Archive for November, 2017

So You Think You Can Dance 2017 at the Fifth Avenue Theater in Seattle

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

So You Think You Can Dance? is gut partnering at its highest level of trust.

It was several years ago that I began watching the reality show. I must admit from the title, and the little I knew about it, I hadn’t been interested. There just didn’t seem to be very much for me in the series. However, that July, several years ago, at a family reunion in coastal North Carolina, I was hooked. I was astounded by the level of dance (and of course, I was watching the final shows leading up to the finale, wherein the dancers are giving it their all). Where had these dancers been hiding? Further, I was ashamed not having heard of these choreographers. Where had I been hiding (in the opera house)? The performance level of both dancers and dance was, well, sickSo You Think You Can Dance? Doesn’t always get it right (the highly competitive prepubescent dancer season did little for me, actually zero), but when it does, it really does.

The reality-show piece aside – the glossy backstories, the competitive cash prize, the voting, the judges – this is a program that elevates all kinds of dance. This is achieved primarily through the work of the top choreographers of all genres selected to set pieces, the production elements (costumes, lights, make-up, scenic design) that enhance the dance, the exceptional dancers. The dancers develop as artists, actors (in fact, one part of the top prize is often a spot in a Broadway show). To me, this all is a magnificent synergy to often (not always) create an unparalleled viewer experience. Especially, when viewed live. On November 26, 2017, I had the happy opportunity to do just that.

I was not alone. The Fifth Avenue Theater was packed with loyal fans – each entrance of each dancer resulted in riotous, delirious screams. Obviously these people in the audience had TV-lived with the 10+ dancers on their long journey to this tour.

That night, the soulful Logan Hernandez entered first, one of my favorites. A lanky I-can-do-anything technique-wise dancer, he was everyone’s season favorite. Lex Ishimoto, however, was the season “winner.” He seemed like a taller Logan, who had developed style, and learned to deliver charisma and emotive performances more and more as the weeks progressed. Both Logan and Lex had technique and control, they could pretty much do any aerial trick tossed at them. The most astounding moment for me in the past season, tricks-wise, was Lex performing a triple tour and landing on a dime, softly, beautifully turned-out.

Kiki Nyemchek, a multi-talented ballroom dancer, performed a jazzy season favorite with past-season superstar Jasmine Harper. Dassy Lee dazzled with her brilliantly suave moves, as well as her animation. Lex and second-runner-up and real-life partner Taylor Sieve delivered a consummate articulation, to be interrupted by gumby Logan with the smoothest of adagios. Past superstar Marko Germar and first runner-up Koine Iwasaki performed a gorgeous animalistic dance. Logan turned with his back leg flexed and foot held high at his face. Taylor leaped into Lex’s arms in a second position second position, legs split wide, seemingly forever.

There’s more. Arabesque held in a handstand. A dozen pirouettes a pop. The maniac Logan leaping onto his hands. Barrel turns with Lex’s head touching his feet. Splits in every possible direction, 270 degrees, more.

SYTYCD features displays of flexibility and strength, abdominal control to the max, a load of emotion that creates an intimacy, among the dancers, that is almost too personal to watch. These dancers are young (half the dancers were teens). To survive the grueling schedule, their training begins with the “Academy,” when, in the competition, over a 100 dancers are dwindled down to 20, then 10.

The choreographers are the stars. Christopher Scott, Mandy Moore, Luther Brown, Spencer Liff Travis Wall, Val Chmerkovskiy, Sean Cheesman, Tyce Diorio, Warren Carlyle, Dmitri Chaplin, Ray Leeper, Stacey Tookey, more. Perhaps the show will be renewed for a Season 15 is underway. If so, then the dancers have auditioned, and now they are competing at the “Academy” for top spots on the show. This is a young sport for young dancers, they could not survive the injuries and stress if this wasn’t true. I can only imagine.

Ballet in Cuba

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

Alicia Alonso’s Ballet Nacional de Cuba in performance is one of the must-sees in any Havana tour. I attended a conference in Cuba in November, which allowed me to see not only her company at the magnificent Gran Teatro de La Habana, but also that of Roberto Chorens and her daughter Laura’s Ballet “Laura Alonso,” in conjunction with Teatro Lirico Nacional de Cuba in the Teatro Nacional.

The Teatro Lirico Nacional de Cuba & Ballet “Laura Alonso” offered a mixed program on November 19, 2017. Particularly stunning was the Romeo and Juliet of Ivan M. Alonso — with Niria Elena Alvarez and Vladimir Piedra in astounding balances, striking ballon which means striking cabrioles, and showing a flexibility that resulted in breathtaking arabesques. The dancers were beautifully on point, playing with the tempi in the slow movements, or whipping through the fast in Giselle (choreographed after Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli), in this mixed program. The ballet showcased the strength, balance, and speed, much less litheness, of leads Patricia Hernandez and Luis A Nunez.

