Some thoughts on Complexions Contemporary Ballet for AmNews
The new face of the Martha Graham Dance Company is the result of artistic direction by Janet Eilber (since 2005) who is bent on bringing new audiences to see classic works and to introduce a spin on some. In 2015, for instance, Eilber invited four younger choreographers (Kyle Abraham, Liz Gerring, Sonya Tayeh and Michelle Dorrance) to make their own version of the iconic Lamentations (1930), and because of that, audiences have come to see another side of Graham. At the top the evening (February 22), Eilber gives a lay person’s breakdown of the masterwork on the program—Act 2 of Clytemnestra (1958), inspired by Aeschylus’ trilogy, the “Oresteia.” As just one from Graham’s series of drama-ridden, Greek theatre inspired works, this is the first and only evening-length one. From signature cupped-hands, calculated lines and curves in the Graham technique, there is no loss for drama and solid dancing from the ensemble in Clytemnestra. PeiJu Chien-Pott goes all out as Clytemnestra, Lorenzo Pagano is tops as Aegisthus and the original set designer, the late Isamu Noguchi, deserves equal billing. New on the program was Annie-B Parson’s I used to love you (world premiere) a re-imagining of Graham’s 1941 comedy Punch and The Judy. Black and white video footage ran concurrently across the back during Parson’s wild and funny version. Throughout, in really bright skirts made from a whole lot of materials and moving around the space on wheeled-office chairs to loud music, Anne O’Donnell, Leslie Andrea Willams and Laurel Dalley Smith are perfect, dancing narrators, commentators, chorus all at once; they truly carry the story. More humor came from Graham’s Maple Leaf Rag (1990. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s lyrical Mosaic, was the other contemporary work on the program. The evening’s gem was Ekstasis (1933) by Graham, reimagined by Virginie Mecene (Program Director and Director of Graham 2) and danced by Chien-Pott. Eilber explains that Ekstasis was pivotal for Graham because after “...using a more static form…she discovered another way…a pelvic thrust gesture.” Alone, Chine-Pott’s figure is outlined in a gold, tube-like dress, she slithers her pelvis, her shoulders, her head and ever-so-slightly her feet from here to there and she is breathtaking. Ekstasis must be revered as the work that captures Graham’s “…embrace of the sensual and the erotic in all manifestations…whether physical or spiritual…” Ekstasis personifies the season’s theme—“Sacred /Profane.” The company of dancers are: So Young An, Chien-Pott, Laurel Dalley Smith, Abdiel Jacobsen, Lloyd Knight, Charlotre Landreau, Jacob Larsen, Lloyd Mayor, Ari Mayzick, Marizia Memoli, O’Donnell, Pagano, Ben Schultz, Anne Souder, Williams, Konstantina Xintara and Xin Ying.
Ohad Naharin titles his most recent work at BAM (February 1 – 4) Last Work--was it his final? So many things are still in place where the Company and Naharin are concerned, so who knows? He made Last Work is 2015 and two years later the company still exists, Naharin is still the artistic director, and has been since 1990 with a break from 2003-4 when he was house choreographer. What is known though is that true to form, Naharin’s “gaga technique” and the dancer’s translation drives the work. Expressly trained in “gaga,” their approach is raw, animal-like and each of them own and express the movement differently. On the white stage, they enter and exit from slotted walls that frame both sides. Their movements are slippery; joints seem to move without connecting muscles, they balance beyond comfort and interchange from wiggly to still places with ease. Specially made solos and duets are un-rushed and when they move as one, there are picturesque flashes of how well they work together. Nothing but 17 pairs of hands and fingers covered one dancer from head to toe is one instance, another is their organically-timed Graham-esque floor sequence. In Last Work, like others, Naharin drops the unexpected at the most unexpected time. Here, for example, a jogger, on a treadmill, in a blue dress runs for the entire length of the show, at the end, another uses packing tape to connect all 17 dancers, and facing away from the audience, yet another pump one arm up and down then turns to the audience and we watch him feverishly polish a rifle, and there was more. Purposeful or not, some of these unexpected events are repeats from previous works and vital to the tone of Last Work. Glaringly missing is Naharin’s eclectic collage of music, usually full of the unexpected. The performers are: William Barry, Yael Ben Ezer, Matan Cohen, Omri Drumlevich, Bret Easterling, Hsin-Yi Hsiang, Rani Lebzelter, Eri Nakamura, Ori Moshe Ofri, Rachel Osborne, Nitzan Ressler, Ian Robinson, Kyle Scheurich, Or Meir Schraiber, Maayan Sheinfeld, Yoni Simon, Bobbi Jene Smith and Zina (Natalya) Zinchenko. During the run at BAM, “Mr. Gaga” the documentary about Naharin’s life in dance directed by Tomer Heymann ran at the Film Forum in Manhattan.
