by Catherine L. Tully
The Joffrey Ballet displayed determination, range and energy as they tackled three disparate pieces on Wednesday night at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre. “Unique Voices” offers the work of two choreographers who explore the various aspects of relationships, and one who delves into the very nature of ballet itself.
Stanton Welch’s “Maninyas” examines the layers of vulnerability and openness in love relationships, and a range of related feelings are explored throughout. As a backdrop, panels of fabric hang from the ceiling and the dancers are dressed in vibrant hues, moving to Ross Edwards’ “Maninyas Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.”
Five couples whirl and leap through a series of movements so complex that it’s exhausting just to watch. The choreography is extremely challenging and the dancers attack it with strength and energy–although they fall a little short of perfection. That said, “Maninyas” is not an easy piece to dance flawlessly, and the company holds nothing back–women fling skirts around with abandon and men bravely tackle the most harrowing of lifts.
Specific movements are often repeated, reflecting various stages of self-protection—or abandon. At times dancers cover their eyes, while in other moments they wildly hurl their arms open to the heavens as if giving up—or giving in. Women arch backward and “trust fall” onto the backs of their partners, and in the final moments of the piece the women’s legs open widely in submission as men carry them off into the darkness.
James Kudelka’s “The Man In Black” offers a totally different take on relationships. A decidedly non-showy piece, it meanders quietly through six different Johnny Cash covers—and what feels like many years of relationships between four people. Set for three men (Derrick Agnoletti, Edson Barbosa and Fernando Duarte) and one lady (Joanna Wozniak), it is a very emotional piece that examines the impact each person has on the group as a whole.
Although it takes some time to settle in and get invested after the wild intensity of “Maninyas,” the simplicity of this piece is as beautiful as it is pure. The dancers drift in and out of relationship with one another; sometimes fighting, sometimes desperate to help one who is troubled, and sometimes just going along on the “journey.” Cowboy boots are used both as costume and as a rhythm tool, and Cash’s voice couldn’t be more moving.
“The Man In Black” nearly comes across as an easy piece—until you begin to realize that many of the movements are like a Jenga puzzle, with one person completely reliant upon another for stability. Unlike the complexity of “Maninyas,” here almost everything is stripped down to the core—but paired with Cash’s tremendously powerful voice, it has everything needed to make a striking impact. And that it does.
And then there’s “Tulle.”
Hailed as a “ballet about ballet,” this program-ending piece by Alexander Ekman is more theater than dance at the outset. Large LED panels serve as the backdrop, flashing images of eyes, clowns, and close-ups of what appears to be actual tulle fabric in a blue hue. The marvelous soundtrack by Mikael Karlsson is varied, and includes counting, heavy breathing, stomping and more fun/funny sounds punctuating a variety of “scenes” throughout the piece. The five positions are called off, a dancer talks about why she loves ballet and the history of the art form is examined in narrative.
At one point a bevy of “swans” wanders over to the edge of the stage and stops—looking out at the audience in silence for an uncomfortable amount of time. In an unexpected move, they all nervously begin to whistle the music to “Swan Lake”. It’s silly bits like this that add breadth to “Tulle,” and Ekman manages to deliver just the right amount—without mocking the art form in too terrible a fashion.
Ultimately, this behind-the-scenes, humorous take on ballet dissolves into a tight display of technique and a powerful ensemble piece with music to match. And while Ekman may make light of this dance form in some ways, it is clear that there is also a reverence and respect for the beauty it unveils when all the elements come together on stage. That was on display for all to see on opening night.
And indeed—it was pretty fantastic.
Joffrey’s “Unique Voices” program runs through February 22nd at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.
Disclosure: Joffrey dancer Cara Marie Gary and conductor Scott Speck are contributing writers to the site.
by Catherine L. Tully
Even when choosing a large-scale ballet Joffrey is unique–and “La Bayadere” is certainly a bold choice. The ballet was first performed in 1877 at the Bolshoi Theatre in St. Petersburg, and it was choreographed by Marius Petipa. This version has been updated by Houston Ballet’s marvelous Stanton Welch, and it is easy to see why he is one of the most sought after choreographers of our generation. He has the ability to create such interesting movement that one wishes they had two sets of eyes to see it all–especially when the stage is filled with dancers.
