Ballet Hispánico Scores Another Homerun

                     Image courtesy of Paula Lobo

A few years back, Ballet Hispánico hosted an audience Q&A after one of their performances, and an audience member commented that he was surprised that Ballet Hispánico did not present more ballets with a stronger Latin influence. Perhaps, this audience member thought he was only going to see flamenco dance or dance works with strong, traditional Latin rhythms from the Caribbean and South America. What that audience member may not have understood is that Latin culture is an amalgam of influences from many cultures, be it West Africa, North Africa, indigenous Native cultures, the European mainland, and even some Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. And oftentimes these cultural influences are so brilliantly melded into more recognizable Latin rhythms and influences that to the untrained eye, some theatrical works may not appear Hispanic, when in fact, the Latin presence is quite strong.

At their recent season at the Joyce Theater, Ballet Hispánico’s CEO and Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro demonstrated the breadth and wealth of the Latin diaspora. The four programs on the opening performance—Linea Recta, Espiritus Gemelos, Waiting for Pepe, and Con Brazos Abiertos—aptly exhibit that Ballet Hispánico is commented to exploring Latin culture in all its diversity and incarnations.

Under founder Tina Ramirez, Ballet Hispánico assembled a repertoire that had a recognizable Latin influence and fit into the fold of what non-Hispanic audiences would expect from a dance company rooted in Latin culture. Ramirez’s point of view under her aegis was appropriate at that time. However, in this current incarnation of Ballet Hispánico, Vilaro is stretching the company beyond that. And that is a real good thing.

                                    “Linea Recta” image courtesy of Paula Lobo

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Linea Recta approaches familiar, traditional Hispanic influences—flamenco, mantillas, lacy, ruffled dresses, and black fans—in a modern interpretation. Ochoa aptly takes familiar flamenco movement and replaces and enhances some recognizable movement with vocabulary from the modern dance lexicon. Instead of flamenco foot tapping, Ochoa employs barefoot shuffles and other barefooted flourishes. The traditional high-low ruffled skirt, traje de gitana, is replaced by a shortened version that gives the dancers more movement freedom. And the pyrotechnically brilliant choreography demonstrates Ochoa’s acumen for taking something that is deeply rooted in Andalusian culture and translates that influence into a modern interpretation for modern audiences. The company performed this seminal favorite with verve, passion, and technical prowess with standout performances by Chris Bloom, Lyvan Verdecia, and Eila Valls.

     “Waiting for Pepe” image courtesy of Paula Lobo

“Waiting for Pepe,” a Ballet Hispánico world premiere with choreography by Carlos Pons Guerra, explores Guerra’s interpretation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s play The House of Bernarda Alba. For those familiar with Lorca’s play, the dominance of the women in the household is front and center. That female forcefulness is a crucial element in Guerra’s choreography. Guerra infuses his Latin power women and family intrigue with the theatricality that can be found in Latin films and telenovelas.

Guerra also showcases in “Waiting for Pepe” his ability to meld different movement styles from the modern dance lexicon seamlessly without sacrificing dramatic relevance. And the last movement of this dance work Guerra brilliantly utilized the rhythmic, percussive music of Jacinto Guerrero, exhibiting Guerro’s expert skill at expressing modern dance movement styles juxtaposed against narrative and emotion.

Ballet Hispánico’s Joyce season placed a heavy emphasis on Federico Garcia Lorca. The company’s third work of their opening night was the second dance work that drew inspiration from Lorca. “Espiritus Gemelos,” another company world premiere, drew inspiration from the meeting between Lorca and Salvador Dali in 1923. Collected letters from that time imply that they there may have been a sexual relationship between Lorca and Dali. Gustavo Ramirez Sansano explores this relationship through movement that is subtle, thoughtful, and sensual. Again, Ballet Hispánico explores different ways of defining Latin culture through movement that expands the company’s repertoire beyond work and movement styles that is familiar and expected.

