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NEWSNOTES DANCE BLOG
252 WEST 76TH STREET
NEW YORK NY 10023
WEB SITE: http://www.markkappeldance.com
FROM THE EDITOR
Recognizing the need to promote the personal accomplishments of creative artists and to inform dance audiences, dance professionals, dance supporters, and the general public about news in the dance world, I have established the NewsNotes Dance Blog. It is my goal to collaborate with the dance community in this effort. Please direct announcements and press releases for inclusion and coverage to Editor/NewsNotes Dance Blog at MARKKAPL1@aol.com
NEWS IN THE DANCE WORLD
3-22-17 - The San Francisco Ballet has announced the promotions of Jennifer Stahl to principal dancer, and Esteban Hernandez and Steven Morse to soloist.
3-17-17 - The San Francisco Ballet has announced the promotions of Isabella DeVivo and Jahna Frantziskonis to soloist.
3-13-17 - The San Francisco Ballet has announced the promotion of Max Cauthorn to soloist.
2-23-17 - The Boston Ballet has announced the promotions of Patrick Yocum, Paul Craig, and Junxiong Zhao to principal dancer, and Roddy Doble so soloist.
2-19-17 - The New York City Ballet has announced the promotions of Russell Janzen to principal dancer, and Sara Adams, Harrison Ball, Emilie Gerrity, Joseph Gordon, Unity Phelan, Troy Schumacher, and Indiana Woodward to soloist.
1-4-17 - Sasha Mukhamedov and Qian Liu have been promoted to principal dancers, and Michaela DePrince has been promoted to soloist of the Dutch National Ballet.
1-4-17 - Ellen Overstreet and Edward Gonzalez have been promoted to principal dancers of the Sarasota Ballet.
12-31-16 - Lenore Baulac has been promoted to etoile of the Paris Opera Ballet.
12-20-16 - Sasha De Sola has been promoted to principal dancer of the San Francisco Ballet.
11-20-16 - Laurent Hilaire has been appointed artistic director of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theater.
11-1-16 - Jose Manuel Carreno has been appointed the new artistic director of Ballet de Monterrey in Mexico.
8-17-16 - Madeleine Onne has been appointed the new director of the Houston Ballet Academy in Houston, Texas.
7-4-16 - Samara Downs and Celine Gittens have been promoted to principal dancers at the Birmingham Royal Ballet.
7-1-16 - American Ballet Theatre has announced that Jeffrey Cirio has been promoted to principal dancer, and Blaine Hoven has been promoted to soloist.
6-26-16 - Shiori Kase has been promoted to principal dancer of English National Ballet.
6-17-16 - Xiorama Reyes has been appointed the new director of the Washington School of Ballet.
6-17-16 - Robyn Hendricks has been promoted to principal dancer of the Australian Ballet.
6-15-16 - The National Ballet of Canada has announced that Harrison James has been promoted to the rank of principal dancer.
6-12-16 - The American Theater Wing honored Andy Blankenbuehler with the Tony Award for his choreography created for Hamilton.
6-10-16 - The Royal Ballet has announced the promotions of Alexander Campbell, Francesca Hayward, Ryoichi Hirano, and Akane Takada to the rank of principal dancer.
5-27-16 - Boston Ballet has announced the promotions of Anais Chalendard and Seyo Hye Han to principal dancers, Junxiong Zhao promoted to soloist, and Corina Gil to second soloist.
5-23-16 - The San Francisco Ballet has announced the promotions of Carlo Di Lanno to principal dancer, and Francisco Mungamba, Julia Rowe, Wei Wang, and WanTing Zhao to soloist.
5-18-16 - Taylor Stanley has been promoted to the rank of principal dancer of the New York City Ballet.
5-3-16 - The American Theatre Wing honored the following choreographers with Tony Award nominations for their work during the 2015-16 Broadway theatre season: Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton), Savion Glover (Shuffle Along), Hofesh Schechter (Fiddler on the Roof), Randy Skinner (Dames At Sea), and Sergio Trujillo (On Your Feet).
4-6-16 - Ida Praetorius has been promoted to the rank of principal dancer of the Royal Danish Ballet.
4-5-16 - The Charlotte Ballet has announced that Hope Muir has been appointed the company's new artistic director.
4-5-16 - Les Grands Ballets Canadiens has announced that Ivan Cavallari has been appointed the company's new artistic director.
3-7-16 - The Washington Ballet has announced that Julie Kent has been appointed the company's new artistic director, and Victor Barbee has been appointed the company's new associate artistic director.
2-27-16 - Holly Jean Dorger has been promoted to the rank of principal dancer of the Royal Danish Ballet.
2-25-16 - The Atlanta Ballet has announced that Gennadi Nedvigin has been appointed the company's new artistic director.
2-4-16 - The Paris Opera Ballet has announced that Aurelie Dupont will succeed Benjamin Millepied as artistic director in July 2016.
1-28-16 - La Scala has announced that Mauro Bigonzetti has been appointed the ballet company's new artistic director.
1-25-16 - English National Ballet has announced that Lauretta Summerscales has been promoted to principal dancer.
1-19-16 - The Boston Ballet has announced that Paul Craig and Irlan Silva have been promoted to soloist.
1-13-16 - The Dutch National Ballet has announced that Young Gyu Choi has been promoted from soloist to principal dancer.
Church & State
New World Stages – Stage 5
March 27, 2017
By Mark Kappel
What could be a timelier New York premiere than Jason Odell Williams’ Church and State which opened at the New World Stages – Stage 5 on March 27, 2017. Williams’ play is of the moment and grabbed out of today’s headlines. But politics, and its consequences, have amazing similarities from century to century and era to era. Yet when presented to an audience it can be baffling and perplexing.
Church and State focuses on Senator Charles Whitmore (played by Rob Nagle) who is in the midst of his re-election campaign, and he has decided to tell the public what is going through his mind as his constituents are trying to come to terms with a catastrophic event. The question is whether the voters are ready for Whitmore’s dissembling – or his honesty or his dishonesty – and whether the voters will condemn him or support him.
The play begins just after a shooting incident that has taken place in Raleigh, North Carolina, the hometown of Republican Senator Charles Whitmore. After the somber funeral of the victims – some of whom are children -- Senator Whitmore makes some off-the-cuff remarks about questioning his faith in God, and the harmful effects of not strengthening gun control laws to a local blogger/journalist who records the interview.
Whitmore’s unvarnished and impulsive comments are quickly disseminated into the world of social media which communicates both the good and the bad at the speed of light. Senator Whitmore is also having doubts about his effectiveness as a senator and whether he should be re-elected.
Senator Whitmore’s wife, Sara, (played by Nadia Bowers) and Senator Whitmore’s New York campaign manager, Alex Klein (played by Christa Scott-Reed), try to contain the damage and strategize how to salvage the Senator’s political career – there is also fence-mending between Klein, Sara, and the Senator showing the effects of the stress that is produced during a political campaign. A truce is agreed to in order to save the Senator’s political career and future.
The timing of Senator Whitmore’s self-examination couldn’t be worse. But in an unforeseen turn of events Senator Whitmore’s supporters and voters are not put off by his remarks as had been feared – and he is safe for the moment to face another day. However the issue of gun control and gun violence weighs heavily on the minds of the characters in Church and State.
The moral parable in the play is about gun control for which Williams expresses his transparent beliefs. But in Church and State Williams also examines Senator Whitmore’s journey as he confronts his own beliefs and his moral dilemma. This conundrum is presented in a fast-paced 75 minutes and the audience witnesses the consequences and effects of Whitmore’s brutally frank and heartfelt words.
Rob Nagle as Senator Whitmore plays a multi-faceted and thoughtful character, with aplomb, with both comic and dramatic timing that emphasizes the metamorphoses that Senator Whitmore is going through. Nadia Bowers plays Sara impeccably as she evolves through the problems developing in her husband’s campaign even through a rather tipsy battle with her husband and her husband’s campaign manager which strains the relationships in this political troika. Christa Scott-Reed keeps her cool as Alex Klein playing the campaign manager with intensity, professionalism, and also the persistence of herding kittens let loose in a garden. Jonathan Louis Dent ably defines four different supporting characters. With this quality of actors and their acting they give Williams’ play the truth and honesty it is conveying – and also the play’s spirit.
Plaudits to Williams for taking on the issues he has in his play, Church and State, as well as Markus Potter’s precise direction.
Lynn Nottage’s Broadway Debut with Sweat
March 26, 2017
By Mark Kappel
Opening at Studio 54 on March 26, 2017, Sweat marks the Broadway debut of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage. Sweat journeyed to Broadway after a successful engagement at New York’s Public Theater last year. Nottage has finally arrived on Broadway, and has done so with a timely and powerful play.
Nottage’s Sweat tells the story of factory workers facing the day to day vicissitudes of holding down a job, juggling work and family obligations, and living from paycheck to paycheck – a story not often told. The plight of these hard-working people cannot be more of the moment, and is told with compassion and humor.
It was mentioned in the play’s program that when Lynn Nottage and director Kate Whoriskey are researching a theatrical project together that they take on the roles of investigative journalists rather than collaborators on a play. It seems that this process is what makes Sweat as compelling as it is. Sweat is a play about real people who are coming to terms with the truth that the American Dream is slipping through their fingers. A tale for our time, and our era.
Sweat’s story is set in Reading, Pennsylvania, once a city that had been booming but is now experiencing the economic downturns that are occurring in a myriad of Midwest towns. The downturns result in loss of jobs due to factory or business closings – with some of the jobs migrating to other countries. These circumstances are not merely life setbacks. Lives are changed suddenly and people search from within to find survival skills to cope. Although the events in Sweat shift back and forth between 2000 and 2008, they are just as relevant in the present day. Can this period be described as a dishonest decade – and are we still stuck in it?
The play opens with a prologue in which two young men, one white and one black – presented in separate sessions with the presence of a police officer as a mentor – and you are immediately aware that something ominous has happened. Clearly these two young men had a strong friendship that was developed over many years. We learn later in the play that these two young men are also the sons of two best friends.
Tavern keeper Stan (played by James Colby) had spent 28 years working for the Olstead steel mill and had hoped for job security and perhaps a comfortable retirement – but the company abandoned him after he was injured by faulty machinery on the steel mill floor. He is the father confessor to the locals, sympathetic to their problems while also attempting to persuade them to consider positive solutions to their problems.
Stan’s tavern has become a gathering place for Olstead workers where they share their personal challenges and their work frustrations – and celebrating their birthdays. Two particular workers Tracey (played by Johanna Day) and Cynthia (played by Michelle Wilson) have had their friendship tested all too often as they work the line, seek promotions, and are apprehensive about rumors of downsizing and losing jobs that are to be sent to Mexico.
Tensions rise when the union calls for a strike and tavern bar back, Oscar (Carlo Alban) takes a job as a replacement at the steel mill. Conflicts between the tavern regulars are revealed, which are exacerbated by frustration, accusations of racism, and familiarity doesn’t help to tamper down violence.
These characters have to face a realistic self-examination of their lives and what their futures might be, and are dealing with issues they are helpless to control. And they lash out at the closest target. It is the play’s combustible conclusion that is unexpected and then there are the long-term implications for all of these flawed characters.
