, is ideal for the ballet and was a standout with Rebecca Krohn and Brittany Pollack.
Pianist Susan Walter, performing on stage, was perfection.
The ending of “Dances” is legendary. The dancers – standing still – turn their heads slowly as if watching a cloud glide by. And that gesture defines the ballet’s experience, one that requires time and a hushed attention to appreciate.
Robbins’ “The Concert,” on the other hand, only requires a sense of humor. This silly ballet, again to music by Chopin, follows the drama on and off stage at a piano concert. The fastidious pianist, the beleaguered, cigar-smoking husband, the scolding wife, the dreamy ingénue who lives for music and a cast of ancillary characters keep audience chuckling.
One of the best scenes features the ballerinas. Placed on stage like mannequins, they bumble through a ballet only getting it right at the final tableau.
Meanwhile, the husband (Andrew Veyette) tries to run off with the ingénue (Sterling Hyltin) to the wrath of the wife (Meaghan Dutton-O’Hara) in a slapstick style chase that forces the pianist (Elaine Chelton) to slam her piano shut and go after them herself as the curtain descends.
The juxtaposition of these dances demonstrates Robbins’ versatility, sensitivities and his comic sensibilities. He was a master, one that New York City Ballet was lucky to have in its orbit for so long. The centennial celebration of his birth in 2018 should be spectacular.
Maria Kowroski as the Striptease Girl and Tyler Angle as the Hoofer in George Balanchine's "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" is pure fun. (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
New York City Ballet’s Gala at Saratoga Performing Arts Center is an evening to be seen – not so much for the dancers – but for the patrons who attend.
Subsequently, it can be difficult to lure the guests away from their lavish lawn setups with fine drinks, delectable desserts and smoldering cigars into the amphitheater to watch the ballet. But this year’s program was ideal for those who are less inclined to sit quietly for dance.
That’s because it showcased three works to music by the popular Broadway composer Richard Rodgers. Combined with stories and sets, it made for a fairly irresistible Saturday evening of dance.
I say fairly as none of the ballets are great. George Balanchine’s “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” made for the musical “On Your Toes” is the best composed. But even that work, though enjoyable, can feel cartoonishly passé, especially for today audiences who are ravenous for speed and athleticism.
But again, this is a gala audience and kitschy and corny is just fine.
The program started off with Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carousel (A Dance),” which is not his best work. It touches on the relationship between the carnival barker Billy, danced by Zacharo Catazaro, and Julie, dance by the incomparable Tiler Peck. If it wasn’t for Peck who brims with sweetness and innocence, there would be little to see here.
This is a lightweight work that appeals only for its music, as arranged and orchestrated by William David Brohn. In addition to Peck, the whirl of the corps de ballet as if gliding on a carousel, beckons. But mainly, Wheeldon’s “Carousel” doesn’t give its audience much of a ride.
Peter Martins’ “Thou Swell” followed. Design-wise, this is a beautiful ballet. Set in a black-and-white art deco nightclub, with a massive mirror reflecting and doubling the dancing, the look is elegant.
And with an onstage trio – pianist Alan Moverman, drummer James Saporito and bassist Ron Wasserman with singers, Leah Horowitz and Joseph Eletto – the ballet sports an authentic 1930s feels.
The work is set on four couples – one mature, one romantic, one fiery and one youthful. And while Martins mixes up the action between the couples and with a quartet of cocktail waitresses and waiters, the ballet feels too contrived.
There was some fine dancing, however, especially from the women. Sara Mearns, as always, was deliciously dreamy and Sterling Hyltin was effervescent. Aside from Chase Finley, paired with Hyltin, Martins does not give the men much to do. That is disappointing.
“Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” ended the evening. This humorous ballet about a backstage plot to kill an onstage actor is a hoot. It lampoons both sides of the curtain with its one-dimensional characters – the sinister Russian danceur (Daniel Applebaum), the stiff legged gangster (Aaron Sanz), the sexy showgirl (Maria Kowroski) and the pistol-packing boss (Russell Janzen).
Kowroski, along with her tap-dancing lover, performed by Tyler Angle, were pure fun. Moreover, Kowroski stole the show. Though a senior ballerina, she is as radiant as ever. Kowroski is beauty in motion.
Tiler Peck and Andrew Veyette in Balanchine's "Allegro Brillante" (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
An evening to celebrate the mastery and versatility of choreographer George Balanchine ended up being an evening that elevated the object of his affection – the ballerina.
The stars of Thursday’s New York City Ballet All-Balanchine program at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center were Tiler Peck in “Allegro Brillante” and Sara Mearns in “Swan Lake.” Both gave performances that were outstanding, worthy of remembrance for all time.
First, let’s talk about Peck. She has always been a favorite with audiences. But now, at the peak of her abilities, she has become one of the most lovable and accomplished ballerinas in the company. Her vivacious optimism seduces audiences to follow her anywhere. And in this bravura role, she combined her iron technique with her sparkle; and she became perfection.
