Thomas Bradshaw Causes Fevers to Rise in “Southern Promise”

It’s a huge challenge to produce and mount plays that tackle the difficult subjects of slavery and/or race relations. There is always the problem of theatrical voice, sensitivity, and racial currency. Race relations and slavery are very sensitive subjects for the theatre to take on. And even though slavery in the US ended over 150 years ago, racial discrimination and inequity continues for African Americans.

Thomas Bradshaw in his 2008 play “Southern Promises” re-examines slavery and the residual effects of such a brutal social and economic system of oppression. In this production of “Southern Promises,” The Bats, the resident acting company at the Flea, boldly revisits slavery with an interracial cast that contains people color playing both the servants and the dominant class.

“Southern Promises” centers on a promise made by the dying plantation owner that his slaves be set free after his death. Though the plantation owner wills manumission of his slaves in his will, the patriarch’s wife goes against his will, literally, and keeps the slaves in bondage, contributing her dead husband’s desire for manumission to his fevered dementia at the end of his life.

There are many things in this production that serves this incendiary subject in a great way. Though the utilitarian set is almost stark with a plantation backdrop, it is surprisingly functional and serves the production adequately.

The Bats acting company takes on all the characters and though some of the black actors play white antebellum roles, the non-traditional casting does not detract from the incendiary nature and forcefulness of the script. One wonders if Bradshaw was inspired or drew reference from Jean Genet’s iconic play “The Blacks,” where the blacks actors took on the roles of the black and white characters. Whether Bradshaw borrowed from Genet’s “The Blacks,” the non-traditional castings works in this production.

If Bradshaw’s goal in “Southern Promises” was to demonstrate the historical legacy of slavery, Bradshaw skillfully proved that the remnants of slavery are still with us. Consider the white’s description of slaves as childlike, sexually immoral, and intellectually inferior. Black folks are still described as having these character flaws. Bradshaw also brilliantly inserted biblical scripture and references in the script, demonstrating how slave owners used the Bible to justify slavery and their white privilege. Hmm, doesn’t too far removed from what some white supremicists currently do.

Where this production of “Southern Promises” did have some challenges were in the southern, antebellum accents, which unfortunately most of the cast was not able to pull off. And some of the simulated, sexually explicit scenes didn’t really move the story forward and seemed gratuitous in nature.

Standouts in the cast was Brittany Zaken as Elizabeth, mistress of the plantation, who expertly distilled the chilly, cruel nature of plantation mistresses while being aware that their power was limited by their gender. Shakur Tolliver was very good as the docile slave Benjamin. And special acknowledgement goes to Marcus Jones as David, the brother preacher of Elizabeth. Jones really knows how to conjure up the spirit of evangelical, revivalist preachers of that day.

Photos courtesy of Joan Marcus/ Spin Cycle NYC

Though “Southern Promises” is an incendiary drama with racially sensitive language and scenes, Thomas Bradshaw should be congratulated for telling it like it was, causing us to understand that though many things have changed, the memory of and the toxic shrapnel of slavery lives on. Will we ever be delivered from this scourge on our history? Well, only if we tell the truth!! “Southern Promises” runs through April 14 at the Flea Theater. For more information, go to theflea.org.

—William S. Gooch

Houston Ballet Puts a Unique Stamp on a Ballet Classic

Most ballet stories are quite simple in structure and tone. Complicated story lines don’t often lend themselves well to an art form where movement progresses the story. Consider Sleeping Beauty where a young princess plucks her finger, goes into a deep sleep and awakened by a kiss from a handsome prince. Or Raymonda where a Hungarian princess’ love is coveted by a dark Saracen, who is eventually defeated by the knight Jean de Brienne, leading to a marriage between the Hungarian princess and the heroic knight.

Of all ballet storylines, Sylvia has perhaps the most simplistic narrative. In huntress in Greek goddess Diana’s retinue falls in love with a handsome shepherd, Aminta. There love is slightly thwarted by evil hunter Orion; however, in the end Aminta and Sylvia marry in nuptials that are attended by the gods.

That simplicity of story worked very well when most of these classic ballets premiered, the mid-1860s–1890s; an era of refinement, feminine modesty, and a rigid class structure. Consider that all most classical ballets include the aristocracy, a chaste heroine, and for the most part, a grand and/or royal wedding.

Mask from “Sylvia”

But, we don’t currently live our lives in the shadows of the aristocracy and age-old social mores. Women are far more self-assured and independent, and many of us establish our own rules and morays.In the wake of this modern self-actualization, Houston Ballet’s Artistic Director Stanton Welch AM is taking a different approach to Sylvia. Scheduled to premier in Houston’s on February 21— New York audiences were given a sneak peak at the Guggenheim’s Works in Progress— Welch’s Sylvia goes beyond the traditional story narrative. Welch looks at three couples in the ballet instead of just the dynamic between Sylvia and the Shepherd. In his version of Sylvia, Welch brilliantly weaves the relationships between three couples, Sylvia and the Shepherd, Artemis and Orion, and Psyche and Eros. Welch even substitutes the Greek names for the well-known Roman names.

Houston Ballet’s “Sylvia” cast: Karina Gonzalez, Connor Walsh, and Jessica Collado. Images courtesy of Houston Ballet

There is a big diversion from the original Sylvia in Welch’s version. Beyond the addition of two principal couples, Greek names in place of Roman names, Welch approaches his version as an attempt to empower the principal women in the cast. Gone are the traditional approaches to pas de deux that ballet audiences may be familiar with. There is a lot of women partnering their male counterparts, ladies lifting the men, and in general a much more aggressive approach to the choreography for Sylvia, Artemis, and Psyche. Though there are some lovely, gentle steps for the three heroines—that aptly expresses the Leo Delibes’ score—for the most part, Welch goes beyond delicate pizzicato movement. And instead of the corps de ballet being used as merely stage decoration or the reflection of the lead ballerina, Welch employs the corps de ballet dancers to help advance the narrative.

