Reality Dance, Theatrical Dance

September 15th, 2013

I freely admit I have very wide-ranging tastes in dance. To me, spring and summer dance has been beguiling.

So You Think You Can Dance? I was hooked – from the auditions in Vegas to the theatrical finales. I’m still outraged about the elimination of Malice early on – not an America’s favorite, but arguably one of the most technical. In this competition, there were classically trained ballerinas and guys, performing anything that was thrown at them. I would love to see the same on my own turf – Seattle. And, by and large, I did this past season.

I’m starting with PNB. Memorable moments: Lindsi Dec’s gorgeous line and mighty control of it, Jerome Tisserand’s soft, soft landings in fifth, a frisky, high-jumping Elizabeth Murphy,  the humble, dynamic corps dancer Leta Biasucci, and fragile-looking but resilient principals – a bold Rachel Foster was spectacular. I have “fabulous” written in my notes for:  Brittany Reid (quick), Jonathan Porretta (demonic), Maria Chapman (strong), Bold (relaxed but deliberate), Carla Korbes (enchanting).

PNB dancers in rehearsal, available at http://www.pnb.org/AboutPNB/dancers.jpg

PNB dancers in rehearsal, available at http://www.pnb.org/AboutPNB/dancers.jpg

And, of course, there were great, great choreographers, too – Christopher Wheeldon for one. His Carousel was gorgeous. Jean Christophe Maillot ‘s Romeo And Juliet, for two.  Lucien Postlewaite and Noelani Pantastico – PNB alums that are now in Monaco – were crazy good. Much has changed since they danced the choreography for the first time in Seattle. Now, caught in Maillot’s coaching web, their accented moves, the feeling in their stretches, make them crazy good.

Olivier Wevers and Whim W’him

September 15th, 2013
Olivier Wevers at https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQp3By-Q0ZSR5FdTtEauqQuIsxJ_26qgLcsNpu7SeQML7cotOle

Olivier Wevers at https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQp3By-Q0ZSR5FdTtEauqQuIsxJ_26qgLcsNpu7SeQML7cotOle

In May, Whim W’him presented new works by artistic director Olivier Wevers and PNB’s Andrew Bartee, the Seattle premiere of L’Effleure by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, and a showing of Wevers’ Fragments, originally created for Spectrum Dance.

Bartee’s flair for choreography is easily seen in his This is Real. Set in a recording studio, the dance features frenzied movement, then snakelike phrases, then resolution among the three dancers: Mia Monteabaro, Tory Peil, and Sergey Kheylik. Likewise, Wever’s award-winning Fragments was a huge success – melodrama, parody, social critique, energetic, rhythmic (with the same highs and lows of the background arias themselves). It’s funny, it’s demanding — Lara Seefeldt and Jesse Sani  were striking.

Choreographer-dancer Bartee performed a luscious solo, Lopez Ochoa’s, L’Effleuré. Just standing in da Vinci’s anatomical pose, hands bloodied with red roses, was as powerful as his compact dancing – head bowed, body erect.

However, it’s in Wevers’ premiere of I Don’t Remember A Spark, that the dancers show their skill and credibility as an ensemble. Dancing to voice-overs on the choreographic process provided by Wevers himself, the group almost breathes the movement. Says Wevers: Choreography is a “discipline, a point of view, a language” and  “you want to embrace what [the dancers’] limitations are” to spark something in both creator and those dancing. Clear and smooth and articulate –the dancers bear witness to Wever’s prose – “creating is like breathing, it just happens.”

Li Chiao Ping in Vancouver

September 15th, 2013

Last month, Dance Critics Association/World Dance Alliance-America combined to offer conference meetings and performances at the beautiful Scotiabank Dance Centre in Vancouver. I participated as a panel moderator, with PNB’s Doug Fullington, looking at what gets produced and presented, and why. What goes into decisions about company programming? Considerations that are perhaps not so obvious to us critics and viewers?

One of the highlights of the meetings was Li Chiao-Ping’s “Riot of Spring.” The piece embodied the WDA theme “Evolve + Involve,” while also celebrating the 100 year anniversary of Stravinsky’s idiosyncratic score.

In rehearsal in Vancouver

In rehearsal in Vancouver

I caught the group in rehearsal August 2. The movement was strong and focused, as the music demands. The narrative, striking. Predictably, Li’s work is a complicated study in rhythm, power, and grace. “Riot of Spring” is but one of many memorable pieces choreographed since she emerged as a Dance Magazine “25 to Watch” barely a decade ago.

Making History: Approaching Ecstasy, concert wonder

May 25th, 2012

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 (http://dancemagazine.com/issues/February-2012/Putting-a-ring-on-it) 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.