The story is told by Nottage in a compelling manner which is enhanced by Kate Whoriskey’s compassionate direction revealing heartfelt and honest performances by the play’s formidable ensemble cast which makes these “regular people” come to life and easy to identify with.
Sweat is performed by an exceptional cast, but particularly notable are the performances by Johanna Day and Michelle Wilson as the two best friends whose friendship is severely tested.
Sweat is a play with a message reflecting the chaotic times we are living in. A playwright has succeeded when he or she succeeds in provoking an audience and challenges us all to think about what society could be rather than what it is -- and also motivates us to find solutions to the problems that we face. Nottage’s Sweat succeeds on all fronts and must be experienced.
City Center Encores – The New Yorkers
March 23, 2017
By Mark Kappel
In its concert performances of vintage Broadway musicals, City Center Encores has fulfilled its mission to reconstruct lost Broadway musicals. Such reconstructions evolve into musical archeological digs requiring research about these musicals’ scores, orchestrations, dialogue, and directorial notes. Often those doing the research had little to go on but hoped to bring these marvelous scores to a wider audience, and there have been many success stories.
From March 22-26, 2017 City Center Encores is presenting the result of such research in rediscovering the Cole Porter musical, The New Yorkers, which had premiered on Broadway in 1930. Based on a story by Peter Arno (a cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine) and producer E. Ray Goetz, with a book by Herbert Fields, this musical was built around its star, Jimmie Durante, who also contributed songs of his own to the score. The New Yorkers was a book musical, but had also been described to be more like a vaudeville revue. No matter what the description, The New Yorkers, in its present form, is a crazy valentine dedicated to New York City and its inhabitants.
Arno’s cartoons tended to be politically incorrect and critical of the urban classes in New York City. Arno’s commentary on the excesses of rich New Yorkers in the last days of Prohibition represented a slice of life of New York in the late 1920’s. Arno, a socialite himself, characterized America’s elite as unpleasant, unlikeable, pompous and arrogant. As part of a colorful life of his own Arno was a member of Rudy Vallee’s band, the Yale Collegians, and he also observed the Café Society world that was paraded in front of him – people in top hats and nightclubbing. Not a surprise that The New Yorkers’ subtitle is, “A Sociological Musical Satire”.
The only surviving material for The New Yorkers consisted of copies of the script with barely decipherable notes by a stage manager. Jimmie Durante’s missing songs were discovered in Durante’s archive at UCLA. In the original production, Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians were also in the show and they performed their own original material. A portion of Waring’s contributions to The New Yorkers was found in Waring’s papers at Penn State University – and materials from Cole Porter’s archives at Yale also provided insight into the structure and music for The New Yorkers.
Musical director Rob Berman and Encores’ artistic director, Jack Viertel, made revisions of their own. For this production, much of the Waring material and two of the Durante songs were cut, and injected were a few numbers from other Cole Porter shows to fill in gaps including songs from Fifty Million Frenchmen, Gay Divorce, Let’s Face It!, and Leave It To Me.
Josh Clayton and Larry Moore wrote new orchestrations for a 30-piece orchestra based on the musical style of recordings of other of Porter’s musicals of the same time period.
What is presented on the City Center stage is not a recreation of The New Yorkers but a reimagined version using the newly-discovered materials and what was at hand.
The New Yorkers is set in the 1920’s, a time of speakeasies, gangster violence, and sexual liberation. The story focuses on socialite Alice Wentworth (played by Scarlett Strallen) and her bootlegger boyfriend Al Spanish (played by Tam Mutu). Attached to other love interests, they become joined at the hip, and they set off on an adventure that might only happen in New York which takes them to Sing Sing Prison – and back.
Wentworth meets Spanish by happenstance at his club seeking to hire his talented nightclub performers for a social event at her New York apartment. But after Spanish’s nightclub is raided and closed Wentworth concocts a scheme to re-open the speakeasy in her own apartment. Spanish is in jail, and Wentworth’s scheme is to make a call to the police to raid her apartment speakeasy – in order to improve business for her speakeasy -- and join Spanish in jail. Throw in bootlegging gin and a dubious business in caviar.
The New Yorkers abounds in novelty numbers that are linked together by a conventional story you might bump into in a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie. But in viewing The New Yorkers as a period piece, appreciating its double-entendre and sharp-witted dialogue, and the mismatch of characters, The New Yorkers is a happily entertaining vintage musical.
Triple-threat musical stars Strallen and Mutu make much of the material that they are given. They were both in the moment, dancing and singing, making these characters believable.
In particular Kevin Chamberlin as Jimmie Deegan has the unenviable job of taking on the Jimmie Durante material but brings much to that material without becoming too much like an impression of Durante. His particular talents were evidence in the Act I ending novelty number, Wood – starting out with a description of himself with a head of Wood with members of the cast carrying all sorts of objects, made of wood, making a pile on the stage – and yes, Deegan makes the off-hand remark that this was how the show ended in its 1930 production.
Arnie Burton as Feet McGeegan also provides a great deal of comic relief in this musical. In particular in the tongue-twisting and witty Let’s Not Talk About Love – which demanded an encore. Also notable is Cyrille Aimee who sings superbly and has the honor of presenting one of Cole Porter’s best known songs from this show, Love For Sale, which along with I Happen To Like New York represent the two standards that are from The New York Yorkers. In fact the closing show reprise of I Happen To Like New York could only be described as an anthem and brought The New Yorkers to a heart-stirring close.
This concert version of The New Yorkers was directed with reverence by John Rando who master-minded the comic timing necessary to bring off The New Yorkers’ satire and humor, and Chris Bailey created choreography that was perfect for the novelty and cabaret numbers in the show.
The New Yorkers proved to be a treasure worth discovering, and another success story that can be credited to the City Center Encores’ artistic mission.
Hamburg Ballet Makes Debut at Joyce Theater
March 21, 2017
By Mark Kappel
The Hamburg Ballet, directed by American-born choreographer John Neumeier, has achieved dominance in the landscape of ballet companies in Europe. Neumeier is an exponent of the full-length narrative ballet – approaching this dance form in a unique manner.
The Hamburg Ballet has performed Neumeier’s full-length ballets in various venues in New York over the last few decades including engagements at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the City Center, and the David Koch Theater. The Hamburg Ballet is making its Joyce Theater debut from March 21-25, 2017, and is presenting a thought-provoking program of dance which has been conceived to fit in this intimate theater.
The Hamburg Ballet’s program was danced under the overall title, Old Friends, an evening of dance pieces choreographed by John Neumeier, and choreographed to music ranging from Johann Sebastian Bach to Simon & Garfunkel. This two hour program appears to be Neumeier’s personal choreographic response to the music he selected – with little or no narrative to speak of.
Old Friends opens with the Ouverture section subtitled, Bach Suite No. 3, which is choreographed to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major. Bach Suite No. 3 is choreographed in the neo-classical mode with quick movement, and with partnering that veers in the direction of gymnastic and acrobatic. Led by Xue Lin and Alexandr Trusch, this plotless piece is divided into four sections and is performed at breakneck speed by the well-trained dancers in the cast.
Old Friends continues with Chopin Dialogues choreographed to excerpts from Federico Mompou’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin and Simon & Garfunkel’s Theme and Overs from Bookends. Depicted is a relationship that is deteriorating and in trouble – bleak in its tone --and the two people in the relationship are attempting to control each other emotionally. Even at the end of this duet, there doesn’t seem to be a resolution as to how this relationship will move forward or terminate. In this duet Neumeier’s choreography transitions to the mode of modern and post-modern dance with the principals having minimal contact. As danced by Anna Laudere and Karen Azatyan this duet has Neumeier in a pensive mood.
This duet extends into the beginning of the second half of the program. The two dancers are now in the midst of a gathering of people in the Dangling Conversations section danced to a series of Chopin nocturnes with the addition of Simon & Garfunkel’s Dangling Conversation. In a La Rondine-like sequence presented is a changing series of relationships between the dancers also reflecting regret and quick changing moods, and choreographically in a mix of contemporary ballet and modern dance.
The assembled cast of Silvia Azzoni, Leslie Heylmann, Anna Laudere, Xue Lin, Emilie Mazori, Christopher Evans, Marc Jubete, Alexandre Riabko, Alexandr Trusch, and Ivan Urban transitions easily from one dance style to the other, and subtly reveal the emotions in play.
The program ends with Old Friends II – Opus 100 – for Maurice Bejart – which is a male duet choreographed to Simon & Garfunkel’s Old Friends and Bridge Over Troubled Water. This piece was created in 1996 on the occasion of Maurice Bejart’s 70th birthday. It celebrates the camaraderie between two male dancers, Alexandre Riabko and Ivan Urban, bringing Old Friends to a dynamic and forceful conclusion.
Old Friends, as danced by the Hamburg Ballet, and choreographed by John Neumeier, is Neumeier’s choreography in a different vein that one has seen in his narrative works. Still displaying the breath of the Hamburg Ballet’s dancers, and a side of Neumeier not often seen.
McCarter Theatre’s Murder on the Orient Express
McCarter Theatre Center – Matthews Theatre
March 18, 2017
By Mark Kappel
Published in 1934, Agatha Christie’s mystery thriller Murder on the Orient Express may be the best of its genre ever written. The McCarter Theatre is now presenting an engaging and entertaining stage adaptation of this Christie classic by Ken Ludwig from March 17 – April 2, 2017.
Christie’s mysteries have been adapted for film and television but their stage adaptations are not as well known even though Christie was a successful playwright as well as a novelist – the exception being the stage adaptation of The Mousetrap which is the longest, continuously running play of all time – still being performed in London.
Ken Ludwig, who has a reputation for writing fast-paced farces, here has been reverential to Christie’s intent yet also seasons this classic mystery with insight and satiric wit. In so doing Ludwig enhances Christie’s story in bringing it to the stage.
Murder on the Orient Express features one of Christie’s most enigmatic and mercurial characters Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. His eccentricities, and his steel-trap mind aiding him to solve every murder, are what makes Murder on the Orient Express an absorbing tale. In Murder on the Orient Express there are also references to the infamous Lindbergh baby kidnapping, and Christie’s fascination with train travel – in particular train travel’s intimacy.
The play opens with a Prologue in which Poirot sets the scene for his next adventure. While in Istanbul Poirot is urgently recalled to London for a meeting at Scotland Yard. His only travel option is the Orient Express and with the assistance of the Orient Express’ Monsieur Bouc, Poirot is able to secure a compartment on the train.
One of the passengers, Samuel Ratchett, collars Poirot seeking Poirot’s help to determine why his life is being threatened. Although Poirot seems to take Ratchett’s ramblings as claptrap, on the second night of the journey Rachett is found murdered.
With the Orient Express stuck in a snowdrift in Yugoslavia, Poirot is imposed upon to solve the murder. Either the murderer is someone who managed to board the train enroute or is one of the Orient Express’ passengers. And then there is the question of who the murder victim actually is.
Poirot, the genius detective that he is, solves the murder. But it is how this tale unravels, and making the acquaintance of this unusual cast of characters, which represents the core of Ludwig’s retelling of Christie’s mystery novel.
When all of the murder suspects are gathered together in the play’s final scene, Poirot lists the clues revealed throughout the play with each character stating those clues in his narrative. Audience members are sworn not to reveal who the murder is, but in the play’s Epilogue Poirot comes to terms with the how and why he solved the murder.
