Jade Solomon Curtis performed her “Black Like Me: An Exploration of the Word Nig...."
I don’t like the “N” word. Hearing it offends me, upsets me, hurts me and I’m white. It leaves me to wonder, how awful must that word sound to a person of color?
African-American dancer and choreographer Jade Solomon Curtis gave a University at Albany audience a sense of what it feels like for her in a “Black Like Me: An Exploration of the Word Nig...” In the evening-length work shown on Sunday night, Curtis took the audience on a journey from slave ships and lynching to today’s endless loop of police brutality videos in which people of color are the either abused or exploited.
The work was sometimes painful to watch. Images of men swinging from trees or the recording of Sandra Bland’s encounter with a Texas lawman – make the audience recoil. The piece was also thought-provoking with James Baldwin thoughts on the word that white people invented; and Richard Pryor speaking of his awakening and vow to never use that word again.
The dance opened with Curtis, in a raged white shirt, on what looked like an auction block. Her movement on the block was gradual shrinking into submission. Early on, she let out a silent scream. Her solo then constructs a narrative of sexual abuse, hangings, beatings – until she flat on the block, reduced to subjugation.
In another section, Curtis, who is lovely, long and limber, bounced around in a hoodie. Her posturing was bold and wide, but the audience couldn’t see her face, which dehumanized her. She was indicating she knows what (white) people are thinking – a black person in a hoodie is a faceless thug. The tragic killing of young Trayvon Martin was vividly brought back to mind.
Curtis also addressed hip-hop culture and the use of the word in music. In “A Star Called Nigga,” she strutted around in short-shorts and heels, revealing a swagger and confidence that was undeniable. At the same time, it was troubling to hear that the word used over and over in the by Boris Gardiner as remixed by DJ Topspin & Brianna. She was telling the audience that black people have, sadly, bought into this word too.
The piece was divided in half by a conversation with two people of color in the audience. (Full disclosure here: one was my husband Clifford Oliver Mealy.) It was conducted like an interview where collaborator Gail Boyd asked Mealy and Tammy Ellis- Robinson questions about their feelings about the word.
It likely helped Curtis catch her breath. The same could be said for the audience who was surely disturbed by the onslaught of images depicting injustice imposed on black and brown souls.
However, the conversation broke the flow. It did serve a point when the interview with the two ended abruptly with the ding of a bell and the stage going dark. It gave the impression that black people don’t have enough social capital to be able to fully air their thoughts or feelings.
The piece was less than an hour. But in those minutes Curtis jammed so much history and its residuals effects on today’s Americans that “Black Like Me” keeps one’s mind active and talking about the experience in the hours that followed.
I look forward to seeing more of Curtis. She’s an important voice in our deeply troubled times.
Chevalier Ballet performs "Ballet Meets the Beatles."
I have a rule. I don’t review student companies.
But adults who choreograph for these students, and charge money to see them, are fair game.
Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have gone to “Ballet Meets the Beatles” had I known it was nonprofessionals dancing. That said, I was at The Egg on Saturday night watching Chevalier Ballet, a company devoted to providing up-and-coming dancers with a professional touring experience. (The ensemble of 10 is also set to be the resident company of the yet-to-be-opened and newly renovated The Strand Theatre in Hudson Falls. Thus, there will be plenty of chances to see the company in the coming months and years.)
Certainly, the idea for Saturday’s show was a good one. Who doesn’t love the Beatles? And who would recoil from listening to a suite of the band’s lovable and pop tunes? Very few.
But the choreography to go along with the beloved music was disappointing and sometimes embarrassing – not because of the dancers – but because the choreographer, Artistic Director Sara Knight and others, missed opportunity after opportunity to tap into stories or the sentiment that made these songs so meaningful to the world.
The music, as played by Across the Pond, was well-done. The thing I liked about this group is they didn’t pretend to be John, Paul, George and Ringo. There were no costumes and wigs – just a group of five musicians (some with gray in their hair) and an electric string quartet that delivered songs such “Here Comes the Sun”,” “When I’m 64,” “Strawberry Fields” and “Yesterday” with reverence.