Five days later, on November 23, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba performed at the Gran Teatro. The program consisted of the grand pas from Le Bayadere featuring Ariel Martinez and newcomer Barbara Fabelo, the world premiere of Ely Regina Hernandez’ Anyali danced by Annette Delgado, Dario Hernandez, and Adrian Sanchez, and Alicia Alonso’s La Fille Mal Gardée with Chanell Cabrera, Yankiel Vazquez, and Narciso Medina.

In all three pieces, the dancers flaunted their fast, articulate style, making the dance all the more striking. Earlier that morning, I had seen Le Bayadere and La Fille Mal Gardée in rehearsal. In that rehearsal, Felix Rodriguez, one of the ballet masters and a first principal character dancer, put the dancers through their paces. The rehearsal was long, but the dancers seemed to maintain their stamina throughout. The same was true for company class, which I also was fortunate to watch. Identifying many of the same dancers in the performances that evening was exciting and gratifying.

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Felix Rodriguez and Alicia Alonso Source: Company photo

Anyali, however, was the surprise of the evening. The piece featured the eerie music of Ezio Bossso and carried a black and white motif in the costumes and lighting. It featured a stark theme in the movement itself. “Anyali” is both a name and a politicized word and Annette Delgado brought life to both meanings, dancing with the highest confidence and grace.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Her-Story

Sunday, November 5th, 2017

November typically brings a mixed bill for the Pacific Northwest Ballet. It is also when the dancers graciously donate their salary from the opening night performance to Second Stage, PNB’s career transition support program for the company. The previous year, the mixed program featured Twyla Tharp’s Brief Fling, performed to live music, Jiri Kylian’s haunting Forgotten Land, inspired by the artwork of Edward Munch and first performed by the Stuttgart Ballet, and Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto, featuring the masterful violin of concertmaster Michael Jinsoo Lin and previously not seen in PNB’s programs since 2001.

This is a tough act to follow, but the 2017 program successfully met the challenge by featuring Jessica Lang’s Her Door to the Sky, Twyla Tharp’s Afternoon Ball, and Crystal Pite’s Plot Point. The Lang and Pite works were particularly enthralling.

In Her Door to the Sky, Lang created a Georgia O’Keefe landscape for her dancers. The costumes were hand-dyed works of art, the colors reminiscent of the Southwest. This clever piece features dancers ebullient — gay, country dancers, bursting out of a series of windows (the frames were part of the scenic design). In one performance, Elizabeth Murphy (unstoppable in her maximum-turnout attitude tours) was the siren in the window, in another, it was Sarah Ricard Orza, simply gorgeous as she reclined in one of the window frames. Together, the dancers helped paint the very English music of Benjamin Britten – they danced as if they were on top of it, mirroring the form and lightness of the music. The dancers were guided by a series of different colors of lighting – white, turquoise, a bluish purple, as well as the swelling music – especially at the end, when a showering of lifts, almost percolating up through the atmosphere, and quick dancing dominated the stage. Rarely does a piece come together so beautifully.

In Afternoon Ball, Leta Biasucci is the one to watch. She digs into every move. She rarely anticipates or announces her dance. Rather, she makes the dance look exceptionally fresh. Ezra Thomson also was compelling to watch, one of the most impressive performances I have seen from him. Opening night, it was Benjamin Griffiths and Angelica Generosa who stole the show. Pacific Northwest Ballet's HER STORY at McCaw Hall November 3-12, 2017

Pite’s Plot Point, billed as a study in storyboard, is set in mysterious montages that tell a story of false friendships, illicit affairs, and criminal mal-doings, set against Bernard Herrmann’s impressive score from Psycho, with additional and powerfully effective design by Owen Belton. Shout out to scenic designer Jay Gower Taylor, costume designer Nancy Bryant, and lighting designer Alan Brodie for the stark, intriguing production elements. The piece literally consists of plot points – a man struggles with some thugs, guests celebrate a birthday party, someone hands off a briefcase to another, the Psycho bathroom scene is evoked – watched carefully and even mimicked by a set of alter-egos. Those alter-egos represent some of the thought processes of the key players – what they thought they would do, what they should have done, what consequences they need to live with.

The music is haunting, the solos are beautiful, the intricate staging by Sandra Marin Garcia is literally picture-perfect. Brava for this exceptional, stylized piece, Crystal Pite!

Photo Credit: © Lindsay Thomas