Saturday, June 13, 2015

Note from Erin

Eight-months pregnant. Photo taken by my niece. 
Dear Readers,

I will be taking a hiatus for the next couple of months to prepare for, and then enjoy, the birth of my daughter. I will resume writing in September for The Dance Enthusiast and with the occasional blog post. In the meantime, you may access my professional reviews and previews for The Dance Enthusiast here, and all my old blog posts will remain online.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has read my dance articles. Writing is a very lonely endeavor — it’s just a laptop, my scribbled notes, and me trying to think of interesting things to say and interesting ways to say those things. Writing only quickens to life when it is read; thus, without you, my articles would exist in the liminal state between possibility and materiality.

With gratitude,

American Ballet Theatre in Alexei Ratmansky's "The Sleeping Beauty": Waking Up the Past

American Ballet Theatre in Alexei Ratmansky's "The Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Gene Schiavone. 

Ballet holds a reputation for living in the past, revisiting and recreating a time that no longer exists, a time that, to some critics, is no longer relevant. Its technique originated in the rigorously mannered court of Louis XIV, and the primary mode of transferring its rituals, even with the videos and codified syllabi of today, remains folkloric—one seasoned practitioner telling and showing another, less veteran dancer to establish an unbroken chain that reaches back hundreds of years.

This may be true, but it’s hardly the whole truth. As a performing art that prevails in the moment before evaporating into memory, ballet is — and always will be — in a constant state of reinvention and reinterpretation. Bodies change and technique evolves and the classics get refreshed by choreographers who often remake them using contemporary perspectives. It doesn't take long before the past, which seemed so present, to be lost to the future.

American Ballet Theatre celebrates its 75th anniversary this season and what better way to fête its myriad accomplishments than with a new “The Sleeping Beauty,” the original of which premiered in 1890 in Imperial Russia. Choreographer-in-residence Alexei Ratmansky abstains from concocting something that reflects 21st century attitudes. Instead, exploiting
Petipa’s original masterpiece, he composes a time machine into the past that offers an alternative to (and, perhaps unintentionally, a critique of) current balletic tropes.

Based on Charles Perrault’s tale,
which whitewashed the darker, more titillating aspects, “The Sleeping Beauty” lacks narrative thrust. An ugly, histrionic fairy is affronted when left off the guest list for the christening of Princess Aurora. She curses Aurora to prick her finger on a spindle and perish at 16. The Lilac Fairy softens the impact: Aurora will sleep for 100 years until Prince Desiré awakens her with a kiss. They, of course, will live happily ever after, but not until an extravagant wedding celebration transpires. The guest list of the nuptials, ripped straight from the pages of a fairy tale, includes Hop-o’-my-Thumb, Puss-in-Boots, and Red Riding Hood. There’s also lovely, superfluous dancing to pad out the many lulls in the action.

All the things that ballet can stand for — elegance, opulence, glamour — are in full flower in Ratmansky’s interpretation. The stage teems with a riot of vivid costumes that sparkle and crackle under the lights. Palatial sets conjure up a courtly, bygone Europe. Throngs of supernumeraries dress the stage; clad in sweeping gowns and frock coats, they act as our decorous, decorative stand ins. Evoking but not replicating Ballets Russes' 1921 production, the visual jumping off point, these snazzy elements function as a character in their own right, just as hypnotic and essential as the leads.

To ensure accuracy, Ratmansky studied Stepanov notation and muted the trend for spectacular athleticism. Picky, tricky phrases that favor nimble batterie (crossing of the feet and legs, usually during jumps) and precious, prolonged postures bedeck the work. Extensions hover at 90 degrees, a rare sight for an art form where the clock always strikes six. The dancing spotlights the feet: where, when, and how they glide, rise, and chug across the floor. It’s a different type of virtuosity, one that prizes nuance and exactitude, one that rejects excessive flash for fastidious constancy.

The dancers — accustomed to longer, faster, higher — struggle, with the principals achieving various levels of success. Cory Stearns (Prince Desiré) fares well in his petit allegro solos; his jetés skim like skipping stones and his beated jumps intersect clearly and smartly. Hee Seo improves as the acts progresses. Her balances during the Rose Adagio wobble, and she forces a smile during some nasty pirouettes straight from a classroom exercise. But, by the time she gets to her variation in Act III, she relaxes into the daintiness, and her natural sweetness shines through. The Lilac Fairy, Devon Teuscher, gamely attacks her hellish variation in the Prologue although a pernicious string of fouettés into arabesque is touch and go. Not everyone seems thrown: Misty Copeland as Princess Florine and assorted fairies (Lauren Post, April Giangeruso, Gemma Bond) relish the richness in this finicky, detailed choreography.