Although the three-act plot seems convoluted, at the center of it all it’s really just a tragic love triangle between Nikiya (the temple dancer, Victoria Jaiani), Solor (the warrior prince, Dylan Gutierrez) and Gamzatti (the Rajah’s daughter, April Daly). The first act is set in India and it traces the forbidden love story of Nikiya and Solor–and the plot to bring about her death, crafted by Gamzatti and her servant Ajah.
Jaiani is achingly supple–offering her submission to Solor with tender, fluttering arms and yielding bends of the torso. Gutierrez, although an able partner, was at his best when soaring and bounding across the stage with passionate abandon.
Welch’s choreography is both brilliant and difficult with demanding lifts, whiplash turns and unexpected combinations. In the first act, the dance for the four men was especially impressive, but the group dancing was also a joy to watch. Instead of tutus, tights and tiaras there are dazzling bras and colorful, flowing fabrics everywhere. The bright, jeweled costumes and lush scenery by Peter Farmer add quite a bit to the visual appeal of this ballet and Scott Speck and the Chicago Philharmonic added depth and drama with their mastery of the musical score by Minkus.
Fabrice Calmels is the perfect choice for the High Brahmin–radiating authority and confidence and dominating the stage with his presence. Also compelling were the musical John Mark Giragosian as Agni the Fire God and Erica Lynette Edwards as the maniacal Ajah.
The second act is set at the palace gardens as the wedding preparations for Solor and the princess Gamzatti take place. Daly was spectacular as she whipped off a triumphant series of fouettés and Jaiani was limp and heartbroken as she danced before the couple prior to her death.
The beginning of the third act is in stark contrast to the color and vibrant atmosphere of the other two–especially in the “Kingdom of the Shades” where women in all white tutus–ghostly images–dance in unison. One by one these figures come down a long ramp in arabesque, balancing, bending back, balancing again. A trance-like scene, this is where Joffrey was at its most impressive. With only a slight sway or quiver here and there, the company triumphed over one of the more difficult corps de ballet scenes in classical ballet. They moved as one.
The three “shade solos” were all danced with verve. Cara Marie Gary bounced fluently, Amber Neumann floated lightly and Amanda Assucena’s solid balance and incredible extension appeared effortless.
Once Solor returns to reality the end of this ballet becomes a whirlwind–exciting and dramatic, if somewhat frenzied after the otherworldly scene before it.
by Catherine L. Tully
Powerful and poignant – two simple words that provide a quick snapshot of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Fall Series at the Harris Theater Thursday evening. Each of the four pieces displayed strong choreography and palpable emotion while managing to be fresh and interesting rather than showy and overdone.
Fluence was the first piece of the evening, a Chicago premiere by choreographer (and former Hubbard Street dancer) Robyn Mineko Williams. It begins with mechanical, twitchy movements that evolve and alternate with primitive, low-to-the-ground choreography. It’s as if one is watching futuristic robots that have feelings—like characters from the 1982 movie Blade Runner—but better.
Costumes by Hogan McLaughlin seem to support the idea of an almost “sewn together” look—bodies (prototypes?) in different phases of evolution. The dancers really seemed to embrace and understand the mannequin-like motions that are juxtaposed with visceral, human movements. Even with the lighthearted bubbles that cascade down at the end of the piece, the overall feel is one of melancholy.
Next up was Cloudless, a duet for two women by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. This world premiere was tender and intimate without being soft and sweet. Cerrudo relegates the audience to voyeur status as the women look deep into each others eyes, touch and slow dance, proving yet again that he is a master of creating strong intimacy through movement.
Cerrudo knows how to choreograph a duet that doesn’t look like it was made for a man and a woman and Jacqueline Burnett and Ana Lopez were able to convey the power of their bond without losing a shred of their femininity.
While Cloudless explores a more progressive approach, Ohad Naharin’s Passomezzo instead tips the hat to times gone by. Dancers Kellie Epperheimer and Johnny McMillan move with passion to a variety of selections from The Beggar’s Opera.
It soon becomes apparent why knee pads are part of McMillan’s simple costume—the choreography is not for the timid. From behind he repeatedly grasps and pulls her back hard on top of him while they sit on the ground—as if she is a boat that he is rowing frantically toward some crucial destination. She stands–balancing on his chest again and again. They drop to the floor and take turns running on their knees. They polka. They pace. And while the choreography may seem a bit of a whirlwind, it somehow works all jumbled up together–mirroring the emotional roller coaster that colors many a long-term relationship.
