People, people, people –
Get to PTDC to see Martha Graham’s Diversion of Angels danced to the most exquisite interpretation of Norman Dello Joio’s score by the Orchestra of St. Luke's, and you will fall in love again. It is, after all, Martha’s ode to love: young love, hot love, mature love. The foremother of Paul Taylor’s company could not have wished for a better safe in which to stash her gold.
Haglund became acquainted with this dance long after the original interpreters left the Graham company. Some 30 years ago, the statuesque Peggy Lyman as the woman in The Couple in White brought such balletic tone and dramatic depth to the idea of mature love that it almost made one want to bypass the other two types of love. Peggy and Suzanne Farrell were/are the best ballet dancers ever to come out of Cincinnati. (She was Peggy Moerner in those days and embodied technique and style that reminded everyone in town of Cynthia Gregory.) Here are two Martha Swope photos of her in Diversion - click on each for a better view:
Last night Laura Halzack and Michael Trusnovec were wonderful as The Couple in White representing mature love. The style was easy on them and on the rest of the cast – all of it seeming so natural because they were, in a sense, going back to their roots. The strong body cores, the contract and release of the dancers’ centers, and the generous spiraling of their spines has always been indigenous to their home style. Mr. Taylor’s style will forever be linked to and reflect Martha Graham’s, but it mostly saves us from the angst and heavy moods that permeated so much of her work.
The Couple in Red (Parisa Khobdeh and Sean Mahoney) and The Couple in Yellow (Eran Bugge - a former student of Peggy Lyman, and Michael Novak) offered pitch-perfect characterizations of their erotic love and young love, respectively. Ms. Khobdeh was all ready-for-anything in her hot red dress. Her glide steps – those steps that look like fast crosscountry skiing – sizzled, and her sideways penches with arms extended were striking images. The ensemble dancers Michelle Fleet, Heather McGinley (a former Graham dancer), Christina Lynch Markham and the Fourth Man George Smallwood (a former Graham dancer who, over the past year, has found new and vibrant technical strength) all brought tremendous life, energy, and neatness to their phrases.
We wish that Mr. Taylor would ignore Alastair Irrelevant’s obnoxious knocks for including quotations in program notes and print the Ben Belitt poem that was the source of inspiration for Graham’s masterpiece. Belitt, a New York poet, was a fan of Graham’s and she of his poetry. In fact, Diversion of Angels premiered under the title Wilderness Stair in reference to a Belitt collection. We’re going to help out here on the blog and give you the verse, although we’re not sure of the line breaks:
“It is the place of the Rock and Ladder, the raven, the blessing, the tempter, the rose. It is the wish of the single-hearted, the undivided; play after the spirit’s labor; games, flights, fancies, configurations of the lover’s intention; the believed Possibility, at once strenuous and tender; humors of innocence, garlands, evangels, Joy on the wilderness stair; diversion of angels.”
We could not be more happy to see this dance live on and thrive at PTDC. To see it performed to music so lovingly conducted by Donald York was heavenly.
Last night’s program included Three Dubious Memories, a 2010 Taylor creation wherein two men fight over a woman and eventually discover that they, sans the woman, were made for each other. She returns to find them together and has a little hissy fit. Sean Mahoney, Robert Kleinendorst, and Eran Bugge were the trio supported by James Samson’s major contribution of dance power and drama as the Choirmaster.
The latest Taylor documentary, Creative Domain, covers the creation of this work. From the documentary, one did not get the feeling that this work had all the comic elements in it that were apparent last night. It was that same wonderful mix of darkness, lightness, humor (both dark & light) all shining through purposeful and delightful choreography.
The program closed with Spindrift, a 1993 composition that Taylor preambles in the program with John Donne’s famous quote “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of main…” Michael Trusnovec was the featured artist - his assigned choreography was rippling with difficulty, tension, drama and at times a sense of resignation as he bent to his knee in a profile that reminded one of a Rodin sculpture. The dance opened to the sound of ocean waves spraying as they were blown by winds followed by Schoenberg’s String Quartet Concerto (after Handel) played beautifully by four members of the Orchestra of St. Lukes.