                          “Con Brazos Abiertos” image courtesy of Paula Lobo

Another favorite, Michelle Manzanales’ “Con Brazos Abiertos,” explores the immigrant experience with verbal sound tracks from Cheech and Chong, music of Julio Iglesias, and a mix of rock en epanol. Funny, bombastic, and technically brilliant, this crowd favorite always satisfies.

Ballet Hispánico’s season at the Joyce Theater is from April 10–15.

—William S. Gooch

Jesus Christ Superstar on the Goth Side

Graduation Backdrops

                                                   Image courtesy of newsweek.com

Translating a musical from the Broadway stage to film is a difficult task, and the transfers rarely do justice to the original production. In recent years there have been some success to some critical acclaim and with modest returns at the box office. Dreamgirls, Chicago, and Hairspray come to mind.Even more of an arduous task is performing Broadway musicals live for a television audience. For the past few years NBC has tried its hands at this very ambitious endeavor, with not a lot of success—The Wiz being the network’s most calamitous faux pas. Still, NBC soldiers on in spite of not being able to deliver credible re-interpretations of Broadway classics repurposed for television.

                                                  Image courtesy of NPR.org

Jesus Christ Superstar is NBC’s latest blunder. Though the televised production has a noteworthy cast, the production value and main character performances fall way below what the iconic Broadway classic aptly deserves.When Jesus Christ Superstar debuted in London and on Broadway in the early 1970s, the now-iconic musical was a revolutionary approach to presenting the historical Jesus in a more contemporary and humanistic way. No longer was Jesus only a heavenly, divine God figure who performed miracles and was to be the divine Messiah of all of mankind, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus was a relatable God-like prophet who spoke words of wisdom, love, and rebellion. All this set against the backdrop of folksy, lyrical songs and rock n’ roll recitatives that helped push the story forward of Jesus’ last week before his crucifixion.

                                         Image courtesy of thewrap.com

Though this Jesus rock opera received lots of criticism at the time of its premiere, the rock opera was a huge hit among young theatergoers and received well-deserved popularity among followers of the Jesus movement that was sweeping the US in the late 60s and early 70s. And though there have been many reincarnations and reinventions of the classic rock opera over the last 40 years, Jesus Christ Superstar is still able to move audiences because of the incredible Andrew Lloyd Webber and Time Rice score.Well, maybe not this time around. That said; the producers of this televised version of Jesus Christ Superstar did do some things right. Surrounding a not tried-by-Broadway fire main character with strong Broadway performers was a very good choice. Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas Iscariot, Norm Lewis as Caiaphas, and Erik Gronwall as Simon Zealot gave much support to John Legend (Jesus Christ)—in spite of being in strong voice—whose lack of charisma and stagecraft did not convince as  Jesus Christ.

Backdrop party photography pictures

   Images courtesy of IBTtimes.com, fashionista.com, and gettyimages.com, respectively

Paul Tazewell stage costumes also worked in this production; well, sometimes. While Jacquemus dress served Sara Bareilles’ Mary Magdalgene well, the Issey Miyake geometric coats worked for the Sanhedrin, and Anne Demeulemeester’s punked-out, white layered, monkish robes also made sense for the priests, the Rick Owens’ looks for the disciples and Jesus Christ (Balmain white moto jeans and Rick Owens’ torn tee shirt) made Jesus and his disciplines look like underground rebels from some dystopian society. We know that historically, Jesus and his disciples, with the exception of the zealot Judas Iscariot, were not outsiders in their community, but an integral part of the formative Judaic community at that time. Still, Jesus and his disciplines looking like grunge, goth moles is hard to digest.Still, Tazewell gets a pass in favor of artistic license. However, the Conan the Destroyer set does not get a pass. Many of the songs and rock recitatives speak of the light and love of Jesus Christ; however, the set and the costumes detail the darkness and gloom of those times, perhaps, referencing the Roman occupation of Palestine. This incongruence does not help push the story forward and the Beatles’ like screams from audience members every time John Legend opened his month distracted from the production.

https://www.katebackdrop.com/collections/easter-backdrops

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE IN CONCERT — Pictured: Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas — (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Overall, this was by far the better of NBC’s Broadway musical productions. Perhaps, this signifies some light at the end of the tunnel!!—William S. Gooch

If You Love Costume Dramas and Fashion, Binge Away

It’s winter. You’re pockets are empty from the holiday season. It’s dark when you leave for work and when you get home.  On weekends, you don’t want to go out because it’s wet and cold.  Oh what could drag you out of this cloud of Weltschmerz?

