Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Bang Group's Nut/Cracked: Have a Slice of Fruitcake

The Bang Group performs Nut/Cracked. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.

David Parker and the Bang Group’s Nut/Cracked acts as a bulging stocking bursting with an array of holiday novelties. Some are zany gag gifts, which elicit a chuckle, while others briefly amuse before being set aside and forgotten. All are chock-full of heart, designed to make you smile and ignore about your holiday to-do list.

Forget the traditional Nutcracker. There’s no Clara, no narrative featuring a malevolent Rat King whose demise is caused by a tossed slipper, and no Grand Pas de Deux featuring virtuosic lifts, multiple pirouettes, and ceiling brushing jumps. There are, however, kids and Tchaikovsky's magnificent composition. Rendered here in jazz and classical iterations, Tchaikovsky’s score proves to be marvelously flexible, accommodating tap routines, hand jiving, swing dancing, and a whole host of noisy stomps, slaps, and shuffles.

Rhythm is of particular interest to Parker. Opening the show clad in black track pants, a white t-shirt, Santa hat, and shaving cream beard, Parker—who resembles a supersized baby with his large head, twinkling eyes, and round stomach—sings a festive drinking song while performing jazzy tap dancing. Joined by Jeff Kazin, the two embark on a convivial tap-off with Parker prevailing.

The program, which unfolds like a sweets sampler, contains almost two-dozen vignettes. Many take their inspiration from a prop like bubble wrap, sunglasses, or a long stemmed red rose; each possesses a comic slant. There's no methodology to their order beyond Parker's whimsy, save for a general halving of the music; the first ten or so pieces groove to big band and jazz versions of The Nutcracker while the last portion is performed to Tchaikovsky's standard score.

Flashlight delightfully pokes fun at ambitious ballerinas. To the crystalline tones of the Westminster Handbell Choir’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”, a pair of feet belonging to Dylan Baker, outfitted in pointe shoes, clumsily bourrées (a rapid drilling of feet into the floor) scrambling to catch up to his projected spotlight.

Tree—a wickedly brilliant take on the Nutcracker scene in which Herr Drosselmeyer conjures a Christmas tree to grow to impressive heights—begins with Aaron Mattocks laying prone, curled in the fetal position. As the music swells, a tiny Christmas tree appears by his side. Mattocks slowly erects the tree until it is atop his pelvis, then rises to a standing position on the tips of his toes, the tree held triumphantly aloft.

About halfway through the concert you realize why most of the audience is present. It’s not to see Parker suck down a solo noodle in a hilariously nifty interpretation of “Chinese Tea.” It’s to watch their adorable kids from Brooklyn Arts Exchange perform two numbers.  In their best interpretation of John Travolta, the grinning youngsters swivel their hips and jab the air with their finger to “Dance of the Reed Flutes” and “Russian Trepak” as their families fervently applaud.

After a while, certain jests go stale. In Snow, eleven cast members simulate dancing on an ice rink. They merrily whiz around, trace snow angels onto the stage, and perform small jump combinations straight from an academic ballet class in between plopping, falling, and sliding to the floor. The first time someone plunges, you laugh.  As it goes on (and on), the gimmick becomes distracting, and then incredibly annoying.

The Grand Pas de Deux, usually the pinnacle of the second act, reduces two men to continually sucking their own and each other’s thumbs, which obscures clever partnering and lifts.

While not every scenario goes down with the ease of perfectly spiked eggnog, The Bang Group's Nut/Cracked is a hunk of fruitcake you can look forward to once a year. Laden with nuttiness, its all-around sweetness makes up for the unappetizing bits. 

This review refers to the show seen on Friday, December 21st at New York Live Arts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Recap of NYC10's on November 28th at Dixon Place

Please follow the link below to see my recap for NYC10's encore performance. They were kind enough to invite me back for a second time.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Fleeting Warmth

Alvin Ailey performs Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16 during their residency at City Center. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

There's a reason why the lauded Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is the principal company of New York's City Center. It's because they make people smile. The company's greatest strength—winsome, athletic dancers—pleases audiences; these entertainers easily charm with larger-than-life performances.