After the myriad of passionate feelings that are explored in Passomezzo, the start to Casi-Casa offers a bit of welcome comic relief before exploring any deeper. With a smart set design by Peder Freiij that consists of a door, a stove and a chair, this Mats Ek creation was danced with far more authority than the last time the company performed it on the same stage. Exquisite music by Fleshquartet adds a heartbreaking depth to the duets, and it rings out like an anthem as five women defiantly step dance their way through household chores with a canister vacuum in tow.
Hubbard Street’s Fall Series continues at the Harris Theater through Sunday, October 13th.
by Catherine L. Tully
Ballet West whisked in and out of Chicago in a weekend—and they left behind quite an impression.
Sleeping Beauty was on the bill for Friday and Saturday night, and Sunday offered a mixed rep program with two Balanchine pieces, one from Val Caniparoli and a new work by Nicolo Fonte.
The Utah-based company made an immediate impact with George Balanchine’s dazzling Rubies. With a 1920’s vibe and music by Igor Stravinsky, this piece is typically known as the star of the three “Jewels” that the famed choreographer created in the late 1960’s (Emeralds, Rubies, Diamonds).
Beckanne Sisk was the dancer here with the most sparkle, and her exuberance and youth were matched nicely with a sure-footed performance in a role that demands both stellar control and clean technique. Her vivacious spirit was the perfect fit for this high-energy ballet—and it showed. Expertly partnered by a very able Christopher Ruud, this dynamic couple held nothing back for later. Elizabeth McGrath gave a very capable performance as well with clean pirouettes and an effortless execution overall. Live music by The Chicago Sinfonietta added energy to the lively performance.
Rubies was followed by a world premiere, choreographed by Ballet West’s resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte. Danced by two women and two men (Katherine Lawrence, Jacqueline Straughan/Tom Mattingly, Adrian Fry) the devilishly complex choreography in Presto was punctuated with unusual, almost “bird-like” postures that added both interest and shape. Throughout the work there was a stop-and-go feel that teetered on the edge of lasting too long—but didn’t actually go over.
Much like the music by Ezio Bosso, the movements here varied between jarring and melodic. The dancers did an admirable job of performing this piece, with only a moment or two of uncertainty throughout—and the breathtakingly fast end sequence is simply brilliant.
Rubies is attention grabbing and showy, but the pas de deux from Balanchine’s Diamonds displays all the class and elegance associated with this coveted gemstone. The pace of this piece remains fairly slow throughout, but with Christiana Bennett’s laser-focused precision and grace and Beau Pearson’s confident partnering, attention never wanes for a moment from the dancers on stage.
Either you show up with every ounce of your technique to dance Balanchine’s choreography—or it will dance you. The lovely Bennett was definitely in charge here—with achingly magnificent arms and regal carriage. Traditional white costumes and Tchaikovsky pair with the dancers for a purely enjoyable pas de deux.
The last piece of the evening was Val Caniparoli’s The Lottery. Based on the short story by author Shirley Jackson, his interpretation offers the audience an interesting twist—dancers draw from a black box on stage to find out which of them will “win” each time the piece is performed. No one knows who will take the spotlight and perform that final dance.
The costumes and scenic design by Sandra Woodall evoke a simple but powerful sense of Americana. Picket fences and benches. Suspenders and plain, button down sweaters. This could be “any town” U.S.A. many years ago.
As the piece unfolds, dancers pair up and present themselves to the audience in a series of dances that give the impression of the day unfolding gradually. The mood is initially light, but begins to shift as the black box starts to take the focus—and then the ritual begins.
Caniparoli creates suspense masterfully here. Each person comes up to take a piece of paper from the box. The tension is palpable as the audience waits to see who holds the “winning” piece. One by one dancers open their paper, blank ones fluttering to the floor like wounded butterflies.
Finally, the “chosen one” is revealed, and then is ostracized and circled, reminiscent of Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring. The delightful Katie Critchlow was the one selected Sunday afternoon, and she first cried out, and then began her dance.
Robert Moran’s music is somewhat less powerful than Stravinsky’s in Rite of Spring—less able to sustain the tension needed for a truly wrenching result, but Critchlow danced through a myriad of postures and complex emotions admirably.