But most of the dozen dances inspired by songs like “Penny Lane,” “Something” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” made me cringe. I wanted the songs to be over as quickly as possible because I couldn’t bear the dance. For example, how can one choreograph a piece about friendship when the three dances perform the same moves separately – as if they didn’t know each other or have anything in common beyond the movement, which, incidentally, did not reflect the song.
The problem was much of the choreography looked like a ballet class exercises or a cheerleading routine. The steps had little or nothing to do with the music – it simply followed its rhythms for pirouettes or grand battements in unison.
Not all of the dances were like this. “Blackbird,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “I Am the Walrus” tapped into the era and the psychedelic sensibility of the music. But it was too little, too late to rescue the program.
“Ballet Meets the Beatles” is a fantastic idea. This could be a big show with an arena following. But the dances need an almost complete overhaul. Otherwise, “Ballet Meets the Beatles” is a monotonous dance recital with good music.
Kati Garcia-Renart performed with the Glens Falls Symphony.
Flamenco is not known for its subtlety. But as performed by Kati Garcia-Renart and Nicole Bernhardt with the Glens Falls Symphony, the quieter lacy delicacy of the art was brought to the fore.
The artistic choice was likely so that the ferocious flamenco footwork would not overwhelm the orchestra that performed with the two, playing compositions for dance by Manuel de Falla. It’s the first performance of the symphony’s 2019-20 dance-inspired season that will also include music for ballets and Irish step dancing. Based on Sunday's concert, at their home base in the Glens Falls High School, there is much to eagerly await.
For its first music-dance concert, music director Charles Peltz also invited the elegant mezzo-soprano Tascha Anderson who enthralled in the de Falla repertoire. It was an impressive program.
Of course, you all know I’m not a music critic. Therefore I have never had the pleasure of experiencing the wonders of the Glens Falls Symphony. Under Peltz's baton, the orchestra is good and absolutely worth the modest price of admission. The addition of the dancers, however, elevated the musical showcase.
Both dancers were lovely, appearing as physical mirrors of each other, something one hardly ever sees in flamenco as the art is often centered on a single artist soulfully dishing out emotions.
This thoughtful, choreographic take on the music and dance pull the relationship between the two into a harmonious and respectful direction – each wanting not to take full command, but rather to work solely to honor the art of de Falla.
Garcia-Renart appeared first in a solo. Wearing a red flamenco dress, full skirt to the floor with the style’s trademark ruffled hem, she seemed at first to be too careful, tinged with a touch of nervousness. As she relaxed into “Danza de Molinero,” she let her upper body sink into the song. Her undulating torso glowed as her arms wrapped her wavy frame in filigree.
In “El amor brujo,” she and Bernhardt were together onstage. Dressed in black and white, they drew from modern dance to embrace de Falla and the symphony graciously, helping them elude to the tales in the suite of songs.
Anderson’s presence, leaned against a grand piano, watching with interest was equally mesmerizing. Slender and wearing a red gown, she radiated glamour. And when she opened her mouth, the sound was divine. Surely, she has an extraordinary career ahead of her.
As for the dancers, they whet my curiosity for more. I’d love to see them unleash their full power, untethered and untamed.
The wonderful Parsons Dance in David Parsons "Round My World"
Everybody loves Parsons Dance.
And among its greatest fans are those living in the northern end of Columbia County where for the past 14 summers Artistic Director David Parsons and his finely tuned ensemble of dances have stayed and performed at PS/21 in Chatham.
The audience’s affection, on display Friday night at the theater, is well-placed. This group of dancers is always keenly on – athletic, sharp, expressive and often, playful. This year’s showing was especially astonishing because the Parson’s company is now only eight dancers strong. (I fault and decry politicians who have chipped away at arts funding for so long that it is basically nonexistence.)
While the company’s number might have decreased, its might has not. Actually, it has grown in stamina as the same dancers perform each piece of robust choreography without any hints of exhaustion. This octet is made up of sensations.
