New Theatre Ballet Programs Vintage Works with New Ballets

NYTB's "L'Apres Midi d'un Faune"

NYTB’s “L’Apres Midi d’un Faune”

In this political and economic climate, how does a New York City–based chamber ballet company continue to attract audiences and keep itself afloat? Though New York City is a global dance capital, for quite a few decades it has not been kind to small dance companies.

In past decades, New York City housed such varied dance companies and collectives as U.S. Terpsichore, Ballet NY, formerly the Feld Ballet, New York Chamber Ballet, Dennis Wayne Dancers, and more recently Complexions, which has since relocated to Atlanta. The list goes on and on. Even Joffrey Ballet moved to Chicago two decades ago.

Higher rents, fewer resources, and surprisingly a decreased number of high-quality dancers with a strong technique have made maintaining small dance troupes presence in New York City almost a herculean task. Still, after 35 years New York Theatre ballet has soldiered on, managing to do almost the impossible.

For their season at New York City Live Arts, New York Theatre Ballet presented six works. New York Theatre Ballet has been a reservoir of presenting iconic ballets and not often-performed works from some of the most beloved choreographers. Three decades in their reconstruction/conservation efforts, New Theatre has presented rarely seen and/or iconic works by Frederick Ashton, Bronislava Nijinksa, Vaslav Nijinsky, Anthony Tudor, Merce Cunningham, Agnes de Mille, Jose Limon, and many others.

NYTB's Elena Zahlmann and Steven Menendez in "L'Apres Midi d'un Faune"

NYTB’s Elena Zahlmann and Steven Melendez in “L’Apres Midi d’un Faune”

The most anticipated ballet of the evening was Vaslav Nijinsky’s seminal work, L’Apres midi d’un faune. L’Apres midi d’un faune was Nijinsky’s first choreographic work for the Ballets Russe and this extraordinary work rest almost entirely on the performance of the faune, portrayed in its debut by Nijinsky himself. Great male dancers have performed this role—Serge Lifar, Nureyev, and Faruhk Ruzimatov—and following in that tradition the male dancer must have a sensual, animalistic, otherworldly quality. Unfortunately, New York Theatre Ballet’s faune, Joshua Andino-Nieto, didn’t have the necessary qualities to render a memorable faune. Andino-Nieto struggled with the exotic, otherworldliness that Nijinsky and Ruzimatov brought to the role. And the wild, animalistic quality that Nureyev brought to the role was far beyond Andino-Nieto’s abilities.

Elena Zahlmann in NYTB's "La Chatte Metamorphosee en Femme"

Elena Zahlmann in NYTB’s “La Chatte Metamorphosee en Femme”

Elena Zahlmann adequately danced Frederick Ashton’s La Chatte Metamorphosee en Femme. As showpiece for the great British ballerina Meryl Park, Ashton in this solo work choreographed in all the nuances and idiosyncrasies that made Meryl Park had a great ballerina. Zahlmann was able to pull off with some aplomb Meryl Park’s bouree flutterings, and fast allegro footwork. Though this solo was quite charming with its feline characterizations, it is one of Ashton’s minor works.

Amanda Treiber and Steven Melendez in NYTB's pas de deux from "Such Loving"

Amanda Treiber and Steven Melendez in NYTB’s pas de deux from “Such Loving”

Richard Alston’s pas de deux from Such Longing was well performed by Amanda Treiber and Steven Menendez. The beautiful music by Chopin added to the ebb and flow longings of a mature couple. Alston’s whose background was from London Contemporary Dance Theatre was ever present in this lovely pas de deux. Typical of the movement style of London Contemporary Dance Theatre of the early 1970s, there were lots of posed movement and modern dance couple work interspersed with modern ballet partnering, all well dance by Treiber and Menendez.

Amanda Treiber and Joshua Andino-Nieto in NYTB's "She Holds Out Her Hand." All images courtesy of Rachel Neville/Michelle Tabnick Communications

Amanda Treiber and Joshua Andino-Nieto in NYTB’s “She Holds Out Her Hand.” All images courtesy of Rachel Neville/Michelle Tabnick Communications

Antonia Franceschi’s She Holds Out Her Hand was a very good ensemble work for the company. The work was fresh and contemporary with a slight nod to Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering. The ensemble work was well done with some intricate and innovative partnering for the main couples.

Works of this nature should be more a part of New York Theatre Ballet’s repertoire in that these types of work stretch their dances and gives them to opportunity to dance choreography that is more accessible to younger audiences. Standout dancers in this work were Amanda Smith, Amanda Treiber and Joshua Andino-Nieto.

New York Theatre Ballet appears to be prepared to weather the storms of upcoming national cuts to the arts. Though they been through this cycle before, it would be nice if concert dance companies of this caliber didn’t have deal with the kind of ignorance and misunderstanding of what they bring to the world at large.

—William S. Gooch

A Glass Slipper-less “Cinderella”

Cinderella_Prince_02“Cinderella” without glass slippers and a story line where Cinderella is not the main protagonist; that is the “Cinderella” that Les Ballets de Monte Carlo brought to the New York’s City Center.  Unusual, but it worked, well mostly.

