Trinity Irish Dance Company performed an infectious program at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Monday night.
Irish step dancing has a mysterious hold on an audience. It’s like a Celtic myth, alluring, but at the same time unfathomable.
It is one-part hypnotic rhythms, hammered out by dancers’ feet, mixed with lightness, triggered by the dancers’ hovering bounces. It’s beautiful thing.
It is no wonder then that Irish step dancing attracts dance devotees as much as those who never considered walking into a theater for concert dance. That’s why Trinity Irish Dance Company had few problems packing people into the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on a Monday night for an enchanted evening of music and dance.
The Chicago-based company, led by Irish dance champion Mark Howard, offered a generous program that shows that dance can be more than big curly wigs and sequined costumes and more than lilt, cadence and speed. It can be dramatic and playful too.
The ensemble of 20 with a four-man band opened with the powerful “Soles.” Choreographed by Howard, it hit all the right percussive notes with dancers, dressed in black, standing in their own spotlights and hitting the boards hard with their fleet and precise footwork. There was no need for music – just the sounds of the feet and the flash of bodies shooting up and down – was enough to sweep the audience into the night.
The variety of choreography that followed was astonishing. The dancers were full-bodied in such dances as the “Black Rose,” where they clattered out rhythms with sticks and in “Communion” where the dancers pounded out the beat with their hands on their legs and torsos. Of course, they accentuated it all with their intricate and synchronized traditional footwork.
Sean Curran’s “Curran Event” was especially enjoyable. Here, the female dancers showed off their hearty talents in a jaunty cavort. Wearing mini-skirt kilts and soft shoes, they skipped and tiptoed through an infectious dance to spirited music by Kila and then topped it off with a boisterous hard-shoe tap battle.
Trinity’s only disappointment was there was few men – only two. While mostly, they blended in with the Colleens, they stood out for their attack and jump height when they launched themselves off the floor.
For the most part, the music was performed by the company’s own band led by guitarist and composer Brendan O’Shea. The quartet provided the necessary interludes for costume changes and moments of quiet contemplation with such original tunes such as “Storm” and some buoyant moments too with O’Shea’s “The Reel Thing.”
They ensemble ended with the chorus line of dancers, a look and sound that no audience can resist.
Howard once said that he wanted Irish dance to be more than competitive. He wanted it to matter. I think it does and to a lot of people at that.
RONALD K. BROWN: MORE OF THE SAME
Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE in "Come Ye"
It’s a curious thing about Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE. The company has toured the world to acclaim and its founder and Artistic Director Ronald K. Brown has been commissioned by some of the nation’s most prestigious dance companies.
But I don’t get it. Seeing the company again on Thursday night at Jacob’s Pillow in its latest work – “New Conversations” – I come away feeling that all of Brown’s dances look the same, and worst, don’t go anywhere.
The new work featured commissioned music by Latin jazz bandleader, composer and pianist Arturo O’Farrill. His band Resist played the piece live; and that was the evening’s highlight because the dances, which also include “Come Ye” and an excerpt from “Dancing Spirit,” are, frankly, monotonous.
It’s heartbreaking to write this because I think Brown is a special person with a divine attachment to his heritage, his dancers and the music he choses. His dancers are exceptional – specialists in modern tinged African dance. What draws people into Brown’s work, however, is his selection of music: Nina Simone and Fela Anikulapo Kuti in “Come Ye,” Radiohead and War in “Dancing Spirit” and O’Farrill in the evening’s premiere.
Brown has great taste in music, but his choreography rarely transcends it. The dancers are simply dancing to it. That would be fine if there was a solid wow factor there. But mostly, watching an EVIDENCE show is like going to a club and watching a hoard of people on the dance floor, bopping to the same beat. They hardly reveal something about themselves; nor do they elicit the emotion or the tension that make theater dance compelling.
The other interesting thing about Brown’s choreographer is the dancers perform around each other – there is not touching, therefore no connection to each other. They may look and point to each other, but they don’t commune. In that way, communing with the audience is more difficult too.