Striving to showcase his dancers' colossal energy and versatility, recently appointed artistic director Robert Battle selects multifaceted pieces, but encourages safe, easily digestible performances that lack shading and subtlety. 

Opening with Paul Taylor's minor masterpiece Arden Court, the company demonstrates their fine physicality, making short work of Taylor's demanding academic choreography. Replete with modern dance staples like loping runs, stag leaps, and sustained leg extensions that hover, unmoving, for long seconds, Arden Court—belied by its flower dappled costumes and background ornamented by a rose-colored bloom—requires technical feats of mastery. Each movement must be perfectly calibrated, lest a rogue wiggle disturb the overall picture. The dancers—particularly the leggy, poised female corps composed of Linda Celeste Sims, Rachael McLaren, and Alicia Graf Mack—demonstrate rock solid technique. However, unlike a rose, which offers a multitude of fragrant, intricate layers with the occasional thorn to remind you of its dangerous beauty, these dancers forgo artful restraint for a broad, over-sized performances that obscures the nuances in William Boyce's refined Baroque score. You marvel at the dancers' technical feats, but this interpretation is a rendition that can only be taken at face value.

The starting montage of Rennie Harris’ Home, the second piece on this three bill program, features a gaggle of dancers clumped together, clad in pedestrian attire complete with groovy sneakers, raggedly swaying to and fro. One male dancer breaks away from the horde, walking, breaking, and jigging. Galvanized by his decampment, the group begins to disperse: sliding and scooting, isolating hips and ribs, fading on and off stage. Just as you begin to get sucked into their beguiling world, the ambient soundscape changes to a clamorous beat, and a white light shines hazily down on the stage. Home is a club, and the answer to life’s woes is to dance it out. Performers—a blur of color, motion, and grins, their individuality swapped for the guise of a stock party person—streak on and around the cluttered stage in a frenzied trance before ending the way it started; the dancers bunched together with one lone male straggler joining at the last second as the group jointly exhales. It’s fun in the beginning, but it goes on and on without any change in tenor. Only Guillermo Asca, sleek like a cat, stands out for his sinuous, rippling interpretation of Harris' choreography.

The show closes with Ohad Naharin's Minus 16, which features a pastiche of selections from his prior works; assembled together, these loosely related episodes suggest  dance as an expressive social ritual. The piece commences before intermission ends. A man, dressed in the Hassid fashion of a black suit and white dress shirt, materializes in front of the audience. Staring insistently, he begins to indulge in small motions, which ultimately transition into a full-fledged dance of quirks as the curtain rises. Other dancers, males and females clad in the same black suit and white dress shirt combination, accumulate on stage. With arms held tightly to their body, the performers execute small, jerking gestures, quivering and quaking. The curtain descends for a brief moment, and then rises to show a semicircle of chairs. This section, the best of Minus 16, highlights the dancers performing a short movement sequence in and around their respective chairs, before standing up in a beautifully executed canon. The last performer, instead of rising to his feet, flings himself to the floor as the chanting—performed by the dancers to "Echad Mi Yode"—strums and drones. Minus 16 ends with the dancers breaking the fourth wall. Strolling into the audience, they choose unsuspecting individuals and bring them onstage for a melee of social dancing. These good-humored amateurs awkwardly skip, sexily dip, and methodically shimmy in their best imitation of a Dancing With the Stars contestant as the audience howls raucously. Sweetly comical, Naharin challenges many of the closely held notions about concert dance, but this isn't anything you can't see at a local bar mitzvah.

When the piece finishes, the audience applauds enthusiastically, energized by the evening's diverting antics. You feel wrapped up in a warm and cozy hug. Excellent technique and show-stopping performances should be enough to make you remember this night long after it’s over. But so much steamy warmth bubbling over in the moment burns away by the next morning; the excitement of the evening has fled, and you have the gnawing sensation you succumbed to superficial charms. Little of the show lingers in your head. There is nothing to savor, no moments that demand repeated examination or personal resolution. It gets you smiling, but only for a moment. 