The evening featured the usual line-up of endearing Parsons’ pieces – the sublime “Round My World,” the upbeat “Nascimento” and everyone’s favorite, “Caught.” What made the night unusual was Parsons also generously shared his bill with Trey McIntyre who produced a new work for the company to music by Aretha Franklin. Parsons also revived a 1975 work by his mentor Paul Taylor, the mysterious “Runes.”
Put together, it showed that Parsons has decided to enlarge the ensemble’s scope by including compatible choreographers. Personally, it revealed to me that Parsons as a choreographer can stand alongside the best contemporary dancer makers in the world (dead or alive) and come out on top.
Certainly, you can’t judge Taylor and McIntyre on one work. But the comparison underscored Parsons’ abilities, which are sometimes unjustly underrated.
It was interesting to see “Runes” again. Next to Parsons and McIntyre’s work, the piece in which a full moon glides across the sky felt dated. But it’s construction, especially with dances gliding in and out of the center stage imperceptibly demonstrated Taylor’s genius.
McIntyre’s work was a pure celebration of the Queen of Soul. Titled “Eight Women,” the piece elevated six songs such as “Natural Woman”” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.” But it felt like it was only a start. I would love to see the piece expanded to go deeper into her songbook.
Parsons’ “Round My World,” to music by Zoe Keating, was a perfect opener to the show, with the dancers cast in blue, and encircling each other and the stage. Zoey Anderson and Shawn Lesniak stood out as they devoured the space in their duet.
The sunny “Nascimento,” to music by Milton Nascimento, closed the show. The flirty and fun dance always bring smiles, leaving the audience skipping home.
No evening of Parson would be complete without “Caught.” Danced by Henry Steele on Friday night, the high-flying solo to strobe lights didn’t disappoint.
This program will be repeated tonight, Saturday, Aug. 24, at PS/21. If you miss it, I would recommend seeing this phenomenal group on Friday, Nov. 8, at The Egg in Albany. I guarantee you will enjoy the show.
"Voyeur" takes the audience on a journey through other's lives and brings Edward Hopper's paintings to life.
Two dancers of a certain age have figured out how to multiply their numbers and their range of motion – technology.
For years, Bridgman Packer Dance, a duo comprised of seasoned artists who happened to be married, have successful explored the known and unknown uses of video, light and set structures. Their ingenious efforts have allowed Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer to create a surreal world where audiences are often unsure where the real dancer ends the virtual one begins.
They did it again on Saturday night at PS/21 in Chatham. They presented two works, their latest “Table Bed Mirror” and a work from 2012 “Voyeur.” While “Table Bed Mirror” felt slightly overdone, “Voyeur” was near perfect.
“Voyeur,” the program note explained, takes inspiration from Edward Hopper’s paintings – likely his “Night Windows” – in which the viewer glimpses – through windows -- a woman in a room, seemingly undressing for bed.
Many of Hopper’s pieces evoked a sense of an outsider looking in – think “Nighthawks.” But Bridgman Packer take that farther with “Voyeur,” in which a screen with a door and two windows becomes the canvas for a series of voyeuristic experiences. Those in the seats become the voyeur, watching through the windows, a woman undressing, casually moving about or sitting on the bed.
Donning various costumes from the Hopper era – including Bridgman in a fedora and Packer in a red dress -- and surrounding the dance within rooms and objects reflecting the 1940s, heightened the sense that one is watching a Hopper painting come alive.
The piece fascinated from the start with Bridgman watching Packer from a distance. When they finally come together, the lights go out, as they should. It was a perfect ending for a captivating piece.
“Table Bed Mirror,” which started off the night, was a fantasy, taking the audience through the absurd journey of a dream. “Table Bed Mirror” has many enchanting moments – dancers’ images dive head first and then disappear into the floor or a stand of virtual doors opening onto a road or a dangling foot.
The soundscape included a variety of music that intermingled with text centered on REM sleep science and unreal or dreamlike images such as a giraffe in the bathtub or Martha Stewart fighting zombies. It was also fun to watch Bridgman’s giant head telling him where to move, again for no apparent reason, as in a dream.
The only problem with the work is the set-up was too long. With a little editing, "Table Bed Mirror" could be a dream.