Les Ballets de Monte Carlo is known for bringing updated version of classic ballets to New York City. In 2014, they brought their controversial “Swan Lake” to City Center to much acclaim. And where Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s “Swan Lake,” with a few exceptions stayed true to the traditional telling of “Swan Lake,” their version of “Cinderella” is a unique departure with Cinderella glass slipper-less.

Unlike the more traditional version of the ballet, there are no Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer fairy variations. Instead of using the wonderful Prokofiev score for the fairies who bless Cinderella, the music is used to support the different ball costume changes of the ugly stepsisters. An interesting concept, but for those who are familiar with Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Cinderella,” this reassignment of the score fell a little flat.

Cinderella_Fairy_GodmotherComparisons aside of more familiar versions, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s “Cinderella” triumphs in Artistic Director’s Jean-Christophe Maillot’s modern choreography and in the avant-garde, couture-like costumes. Additionally, Maillot’s unique projection of the other characters in the story, i.e., the Prince, the Fairy Godmother, and particularly the Pleasure Superintendents, caused audiences to view “Cinderella in a new way.

Maillot’s choreography was best expressed in the ensemble moments, which was quite a feat in itself in that the City Center stage, compared to larger world stages, was never meant for large group choreography. Yet, Maillot managed to craftily construct choreography that was innovative and clearly defined without the corps de ballet looking cramped or uncomfortable. And his choreography for the male corps de ballet was particularly energetic and robust.

Cinderella_Fairy_Godmother_03Still, Maillot’s choreography for the Pleasure Superintendents (Alexis and George Oliveira) was the real standout of the evening. Maillot injected humor, technical brilliance, and nuance into his choreography for the Oliveiras—even the non-movement moments were interesting.

The choreography for both the Stepsisters and Stepmother also was effective, character revealing and helped move the plot along. Unfortunately, Maillot’s choreography for the Fairy Godmother (Mimoza Koike) though beautiful, at times didn’t go beyond pretty steps that showcased Koike beautiful legs and feet. Koike’s Fairy Godmother was not divinely inspired and lacked an otherworldly charm. Koike’s Fairy Godmother was more space alien than benevolent spirit, which is an interesting concept, but takes some getting used to.

Cinderella_Ugly_Stepsisters

All images courtesy of Alice Biangero

Karole Armitage in her seminal 80’s ballet “Go Go Ballerina” was one of the first ballet chorographers to utilize the pie plate tutu to effect.  I don’t believe any other ballet has had the effect of “Go Go Ballerina’s” pie plate since the ballet premiered in the late 80s. Jerome Kaplan’s version of the pie plate tutu for the Fairy Godmother paired with sequined pointe shoes and sequined, lame bodysuit gave the Fairy Godmother an alien quality. And his architectural, Thierry Mugler–like costumes for the Stepmother and Stepsisters—especially the half faux bustles for the Stepsister—emphasized their dual personality and rigid attitudes toward Cinderella. Also, what worked to special effect was the sparkly lotion used on Cinderella’s feet instead of glass slippers or sequined pointe shoes. Cinderella’s crystallized sparkly feet facilitated a better articulating of Maillot’s intricate choreography than perhaps would been doable in clunky pointe shoes.

Overall, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s “Cinderella” has lots of high points, and lived up to what audiences have come to expect from Jean-Christophe Maillot. Re-imaged ballet classics have become the order of the day in the ballet world and Maillot’s “Cinderella” fits right in with those re-imagined classics that actually have box office appeal. Bravo Les Ballets de Monte Carlo!!

—William S. Gooch

 

 

Company XIV: A New Kind of Cinderella

 

Image courtesy of Phillip Van Nostrand

Image courtesy of Phillip Van Nostrand

Company XIV has garnered a reputation for taking traditional ballet and fairy tale classics and reinterpreting these storybook and ballet warhorses through their own special lens. Their “Nutcracker Rouge” takes place in a burlesque hall with the Sugarplum Fairy in a G-string and pasties. “Snow White” has dwarf puppets, opera singers as clairvoyant mirrors, as well as other nontraditional elements. (Innovative and beautifully rendered, it was a unique way of interpreting “Snow White.”)

In the history of Cinderella ballets, the classic story has been re-interpreted from a wide range of perspectiveS, themes and choreographic points of view. There is the Nureyev/Paris Opera Ballet version of Cinderella getting a movie screen test in 1930s Hollywood. The Lyons Ballet’s Cendrillion version revisited the classic as poupee dolls.  And who can forget Matthew Bourne’s version with Cinderella set during World War II.

Image courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry

Image courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry

With so many nontraditional, brilliant versions of “Cinderella,” it is a real accomplishment and triumph for Company XIV’s version to have its own innovative structure around “Cinderella” among the pantheon of nontraditional attempts at this ballet classic. In Company XIV’s version, surprisingly, Cinderella is not the protagonist. In fact, there’s a couple of main characters with the Stepmother front and center. Add in A Prince that is an expert acrobat and trapeze artist and operatic, acrobatically inclined Stepsisters and you have a Cinderella production that definitely breaks the mold.