This review refers to the performance seen on Thursday, November 29th at 8PM.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Compagnie 111's Sans Objet: This Robot Has Heart

Olivier Alenda and Olivier Boyer perform Compagnie’s 111’s Sans Objet at Brooklyn Academy of Music. Photo by Aglaé Bory.

 If someone invited you to a show featuring a robot, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Johnny 5 of Short Circuit fame, and two acrobatic actors, you may raise a skeptical eyebrow and politely decline.

That would be a mistake.

Compagnie 111, under the direction of visionary Auélian Bory, presents Sans Objet in conjunction with BAM's Next Wave Festival.

It's sublimely entertaining.

The piece opens with an unidentifiable mass concealed under a glistening tarp. Shimmering beneath the dim lights, accompanied by the sound of clicks and chords, this object begins to come to life, unfolding, twisting, and crumpling. Your imagination cannot resist the opportunity to assign an identity to this contorted contraption. Is it Darth Vader? E.T.? A hippopotamus? Perhaps a tank? Each time your mind lands on a fixed specification, the mass warps into a new configuration. It‘s the performative version of Rorschach inkblots.

One man, and then another, sporting black suits with black shoes and white socks, wander onto the stage. Perplexed, they gravely regard the mass, before tugging at the plastic tarp. A humorous montage ensues, as they struggle to remove the sheet.Eventually, they unveil a large, muscular robot, housed on a platform constructed of moveable slabs. One man engages in an introductory Cha Cha of sorts with the automaton, tentatively approaching before retreating, while the other fussily attempts to bundle up the tarp.

Acting less like an automaton out of a hysterical 20th century sci-fi story, the robot—skillfully operated by Tristan Baudoin and the true star of Sans Objet—seems more like an occasionally temperamental child exploring his new environment.

Bory demonstrates a good feel for pacing. Sans Objet is episodic, weaving short scenes of deep beauty with clownish interludes and zany montages. In one extraordinary tableau, the men, performed with unconcerned élan by Olivier Alenda and Olivier Boyer, explore the robot’s capacity by clambering and pussyfooting over its ever-changing terrain.  Hanging on the robot’s arm, the men effortlessly glide and softly hover to the electronic soundscape, a mélange of twangy chords and deep bass, constructed by Stéphane Ley.  The leisurely pacing of the robot’s movements creates the feeling of a visual chimera; you could watch this all day, but Bory has other plans, quickly switching to a montage of Boyer and Alenda, stiff-limbed and purposeful, marching at the robot, as strident electronica thumps.

In one sketch, Bory belies his circus roots. Eliciting guffaws from the audience in an old vaudeville staple, Boyer and Alenda portray two people, acting as one, with the bottom of one and the top the other covered by a slab, stretching and lengthening in impossibly comical ways.  

San Objet never bores. Alternatively clever, witty, and magical, it grabs your attention immediately, and continues to hold it rapt throughout its seventy-minute duration. The ending rediscovers the original tarp, now draped from ceiling to floor at the front of the stage. The robot and the two men, shielded from the audience's gaze, riddle it with holes. With light streaming through the apertures, it resembles a gigantic colander. A rectangle, knifed into the sheet, falls away, and Boyer and Alenda stroll through toward the audience. The robot shimmers in the doorway, a final adieu.

It crosses your mind that you never realized you could feel so fond of a massive hunk of metal and wire.  While the tendency to anthropomorphize the robot is undeniable, this machine—conceived, constructed, and controlled by mortals—may not be human, but it is certainly humane. 

This review refers to the performance seen on November 10th at Brooklyn Academy of Music

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Personal Note from Erin

Dear Friends,

I have been fortunate to be invited to review two fabulous shows in October. I do encourage you to take a moment to visit these websites to read my reviews.