Gallim in "Boat" at Jacob's Pillow.
This week was not Gallim’s first showing at Jacob’s Pillow, nor was it it’s best.
The high-octane company, led by choreographer Andrea Miller, danced in the august Ted Shawn Theatre for the first time. For the occasion, the Pillow commissioned Miller to create a new work.
That piece was “True, very,” to music by various composers. It incorporated older pieces into the new, longer creation that appeared like a mash-up of random works. Unfortunately, as a whole, it added up to nothing.
It appeared that Miller, perhaps, was taking the viewer through a time – from the Earth’s beginning to its current demise. But after “Pupil Trio and Duet,” which is actually a piece from 2008, the work took a dive. I struggled to stay engaged.
Gallim’s amazing dancers were contorting themselves in ways that were uncomfortable to watch. Aside from showing how we are twisted into an untenable position, these passages were too long. Interestingly, the section entitled “Bruce,” another older work, had the dancers watching this body warp, but don’t act. It’s a stinging metaphor for understanding our lost world, but not changing our behavior.
When The Doors’ song “The End” came on, I was relieved it was so.
The program started off well, however, with “Boat” from 2016. Inspired by the plight of Syrians who fled war, the piece was dark portrait of military conflict and the pain it inflicts on those who endure it.
The curtain opens to a dimly lit, smoky stage with a backdrop that rippled, alluding to wave of a flag or the sea. To music by Avro Part, the dance took the audience through the agonies of war and the flight it provokes.
Most moving was the central duet – two men stumbling through their toxic world, carrying and protecting each other the best they can.
The image of a dancer face down on the floor referencing the image of a refugee child washed ashore was also chilling. So too was the dangerous journey that ensemble of nine took – holding and clinging to each other as some appear to slip away.
I like Gallim and always impressed with Miller’s high-flying, high-energy movement vocabulary that kinetically kicks the imagination. But this Pillow showing was not up to its usual sharp style.
Kyle Abraham in "INDY," a 2018 solo that he is dancing at Jacob's Pillow.
Kyle Abraham is a masterful storyteller.
Consider his solo “INDY,” seen Friday night at Jacob’s Pillow. He takes us through a lifetime, perhaps his, so clearly and concisely that the audience follows the narrative every step of the way.
To commissioned music by Jerome Begin, the dance tells the tale of a young man who runs into trouble with the law. That leads to a transformation, confining at first, as a dancer; and then as a human who fully, freely and joyously expresses himself.
However, dancing much of the piece with a bull’s-eye as a backdrop, one can also feel Abraham’s frustration and sadness as a target. The costume, designed by Karen Young, is also telling. With a fringe at the back of the shirt and slacks, there is a sense of not recognizing one’s potential as well as a thought that the visuals of the flying fringes are darts aimed at his back.
When he reverses his shirt, with the fringe in the front, he becomes aware of his talent, but knows he is now a bigger mark.
The title is fantastic too. It’s about independence, a liberation from what is expected of a young black man from Pittsburgh. Yet it’s told swiftly and in a ways that cautions the viewer that the biographer is on a fast track fraught with obstacles.
And that’s just for starters. With so many levels to “INDY,” it’s worth seeing again and again.
All his works for his company A.I.M. (formerly Abraham.In.Motion) inspire that kind of longing for encores.
In “The Quiet Dance,” set to Bill Evan’s playing of Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time,” Abraham explores the other – the person in the shadow who tries, but can never be, like everyone else. The gorgeous Catherine Ellis Kirk toils away like her counterparts, off to the side without ever becoming part of their team.
She leaves the stage and comes back dressed like them. But that doesn’t matter because they move off stage to return dressed like her former self. For anyone who has every felt like an outsider, despite being first, “The Quiet Dance” is especially moving.
A.I.M’s program is not completely awash in deep emotion. Abraham’s “Drive,” with music from Theo Parrish and Mobb Deep edited by Sam Crawford, electrified. On a smoky stage, with lights that face out to the audience, A.I.M. showed off what it does best – authentically melding hip hop with classical dance.