Though these characters reinterpretations and Company XIV’s unique melange of dance styles always creates interesting theatre, at  times, there were too many disparate elements in this production. Pointe work, burlesque, opera singers, acrobats, and a few baroque dance elements are difficult to combine into a seamless artistic expression. And this time around, Company XIV struggled, well slightly.

Artistic director Austin McCormick over the years has become more adept at combining disparate dance and theatrical elements. The penultimate triumph of McCormick’s marriage of dissimilar and unequally yoked bedfellows was Company XIV’s “Le Serpent Rouge.” However, the company’s “Cinderella,” at times, missed the mark and was a bit ragged. Still, there were some shining moments.

Davpn Rainey as the Stepmother. Image courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry

Davpn Rainey as the Stepmother. Image courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry

Davon Rainey’s characterization of the evil Stepmother was one of those shining moments. In spite of being an en travesti role, Rainey was neither feminine or Rupaulesque. (Imagine a male Supermodel in five-inch heels.) Rainey was mostly glamorously self-absorbed, and this was good thing. McCormick’s pointe work for his dancers as horses was also brilliant. The choreography for the Stepsister’s dancing instructors was bold, frenetic, innovative, and well performed. The trapeze/acrobat elements were also phenomenal. The musical numbers and music choices were superb, as always. And lastly, Zane Pihlstrom’s costumes, or lack of thereof, were not only titillating, but also helped move the plot along.

The production’s  sticky moments were evident  in the plot, which would have been hard to follow if you didn’t already know the story. And there was absent McCormick’s genius Baroque parterre and petite allegro choreography. (Something the company has become expert at executing.)

Image courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry

Image courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry

Overall, this is a worthwhile production and with some tweaking and editing Company XIV’s “Cinderella” will be a powerful addition to the company repertoire. Now maybe, Company XIV should tackle “Swan Lake,” —hint, hint.

—William S. Gooch

Misty Copeland’s Met Debut in “Swan Lake”

 

Misty Copeland in "Swan Lake." Image courtesy of elle.com

Misty Copeland in “Swan Lake.” Image courtesy of elle.com

The Metropolitan Opera House debut of Misty Copeland in American Ballet Theatre’s production of “Swan Lake” last Wednesday (June 24) was everything it could and should be —an afternoon filled with palpable emotion—deafening, ecstatic applause at her first entrance, as the Swan Queen, and at the conclusion of each section. As a fitting coda, it was announced today (June 30) that Copeland has been promoted to principal dancer, making her the first African American ballerina to reach the top at the 75-year-old company, considered one of the top ballet companies in the world.

Paying homage during that historic performance last week was a star-studded audience (Judith Jamison, Debbie Allen, Star Jones, Jacques d’Amboise, and Damian Woetzel) all in attendance to see the woman who has become arguably America’s biggest ballet star of the moment.

Curtain call tributes by two historic African American ballerinas—former Houston Ballet star Lauren Anderson and former Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo ballerina Raven Wilkinson—celebrating Copeland’s achievement further cemented the significance of the occasion, the first time a black woman has starred in this role for a major American company at the Metropolitan Opera House.

And, yes, there was a glorious, thoughtful, often moving, always intriguing performance by Copeland. That this, the dancing, is mentioned last by no means signals that it is the least important. If this were anyone else, the actual dance performance would be, easily, the most important thing.

Misty Copeland and James Whiteside in "Swan Lake." Image courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Misty Copeland and James Whiteside in “Swan Lake.” Image courtesy of Gene Schiavone

But Copeland’s debut at the famed Met, though not her debut in the role (she first performed it with ABT in Australia in January and was featured in a Washington Ballet production in April) was a moment filled with historical significance. New York, after all, is universally recognized as the dance capital of the world; particularly with ABT— recognized as one of the worlds most renowned companies with its own storied history.

And, too, there was the significance in performing “Swan Lake,” one of the most famous and most challenging roles in the classical ballet idiom. In performing the dual roles of the good and pure White Swan Queen—Odette, and her evil alter ego —Odile, a ballerina is tested with not only bringing a multifaceted interpretation to the ballet, but in showcasing the prodigious technical abilities that call upon the full spectrum of classical ballet’s pyrotechnical feats.

Finally, there are numerous backstage tales in ballet lore of black women being told to lighten their skin with powder or otherwise denigrated for having dark skin that might somehow mar the look of the ballet’s white-costumed sections.

So into this gulf of legend, expectations and history leapt Copeland on that historic Wednesday afternoon. And from her first entrance to her last leap in the ballet’s final scene, Copeland’s every move was met with ecstatic roars of approval.

To cynical observers, this may simply have been the overenthusiastic result of months of hype. Copeland, is after all, a media darling.