Swooping and swirling into the arms of Andrew Veyette, it appeared that Balanchine created the role for her. Peck transcended human limitations to become the Tchaikovsky music.
Then there was Mearns who shattered hearts in with her delicate rendering of Odette, the bewitched princess in Balanchine’s condensed “Swan Lake.” Her strength, her beauty and her emotive capacity took audiences through the joys and sorrows of unrequited love.
The adagio sections with Prince Siegfried Jared Angle were especially affecting – her backbends, her fainting falls, her trembling arms and her tiptoeing through her tenuous position spoke of her desire and despair.
Angle, for his part, was a mere adornment, hardly noticed in the presence of Mearns. And perhaps, that is how Balanchine wanted it as he was known to say that ballet is woman. Certainly, the founder of New York City Ballet would be touched by how his ballets continue to inspire dancers and audiences.
Also wonderful was Balanchine’s “Tarantella,” the humorous, sporty ballet, which was danced by Erica Pereira and Joaquin de Luz. De Luz was especially saucy as he kicked up his heels, showing off his firecracker style, in this short and lively ballet.
It’s a shame that the evening ended on a sour note. “Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto” looked awkward and twisted. Taylor Stanley and Rebecca Krohn in the first aria appeared unprepared. At one point, Krohn knocked Stanley in the face with her foot.
Sterling Hyltin and Chase Finley were better, but also out of touch with each other. One of the most memorable moments is when the two dancers jump, turn and land together, facing each other. Hyltin and Finley didn’t coordinate their movements, which ruined what should have been a memorable visual spike.
The bright Capriccio finale with the ensemble somewhat redeemed the duet dancing, but it was hard to shake from the mind’s eye what went before.
Of course, every night, the New York City Ballet Orchestra hits all the right notes. Under the baton of Daniel Capps, the music soared.
The Corcoran Cadets in George Balanchine's "Stars and Stripes" (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
New York City Ballet returned to its summer home, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, on Wednesday with a powerhouse of a program that proved that the company is continuing to propel its way into the future.
That was evident in the opening night premiere of Justin Peck’s “The Times Are Racing,” a ballet that stunned by pushing the classical steps into the realm of street dance and, not so subtly, unleashing it as an act of political protest.
This is a Peck that has never been seen before, strong, daring and authentic. And while “The Times Are Racing” is hardly a perfect ballet or his best ballet, it sets him on a path that challenges the norms of what is acceptable at City Ballet. And the audience and the dancers clearly loved it.
The piece opens with the dancer in a huddle, with just one in the center rising above the pack. To an electronic score by Dan Deacon, they jerk upwards, robotically only to freeze for a second and then reassemble with another in the middle. Wearing sneakers and street clothes, emblazed with words like “Defy,” “Act” and “Shout,” the dancers are unhinged, dancing with the company’s trademark speed that was pinched by moments of intense stillness. It was as if Peck was asking us to really see the shape, the intent and the dancers, not as superhuman being, but as people that enjoy cutting loose. This is how dancers move when they are not onstage. This is how dancers dance.
The best moments were the two duets – one Peck and Ashly Issacs and another with Tiler Peck and Daniel Applebaum. Peck and Issacs, in t-shirts and jeans, performed in synch and syncopated. Tiler Peck and Applebaum’s pas was more playful, with Applebaum slapping the bottom of her sneaker to stimulate her to forward motion. They also took turns twisting themselves in a balletic tinged break dance move that fascinated.
Peck, though straying far, also gave a few nods to the company’s founding iconoclast George Balanchine – especially in his quartet that made note of “Apollo.” And like “Apollo,” “The Times Are Racing” is hastening ballet to the next decade.
The evening also featured Balanchine’s display of American military pageantry in “Stars and Stripes,” a perfect opener on the day after the 4th of July. Daniel Ulbricht, a hands-down favorite with SPAC audiences, drew roars of approval leading the dashing all-male third regiment. He’s a jumping, spinning marvel that never fails to please.
Megan Fairchild and Tyler Angle were also perfectly saucy as Liberty Bell and El Captain – flirting with each other as they clicked their heels, saluted and tossed off with ease their fleet and fancy footwork.
The final campaign is a showstopper with the American flag descending as the backdrop. It’s impossible not to feel a flutter of patriotism.
Peter Martins’ surging “Fearful Symmetries,” to music by John Adams completed the evening. This is my favorite Martins work as it showcases some of the youngest dancers in a work that continually builds, then explodes and then melts into a savory and satisfying vision.
One final note. Elizabeth Sobol, the new president and CEO of SPAC, made sure she filled the house on opening night with box office specials. Hopefully, the days of ever-increasing ticket prices and stripping patrons of deals has gone. An executive director who understands art is for all people, not just those who can afford it, has the potential for building the region’s untapped audience.
Bravo to Sobol and New York City Ballet, which knows how to perform with heart in a city that loves its dancers and musicians.