Ensemble members often approached Trusnovec trying to engage him but then disappeared. Madelyn Ho, who reminds us more and more of Mary Cochran every time we see her, seemed to make the strongest contact with our protagonist. Haglund doesn’t really know what this dance is about but its content coupled with the Schoenberg and the sound of waves has always tended to leave him somewhat emotionally spent.
We are having the best time at PTDC this season, and there’s lots more delight to come. On a somewhat related note, the restoration of the gardens in Damrosch Park continues. More trees and shrubs were delivered this week. A while back we mentioned that it would be so great to see an ice skating rink in front of the bandshell during December instead of the circus. We probably won’t get our way, but we happened to notice that the evergreen grassy shrubs being planted are named “Ice Dance” — just sayin', maybe there’s someone else out there on our side.
Take a look at the park on your next visit to Lincoln Center which hopefully will include either next Wednesday or the final Sunday when the company once again dances Diversion of Angels – recipient of the H.H. Pump Bump Award:
Our very own Simone Messmer danced the role of Titania in last night's premiere of Miami City Ballet's production of Balanchine's Midsummer Night's Dream. MCB took the unusual step of re-setting the ballet from the original forest to an underwater ocean scene which the company hopes will be irresistible buzzbait for the local fish who they are trying to reel into the theater.
The Miami Herald has a review up already along with a bunch of great pictures by photographer Hector Gabino of El Nuevo Herald. (Simone Messmer, with a newly luxuriant, precipitous grace...) Here is Haglund's favorite image (click on it to make it bigger):
Next door to the Brooklyn Roasting Company on Jay Street, brave and original work is brewing at the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet – brave, original, often interesting, and executed with commanding performances by the dancers.
Even if you are not particularly a fan of Kurt Weill’s music (✓) and don’t care for highlights that are not always sensitively patched together (✓), and have a tendency to be impatient about knowing where the crux of a dance is heading (✓), there is still much creativity and accomplishment in the overall artistic scheme of this original full-length work, Stealing Time, to appreciate and heartily applaud.
The production opened with a preview on Thursday night, its official premiere last night, and two more performances on Saturday and Sunday at the Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center, 29 Jay Street, Brooklyn. Tickets available here.
Let’s list the creative team first:
Music: various Kurt Weill excerpts with additional music by Piazzolla and Habertango
Direction, Scenario and Design: Michael Chernov
Choreography: Michael Chernov and Akop Akopian
Scenic & Costume Design: Michael Chernov
Lighting: Christina Watanabe
Projection: Justin West
Additional coaching: Gelsey Kirkland and Pilar Garcia
Choreographers Chernov and Akopian have adopted and adapted scenario elements from Tennessee Williams’ “Camino Real” to musical excerpts from a wide variety of Kurt Weill’s compositions. Williams and Weill may not have literally traveled in the same social circles, but they were hobnobbing around New York during the 1950s era when the city was a hot bed of rebel artistry. It is not unusual for those with a keen appreciation for one of these artists to gravitate to the other.
In this production, our main character, Algae, danced and acted brilliantly by Erez Ben-Zion Milatin, traveled recklessly through a sequence of dreams and nightmarish scenes while searching for – here’s where we have to do some guessing – life experiences and his place in the cosmos. Prominent in most every scene was the ominous clock signifying the earthly concept of passing time. Often the character resembled the Prodigal Son on a tear through sin. Like his namesake, Algae could not root anywhere. He tore through time, and as the program notes explained, was caught between living inside the clock and living outside the clock.
Our Venus, Dawn Gierling Mailatin, to whom Algae initially proposed and then abandoned, searched for him throughout the evening while never giving up hope or losing love. Venus provided much of the production's balletic content quite beautifully and also was sometimes on stage orbiting the scenes being principally performed by others. Truthfully, the last time we encountered the names Algae and Venus together was in Carl Sagan’s plan to terraform the planet so that we all could live there.