Of his dancers, Shayla Caldwell, Annique Roberts and Keon Thoulouis were favored. I would have like to seen more of the others who acted as adornments to the trio's solos because all of them were excellent.
Roberts did an outstanding job as the figure in “Dancing Spirit,” conjuring Judith Jamison, the iconic dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She is both smooth and sharp, but I wish Brown gave her more to do.
In “Come Ye,” the images of 1960s Civil Rights protests added a layer that deepened the work. But I didn’t need to see the dancers to know what they were doing.
Brown doesn’t need to satisfy anyone’s criticism of his choreography because he is a luminary in the dance world. But I do wish he would push a little harder to create something more than dancing-in-the-living-room moments. He has the dancers to do it; and the heart and soul. He just has to be willing to take a chance.
Lauren Lovette made her debut as Juliet on Thursday at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
Thursday was Lauren Lovette day at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
The New York City Ballet principal made her debut as Juliet in Peter Martins’ “Romeo + Juliet” at the matinee. In the evening, her ballet “Not Our Fate” made its SPAC premiere. Both were honest successes for which Lovette can be proud.
First, her Juliet. It was close to perfection. Lovette radiates sweetness and youthfulness naturally, so she is already ideal for the role. But the tragic story of Shakespeare’s young lovers is so much more – and Lovette brought tears as the desperate teen trying to escape marrying her parents choice and reunite with her banished lover Romeo.
A wistful Peter Walker’s portrait of Romeo was a close, but unsteady landing. Aside from a few jarring lifts in the turning point pas de deux at the balcony, he did all that was physically required. However, he just didn’t seem ready for the big role. This of course can change if given the chance again.
That consuming ability to zero all eyes on a single dancer goes to Sean Suozzi as Tybalt. The tension and menace he exuded on Thursday was frightening. He even outdid Mercutio, danced by the bouncing ball of energy Anthony Huxley.
One other interesting thing to note: the controversial slap that Lord Capulet lands on the face of Juliet when she begs to not marry Paris is gone. Is this a change that the new artistic team made after Martins departed in January following allegations of sexual, verbal and physical abuse? It appears so.
But back to Lovette.
After her amazing showing in the afternoon, her “Not Our Fate” outshined two new Justin Peck ballets and another by Gianna Reisen. Based on a Mary Elizabeth Sell poem about our spreading love or hate, being “our choice, not a fate,” the ballet was a relentless rush of comings-and-goings – connections made and missed.
The minimalistic music by Michael Nyman has sharp and confusing transitions, making one wonder if the fantastic New York City Ballet orchestra knew what it was doing. Of course they know what they are doing and zoomed through the music with as much energy as the dancers put into the surging duets.
The standout couples were Preston Chamblee and Taylor Stanley who broke barriers with a male pas de deux and Meaghan Dutton O-Hara with Ask la Cour in the traditional male/female duet. The billowing shirts on the women, designed by Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim, accentuated the swirl of the ballet that all, including the audience, was swept up in. And I love how it ends with a raised fist of rebellion.
Peck’s new works, which shared the evening bill, were the colorful “Easy” and “Pulcinella Variations” Both demonstrate that Peck is looking to production values to elevate his dance. In “Easy,” a nod to Jerome Robbins’ “West Side Story,” it works. The billboard scenery by Stephen Powers and costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung boost the playful mood in the ensemble ballet.
But in “Pulcinella Variations,” the costumes by Tsumori Chisato were too much. It was hard to see the line of the dancers with all of the frills running down dancers legs, torsos and shoulders. The costumes allude to the 1920 “Pulcinella” ballet set to a Stravinsky score upon which Peck is mediating. But, again, the frippery was unnecessary and stole from the movement.
However, there were good showings by the dancers, particularly Huxley in the “Tarantella” and Tiler Peck and Joseph Gordon in the “Gavotta.”
Finally, Gianna Reisen’s “Composer’s Holiday” to piano and violin music by Lukas Foss also made its SPAC premiere. While there was nothing new here, it is worth noting that Reisen is the youngest choreographer to create for City Ballet. At the time of the New York City premiere, Reisen was 18. I’m looking forward to seeing more from her.
