Saturday, October 24, 2015

Fall Quibbles and Bits -- Dance Prizes, Three New Movies, and 'Exceeding Expectations' . . .

NYC Ballet at the Bessies:

The New York Dance and Performance Awards aka 'The Bessies' after Bessie Schoenberg were presented on October 19th at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.  Jock Soto was co-host for the awards show along with the performance artist Carmelita Tropicana. 

Justin Peck, New York City Ballet's Resident Choreographer was honored for Outstanding Production for 'Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes' and Amar Ramasar, a New York City Ballet principal dancer was honored for Sustained Achievement in Performance.

Here are their citations:

Outstanding Production
Justin Peck for 'Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes', New York City Ballet
For a bracing new interpretation of a well-known score, wiping it clean of prior associations and using it as the springboard for an entirely new ballet marked by wit, surprise, poignant intimacy, and robust ensemble energy.

Sustained Achievement in Performance
Amar Ramasar for his work with New York City Ballet

For his natural ease and contemporary presence on the classical stage. For his ongoing contributions to a wide range of new ballet work, and for his sensitivity and skill in the demanding and sometimes unseen art of partnering.

Amra Ramasar with his Bessie Award at the October 19th Award ceremony at the Apollo Theater.
Photo from The Bessies facebook page
I couldn't agree more -- congratulations to both Justin and Amar.

The Intern:

In early October we saw 'The Intern' written and directed by Nancy Meyers and starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway.

Poster for 'The Intern'
Hathaway plays Jules, the founder and CEO of About the Fit, an on-line fashion retailer.  Jules agrees to start an intern program for seniors.  De Niro plays Ben, a 70-something retiree who's looking for something to do and who's assigned to be Jules' intern.

Jules is trying to have it all -- a successful career and a family.  The family consists of stay-at-home-dad, Matt (Anders Holm) who has given up his own successful career to care for daughter Paige.  As Ben begins working his way into Jules confidence at work they develop an increasingly strong bond.  Meanwhile, complimentary work and family crises develop in Jules life which Ben helps to clarify and resolve.  And Ben begins a romance with About the Fit's in-house massage therapist (Rene Russo).

'The Intern' is a charming twist on the standard buddy comedy that focuses on a mutually beneficial inter-generational relationship between Hathaway and De Niro.  Unfortunately, about two-thirds of the way through it goes off the rails.  Nevertheless, for feminists and seniors it will have special resonance -- and maybe dot-com-ers will even find some redeeming value amidst its cliched view of their environment.

The Martian:

In mid-October we went to see 'The Martian' (in 2D on a normal size screen).  The movie stars Matt Damon and is directed by Ridley Scott from a screenplay by Drew Goddard based on a 2011 novel of the same name by Andy Weir.

Poster for 'The Martian'
As the film opens, a team of astronauts is going about the business of exploring Mars from their base camp, the Hab(itat), when a dust storm develops that threatens to blow over their relaunch vehicle and damage the rest of their equipment.  All of the team except a botanist, Mark Watney (Damon), make it safely to the vehicle.  The mission commander (Jessica Chastain) makes the decision to blast off for Earth (more than 500 days away) and leave Watney behind.

Watney, of course, survives -- with an abdominal wound that he repairs himself.  He calculates how to conserve resources and survive until he can be rescued.  He also figures out how to reestablish communications with NASA on Earth.  One of his greatest successes is figuring out how to grow potatoes in the harsh Martian environment.

This is a wonderful movie -- probably best in IMAX and 3D -- that makes survival on Mars seem achievable.  Matt Damon is spectacular, bringing viewers along as he talks (to himself) about each advance and set-back.  Both Matt Damon and Ridley Scott deserve to be part of the year-end awards buzz for this exceptional science fiction adventure.

'Bridge of Spies':

We also saw 'Bridge of Spies' in mid-October.  The movie is directed by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay by Matt Charman and Joel & Ethan Coen based on actual events that took place in the late 50's and early 60's during the Cold War.

Poster for 'Bridge of Spies'
It stars Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan, a partner in a prominent New York law firm, who specializes in settling insurance claims.  Donovan is drafted by his partners to defend Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance, superb) a Russian spy posing as a painter who has been caught by the FBI in the opening scenes of the film.  Abel's trial is supposed to showcase the 'fairness' of the U.S. legal system while still leading to Abel's conviction and execution for espionage.  Donovan takes the assignment more seriously and despite the threats to him and his family mounts an impassioned defense of Abel and then appeals Abel's conviction all of the way to the Supreme Court -- where he loses in a 5-to-4 decision.  Fortunately, Donovan has convinced the trial judge to sentence Abel to prison rather than to death -- just in case Abel could prove valuable in a prisoner exchange with the Russians.

