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

Break into Spring with Swish4 Energy

Morning has broken, like the first morning

Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird

                                          —Eleanor Farjeon

 

Image courtesy of ENT PR

Image courtesy of Edent PR

Just as morning breaks in this English ballad set to a traditional Scottish Gaelic tune, so can you break into your morning routine with vigor and vitality. Gone are the days of sluggish mornings that are followed by several cups of coffee only to crash in the middle of day.

What is the cause of this new morning vim and vigor?  Swish4Energy™ mouthwash is just the solution for low energy. And it is better than other competitors in that its GRAS–listed ingredients, Vitamin E and a low quantity of caffeine in a single unit gives consumers a quick burst of energy and well as a fresh mouth with every swish. Also, the lack of ingestion makes Swish4Energy™ a unique product that stands out from competitors.

The pocket-sized unit for convenience makes it easy to carry and use whenever needed. Body response to Swish4Energy™ may vary from person to person. Just remember, do not take more than three units of Swish4Energy™ per day.

Staying on trend goes beyond just how you look in great clothes; it also extends to how you feel. Break into springtime with Swish4Energy™!!

—William S. Gooch

Fashion Reverie Is Wild About “Wild”

Image courtesy of girlseatgreen.com

Image courtesy of girlseatgreen.com

While the Oscars might be gaga Reese Witherspoon’s nominated pic “Wild,” some New Yorkers have one up on the Academy of Motion Pictures by being wild for the West Village gluten-free bistro “Wild.”  The food is synonymous with the bistro’s moniker; the delicious food at “Wild” is something to go wild over.

If this somewhat hidden bistro was not on your radar during New York Fashion Week (NYFW) as you scurried from one fashion venue downtown to the next, then it should have been. (If you didn’t hibernate at “The Tents” at Lincoln Center during this blistery Fashion Week, then you were probably hustling between the Standard Hotel, Milk Studios, Pier 59 or Skylight Modern; all downtown fashion venues.)  And if you were counting calories the way most industry professionals were during NYFW, then Wild’s gluten-free, quality meals made with the simplest ingredients fits the bill.

Image courtesy of examiner.com

Image courtesy of examiner.com

But gluten-free, healthy meals lose their savor if taste is lacking. When Fashion Reverie dined at “Wild” the food was not only tasty, but the portions were filling and you could really taste the freshness of produce that is well seasoned.

Image courtesy of ENT PR

Image courtesy of ENT PR

The BBQ Vegan Delight Pizza consisting of BBQ chicken (optional), marinara sauce, red onion and vegan cheese was enough for two people and more than enough to satisfy hungry diners. This is a great option for a quick lunchtime treat and the gluten-free vegan crust is ideal for those looking to avoid foods with gluten.

Now if comfort food is your oeuvre then “Wild’s” gluten-free Chicken Parmigiano is a great choice. Prepared with fresh tomato and basil sauce and served with penne pasta, this entrée option is great for frigid nights and not too heavy for those looking for something filling but leaves room for a great dessert. And the dessert extraordinaire is the cheesecake pop sickle rolled in chocolate and granola.

Image courtesy of ENT PR

Image courtesy of ENT PR

So, Hollywood’s “Wild” has nothing on the West Village’s “Wild.” We love Reese Witherspoon but we love good food better.

For more information about “Wild,” go to eatandrinkwild.com.

—William S. Gooch

 

Fashion Reverie Exclusive Interview: Zane Pihlstrom

Company_XIV.jpg_02If anyone has ever attended any production by Company XIV, you are immediately dumbstruck by the seamless melding of dance, music, costumes, and set design. Though artistic director Austin McCormick is solely responsible for brilliant choreography that incorporates movement elements from Baroque dance, classical ballet, modern dance, and burlesque, Zane Pihlstrom is the guiding force behind the set design and costumes that helps brings Austin McCormick’s concepts to life on stage.

And he has a tough job. McCormick’s choreography though grounded in the Baroque dance necessities of grande rond de jambe parterre, petit allegro, and quick petit batterie is also injected with hard Graham falls and recoveries, angular grande battement, and sizzle and pop Burlesque disrobing. Zane Pihlstrom has to design and maintain costumes that stand up to this activity. An arduous tasks indeed, but Philstrom is more than up for the challenge.

While Company XIV was in season with their controversial and titillating “Nutcracker Rouge,” Zane Pihlstrom spoke with Fashion Reverie about his love of dance, costume design and the melding of beauty with the absurd.

Fashion Reverie: How did you first become involved in fashion and set design?

Zane Pihlstrom: When I was a little kid I would stage productions with my dolls and toys. I would make up lives for imaginary people. When I was nine or ten I converted my family’s barn into a little baroque theater or what I thought a baroque theater looked like at that age. My friends and I would make plays and design costumes. I just of kind of always knew what I wanted to do as an adult.

FR: Do you any formal training in set and costume design?

Zane Pihlstrom: I attended McGill University in Toronto where I studied set design ,and for graduate school I attended the Yale School of Drama.

FR: Who are your favorite costume/fashion designers?

Zane Pihlstrom: I love Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. Everything that they do looks like you could pluck it off the runway and put it into a Greek tragedy. I am also inspired by the photography of Ken Blocker. With one image, he can capture and detail an entire story.

Company_XIV_05

FR: How would you describe your design aesthetic?

Zane Pihlstrom: My design aesthetic is different depending of the production. When it comes to Company XIV, I draw on vintage burlesque. The aesthetic of Company XIV really comes from the artistic and creative director Austin McCormick, and I just kind of build from his perspective and point of view. There is a lot of burlesque and Austin’s choreography is influenced by French baroque court dance, as well as classical ballet, modern dance, and jazz. So, I always look at the shape and silhouettes of French baroque dance and that era and incorporate it into the costumes.