And from Lovette too.
Ask la Cour and Meaghan Dutton-O'Hara in Lauren Lovette's "Not Our Fate." (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
Taylor Stanley in the solo in George Balanchine's "Square Dance." (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
On Tuesday night, New York City Ballet has returned to its summer home – Saratoga Performing Arts Center. And there is no better way to honor the company and venue that George Balanchine built than to offer a program devoted to his works.
Three were one display – “Square Dance,” “The Four Temperaments” and “Symphony in C.” While the regal “Symphony in C” remains an audience favorite – it was “Square Dance” that stood out.
The reason – Taylor Stanley’s rendering of the reverent solo. The Corelli music, which is a diversion from the rest of the ballet’s bouncy Vivaldi, lends the solo a melancholy, isolated feel. Stanley’s grasp was revelatory. His deep bows where his hand swipes the floor, his jumps with his leg raised and his head and body arched down show a man submitted to something higher than himself. But his rushes forward and his back bends show a prayerful striving. He transformed it into a brief, but holy occasion.
“Square Dance,” like “Symphony in C” demonstrates Balanchine’s eye for symmetry with dancers deployed and moving in perfect and peaceful unison. In “The Four Temperaments,” to music by Hindemith, Balanchine preserves his classical adherence to symmetrical order. At the same time, he tosses out the ballet’s physical vocabulary for one that is wholly modern – both angular and soft. Early on the three opening couples that represent the theme are practically robotic. And then comes Anthony Huxley who flops his body forward and sways his arms as if he is off-kilter.
But Balanchine accents his movement by two, Olivia MacKinnon and Meagan Mann, who ring him -- kicking up their legs while they circle him en pointe. It’s a dramatic juxtaposition that continues throughout this stark, black and white ballet.
Balanchine’s vision of Bizet’s “Symphony in C” leaps from one joyful moment to the next, making for a wonderful finish to the program. Ashley Bouder dazzled with her strength and dynamism in the first movement while Teresa Reichlen soothed her with tender grasp of the second. Joseph Gordon, with Bouder, also impressed with his quadruple turns - again and again.
But the finale with all of the dancers from all four movements taking over the stage in a sparkling, boisterous ending overpowers the audience with its power, precision and elegance.
And of course, the orchestra, led by Andrews Sill, was excellent.
While the audience and the dancers looked thrilled to be a SPAC on opening night, a pall has descended on the season. It’s only one week. Many, including myself, mourn this unfortunate decision made by SPAC’s administration. SPAC administration and board fail to remember this: SPAC was built by and for Balanchine’s dancers (and the Philadelphia Orchestra). It is their summer home and should remain that way. A one-week visit is not a summer home.
This continual chipping away at the ballet season has another downside – the lawn. When the ballet had three and four-week seasons, the lawn could recover from Live Nation’s pop and rock shows. Now there is no recovery time and it’s a mud pit. The lawn is a disgrace.
City Ballet and SPAC boards and administration needs to come together and solve this loss of Balanchine’s legacy. The Saratoga institution that Balanchine built, loved and directed his successors to nourish must not be further denigrated. It’s as important as all of his groundbreaking and beautiful ballets.
Xanthe Van Opstal in Ohad Naharin's "Naharin's Virus." (Photo by Christopher Duggan)
Batsheva thrives in its own universe. It’s one that some may find off-putting, but most, including myself, find it endless intriguing.
That’s because this Israeli dance company has its own language. It has eschews the steps of conventional ballet and modern dance and steeps itself in its artistic director’s invention of Gaga. Ohad Naharin created it and teaches it to his dancers and the result is a dance that looks wild, aggressive, determined and compelling. While their movement can appear spastic, it’s feels like it must be realized. Instead of the dancer controlling the body, the body is controlling the dancers.
No one can look away.