Misty Copeland and James Whiteside in ABT's "Swan Lake." Image courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Misty Copeland and James Whiteside in ABT’s “Swan Lake.” Image courtesy of Gene Schiavone

 

Her story is compelling stuff—a glamorous ballerina, tapped by the superstar musician Prince; a muscular beauty in pointe shoes in a now famous Under Armour underwear ad about embracing one’s uniqueness; a life story of growing up poor and shuttling between welfare hotels with her family while studying ballet at a local Boys and Girls Club. And yes, a black woman in an overwhelmingly white ballet world who has unabashedly declared that she wants to ascend to the top of the classical ballet world.

But Copeland is a lovely dancer who has, with each new plumb role, demonstrated promise, and a real sense for finding the nuances of a character. As seen in her debut in “Romeo and Juliet” and here, in “Swan Lake,” the test now will be to see how well and how deeply Copeland can plunge into the roles she’s been given.

In her New York City “Swan Lake” debut, it was, somewhat surprisingly, the soulful White Swan, where she made the biggest impact. We know Copeland as a technical powerhouse. But her White Swan was a creature of great sensitivity and vulnerability.  It was an interpretation that still needs room to mature and grow. But some things, such as the use of her arms and her well thought out approach to the White Swan’s mystical power already are being employed to marvelous effect.

Image courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Image courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Surprisingly, Copeland’s Black Swan was somewhat lacking. True, she did not complete the traditional 32 fouette turns associated with the superhuman dazzling power of Odile. That, alone, wasn’t the problem. Many a ballerina has either stumbled through these turns or, opted to substitute pique turns entirely or, like Copeland, halfway through the sequence.

But Copeland’s Black Swan, though sharp and filled with attack and cunning, didn’t seem as thoughtfully considered as her Odette had been. It’s almost as if Copeland had focused on her Odette so much that her Odile was a bit of an afterthought.

True, some aspects were obviously given due consideration, such as Odile’s taking direction from the wicked von Rothbart who has sent the Black Swan to trick the Prince into breaking his vow of love for the White Swan. But, this is one aspect where Copeland still has work to do to complete her interpretation of the dual role.

Image courtesy of wsj.com

Image courtesy of wsj.com

However, there’s no question that Copeland deserves more opportunities to deepen her interpretation and grow in this and other roles. Many had speculated that she would soon be elevated to principal dancer status. Tuesday’s news confirmed the rumors. Regardless of her official rank, there’s no question that Copeland is more than just hype. She is a dancer who is showing a tantalizing potential for artistry.

—Karyn D. Collins

Ballet Hispanico: Latin Enough for All

Image  courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

“El Beso” image courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

How does a dance company maintain its signature aesthetic while moving into the 21st Century and expanding its audience demographic? That is a question that Ballet Hispanico may have grappled with in the past but has now solidly put to rest.

Recently, in a Q&A after one of the company’s recent performances at the Joyce Theater in New York City, an audience member expressed concern over the fact that Ballet Hispanico’s current repertoire seemed neither very balletic or culturally Latin in scope.  This conundrum of sorts begs the larger question of what is the definition of Hispanic in today’s culture and the dance community at large.

Should the repertoire of the Dance Theatre of Harlem only include works that are based in African American culture; should a flamenco dance company only perform traditional flamenco dance works, or should the New York City Ballet’s repertoire be made up mostly of ballets by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins? And are audiences disappointed and nonplussed when they get something more than the names of certain dance companies imply?

Based on the repertoire presented by Ballet Hispanico at the Joyce Theater, artistic director Eduardo Vilaro has not only maintained the signature aesthetic of Ballet Hispanico established by founder Tina Ramirez, but expanded the company’s repertoire to include ballets that stretch the  dancers and reflects a modern Hispanic world. Latin culture goes beyond lacy mantillas, flamenco, folklorico dances, the Latin ballroom dances of the salsa, baso doble, cha cha, and samba, or swarthy men in boleros strutting around with machismo.  Hispanic culture embraces a huge range of movement styles, cultures and musical influences beyond the recognizable iconic images and sounds.

Image  courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

“Conquer” image courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

That said; the expansion of Ballet Hispanico’s repertoire was most evident in Miguel Mancillas’ raw, athletic “Conquer.”  “Conquer” explores the rawness and potentially unbridled inhibition that can be found in organic movement.  This dance work also examines how uninhibited movement can be a commentary on how humans can use power and possession to manipulate and control space and other people. This is a powerful dance piece that demands a high level of virtuosity.  Standout dancers in this work were Christopher Hernandez and Christopher Bloom.

Image  courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

“El Beso” image courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s “El Beso” does employ familiar Hispanic icons, but mostly in the set design and music. Angel Sanchez’s asymmetrical, fluid costumes with trending cutouts demonstrates the melding of the old and the new which is so evident in this work. “El Beso” or “The Kiss” presents itself in variety of incarnations; men kissing women, women kissing men, same sex kissing and affection, unwanted kisses, stolen kisses, and a sundry. The movement style of this work is very much in the vein of Twyla Tharp’s “Push Comes to Shove,” minus the pointe shoes. Still, “El Beso” perhaps has more warmth than Tharp’s “Push Comes to Shove.” Standout performers in “El Beso” were Min-Tzu Li and Jamal Rashann Callender.