Murder on the Orient Express hosts a most interesting group of personages led by the venerable Hercule Poirot, superbly played here by the equally venerable Allan Corduner. Corduner could have easily channeled David Suchet’s characterization as Poirot, but Corduner has created his own approach to this eccentric character. And Poirot does have a group of eccentric and colorful characters as suspects.
However for this stage adaptation, Ludwig has reduced the number of suspects from twelve down to eight, and in so doing allows us to get know these characters in some depth. Ludwig has also injected a bit of satire and comic farce. Ludwig can’t resist the surprise of a satiric quip, slamming compartment doors, mistaken identities, and also there are Broadway musical references, and the cacophony of the characters’ accents.
Among the personages are Princess Dragomiroff played by Veanne Cox, Mrs. Hubbard played by Julie Halston, Michel played by Maboud Ebrahimzodeh, Mary Debenham played by Susannah Hoffman, Countess Andrenyi played by Alexander Silber, Hector MacQueen played by Juha Sorola, Greta Ohlsson played by Samantha Steinmetz, the dual roles of Ratchett/Colonel Arburthnot played by Max von Essen, and Monsieur Bouc played by Evan Zes.
This mystery is all played out within the splendid atmosphere created by scenery designer, Beowulf Boritt, costume designer, William Ivey Long, and lighting designer Ken Billington in what is a limited and confined space. Boritt has created a “train” for the stage which is ingeniously designed and utilized, and Long has created the costumes that reflect the style of this glamorous era.
The McCarter Theatre’s artistic director, Emily Mann, helms this production, and guides the train journey of this eccentric group of women and men moving these characters within the restricted space of the train without dropping a beat.
If you are a fan of mysteries – or interested in an engrossing tale – Ludwig’s Murder on the Orient Express presents a rewarding theatrical experience performed by talented and adept actors that make this mysterious tale, and its characters, come alive on the stage.
Tom Gold Dance’s Sixth Annual Season
Gerald W. Lynch Theater
March 14, 2017
By Mark Kappel
Needless to say it is a challenge in this economic environment to self-produce dance performances of your own in New York. However Tom Gold, former soloist of the New York City Ballet, has produced several of these performances under the banner of Tom Gold Dance, which performed in its sixth annual season at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College on March 14, 2017. This particular performance was also a challenge because of the inclement weather but audience members made it to the performance in spite of the travel vicissitudes.
For this sixth annual season Tom Gold Dance performed a program of three different dance pieces all of them choreographed by Tom Gold – including two company premieres and a world premiere.
Opening the program and the first of the two company premieres was Served which was first developed as part of the 13th annual National Choreographers Initiative in Irving, California. Choreographed to Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy, played live by pianist Xak Bjerken, Served was inspired by the action of tennis matches. The choreography reflected the game of tennis’ to and fro, and was influenced by the masters – George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. Yet at the same time the choreography reflected simplicity and clarity.
Served was danced with impressive speed by the cast of Morgan McEwen, Courtney Nitting, Allynne Noelle, Mary Elizabeth Sell, Kristen Segin, Thomas Garrett, Zachary Guthier, Evan Swenson, and James Shee.
Following Served was Gold’s world premiere, Counterpoint, choreographed to Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint, and Nagoya Marimbas. This duet, structured in four movements, suggested detachment – the two dancers danced around each other with little contact – in counterpoint to each other and responding to the rhythms in Steve Reich’s music. Counterpoint was danced by Meaghan Dutton O’Hara and Daniel Applebaum with a great deal of showmanship.
This hour-long performance ended with the second company premiere, Gold’s Oasis, originally commissioned by the St. Louis Ballet. Choreographed to John Zorn’s “Lucifer” from the Book of Angels, Zorn’s jazz influenced music formed the foundation for the choreography of this piece. Depicted is an imagined group meeting at a desert retreat – a work for ten dancers. Gold’s choreography responded to the patterns in Zorn’s music – freeing for the dancers and festive for the audience.
For what was a snowy night in New York, Tom Gold Dance – and Gold himself – successfully met the challenges of producing a diverting and entertaining program of dance here in New York – with the dancers exhibiting spirited and winning performances.
Manhattan Theatre Club Presents American Premiere of Linda
Manhattan Theatre Club – City Center
– Stage I
March 3, 2017
By Mark Kappel
The Manhattan Theatre Club is currently presenting the American premiere of Penelope Skinner’s Linda from February 28 – April 2, 2017. Skinner’s Linda was given its premiere by the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre in 2015, and the Manhattan Theatre Club’s production is a welcome opportunity for New Yorkers to see this thoughtful and compelling play, and become familiar with Penelope Skinner as a playwright.
The playwright puts the spotlight on Linda Wilde, who is a successful cosmetic executive as well as being a busy mother and wife. The company she works for, Swan, is questioning her abilities as a brand manager because she is out of touch with the younger demographics that the company wishes to reach in order to sell its products. These accusations are made after she pitches a revolutionary concept, a product called Dove, which could change how the world looks at women of her generation. When making her pitch for this product she finds herself fighting for her professional life in the youth-oriented world of fashion and cosmetics.
At work, Linda is also being undermined by a younger, ambitious and career-oriented woman who has practiced cyber-bulling during her school life and in her professional life. And in Linda’s personal life, her husband is having an affair with a woman who is young enough to be his daughter. Linda’s older daughter is careening from crisis to crisis as she copes with the emotional scars she received from a group of “mean girls” at school. Linda is sliding down the slippery slope of being irrelevant and invisible.
In the midst of all of this chaos, Linda realizes that she has made some bad decisions regarding her professional life and her personal life which has contributed to the multitude of problems that are coming her way, and she is suffering a meltdown as a result.
However Linda does take a moment to give a no holds bar and in your face declaration about being a victim of sexism and ageism, and is seeking liberation from both. It had also been her hope that after ten years of success in her professional life, that these battles would have and should have been won – for herself and for her daughters.
Linda is not the only character in this play that is carrying either light or heavy baggage. The characters’ interactions are what triggers the plot of this play, and contributes to how the play evolves through its cathartic end.
The subject matter couldn’t be more germane, and Skinner has approached the issues with tongue in cheek humor and human emotion while also throwing knives and barbs at those ruling the roost in the establishment. Under Lynne Meadow’s skillful direction, Linda speaks to everyone – both women and men – who are questioning how to survive in the work place and in their personal lives.
Linda is performed within Walt Spangler’s striking revolving modern stage design that moves back and forth between Linda’s office and her home. Her two worlds that cannot be separated, and are colliding with each other in this play.
British actress Janie Dee’s performance of Linda Wilde is emotional, compelling and spine-tingling – and heralds her welcome return to the New York stage.
Dee is supported by a wonderful cast of actors particularly Molly Griggs as Linda’s office nemesis Amy, Jennifer Ikeda as Linda’s older daughter Alice, and Donald Sage MacKay as Linda’s husband Neil.
Penelope Skinner’s Linda is a provocative and timely examination of contemporary life, and is also a showcase for Janie Dee’s extraordinary performance in the title role.
Musicals in Mufti – Dear World
York Theatre Company
February 26, 2017
By Mark Kappel
The York Theatre Company’s Musicals in Mufti series has featured two of Jerry Herman’s musicals this season. The first of which had been Milk and Honey, and the second is Dear World which runs from February 25 – March 5, 2017. Both Milk and Honey, and Dear World have been re-discoveries and we are fortunate that the York Theatre Company has made it possible to experience both of these musicals and insuring that these musicals do not disappear into obscurity.
Jerry Herman’s Dear World had a short life on Broadway. Opening on February 6, 1979 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre, it closed at the end of May of that same year – after only 132 performances.
With a book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, based on Maurice Valency’s adaptation of Jean Giraudoux’s The Madwoman of Chaillot, Dear World was a departure from the stories that Jerry Herman told in his previous musicals. Giraudoux’s play has its eccentricities and absurdities – and a bit of whimsy. Although it was a vehicle for the much-loved Angela Lansbury, who won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Countess Aurelia, Dear World has faded from memory. Unfortunate because Dear World is a musical with a point of view, comments on the human condition, and its score has its charms.
The plot of Dear World focuses on the Countess Aurelia, Madame Constance, and Madame Gabrielle who scheme to prevent a group of unscrupulous businessmen from drilling for oil in Chaillot, an elegant neighborhood of Paris. There is also the sub-plot of the young lovers, Nina and Julian, who are willing accomplices with the Countesses to prevent these corporatists from getting their greedy hands on the community of Chaillot. It is a simple tale of people speaking truth to the powerful corporate world, and transforming themselves into community organizers to fight the establishment. And this community is filled with true “characters” in every sense.
The Madwoman of Chaillot is set in Paris in 1945 after France had been liberated from the Nazi occupation but with the French still suffering the aftereffects. Giraudoux used metaphors in his play to tell his tale. Giraudoux’s metaphors are reflected in Dear World where instead of the Nazis, we have President 1, President 2, and President 3 – and the Prospector – corporate types who wish to exploit the population. There is talk of oil derricks decorated with stained glass that would appear all over Paris in a year – and from the community the response would be the equivalent to the Eiffel Tower being inverted – somehow we may feel, in this day and age, that there is a monument in Washington DC that is also inverted which makes Dear World timely.
The York Theatre Company is presenting David Thompson’s new version of Dear World which is a chamber version rather the grander scale of the original Broadway production. This chamber version brings out the intimacy that Dear World needs to convey its message. Also this version keeps the score’s gems intact including I Don’t Want To Know, the title song, Kiss Her Now, Each Tomorrow Morning, I’ve Never Said I Love You, and in particular, And I Was Beautiful, enhanced by the glorious and touching performance of Tyne Daly in the role of the Countess Aurelia.
Also contributing to the success of this version of Dear World are Alison Fraser as Madame Constance, Ann Harada as Madame Gabrielle, Lenny Wolpe as The Sewerman, Erika Henningsen as Nina, and Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Julian. All of these performances were genuine, well-acted – and well sung.
Musicals in Mufti’s concert version of Dear World is in the capable hands of director, Michael Montel, and the music in the capable hands of musical director, Christopher McGovern – with McGovern as the pianist, and Louis Tucci on bass and accordion.
At a time when it is difficult to be optimistic, Jerry Herman and Jean Giraudoux, have spoken to us in Dear World, and to remind us all that we can survive and all will correct itself in time – we just have to keep our “dear world” heading on a positive track. This all comes together in the wonderful performance of this concert version of Dear World being presented as part of the York Theatre Company’s Musicals in Mufti Series.
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
February 14, 2017
By Mark Kappel
These days there are few musicals that can be described as innovative – and inventive – all in the same sentence. However, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, which has been presented in various off-Broadway settings, has reached Broadway and has changed the tone of Broadway and may perhaps, will do so for years to come. Imagination runs wild in this immersive theatrical experience with tongue in cheek humor, smiles, and flashes of light. There is audience participation and involvement in a story that might be considered obscure but connects on many different levels. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 draws one in, and is stunning.
This musical is the creation of Dave Malloy, who has written the music, lyrics and the book, based on 70 pages from the epic novel, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Cleverly fashioned by director Rachel Chavkin, and set in the scenic environment magnificently created by designer Mimi Lien, and lighting designer Bradley King, the audience has an immediate theatrical experience as it becomes part of this romantic, thrilling, and reckless story that takes place in 19th century Russia -- but is universal and of the moment.