Brew yourself a cup of hot tea and plant yourself on the couch with the cat. You have shows with amazing fashions to binge on! Stay hydrated, and don’t forget to take occasional breaks to stretch.

                                            Image courtesy of Netflix

The Crown – Seasons 1 & 2 Available on NetflixSettle in for this sumptuous tale of The House of Windsor that will leave you scrambling for Google and Pinterest. Claire Foy earned an Outstanding Performance SAG award for her uncanny portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. The costuming on the show really tells a story about each character. Vanessa Kirby is the breakout star playing Princess Margaret, a woman for the modern age frequently dressed in pants at a time when some considered it scandalous. Compare that to Queen Elizabeth’s matronly frocks, despite having access to untold wealth and the pick of all the couture design houses of the day. The scene in which Elizabeth is happy to find her signature hairstyle at age 32—that she wears to this day at age 91—is almost cringe-worthy for how deeply the unflattering cut ages her. And that’s before all the family drama! Spoiler alert there are a shocking number of Nazis scuttling among the outermost branches of the family tree.

                                                     Image courtesy of HBO

Big Little Lies – Season 1 Available on HBOSet among the moneyed class in Monterey, CA, this five-episode drama cleaned up at the SAG Awards and the Golden Globes. The mysterious whodunit was supposed to be a limited series but popular demand has created a second season—unfortunately it’s unlikely to be seen before 2019. Even if you’ve already seen the show, this is a great time to revisit the series and take notice of how all the amazing outfits are perfectly calculated for each character from Celeste’s elegant yet comfortable sweaters—chosen for a secret reason̶ to Madeline’s (Witherspoon) refusing to take off her overpriced pumps while dropping off her children at school even after rolling her ankle.

                                                 Image courtesy of TV Land

Younger – Season 1– 4 available on HuluSutton Foster stars as a member of the “opt out” generation stunned to find herself divorced and broke at 40. Desperate for work she reinvents herself as a 20- something in the publishing industry. This is a sweet funny tale of female friendship and solidarity. While publishing exec Diane Trout, portrayed by Miriam Shor, can afford designer outfits—and LIVES for bulky statement jewelry̶—the rest of the cast sports fashionable but affordable clothes you’d see at Zara and high-end accessories that looked plucked from sample sales. The show is surprisingly realistic about New York housing, considering it was created by Darren Starr of “Sex and the City” fame. Liza (Foster) lives with Maggie (Debi Mazar) in a gigantic 2 bedroom Williamsburg loft, but we find out she purchased it in the late 80’s when it was in a ‘bad’ part of town. Co-worker Kelsey (played by Hillary Duff) lives with college friend Lauren in Lauren’s parents apt for free because “how else could we afford to live in Manhattan?”.

                                                Image courtesy of The Atlantic

Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – season 1 available on Amazon PrimeCreated by Amy Sherman Palladino and husband Dan Palladino, “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” tells a story of accidental feminism during the 1950’s with the help of huge budget and a lot of insight into how clothes can make the woman.    Rachel Brosnahan won a Golden Globe playing Miriam (aka Midge) Maisel is delighted with her Upper West Side life caring for her two children and supporting her accountant husband’s desperate effort to be a stand-up comic, dressing to perfection, and making sure Joel never sees her without makeup. Except husband Joel’s routine is stolen from Bob Newhart and he’s having an affair with his dumb as rocks secretary Penny Pann (that is one of the series’ few missteps as Penny is a brain dead slut with a ridiculous name. Come on!) When he walks out that’s when Midge realizes in a drunken haze she’s the true comic in the family. Gaslight café staffer Susie recognizes her talent and decides to become her manager.