The group scenarios flaunt pomp, circumstance, and ornamental spatial configurations. Hordes of men and women bound through assorted triple-metered patterns: balancés, pas de basques, and wheeling waltzes. Multiple sequences showcase weaving garlands, and each act seemingly opens with a parade of courtiers who bow and curtsy.  And then bow and curtsy some more. The corps de ballet —amiable, well rehearsed — hits their marks, and the stage swirls in a kaleidoscope of colorful geometry.

Even with its many charms, the production looks raw, more like a dress rehearsal than the real thing. In this instance, the dancers fail the choreography more often than the choreography fails them. Yet, Ratmansky’s “The Sleeping Beauty” bursts with potential, and with further opportunities to sink into the material, to reach deeper into their technique, the dancers of American Ballet Theatre will hopefully, in the seasons to come, reveal and personalize the layers in a work that could become a classic for the future. 

This review refers to the performance seen on Wednesday, June 10 at 2 p.m.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Impressions of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at NJPAC

Glenn Allen Sims and Linda Celeste Sims in Christopher Wheeldon's "After the Rain Pas de Deux." Photo by Paul Kolnik. 

Dance is a transient art, existing in the present for its practitioners and witnesses. When the curtain closes, its impact lives on in the memories of those who made it, danced it, and watched it. If those recollections fade, the dance could, conceivably, be lost. In modern dance — a viewpoint dedicated to the new, the relevant, the risky — this is particularly acute. Unlike ballet companies (repertory companies presenting several hundred years of work), modern dance organizations are often structured around one choreographer’s vision. After that choreographer dies or disbands his or her troupe, the art works can fade for any number reasons.

Dance, though, when preserved and recreated, can function as an artifact, encapsulating an era’s visual, sonic, and kinesthetic tendencies. In their three-day engagement at NJPAC, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater acts a living museum, showcasing four pieces that stretch over 50 years and highlight a variety of choreographic viewpoints. You may not be touched by, or even enjoy, every piece, but by watching what has happened while it is happening, you may be inspired to think about what will happen.

The four-bill program opened with... 

To read the balance of my Impressions of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, please visit the Dance Enthusiast. 

Preview of Alexandra Beller's "milkdreams"

Alexandra Beller's "milkdreams," which will receive its premiere at La MaMa. Photo by Ian Douglas.

Live like there’s no tomorrow; love like you’ve never been hurt; and dance like nobody’s watching. At one point or another, we’ve heard this advice, but most of us struggle to apply it for any length of time. As grown ups, we’re well aware of the potential downside: Our past experiences have taught us how our present choices affect our future outcomes.

Little children, however, epitomize these exhortations with full-throttle exuberance. They abide in the here and now with the past and the future too murky to be comprehended as of yet. Kids live like there’s no tomorrow, and love like they’ve never been hurt. They also dance like nobody’s watching, an appealing if odd concept for adult dancers whose job revolves around performing for others.

In Alexandra Beller’s “milkdreams,” which will receive its premiere at La MaMa, she revisits this golden age of infants and toddlers when reflexive self-censoring hasn’t yet set in. The seed was planted when Beller observed her two young sons’ movement. She says, “I realized my sons were doing beautiful dances.” To produce the movement vocabulary... 

To read the balance of my preview, please visit The Dance Enthusiast.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Impressions of Rebecca Patek's "The Future Was Looking Better in the Past"

Rebecca Patek's "The Future Was Looking Better in the Past" at The Chocolate Factory. Photo by Brian Rogers.

Before O.J. Simpson, before Adolf Eichmann, before the Lindberg kidnapping, there was Leopold and Loeb, two wealthy Jewish teenagers who, in 1924, were convicted of kidnapping and murdering fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks in what was billed as "the trial of the century."

Inspired by Nietzsche's concept of superman, an individual so superior as to transcend the ethical rules of average citizens, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb hoped to establish their brilliance by committing the perfect crime. A pair of Leopold’s glasses found near the body proved to be their undoing, and the two could have been executed were it not for the impassioned and long-winded defense of Clarence Darrow.

In the epically titled... 

To read the balance of my review, please visit The Dance Enthusiast.