The heroine of this story is young Countess Natasha Rostova who falls in love with the widowed Prince Andre Bolkonsky. One of the conditions for their marriage to take place provides that the Countess must be patient enough to wait one year. It is during that time period that her impatience and emotions take over, and she allows herself to be swept off her feet by the dashing and self-indulgent Anatole Kuragin. A scandal ensues but it is a family friend of the Rostovs, Pierre Bezukhov, who is the Rostovs’ hope in repairing Natasha’s and her family’s reputation.
Pierre is a young Russian aristocrat who is trying to find his purpose in life, and is trapped in a loveless marriage in which his wife, Helene Kuragina, is forward enough to be involved with a lover – an embarrassing scandal that he must suffer through himself.
This story is set against the background of the brink of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 – attempted by Napoleon because of the Russian Czar Alexander I’s refusal to participate in France’s trade embargo against the British. The Russian army retreated within Russia pillaging Russian cities and burning Moscow so as not to leave behind food for Napoleon’s troops – and thereby upsetting the Russian nobility.
At the same time Russian intellectuals were also fascinated by Napoleon’s progressive policies in Europe. In Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Pierre Bezukhov is one of those intellectuals who was mystified and in awe of Napoleon. Yet ultimately the Napoleon’s Russian invasion would also expedite Napoleon’s fall from power only a few years later.
It is how this romantic story is told that makes Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 animated and involving – and entertaining – beyond what one has seen in a Broadway musical in some years.
Malloy’s music is of a sung-through operatic style with arias revealing exposition and emotions – the actors are immediately placed among the audience members who are seated in cabaret-style at tables, banquettes, and in conventional theatre seats surrounded by walkways, ramps, catwalks, and period artwork. To accent it all is lots of red velvet, gold and brass, reflecting the style of Czar Alexander and the time period that the story unfolds in. This unconventional approach doesn’t consistently support the action of the piece, but you can’t help being involved with all that is surrounding you. The music, which encompasses many different styles, also surrounds you as the musicians are placed in different locations in this elaborately designed environment.
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 marks the Broadway debut of recording artist Josh Groban in the role of Pierre creating an inspired interpretation of a besotted and sympathetic character with an excellent singing voice to match. His rendition of “Dust and Ashes” reflects the sentimental nature and melancholic nature of Pierre, and stops the show – in a good way. Among his many foils are understudy Lauren Zakrin as Natasha, and understudy Josh Canfield as Anatole Kuragin who make a passionate and combustible pair.
However the entire cast of Brittain Ashford as Sonya Rostova, Gelsey Bell as Princess Mary Bolkonsky, Nicholas Belton in the dual role of the elder Prince Bolkonsky and the younger Prince Andre Bolkonsky, Nick Choksi as Fyodor Dolokhov, and the feisty Amber Gray as Helene Kuragina, also bring this exciting theatrical concept to life.
It is rare to have a fresh theatrical experience like the one Natasha, Pierre and the Great Come of 1812 provides, which is why one must experience this vibrant Broadway musical for oneself.
City Center Encores – Big River
February 12, 2017
By Mark Kappel
Continuing its mission to perform neglected Broadway musicals, and those that couldn’t be commercially produced on Broadway in these delicate economic times, City Center Encores presented a concert version of Big River from February 8-12, 2017.
Big River premiered on Broadway in 1985 and was notable because the score was composed by Roger Miller, then a well-known Country and Western singer and songwriter, and the musical was an adaptation of one of American literature’s best known and much loved novels, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. William Hauptman’s faithful book adaptation and Miller’s signature music, consisting of gospel, bluegrass, and Country and Western music, was a perfect match.
As an indication that Mark Twain’s ghost hovers over Big River, there was a sign over the City Center’s stage which quotes from Twain’s novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot will be shot.”
Big River focuses on the relationship of Huckleberry Finn (played by Nicholas Barasch), poor but practical, who found a large sum of money with his equally adventuresome friend Tom Sawyer. Finn has found himself under the protective guidance of his two adoptive mothers, Miss Watson (played by Annie Golden) and the Widow Douglas (played by Cass Morgan), who are attempting to assimilate him into civilized society.
When Finn’s father comes to claim him and his small “fortune” Finn fakes his own death and sets forth on his own adventure. He befriends a runaway slave, Jim (played by Kyle Sutcliffe), and they are to travel on a raft down the Mississippi, where they will catch a steam boat north where Jim can find freedom in one of the Free states.
It is an expansive story as Finn and Jim come into contact with many different characters as they travel on the Mississippi. Among them are two con artists, Duke and King. These two characters draw Finn into some nefarious schemes and add a great deal of eccentric color to the proceedings.
As both the narrator and protagonist in Big River, Finn often breaks the fourth wall justifying and explaining how his misadventures and his mistakes can be transformed into moral choices.
This musical was groundbreaking because of the musical style that Roger Miller brought to Broadway. It is a score full of oddities and gems. Among the oddities is Hand for the Hog, sung by Tom Sawyer (given an excellent and playful rendition by Charlie Franklin), which is an ode to pigs, and the tuneful and melodic, Muddy Water, and River in the Rain, which are sung by Huck and Jim.
In this concert version directed by Lear de Bessonet, with choreography by Josh Rhodes, and musical direction by Rob Berman, the essence of this groundbreaking musical is captured. With the orchestra on stage – populated by a talented group and versatile group of musicians – and the suggestion of locale only represented in a projection of the Mississippi River – Twain’s story is told with its ambivalence and autobiographical associations.
It was the good fortune for City Center Encores audiences that this concert version of Big River was staged and performed with care.
Beyond the excellent musical contributions to this performance, the superlative cast brought Big River to life. Nicholas Barasch gave a convincing and heart-warming performance as Huckleberry Finn, Kyle Scatliffe portrayed well the stoic runaway slave, Jim, and Christopher Sieber as the Duke and David Pittu as The King portrayed a pair of ne’er do wells that make mischief and move the story forward. Lauren Worsham lent her elegance to the role of Mary Jane Wilkes.
This was a wonderful opportunity to experience and embrace Big River, and its charm, as it is joyous, uplifting and stirring.
Paper Mill Playhouse Presents A Farce, A Comedy of Tenors
Paper Mill Playhouse
February 11, 2017
By Mark Kappel
Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me Tenor had its Broadway premiere in 1989, a hilarious farce about an opera company in Cleveland coping with the antics of a temperamental Italian tenor – and the craziness that ensues behind the scenes of an opera company when things don’t go as planned. Ken Ludwig has written a hilarious sequel, A Comedy of Tenors, which had premiered in 2015 as a co-production of the Cleveland Playhouse and the McCarter Theatre -- and is playing at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, New Jersey from February 1-26, 2017.
Rarely have sequels been written for successful plays – although William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew had its sequel, John Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed – following Shrew by about 15 years. Many more years have separated Lend Me A Tenor and its sequel, A Comedy of Tenors, but in this instance no less laughs, and no less chaos. And you don’t have to have seen Lend Me A Tenor to enjoy its sequel.
Lend Me A Tenor took place in Cleveland, Ohio in 1934, and we now move forward two years to setting the scene in Paris where the action is taking place in a hotel suite (opulently designed by Michael Schweikardt) – racing through at breakneck speed with the cast of characters of three tenors, a wife, and a girlfriend, and in the background, a soccer stadium filled with screaming and over-enthusiastic fans.
The master of this circus is producer Henry Saunders (played by Michael Kostroff), who had been the general manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company, and mayor of Cleveland, and is now in concert management. It is he who confronts one catastrophe after another in this funny Ken Ludwig farce, guided by the adept direction by Don Stephenson.
Italian tenor Tito Merelli (played by John Treacy Egan) is now facing competition from a younger American rival tenor, Carlos Nucci (played by Ryan Silverman). A Swedish tenor, Jussi Bjorling, has cancelled out of the concert of the century – a typical happenstance in the opera world and is the first shoe to drop. Tito believes his wife Maria (played by Judy Blazer) is having an affair with Carlo Nucci. But it is actually his daughter Mimi (played by Jill Paice), who is the object of Carlo’s affections. And then there is the glamorous Russian opera star Racon (played by Donna English) who is attempting to seduce Tito.
As problems and mistaken identities present themselves and all is falling like dominos, Saunders must rely on his son-in-law Max (played by David Josefberg) to save the day. While fulfilling his role being one of the tenors, he is also drafted to solve problems as the tenors cancel and then agree to participate in the concert – again – and keep all participants happy. In the midst of slamming doors and unexpected confrontations – rivalries amongst the tenors -- one can only expect the unexpected – and the question is answered whether Max uses his ingenuity to save this situation from catastrophe, and the show goes on.
The comedy takes flight at the beginning of A Comedy of Tenors with quotes from operas, typical stereotypes and a few surprises – and yes, there is singing and the curtain call is expertly choreographed.
Not only are some cast members in A Comedy of Tenors been members of the cast for the Paper Mill Playhouse’s production of Lend Me A Tenor, but also from the recent Paper Mill Playhouse production of The Producers. These are actors who are expert farceurs.
Whether you are an opera fan – or not – you will enjoy A Comedy of Tenors – an excellent cure for the winter blues!
ABT Studio Company and Royal Ballet School in Joint Performance
Skirball NYU Center
February 10, 2017
By Mark Kappel
The ABT Studio Company and students from the Royal Ballet School gave a joint performance at the NYU Skirball Center on February 10th, 2017. These organizations have performed in joint presentations in the past here in New York City, and this was a welcome return for this special collaboration.
These joint performances present a unique opportunity to see these young dancers in varied repertoire and to compare their training, experience, and development as artists.
The ABT Studio Company, now under the direction of Kate Lydon, is made up of 15 dancers. They were on display in works created specifically for the company.
Among them were Marcelo Gomes’ neo-classical work, Kabalevsky Violin Concerto, Dana Genshaft’s Chromatic Fantasy, a contemporary ballet choreographed to Dave Brubeck’s Chaconne from Chromatic Fantasy, and Ethan Stiefel’s See the Youth Advance!, choreographed to Beethoven’s 12 Variations on See the Conquering Hero Comes, which was a joint work commissioned for the ABT Studio Company and the Royal Ballet School as part of last year’s annual exchange. Stiefel described this work as his Jane Austen ballet, which included formal and pastoral dances.
The Royal Ballet School is now under the direction of Christopher Powney, and the School’s students performed repertoire that was mostly drawn from the Royal Ballet’s repertoire.
Notably the students danced two works familiar to New York audiences from their performances by American Ballet Theatre in the past. Danced were the elegiac adagio duet from Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto, and an excerpt from Frederick Ashton’s A Birthday Offering. Showcasing five of the School’s male students was an excerpt from Helgi Tomasson’s Concerto Grosso, a work not in the Royal Ballet’s repertoire.
The ABT Studio Company and the Royal Ballet School students joined forces to dance in a world premiere by Liam Scarlett, choreographed to the third movement of Philip Glass’ Piano Concerto No. 2. Scarlett choreographed a contemporary ballet that was a showcase for both the ABT Studio Company’s dancers and the Royal Ballet School students.