Most tales of feminism come from women rallying against their restrictive roles; however, by stark contrast Midge LOVES her role. She only gets a job and starts developing her comedy because she is forced to by circumstance. We can see her evolution in fashion from her perfectly put together outfits that require so much effort to donning pants and flat shoes for comfort and practicality. Susie, played by Alex Borstein, lives in shapeless pants, bulky sweater and an ever-present men’s hat, frequently mistaken for a man. Come for the fashions, stay for this warm funny tale of friendship, liberation, and show business.

         Image courtesy of cravetv.com

Sex and The City – Seasons 1–6 on HBOWhat can be said about HBO’s groundbreaking comedy series that heralded a new era of television? Well for one thing, the stories about friendship and romance have held up remarkably well. It’s amazing to watch the characters grow as the series evolves and fascinating to see how each character expresses their emotions and creativity through fashion. You can even see how New York City and the world have changed. Except for Miranda, none of the women have cellphones. There is no social media—you know Samantha Jones would have been all over Instagram. It’s shocking to see Carrie smoking in bars. You know you still miss this show. Visit it again!!

—Cameron Grey Rose

 

 

The Evolution of Ballet Hispanico

                                 “Bury Me Standing” image courtesy of Paula Lobo

Tina Ramirez founded Ballet Hispanico in 1970 to give Latin choreographers, dancers and the Latin community at large a place to hone their craft and give voice to the Latin experience in the new and old world. Where under Tina Ramirez’s leadership Ballet Hispanico evolved into dance company that is recognized internationally and attracts some of the most talented Latin global artists, Ramirez put lots of emphasis on recognizable Latin movement styles from flamenco, indigenous Hispanic folkloric dances and dance styles that form the diasporic bridge between the old world and the new.Under Eduardo Vilario aegis Ballet Hispanico is presenting a much larger embrace of the Hispanic diaspora, seen through the lens of ever-evolving movement styles, accurately expressing this larger embrace to modern audiences. Ballet Hispanico’s short season at the Apollo Theater wholly demonstrates this evolution. Vilario recognizes that Latin culture is no longer ‘the other’ or the exotic; it is the here and now.

This modern perspective is made all the more evident in the musical choices found in the company’s current repertoire. In most dance companies the choreography and the performance level of the dancers is front and center and the main attraction; however, in this outing the music is the driving force behind the ballets with the dancers serving as supportive component to the music. This is not only an evolution for Ballet Hispanico, it is also a good thing. And a manifestation that perhaps the dance world is moving beyond personality-driven artists that drive box office—consider the dance phenomenon of Nureyev and Fonteyn in the 1960s; Baryshnikov, Jamison, and Kirkland in the 1970s, and other dance stars in the 80s and 90s— and moving toward a more integrated approach where all elements that make a performance possible are equally important.

                                 “Espiritu Vivo” images courtesy of Paula Lobo

The ballet on the program seen at the Apollo Theater that best expressed this evolution of Latin movement styles is Ron Brown’s “Espiritu Vivo.” Brown has established an oeuvre for creating ballets that infuse popular dance styles into choreography that is also steeped in more codified movement disciplines. This melding of dance forms is an integral part of Brown’s “Espiritu Vivo.”Originally made for Ballet Hispanico in 2012, after a five-year absence, gratefully this fully realized work is back in the company’s repertoire. And it is currently danced with passion and soulful vibrancy. Exploring the intersection of African and Latino diasporas, Brown seamlessly melds Horton, Graham, and Dunham techniques with dance styles that come out of Santeria, later becoming more recognizable Latin Caribbean cultural dance styles.

“Espiritu Vivo” opens with an almost monastic restraint and builds toward ecstatic exuberance. For those lucky enough to translate the Susana Baca’s music used in this work, the messages of bondage juxtaposed against the liberating spirit of freedom as seen against the African and Latino diasporas comes across loud and clear. Standout dancers in “Espiritu Vivo” include Lyvan Verdecia, whose movement quality was grounded and fully invested, and newcomer Garbrielle Sprave, whose majestic presence filled the stage.