Please visit Fit Engine to read my review of NYC10 on October 24th at Dixon Place:

Also, see my review of Composer’s Voice October 28th concert at:

Regular reviews will resume next week.

I also hope you will consider attending my show The Public Decides: Same Dance, Different Music on Sunday, November 18th at 1PM. The show is FREE and will be held at Jan Hus Church located at 351 East 74th Street, New York, NY.  Your vote decides the trajectory of my piece. Please see the link below to learn more.


As always, thanks for stopping by. Your presence means a lot to me.

Happy Dancing,

Saturday, October 20, 2012

American Ballet Theatre in Alexei Ratmansky’s Symphony #9: Busy, Busy, Busy

American Ballet Theatre performs Alexei Ratmansky’s new work – Symphony #9.  Photo by Andrea Mohrin. 
If you went to American Ballet Theatre’s performance at City Center on Thursday night, it’s probably because you wanted to see Alexei Ratmansky’s much-touted new workSymphony #9.  Book-ended by two well-loved chestnuts—The Leaves Are Fading and Rodeo—it may cross your mind if Ratmansky’s ballet will exhibit the same staying power.

Alexei Ratmansky, American Ballet Theatre's artist in residence and former director of the Bolshoi Ballet, premieres the first movement, which will eventually premiere in the spring as a triad of one-act ballets all set to the music of Shostakovich.

Shostokovish’s composition, throbbing with manic ebullience, was written to celebrate the Red Army's liberation of Russia from the German Nazis.  Forget about the history. Ratmansky doesn’t care about the heady days following World War II. He just wants to make use of Symphony #9’s inherent brilliance and gaiety.

Featuring twenty-one dancers performing Ratmansky's frenetic, hectic choreography, the stage hums like a hive. Nuanced details, like intricate arm positions, and broad strokes, such as novel spatial configurations, materialize and disperse in record time. Matters aren’t helped by the costumes, designed by Keso Dekker. Composed of a blurry black-and-white fabric, the corps de ballet resembles a wavering optical illusion.

Ratmansky, a clever movement maker, twists classical ballet technique to include elements from jazz, folk, and modern dancing. It would be interesting, if you could actually see the dancing. Competing groups perform sequences cluttered with sharp, pointy movements while the principals zip through the melee. Occasionally, the stage clears, and you can focus. A short duet between Polina Seminova and Marcelo Gomes highlights Ratmansky's
choreographic virtuosity; it's too soon interrupted by other dancers careening to and fro.

Symphony #9 quickly overwhelms. Where should you look? Who should you look at? You answer the questions, and then ask them again.

Of the five principals, distinguished by added color in their costumes, Herman Cornejo, dancing solo, fares the best. His cheeky bravado and sparkling footwork, emphasized in a showy section where he performs countless entrechat sixes (a jump featuring three, quick crosses of the feet) enchants. While the rest of the cast, smiles resolutely painted on, try their best to keep up with Ratmansky's hamster wheel of a dance, Cornejo offers a breezy insouciance, which captures the frenzied exuberance of Shostakovich’s score.

Currently, Symphony #9 stands as a jauntily audacious mess. No doubt, Ratmansky will edit and rework sections before the entire ballet premieres in 2013. So withhold your final judgment.  You can revisit it then.

This review refers to the performance on Thursday, October 18th at 7:30PM at City Center.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Doug Varone and Dancers: Dancing With Feeling

Doug Varone and Dancers perform Boats Leaving, among other offerings, in observance of their 25th anniversary at The Joyce.  Photo by Lissa Gotwals.

Doug Varone and Dancers celebrate their silver anniversary with a one-week season at The Joyce. In today's artistic and economic climate, twenty-five years deserves a fete.

If you've never seen Varone's choreography, you're in for a treat. Eschewing tense virtuosity and conceptual minimalism, he embraces an exuberant, informal movement expression that borders on impertinence. His dancers seem like big kids at play: wheeling, gamboling, and skipping across the stage, they extend a sweeping ebullience that embraces you in a warm hug of generosity, which belies their dexterity. It's irresistible.

