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.
Corey Boatner and Yoojung Hahm perform in Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble in "Catharsis." (Photo by Christopher Duggan)
A lot can change in 50 years – and that is certainly the case with Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble.
Performing this week on Jacob’s Pillow main stage, the Denver-based contemporary dance troupe is offering a full scope of its half-century with works dating back to its earliest days -- including a piece by Katherine Dunham and its founder and Artistic Director Cleo Parker Robinson.
But it is the newer works, specifically two from 2017, where the appealing and stirring artistry of this mainly African-American company can be found. Donald McKayle’s “Crossing the Rubion: Passing the Point of No Return” and Garfield Lemonius’ “Cartharsis” are stunners – with gut-wrenching duets at their heart – that I promise one would want to see again and again.
Both seed their power in the group that elicit images of humanity’s struggle – McKayle in expressing the fear and anxiety felt by refugee and Lemonius, the need for a mental health release from the world’s fraught with ever-mounting pressures.
McKayle, a recognized choreographic master, captured the plight of those forced to leave their home because of war, famine and natural disaster in “Crossing the Rubicon.” To music by Anoushka Shankar, a dozen dancers flee. At first, it’s a slow bedraggled and orderly effort. Then later on, their patterns shift to a full-on reckless exodus.
Cast in earth-tone shades, they look dusty, tired, but determined in their flight.
The central duet with Tyveze Littlejohn and Yoojung Hahm was tentative, but also signaled a surrender. As they rejoin the crowd onstage and become separated, one also felt the pain of lost loved ones.
Hahm was also a featured player in “Catharsis,” this time with Corey Boatner. However, instead of connection, in this duet she become, literally, a thing that clings, which he struggles to shed. As he reached out for escape, Boatner’s honesty lured the audience in and thus we all went on the path to deliverance with him.
Even more impressive was the ensemble as a whole. Moving to an eloquent music selection from David Lang, Ezio Basso and Arvo Park, the dancers performed with abandon, evoking a flash of ecstasy.
Unfortunately, the older pieces on the bill felt dated, including “Salome Daughter’s,” by Nejla Yatkin. The 1998 dance was the evening’s final work for seven women that underscored female repression. While predictable, I did like the piece’s message – never underestimate a woman.
Dunham’s piece, the opener, was a jazzy ode to Scott Joplin while Robinson’s was a nod to her church-going youth. I could have lived without both – especially Robinson’s which seemed like an unfortunate spin-off of Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations.”
I mean no disrespect to any of the choreographers – especially Dunham who is so important in the history of Black dance in the Americas. But McKayle and Lemonius tapped into something deeper and that is one reason why Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble could and should thrive for another 50 years.
Ajkun Ballet performed its "Don Quixote" at The Egg on Friday night.
“Don Quixote” is one of ballet’s most beloved works – mainly for its humor and its technically difficult, and therefore, often brilliant dancing.
Ajkun Ballet Theatre’s version, as choreographed by its Artistic Director Chiara Ajkun and performed on Friday night at The Egg, has its charms. Mainly, the dancers are well-trained, enthusiastic and often superb. The costumes, for the most part, are appropriately colorful and frequently beautiful. But this stripped-down rendering, without scenery, is missing one essential that makes “Don Quixote” a favorite – perfect comedic timing.
Thus, much of the antics between Gamanche (Ariel Correa) and Kitri’s mother (Bianca Delli Priscoli), which is central to the humor, felt forced and didn’t generate the belly laughs it should.
However, that little upset didn’t overshadow the fine dancing from the Momoko Burbine as Kitri and Klevis Tafaj as Basilio and others like Telmen Munkherdene as the toreador and the main couple (unidentified in the program) at the gypsy camp. Watching these dancers navigate their roles was a delight.
Burbine was outstanding. Petite, light and appropriately feisty, she threw herself into the arms of her lover as well as laid down the most delicate, but speedy petite allegro from the grand pas de deux.
Tafaj, though he doesn’t sport an elegant ballon, flung himself across the stage in a series of jumps and turns that expressed his joy in his hard-fought nuptial with Kitri. And when the two came together, it was magical. He easily lifted her – with one arm – high above his head. He also tossed her and caught her too, showing that Burbine and Tafaj obviously enjoyed their roles and each other.
Munkherdene was interesting to watch as he pushed so much energy into his dancing that it was nearly impossible for him to control. He has the technique, but now he needs to reign it in to give him the power to hypnotize his audience with it.
The unidentified lead couple in the gypsy camp were equally amazing. The man angerly deployed a whip as she acquiesced, ending her solo in a submissive backbend. Though part of the original 1869 Alexander Gorsky ballet, the duet is terribly outdated. For one thing, gypsy is pejorative, so that needs to change in every version including American Ballet Theatre’s.
And more troubling is a man with a whip. This is domestic violence. Despite the outstanding dancing, this pas de deux begs for an update as watching a man dominate a woman with a weapon is cringe-worthy, if not traumatizing.
Also, the four-member corps de ballet during the camp scenes needed to do more. They just stood in the background and moved their arms to and fro. They looked too stiff and not part of the action at all. (Maybe they were upset by the whip too.)
Finally, though the comedy didn’t always tickle, Correa as Gamache was physically all in. He was both clumsy and self-absorbed as he feigned sophistication in his over-the-top frills. In the end, I applauded his efforts.
While I’m being nit-picky, Ajkun Ballet’s “Don Quixote” is among the best of its full-length works. But it could be better.
Ballaro Dance's "Embedded Memories" replaces fear and shame with pride and strength. (Photo by Becky Osborne)
Wounds not only leave physical scars, they leave emotional ones too.
But healing those scars, taking them to a place where fear and shame are replaced with pride and strength is where choreographer Marisa Ballaro is trying to inspire all to go.
Her message of hope and healing is strong in Ballaro Dance’s “Embedded Memories.” As seen on Saturday night at Universal Preservation Hall, the site-specific work is inspired by Kintsugi, the Japanese art of pottery repair that emphasizes the breaks by filling them with luminous gold.
In “Embedded Memories,” those cracks or scars were represented by lights – strung inside costumes and clustered in glowing balls along the floor and ceiling. Ultimately, these lights, Ballaro seems to suggest, guides one from despair to confidence.
The work was offered up with a trio of dancers whom the audience encircled, a reference to connectedness and wholeness. But as the three dancers first appear, they look to run or shed something. They move in place, unable to flee. They wipe and wipe and wipe themselves, only to find that the scar is still there, adhering to their bodies.
Music by a number softly plays in the background while Ballaro reads snippets of stories collected in communities where the company has performed. She speaks of the hurt of injuries, the pain of recovery and the relief and joy in ultimately overcoming.
There are symbolic gestures as when one dancer took the light from another’s head it placed it near her heart. Yet another dancer stripped off a layer of clothing, thus stripping away some of the pain. But no matter what the dancers did – eventually running freely through the space and embracing the glowing balls of white light — the scars remain.
The work ended with the dancers in a prayerful scene, quietly breathing and seemingly accepting their damaged parts.
After the program, Ballaro asked audience members to share their own experiences of trauma by writing an anonymous note and perhaps attaching a Polaroid photo (a camera was available) of the author. Those stories, left on a table in an adjoining room, could end up being told at Ballaro Dance’s next stop.
The program was preceded by a work developed by 13 young dancers who spent a week choreographing their own piece with a similar theme. Led by Nacre Dance Group Artistic Director Beth Fecteau with Ballaro, their work gives one hope that dance, which bears its own scars of blatant disregard, is secure in the dedicated bodies of these budding artists.