FR: How did you first become affiliated with Company XIV?

Zane Pihlstrom: About seven or eight years ago when Company XIV was still located in Brooklyn, Austin McCormick asked me if I would work with him. I was suggested to Austin through a mutual friend. He asked me if I would work on Company XIV’s production of “The Judgment of Paris.” We worked really well together and Company XIV is my favorite company to work with.

FR: You have seen Company XIV’s design aesthetic evolve from “The Judgment of Paris” to “Le Serpent Rouge” to “Nutcracker Rouge.”  How has your design aesthetic evolved with the company?

Zane Pihlstrom: I work with the company so frequently so that even I work with other companies I am drawn to the same principles found at Company XIV. We started off imitating what we thought European costume and set designers were doing.

We were looking for more experimental ways of telling stories that was seen in our earlier work. Now, we pretty much know the tools that we need to tell a story, and we are probably a little less experimental now.

FR: There seems to be this seamless melding of music, sets, costume and design in Company XIV’s productions. How do you achieve this?

Zane Pihlstrom: I work very closely with Austin and he is also very flexible. If there’s something within the design that isn’t working, Austin will often find a way to adjust things.  It seems that he can accommodate any design idea.

FR: What was the design concept behind “Nutcracker Rouge”?

Zane Pihlstrom: We wanted a “Nutcracker” that was fresh and current so we used a light of neon and special effects. We also wanted a dance hall vibe from the turn of the century. So, in this production of the “Nutcracker” you get a marriage of those two disparate points of view.

Company_XIV_06

FR: This revamped production of “Nutcracker Rouge” has evolved. Why did you make some changes?

Zane Pihlstrom: There were some practical reasons. We are now in a smaller, more permanent space. And with this new permanent space, we have the opportunity to evolve several of our older productions.

FR: How many productions have you worked on with Company XIV and which one is your favorite?

Zane Pihlstrom:  I have worked with Company XIV for over eight years and I worked on about 15 productions from children’s shows to productions with adult themes to operatic productions. Our early productions were in a warehouse in Brooklyn right off the Gowanus Canal. So, from those early productions we have figured out what works.

My favorite shows are the ones that combine beauty and decadence. That said; “Le Serpent Rouge” was my favorite production because there is a wonderful synergy of decadence and beauty.

All images courtesy of David Gibbs PR

All images courtesy of Company XVI

FR: What is the challenge of making costumes for a dance company that incorporates such a variety of movement forms?

Zane Pihlstrom: This is perhaps the most challenging kind of work I will ever do. The combination of graceful movement combined with forceful, frenzied movement is difficult because we use a lot of period costumes that in its construction and form  be quite fragile. But, the beauty in this assemblage of different movement forms is that juxtaposition of grace married with violent, chaotic movement and having costumes that support that.

It is tricky to keep the clothing in its period shape and then add in the element of Burlesque where you are seductively taking clothes off. Over the years, we have learned all the tricks of Velcro and fake zippers it!!

FR: What’s next for you?

Zane Pihlstrom: I am worked next with Yana Ross on a Russian political play that will have 100 live dogs on stage. Imagine that!!

—William S. Gooch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Karyn D. Collins

 

A Revived American Dance Machine Brings Broadway Classics to the Masses

Image courtesy of joyce.org

Image courtesy of joyce.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Karyn D. Collins

Harlem Revisits Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”

Image courtesy of offdaglass.net

Image courtesy of offdaglass.net

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

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

Image courtesy of the dailynews.com

Image courtesy of thedailynews.com

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

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

—Kelly L. Mills

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

The Bessies Celebrate 30 Years

Bessies_2014_article

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

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

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

Chuck Davis' DanceAfrica

Chuck Davis’ DanceAfrica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collages503

Dance Theatre of Harlem

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

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

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

Dance Theatre of Harlem image courtesy of Rachel Neville

Dance Theatre of Harlem image courtesy of Rachel Neville

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

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

—Karyn Collins

 

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

 
Outstanding Performer

Maggie Cloud
in Passagen by Pam Tanowitz

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

Julia Hausermann
in Disabled Theater by Jerome Bel and Theater HORA

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

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

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

Sara Mearns
New York City Ballet

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

Tiler Peck
New York City Ballet

Rebecca Serrell-Cyr
in Fire Underground by Donna Uchizono

Linda Celeste Sims
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Stuart Singer
in Within Between by John Jasperse

Outstanding Music Composition/Sound Design

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

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

Steven Taylor
for Aubade choreographed by Douglas Dunn

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

Outstanding Revival

Dark Swan
by Nora Chipaumire
The Joyce

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

State of Heads
by Donna Uchizono
New York Live Arts

Bach Partita
by Twyla Tharp
American Ballet Theatre

Outstanding Production

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

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

Mallory Catlett
This Was the End
The Chocolate Factory

Liz Gerring
Glacier
Montclair State University

Maria Hassabi
Premiere
The Kitchen

John Jasperse
Within Between
New York Live Arts

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

Akram Khan
Desh
White Light Festival

Sarah Michelson
4
Whitney Museum of American Art

MIMULUS Cia de Danca
Dolores
The Joyce

Okwui Okpokwasili in collaboration with Peter Born
Bronx Gothic
Danspace

Aki Sasamoto
Sunny in the Furnace
The Kitchen

Outstanding Visual Design

Thomas Dunn
for New Work for the Desert by Beth Gill

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

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

Tim Yip
for Desh by Akram Khan

Outstanding Emerging Choreographer

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

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

Jen Rosenblit
for a Natural dance
The Kitchen

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

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