Nina Yoshida, the character Who, met her fate at the hands of Algae and left this world as she arrived: in a suitcase. A lovely dancer with obvious lyrical aptitude, she made us care about her character as the innocent victim of Algae’s uncontrolled senses.
Johnny Almeida as Guttman and Sabina Alvarez as The Celebrity delivered plenty of technical bravura and sizzle in their variations.
After a whirlwind of scenes involving large casts of dancers who employed balletic, tango, contemporary and dance-theater movement, the ballet concluded with Algae encountering the End of Time, and then climbing a red ribbon to a balcony where he ultimately found redemption with Venus and Who.
The scenery, costumes, and use of props were outstanding, but we have come to expect this very high level from the company’s previous productions. No detail was left unattended, and sometimes that was a lot of detail for the viewer to consider. We loved, loved, loved the single white costume worn by the train of ladies with flowing hair, each set of legs stuck through the fabric. The choreography had its strong points and weak points, but it must be admired for its creative adaptation to the abilities of the dancers who covered a broad spectrum of technical proficiency and included many students from the Gelsey Kirkland Academy.
Bravo to Gelsey Kirkland Ballet for taking this risk and skillfully mounting such an original production. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but then, what is?
The H.H. Pump Bump Award is bestowed upon Erez Ben-Zion Milatin whose dramatic leanings reminded us of one of Gelsey’s old partners.
It may be too early to cheer, but it looks like Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center is finally being returned to The People.
Haglund observed a big load-in of trees and shrubs this week. The best news of all – the AZALEAS are back – not as many as before but certainly enough to get us started on a beautiful spring. The ones spotted are the Hino-Crimson variety that bloom in April and May and have a reputation for being real show-offs. The variety also attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Right now, they are still forming buds, but here is what they should look like in a few weeks:
Hopefully, these will be permanent plantings that will be allowed to mature to their full artistic beauty and grow to their full size of 4 feet tall by 5 feet wide. We need to get rid of these so-called "Guest Plants" which are stuck pot & all into the ground temporarily and then later removed for some commercial event. Guest Plants are no way to build a beautiful garden, if you get our drift.
Guest Plants from last year:
Haglund is a happy Irishman today after enjoying two straight days of the Paul Taylor Dance Company which just opened its season at Lincoln Center. Two years ago, Taylor tweaked his company so that there is now an umbrella organization, Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance, that incorporates other American modern dance artists and choreographies within the PTDC season. Despite the whiney alarms set off by so-called critics who decried that it was the end of PTDC, this has turned out to be another one of Mr. Taylor’s great ideas.
Opening night of PTDC at Lincoln Center has quickly become a favorite tradition among dance-goers, in part, because the ticket prices are in the single digits and facility fees are waived. It always starts the season off with a positive vibe. This year there was a special treat as well: the New York premiere of Taylor’s Dilly Dilly set to some of 20th Century America’s most favorite old songs as fashioned by the peerless balladeer, Burl Ives. Jimmy, crack corn and I don’t care; Watch the doughnut, not the hole; Lavender blue, dilly dilly, lavender green; Froggie went a courtin and he did ride. Mhmm. Listen, if you weren’t singing along during this dance, you were probably dead.
America has had no choreographer better than Taylor for finding the light within the darkness and finding the darkness within the light in life’s moments - big and small. Here, with the dancers costumed in Western wear – the men in cowboy shirts (without sleeves), cowboy hats, the women with their shirttails tied in front like Daisy Mae Duke or Miss Ellie May would have – Taylor rekindled the charm of these childhood folksongs that most of us hadn’t sung in decades. Back then, we loved the tunes and the camaraderie of singing them with our pals, but paid little attention to the lyrics. Seeing them played out on stage by the Taylor dancers shed a little more light on what we were singing way back then when we were all in short pants. Wonderfully singable years ago, wonderfully danceable now. The opening program also included Mercuric Tidings and Esplanade, both in fine shape.
