Reviews

CD Review: JoDe Romano Presents Spanish Classical Piano And Castanets

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by Emily Kate Long

JoDe Romano is a teacher and choreographer of Spanish dance currently working in New York City. Here she is joined by pianist Felix Ventouras for a selection of ten pieces by George Bizet, Isaac Albeniz, Manuel De Falla, and others.

Both Romano and Ventouras perform with great joy and brio, and a precision that sounds clean but never constrained. There’s a spirit of excitement from beginning to end that makes the CD a pleasure to listen to, even though there are works here from Spanish, Cuban, and French composers. Some of the music, like Albeniz’s sensual “Cordoba,” was originally written for piano, but most are opera dances: De Falla’s La Vida Breve, Bizet’s Carmen, and Geronimo Gimenez’s rhythmically playful El Baile de Luis Alonso. The latter is part of the opera sub-genre of Zarzuelas, traditional Spanish operas, several of which JoDe Romano has herself choreographed at Thalia Hispanic Theater in Queens.

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 12.38.51 PMMuch of this music (like Emanuel Lecuona’s “Andalucia” and Pascual Marquina’s famous pasodoble) is instantly recognizable, and Romano and Ventouras overdo nothing. The piano and castanets are animated and expressive enough in the hands of these two skilled artists. Carmen has more mystery and allure in this arrangement than in many orchestrations I’ve heard. Joaquin Turina’s saucy Sacro-Monte is also a delight.

This is the only CD collaboration between Romano and Ventouras. It’s intended as dance accompaniment, but is worth listening to on its own.

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DVD Review: La Bayadere – The Bolshoi Ballet

blu_bay_bolby Emily Kate Long

The impressive sets and exquisite costumes for Yuri Grigorovich’s staging of La Bayadere primed me to be blown away by the whole production. It’s superbly danced, but some just-missed dramatic moments left me wanting more at the final curtain.

In scale and technical execution, the ballet is outstanding, as should be expected from one of the world’s top companies. Parades of dancers with scarves, fans, drums, birds, and water jugs fill the first two acts in strings of divertissements celebrating the engagement of Gamzatti (Maria Alexandrova) and Solor (Vladislav Lantratov). When the High Brahmin reveals Solor’s involvement with Nikiya, a temple dancer (Svetlana Zakharova), Gamzatti vows to seek revenge. After Nikiya’s death by snakebite, Solor falls into an opium dream in which Nikiya is multiplied by thirty-five shadows. His guilt and despair remain unresolved as the curtain closes on the third act.

Few companies display character dances as energetic as the Bolshoi, and those in Bayadere are no exception. The drum dance is a highlight of the Act 2 variations. The dances for the bridal attendants look crisp and fresh. Soloists in all three acts excel dancing to tempi that bit excitingly at their heels.

As Gamzatti, Alexandrova commands the palace scenes. She’s a haughty woman, fully in control of her body, her kingdom, and her future. Her rage toward Nikiya is unsettling, lending suspense to her forced composure as the Bayadere dances. Lantratov’s Solor seems youthful in comparison to her power.

Zakharova’s extreme flexibility is hypnotizing, but her Nikiya is frequently unreadable. She really opens up in a solo in Act 2, dancing a plea to the gods accompanied by a lone cello. Her prayer is in vain; after an inconvenient dance with a basket of flowers, a snake hidden inside the basket bites her fatally. In this version, Gamzatti is never implicated. Who would dare accuse Alexandrova?

After the extravagance of the first two acts, I looked forward to the simplicity of the Kingdom of the Shades. The Shades’ entrance—32 white tutus , one arabesque after another, snaking down a three-tiered ramp to assemble in a wispy, reverent block—is worth the wait. There’s nothing flat or tedious here, just a dreamy treat for the eyes and ears.

The highlight for Zakharova and Lantratov’s chemistry is her scarf solo in Act 3. It says as much about Solor as Nikiya; her sensitive footwork and phrasing make her no more or less than an extension of the opium smoke that brought about his delirium. I wanted that connection to continue through the end. The rest of the dance-mime in the act is beautifully musical but lacks candor.

If the purpose of remounting the classics is to transport the viewer to the past, the Bolshoi’s production does so. This performance is expertly danced, though it raises few questions about the principal characters.

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Book Review: Anna Pavlova Twentieth Century Ballerina

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Anna Pavlova Twentieth Century Ballerina, Jane Pritchard with Caroline Hamilton, Published by Booth-Clibborn Editions

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by Emily Kate Long

Originally published in 2012 to mark the centenary of Pavlova’s move to Ivy House in London, Anna Pavlova Twentieth Century Ballerina* was expanded and revised in 2013. The latest edition is a beautifully arranged coffee-table book with over 150 images of Pavlova in performance and offstage.

Screen shot 2014-06-16 at 12.16.19 PMThe book focuses mostly on Pavlova’s career outside Russia. As a career history, the book is exhaustive in detail, with chapters covering Pavlova’s arrival in Europe, her acquisition of Ivy House, the formation of her own company, and her international tours. The final pages contain an index of Pavlova’s performances in Britain from 1910 to 1930.

Authors Jane Pritchard and Caroline Hamilton emphasize Pavlova’s role as a pioneer of dance in Britain and abroad in a way that was complementary to but very different from the role of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The latter presented impactful, avant-garde, cross-disciplinary performances. Pavlova’s influence, the authors argue, was hard-won and widespread and reached straight into the hearts of her audiences the world over. By venturing to cities and venues where ballet had never been seen, and by assembling shorter, divertissement-centered or variety programs, Pavlova the businesswoman made classical dance accessible to the public. By making herself and her dances accessible, she became an enduring cultural icon.