Concurrently with Abel's trial and subsequent appeals, the U-2 spy plane program is being developed and launched.  While flying one of the first U-2 missions Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down over Russia. 

About the same time in the chaos surrounding the building of the Berlin Wall, Frederic Pryor, an American economics student, is captured by the East German Stassi and accused of being a U.S. spy.

The last half of the film concerns Donovan's efforts to arrange a 2-for-1 prisoner exchange -- Powers and Pryor for Abel.  The negotiations are complicated by political issues between Russia and East Germany as well as by American Cold War paranoia.

Spielberg weaves this all together into a masterful suspense thriller.  While it's quite long, the film is beautifully paced to sustain viewer interest.  Hanks gives an indelible performance as Donovan -- a man who refuses to compromise his belief in the American capacity for fairness and justice -- and Rylance as Abel practically steals the show with his slyly colorful performance.

'Exceeding Expectations':

George and I have been participating in a project of the Butler Ageing Center of Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health called 'Exceeding Expectations'.  George was contacted last Spring by Lauren Isaacs, one of the reporters on the project and a graduate of Northwestern, because he was listed in the Northwestern University alumni directory -- as a resident of New York City from a graduating class that were sure to be over 80 (he's 81).  At his first meeting with Lauren and Dorian Block the project leader, George suggested (or maybe insisted) that they include me, even though I'm only 75 and below the 80-year-old age threshold established for the project.

Anyhow, Dori and Lauren, along with their photographer, Floor Flurij, have been following us for about six-months.  In late September Dori was joined by Ruth Finkelstein, who conceived and advises the project, for a video shoot at Columbia Medical School.

The first chapters of the Exceeding Expectations project covering the first four subjects have now been released along with an introduction to the project.  You can find them at:

I suggest that you take a look at the 'About' section of the website which includes a brief video compilation of the 20 subjects of the project, including George and me.  If it looks like something that you'd enjoy following, you can subscribe to the entire project by entering your email address in the form at the bottom of the 'About' page.

The sections about us will be published later in the series, but seven chapters on the first four subjects are already available on line and they're very interesting.  Read them for yourself to learn how 20 remarkable New York seniors are 'exceeding expectations' as they get older.

Friday, October 23, 2015

NYC Ballet Performance on Friday Evening, October 9th -- Part 2


POLARIS (new Myles Thatcher ballet)

THE BLUE OF DISTANCE (new Robert Binet ballet)
COMMON GROUND (new Troy Schumacher ballet)
JEUX (new Kim Brandstrup Ballet): Mearns, Hyltin, Ramasar, Danchig-Waring; music by Claude Debussy, "Jeux"; [Conductor: Capps]

The second half of the October 9th program consisted of Kim Brandstrup's new ballet 'Jeux' which had premiered the previous evening.

Kim Brandstrup, 58, is from Denmark where he studied film at the University of Copenhagen before moving on to the London School of Contemporary Dance where he studied choreography.  Most of his creative life has taken place in Britain.  He founded Arc Dance Company there in 1985 and choreographed many works for them.  In 1994 he made his Metropolitan Opera debut as the choreographer of Benjamin Britten's 'Death in Venice' which featured Jeffrey Edwards as Tadzio and Karin von Aroldingen as his mother (non-speaking roles).  Brandstrup had previously choreographed 'Death in Venice' for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1992.

Kim Brandstrup (center) in the studio creating 'Jeux'  with Jonathan Stafford, ballet master, Harrison Ball and Indiana Woodward.
Photo by Paula Lobo for NY Times
'Jeux' uses a score of that name that Claude Debussy composed for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1913.  Nijinsky's ballet to the score was set at a tennis game and concerned a menage a trois.  It was completely overshadowed when a few weeks later Nijinsky's 'Le Sacre du Printemps' to Stravinsky's ground breaking score received a tumultuous reception.

The French 'jeux' is commonly translated as 'play' or 'game', but also has connotations of play-acting, masquerade or deception.  It even figures in phrases of the French casino, such as 'faites vos jeux' (make your bets) and 'les jeux sont faits' (the chips are down).  For his 'Jeux' Brandstrup has created a scenario that takes all of these possible translations into account.