As a group, the Taylor men must be the most fit and best looking men in dance: six-packs, eight-packs, ultra-lean muscle. And, they are a spirited bunch, dancing with joy and energy that is infectious. Heading toward twenty years with the company, Michael Trusnovec is still one of the most compelling dance forces on the New York stage. Among the ladies, Madelyn Ho, a tiny sprite full of personality and in her second year with the company, was the highlight of the bright new Sullivaniana, a three-parter set to the Overtures to Iolanthe, Pirates of Penzance, and Patience that had its New York premiere on the second night.
Sullivaniana was handsomely costumed by Santo Loquasto who put the men in black bowler hats and colorful plaid coats with tails. The ladies wore knee-length dresses with modified bustles on the back – also plaid – black stockings and character shoes with narrow heels. The Iolanthe section saw the dancers mostly individually tripping hither, tripping thither across the stage – not like fairies, but like single people looking for their other halves. The Pirates of Penzance section found them in couples, and the final Patience section paid off with a lively group dance which evolved into an orgy with the dancers rolling about the floor enjoying one another.
Never has Larry Keigwin’s choreography looked better than it did on the Taylor dancers in the world premiere of his Rush Hour last night. The non-stop, push-pull of his vocabulary set to the accessible score by Adam Crystal that included minimalist influences and a pleasing use of percussion had the dancers, well yes, rushing in every direction and encountering those who were trying to stop them. And there was plenty of Taylor vocabulary within the choreography, too. It all meshed extremely well to make a very high-powered whole. Clifton Taylor’s lighting design of white squares on the stage and Fritz Masten’s handsome costumes in gray and black that complimented the dancers’ lines added much to the success of this new piece.
The final dance on last night’s bill is one of Haglund’s favorites. Promethean Fire is set to three pieces of Bach and premiered ten months following 9/11. One of its most stirring images is of the dancers one by one slowly falling atop each another in a pile. Finally a lone dancer emerges from this heap of humanity and pulls up one more dancer with him to continue on.
Much is owed to Music Director Donald York and the Orchestra of St. Lukes whose music enriched the evening beyond words. Tong Chen, the Music Director of the Yonkers Philharmonic, brightly conducted the orchestra in Sullivaniana.
The HH Pump Bump Award, a vintage Buster Brown, is bestowed upon Dilly Dilly. Sometimes it’s good to dance just to dance.
Pennsylvania Ballet winds up its season of Angel Corella's new Don Quixote this weekend. If you haven't seen it, try to get to this fine production. It's too bad that the company is unable to bring it to NYC at the end of this month, but we are excited to see whatever they are bringing to the Joyce Theater from March 29 through April 3.
Pennsylvania Ballet's next season in Philly will include: Ben Stevenson's Cinderella; Balanchine's Square Dance, Western Symphony, Nutcracker, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, Sylvia Pas de Deux, and Tarantella; Nacho Duato's Remanzo; Wheeldon's Rush; David Dawson's The Third Light; and world premieres by Matthew Neenan, Nicolo Fonte, and Brian Sanders; and of course, Corella's new Le Corsaire. Haglund can't wait to renew his subscription.
The Moscow Festival Ballet will be at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts at Lehman College in The Bronx this Sunday at 4:00 pm with its full length production of Sleeping Beauty - one performance only. Founded in 1989, the troupe is directed by former Bolshoi Ballet soloist Sergei Radchenko and is under Columbia Artists Management which keeps them seemingly ever present in North America. Haglund would definitely be in The Bronx on Sunday were he not in Philly.
This company may not be the Bolshoi or Mariinsky but most of the dancers came out of the great schools in Russia that turn out outstanding classical artists of the highest standard. Seeing Moscow Festival Ballet's Sleeping Beauty is a great way to spend an afternoon without having to spend a whole lot of cash. Tickets are $25-$45 and kids 12 & under get in for $10.
Purchase tickets either by calling the Lehman Center ticket office at 718-960-8833 or online http://lehmancenter.org/events/sleeping-beauty-2016/ .
