Archie Burnett, foreground, dances in his "Life Encounters" on the outdoor stage at Jacob's Pillow. (Photo by Christopher Duggan)
When Archie Burnett plunks done at the rim of the outdoor stage at Jacob’s Pillow, one expects to hear a story. And indeed, one does.
In his “Life Encounters,” we hear and see Burnett narrate the parallel journey of his life and that of the club scene in New York City and beyond. We see him grow from a child whose mother disapproves of his watching “Soul Train” on the Sabbath to his voguing and waacking as the First Father of the House of Ninja.
And it’s delightful.
“Life Encounter: Archie Burnett” is another example of the Pillow’s dedication to inclusion – not just to formal theatrical dance but to the street and club dance as a way to enlighten the often staid Pillow audience.
Over the years, Pillow management have often done that. But this year’s effort is more concerted with the curtain welcome read in English and Spanish and with the Executive Director Pamela Tatge thanking, at the start of each show, the Native Americans – naming every tribe -- who lived on the Pillow grounds long before Ted Shawn showed up there with his Men Dancers. This, hopefully, will spark an awakening in all of us.
But back to Burnett, who is charming. He appears in a white tank top and yellow wind pants. Then, swaggering across the stage waving his arms, he takes the audience back to the 1970s when disco and the hustle were king.
Six other dancers join him on stage. And to the infectious sounds created by Steve “DJ Chip Chop” Gonzalez, it becomes a party.
Burnett and his dancers are a diverse set of technicians who can show off the skills of each type of dance. Burnett is a vogue artist supreme who can work his arms like a hibachi chef wields knives. And then there are his legs that he kicks to hit his nose and the split that he lands with all hitting the floor.
Abdiel is a hustler – gliding through different members of the ensemble – taking them in their (preferred pronoun) arms to whisk each dancer across the stage. At one point, the music goes quiet, allowing the audience a moment to examine the smooth intricacy of their steps. It is beautiful.
Burnett moves through post-disco house, with its fancy footwork that moves the body closer to the floor and away from the partnering of disco. Here Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie and Maya Llanos shine – switching up steps faster than the eye can absorb.
The big number is “Vogue” with all the dancers recreating the nightclub scene – with dancers in drag, strutting like runway models in their spiked heels (how do they do anything in those?). Donning frilly garb, they come to the edge of the stage and slay the audience with their sharp, daring motions.
At one point, Burnett talks about teaching in Amsterdam, relating the experimental dancing there. But that section is not as insightful, thus it falls flat.
Also, disappointing is the recorded track of Burnett’s voice. He lip-synched his story, which is an impediment to a full embrace of the audience. However, a microphone on a dancer is not easy to technically achieve, but worth a try on a small stage like the Pillow’s.
By the ending, all questionable choices are forgiven. Here, each dancer takes turns showing off their specialty – including Asherie’s breaking and Llano’s African shimmying. Each is deserving of enthusiastic applause.
"Life Encounters: Archie Burnett" will continue at the Jacob's Pillow through Sunday.
From left, Evan Fisk, Zack Gonder and Stephanie Terasaki of Brian Brooks / Moving Company in "Closing Distance" on the outdoor stage at Jacob's Pillow through Sunday, July 25. (Photo by Jamie Kraus)
The pandemic has affected all of us in different ways – one of which was, in some cases, bringing the close closer and severing the ties of the remote.
But even before the pandemic, on its very eve, choreographer Brian Brooks seemed to foreshadow it in “Closing Distance,” a work he premiered just prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and one that tapped into the need for, but difficulty with intimacy.
The work is now onstage at Jacob’s Pillow’s outdoor stage, the Henry J. Leir. It is among three pieces, including a solo featuring Brooks that will be performed through Sunday. And though the entire program is just an hour long, as all of this year’s outdoors shows are, Brian Brooks / Moving Company demonstrated that, as an ensemble, the dancers are deeply in-tune and sensitive to each other. Together, they make for a beautiful company, for which audiences should be grateful.