Sara Mearns with Sterling Hyltin & Amar Ramasar (right) and ensemble.  Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet

As the curtain opens, Amar Ramasar is tying a blindfold over Sara Mearns eyes as Sterling Hyltin and the five couples of the ensemble watch.  Sara and Sterling are wearing 'little black dresses' while the other women are in dark street dresses with the men in business suits with loosened ties -- some have even shed their jackets.  They seem to be in an empty industrial building with a single dangling light bulb and a single square black column separating a narrow area on the right side of the stage from a larger area on the left.  The lighting is murky until a black back curtain rises halfway to reveal a white wall that is lit with a glaring, sometimes pulsing (and annoying) white light.
Sara Mearns with four ensemble couples in Kim Brandstrup's 'Jeux'.  Photo by Andrea Mohin for NY Times

Amar and Sterling with the ensemble proceed to force Sara into a game of blindman's bluff, taunting Sara and always avoiding her searching, outstretched arms.  It seems that Amar and Sara have been romantically involved, but Amar is making moves on Sterling while Sara is blindfolded.  After some ensemble dancing including what are known in pairs figure skating as 'tabletop' lifts -- spectacular from some couples, merely adequate from others -- the six couples leave Sara alone groping for contact. 

Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring in Kim Brandstrup's 'Jeux'.  Photo by Andrea Mohin for NY Times

The party crowd is replaced by Adrian Danchig-Waring as a young jock in jeans and T-shirt with a soccer ball.  Initially intrigued by the blindfolded woman, Adrian avoids contact with Sara -- ducking under Sara's leg extended in several extravagant turns. Then he comes to her rescue when she is about to fall and begins to partner her in a sensual, athletic duet.  Here's a link to a brief video clip from the Company of their pas de deux in 'Jeux':

Sara removes her blindfold (or maybe Adrian pulls it down) and Sara tosses his ball into the wings with disdain.  

Adrian Danchig-Waring and Sara Mearns in Brandstrup's 'Jeux'.  Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet

As Sara and Adrian leave the stage Sterling and Amar return to dance a romance tinged duet.  Sara sneaks back to spy on Sterling and Amar before confronting him in a jealous rage.  Sara and Sterling fight for Amar's attention.  The ensemble swirls around them.

Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar in Kim Brandstrup's 'Jeux'.   Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet

Or so it seemed to this observer.  But, who are these dancers?  why are they in this sinister space?  what are their connections before and after these dramatic encounters?  Brandstrup gives us few clues and no compelling reason to search for answers.  

This work strikes me as a descendant of Anthony Tudor's oeuvre.  Unnamed characters engage in unexplained interactions to sensuous, mysterious music.  With the right dancers (and these are the right dancers) this can be highly dramatic.  We're in a kind of post-modern lilac garden where four dancers engage in self-destructive behavior to satisfy carnal impulses.   As  'she who is cast aside' Mearns is indelible -- by turns needy, unstable, sensual and implacable.  Ramasar as 'he who moves on' is part matinee idol, part callous cad and always consummate partner.  Hyltin as 'she who seduces' is by turns alluring and flirtatious.  Danchig-Waring as 'he who hooks up' is wholesome, inquisitive and intense.

The ensemble are 'they who join in the game'.  In the ensemble, I was particularly struck by Emilie Gerrity, Rachel Hutsell and Lauren King among the women and Preston Chamblee and Russell Janzen among the men.  Rachel is still an apprentice and Preston joined the corps only last January.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

Whether 'Jeux' or any of the other four new works on this program will hold up to repeated viewing, they do provide a showcase the Company's dancers and an opportunity for them to expand their horizons with interesting choreographers.   Mearns and Hyltin shine in very different ways in 'Jeux' and 'The Blue of Distance'; Tiler Peck added cool diamantine sparkle to 'Polaris'; Ramasar provided leading man charisma and assured partnering in 'Jeux' and 'Common Ground'; Preston Chamblee in 'The Blue of Distance' and 'Jeux' stood out for his strong partnering; Russell Janzen in both the 'Jeux' ensemble and in 'Common Ground' is a very tall man who can move with speed and partner with grace; Claire Kretzschmar blazed brightly in 'New Blood' in her female-female duets with Kristen Segin and then Lauren King; and Lauren went on to stand out in the 'Jeux' ensemble; Meagan Mann with Ashley Bouder and Daniel Applebaum with Andrew Veyette held up their end in 'New Blood' duets with the Company's technical dynamos. 