Here's a promo video for Moscow Festival Ballet's Sleeping Beauty – and what a lovely Lilac Fairy and Aurora. Note that the prince wears the original modesty shorts. There is strong, strong evidence of attention to detail in this extended clip:
Someone at the Kennedy Center has a wicked, devilish sense of humor, and we salute whoever it is.
Here's a screenshot from this afternoon of ABT's page on the KC website for its January 2017 run of Swan Lakes. It seems like ABT will be presenting its production, not in the opera house, but in the African Lounge at the Kennedy Center.
We have been wondering why the brochures and Met Opera/ABT sites have been showing our lovely Stella Abrera as Gulnare in the old costume design prior to the refurbishment of the Le Corsaire sets and costumes last time around.
Well, according to the Met Opera website, ABT is going back to the original set and costume designs by Irina Tibilova rather than using the new splashy designs by Christian Prego and Anibal Lapiz which debuted in 2013.
Of course, this could simply be another sloppy website mistake by ABT and the Met. If it's not, then that is certainly an interesting turn of events after spending all that money on the new sets and costumes. The cost was shared with La Scala, but still, money was spent. We loved the new costumes and especially the sets, but we also love Gulnare's original beautiful yellow tutu. Our fear in returning to the old designs, however, is just what monstrosity in what horrible color will Medora wear for the famous PdT. Hopefully ABT already sold that bright blue eyesore that they had specially made for a few of the ballerinas. Maybe they'll return to the lovely original design for this spring, too.
Haglund received a single ticket brochure from ABT today that was swabbed clean of the tall blond one while guest imports Lendorf, Semionova, and Kochetkova are still hanging onto the ship like barnacles. Don't you think ABT would have the courtesy to offer the public an explanation for Hallberg's disappearance from the season? It makes some wonder if it's more than just a disappearance from the season.
You know what they say about rats abandoning a sinking ship. Well, two big rats just announced their intent to jump today. Could this possibly be the prayed-for sign of the end of this regime?
The brochure trumpets that "A New Era Begins" opposite a grossly over-used old picture of Misty Copeland in a failed ballet. Haglund hopes that he doesn't have to look at this same Firebird image hanging out front of the Met Opera House again. It will just discourage him and others from coming to the opera house. Can't ABT come up with any new ideas?
Did everyone see this charming video on the RT website? It follows the 2015 selection process for the children in the Vaganova Academy and a few months afterward. Haglund was initially put off a little bit by Nikolai Tsiskaridze's antics but then he recalled a half dozen teachers in 20th century good ole U.S.A. who would have made Tsiskaridze look like a cuddly lamb. But we won't go into specifics, especially since most of those people are deceased. Anyway, the video shows how serious the Russian population takes its art and how unrelenting the standards of excellence are:
Pennsylvania Ballet isn't so known for being a strong purveyor of traditional Petipa classics. Yet. That could be changing, and changing rather quickly.
Angel Corella’s new staging of Don Quixote is in the midst of a terrific run at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia through next Sunday, and the boss has just announced that he’s going to stage a new Le Corsaire for the 2016-2017 season. To the company’s strong core of Balanchine’s greatest classics and works by 21st Century choreographers, he will now add Petipa building blocks AND Ben Stevenson’s Cinderella. Pretty soon no one in Philadelphia will even care that the Flyers are in 5th place, the 76ers are in 15th place in their conference, the Phillies had the worst record in all of major league baseball last year, and the Eagles – well, we’ll just see how they manage without Chip Kelly. No one will care, because the city’s greatest team with strong players in every position will be Pennsylvania Ballet. And judging from the crowd’s reaction yesterday, a lot of people already know that.
Before the conclusion of Sunday afternoon’s performance, the folks in the nearly full house were ready to throw rice and confetti at the newlyweds and the whole wedding party on stage. They were standing and rhythmically clapping like in a Russian theater. Mind you, this was the typical Sunday matinee crowd of predominately seniors who had already had a big meal before arriving at the theater and would normally be ready for a nap. But instead, they were rejuvenated by and loved the dancers’ performances.