Ecstasy. It was indeed provided by dancers Jim Kent, Tory Peil, Shane Ohmer, Lucien Postlewaite, Andrew Bartee, Chalnessa Eames, and Kaori Nakamura (who, herself, plays the ephemeral ecstatic state). Kudos to these daring dancers and their inspired choreographer. Anastasia Armes costumed the huge stage ensemble, Jeff Forbes created the 19th-century feel and singular ambience, and Casey Curran set the stage for a shocking piece that deserves a five-year run in some theater, in some lucky city, in some welcoming country.

For more on Seattle dance, see http://www.dancemagazine.com/reviews/January-2011/Whim-WHim and http://www.dancemagazine.com/issues/January-2011/Seattle-Takes-Off).

A shorter version of this review appears at http://www.4dancers.org/
olivier

Seattle’s PNB: Where dance science and dance aesthetics meet

April 10th, 2012

Don Quixote represents the impossible dream in a number of ways — in classical ballet, it carries the most demanding of roles for the endless tricks and the merciless stamina demands (especially with big jumps, hopping on pointe, and the wickedly fast speed requirements). Buried in the pyrotechnics, though, is the most lovely of moves. See bold below (excerpts from Don Quixote review and feature, Dance International, forthcoming).

The technical proficiency of the casts made the entire performance very easy to watch each time – the acting made it positively enjoyable. The returning Kitris (Imler and Nakamura had performed the role 11 years ago in an earlier production at PNB) indeed made a big splash. Carrie Imler appeared absolutely vital on stage, smoothly accomplishing the signature Kitri move – a grand jeté with back leg bending to reach the head. Put a tutu on Imler (as in Act III) and she channels 19th century classical ballet with ease…….

Leads Kaori Nakamura and Lucien Postlewaite offered a partnership of impeccable timing and skill. Nakamura performed something rare to see in ballet, the “floating illusion — a grand jeté with the dancer appearing to move in a horizontal direction, due to the timely positioning of her arms. For Nakamura and Postlewaite, their overhead one-arm lifts together looked effortless, Nakamura daringly removed both hands, suspending precariously in mid air on the arm of Postlewaite – Nakamura then waved her fan as if to taunt the astonished audience.

See Finding Balance: Fitness and Training for a Lifetime in Dance, Ch. 3, for more.

PNB’s New Works — and a dancer’s test of endurance

April 10th, 2012

A Million Kisses to my Skin (David Dawson), Cylindrical Shadows (Annabelle Lopez Ochoa), and Mating Theory (Victor Quijada) showcased Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers extraordinaire in the March program in Seattle. Virtually all lead dancers were featured in this program with big (and much) dancing. The dancers’ remarkable development showed.

Dawson’s piece is pure delight — a retrospective of and perspective on every piece of dance vocabulary he knows. The choreography is acclaimed as “expansive.” Right. It is all about (expansive) arms. When querying the choreographer during the intermission, he claimed that, in his pieces, the dancers’ arms give out way before any stamina or endurance threat to another body part. The arms are huge, and never ending. Dawson’s work is a choice endurance test — just this side of circus…and all the more palatable because of its bold, spectacle quality.

Ochoa’s pice about disturbance and survival, about finding one’s position in a mêlée of cultural crash and burn is utterly thrilling — as performed by Olivier Wever’s Whim W’him, and now, PNB….Quijada’s new work is the rule of clean, cool, and hip — and a pleasure to watch.

Cast the First Rock

April 10th, 2012

Yet another three new dance creations from Whim W’him’s Olivier Wevers this past January at Seattle’s Intiman Theater (the company is in residence there) — extraordinary, memorable, provocative work.

What does this groundbreaking choreographer offer?

Haunting music, images of the brave and the broken, wild women and ritualistic or stylized violence. ThrOwn is plain chilling — with all the atmospheric costume/set/lighting design and the extreme dancing, Wevers offers a tribal call and response. In La Langue de l’Amour, Chalnessa Eames is playful, versatile, naughty — Wevers’ gumby doll who can do anything. In Flower Festival, the masterful Andrew Bartee and Lucien Postlewaite (LP, sadly, is Les Ballets de Monte Carlo-bound) dance a contemporary striptease to Edvard Helsted’s classical fare with big imagination and the inventive intent to match. Bravo, to Mr. Wevers and his bold dancers!

So You Think You Can Dance

August 8th, 2011

So You Think You Can Dance?

Choreograph, Too?

Each week I watch So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD), sometimes with morbid fascination – how can these dancers keep on going without getting injured? What clever things are the judges going to say? How emotional can this show get? Especially in the play-offs each week?