Anna Pavlova Twentieth Century Ballerina does not read like a biography. There’s only a brief paragraph on the inside jacket to introduce the text. It’s the images that speak most. Posed and candid offstage shots of Pavlova capture her elegance and mystery. Performance photographs give the reader glimpses of the Pavlova ballet-goers fell in love with. Programs, posters, and advertisements illustrate her star power.

Jane Pritchard is the curator of dance for London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Together she and freelance costume historian Caroline Hamilton paint a thorough picture of Pavlova’s career and legacy as a legendary artist and an incomparable, inimitable woman of the world.

*Royalties from the sale of the book will go towards the student scholarship program at The Royal Ballet School in London.
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Modern Ballet Studio Melodies Volume 5 and Modern Ballet Studio Melodies: Original Compositions

Unknownby Emily Kate Long

Today I’m excited to share two new class CDs from UK pianist Christopher Hobson: Modern Ballet Studio Melodies, Volume 5 and Modern Ballet Studio Melodies Original Compositions. Each features 32 non-repeating tracks of crisply recorded solo piano music.

I’ve reviewed Modern Ballet Studio Melodies, Volume 4 on 4dancers, and Volume 5 does not disappoint. Hobson’s latest has some instantly recognizable favorites like “Hit the Road Jack” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” along with some more obscure tunes. The music is familiar but the tunes aren’t intrusive or distracting. One of my favorites is his Debussy-esque treatment of Irving Berlin’s “Always” for plies.

Original Compositions has all the fun, flair, and flavor of Hobson’s popular tune albums. The music here has a nice balance of peppy numbers and more gentle, lyrical pieces, all simply and gracefully played. The tempi are consistent, but within that frame the phrasing is very sensitive and playful. I know it will become a staple in my classroom of intermediate and advanced students.

As with the first four Modern Ballet Studio Melodies CDs, these two feature more adagio music than on most ballet class albums. The allegro tracks have a pleasing range of speed and length, and both discs conclude with a cool-down and reverence.

These two collections are available on iTunes and on Christopher Hobson’s website, balletpiano.co.uk.

 

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All Is Possible: Hubbard Street’s Summer Series

Hubbard Street Dancers in The Impossible by Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, from left: Jessica Tong, Ana Lopez, Jonathan Fredrickson and Andrew Murdock. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Hubbard Street Dancers in The Impossible by Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo,
from left: Jessica Tong, Ana Lopez, Jonathan Fredrickson and Andrew Murdock. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

by Catherine L. Tully

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago brought together three impeccably danced pieces at the Harris Theater Thursday night–one of which was resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s world premiere, “The Impossible”.

Starting out with a dramatic puff of cigar smoke and a single red candle, the audience first meets devilish Johnny McMillan, who is a shadowy figure and a force of evil throughout. Later he will be joined by a strong cadre of five other men who command the stage and careen through steps with both power and precision.

In the interim, a stooped old couple dances with little verve but much tenderness, draping themselves over one another and moving ever so gingerly. Soon they are joined by a younger couple (earlier versions of themselves?) and all four then dance together, offering both a reminder of what has been lost over time and a spark of joy for what is still left of love.

Ana Lopez and Jonathan Fredrickson capture the very essence of old age without being too literal. The choreography has the other couple helping them dance, gently lifting arms and moving limbs. It’s at once ghostly, sweet and sorrowful.

Branimira Ivanova’s costume design is subtle with just a few pops of color, such as the red socks and suspenders for McMillan’s costume–the perfect hint of drama. And the music, although by a variety of different artists, comes together seamlessly to help solidify the overall vision.

Cerrudo’s ability to tug at the heartstrings while merely hinting at a wisp of a storyline is phenomenal. Many of his hallmarks are here–slow motion movement, a simple, yet theatrical set, and the intense lighting design by Michael Korsch–yet, he offers some new possibilities through this choreography. The only small flaw in this new work of his is that it didn’t last quite long enough to see them all through.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Gnawa by Nacho Duato. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Gnawa
by Nacho Duato. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

“Gnawa” opens the program with Nacho Duato’s stunningly musical choreography. Dancers place candles at the edge of the stage and move through the piece effortlessly, making a multitude of marvelous shapes as they go. The strength and control of the dancers is evident here as they make each movement appear completely natural–no matter how difficult. It’s easy to see that when Duato made this piece for them in 2005 he was intent on showcasing the abilities of the company. And showcase them it does.

Hubbard Street Dancers David Schultz, foreground, and Kevin J. Shannon in Quintett by William Forsythe. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Hubbard Street Dancers David Schultz, foreground, and Kevin J. Shannon in
Quintett by William Forsythe. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Forsythe’s “Quintett” puts forth both vitality and vulnerability as the dancers whirl through its tortuous choreography, set to composer Gavin Bryars’ composition “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”. Although this piece was only recently debuted by the company (2012), it is clear that it is well-suited to their skills. The sometimes graceful, other times erratic movements in the choreography are performed with aplomb by all five of the dancers–and this is by no means an easy task.

The stark set includes a projector which remains idle until the final minutes of the piece. It comes to life suddenly, throwing imagery against the white backdrop, but the focus is quickly torn away by the intensity of the lovely Ana Lopes who continues dancing with a sense of reckless abandon as the curtain lowers.

Hubbard Street performs at the Harris Theater through June 8th.

 

 

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