This new staging of Don Quixote is handsome: choreography, sets, costumes, and dancing. The sets are from the San Diego Opera’s production of Don Quixote and were designed by Ralph Funicello. Here’s a glimpse of the original opening set which is a tight fit on the Academy’s stage, but it easily meets Corella’s criteria for having a set that really looks like Spain and not Istanbul, as he said. The color palette for the costumes created in the Pennsylvania Ballet’s own shop includes lots of sunny yellow, bright red, spring green, and blue. The tutus for Act II are exquisite - Dulcinea’s bodice is like an antique gold over a white tutu. The Dryad Queen’s tutu has much gold sparkle and the corps women’s tutus have lots of yellow in them – all of it so beautiful. Kitri’s wedding tutu is Spanish traditional black with red tulle underneath. Its elegance brought ooohs from the audience.
For this first week of performances, everyone was debuting. It’s possible that a couple of the Flower Girls may have gotten a second performance, but basically, each performance represented a huge debut for a lot of people. Corella plucked dancers from all levels in the company for principal roles. He spread the wealth of opportunity. He gave many, many people huge career moments.
On Sunday, the young apprentice, Aaron Anker, stepped in as Basilo for Ian Hussey. Trained at The Rock School and Indiana University among other places, he has just the type of theater skills and charisma that Corella values. Fabulous turns a la second, exciting manèges of coupe jete, and steady (albeit slow) pirouettes are his pocket change. Double saute de basque and double tour should be stronger and there's work to do on line-stretch and flexibility, but he’s an engaging Basilo already and will no doubt have much to offer in next year’s Le Corsaire.
Soloist Lillian DiPiazza found her Kitri character quickly and held onto it throughout the afternoon while delivering glistening allegro. Schooled primarily at the Maryland Youth Ballet and SAB, she has been a soloist since the 2013-2014 season. We enjoyed this dancer last year in Concerto Barocco, but we think that her Kitri showed much more of what she can offer as an artist. The glow of her confidence grew from act to act. She was sassy but sly, and warm on the surface but hot just below it. Spacious jumps (including the Plisetskaya leaps), articulate feet and legs, an impressive 32 counts of fouettes (no wimpy single pirouette fraud like at ABT), and complete dedication to her less experienced partner were some of the takeaways from yesterday’s fine performance.
There were some rough spots in the partnering, mostly on supported pirouettes, but the circumstances of the late substitution make it all forgiven.
Amy Aldridge and Arian Molina Soca led the Gypsy Camp in Act II. Soca, who has double duty during the run as Basilio and 1st gypsy, is clearly out of the Sarabia mold in Havana. Have you ever seen upward moving lightning - from ground to cloud? Well, you can see it at Pennsylvania Ballet these days in Soca.
Espada and Mercedes were danced by Lorin Mathis and Amy Holihan. Their solos were more polished than the PdD. Elizabeth Mateer as Queen of the Dryads had a lovely regal quality but she ran into slight difficulty with the Italian fouettes.
Our Flower Girls, Marjorie Feiring and Misa Kasamatsu, were late cast replacements but we cannot imagine anyone dancing these roles better.
Yikes, we’d better not forget to mention the fine character portrayals by Charles Askegard as Don Quixote, R. Colby Damon as Sancho Panza, Matthew Neenan as Gamanche and Jon Martin as Lorenzo.
One thing that we noticed throughout the afternoon was that the tempi never, ever came close to what Angel danced to during his many years as Basilio. Of course over time there were a few complaints about him racing the tempi, but it built excitement to the point of frenzy. The energy of the Corella theatrical experience was addictive. On Sunday, it seemed as though the conductor waited too long to punctuate the ends of phrases, often after the dancers got to their final poses. This was most noticeable during PdDs; so maybe it was simply an effort to accommodate.
Haglund is going to try to make it down to Philly again sometime next weekend to see this warm, sunny production one more time.
The HH Pump Bump Award, a Louboutin stiletto with Sevillana black lace, is bestowed upon Lillian DiPiazza for her charming, dazzling Kitri.