For some American audiences, who prefer to be entertained, a Naharin dance can be baffling. That seems to be the case this week, Jacob’s Pillow where Batsheva – The Young Ensemble is performing “Naharin’s Virus.” The evening-length work from 2001 is an adaptation of Peter Handke’s play “Offending the Audience.”
Right from the start, narrator/dancer Evyatar Omesy tells the audience what they will see is not what they expect. He then turns the focus on the audience – talking about our mutual preparations to arrive at the theater, how we are seated in patterns and how we are facing them and sitting in the dark. It becomes clear that “Naharin’s Virus” is as much about the audience as it is the performers. And regardless of who we are, Omesy tells us “we are welcome.”
It takes time before the dancers arrive. One, Shir Levy, has been there from the start, drawing on a stage-long chalkboard. When she is joined by others, they gather in clusters of twos and threes as if scrutinizing each other with a sniff. Then 11 move forward to the edge of the stage and unleash their Gaga power. Standing in a line, one-by-one, they fling their heads, limbs and bodies about violently. And then snap back, straight as soldiers waiting to be inspected.
While this is going on, others frantically write out “PLASTELIN” on the chalkboard.
During the quieter moments or while listening to the narrator, I question what this is all about. I long for them to dance again, to wield their electric passion. And when they do, the questions melt away. There is only the dance and the Batsheva dancer.
Ultimately, “Naharin’s Virus” is about all of us – the audience and the performer. It’s about how we, as individuals with foibles and warts, come together to play a part in a collective experience. In our divisive culture, this notion of shared responsibility, is a strong message.
But then again, who knows. Batsheva travels in it’s own, infinitely fascinating universe that few can fathom, but many enjoy.
The years of hoping and speculation for PS/21 are over.
Chatham’s performing arts venue that has offered a world-class line-up of dancers, actors and musicians has moved out of its tent and into a fully-equipped and beautiful outdoor amphitheater that matches its artists’ prestige.
The step up, which took 13 years to accomplish, was formally celebrated Saturday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and speeches with officials taking credit for the feat. But no one deserves more accolades than its President Judy Grunberg who had the vision to create a home for the arts in an abandoned apple orchard. Her grit, perseverance and enthusiasm for the project in Columbia County got it done.
Grunberg’s accomplishment was recognized by performances by some of the venue’s most faithful and favorite artists. Among them was Parsons Dance, the company, from which the beginning Grunberg said she wanted to host at PS/21 every summer. So far, it’s worked out that way. And at every appearance, the company has staged “Caught.”
Performed by Henry Steele, the dance in which a strobe captures a jumping dancer at the peak of his airborne acrobatics, never gets old. This was a dance that choreographer David Parsons owned. No one ever did it as well as he. But Steele came close.
Steele had the upper body flexibility in the first moments of the dance in which the soloist moves from spotlight to spotlight. Those first gestures, which likened him to a strange or ancient creature of the air, snares the imagination. His undulating rib cage, fluid neck and arms and claw like fingers set up for the eye-popping, heart-stopping round of jumps that the audience only sees at the top of the flight in a flash of light. It’s a stunner.
Also amazing was TAKE Dance’s “The Game.” An excerpt from choreographer Takehiro Ueyama’s “Salaryman,” the dance for four was an aggressive play for dominance. In suits and ties, Brynt Beitman, Alex Cottone, John Durbin and John Eirich race, crash into and topple each other in an exhausting battle to the top. The snippet makes one long to see the full “Salaryman,” a portrait of Japanese businessmen.
The Vanaver Caravan also joined the festivities. The preservationist of world dance and music gave audience a small slice of their expansive repertory with traditions from Quebec, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Turkey. With its artistic directors Bill and Livia Vanaver performing with the band, the ensemble of young dancers warmed up the evening with synchronized clogging and hamboning that inspired smiles all around.
The grand opening also included comedian Hilary Chaplain and accordionist Guy Klucevsek. Needless to say, I wanted to see more dance, but the range of performers also demonstrated PS/21 commitment to all the arts. And for that, Grunberg deserves endless gratitude.