Caniparoli’s choreography was solid throughout the piece, but the crafting of this powerful short story into dance is where he excels here. The Lottery is compelling because it taps into basic human themes of ritual and violence, displayed superbly by Ballet West—a dramatic ending to an engaging program.
by Jessica Wilson
Returning for its 24th edition, Resolution! at The Place is in the process of showcasing the work of 81 dance companies in nightly triple bills, in the biggest festival for new dance in the UK. Running from 8 January to 15 February, Resolution! is one of the best loved seasons for short new dance due to the sheer quantity and diversity of the pieces included over the 27 nights.
Emerging choreographers will have the chance to present their new productions, following in the footsteps of previous applicants such as the renowned choreographers Wayne McGregor, Hofesh Shechter, Kate Prince, and more recently James Wilton and James Cousins, Cousins being the winner of the inaugural New Adventures Choreographer Award. Cousins received in excess of £15,000 to create his own showcase, as well as being mentored by Matthew Bourne. This is just to name a few dance artists who have begun their choreographic careers during Resolution!
The festival, which was created in 1990 by The Place’s former Theatre Director John Ashford, is one of the main platforms in the UK facilitating the difficult transition from vocational dance training to the professional performance world. Supported by The Place’s professional team, Resolution! choreographers not only receive technical support, but are enrolled in a series of workshops designed to provide a comprehensive insight into all aspects of the profession, from lighting and design, to press, marketing and social media. In addition to this support of emerging artists, a further element is Resolution! Review, a scheme to support aspiring writers passionate about communicating dance. The scheme has paired these dance writers with six leading dance critics who mentor them throughout the season, contributing valuable experience to the writers’ undeterred enthusiasm. Each work included in Resolution! is reviewed by both a professional and an aspiring writer, and then posted on The Place’s website.
The works shown so far throughout the Resolution! run have been eclectic, inspiring, reaffirming and decisive, with emerging choreographers paving their way through the sector and making their own mark in the arts world. To see so much up-and-coming work is incredibly inspiring, with the view that today’s dance scene has much to offer, and is continuing to evolve as it adapts to new and rejects old, whilst steadying itself against rooted principals. With choreographers ranging from independent dance artists, to recent graduates, to professional dancers and back again, it is any wonder that the forefront of dance today looks fresh and varied, ready to cater for the audiences who gather with the potential to view the next big thing in dance.
Assistant Editor Jessica Wilson is a final year student at Middlesex university in London, studying Dance Performance. She is also a Marketing and Communications Assistant at the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD).
Jessica reviews London shows for the Society of London Theatre’s initiative for 16-25 year olds, TheatreFix, writes features for A Younger Theatre and blogs for Cloud Dance Festival, with additional press responsibilities. She has completed many marketing internships, the most recent at English National Ballet.
Jessica has also previously interned for SOLT, East London Dance and the ISTD dance examination board. Jessica is a National Youth Dance Ambassador for Youth Dance England, focusing on young people’s access to dance. She is extremely passionate about opportunities for young people enabling them to succeed and hopes to continue advocating this in the future through a variety of means.
Jessica writes about dance for 4dancers, contributes to the “Dance in the UK” section, assists with interviews and handles a variety of social media duties for the site.
The opinions expressed here are Jessica’s alone and do not reflect the opinions of RAD.0
by Gigi Berardi
In May, Seattle experienced a major dance event with 53 performers on stage and Olivier Wevers producing his best work ever – Whim W’him’s Approaching Ecstasy. The 86-minutes of music was composed by Eric Banks in a Paris attic, and the poems sung a capella (again, for 86 minutes, in English and in Greek) by his 40+ member Esoterics, some of whom danced on stage as well. Banks wrote the music to 18 sensuous poems by the 19th century Greek poet Constantine Cavafy (the audience is treated to just 18 of the hundreds of superb poems Cavafy wrote). It took the composer, choreographer, and other members of the production team four years to get all those artists on stage – well worth the wait for such a memorable performance.
The astounding concert featured the haunting music of Banks and vocal performance by his Esoterics, Seattle masters of contemporary a cappella. The choral setting that Banks provided for Cavafy’s erotic poems was, quite literally, a masterpiece – 18 vignettes, with Wevers’ 18 pieces of choreography – a rightful homage to the closeted gay poet. Every detail of the performance paid tribute to this 19th century quiet man-hero, who lived his life in an office, in a business suit (similar to the one the 53 performers wear on stage). The eerie scenic design, the underplayed overhead lighting, the gut wrenching music expertly played by the St Helens String Quartet (led by the magnificent Michael Jinsoo Lim) – all were utterly remarkable. At the premiere, the music and chorus were beautifully amped and the dance was understated, striking.