The repertoire danced by the ABT Studio Company and the Royal Ballet School students was challenging and sophisticated.
These performances provide a vital performance experience for these young dancers, and also enable the audience to see these dancers in an appropriate showcase.
Ballet de Lorraine – Unknown Pleasures
February 8, 2017
By Mark Kappel
Ballet de Lorraine’s second program was performed on February 8, 2017, under the umbrella title of Unknown Pleasures. Unknown Pleasures is a recent addition to the company’s repertoire as it was given its world premiere at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London in October 2016.
It could be construed that the premise of Unknown Pleasures is a novelty or a challenge to the audience. In this 1 hour 15 minute intermission less program, five dances are performed. But the choreographers, the composers, and designers are not credited or named, and the pieces are untitled. All we know is that four women and one man are among the choreographers who range in age from their thirties to their seventies.
It is a similar to a musician being placed behind a curtain while auditioning for an orchestra in order for the listeners not to be influenced by the musician’s sex or age. It also means that the audience is not viewing these pieces with any preconceptions and can enjoy them at their face value – without being cognizant of the choreographers’ experience or notoriety.
Is the theme for this program conceit or choreographers and other artists not being given credit for the work they have produced – or is the anonymity giving these choreographers complete artistic freedom to create works that would not be expected of them.
Unknown Pleasures opens without a curtain but only a wall with multicolored square panels which also closes the piece. This is one of several theatrical transitions that acted as links between each of the pieces. But for the most part Unknown Pleasures is performed on a bare stage with the pieces distinguished by different choreographic styles, music used in different fashions, as well as pre-proscribed costuming and lighting.
What all of the pieces had in common was a sense of spontaneity, repetitive movement – choreography responding to vocals, spoken word, music, and silence, and an emphasis on ensembles. Also there wasn’t a pointe shoe in sight – and all of the choreography was insightful.
Because of the familiarity of the music, the section of Unknown Pleasures that had the most impact was the section choreographed to Ravel’s Bolero. This section opens with a bare stage with dancers making their entrances one at a time, and then creating a steady stream of dancers criss-crossing the stage. Two dancers – one male and one female – have a confrontational duet and tape off a section of the stage where they find sanctuary and some privacy.
In all Ballet de Lorraine’s Unknown Pleasures is a choreographic mystery that has many layers to reveal and the audience can participate in how the mystery unravels, and also pick their favorites of the pieces that are presented. Also Unknown Pleasures incorporates all of the company’s dancers – a wonderful showcase for them.
During its New York engagement Ballet de Lorraine has presented two provocative dance programs that are worth an audience’s attention.
Ballet de Lorraine in American Debut
February 7, 2017
By Mark Kappel
Making its American debut, the 26-member Centre Choreographique National – Ballet de Lorraine has included an engagement at the Joyce Theater from February 7-12, 2017 as part of its American tour.
Ballet de Lorraine was first established in Amien, France in 1968 and was permanently relocated to Nancy, France in 1978. In 1999 the company was given the Centre Choreographique National (CCN) designation and its aesthetic supports contemporary choreographic creations and acquisitions. Repertoire represents a hybrid of all dance styles requiring the dancers to be versatile.
Since 2011, Ballet de Lorraine has been directed by former Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet principal dancer, Petter Jacobsson, and the repertoire danced by the company during this engagement represents his artistic stamp influenced by his dancing career and also as artistic director of the Royal Swedish Ballet, a position he held before becoming Ballet de Lorraine’s artistic director. This engagement includes two different programs including works created for the company, and a work created by one of the masters of modern dance.
This first of two programs, which was performed on February 7, 2017, included Devoted, co-choreographed by Cecilia Bengolea and Francois Chaignaud. She Argentinean and he being French have collaborated as choreographers since 2005. This piece was choreographed to music by Philip Glass.
Devoted is one of the pieces in which the ladies dance in pointe shoes and the choreography emphasizes spinning and turning, dancers moving backward, and random movements. The all-female cast of Amandine Biancherin, Agnes Boulanger, Pauline Colemand, Laure Lescoffy, Sakiko Oishi, Marion Rastouil, Elsa Raymonda, Elisa Ribes, and Ligia Saldanha contribute to the work’s building crescendo. Light defines space on the stage, and this combination of light and the sounds of the music are similar in spirit to the works of William Forsythe.
Alban Richard’s HOK solo pour ensemble was choreographed to music by Louis Andriesen. Richard is the artistic director of the Centre Choreographique National de Caen in France. Richard’s choreographic aesthetic is similar to that of Cecilia Bengolea and Francois Chaignaud in which the choreography is at the forefront, and repetitive movement is used to build up to a fever pitch. The emphasis is on the movement of groups of dancers focusing on arms and hand movements – a hybrid of informality and formality.
This work was created for Ballet de Lorraine in 2015 and was danced by a cast of both male and female dancers which included Amandine Biancherin, Pauline Colemard, Laure Lescoffy, Valerie Ly-Cuong, Sakiko Oishi, Marion Rastouil, Ligia Saldanha, Matthieu Chayrigues, Charles Dalerci, Tristan Ihne, Yoann Rifosta, and Luc Verbitzky.
This program closed with Merce Cunningham’s 1975 iconic work, Sounddance, a work described as organized chaos, choreographed to a score by David Tudor, with a stage space decorated by a gold plush curtain designed by artist Mark Lancaster.
Notable in Sounddance is Cunningham’s simple movement which looks improvised but one can see how the movement has a blueprint – dancers forming groups and groups being disbanded – and although not having a beginning, middle, and an end, one feels that Sounddance is framed. Framed also in part by the decorative drapery in the rear of the stage.
The cast of Amandine Biancherin, Agnes Boulanger, Valerie Ly-Cuong, Sakiko Oishi, Marion Rastouil, Jonathan Archambault, Matthieu Chayrigues, Justin Cumine, Tristan Ihne, and Yoann Rifosta emphasized how the dancers of Ballet de Lorraine easily adapt themselves to the styles of the choreographers represented on this program.
Ballet de Lorraine presents its own prospective on contemporary choreography of the day – and all with a French flair.
Musicals in Mufti – Milk and Honey
York Theatre Company
January 29, 2017
By Mark Kappel
Among its many missions, the York Theater Company presents neglected Broadway musicals in concert format in its series, Musicals in Mufti. These concert versions are simply staged with only piano accompaniment, and the actors reading from scripts. In spite of the back to basics nature of these presentations, Musicals in Mufti creates an intimate atmosphere affording the opportunity for one to experience the wonderful scores of these musicals.
Jerry Herman will be represented on Broadway this season with a major revival of Hello, Dolly! with Bette Midler, and enhancing Herman’s presence this season Musicals in Mufti will be presenting two of Jerry Herman’s musicals in concert form.
The first of these two Jerry Herman’s musicals is Milk and Honey, Herman’s first Broadway musical and his first hit, with a book by Don Appell, which had opened on Broadway in 1961. Starring the imitable Molly Picon, Mimi Benzell, Robert Weede, and Tommy Rall (with Hermione Gingold taking over for Picon during its Broadway run), Milk and Honey’s Broadway engagement lasted 543 performances. Musicals in Mufti is presenting this concert version of Milk and Honey from January 28 through February 5, 2017.
The plot is typical of the innocents abroad plots one has seen and known about in films and theatre. In this instance a group of Jewish-American widows tour Israel hoping to find romance at the time when Israel was establishing itself as an independent nation. This was not a religious pilgrimage but an experience abroad for these ladies to rediscover themselves.
Taking place in 1961, Israel is barely 13 years old as a nation, and it is only 16 years after the end of World War II. Program notes indicate that Don Appell might have been inspired to create “the Israeli Oklahoma”. If nothing else Milk and Honey reflects the pioneering spirit of native Israelis and those who immigrated to Israel to build this Jewish homeland, and Milk and Honey exudes an overabundance of optimism. Israel is a land where anything can happen, and a land of new beginnings. Also unique is that Milk and Honey’s story focuses on a middle age romance.
Milk and Honey’s primary protagonists are Ruth and Phil who meet in Israel, and fall in love. This relationship has its complications. Although Phil has long been estranged from his wife, he is not divorced. Their future together hangs in the balance as both of them must decide if this relationship has a future or not. Phil’s daughter Barbara now lives in Israel with her Israeli husband, David, and their marriage is having its difficult moments. And then there is Clara Weiss, who finds love with a diamond dealer, and decides to remain in Israel. It is an open question as to whether Ruth and Phil have the same happy ending.
Milk and Honey’s story is timely and compelling. Then there is Jerry Herman’s score which reflects the optimism he is known for as well as hummable melodies and clever lyrics. Besides the well-known Shalom, other gems in the score are, the title song, Milk and Honey, There’s No Reason in the World, Let’s Not Waste A Moment, I Will Follow You, and the comic turns of Chin Up, Ladies, and Hymn to Hymie.
With the piano accompaniment by musical director Jeffrey Saver, and Michael Unger’s caring direction – which incorporates audience participation -- Musicals in Mufti’s concert version of Milk and Honey is further enhanced by an excellent cast. Anne Runolfsson as Ruth, and Mark Delevan as Phil bring much to illuminate what this relationship could be and bring their fantastic voices to sing Jerry Herman’s music. Also in Alix Korey as Clara Weiss (the role created by Molly Picon) you have a perfect representation of what this character would be like – well-sung and adept at comic turns. She is the interfering Yente – but yet lovable. They lead an excellent ensemble cast.
Perhaps Milk and Honey would be seen through our more sophisticated eyes of the 21st century as rather innocent and apolitical. It is perhaps for those reasons that a full-fledged revival might not be possible even though it has a score that is most worthwhile listening to. All the more reason why audiences should see this excellent concert version being presented by the York Theatre Company. It is an opportunity to hear and experience a treasure.
Bolshoi Ballet Dances The Sleeping Beauty
January 22, 2017
By Mark Kappel
Fathom Events continued its series of cinema screenings of the Bolshoi Ballet when on January 22, 2017 it presented the Bolshoi Ballet dancing The Sleeping Beauty. It was in 2011 that Fathom Events last presented the Bolshoi Ballet in a cinema screening of The Sleeping Beauty, dancing this revised production by Yuri Grigorovitch, with opulent costumes designed by Franca Squarciapino, and scenery designed by Ezio Frigero, and utilizing all of the resources that the Bolshoi Ballet and the Bolshoi Theatre can offer.
Such is the nature of the continuity of live screenings by the Bolshoi Ballet that the 19th century classics and performances of them will repeat themselves – but what is rewarding is to see a new generation of dancers taking up the challenges of these important roles in the 19th century repertoire. The Sleeping Beauty represents the paradigm of a grand ballet requiring a large cast of dancers, and includes many opportunities for the dancers to shine.
Most of the productions of the 19th century classics that the Bolshoi Ballet currently performs have been staged and choreographed by Yuri Grigorovitch – and many of those productions are conceived through the prism of a choreographer rather than aiming for a pure reproduction of a classic. However in the instance of The Sleeping Beauty Grigorovitch created a reverential production of this classic ballet. He has also masterfully compressed the ballet into two parts and tells the story expeditiously without losing any important details. There are children among the dancers in the Act I Waltz, and Grigorovitch has choreographed a virtuoso solo for Prince Desire at the beginning of Act II – such are the details that make this production worthy of repeated viewings.