To the award-winning, “Partita for 8” score by Caroline Shaw, “Closing Distance” at first seems like a scientific experiment. Dancers were bundled together moving each other in mechanical ways as the vocalist sing words “to the side” or “to the midpoint.” But the work blossoms, along with the score, into a spiritual journey with dancers Evan Fisk and Taylor LaBruzzo. She’s an unseen, powerful figure, whom with a flutter of her hand, moves Fisk, literally and figuratively. He, who hypnotized by her actions, flops and springs about, an unwitting soul who is open to the universe’s energy force.
The final section, with all eight dancers, swirling together fluidly – a band of unifying angels that signals an optimism that is a welcome sight for world-weary souls.
The program also features two world premieres – Brooks’ solo “Quiet Music,” named for a Nico Muhly piano score, and the night's opener “Flight Study.” Both, created at the Pillow during a pandemic bubble residency, were intriguing.
“Flight Study,” to music by Bryce Dessner “Aheym” as recorded by Ensemble Resonanz, had echoes of “Swan Lake,” but a prehistoric version – one where the birds fight their way out of an egg and crawl across the grass before taking off to cloud-high heights. The string music is driving, at times, and carries these creatures along a path that is gloriously transformative. And with the real birds in nature singing and the oak trees behind them swaying, “Flight Study” is a highly recommended experience – particularly in this setting.
Finally, I loved “Quiet Music.” Firstly, it’s rare to see Brooks, who is a fascinatingly emotive dancer in his own right, performing. In this work, he takes us by surprise by arriving to the stage from the center aisle of the house. Once onstage, his trajectory is back and forth, upstage to down, bringing him in and out of focus – as upstage he is silhouetted by the sun and downstage his kind face, in the trees shadow, comes into view.
Here, in the desperately tender work, he is showing the audience a wave – reaching out and retreating – shaping in our minds a way of life and death, of lost and restoration. It was a moving tribute to all of us as we continue to wrestle with the pandemic.
The pas de deux from George Balanchine's "Agon" from 1957 is complex and revolutionary for the art of ballet.
What a difference a day makes.
While I’m still not thrilled with New York City Ballet’s pandemic-inspired lecture-demonstration format during its brief stay at Saratoga Performing Arts Center this week, Thursday afternoon’s “All Balanchine” version seemed less awkward. And happily, more enjoyable.
Multiple departures from Wednesday’s program, though slight, made for the happy difference.
First Gonzalo Garcia was host. Unlike Maria Kowroski who read from index cards, Garcia was speaking extemporaneously, pacing the stage like a motivational speaker, signaling the audience must hang on every word. We did.
And then there were the excerpts – they were longer – only slightly. But that little extra moment to savor the dance was precious. It was exactly what we needed in order to feel like yes, we are at the ballet.
Moreover, the snippets from company founder and genius choreographer George Balanchine’s “Apollo” “Four Temperaments,” “Agon” are unadorned. None of them have the elaborate sets or are backed up with slews of corps de ballet dancers. So two dancers on stage was ideal, unlike on Wednesday night’s showing of story ballets excerpts. Design and dancers were sorely missing.
Thus Balanchine’s neoclassical excerpts felt more complete and audience did not feel cheated out of an experience.
And the dancers, as usual, were superb. It’s amazing to note that they have not danced in front of an audience since the start of the pandemic. But they performed beautifully, each with precision, careful to point out how special – and in some cases revolutionary – Balanchine ballets were and remain.
The afternoon started with the variations performed by Apollo’s three muses with the supple Teresa Reichlen as Terpsichore. Her variation, a show of the muse’s artistry, devotion and affability, was enchanting for the mix of emotions it inspired. And Reichlen, now a senior dancer, has the ability to draw out every ounce of meaning in every step and gesture.
Equally wonderful were Miriam Miller and Amar Ramasar in the complex “Agon” pas de deux. As one watches the intertwining of arms and legs and their miraculous unraveling, one can’t help but wonder how the classical trained Balanchine came up with such radical movement.
While he was an insurgent, Balanchine was also a showman. In excerpts from the triptych “Jewels,” “Emeralds,” “Rubies” and “Diamonds,” and “Who Cares,” Balanchine’s love for making music visible was clear.
“Diamonds” was especially glorious with Miller and Tyler Angle – the approach walking and circling each other is tentatively, but revealing the draw that they eventually surrendered to was sumptuous.