One thing is for sure, the show is highlighting choreography and choreographers. I remember a piece I wrote in 1988 for the LA Reader, “The Oscar that Hollywood Forgot” – a piece on the short-lived Oscar for choreography (in the 1930s). It was awarded for only three years.  Then, the Oscar category disappeared. Now, the Oscar had been traded for an Emmy – and choreographers like Tabitha and Napoleon D’Umo, Sonya Tayeh, Travis Wall, Mandy Moore, are rising to the top, along with their dancers.

This season, I followed the show closely. I am fascinated with how it’s catapulted into fame some of these choreographers (and dancers).  Bravo! Each week is full of both life lessons and tips. If you watch very closely.

Catching Up

August 8th, 2011

Goodbye: Season Encore Performance
Pacific Northwest Ballet

Hello: Career transitions

PNB’s June encore program this year was particularly bittersweet – with seven stellar dancers leaving the company — most transitioning to different careers in dance, as I reported in Dance Magazine (June and July issues). So many lovely dances, including Kylian’s Petite Mort with Chalnessa Eames, Ariana Lallone and others. Departing dancers, in particular, showed the focus and strength demanded by Kylian’s wildly clever piece. Stacy Lowenberg’s Rushed Goodbye (a duet with Karel Cruz) was lovely and lyrical, and Jeffery Stanton and Lesley Rausch heated up the house in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. Eames was her stunning, lucid and fluid self in Nine Sinatra Songs (danced with Jerome Tisserand), Jeffrey Stanton an utterly romantic partner to Carla Korbes in Who Cares? Stanton and Lallone were particularly honored for their long years of service at PNB with a file montage of their lives. They returned the favor of recognition by dancing in their signature pieces – Stanton in his solo in Silver Lining and Lallone sweeping the stage with Lambarena. Longtime PNB principal Olivier Wevers was acknowledged with Andree Bartee and Lucien Postlewaite dancing in his widely-acclaimed Monster. What more can I say? Encore! Please. Wevers obliged with sold-out performances of Whim W’Him’s June program. With gorgeous performers, a willing theater, and Wever’s trademark wit and honesty, his new company is here in Seattle to stay.

“Interesting” Dancers

May 29th, 2011

Interesting dancers
Common wisdom/practice among arts critics is to avoid the adjective “interesting” – probably because it is so vague and ambiguous. Meaning everything, it means nothing.
Maybe.
I think if we take it to mean “singularly worth watching,” “a different sort of dancer worth watching,” or “a dancer you have to watch”…meaning, your attention is immediately drawn to that dancer (in fact, a dancer “drawing you in” is precisely what one wants to have happen on stage), then the word actually has meaning.
In Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Midsummer Night’s Dream run, quite a few dancers earned such an accolade and some of the most notable characters were:

Titania
Kylee Kitchens (ethereal, waiflike, eerie, mesmerizing)
Lesley Rausch (ebullient, lithe, single-minded, gracious, beautiful timing)
Carla Korbes (passionate yet wild, joyous, playful)
Puck
Jonathan Porretta’s Puck was so electrifying he looked like he was channeling – quirky but esoteric, lightening fast and so exaggerated that he really did seem other-worldly
Oberon
Interpretations widely varied – from Lucien Postlewaite’s noble, dignified Oberon to Benjamin Griffith’s controlled, technical rendering
Hippolyta
Here, we were treated to Brittany Reid’s dizzying, majestic turns (she’s one crazy turner), Carrie Imler’s utter confidence and seamless, exciting jumps, Ariana Lallone’s authoritative, precise, gracious queen.

This is a handsome, grand production, threatening to overpower the dancers in grandeur (scenery) and cuteness (small children as bugs), but the dancing steals the show really, as does the powerful music, Mendelssohn’s music (a particular challenge for the violins, but admirable met) was glorious.

In other characterizations, most interesting were Chalnessa Eames’ bright but delicate Butterfly, Jeffrey Stanton and Maria Chapman’s emotional Demetrius and Helena, Stacy Lowenberg’s dreamy Helena, Barry Karolis’s attentive Bottom, and Coryphe Jessika Anspach in anything (what a delightful, affable dancer). Lastly, truly remarkable was Olivier Wevers and Kaori Nakamura in the Act II Divertissement (one they have danced together often) — a lovely, lyrical, expansive dance; these two dance comfortably together, with much nuance, tenderness, and awareness. Sadly, Wevers retires from PNB this season (as does Stanton, Lallone, Eames, Lowenberg, Karolis, and Stanko Milov and Josh Spell). Most, however, are moving on to great and exciting projects – happily, many in Seattle.