Two programs alternate; each features a piece from the nineties, one from the aughts, and a new work. Program B, premiering on Wednesday night, strives to maintain a balance between Varone's signature, freewheeling choreography and selections that vary in emotional texture.

The program opens with Boats Leaving, which premiered in 2006, set to the contemplative stylings of composer Arvo Part. Eight dancers begin standing, scattered around the stage, suggestive of driftwood strewn about a sandy shore. Uncoiling as a reel of snapshots from a projector, the dancers form arresting but simple formations, more like visual art than dance choreography. Ragged diagonals disperse and reform, a frayed ellipse dissolves; these vivid spatial shapes underscore the sense of a community in peril. While the narrative never quite solidifies—the bare emotion on the dancers' faces suggests some type of distress—it still yanks you emotionally.

Able to Leap Tall Buildings
, spotlighting Erin Owen and Alex Springer, operates as a quirky, cryptic duet to Julia Wolfe’s “Cruel Sister”.  Wolfe’s creepy composition, like the score from a bipolar horror movie, accompanies jerky, stunted movements that intersperse with forays into relaxed, liberated gestures. It’s sinuous puppetry, convulsive, but with rounded edges. The hazy white light, filling the black box of the stage, gives Owen and Springer a freakish glow. At the end, when Owen clamors over a standing Springer, and the lights abruptly vanish, you may be glad that your visit to their edgy, obsessive netherworld is complete.

Varone closes Program B with an early work, Rise, which debuted in 1993. Four couples—attired in gem shades of sapphire, violet, jade, and garnet—canvass the stage with swirling leaps, open-armed dives to the floor, and surging turns. It's a wild, effusive folk dance to John Adams' irrepressibly bouncy score. The piece is long; it soon becomes a blurry, kaleidoscopic wash of color, movement, and music. Look for Julia Burrer, lanky and bendable like a rubber doll, she will enthrall you with her unencumbered insouciance. You should hold your applause when the dancers crash to what appears to be a culmination; it's only a fake-out. Reemerging two-by-two, the dancers engage in a short movement reprise, before ending, dotted about the stage, standing with their eyes closed.

It's not every choreographer that can end the way he begins, three pieces later, with his dancers, upright, littered across the stage, emotionally reverent. The circle closes.

Varone manages the near choreographic impossibility of being true to his unique movement vocabulary while investigating ideas of substance. You only wish for one thing – to join in. It’s delightful watching, but doing looks like so much more fun. 

This review refers to the show seen on Wednesday, October 10th at 7:30PM.

Friday, September 28, 2012

DELIRIOUS Dances' To Begin The World Over Again: Your Participation Is Required

DELIRIOUS Dances performs To Begin The World Over Again. Photo by Julie Lemberger. 

Does this contentious election season have you down? Are you frustrated by the endless partisan bickering and political mud slinging?

Edisa Weeks, artistic director and choreographer of DELIRIOUS Dances, has the antidote. Her lively new pieceTo Begin The World Over Again, in residence at Brooklyn’s Irondale Center through October 6th—investigates the musings of Thomas Paine and his vigorous promotion for freedom and democracy.

The piece opens with a bribe. Acting as the ringleader, Michael Henry, sporting the iconic red tie of a politician, exchanges fortune cookies for assurances that your cell phone is off. Nestled in the treats lies a scrap of paper featuring a quote by Thomas Paine.  Democracy tastes sweet.

Weeks has a marvelous ally in composer Joseph C. Phillips Jr. With the energetic Numinous Music providing live accompaniment, Weeks’ premise takes aural shape. Hand claps, hoofing rhythms, and folk-inspired melodies reference the venerable past while atonality and dissonance speak to our conflicted present. Haunting vocals, resounding with ruminations from Paine’s writings, accentuate Phillips’ riveting score.  