There's always a lot to absorb in an evening of all new choreography, but the vivid dancing of the entire Company taking on new roles helps to point the way.  We're already anticipating Justin Peck's new ballet and to seeing more of these Fall Season premieres during the Winter Season. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

NYC Ballet Performance on Friday Evening, October 9th -- Part 1


POLARIS (new Myles Thatcher ballet): T. Peck, Gerrity, Isaacs, Smith, Hall, Applebaum, Kayali, Scordato, Stanley; costumes by Zuhair Murad;  music by William Walton, "Allegramente" movement of Piano Quartet in D minor.

THE BLUE OF DISTANCE (new Robert Binet ballet): Hyltin, Krohn, Mearns, T. Angle, Ball, Chamblee, Garcia Carmena;  costumes by Hanako Maeda (of Adeam); music by Maurice Ravel, "Oiseaux Triste" and "Une Barque sur l'Ocean", [Solo Piano: Chelton]
COMMON GROUND (new Troy Schumacher ballet): Laracey, Maxwell, Reichlen, Gordon, Huxley, Janzen, Ramasar; costumes by Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida of Marques'Almeida; music by Ellis Ludwig-Leone (commissioned score); [Conductor: Sill]
NEW BLOOD (new Justin Peck ballet): Bouder, King, Kretzschmar, Pazcoguin, Pollack, Segin, Smith, Applebaum, Danchig-Waring, Prottas, Stanley, Veyette, Walker; costumes by Humberto Leon (of Opening Ceremony and Kenzo); music by Steve Reich, "Variations for Vibes, Piano and Strings" [Conductor: Sill]
JEUX (new Kim Brandstrup Ballet): Mearns, Hyltin, Ramasar, Danchig-Waring; music by Claude Debussy, "Jeux"; [Conductor: Capps]

The first half of the New York City Ballet program on Friday evening October 9th consisted of the four new ballets that were premiered at the Company's 2015 Fall Fashion Gala on September 30th.  Here's a clip that explains the collaboration between the four choreographers and the four fashion designers -- it also includes a fifth collaboration between Peter Martins and Peter Topping of Oscar de la Renta on Martins' 'Thou Swell' which completed the gala program:

The clip describes the heroic efforts by Marc Happel and the Company's Costume Shop to interpret the designs and make them wearable as ballet costumes.  They are perhaps the most important element of the collaboration, because they know what will work for the dancers on the stage under stage lights and over many performances.

'Polaris' choreographed by Myles Thatcher uses the Allegramente movement from William Walton's Piano Quartet in D. Minor.  Both the music and the choreography are spacious and unhurried.  Polaris is, of course, the North Star, the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper) and really a cluster of several stars.  I suspect that these astronomical/astrological concepts figured in Thatcher's dance designs for the piece.

Ashly Isaacs in Zuhair Murad's costume for Myles Thatcher's 'Polaris'.  Photo from Elle.
The costumes for the three women and five men are by Zuhair Murad -- A-line dresses overlaid with lace and crystal sparkle for the women and sparkly sleeveless tunics with tights for the men.  The color is powder blue for all of the dancers except for Tiler Peck -- the outsider -- who is in a shade of pearl grey that reacts to the lighting and seems pale pink at times.  Craig Hall is in a lighter shade of blue than the others.

Myles Thatcher, the choreographer, is a corps dancer with San Francisco Ballet.  He has been mentored by Alexei Ratmansky under the 2014-15 Rolex Mentor & Protege Arts Initiative and has choreographed works for SFB and the Joffrey Ballet.  In 'Polaris' Mr. Thatcher introduces ideas that resonated through the first half of the program -- uneven numbers of women and men and same-sex partnering.

The group: Ghaleb Kayali, Emily Gerrity, Craig Hall, Ashly Isaacs, Andrew Scordato, Daniel Applebaum and Taylor Stanley in 'Polaris' by Myles Thatcher.  
Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet

In 'Polaris', Tiler Peck is the enigmatic outsider, intrigued by the group, but refusing to become part of it.  Craig Hall is the connector between Tiler and the rest of the group -- emerging from the group to partner Tiler and trying to integrate her into the group, but she keeps breaking away.  Here's a clip from NYC Ballet:

Tiler and Craig are outstanding in the convoluted partnering of their encounters.  The rest of the cast are also wonderful -- dancing in various combinations and creating sculptural clusters that rotate and evolve.