For their Joyce Theater debut (February 7-12), Centre Chorégraphique National – Ballet de Lorraine, in one of two programs, presented the New York premiere of their latest work, Unknown Pleasures. In all, five international choreographers, four women and one man, ranging in age from 30s to 70s made the work, but their names were never revealed. In fact, the program give the name of the dancers, but for choreography, music, costume and stage design, it reads “Unsigned x5, x6, x5 and x2,” respectively. So, the anonymity of it all is what holds our attention; when were certain sections made, who choreographed what section and so on. If we were to guess, maybe, with some knowledge of dance history (or just familiarity) we could say that there was at least a nod to Merce Cunningham and Lucinda Childs. We could draw upon the darting and intersecting lines, the breathless and sexy dance to Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero,” plus the impressive and really complicated spinning section, for proof. From colorful screen dividers, flip-flops, jeans with white T-shirts that spell out “The world is burning, but I keep on turning,” a song here and there, shiny gold unitards and more, the evening was a mix of styles and genres. This is the initial stop of their first U.S. tour. The other program featured Devoted by Cecilia Bengolea and François Chaignaud, HOK solo pour ensemble by Alban Richard and Sounddance by Cunningham. The artistic director is Petter Jacobsson.
ABT Studio Company (formerly ABT II) and graduate students of The Royal Ballet School (RBS) shared an evening at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. The evening included classical and new classical repertory: Concerto Gross by Helgi Tomasson, Concerto by Kenneth Macmillan danced by RBS, plus Chromatic Fantasy by Dana Genshaft and See the Youth Advance! by Ethan Stiefel danced by ABT Studio Company.
The shared performances are part of an exchange program which began in 2003, between ABT Studio Company and The Royal Ballet School. After a week of classes and rehearsals together, together the companies danced New Scarlett (world premiere) by Liam Scarlett.
Leslie Cuyjet + Lela Aisha Jones as part of DoublePlus @ 2016, a split-bill evening curated by Cynthia Oliver @ Gibney Dance
The “Split-Bill” series is built on each curator’s special knowledge of artists they bring together. Here, Oliver brought Cuyjet and Jones together because of their dissimilar, yet similar interests. Oliver says, “Lela’s work draws on very specific cultural transmission linked to particular black ethnicities in the diaspora… [and]…Leslie looks at the ways experience and class have precluded bodies like hers from consideration by nature of race.” Together, their markedly different styles centered or bordered thoughts on culture, class and bodies moving—an evening of spiritual overtones and undertones. A look at the titles could be one way in. From Jones, there was Plight Release & the Diasporic Body: Jesus & Egun, and from Cuyjet, Alike. Jones’ Plight… is first, it is big, and asks a good deal of the audience too. She invites the audience to write a note and place it in one of three buckets on stage under hanging set pieces. There was “HOUSE” for our intention; “CROSS,” if Jesus was who we called on; and “LADDER” allowing us to communicate with “EGUN/ANCESTORS.” Jones, solo at first, is electric and the audience is willing. Responding to her tambourine, her songs (“Give me that old time religion”), and cheerful prompts— “clap your hands.” Zakiya L. Cornish and Patricia Peaches join and a lot more happens, it seems, almost all at once. Peel away the many layers that follow and see Jones’ journey as an invitation to join her in spirit. Cuyjet’s longer Alike was radically different in all ways possible. Darrin Wright, the one male soloist begins in a bare space, jumping, slow at first, but then faster and all around the space. Moving fast and furious, he envelops the empty space. When Cuyjet enters, in bright colors, her orange pants stand out the most, she too comes at us fast and furious, moving all over the place. Stomp, move, move, move, hip swing, arms follow, stomp, twirl, slow down. Wright exits, Cuyjet is alone. Wright returns, and they move together again, balancing, breathing, sliding and rushing through pattern after pattern. Without pause, midway they change their tops, all the while moving. Towards the end, Cuyjet lies on top of Wright, they make shapes within shapes, body wrapping body, until they stop. This mostly quiet dance about movement is uninterrupted, except once when a slow Elvis Presley tune came in—surprise?