And though I’m not a huge fan of “Who Cares,” the dancing – with the men strutting and the women skipping – was uplifting.
Certainly, the company is leaving us wanting for more.
This program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 16 and 17, at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
New York City Ballet performed the donkey pas de deux on Wednesday during its "Short Stories" program at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
During the last several years, Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s relationship with New York City Ballet has thinned, with the outdoor venue allowing the founding flagship company to fade with fewer and fewer performances.
The pandemic strained things all the more. Last year’s season had to be canceled. And this year’s, due to COVID-19 restrictions that were in place during the planning, dancing had to be limited.
Thus City Ballet’s 2021 SPAC season, now dwindled to four days from a once robust four-week season, includes just a handful of dancers and two pianists (Alan Moverman and Nancy McDill) with the audience sitting in socially distanced pods.
Because there is no orchestra and no cast of nearly 100 dancers, this year the audience has to settle for of a lecture-demonstration style show. Dancers are performing short snippets of ballets between a lot of talking. Actually, too much talking.
On Wednesday night, the ballet’s opener, principal dancer Maria Korowski was the host. This veteran dancer – appearing poise in street clothes and standing in a slight first position -- was perfectly charming in a program called “Short Stories.” Reading from index cards, she explained the origins and plot lines of such ballets as “Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Firebird” and “Fancy Free.”
Then the dancers would appear in costume to discuss their takes on the roles and how they prepared. Beloved ballerina and the company’s Associate Artistic Director Wendy Whelan also made an appearance, discussing coaching of Meaghan Dutton-O’Hara on the Rose Adagio, one of ballet’s most difficult ballerina feats.
But people in the seats want to see the dancers dance. And when they did, it was over too quickly.
Of course, it’s City Ballet so there were still flashes of brilliance. For example, it was a Dutton-O’Hara who is in the corps de ballet, proved her strength in the adagio where she must remain balanced on one leg while her four international suitors promenaded her in circles.
Principal dancer Teresa Reichlen was sublime as the Odette, the enchanted swan princess and plucky but vulnerable as the Firebird. Reichlen has the maturity to pour into her technical know-how a heart that moves an audience.
It was also fun to laugh a little bit – with the three sailors in “Fancy Free” in the opening scene when they first arrive in the big city, the donkey pas de deux from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the hilarious mistake waltz from “The Concert.”
Sadly missing were all of the sets and props – including the frilly, pink clamshell that Tatiana, danced by Miriam Miller, sleeps in. It was replaced with a mismatched backstage chair.
Also missing was the corps de ballet that beefs up every ballet with their energy and precision beauty. The hoards of swans from “Swan Lake,” which were absent, was especially keenly felt.
Still, the audience made do, enjoying the dancing, which always ended too soon with more talk resuming.
I understand that SPAC had to work with COVID-19 restrictions. But these talk shows are better for an audience unfamiliar with ballet. After decades of ballet, SPAC audiences are astute and know much of what was told to us. So revelations were slim.
As one observer put it “it’s better than nothing.” But how much more can City Ballet and its audiences lose?
New York City Ballet will repeat “Short Stories” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 15, and 2 p.m. Saturday, July 17.
From left, Ruby Morales, Bianca Medina, Jannet Galdamez and Jasmine Stanley of Contra Tiempo is dancing "joyUS justUS" on the outdoor stage at Jacob's Pillow. (Photo by Christopher Duggan)
In these divided times, there is no better glue than shared joy and gratitude.
That’s the point of Contra Tiempo’s exuberant and heart-centered plea in “joyUS justUS,” a work now on the outdoor stage at Jacob’s Pillow that urges compassion over cruelty, love over loathing, embrace over acrimony.
And it’s not just a pie-in-the-sky idea. In “joyUS justUS,” choreographer Ana Maria Alvarez, gives the world a pathway out – by showing that a respect for nature’s bounty and a graciousness to all those who came before us – including the Native Americans – is the essential start.
Before the piece even begins, inclusion is emphasized. It starts with the audience – each member is offered a colorful stripe of cloth that can be waved if the spirit demands. Also on stage are offerings to nature and ancestors – old family photos, braided sweet grass, sage, candles, a bowl of water, feathers – all arranged in an altar to faith in family and nature.