                             “Bury Me Standing” images courtesy of Paula Lobo

With Ramon Oller’s “Bury Me Standing,” Ballet Hispanico looked almost like a completely different company. Though this ballet is over 20 years old, Ballet Hispanico performed the work as though it was made brand new on the company.The ever-evolving Ballet Hispanico is demonstrating every season that they can handle almost any movement style and a variety of movement styles in one work. In “Bury Me Standing,” Oller not only used a wealth of movement styles but also ingeniously incorporated mime and words for dramatic effect in reference to the alien status of gypsies and the Roma people. Oller’s use of the innovative ‘airplane’ partnering really gives this work a signature look. Standout dancers include Diana Winfree and Nick Fearon.

                                “Con Brazos Abiertos” image courtesy of Paula Lobo

Creative director Eduardo Vilario brought back Michelle Manzanales’ “Con Brazos Abiertos” from the company’s 2017 season at the Joyce Theater earlier in the year. This hilarious and thought-provoking exploration of the Mexican-American experience in the US melds folkloric details with canned dialogue from Cheech and Chong and the music of Selena and Julio Iglesias.Like all the works in this season at the Apollo Theatre, “Con Brazos Abiertos” demonstrates that Latin American culture is not an addition to the American mainstream, Latin American culture is an integral part of the mainstream. Viva Ballet Hispanico.

—William S. Gooch

The Bold Truth of “The Bold Type”

Image courtesy of rubensramblings.com

“The Bold Type” cast image courtesy of rubensramblings.com

When Fashion Reverie heard about a new fashion-based series, “The Bold Type” on Freeform (formerly ABC Family) expectations were low. Based on the description, an exciting drama set in a fashion magazine following the adventures of three women in their late 20’s, Fashion Reverie’s first thought was a “Sex and the City”/”Devil Wears Prada” rip-off with a dash of “Pretty Little Liars” thrown in to brew up a flavorless tea. That “The Bold Type” was debuting during the summer season, a time when so many networks burn off their rejects, didn’t help our opinions.

Depictions of the fashion world in popular culture has always been problematic and a thin veil for aimlessness. From Mallory Keaton on “Family Ties” on NBC in the 80’s to the current portrayal of Hailey Pritchett on ABC’s “Modern Family,” an interest in fashion has been shorthand for being shallow and dumb.

Well, Fashion Reverie is pleased, if a little shocked, to report “The Bold Type” bucks the trend of fashion magazine’s airheaded, but fashionable staffers, depicting an honest, if exaggerated, version of the halls of the fictional Scarlet Magazine. (It’s about time!!)

Image courtesy of thehollywoodreporter.com

Image courtesy of thehollywoodreporter.com

ABC’s “Ugly Betty” showed us the inner workings of Mode Magazine, except the staffers never really worked, did they? There were frequent staff meetings, but it seemed like no work was ever done. In its pilot episode “The Bold Type” shows a fashion magazine presenting its August issue to the board of directors—all major fashion magazines answer to a board of directors that represents the investors interests—who question aspects of articles and ask about advertising.

Yes, the editorial staff of Scarlet Magazine writes articles, and does other things that are critical to a magazine’s success. The show even takes the time to depict the articles as something that WOULD appear in Marie Claire or ELLE.

Melora Hardin image courtesy of freeform.com

Melora Hardin image courtesy of freeform.com

The “The Bold Type’s” main character, Jane, portrayed by Katie Stevens, has spent years as an intern and assistant before landing a job as a staff writer. Okay, she is absurdly young to be a staff writer; however, her portrayal feels authentic. Asked to come up with ten ideas for her first day, an overly excited Jane comes up with 20 only to be crushed when succinctly told by Editor-in-Chief Jacqueline (played by Melora Hardin), “These aren’t working for me, what else do you have?”