One of the newest acquisitions in the repertoire, “Show.Girl,” examines the Latin female identity as seen through Miami’s cabaret or showgirls—a culture that is still thriving in Miami. The coquettishness and cattiness speaks to the games that women play with each other and themselves in their quest to define themselves. Miami-based choreographer Rosie Herrera brings in a lot of Latin Quarter elements into this ballet, from beaded, sequined showgirl costumes and headdresses to big white feather fan dances to gestures and stances reminiscent of showgirls from the 50s and 60s.

"Show.Girl" image courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

“Show.Girl” image courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

Though this piece is heavily influenced by the Latin nightclub culture of Miami, many of the movements and performance art influences come straight of a Pina Bausch Wupperthal Theatre dance work.  The standout dancer in “Show.Girl” is undoubtedly Jessica Alejandra Wyatt. With her retirement from the stage, she will be well missed.

Eduardo Vilaro’s assemblage of works that speak to the breath and depth of Latin culture demonstrates that dance, like culture, is ever evolving. And while the past should be honored, it is no place to live. Disappointed that Ballet Hispanico is not Hispanico enough, humm, check your culture quotient!!

—William S. Gooch

Peter Fletcher’s “Simple Gifts”

 

Image courtesy of Peter Fletcher

Image courtesy of Peter Fletcher

Every time classical guitarist Peter Fletcher appears at Carnegie Hall, he has a packed house. Whether audience members are hearing him for the first time or were so enraptured by his technical skill and poised delivery that they’ve become diehard fans, Fletcher understands how to put together a repertoire that keeps audiences wanting more. And that is his genius.

On April 11, 2015 Fletcher’s program contained the standard fare of baroque music transcribed for the guitar, Edvard Grieg pieces—of which he is one of the few guitarist that includes transcribed Grieg works in his repertoire—and of course, the  expected classic Spanish guitar warhorses. This varied assemblage of classical music from a wide range of periods and styles is part of Fletcher charm and for those who have astutely followed his career an expected eclecticism.  Interestingly, for this Weill Recital Hall performance Fletcher included some musical works that were unusual additions and also demonstrates that Fletcher is beginning to focus his attention on educating audiences on the wide range of music that can be transcribed for classical guitar.

For those avid Peter Fletcher fans it is obvious that the man has technical acuity that goes beyond many classical guitarists currently heard in recordings on in recital halls. And, while Fletcher does include works that display his immense pyrotechnical skill set, he seems currently to be more focused on expanding the classical guitar repertoire.

Peter_Fletcher_03Case in point, “Simple Gifts,” the well-known Shaker hymn, on this occasion transcribed by John and BJ Sutherland is not a work that is associated with classical guitar. However, in this outing Fletcher’s gentle and somewhat transcendental rendering of this familiar Shaker hymn proves that his choice in nontraditional material fits within the scope and evolution of where classical guitar is heading.

Other highlights of the evening were “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” Hector Villa-Lobos’ ever popular “Prelude No. 1,” and the surprise of the evening, Niccolo Paganini’s well-known “Caprice No. 24,” transcribed by Fletcher.  “Caprice No. 24” when played on classical guitar takes on a different nuance and mood. Fletcher’s transcription rendered this familiar work more warmth with darker tones than traditionally played which perhaps is due in part to the warm tones of classical guitar but should also be attributed to Fletcher’s ingenious and superb transcription.

In this outing, Fletcher’s “Simple Gifts” appear to be the great joy he gives to his devoted fans and newcomers combined with his gift of expanding the classical guitar repertoire. Well done, Fletcher!!

—William S. Gooch

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Hope Boykin and LInda Celeste Sims

AAADT's Hope Boykin and Linda Celeste Sims. Images courtesy of Richard Chalmers

AAADT’s Hope Boykin and Linda Celeste Sims. Images courtesy of Richard Chalmers and Andrew Eccles, respectively

Audiences come to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for many things—its diverse repertory, its celebration of and reflections on various aspects of black culture and its vibrant performers.

And through the years, the Ailey company has become especially known for its tradition of showcasing the performances of strong, dynamic women.  The list includes some of the most distinctive dancers in the dance world—Carmen de Lavallade (who was a principal guest performer though not a regular company member), Sylvia Waters, Denise Jefferson, Sarita Allen, April Berry, Dwana Smallwood, Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell, and Renee Robinson. Of course there’s also the company’s most famous dancer—Judith Jamison, the statuesque star who succeeded Ailey as artistic director of the company.

Today’s Ailey company boasts another generation of standout women. Two of them—Hope Boykin and Linda Celeste Sims—are to be honored during the company’s New York season which is now running through January 4 at New York’s City Center Theater.

Hope Boykin in Rushing's "Odetta." Image courtesy of Steve Wilson

Hope Boykin in Rushing’s “Odetta.” Image courtesy of Steve Wilson

In addition to the special “Celebrating the Women of Ailey” program on December 16, this season will also see the premiere of Matthew Rushing’s “Odetta,” celebrating the life and spirit of the famed folk singer and company premieres of the pas de deux from  “After the Rain,” by Christopher Wheeldon; “Suspended Women,” by Jacqulyn Buglisi; and Hofesh Shechter’s “Uprising.”