For 'The Blue of Distance' Robert Binet uses two movements from Maurice Ravel's 'Miroirs' -- 'Oiseaux tristes' (sad birds) and 'Une Barque Sur' (a boat on the ocean) -- beautifully played by the pianist Elaine Chelton on the stage apron.  The costumes were designed by Hanao Maeda of ADEAM -- for the women tops covered in paillettes that segue from dark blue near the neck to white on the hips dissolving into tiered, pleated white skirts below, and for the men sleek dark blue sleeveless unitards.

Since 2013, Mr. Binet, a native of Canada, has been the Choreographic Associate of the National Ballet of Canada.  Prior to that he was the first Choreographic Apprentice at The Royal Ballet where he was mentored by Wayne McGregor.  In addition to the National Ballet of Canada and The Royal Ballet, Mr. Binet has created works for Wayne McGregor/Random Dance, Hamburg Ballet and several other international dance companies.

For 'The Blue of Distance' Mr. Binet uses three women -- Sterling Hyltin, Rebecca Krohn, and Sara Mearns  -- and four men -- Tyler Angle, Harrison Ball, Antonio Carmena (replacing Gonzalo Garcia) and Preston Chamblee.  
Harrison Ball (foreground) with other cast members in Robert Binet's 'The Blue of Distance'.
Photo by Andrea Mohin for the NY Times

The ballet could perhaps be subtitled 'three mermaids encounter four dolphins' -- watery, swimming movement motifs abound.  The ballet opens in atmospheric blue lighting with a pas de deux for Rebecca and Preston, while Sara and Sterling lean ever more precariously on Tyler and Antonio respectively, with Harrison, the odd-man-out observer.  A series of pas de deux for the three couples and solos for Harrison follow.  Harrison has some showy passages before briefly replacing Antonio as Sterling's partner.  Preston Chamblee, who just advanced from apprentice into the Company's corps in February, displays his strong partnering skills.  

Preston Chamblee and Rebecca Krohn in Robert Binet's 'The Blue of Distance'.
Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet
In 'The Blue of Distance' music, costumes and movements combine to sustain an impressionistic atmosphere -- part seascape and wholly intriguing.  The choreography doesn't utilize the distinctive personas of these seven dancers, especially the three ballerinas, preferring to sustain an ensemble mood.  One is left with the feeling that other company dancers could easily fill these roles to achieve the same effect.

'Common Ground' by Troy Schumacher has a score by Ellis Ludwig-Leone which was commissioned by the Company for this work.  The music for full orchestra conducted by Andrews Sill is fractured and filled with silences, providing a quirky base customized for Troy's choreography.

Troy Schumacher is a member of New York City Ballet's corps de ballet.  Troy founded BalletCollective where as company director and resident choreographer he collaborates with composers and designers on original works.  He choreographed 'Clearing Dawn' for the Company's 2014 Fall Fashion Gala with costume designs by Thom Ford.

The costumes for 'Common Ground' were designed by Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida of Marques'Almeida.  They consist of loose pieces of fabric in many colors -- from bright scarlet, kelly green, and yellow to neutral taupe, grey and white -- which are loosely hung or draped on the dancers.  In the costume video clip referenced above, Troy seems so delighted with them, that it's a shame to report that they are the most distracting element of his ballet.

Anthony Huxley, Alexa Maxwell, Teresa Reichlen, Joseph Gordon and Russell Janzen in Troy Schumacher's 'Common Ground' (aka 'Help, a clothes dryer just exploded on us!').  
Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet
Troy also uses three women and four men for 'Common Ground' -- Ashley Laracey, Alexa Maxwell and Teresa Reichlen with Joseph Gordon, Anthony Huxley, Russell Janzen and Amar Ramasar.  The choreography deploys them in skittering, overlapping solos, duets and ensembles.  Partnering is ambisexual, with women partnering women, men partnering men, women partnering men and men partnering women.  This format allows Troy to utilize and expand the dance personalities of his cast.  Here's a brief clip from the Company of Alexa Maxwell, Joe Gordon and Tess Reichlen in 'Common Ground':

There's some exciting dancing in Troy's new work -- too bad that it's obscured by the distracting costumes.

Alexa Maxwell thrown into Russell Janzen's arms by Amar Ramasar and Joseph Gordon in Troy Schumacher's 'Common Ground'.   Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet
Justin Peck's new work for the 2015 Fall Fashion Gala is 'New Blood' costumed by Humberto Leon of Opening Ceremony and Kenzo and danced to Steve Reich's 'Variations for Vibes, Piano and Strings'.  The music -- scored for four vibrophones, two pianos and strings -- is in a three movement format (fast, slow, fast) with typical propulsive Reich repeating harmonic phrases providing clangorous energy for the dancers.