The “The Devil Wears Prada” may have been a big hit commercially but among some actual fashion industry professionals, it was reviled. Not only did it illustrate a view that working for a fashion magazine despite being exhausting never seemed to involve any writing or editorial work, but “The Devil Wears Prada” writer Lauren Weisburger never attempted to disguised main character’s Andie Sach’s contempt for fashion. Weisburger’s doppelganger Andie Sachs took pains to remind us that working for a fashion magazine was beneath her. While stories about Anna Wintour’s legendary diva status abound, there can be not debate she turned American Vogue around at time when it desperately needed an overhaul (whether or not American Vogue needs an overhaul now … is another matter), Wintour is well-educated, insanely smart, financially savvy, and dead serious about her job. (Any editor-in-chief whose magazine has subscribers numbering the millions, HAS to be or they will be replaced in minutes.)

It would have been very easy (and more than a bit misogynist) to show Jacqueline as a dragon lady, bitterly jealous of her younger counterparts and treating them with cruelty as a result. “The Bold Type” executive producer Joanna Coles, former editor-in-chief of ELLE and current Chief Content Officer for Hearst Magazines, refused to let this cliché stand.   In order to spearhead a global and extraordinarily influential media operation effectively, an editor-in-chief must work with her staff to get the best from them, challenging them to push themselves beyond their comfort zones.

Image courtesy of thebusinessinsider.com

Image courtesy of thebusinessinsider.com

That said; “The Bold Type” is television so there are some uneven elements. Would a busy editor-in-chief really have so much time to mentor people just one step above entry level? How does the show’s unpaid staffer afford the high-end designer clothes they wear? What do characters Jane and Sutton’s afford their palatial Brooklyn apartment with a GIANT living room? (Are they trust-fund kids, with rich parents helping out?)

Still, none of these uneven elements detracts from the main takeaway of “The Bold Type” which is that fashion journalism can be a difficult and exhausting, but also a fun and important job.  At a time when Teen Vogue is featuring excellent political coverage aimed at young people, the level of empowerment cannot be understated.

And as Scarlet Magazine would argue, if you can change the world wearing a killer pair of heels that only makes your victory that much sweeter. “The Bold Type” airs on ABC’s Freeform channel on Tuesday nights at 9pm.

—Cameron Grey Rose

Misty Copeland Dances “Don Quixote” Her Way

 

Image courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor/ABT

Jeffrey Cirio and Misty Copeland in ABT’s “Don Quixote.” Image courtesy of Rosalie O’Connor/ABT

The sign of a world-class ballerina is when that ballerina puts her individual stamp on a classic role. Misty Copeland did just that in her debut as Kitri in American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) Don Quixote.

Traditionally, ballerinas who have excelled as Kitri play up the athletic, kittenish, soubrette quality of the character. After all, Kitri is the spicy daughter of inn keeper Lorenzo, who lustily flirts with every man on the stage with her true affections projected toward Basilio, the barber. Also, Don Quixote is set in Seville, Spain. You cannot get any spicier than that.

The list goes on almost ad nauseam of iconic Kitris that have brought a lot of sass and vitality to the role (Ekaterina Maximova, Maya Plisetskaya, Cynthia Harvey, Sylvie Guillem, Lauren Anderson, Nina Ananiashvili, and Paloma Herrera, just to name a few. Gelsey Kirkland who originated the role in ABT’s full-length production was fiery, but she simmered instead of exploding.)

Misty_Copeland-rehearsing_Don_Q

Misty Copeland rising “Don Quixote”

Misty Copeland is a different kind of Kitri. Yes, she she does pepper the role with joie de vivre and punctuated battements and winks. Still, her Kitri is more layered and superbly acted. With Misty’s interpretation, audiences can actually rout for the two main characters—Kitri and Basilio—instead of waiting for fiery variations and multiple pirouettes.It would been a bonus if Copeland’s temps de fleche had more pop, and some of her jumps had more elevation. However,Copeland made up for the slight downgrade in pyrotechnics with her well-thought out portrayal of Kitri. Copeland’s Kiti was earthy, yet determined, full-bodied and contemporary, but still technically pure. (In a recent New York Times article, Copeland talked about working with an acting coach on her debuts this season in ABT’s Don Quixote and Giselle.)