These dancers are not stretching movement vocabulary – they are the vocabulary. They speak it loudly and soundly, embodying the answer to the question repeated in the soundscape, “where is your drive?” It’s ingrained in the bodies of the Abraham’s dancers.
The evening also featured the sleek Tamisha Guy as a confident, sassy creature in the solo “Show Pony.”
Finally, A.I.M. also showcased a work by Andrea Miller. “state” took the audience on an otherworldly journey – where three appear like aphids or robots on a mindless march across a barren landscape. While dark and creepy, it kept all eyes focused on the stage.
A.I.M. will end its run at the Pillow on Sunday afternoon. I highly recommend it.
Paul Taylor Dance Company in the choreographer's final work before he died, "Concertiana."
When Paul Taylor died last year, there was a fear that the vessel for his work – the Paul Taylor Dance Company – would die with him. It’s not an unfounded anxiety. Taylor was the creative breath that filled the company’s lungs –producing the movement that enchanted both dancers and audiences for more than five decades.
As seen on Wednesday night at Jacob’s Pillow, the Paul Taylor Dance Company instilled hope as much as it did concern about its ability to endure. Now under the direction of veteran dancer Michael Novak, the company appeared tentative and nervous. The bold abandon, that I used to enjoying while watching the company, was, at times, insecure, uncertain.
It was most obvious in the first work -- the classic “Aureole.” The beautiful joyous work, seen at the company’s first showing at the Pillow in 1964. With the dancers dressed in white and moving to excerpts from Handel’s “Concerti Grossi in C, F” and “Jephtha,” the five looked on edge and nervous.
That transferred to audience, which was apprehensive until the final work, “Promethean Fire,” when the company finally appeared to settle.
I was most surprised by Robert Kleinendorst and Michelle Fleet, two senior members. They looked stiff and uncomfortable. (It was at that moment that I longed to once again see Michael Trusnovec, whom I adored. He retired after 21 years of dancing with the company just last month.)
I hope no one judges “Aureole” from this performance as it did not inspire the infectious jubilation for which it is known.
The program moved on to "Concertiana,” Taylor’s last work. At that point, the evening started to radiate the Taylor company glow. Much has to do with Taylor’s masterful choreography. The George Balanchine of modern dance, he artfully deployed dancers in endless captivating patterns that kept the eye alert and interested.
Yet “Concertiana,” to music by Eric Ewazen, also revealed Taylor’s mindset at the end – one that was angrily staring down death and then willingly surrendered to it. It was both frightening and beautiful as dancers passed in silhouette upstage and swarmed around like angels before being swept into a final ecstatic journey.
The evening ended with one of Taylor’s more moving works – “Promethean Fire.” Said to be inspired by the horrors of 9/11, the work has the dancers fleeing and falling in a portrait that appeared both chaotic and orderly, replete with images of heroics and death.
It’s all so Taylor. He had an uncanny ability to enthrall audiences as much as ground them in the reality of our troubled world. He will be sorely missed.
I do hope that the company, which will dance through Sunday at Jacob’s Pillow, lives on.
Adrian Danchig-Waring as Apollo
The New York City Ballet Gala at Saratoga Performing Arts Center is often more about being seen than seeing ballet. It’s a complaint I’ve been making for years and while it has gotten better (I no longer see drunks throwing up in trash bins) the audience still can act more like they’re at a ball game than a ballet.
That said, City Ballet’s program at Saturday’s big fundraiser was enough to pause some of the restless audience giggling and chatter. The respectable and eye-catching program started out with one of George Balanchine’s masterpieces – “Apollo.”
This Stravinsky-inspired ballet, Balanchine’s first with the composer most closely associated with him, is always a delight to see because it exposes the artistic maturation of the company’s highest-ranking male dancers. On Saturday, it was the striking figure of Adrian Danchig-Waring.
The ballet is a coming of age story for Apollo, the young god, who frolics and is nourished by three muses – Sterling Hyltin as Terpsichore, Brittany Pollack as Polyhymnia and Indiana Woodward as Calliope. (Of course he prefers the goddess of dance, Terpsichore.)