Also scheduled are company classics like “Revelations” along with revivals of favorites like Ulysses Dove’s “Bad Blood,” and “Polish Pieces” by Hans van Manen.

Boykin and Sims said being in the spotlight of the upcoming “Celebrating the Women of Ailey” program has given them a moment to reflect on their careers and their place in the Ailey legacy.

Linda Celeste Sims in "Cry". Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Linda Celeste Sims in “Cry”. Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

“I feel very privileged to be associated with such great women that made a mark in this company,” said Sims, who was recognized by the dance community with a Bessie Award for her performances over the years. “I believe that hard work does pay and I’m always looking to push boundaries.”

Boykin admitted she too had never thought of herself that way, noting that between her muscular body type and very close cropped hairdo, she was atypical in many ways.

Hope Boykin in "Festa Barocco." Image courtesy of Steve Vaccariello

Hope Boykin in “Festa Barocco.” Image courtesy of Steve Vaccariello

“I’ll be very honest. I think that in a very narrow way, on a very small scale, I would say that I’m not like anyone else. To a newer audience I’m distinctive,” Boykin said. “But I’m still a woman who loves to dance and loves what it means to be in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. There’s definitely a pride I take from being a member of this company” … “I might not necessarily look like everyone else, but that’s okay.”

Glenn Allen SIms and Linda Celeste Sims in Wheeldon's "After the Rain." Image courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Glenn Allen SIms and Linda Celeste Sims in Wheeldon’s “After the Rain.” Image courtesy of Paul Kolnik

In addition to the special program celebrating the women of Ailey, both Sims and Boykin will be featured in other special roles in the new repertory for this season. Sims, will be featured in “After the Rain” with her husband, Glenn Allen Sims. Boykin will be dancing the lead in Rushing’s “Odetta.” Both noted that they still find plenty of motivation to push forward, especially when dancing roles like these along with other pieces in the Ailey repertory.

“Every performance is a new performance. We have a new audience. I’m standing next to someone different and that creates a new experience,” Boykin said. “You can’t phone it in. Each relationship is very different. You have different dynamics with different people onstage” …“That’s what makes being in a repertory company so incredible. It’s fresh all the time.”

Added Sims, “What motivates me and pushes me is my love for dance. If you don’t’ love what you do then stop doing it. Dance, music motivates me, because it’s like in my blood. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

—Karyn D. Collins

 

A Revived American Dance Machine Brings Broadway Classics to the Masses

Image courtesy of joyce.org

Image courtesy of joyce.org

When it’s right, when the music and dance and vibe all come together in just the right way, a musical theater song and dance number can be a masterpiece, a moment that transports an audience and sends them out of the theater on a high.

But when a show closes, the magical number goes with it. And, even a revival rarely if ever resurrects the original choreography.

That issue was the driving force behind the American Dance Machine, a dance repertory company founded in 1976 as a “living archive” of musical theater classics.

That original company was gone by the 1990s after the death of founder Lee Theodore. But now, the American Dance Machine and its mission to resurrect and celebrate great musical theater numbers are experiencing a rebirth thanks to Nikki Feirt Atkins, who performed with the original company.

American Dance Machine's Jessica Lee Goldyn in "A Chorus Line"

American Dance Machine’s Jessica Lee Goldyn in “A Chorus Line”

The group, now performing as American Dance Machine for the 21stCentury, is performing at New York City’s Joyce Theater through Sunday November 16. Future performances are in the works as well for those who can’t get to the Joyce in time.

For Atkins, who is working with choreographer Margo Sappington (who is listed as director for the Joyce season), reviving the American Dance Machine is a labor of love.

“There’s a real treasure trove of material out there, numbers that were showstoppers, that were just magical,” Atkins said. “I’m just so happy to be able to bring some of these numbers back and share them with a new generation. In some cases you’re seeing a style of dance that you just don’t see on Broadway anymore.”

Atkins said one of the biggest challenges she’s encountered since she began the project two years ago has been finding the right mix of dances, stagers who remembered the material, and performers. Securing legal permissions to restore some pieces also proved a challenge, she said, pointing out that the company was unable to present any pieces by the late Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse.

New York City Ballet dancers Amar Ramasar and Georgina Paxcoguin. Image courtesy of Christopher Duggin

New York City Ballet dancers Amar Ramasar and Georgina Pazcoguin. Image courtesy of Christopher Duggan

But the Joyce performances do include a healthy treasure trove of pieces—including two by Michael Bennett, two by Jerome Robbins, and two by Jack Cole.

The performances were presented as a repertory concert with simple, basic costumes (plus a few iconic costume pieces here and there) and no sets except for simple props (steps, platforms, tables). (But the Joyce performances do feature live music thanks to a top-notch six-piece ensemble).

The results overall were uneven but quite frequently riveting and certainly promising in terms of the potential of this company. In some cases, the numbers suffered from being presented out of context. Musical numbers, after all, are usually part of the dramatic arc of a show and the emotions generated emanate from what has happened before as well as the promise of what is to happen afterwards. In other cases, the unevenness of the ensemble cobbled together for this season, revealed itself.