In Welch’s Sylvia, audiences will find more fully fleshed out characters. With Sylvia having to choose between her commitment to Artemis or her love of the Shepherd. Hmm, a woman choosing between love and work; sound familiar, of course, it does!!

—William S. Gooch

 

 

 

Ballet Hispánico Gets it So Right in its First Women of Color in the Arts Panel

Are we in a post-racial era? Of course we are not. When Barack Obama was elected as the 44th President of the United States, many hoped and some cultural pundits projected that a post-racial society had arrived.

Well, we all know that was not true. Documented police killings are up, racially motivated hate crimes have escalated, and the wealth gap between whites and people of color, with African Americans disproportionately in the bottom half, has widened. And when you take a glance at the arts, though more diversity has been noted in recent years, there is still much to be done.

 Ballet Hispánico in Vicente Nebrada’s Batucada Fantastica

Ballet Hispánico, founded in 1970 by Tina Ramirez, is much more than a dance company that promotes and distills Latin culture through a variety of dance forms, Ballet Hispánico is taking on new challenges. Diálogos is Ballet Hispánico’s conversation series that explores the interconnections of the arts, social justice, and Latino cultures. Since 2016, Diálogos has given voice to issues that directly affect the Hispanic community, finding the intersectionality between the arts, culture, and politics.On January 10, Diálogos hosted the first panel discussion in its series, Women of Color in the Arts, giving voice to Afro-Latino women in the performing and curative arts experiences and struggles as women of color, available resources, and ways to bring more women of color into arts leadership positions. Hosted by Tamia Santana, founder of Brooklyn Dance Festival, and featuring panelists New York State Senator Marisol Alcantara; Ayodele Casel, Actress, Tap Dancer, Choreographer; Maria Torres, Director, Choreographer, Producer; Lauren Argentina Zelaya, Assistant Curator, Public Programs–Brooklyn Museum, the panel in the tradition of Ballet Hispanico’s passion for truth telling, bravely tackled issues of racial discrimination, sexism, funding, colorism, career stagnation, and isolation.Still, the panel discussion was not limited to the struggles of being an Afro Latina artist. The discussion also included the joys and exhilarations of celebrating the Latin experience through their work. The panelists also detailed about the importance of demonstrating that the Latin voice is not a monolithic voice, but voices that encompass many cultures and expressions. And in this ‘Year of the Woman,’ the feminine voice is an essential, nuanced voice that is primed to expand and distill Hispanic culture.

Photos courtesy of Michelle Tabnick PR

Ballet Hispánico Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro should be commended for assembling these great artists and political leaders. And for launching the series, Women of Color in the Arts. Ballet Hispánico, a role model in and for the Latino community, is inspiring creativity and social awareness in our neighborhoods and across the country by providing access to arts education.—William S. Gooch

Gather NYC Brings New Yorkers Together

We are living in very in challenging times. Times that are dividing us because of disparate political sentiment and life challenges that are causing us to tune out because there are just too many tragedies to digest. Everything seems to be collapsing around us with many of cultural and social institutions failing to give the support and stability we need.

In these very difficult times, we need to find a way to come together, and its possible!! And if you live in New York City the possibilities expand exponentially with Gather NYC. Founded by Laura Metcalf and Rupert Boyd, Gather NYC meets most Sunday mornings at SubCulture on 45 Bleeker Street. “Gather NYC was started in the spring of 2018 as an all-exclusive way for people to get together on Sunday mornings and enjoy classical music, spoken word, and a brief celebration of silence and find a sense of a community in a way that is a non-religious equivalent of church. Every week we have brought in different musicians and storytellers. We serve coffee and pastries and before and after the performances, people strike up conversations and friendships,” explains Rupert Boyd.

GATHERNYC Founders Laura Metcalf & Rupert Boyd

Past performers at Gather NYC have been Attaca Quartet, Joshua Roman, Russian Renaissance, Banda Magda, Rupert Boyd and Friends, and Bridget Kibbey. Upcoming performers include Rachel Barton Pine on December 2 and the Claremont Trio on December 9. “We chose artists for this gathering from artists that we already know and for the most part these musicians are from New York City and they are the best of the best. And we have had 21 shows so far,” Rupert Boyd detailed.On November 18, the Grammy-nominated IMANI WINDS performed at Gather NYC, performing five works from a 20th Century repertoire. The musical choices for the November 18 were eclectic, particularly the Indian composer Reena Esmail’s work “Delight Is the Same,” Jeffrey Scott’s “Starting Something,” which is a take on a jazz shuffle, a work by Astor Piazzolla, Lalo Schrifin’s “La Nouvelle N’Orleans,” and a traditional take on the Negro spiritual “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

Photos courtesy of Terry Doe

“IMANI WINDS started 21 years ago with African American and Latino musicians with a different take on how they would interpret classical music. We were put together as experimental fun and we morphed into a stable music ensemble that now has management, touring and residencies and many awards which was not envisioned 21 years ago when we formed the ensemble,” explains IMANI WINDS’ Jeffrey Scott. “We are all of based in New York City and for 17 years now, we have been a full-time recording and touring ensemble.”Gather NYC is giving New Yorkers the much-welcomed opportunity to come together on a Sunday morning experience some great music and enjoy each other’s company. Hopefully, this will spread to other major US cities.

Why not? If we can distance ourselves over things that divide us, why not come together and celebrate great music, conversation, and libations. And hey, the coffee and breakfast snacks are free!!

—William S. Gooch

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

 

 

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