Some thoughts on Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel
Performance Group's Citizen @ BAM for AmNews
Choosing from a month of performances by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) is sometimes difficult, but even at mid-season, at the selections were many. The all new program (December 11) included the wildly infectious Walking Mad (2001) by Swedish choreographer Johan Inger whose re-imagined use of Maurice Ravel’s over used “Bolero,” hit big. The dancers (Danica Paulos, Jacquelin Harris, Rachel McLaren, Michael Francis McBride, Jamar Roberts, Glenn Allen Sims, Yannick Lebrun, Chalvar Monteiro and Sean Aaron Carmon) embraced the challenge. From McBride’s “Bill Erwin-like” entrance through the audience in a bowler hat and trench coat, to Harris’ graceful climb along the loud wooden wall manipulated by industrial-sized rollers, Inger’s action-packed sequences of partnering, made for beautiful chaos. In the middle was the final iteration of Untitled America, Kyle Abraham’s three-part suite. A year ago, the first section, a trio, was introduced, the last two larger group sections followed, and the result is epic. This was Abraham’s ode to the prison system, the “Black Lives Matter” movement and hope for change. “I wanna go home,” the text from one of the many wanting voices from the system rang out. The entire cast is beautiful, but Ghrai deVore, Monteiro and Roberts deserve special kudos because they speak Abraham’s luscious movement language so well. Though Mauro Bigonzetti’s Deep (2016) was not as satisfying, the dancers as always, delivered.
“Celebrating Ronald K. Brown” was the title of the evening (December 14) dedicated to long-time Ailey choreographer Brown who first began choreographing for the company 20 years ago. Large casts danced Brown’s Open Door (2015), Four Corners (2013) and Grace (1999), all crowd pleasers, while soloist Matthew Rushing exudes ease in excerpts from IFE/MY HEART (2005). The evening was just as much for Brown as it was for each of Brown’s dedicated fans. In a 1999 New York Times article Brown said, “…it is a special honor for someone who never belonged to the Ailey troupe to be choreographing for the Ailey dancers.” He joins an impressive roster of choreographers who also had an evening at New York City Center dedicated to them and their work:JUDITH JAMISON – 1999 – New York City Center; DONALD McKAYLE - 1991 - New York City Center; TALLEY BEATTY – 1989 - New York City Center; and KATHERINE DUNHAM – 1989 - New York City Center
For the annual Dance Magazine Awards, this was the 59th, the four "exceptional" awardees represented yet another good mix of genres, style and dance lovers at heart. The recipients are: former dancer and current dance educator Carolyn Adams; dance historian and scholar Lynn Garafola; choreographer Lar Lubovitch; and New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck. The new CEO of DanceMedia, Frederic M. Seegal with Jennifer Stahl (Editor in Chief Dance Magazine) opened. The quick and clever, Wendy Perron, Editor at Large, Dance Magazine was the host for the evening. His gratitude was palpable when Robert Battle, artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT), presented to his mentor, Adams first in For Carolyn the solo created especially for her in 2010 and danced by AAADT member Elisa Clark. Adams accepted humbly, “I couldn’t be in better company,” she said. The lovely and talented Peck followed in Fascinatin’ Rhythm from “Who Cares” (1970) by George Balanchine. Damian Woetzel, artistic director of Vail International Dance Festival, who asked his then artistic director, Peter Martins of New York City Ballet, if he could partner Peck, “I really want to dance with that girl,” he said, reminisced about his time with Peck before passing on the award. Back on stage to receive her award, with a shaky voice, Peck offered “…I don’t feel like I’ve achieved enough,” then accepted willingly. A film of Garafola surrounded by books and those whose lives she touched over the years followed before author Elizabeth Kendall’s stories about Garafola’s generosity. This was Garafola’s 70th birthday, and here again, she was generous in sharing the day with fellow dance lovers. “What an honor,” she said. Janet Eilber, artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, closed the ceremony after an eloquent introduction about the Lar Lubovitch she knows. Lucky, Nicole Corea, Tobin DelCoure and Brett Perry from the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company danced excerpts of Wanderers, a work-in-progress. After the dance, the 73-year-old Lubovitch modestly accepted, he said, “I’m not sure why we dance, but it takes over.”
“The Dance Magazine Awards recognize outstanding men and women whose contributions have left a lasting impact on the dance world. The tradition dates back to 1954,” according to the release.
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I am a performer, historian, consultant and dance writer. I am a faculty member at Hunter College, Kean University, Empire State College's online program Center for Distance Learning. I am also a former faculty member of The Ailey School and the Alvin Ailey/Fordham University dance major program and The Joffrey Ballet School's Jazz and Contemporary Trainee Program. I write on dance for The Amsterdam News, Dance Magazine and various publications. Click below to read more about me at my home page - "About Me."