Rare is the dancer who can be a perfect dance chameleon, fitting seamlessly into any and every style. Even for those who are triple threats­­­—singers, dancers and actors—there is still a difference between being capable and having the type of star quality many of these pieces required.

American Dance Machine's "Black and Blue" with Derick Grant and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. Image courtesy of Christopher Duggan

American Dance Machine’s “Black and Blue” with Derick Grant and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. Image courtesy of Christopher Duggan

There were, to be certain, plenty of star-quality performances from Broadway and ballet stars recruited for the Joyce run. They included a trio of stars from the New York City Ballet, plus Broadway veterans —a sizzling Jessica Lee Goldyn in “Music and the Mirror” from “A Chorus Line,” Amra-Faye Wright who dazzled in “City Lights” from “The Act,” and the always dynamic Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards who led the tap ensemble in “That Rhythm Man” from “Black and Blue.” Ironically, a number she originally performed in the original cast of that show when she was a kid.

But while some of the ensemble numbers rose to the occasion, such as “Popularity” from “George M!” led by a spectacular Peter Chursin, and a terrifically buoyant “Charleston” from “Billion Dollar Baby,” many of the ensemble pieces fell flat, lacking in charisma, vocal chops and the type of zing that transports a number from ordinary to exquisite.

American Dance Machine's Deanna Doyle and Nick Palmquist. Image Courtesy of Christopher Duggan

American Dance Machine’s Deanna Doyle and Nick Palmquist. Image courtesy of Christopher Duggan

Still, there is much to rejoice in here and the potential for this enterprise is certainly promising. The Joyce has already booked this new American Dance Machine for a return engagement next season and Feirt says other entities have also expressed interest in booking the company. Those are great signs of faith for a noteworthy and deserving project that gives the art of the Broadway musical number its due.

—Karyn D. Collins

Harlem Revisits Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”

Image courtesy of offdaglass.net

Image courtesy of offdaglass.net

Michael Jackson’s Thriller is a music and pop cultural classic. Each of us has the memory of first seeing Thriller and being terrified by the special effects, elated by the storyline, dancing, and of course, Michael Jackson (MJ).  Fun Fact: In the 80’s Thriller was the first full-length video/film that MTV ever ran on television; and similar to an eerie 3D experience Thriller’s characters still come alive every Halloween.

Thirty years later we still commemorate the afterlife of Thriller and MJ. Harlem, NY one of Michael’s favorite stomping grounds has some of the biggest and boldest MJ fans. Even after Michael’s death in 2009, The Apollo Theater memorialized Michael for three months with banners, t-shirts, and dance parties.

Image courtesy of the dailynews.com

Image courtesy of thedailynews.com

This Halloween, staged on the streets across from the Apollo and down from the soon to arrive Whole Foods, Harlem’s community organized a Flash mob dance-party to Thriller.  Hosted by newly infamous burger joint Harlem Shake and commentated by a masked President Obama, Harlem’s community experienced an interactive Thriller experience including all of Harlem’s teenage talents.

Harlem’s community came out in the hundreds and with the support of political leader New York Congressman Charles Rangel, NYC ‘s Police and Fire departments. It was enlightening to witness Halloween night turn from a personal trick into a definite communal treat and tribute.

—Kelly L. Mills

Slider “Thriller” image courtesy of background-pictures.picphotos.net

The Bessies Celebrate 30 Years

Bessies_2014_article

Bessie’s 2014 Lifetime Achievement recipients Arthur Mitchell and Chuck Davis

The New York Dance and Performance Awards, also known as The Bessies, mark the 30th anniversary of the annual awards when it holds its ceremony tonight (Oct. 20) at the Apollo Theater. The awards, which honor the work of independent dancers and choreographers in New York City, are named for the late teacher Bessie Schoenberg, who also served as a creative advisor to many choreographers.

Dance performances, always a highlight of The Bessies, will celebrate the 30-year history of the awards with performers representing various winners over the years. Among those scheduled to perform (and the years they won) are the Mark Morris Dance Group (1984), Urban Bush Women (1992), Jennifer Miller and Jennie Romaine (1995), and Michelle Dorrance (2011).

Chuck Davis' DanceAfrica

Chuck Davis’ DanceAfrica

The awards also annually honor luminaries in the dance world. This year’s honorees are Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Arthur Mitchell, who is to receive the Lifetime Achievement award; and DanceAfrica founder Chuck Davis, who is to receive the Service to the Field award.

While he’s receiving a Lifetime Achievement award, Mitchell, who turned 80 in March, said his career is far from over.

“I’m a little older but it’s not over. I still have things I hope to do. But it’s been a good life in the sense that people who don’t have arts in their life it’s like living in a desert. The arts ignite the mind and give you the possibility to dream.”

Arthur Mitchell as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet

Arthur Mitchell as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet

One thing Mitchell isn’t doing is working with the company and school he founded with Karel Shook in 1969. Mitchell said he’s had nothing to do with the organization since 2010 and when asked why, answered with a cryptic, ‘”you’d have to ask them.”