Where Copeland really shined was in the Second Act “Dream” sequence. Her dreamlike Dulcinea was the epitome of the ethereal, grand ballerina, in the mold of Russian Imperial ballerinas, without the mannerisms. Her balances and hops on pointe were exquisitely executed, and her menage of pique turns were extremely fast, keeping time with the conductor’s tempi.

bb_don_quixote_2_Jeffrey_Cirio

Jeffrey Cirio in Boston Ballet’s “Don Quixote

Copeland has an admirable partner in Jeffrey Cirio. This new partnership holds lots of promise, and Cirio brought many of the pyrotechnical fireworks he acquired while performing Basilio with the Boston Ballet. His Basilio was one balletomanes have come to expect in the mold of great Russian dancers—Vasiliev, Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Ruzimatov, and Mukhamedov. Other great performances came from Calvin Royall III’s intense and passionate Espada; Luciana Paris’ fiery Mercedes; Veronika Part’s pristine Queen of the Dryads; Cassandra Trenary’s fleet-footed Amour; Jonathan Klein’s airborne gypsy; and Catherine Hurlin’s very musical flower girl.

Still the star of the evening was Misty Copeland, and in this very auspicious debut, Copeland proves once again that she is a prima ballerina. Fashion Reverie cannot wait for her Giselle debut.

—William S. Gooch

 

 

Peter Fletcher Brings Fireworks and Subtlety to Carnegie Hall

Collages1267Peter Fletcher is very clever. After several appearances at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, classical guitarist Fletcher has assembled a performance repertoire that is both familiar and thought provoking, as well as highly entertaining.

After two decades on the performance circuit, Fletcher has learned his performance craft well. He has assembled a repertoire that comforts the soul with warm, melodic harmonies and excites the intellect with transcribed work of composers not usually associated with classical guitar. (Fletcher’s transcribed Erik Satie favorites “Gymnopedie No. 1” and “Jack in the Box” come to mind.)

Still, Fletcher’s concerts are much more than rich, soothing melodies or a cerebral excursion down unfamiliar roads. Fletcher has ingeniously composed programs that highlight that classical guitar goes way beyond the Iberian-infused rhythms of Albeniz, Rodrigo, and Villa-Lobos. With Fletcher there is Bach, Mompou, Scirabin, Rameau, Ravel, and Couperin. And in this particular concert Fletcher introduced some new repertoire additions, William Walton’s “Five Bagatelles,” Andres Segovia’s “Oracion” and the show-stopping Niccolo Paganini’s “Caprice Opus 1, No. 24.”

This unusual assemblage of favorites and soon-to-become new friends makes for an evening of comfort, adventure, and intellectual stimulation. That said; there were a few hiccups in Fletcher’s recent concert at Weill Recital Hall, but whatever the faux pas’, Fletcher’s dexterity, joy and commitment to excellence triumphed on this particular evening.

As a mature artist, Fletcher stands out in his emotional interpretation of the works he performs. And this is particularly apparent in the less pyrotechnical pieces in his repertoire. Though the more virtuosic works get pulses racing, the gentler works give room for reflection and in Fletcher’s corner demonstrate more accurately his craft and technical nuance. This is good calculated move on Fletcher’s part!!

Images courtesy of Peter Fletcher

Images courtesy of Peter Fletcher

Standouts on the program were Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, “Simple Gifts”” William Walton’s “Five Bagatelles,” Niccolo Paganini’s “Caprice Opus 1, No 24,” and Isaac Albeniz’s “Cordoba.” Fletcher brought tenderness, poignancy, and variety to the traditional Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” transcribed by John and BJ Sutherland, while Walton’s “Five Bagatelles”—only three were played on this particular program—was infused with warmth, skill and a unique understanding of Walton’s musical intentions.

The firework piece of the evening was Paganini’s “Caprice Opus 1, No 24, a work that has had many a musician quaking in their boots. Fletcher—minus one major hiccup—handled this well-known work with an almost pristine brilliance and aplomb. And by adding this work to his repertoire, Fletcher demonstrated that his transcription captures the true essence of this work, taking this prodigious masterpiece beyond pyrotechnical efficiency.

Bravo, bravo Peter Fletcher!!