Then as the percussive sounds of drums can be heard, we see three woman walking down the aisles from behind the audience to the stage – like brides who commit themselves to the cause. Once on stage, they offer a thanksgiving prayer to water, fire, family and more and ask us to repeat “You and I are us,” again and again.
And then the trio is joined by three others and they explode into the moment the audience was waiting for – a jubilant expression of freedom and movement that got the audience waving their cloth.
Alvarez, whose company hails from Los Angeles, knows how to get her point across. Expertly lacing in the music of the upbeat band Las Cafeteras and the driving sounds of composer d. sabela grimes with a melding style of dance including salsa and hip-hop, she has the dancer touch upon mass incarceration, police pushback on protesters and criminalization of immigrants. Yet she also demonstrates that humanity doesn’t have to be in conflict if mutual respect is at play.
This is of note with a wonderful duet with Jasmine Stanley and Charlie Dando who delivers a give-and-take balance that is both hilarious and fascinating for their sheer physical abilities that are completely in-tune. Also noteworthy is Jannet Gonzalez’s touching solo. Her body is a wave, a fluid figurine, accompanying a story of love for a new-born baby and how that translates into thriving.
All in all, “joyUS justUS" is beautifully uplifting and optimistic in an era that is desperate for solutions.
It's final showing is at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, July 11.
The marvelous Paul Taylor Dance Company in "Esplanade."
Pop open the prosecco, throw up a cheer and maybe even a prayer of thanks to Terpsichore.
After 15 months of no in-person dance performances in the Capital Region, dance is back.
And no group of dancers could have embodied the joy we dance devotees feel more perfectly than the Paul Taylor Dance Company – one of America’s most cherished modern dance ensembles.
At PS/21 in Chatham on Friday night to a full house, this brilliant and buoyant company presented a shortened program of two favorites -- “Company B” and “Esplanade.”
These are typically curtain-closers for the company as they are so effervescent. And because of the long-shut down, these favorites felt all the more celebratory. Better yet, the dancers – with their fine-tuned, springy bodies – were bursting and ripe to perform them and perform them well.
The opener of “Company B,” Paul Taylor’s ode to the Andrew Sisters music and World War II era in America, features the cast of 13 wandering onto the stage, looking up in wonder, reflecting back exactly what the audience was feeling –awe at being in a theater again.
The horns of “Bei Mir Bist Du Shein” could be heard and the skipping and swinging began. Together, in a suite of hits from the era, the dancers carried the viewers through a high-stepping polka, comical pursuits of love and romance with songs like “Joseph! Joseph!” and “Oh, Johnny, Oh, Johnny, Oh” and of course the dance’s signature song performed with charming zip by John Harnage.
But Taylor is sly. Not all is well in “Company B” or with the greatest generation. In the shadowy area upstage, we watch the soldiers march in synch – forward to perhaps their death. It was a stark reminder that though we are happy today, the future – including that of in-person shows – is uncertain.
“Esplanade,” to Bach’s bright “Violin Concerto in E Major,” reawakens the contentment. This is another one of Taylor’s amazing works as much of it is running and walking – no pyrotechnics – but it completely thrills and satisfies the visceral soul.
In ever-moving circles and lines, the dancers formations are an enchanting kaleidoscope of comings and goings of those who travel an esplanade.
As the music moves into the adagio movement, Taylor highlights the inner lives of the players. A lone woman and close couples who grow sleepy as the light dims, showing the audience a shift in the day. An angelic figure moves among them, an agent of care, compassion and protection. It is a lovely scene.
Of course the final festive allegro movement and lights shine, the dancers are once again exuberant – with dancers jumping, tilting backwards, falling, rolling and sliding across the floor. Devon Louis was a standout, flying higher than the rest – in a finale of finale.
The audience was enrapt. A standing ovation ensued. But something else did too -- applause with foot stomping. They wanted to show they more than appreciate the return and knew more than the usual clapping and standing was appropriate and due.
These artists, our artists, make the world a better place.
Paul Taylor Dance Company will dance again at PS/21 in Chatham on Saturday, July 3 and again on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 6 and 7.