Later he added, “I think when you have a change in an organization you have to give them time to grow and stretch and so the best thing for me to do is stay away.”

Instead, Mitchell said he’s focused on sharing his years of experience as a celebrated coach and teacher.

“I’ve been teaching, coaching, looking and seeing what’s happening in the field,” he said.

Collages503

Dance Theatre of Harlem

And one of the things Mitchell said he’s noticed is that the landscape for blacks in ballet still looks almost as bleak as it did when Mitchell started Dance Theatre of Harlem.

“I’m saying things I said 60 years ago. The fine arts must open up to be much more inclusive and that’s something that has to change,” he said. “There aren’t enough black teachers in the communities to teach these kids. Everyone is doing community outreach but they don’t know how to talk to the people in the community and how to keep the interest alive.

“So it’s not just opening the door but also once the door is open giving those that come in better opportunities to excel.”

Dance Theatre of Harlem image courtesy of Rachel Neville

Dance Theatre of Harlem image courtesy of Rachel Neville

But Mitchell isn’t interested in just being a wise, elder statesman of the dance world. He hinted that there will be an announcement soon about a new project of his.

Said Mitchell, “There are some things in the works I can’t discuss yet but it’s exciting. So I’m not done yet.”

—Karyn Collins

 

Here is a list of all the nominees for the 2014 Bessie Awards:
2014 BESSIE AWARD NOMINEES: 

 
Outstanding Performer

Maggie Cloud
in Passagen by Pam Tanowitz

Sean Donovan 
in the work of Witness Relocation, Jane Comfort, Faye Driscoll, and others

Julia Hausermann
in Disabled Theater by Jerome Bel and Theater HORA

Sean Jackson
in We Used to Hold by Lisa LaTouche as part of Rhythm in Motion

Mickey Mahar
in the work of Miguel Gutierrez, Adrienne Truscott, Ryan McNamara, and Gillian Walsh

Angela “Angel” McNeal
For her hip hop battle improvisations at Harlem Stage E-Moves 15 Battle

Sara Mearns
New York City Ballet

Aakash Odedra
in James Brown, Get on the Good Foot, A Celebration in Dance organized and shaped by Otis Sallid as part of A Celebration in Dance at the Apollo Theater

Tiler Peck
New York City Ballet

Rebecca Serrell-Cyr
in Fire Underground by Donna Uchizono

Linda Celeste Sims
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Stuart Singer
in Within Between by John Jasperse

Outstanding Music Composition/Sound Design

Simphiwe Dana, Giuliano Modarelli, and Complete Quartet 
for Exit/Exist choreographed by Gregory Maqoma

G. Lucas Crane
for This Was the End created by Mallory Catlett

Steven Taylor
for Aubade choreographed by Douglas Dunn

Nicholas Young
for his inventive tap ‘percussion platforms’ in Rhythm in Motion

Outstanding Revival

Dark Swan
by Nora Chipaumire
The Joyce

Myth or Meth (or Maybe Moscow?)
by Radiohole
Tom Murrin Full Moon Performance Festival at La MaMa

State of Heads
by Donna Uchizono
New York Live Arts

Bach Partita
by Twyla Tharp
American Ballet Theatre

Outstanding Production

Asase Yaa African American Dance Theatre
Djembe in the New Millenium
Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts

Camille A. Brown
MR. TOL E. RAncE
Produced by 651 Arts at Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts

Mallory Catlett
This Was the End
The Chocolate Factory

Liz Gerring
Glacier
Montclair State University

Maria Hassabi
Premiere
The Kitchen

John Jasperse
Within Between
New York Live Arts

Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker 
En Atendant/Cesena
Brooklyn Academy of Music

Akram Khan
Desh
White Light Festival

Sarah Michelson
4
Whitney Museum of American Art

MIMULUS Cia de Danca
Dolores
The Joyce

Okwui Okpokwasili in collaboration with Peter Born
Bronx Gothic
Danspace

Aki Sasamoto
Sunny in the Furnace
The Kitchen

Outstanding Visual Design

Thomas Dunn
for New Work for the Desert by Beth Gill

Avram Finkelstein, Kathy Morganroth, and Jenny Mui of YMX by Yellowman; Patricia Forelle; Tamara Gonzales; and Nicholas Vermeer, Olivia Barr, and William Ward of NYC Resistor
for Vectors, Mary, and Snow by Brooklyn Ballet

Peter Ksander, Olivera Gajic, Ryan Holsopple, Chris Kuhl, and Keith Skretch
for This Was the End by Mallory Catlett

Tim Yip
for Desh by Akram Khan

Outstanding Emerging Choreographer

Rashida Bumbray
for The Little Red Rooster in a Red House
Harlem Stages E-Moves 15

Jessica Lang
For the formation of her own company and its inaugural season
The Joyce

Jen Rosenblit
for a Natural dance
The Kitchen

Gillian Walsh
for Grinding and Equations: Two Duets at Abrons
Abrons Arts Center

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