—William S. Gooch

Ballet Hispanico Celebrates Strong Women

Images courtesy of Paula Lobo

Images courtesy of Paula Lobo

When it comes to celebrating strong women through movement, no dance company has more capacity and generosity than Ballet Hispanico. Strong Latin women have always been at the core of Latin culture and are a focal point in Ballet Hispanico’s repertoire. However, for their spring 2017 season at the Joyce Theater, Ballet Hispanico pulled out all the stops, dedicating whole programs to Hispanic female choreographers.

With that effort, Ballet Hispanico’s female dancers have never looked more magnificent and fully realized than in works by the female choreographers in question—Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Michelle Manzanales, and Tania Perez-Salas. In dance circles, many cultural critics contend that only a woman choreographer—with the exception of a few male choreographers—Balanchine, Robbins, Ashton, and Ailey—can bring out the full range of female dancers’ abilities and craft. Most male choreographers only actualize female dancers’ attributes through the lens of delicate beauty with occasional pyrotechnical displays thrown in for good measure. Not true for Ballet Hispanico’s choreographic triptych. All three female choreographers in Ballet Hispanico’s all-female program aptly manifested the range and depth of what Ballet Hispanico’s women can bring to the stage.

"Linea Recta" images courtesy of Paula Lobo

“Linea Recta” images courtesy of Paula Lobo

Doesn’t everyone love flamenco? Well, if that does not ring true for some dance lovers, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Linea Recta” will make flamenco naysayers true believers!! And true to the theme of the night the female dances of Ballet Hispanico wore at the core of Ochoa’s “Linea Recta.”

Performed to original guitar music by Eric Vaarzon Morel, “Linea Rectoa” is Ochoa’s modern interpretation of flamenco infused with a mélange of modern dance techniques from Graham to Horton and Cunningham. Though the women are the central characters in this brilliant work, Ochoa provides some exceptional choreography for Ballet Hispanico’s men.  And the dance language between the sexes is modern, explosive, deliciously sensual and above all celebratory.

"Con Brazos Abiertos" images courtesy of Paula Lobo

“Con Brazos Abiertos” images courtesy of Paula Lobo

In “Con Brazos Abiertos,” Michelle Manzanales explores through dance language and the spoken word of Edward James Olmos, Cheech Marin, as well as the musical renderings of Julio Iglesias, Daniela Andrade, Gustavo Santolalla, and Juan Carlos Marin, assimilation and the immigrant experience in the US. Manzanales looks back to her own childhood and how the mixed messages of Mexican pride and assimilation informed her.

“Con Brazos Abiertos” is a wonderful amalgam of folkloric movement styles, and modern dance fusions used to relay the immigrant duality. Again, Ballet Hispanico’s women demonstrate their ability at interpret mood, nostalgia, humor and reflection through their mastery of modern and folkloric styles.

"Catorce Dieciseis" images courtesy of Paula Lobo

“Catorce Dieciseis” images courtesy of Paula Lobo

“Catorce Dieciseis” reflects the many modern dance works seen on major stages in the beginning of the 21st Century. As had happened in the early 1930s and 40s many modern choreographers in the late 1990s and early 2000s looked to Baroque composers as their musical sources. (Many of Mark Morris’ best know works found inspiration from Baroque composers in the 1990s through early the 2000s.)

Tania Perez-Salas’ “Catorce Dieciseis,” which debuted in 2002, is one such work. Like many ballets from this period that used Baroque music there is a strong emphasis of group movement or corps de ballet that dance similar or the same steps that follow the repetitive canonical-like qualities found in Baroque works. That said; “Catorce Dieciseis” is a joyful feast for the senses that celebrate the theatricality of Ballet Hispanico’s women and also demonstrate that the company is totally capable of excelling at dance works that go beyond Latin themes.  Also, the circular, meandering patterns in “Catorce Dieciseis” reflects Salas’ projections of the number Pi.

Every season Ballet Hispanco proves that their dancers, both women and men, can handle almost any choreographic style. The time is now ripe for Ballet Hispanico and many dance companies of its ilk to receive the global and financial recognition worthy of its brilliance.

—William S. Gooch

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

 

 

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