Steve Reich and Justin Peck during curtain calls for 'New Blood' with Brittany Pollack, David Prottas and Claire Kretchmer.

When the curtain rises the thirteen dancers (six men and seven women) are lined up at center stage from front to back.  They break out of the line to move forward and also I think to change their sequence.  There is a brief group dance and then as they exit the stage one man (Peter Walker) falls to the floor.  Peter is resuscitated by Brittany Pollack and they dance together.  Peter departs and Taylor Stanley enters and dances with Brittany; Brittany departs and David Prottas comes on to dance with Taylor; Taylor departs and Kristen Segin joins David; David departs and Claire Kretzschmar enters to dance with Kristen; Kristen leaves and Lauren King appears to dance with Claire; Claire leaves and Daniel Applebaum joins Lauren; Lauren leaves and Andrew Veyette comes on to dance with Daniel; Daniel goes off and is replaced by Georgina Pazcoguin who dances with Andrew; Andrew leaves and Meagan Mann shows up to dance with Gina; Gina goes off and Ashley Bouder appears to dance with Meagan; Meagan is replaced by Adrian Danchig-Waring who dances a duet with Ashley (part of which is shown in this clip from the Company):

Then the entire cast returns for another brief ensemble and Peter Walker collapses again and resuscitation commences as the curtain falls. 

Somewhere during the course of the 'progression' (Justin Peck's apt term) you become aware that the colors of the dancers patchwork unitards morph with each pairing from primarily red and white with dashes of pink for Peter and Brittany, then adding grey with less red for Taylor -- then on and on with each new dancer until finally Ashley and Adrian are in salmon, taupe and black.

Brittany Pollack and Taylor Stanley in Justin Peck's 'New Blood'.  
Photo by Andrea Mohin for the NY Times
And if you're particularly observant (or paid attention during the costume video) you'll note that there are flesh colored patches on each dancer's unitard where they connect with each other.

The progression provides opportunities for male-female, male-male, and female-female pairings.  The progression of the dances also varies from inventive partnering through challenge dancing, mirroring and much more.  Justin engages each of these dancers in unique ways; he obviously enjoys solving the complex puzzle he has posed for himself and his dancers obviously relish the challenges he gives them to display new combinations in new relationships.  I found the combination of Meagan Mann and Ashley Bouder revelatory -- both women displaying secure technique and cheeky flair.  And Claire Kretzschmar was blazing in her encounters with Kristen Segin and Lauren King.

Each of the four new works comprising the first half of this program are relatively short.  The choreographic and visual variety speaks to the wealth of talent that these young -- all in their mid 20's -- choreographers display.  And their dancers took on their challenges with their usual stellar focus and unparalleled technique.

My comments about Kim Bradstrup's 'Jeux' which comprised the second half of the program will come in a separate post. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

And Still More Ballet Quibbles and Bits . . .

'Swan Lake' Follow-up:

New York City Ballet just published two very brief clips of Teresa Reichlen and Russell Janzen dancing in Peter Martins' 'Swan Lake'.
Teresa Reichlen in the first lakeside scene in Peter Martins' 'Swan Lake'.  Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet

The first is from the lakeside pas de deux and shows the couple's long lyrical lines which I wrote about after seeing them dance together at the September 22nd dress rehearsal:

The second shows Reichlen's incredible series of fouettes in the ballroom pas de deux.

Tess and Russell will probably become the company's hot new couple.

Another NYCB Apprentice:

Alston Macgill has just been named an apprentice by New York City Ballet.  Alston performed the role of Odette in Balanchine's one-act 'Swan Lake' at the 2014 SAB Workshops and danced Bournonville's 'William Tell' pas de deux at the 2015 SAB Workshops.  She comes from Savannah, GA, and just turned 18 in September.  What a smashing birthday present for Alston!

The 'Looks' from NYCB Fall Fashion Gala as seen in Elle and New York Magazine's 'The Cut':

Here's a link to 44 pictures of the costumes designed by five fashion designers for New York City Ballet's Fall Gala:

And here's a link to New York Magazine's 'The Cut' with more photos of the Fall Gala costumes:

Of course, for 'The Cut' the costumes and who designed them are more important than the dancers who are wearing them (typical of the style-obsessed media I suppose).  

