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.