In bringing this ballet to its world premiere in the 19th century, The Sleeping Beauty was a collaborative effort between composer Tchaikovsky and the ballet’s original choreographer, Marius Petipa, complete with spectacle, and an homage to the trappings of monarchy. “Grand” would be the operative word in terms of how a performance of The Sleeping Beauty should be danced, and in this instance the Bolshoi Ballet succeeded.
Dancing in this performance were Olga Smirnova as Princess Aurora and Semyon Chudin as Prince Desire who shined in these principal roles as did Yulia Stepanova as the Lilac Fairy, and Anastasia Denisova as Princess Florine and Artemy Belyakov as the Bluebird in the Bluebird Pas de Deux. Seamless dancing, classical elegance, and technical assurance are descriptions of all of these dancers’ performances.
However just as notable were the dancers dancing the Jewel Fairies including Margarita Shrainer as the Diamond Fairy, Xenia Zhiganshina as the Sapphire Fairy, Victoria Yakusheva as the Gold Fairy, and Yanina Parienko as the Silver Fairy. Grigorovitch’s production also offers a cavalcade of fairy tale characters in the Act III Wedding Scene including that of Little Red Riding Hood and the Grey Wolf, Puss in Boots and the White Pussycat, and Cinderella and Prince Fortune. Not often seen danced as these variations are often cut from modern day productions of The Sleeping Beauty.
Enhancing this production of The Sleeping Beauty on stage were the Bolshoi Ballet’s brilliant character dancers, Alexei Loparevich as Carabosse, and Vitaly Biktimirov as Catalabutte.
Also a marvel to listen to the Bolshoi Theatre’s orchestra play Tchaikovsky’s score as it should be played with crisp musical tempi. The music was composed for dancing and with Pavel Sorokin as conductor, the music was not sacrificed at this performance.
Kinky Boots Raises Your Spirits
January 10, 2017
Al Hirschfeld Theatre
By Mark Kappel
Based on the British film of the same name, the Tony Award-winning musical – and international hit -- Kinky Boots, is a modern fable in which an unlikely pair of every day heroes join forces to save a shoe factory in Northampton, England. Not a story that one would think would make an entertaining and heart-warming musical, but Kinky Boots succeeds on all fronts.
Based on the 2005 British film by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth, Kinky Boots’ story focuses on Charlie Price, who has inherited his father’s business enterprise, and entertainer Lola, who helps Charlie to save his father’s legacy, a shoe factory, and the jobs of the factory employees.
Charlie finds himself in the uncomfortable and unenviable position of having to return to Northampton to take over his father’s business. He is torn by his career in London and his fiancée, Nicola, who longs for a high-powered business career. Charlie’s meeting with entertainer Lola is pure happenstance as they meet after he gets assaulted trying to stave off thugs that are assaulting Lola on a London street. Although their relationship is a mix of fire and ice, Charlie realizes that Lola’s need for “kinky boots” is what might save his father’s shoe factory – and Lola pitches in to design them – and you have alchemy that is unpredictable, and ultimately convivial. Also it is a story of overcoming one’s fears and acceptance.
This bromance of sorts evolves as both discover how they can earn respect for themselves while at the same time resolving their distant relationships they had with their fathers.
The combination of forces, Cyndi Lauper’s music and Harvey Fierstein’s adaption, is involving and uplifts your spirits as guided by Jerry Mitchell as both director and choreographer. Mitchell’s choreography is the pulse of Kinky Boots – with particular inventiveness exhibited in his dance sequence on an assembly conveyor belt.
Scenery designer David Rockwell has created a theatrical playground for Kinky Boots’ story to be told in.
Kinky Boots doesn’t miss a beat with its high level of energy and the performances of its cast.
Killian Donnelly is an Irish actor who has played the role of Charlie Price in the London production of Kinky Boots – and was nominated for the Olivier Award for his performance -- and gives authenticity to this role. His awkwardness, his excellent comic timing, and everyman portrayal explains Charlie Price’s inner conflict – and he is also an excellent singer and interpreter of Cyndi Lauper’s music.
Any actor who plays the role of Lola is going to steal the scenes in which he appears in, and understudy Stephane Duret did just that. Duret’s Lola is commanding yet also vulnerable. Haven Burton also provides an eccentric and quirky interpretation of Lauren – making The History of Wrong Guys a showstopper -- and Shannon O’Boyle’s Nicola is steadfast and ambitious.
There is also the animated and committed ensemble which breathes life into Kinky Boots. Every audience member feels like they have been invited to a party given by intimate friends.
Kinky Boots’ energetic finale is Raise You Up – an element of the life-force that Kinky Boots is and inspires one to be passionate about anything one endeavors to take on -- and it is a tonic that cures the blues of everyday life.
Mark Felt, Superstar
York Theatre Company At St. Peter’s
January 8, 2017
By Mark Kappel
As part of its continuing efforts to develop new musicals, the York Theatre Company is presenting the limited engagement of the New2NY presentation of a new musical, Mark Felt, Superstar, the sole effort of Joshua Rosenblum, a self-confessed political junkie, who has composed the score and written the book for this musical. The York Theatre Company is presenting Mark Felt, Superstar from January 7-15, 2017.
Mark Felt, Superstar was inspired by the No. 2 person in the FBI, Mark Felt, who in 2005 revealed that he had been Deep Throat, the source cultivated by Washington Post investigative journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, in their reporting on President Richard Nixon and his involvement in the Watergate Scandal. Felt’s motives for his actions have been debated. In Mark Felt Superstar, Felt is revealed as someone who didn’t feel he was revealing secrets but was only confirming the facts as they were.
This is a cautionary tale, filled with the conflicts influencing the principal players in the Watergate Scandal – none of whom were saints – and the personal struggles of Mark Felt, as he wrestled with his decision to be the anonymous source in one of the greatest scandals in American political history. Mark Felt, Superstar grapples with the moral dilemma as to whether Felt was a whistleblower who was putting his country first or whether his actions were in retaliation for failing to receive the recognition he felt he deserved for his government service as he was overlooked on several occasions for promotion. As presented in Mark Felt, Superstar, Felt’s motivations were in gratitude to his long-suffering wife, Audrey, who saw him as her White Knight.
As has been described by political and social commentators we are living in the post-truth era, and history tends to repeat itself, a re-examination of the Watergate Scandal, and Felt’s involvement in it, deserves to be seen in the light of day – and in this instance in an entertaining manner that has the ingredients to make Mark Felt, Superstar a provocative musical – and perhaps there will be an opportunity for more work to be done on it so its artistic promise can be fulfilled.
The story is told with the help of five hard-working actors who play multiple parts with a score that runs the gamut from jazz to traditional Broadway music. There is a great deal of the tongue-in-cheek approach in how the story of Mark Felt unfolds which examines the motives of the real-life cast of characters involved in this scandal and the uncovering of the scandal – with all of its ambiguities and conflicting loyalties.
Political satire has an important place in the arts world, and Mark Felt, Superstar deserves to be seen for that reason.
Annette Jolles has directed Mark Felt, Superstar with precision. Neal Mayer portrays Mark Felt to reveal all of Felt’s personal conflicts and his uneasiness in being portrayed as a hero or traitor. The remainder of the cast Will Erat, Vanessa Lemonides, Peter Benson, and Michael McCoy play multiple roles which are elucidated with the use of photographs of the characters they are portraying. All of the cast members bring a great deal to these characters which could be developed further in a revised production.
Only 90 minutes in length Mark Felt, Superstar has punch, is provocative, and is worth sampling.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
January 5, 2017
Stephen Sondheim Theatre
By Mark Kappel
It seems Carole King has always been in our consciousness as her songs have become the soundtrack of our lives. We remember a Carole King song when we have had our life’s ups and downs – and especially when life was unpleasant, Carole King’s music has made it much easier to cope and enjoy our lives.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical tells the story of songwriter, Carole King, on her own and as part of a songwriting team with her husband, Gerry Goffin, and her relationship with her colleagues and best friends, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, leading up to her success as a solo performing artist.
Book writer, Douglas McGrath, tells a powerful story as Carole King’s life is presented here as a bio musical that reflects the struggles King faced in getting her talents recognized, and the personal challenges she had to face in her life. Among the challenges were starting her career at 16 year of age, and later in life when her marriage was falling apart due to the mental instability of her husband, Gerry Goffin. She broke the glass ceiling many times during her career, and has left us a lasting musical legacy.
King’s story is the story of American pop music of the 1960’s with composers working in the Brill Building in New York City – composing and promoting their music – and performed by the rising recording artists and singing groups of the time.
With a score that is the song list that has become an integral part of American culture – including King’s classic songs among them – A Natural Woman, and It’s Too Late – and compositions by the remarkable team of Weil and Mann including You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling – it is impossible to choose a favorite as these songs are the tapestry of our own lives. And they are performed by an incredible group of actor/singers, and a talented ensemble.
The audience is given an inside look at the process of songwriting – real people, talented people – with this musical bringing these real people to life – their anxieties and self-deprecating humor along the way. Carole King’s story is that of a survivor – and a journey worth taking.
Director Marc Bruni and choreographer Josh Prince have paced King’s story swiftly and energetically savoring the many moments to appreciate King’s music.
Canadian Chilina Kennedy is compelling, bringing warmth and humor to her performance as Carole King – exuding confidence when King rises to the occasion. Original cast member Jake Epstein gives a commanding performance as Gerry Goffin, a challenge because Goffin is not a sympathetic character in King’s life. Jessica Keenan Wynn as Cynthia Weil, and Ben Jacoby as Barry Mann provide the comic relief – but also illuminate the camaraderie of the song writers of this time when all were struggling to achieve success in the music business.
Also notable were original cast member Liz Larsen as Genie Klein, and Paul Anthony Stewart as Don Kirshner – and the multi-talented members of the ensemble who play multiple roles.
Beautiful opened in 2014 and continues to energize its audience. And the cast embraces the audience. Take the journey – it will entertain and inspire you.
Life Is For Living Conversations with Coward
December 17, 2016
By Mark Kappel
The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre of Guildford is presenting a unique cabaret evening, Life Is For Living Conversations with Coward, performed by West End star Simon Green, at the 59E59 Theaters. This is a refreshing 70 minutes of song and observations of life that celebrates Noel Coward -- a renaissance man of the theatre – an actor, playwright, and director -- and also a prolific song writer.
Coward’s roots were what he described as “genteel poverty”, and his career in the theatre was launched first as a child actor. He had his hand in every aspect of theatre, and also worked in the film industry.
Coward’s most productive period was in 1930’s and his contributions have drifted in and out of fashion in predictable cycles. Although Coward’s plays are revived on a regular basis in New York, there are fewer opportunities to hear his music. Particularly to hear his music interpreted with the required insight into the time period when Noel Coward was observing the pretention and flaws of the people in society that surrounded him – the frosting on the cake is Coward’s dry martini wit.
One could not find a better interpreter of Coward’s songs than Simon Green, who has extensive credits on the London stage, and who has also performed in cabaret.
Life Is For Living has been created by Green and Green’s accomplished accompanist, David Shrubsole, with additional research by Jason Morell. Simon Green takes command in interpreting Noel Coward’s iconic songs – with his own twist – and a great deal of new Coward material – and songs by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, and Ivor Novello thrown in.