Rebecca Krohn with Amar Ramassar, Ask la Cour and Robert Fairchild in Peter Martins' 'Thou Swell' in cosutmes by Peter Topping of Oscar de la Renta.
Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet

Fortunately, we'll never have to see the costumes for Peter Martins' 'Thou Swell' again -- a one-time-only showing of luxuriously vulgar designs by Peter Topping of Oscar de la Renta.

Ballerinas on Broadway:

On Monday, October 5th, we attended a NYC Ballet seminar entitled 'Ballerinas on Broadway'.  Joan Quatrano moderated a panel of three ballerinas associated with the Broadway musical revival of 'On the Town':  Megan Fairchild, Sara Mearns, and Georgina Pazcoguin.  Megan originated the role of Ivy Smith (Miss Turnstiles) and played her for about 10 months.  Sara Mearns' boyfriend, Joshua Bergasse, is the choreographer of the show and Sara performed a 'dream ballet' once during the show's run.  Last summer Gina became a member of the show's ensemble and the understudy for Miss Turnstiles and then danced the role for two weeks after Megan left the show and before Misty Copeland came in for the end of the show's run in early September.

Megan Fairchild as Miss Turnstiles with ensemble in the revival of 'On the Town'.  Photo from Time Out NY

The seminar audience heard a lot of useless information  about 'putting on a show' including definitions of colorful Broadway terms.  They also heard quite a bit about the contrasts between Broadway and NYC Ballet.  Most of this came from Megan, who is a real chatterbox.  Most of Sara's comments concerned background about Josh's choreographic process, while Gina seemed content to talk about her experiences in the show when she was asked.

For me, the most interesting part of the discussion was not about 'On the Town' and Broadway, but about how the NYC Ballet is embracing new media and encouraging its dancers to engage with the public using Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.  Sara has an Instagram feed and Megan has a webpage and posts podcasts.  Sara said that she wanted to connect with future generations of dancers in a medium that they utilize and understand.

SAB's 2014 Workshop Performances Back on PBS:

This past August Live from Lincoln Center rebroadcast the School of American Ballet's 2014 Workshop Performance -- first broadcast on PBS in December, 2014.  Unfortunately, the show had been edited from 90 minutes down to 60 minutes for the rebroadcast, which left much of the rehearsal and interview material from the original show on the cutting room floor.  It was still fun to watch the dance portion of the 50th anniversary Workshop Performance once again -- and marvel at the payoff on many years of arduous training.   Several of these students have gone on to dance professionally in companies across the globe.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

NYC Ballet Performance, Friday Evening, October 2nd

FRIDAY EVENING, OCTOBER 2, 8:00 PM (Conductor: Sill)

ASH: *Isaacs, *Stanley
SONATAS AND INTERLUDES: T. Peck, *Huxley [Solo Piano: Grant]
TARANTELLA: M. Fairchild, De Luz [Solo Piano: McDill]
‘RŌDĒ,Ō: FOUR DANCE EPISODES: T. Peck, Ramasar, Ulbricht, Garcia, Veyette
SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE: Mearns, T. Angle, *Chamblee, Dieck, Scordato, *Coll, Prottas, *Sanz
     *role debuts      

This program, subtitled 'Americana x Five', was immensely satisfying.  Everything was not first rate choreography -- but each work was danced with style and conviction by its talented cast.

'Ash' was choreographed by Peter Martins in 1991 to Michael Torque's commissioned score of the same name.  The original cast featured Wendy Whelan and Nilas Martins as the lead couple -- with four supporting couples that included such starry names as Yvonne Borree, Monique Meunier, Kathleen Tracey, Albert Evans and Ethan Stiefel.

With its neo-Baroque score, high energy and sections of 'call-and-response' choreography, 'Ash' is reminiscent of Balanchine's infinitely superior 'Square Dance'.  Martins' largely symmetrical step-for-note choreography seems frantic and airless, providing his dancers with a test of stamina, but little opportunity for genuine artistry.

Taylor Stanley and Ashly Isaacs in Peter Martins' 'Ash'.  Photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The NY Times

Still, the cast was superb.  Ashly Isaacs and Taylor Stanley in role debuts made strong impressions as the lead couple -- Ashly all speed and sharp angles and Taylor expansive with tensile strength in the convoluted partnering.  Devin Alberda stood out in one brief, dynamic solo.