Choreographically, Weeks keeps it simple. She opts for straightforward movements—lots of running, gazelle leaps, log rolls, and loping patterns—from a standard modern dance vocabulary.  To Begin The World All Over Again unfolds in sections, some featuring the dancers, others highlighting the music, with occasional forays into literal demonstrations of democracy at work.  In one instance, Henry, charmingly strident, rounds up the performers for a dance-off. You vote with your applause for the dancer’s performance that best represents your values. By the slimmest of margins, victory goes to Sharifa Linton for her generous smile and gripping solo.

The six dancers, loose-limbed and liberated movers, sometimes forgo technique for spirit. But this freedom from physical restraints only underscores the dancers’ performance, which is enthralling. They commit fervently; when they leap and fling their bodies to the floor, it’s executed with a blind trust that is deeply affecting.

Democracy requires participation, so when the dancers invite you out to the performance space, don’t balk. The audience and the cast dance, stroll hand-in-hand, and even strut their way through a soul train line. Hokey? Perhaps. Fun? Definitely! In the finale everyone performs an American Sign Language version of “We Have It In Our Power”; it’s impossible not to be moved.

To Begin The World All Over Again is a call to action. Weeks’ earnest insistence on community, participation, and cooperation stands as a timely reminder that democracy requires a variety of voices to succeed.  More importantly, it needs your voice.  So get inspired. Get involved. And go see To Begin The World All Over Again. 

This review refers to the Thursday, September 27th performance.

******Coinciding with the performances of To Begin The World Over Again, are a series of FREE community events coordinated

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ephrat Asherie's A Single Ride: You've Taken This Train

   Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie’s A Single Ride. Photo by Demetrius Fordham.
A Single Ride, the multimedia result of Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie’s commission from Dixon Place, plumbs the subway and its many colorful peculiarities for inspiration.

The piece opens with a video featuring a male, baseball cap set at a jaunty angle, break-dancing his way through Penn Station.  With an empty Metro card and a fast approaching train, he opts to jump the turnstile. Just as he’s about to fail and hit the bar, a dancer dives from offstage into the linked arms of two performers, replicating the on-screen protagonist’s slam into a cold, metal barrier. It’s a nifty visual trick; our focus switches from the video to the dancing.

In A Single Ride, Asherie constructs choreographic episodes juxtaposing the dancers against an electronic montage of empty cars, train tracks, and subway stations.  The continuously playing video designed by David Bengali—a stand-alone work of beauty—emphasizes bright, sharp, and shiny shots that look like hard candy. When the dancers move, which may not be as often as you like, it’s a mish-mash of hard-hitting break dancing moves intermingled with posing, strutting, and raw partnering.  

A score composed by Marty Beller, drummer for They Might Be Giants, captures the animated vigor found in the human flood that swells the subway system daily. Poppy and populist but never condescending, Beller engineers addictive rhythms that make your toes tap.

The six performers take on the subway’s typical characters: crazy people, sick people, perverted people, annoying people, homeless people, singing people, scary people, smelly people, and so forth.  You smile in commiseration as the simulation of a tightly packed train affords cheeky performer Richard Maguire the opportunity to cop surreptitious feels from unsuspecting females.  

Periodically, A Single Ride feels like a public service announcement. Visibly pregnant dancer MiRi Park squeezes through a row of seated audience members. She stands and rubs her belly as they squirm in discomfort. No one stands up for what’s right tonight.

Asherie is at her best when she highlights the dreamy tedium of subway riding.  Alone in a crowd, the dancers lazily somersault and meltingly sprawl across the darkened stage as their electronic versions tumble across the video screen. Getting to where you’re going never looked so beautiful.

A Single Ride amuses with its familiarity. You know these people. You are these people. But Asherie never taps into anything deeper than stereotypes and obvious clichés. An Asian lady hawks DVDs for “five dollah” and you snicker knowingly. But what’s the purpose beyond a guaranteed laugh? Asherie replicates without commenting.  

Unfortunately, like your morning commute, A Single Ride never goes anywhere you haven’t already been.

This review refers to the performance seen on Thursday, September 20th.