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

 

 

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

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