Richard Tanner's 'Sonatas and Interludes' is danced to a series of pieces for prepared piano by John Cage which were played on stage by Cameron Grant.  Sometimes the music sounds like the humming of insects and at others like a child let loose in a hardware store, but Tanner hears it well and responds with interesting choreography.  It was created in 1982 for the Eglevsky Ballet with Heather Watts and David Moore and then was brought into NYC Ballet's repertory in 1988 for the company's American Music Festival when it was danced by Watts and Jock Soto.  

Tiler Peck and Anthony Huxley (in a debut) were beautifully connected in duets requiring split-second timing.  They seem less austere and more human than what I recall of their estimable predecessors.  I need to retract my previous reservations about Anthony's partnering skills which were strong and confident here.  Still, it's remarkable how his dancing expands when he holds the stage alone.  Tiler tackles the challenges of this role with her own combination of grit and sensuality.

Balanchine's 'Tarantella' to the music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk orchestrated by Hershey Kay is a crowd pleasing gem from 1964 choreographed for Patricia McBride and Edward Villella.  We've probably seen it 25-30 times over the years.
Megan Fairchild airborne in Balanchine's 'Tarantella'.  Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet

It was danced on this program by Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz.  Megan, newly returned to the company after her stint on Broadway in 'On the Town', seems to have brought back a welcome verve and confidence which matches nicely with Joaquin's natural showmanship.

We were seeing Justin Peck's 'Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes' which opened during the Company's last Winter Season for the second time.  My post about the 2/8/2015 performance is here:

and there are brief comments about a NYCB seminar with Justin on 2/9/2015 in a 'quibbles and bits' post here:

Justin uses Aaron Copeland's "Four Dance Episodes from 'Rodeo'" which Copeland created from his original ballet score for Agnes de Mille's 1942 ballet 'Rodeo'.

The lead cast on Friday evening featured Tiler Peck in the role created by Sara Mearns, Anthony Huxley in the role created for Gonzalo Garcia, and Andrew Veyette in the role Justin created for him that Andy was able to dance last February.

This work for 15 men and a single woman holds up very well under repeat scrutiny.  Of course, the second episode for five men -- Daniel Applebaum, Craig Hall, Allen Peiffer, Andrew Scordato and Taylor Stanley -- continues to be the extraordinary core of the work.  While Taylor Stanley seems to have the 'featured' role in this quintet, my eye continues to stray to Craig Hall as the calm anchor of the group.  Craig does less showy stuff than the other four -- but has far greater impact for me.  In their slate blue and beige 'rugby' outfits these men create shifting formations that remind me of rock outcroppings in the badlands.

Craig Hall, Daniel Applebaum, Allen Peiffer and Andrew Scordato support Russell Janzen in Justin Peck's 'Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes'.
Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet

Here's a clip from NYC Ballet of Justin Peck and Taylor Stanley discussing the work:

Tiler Peck is boldly all-American in the third episode's pas de deux with Amar Ramasar.  In addition to partnering Tiler, Amar adds some goofball moments elsewhere in the ballet which play well now -- but will they continue to get laughs as the ballet ages?

Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar in the Third Episode of Justin Peck's 'Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes'.Photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The NY Times 

George Balanchine's 'Slaughter on Tenth Avenue' was created in 1936 for the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart musical 'On Your Toes' starring Ray Bolger and Tamara Geva.  Balanchine originally created 'Slaughter' for a movie starring Fred Astaire, but Astaire turned down the role.  Balanchine mounted it for New York City Ballet in 1968 with Suzanne Farrell as the Striptease Girl and Arthur Mitchell as the Hoofer.  We were there for its opening night that year.

George Balanchine with Suzanne Farrell and Arthur Mitchell working on 'Slaughter on Tenth Avenue' in 1968.
Photo by Martha Swope from the collection of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

It has returned to the repertory frequently since 1968 and with its familiar music and slapstick sensibility it's always a crowd-pleaser.  On Friday evening Sara Mearns was a classy, sexy stripper and Tyler Angle was a suave, dapper hoofer.  Tyler had a 'wardrobe malfunction' -- a rip in the seat of his pants that started near the beginning of the big tap finale and seemed to get bigger with each pirouette -- but he tapped right through to the end with no obvious embarrassment and the cool of a real trooper.

Sara Mearns as the Striptease Girl in Balanchine's 'Slaughter on Tenth Avenue'.
Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet
This brief clip of Sara dancing 'Slaughter' with Robert Fairchild shows how she transforms herself into a real Broadway babe:

'Slaughter on Tenth Avenue' was the perfect climax to a satisfying evening of American ballet inspired by American music.