There were the expected Coward classics including “What’s Going To Happen to the Tots", “London Pride”, “I Travel Alone”, “I Went to a Marvelous Party”, and “Sail Away”. Green’s performance of “London Pride” was both nostalgic and inspiring. But also included were Coward’s lesser known songs among them “Later Than Spring”, “Don’t Turn Away From Love”, and "There’s No More To Say About Love”. However research produced a trunk full of Coward’s verses – some of them expertly set to music by David Shrubsole – and others spoken. Among the notable new collaborations included in Life Is For Living were “Co-Communists” and “Do I Believe”.
This was a performance of unexpected pleasures and discoveries tied up into a gift package – not what one would expect in a cabaret performance in tribute to Coward.
Coward’s songs are timely and universal – especially potent in these unexpected and bewildering times. In so doing, Simon Green achieves Coward’s self-attribution of having a talent to amuse. Life Is For Living Conversations with Coward is a cure for the holiday blues.
Life Is For Living runs until January 1, 2017 – and it would be wise to include it in your holiday celebrations.
Allegiance, the Broadway Musical
December 13, 2016
By Mark Kappel
In its continuing commitment to present cinema screenings of theater presentations, Fathom Events sponsored the cinema screening of the Broadway musical, Allegiance on December 13, 2016. Allegiance had been given its world premiere at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California in 2012, and had its Broadway premiere at the Longacre Theatre in November 2015. In this cinema screening Allegiance was presented with its original Broadway cast in its original Broadway production as filmed in January 2016.
Allegiance, with a score by Jay Kuo, and book by Kuo, Marc Acito, and Lorenzo Thione, is the mode for this collaborative team to chronicle aspects of actor George Takei’s family experiences in Japanese internment camps in the United States during World War II – a tragedy of great import, and not as familiar to the American public as it should be. It is an account of history that needs to be told especially when racism and the fear of immigrants recur in American society.
More than 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-American citizens were imprisoned during World War II – all from the Pacific Coast – who were feared as security risks. President Roosevelt signed an executive order in 1942 ordering these relocations, and they were housed in Spartan barracks in remote areas of seven Western states. Although there were schools for the children, and the intent had been for these camps to be self-sustaining by farming its own food, those living in these camps had a hard life – and a life that was much more frustrating when their efforts to get redress from the U.S. Government were thwarted. The obvious question is how this could happen in America.
In Allegiance, the story of the Kimura Family is traced in the weeks and years after the attack on Pearl Harbor as family members are forced to relocate from their farm in Salinas, California to the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming. The story focuses on the discord within the Kimura Family but is also a compelling history lesson that is presented in an entertaining manner.
Families are divided. Their family and political loyalties are tested. The character of these people is tested with some people rising to the occasion and others that are not. Also the pride and prejudice of individuals in this thought-provoking story complicate matters for themselves as individuals, and also for their families. Some people are shamed, and some people regret the choices that they have made.
On first glance one sees Allegiance as an anomaly simply because it is a Broadway musical about a dark incident in American history effecting thousands of Asians – and performed by a predominantly Asian cast. However Allegiance reflects universal themes begging for tolerance, and a need to assert that nothing like this will happen again – as history tends to repeat itself.
Allegiance’s score is filled with soaring ballads and anthems – the music and lyrics serving the story and stirring the emotions -- which are passionately sung and interpreted by a very talented cast.
Takei himself plays two roles in Allegiance – Ojii San the wise-old grandfather of young Sam Kimura played by Telly Leung, and Kei, Sammy’s sister, played by Lea Salonga, and then later portraying an older Sam Kimura looking back on the horrible and degrading series of events that his family experienced. All of these actors command the stage as they tell their story – a story begging for thought and compassion. There are no better actors to accomplish this important task.
They along with Katie Rose Clark as Hannah Campbell, Michael K. Lee as Frankie Suzuki, Christopheren Nomura as Tasuo Kimura, and Greg Watanabe as Mike Mosaoka are committed to telling Allegiance’s story – a story that needs to be passed down to the descendants of those interned but also to inform a wider audience of Americans – and for that matter to a world audience.
Directed by Stafford Arima, and Andrew Palermo as choreographer, the narrative of Allegiance is told in eloquent style without being a history lesson.
As Allegiance was destined for a short Broadway engagement, it is a saving grace that Fathom Events presented this cinema screening to make it possible for a wider audience to see this very important piece of musical theatre, and experience the compelling story that it tells.
Paper Mill Playhouse Presents North American Premiere of The Bodyguard
Paper Mill Playhouse
December 10, 2016
By Mark Kappel
In the past few years the Paper Mill Playhouse has become the launching pad for several musicals that have had Broadway aspirations, and others that have toured the United States and Canada. Among last season’s presentations, A Bronx Tale has already opened on Broadway, and The Bandstand will open on Broadway in the spring.
From November 25, 2016 through January 1, 2017, the Paper Mill Playhouse is the place to be in order to see the North American premiere of The Bodyguard, a musical based on the popular film that starred Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. These performances comprise what is the first engagement of The Bodyguard’s national tour.
With a book by Alexander Dinelaris and a score that is a compilation of Whitney Houston’s hit recordings, director Thea Sharrock has transformed the story of The Bodyguard into an involving and power house stage musical, which received its premiere in London in 2012.
Based on Lawrence Kasdan’s 1992 Warner Brothers film, Sharrock has fashioned this musical in a cinematic style. The plot and its twists are represented in short scenes and Whitney Houston’s hit recordings are interwoven into the story and are also presented in concert style performances.
The audience was treated to a performance by understudy Jasmin Richardson in place of Deborah Cox, playing the role of superstar recording artist Rachel Marron, and Judson Mills is Frank Farmer, an understated former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard, who is employed to protect Marron from a mysterious and cunning stalker.
Initially Farmer is reluctant to take on this assignment as he sees Marron as a spoiled celebrity. Ultimately Farmer takes on the assignment because of his concerns for Fletcher, Marron’s 10-year-old son.
The superstar/bodyguard relationship has produced romances in the world of Hollywood and on the concert scene. Therefore this plot line is not unique. The Bodyguard opens with a gunshot and you feel like you have been shot out of a canon because of the energy that is generated from the stage.
That opening sets the tone for what is yet to happen. Marron and Farmer fall in love as they dodge threats and life-threatening incidents – with their romance complicated by Rachel’s sister, Nikki (effectively played by understudy Emily Jenda), who has her own designs on Farmer.
The story has all of the elements of an action film and mystery thriller. But it is the outstanding performances by Richardson and Mills (who plays Frank Farmer as a hybrid of Kevin Costner and James Bond), and the other very talented cast that enhance the characters in the story, who provide the sparks in The Bodyguard.
If you are a fan of Whitney Houston’s song catalogue the live performances of these memorable songs provide the pulse of The Bodyguard. The songs from Whitney Houston’s catalogue include One Moment in Time, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, I Will Always Love You, So Emotional, Saving All My Love For You, and All At Once – many of them deriving their performance energy from Karen Bruce’s choreography.
Although The Bodyguard’s story focuses on Rachel Marron, her sister Nikki, and Frank Farmer, the supporting cast provides the major portion of connecting plot tissue. Jorge Paniagua plays the unnamed stalker with cunning and cool. The remaining characters are members of Marron’s entourage including Alex Corrado as Tony Scibelli, Rachel Marron’s personal security guard, Charles Gray as manager Bill Devaney, and Jonathan Hadley as publicist Sy Spector -- and there is also the stand out performance by Douglas Baideo in the role of Rachel’s son, Fletcher.
Tim Hatley has created scenery and costumes that fit the themes and environment of this musical with atmospheric lighting designs by Mark Henderson, and video design by Duncan McLean.
The Bodyguard ends with a concert-style finale which takes advantage of the audience’s pent-up enthusiasm to get up and dance. The Bodyguard is an entertaining and engaging musical, possessing Las Vegas pizzazz and razzle dazzle, and the applause machine finale is worth the price of admission. These are among the many reasons to take the time to see and experience The Bodyguard at the Paper Mill Playhouse before it sets off on its national tour.
Dance Conservatory of New York’s The Nutcracker Winter Suite
December 3, 2016
By Mark Kappel
Valentina Kozlova’s Dance Conservatory of New York presented its annual The Nutcracker Winter Suite at Symphony Space on December 3, 2016. Featuring talented students studying at the Dance Conservatory of New York, it is a measure of the development of these students after they have completed another year of training under Kozlova’s guidance.
The Nutcracker Winter Suite was choreographed and staged by Margo Sappington, Valentina Kozlova, and Vitaly Verterich with the Arabian Dance choreographed by Victoria Rinaldi. The Nutcracker Winter Suite featured The Nutcracker’s Snow Scene and the divertissements from Act II of the ballet. The new character of the Christmas Star ties all of the dancing together as well as a bit of narrative with great vitality. Condensed to a running time of a little over an hour, this allows audience members to focus in on the dancing.
Jack Furlong of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo joined the students of the Valentina Kozlova Dance Conservatory of New York as the participants in this year’s performance.
Nikita Boris and Justin Valentine, who were awarded positions to study at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia in the past year, danced the principal roles in the Grand Pas de Deux. This was an elegant and commanding performance with both of these student dancers developing into artists and improving their stage presence.
This performance was enhanced by the spirited and committed students eager to please their teachers and the audience. These students are the art form’s future, and need to be supported. The audience clearly supported these students’ efforts.
The Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition will take place at Symphony Space from June 5-10, 2017.
A Bronx Tale The Musical
December 1, 2016
By Mark Kappel
A Bronx Tale The Musical made its Broadway debut on December 1, 2016 at the Longacre Theatre after a successful pre-Broadway tryout at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, New Jersey earlier this year.
Inspired by a one-man show written and performed by Chazz Palminteri in Los Angeles in 1988, and off-Broadway in 1989, A Bronx Tale is Palminteri’s reminiscences about his childhood and young adulthood -- living in an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx in the 1960’s in an atmosphere of racial conflicts and tensions, and organized crime. Palminteri’s one-man show was adapted for the screen in 1993 with Robert De Niro making his debut as a film director.
A Bronx Tale focuses on Calogero, who is torn between the two men he idolizes – both with their faults and both with redeeming qualities that made him the man he was to become. It is the older Calogero, in a breakthrough performance by Bobby Conte Thornton, who tells his story as a narrator and participant. One sees a younger Calogero questioning his bus driver father Lorenzo, who is a product of the school of hard knocks and espouses a forthright path, and is easily impressed by a local mob boss, Sonny who preaches a different path to success.
C, as Calogero is dubbed by Sonny and referred to by his friends, also has an infatuation with Jane, a young black woman – an interracial relationship that also tests Calogero through his rite of passage to adulthood. This relationship proves to be a fleeting moment in Calogero’s life, but this relationship has its impact as an important life lesson.
The question is whether Calogero’s loss of innocence will translate into a successful life outside of the neighborhood or whether the neighborhood’s negative influences will scar him forever.
In spite of the harsh realities that are presented in A Bronx Tale, it is also sentimental. There are heart of gold characters who point out the consequences of Calogero’s choices, and guide him in the right direction. As communicated in the A Bronx Tale’s finale, fundamentally we benefit or don’t benefit from the choices we make.