Yet the women’s roles are secondary to the title role, which Danchig-Waring performed with a vigor that was tinged with a boyish naivete, so befitting for Apollo. He’s flexing his muscles, quite literally, with a trio of adoring females who also care for him – holding his head when he tires as well as feeding his ego as they cling to him on his journey to the heavens.
The ballet is essential for all those who love metaphorical imagery because the work moves from one compelling pose to another. It opens with Apollo swinging his arm to crudely play a long-necked lute. The muses approach him reverently, kicking their long legs upon entering his realm and, when reaching him, forming a crown on his head with their hands. They fall under his spell, allowing him to pose, divide and unite them. They are his team of horses, they are his playmates and in the end his starburst in the sky.
Danchig-Waring was equal parts sweet and strong, but not yet a standout. As he performs it more, he will surely grow more compelling in the role.
The evening proceeded with a surprise – Ashley Bouder and Joseph Gordon performed the celebratory final pas de deux from “Coppelia” to make up for the ballet's cancelation on Saturday afternoon due to the excessive heat. Bouder, as always, was purity as the young bride. I am always amazed by her zest and her exquisiteness. Bouder is a supreme pleasure.
Christopher Wheeldon’s sobering “This Bitter Earth,” another pas de deux, was also excellent. While I can never erase the original ballerina, Wendy Whelan, from my mind’s eye as she was the part, Sara Mearns was distinctive. Dancing with the sensitive Tyler Angle, Whelan’s original partner, Mearns had a juicy quality that exuded a thoughtful elegance that was just right for the somber work.
The evening ended with Justin Peck’s “Principia” to a commissioned score by Sufjan Stevens. As always, Peck came up with some memorable moments – the beginning and ending most notably. But the music did not allow for one central theme to emerge, which meant that the choreography lost its momentum in several spots.
Unfortunately, it is not Peck’s best. More unfortunate, “Principia” was the final image that City Ballet fans were left with as the short five-day stay is sadly over.
Megan Fairchild owns the title role of "Coppelia."
“Coppelia” has come home -- at least for New York City Ballet fans at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center that’s how it feels.
The comedy, choreographed by George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova, represents City Ballet’s heyday at SPAC – a time when the company spent multiple weeks in the amphitheater and when the venue could afford to commission such a grand spectacle.
Balanchine’s rendering of this 1870 classic made its world premiere at SPAC in 1974 and it feels like a homecoming each time it returns.
Moreover, the evening-length ballet with music by Leo Delibes is the perfect creation, one that will tickle those who are regulars and the youngest and newest of fans.
Much is due to Megan Fairchild, who on Thursday night, reprised her role as Swanilda, the jealous betrothed of Frantz who likes to flirt with a doll named Coppelia. Of course, he doesn’t realize it’s a doll until Swanilda and friends invade the toymaker’s workshop and discover Coppelia’s soulless identity. That leads to a series of silly scenarios including Swanilda posing as the doll after the toymaker unexpectedly returns to the workshop and discovers her there.
Fairchild has been dancing Swanilda since 2003, debuting in the role at SPAC after two other ballerinas were injured. Though only a soloist at the time, Fairchild owned “Coppelia,” which obviously help propel her way to principal just seven months later. (This fact enhances the special connection that she and “Coppelia” have to local audiences.)
It’s an exhausting title role as she is onstage nearly every second in the first two acts. The impish Fairchild is marvelous, however, as she pours all she knows about drama and comedy into the role. Technically, she is flawless too.
Her Frantz was the ebullient Anthony Huxley who was unstoppable. His variations in the finale pas de deux expressed overflowing joy over his marriage to Swanilda.
The ballet, with scenery by Rouben Ter-Artunian, is beautiful too. The pastel village square, with giant bells overhead and touches of pink to accent Swanilda’s skirt, was adorable.
So too were the many local children who performed in the third act of the ballet. As always, they were well-rehearsed and on point thanks to the Children’s Ballet Master Dena Abergel and her associate Arch Higgins.
“Coppelia” will be repeated tonight and Saturday afternoon. I promise it will delight.