Wonder how this will play in Europe.
For dancer Lucien Postlewaite, this was his last performance for Whim W’him (and husband Olivier Wevers) as a Seattleite (he joins Les Ballets de Monte Carlo in August). Their professional and love relationship is so strong, it is clear it will thrive, even as a multicontinental one (see my articles in February and July (forthcoming) issues of Dance Magazine. For now, Wevers focuses on his major upcoming gig at the Joyce, and commissions worldwide – while young Lucien is Europe-bound.
For more on Whim W’him’s niche in the world of Seattle dance, see http://www.dancemagazine.com/reviews/January-2011/Whim-WHim and http://www.dancemagazine.com/issues/January-2011/Seattle-Takes-Off).
Gigi Berardi holds a MA in dance from UCLA. Her academic background and performing experience allow her to combine her interests in the natural and social sciences with her passion for dance, as both critic and writer. Over 150 articles and reviews by Ms. Berardi have appeared in Dance Magazine, Dance International, the Los Angeles Times, the Anchorage Daily News, The Olympian, The Bellingham Herald, and scientific journals such as BioScience, Human Organization, and Ethics, Place, and Environment. Her total work numbers over 400 print and media pieces. Her public radio features (for KSKA, Anchorage) have been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Dance Critics Association, and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, as well as Book Review editor for The Journal of Dance Medicine & Science. A professor at Western Washington University, she received the university’s Diversity Achievement Award in 2004. Her fifth book, Finding Balance: Fitness and Training for a Lifetime in Dance, is in its second printing. Her current book project is titled A Cultivated Life.0
by Catherine L. Tully
After a strong spring program, expectations ran high for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Summer Series at the Harris Theater. The line-up features three pieces—an unusual collection of choreography that takes the audience on a journey that they are certain to remember for a long time to come.
Choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo, “Malditos” was originally a collaborative effort between Hubbard Street and Nederlands Dans Theater. Set to music from the film, The Beat My Heart Skipped (composed by Alexandre Desplat), one of the most striking features of this piece is the lighting design by Tom Visser. At times it barely illuminates the dancers—the visual equivalent of a whisper, making the viewer almost lean forward in their seat to watch the movement. Indeed, nothing about Cerrudo’s choreography shouts; it’s not showy even when it’s infused with energy. Instead it melts and dissolves through space, much like the dancers that come and go seemingly out of nowhere from the back of the stage.
Featured next is William Forsythe’s “Quintett” – and Hubbard Street has the honor of being the first American company to perform this work, first created in 1993. Set to U.K. composer Gavin Bryars’ composition “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”, it opens with five dancers, a stark white set–and a palpable feeling of discomfort.
In an unapologetic fashion, the audience is quickly pulled into this private, intimate setting. Dancers offer brief moments of tenderness, surrounded by explosive, sometimes unsettling sequences of movement. “Quintett” isn’t a passive piece where the audience gazes upon the dancers as they entertain. In fact, giving in to the uncomfortable feelings generated by the droning loop of the soundtrack and the unexpected movement patterns is almost a requirement if any sense of connection is to be found within the piece. This acceptance doesn’t come easily, but with it “Quintett” begins to transform, rewarding the viewer for the struggle.
“THREE TO MAX” is the final piece, originally created for Hubbard Street as a collage of Ohad Naharin’s works over the last decade. From the sensual hip circles seven women perform from a seated position on the floor to the “snapshot” movements that pulse out from a counted vocal rhythm, this is a piece that truly lets the company shine. Jeans, t-shirts and tank tops outfit the dancers in simplicity as they perform movements that range from clock-like ticking of the limbs (complete with vocals) to arabesques with arms that float skyward like a long swath of ribbon suspended in the air.
Although the collection of his works here are each quite different they are blended together well, and selecting “THREE TO MAX” as the final piece is a fitting end to a wonderfully executed program. Chicago should be proud—there’s nothing quite like Hubbard Street—and this is a program to prove it.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is at the Harris Theater through June 3rd, which will also be Robyn Mineko Williams’ final performance after 12 years with the company.1