This musical adaptation has been faithfully and successfully created by composer Alan Menken and lyric writer Glenn Slater with a book adapted by Chazz Palminteri. These collaborators have written a cogent sequence of events with the music enhancing the plot line in this musical. There are musical moments that remind one of The Jersey Boys, and West Side Story, but the score offers the musical styles of the period and is unique on its own. Sonny’s advice to Calogero, in regard to his romantic relationships in “One of the Great Ones”, is one of the more disarming moments in A Bronx Tale. A wonderful integration of song and book dialogue that one doesn’t see enough of on the Broadway stage.
Co-directed by Robert de Niro and Jerry Zaks, A Bronx Tale has its moments of sentiment, but reveals itself quickly – heightened by the swift-paced choreography by Sergio Trujillo.
The atmosphere has also been cleverly created by scenery designer Beowulf Boritt, costume designer William Ivey Long, and lighting designer Howell Binkley.
The performances by the principal actors produce the sparks in A Bronx Tale – particularly Nick Cordero giving a virtuoso performance as mob leader Sonny, and the appealing performances of Richard H. Blake as Lorenzo, Bobby Conte Thornton as the older Calogero, and Ariana DeBose as Jane, Lucia Giannetta as Calogero’s mother, and Hudson Loverro as the younger Calogero.
A Bronx Tale is uplifting and entertaining, and a welcome addition to the Broadway season.
Kenneth Branagh in The Entertainer
November 25, 2016
By Mark Kappel
The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company has presented a series of plays at the Garrick Theatre in London for the past year – a wide range of theatrical literature some of which Branagh has starred in. Shadowing Laurence Olivier’s career, Branagh takes on another one of Olivier’s signature roles that of Archie Rice in John Osborne’s The Entertainer, a performance that was fortunately seen in this part of the world in a cinema screening at Symphony Space on November 25, 2016.
Osborne’s The Entertainer had its premiere at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 1957, and in 1958 was seen in New York. It was written as a vehicle for legendary stage and screen star, Laurence Olivier. The play takes place in 1956 when political tensions were at its highest at the time of the Suez Canal conflict.
The focal point of the play is Archie Rice, a member of a British vaudevillian family, an angry middle-aged man, and a failing music hall performer. He is now reduced to being the filler between strip tease acts, while also being the patriarch of a family in emotional turmoil, and economic stress. Archie Rice is caught up in the dying atmosphere of the British music hall which is translated into a metaphor for the decline of the British Empire. Rice’s music hall routines are tinged with fragments that describe a crumbling nation.
The British music hall tradition had its roots in musical clubs in taverns and coffee houses, and in Britain’s Victorian era, the first music halls were built. Charles Dickens often attended music hall performances, and such comedic legends as Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin began their careers in these music halls. However in the 1950’s this form of entertainment disappeared due to the competition from television.
The Entertainer depicts the Great Britain of the 1950’s during which the population was still on food rationing until 1954, and Tory politics mirrored the decline of Great Britain as an imperial power. It was also a time when the class system was a fixation, and one’s future might be pre-determined as there wasn’t much opportunity for upward mobility.
Archie Rice’s family weathers its crisis in this atmosphere. Daughter Jean (played by Sophie McShera) has broken up with her fiancé; son Frank (played by Jonah Hauer-King) had been imprisoned for not joining the military service, and another son, Mick (unseen in the play), and in the military service, is captured and taken as a prisoner. Then there is the peculiar and confrontational relationship between Archie and his wife (played by Greta Scacchi), and the constant figure of Archie’s father, Billy Rice (played by Gawn Grainger) who longs for the old days, but also attempts to be the mediator in solving the recurring differences among members of this dysfunctional family.
This production of The Entertainer has been directed by Rob Ashford, who has chosen to give The Entertainer a veneer of razzle dazzle and presents Archie Rice’s songs and patter as interludes in a continuum.
The heightened confrontational moments in The Entertainer are depicted in scenes typical of a kitchen sink family drama. Family relationships are crumbling against the landscape of Europe soon after World War II, a time for economic and political revival in some parts of the world, but in Europe there was struggle on all fronts.
Branagh lives in the skin of Archie Rice – and even executes Rice’s song and dance routines with skill – and slowly transforms into the shell of a man that Rice has become. Greta Scacchi sympathetically plays Rice’s wife, Phoebe, and Gawn Grainger plays the family patriarch – the aged vaudevillian, Billy Rice, Archie’s father, with grace and wisdom. The impact of life during World War II and immediately thereafter has taken its toll on the Rice Family, and you see the Rice Family imploding in front of you.
This is reflective of the themes of many of Osborne’s plays which were part of the world view of the angry young men generation in British literature which wanted to portray British life as it really was rather than the idealized picture of British life presented in plays written by Noel Coward and Terrence Rattigan.
The content of The Entertainer is timely with the present economic and political woes we are facing – the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s production of The Entertainer is an absorbing revival reminding one always that history repeats itself. In his performance of Archie Rice, Branagh has taken on and conquered another great role.
Manhattan Theatre Club Presents Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone
Manhattan Theatre Club City Center Stage I
November 20, 2016
By Mark Kappel
As part of its 2016-17 season the Manhattan Theatre Club has presented the New York premiere of Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone at MTC’s New York City Center – Stage 1 – which has extended its engagement until December 4, 2016.
In his play, Qui Nguyen has recreated his own parents’ meeting at a relocation camp in Arkansas and integrated his narrative with aspects of American popular culture of the time. Vietgone is both comic and dramatic, and is not only a reflection on a family’s history but also how human beings adapt to new situations and new countries after leaving a homeland where strife abounds.
In the opening moments of Vietgone, one realizes that one might be going on an unconventional theatrical journey. Nguyen opens Vietgone with an actor claiming to be the playwright – he welcomes the audience, warns the audience to turn off their cell phones, and then informs the audience that the play is not about the hazards of war but instead a love story.
Taking place in 1975 Nguyen’s play follows the courtship of Nguyen’s parents – a story that is not told in a linear fashion. And it is a story that is expressed in eclectic theatrical styles including sex farce, road trip comedy, fighting cartoon characters – with rap dialogue and dancing interwoven as being integral in telling this intimate tale.
To add color to the story-telling, the culture clash between the Americans and the Vietnamese refugees in Arkansas is represented with each of these communities having a language of their own – clever in illuminating the difficulty in communication of the people thrown together by fate.
The plot follows Vietnamese helicopter pilot Quang Nguyen (played by Raymond Lee) who has saved lives before leaving Vietnam. He leaves behind his wife and children and finds himself in Fort Chaffee – an Arkansas relocation camp. He meets Tong (played by Jennifer Ikeda) which is when and where the romance blooms. Yet Nguyen doesn’t forget his quest to return to Vietnam to save and rescue his wife and children. Nguyen embarks on a cross-country motorcycle journey in an attempt to return to Vietnam to find his family, but in the end he decides to return to Arkansas and pursue his relationship with Tong.
In an exchange between the actor playing the playwright and Quang Nguyen, in his later years, the elder Nguyen expresses his gratitude to Americans for their participation in the Vietnam War and how much that participation was appreciated by the Vietnamese people – rather than the American analysis of the Vietnam War as a major foreign policy blunder. Vietgone elucidates the after effects of the Vietnam War from the perspective of the Vietnamese – an important story to be told – and in so doing Vietgone presents a universal story in regard to how immigrants adjust to the horrors of war they have experienced and adjusting to a new country – with its prejudices and different societal values.
It is May Adrales’ adept direction that not only illuminates the text in the play but also develops the engaging and skilled performances from the cast of Jon Hoche, Jennifer Ikeda, Raymond Lee, Samantha Quan, and Paco Tolson, as these characters set off on their individual journeys.
Enhancing Vietgone’s absorbing story is how time and place are created in a simple and minimalist style by the design team of Tim Maackabee in his scenery, Anthony Tran in his costumes, and Jared Mezzocchi in his projection design.
Vietgone presents a comic and heartwarming story – the individual paths taken by the Vietnamese immigrants in the United States, and an appreciation of how Americans were supportive during these difficult times. This is a refreshing approach towards explaining one of the most difficult periods in American history. It is story that should be heard and experienced by each and every one of us.
Nederlands Dans Theater Performs Four New York Premieres
November 16, 2016
By Mark Kappel
The Nederlands Dans Theater was founded in 1959 and has become one of the world’s leading contemporary dance companies. Unfortunately the Nederlands Dans Theater is an infrequent visitor to New York. Now under the directorship of Paul Lightfoot, the company has returned to the City Center from November 16-19, 2016.
The Nederlands Dans Theater of today is not the Nederlands Dans Theater of the past. An important artistic influence on the company’s repertoire, Jiri Kylian, is not represented during this engagement, and the company’s repertoire has now evolved in the direction of modern and post modern dance. Bearing this in mind, the dancers perform the company’s repertoire in a polished and committed style. And for this engagement the Nederlands Dans Theater is presenting four works that are New York premieres.
The team of Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot were represented by two collaborative works, the first of which was Safe As Houses, which dates back to 2001. The inspiration for Safe As Houses is the ancient Chinese book of I Ching, and the work is choreographed to music composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. The piece begins with three dancers downstage with their backs to the audience, and thereafter the focal point of the piece is a rotating wall which reconfigures the stage space. The wall effectively chases the dancers from one sequence to another with dancers emerging from behind the wall to dance in alternating sequences. There is the representation of motion and time although the piece seems static because the choreography begins to blur in repetition. Notable for their performances in Safe As Houses were Marne van Opstal, Sarah Reynolds and Jorge Nozal.
Leon and Lightfoot were also represented by a second collaborative work, the closing piece of the program, Stop-Motion, which premiered in 2014, and is choreographed to music by Max Richter. Stop-Motion was the most ambitious piece presented on this program but made an ambiguous statement.
Depicted is video of a girl who exhibits a range of emotions including crying and disbelief – the girl in the video is the choreographers’ daughter, Saura – one infers that the girl is reacting emotionally to what climate change is doing to the planet.
The movement patterns are persistent and plotted – images of water are depicted, and two of the dancers perform in white dust similar to snow on a mountain. The ensemble cast of Parvaneh Scharafali, Chloe Albaret, Meng-Ke Wu, Roger Van der Poel, Jorge Nozal, Prince Credell, Jianhui Wang, and Marne van Opstal dance in the midst of the projected images. The message seems to be presented in earnest but the message is somewhat diminished in this 30-minute piece.
NDT’s associate choreographer, Marco Goecke, was presented by his recent work, Woke Up Blind, choreographed to You and I, and The Way Young Lovers Do by American singer/songwriter, Jeff Buckley. This work for two female and five male dancers has been influenced by the acoustic guitar world and Buckley’s songs. Goecke’s frantic movement was in contrast to the relative calm of Buckley’s music – the music and the choreography were at odds. In Woke Up Blind, the cast of Aram Hasler, Anne Jung, Thiago Bordin, Olivier Coeffard, Prince Credell, Jorge Nozal, and Rupert Tookey executed Goecke’s choreography with skill and intensity.
Canadian choreographer, Crystal Pite, who is one of the Nederlands Dans Theater’s associate choreographers, was represented by a recent work, The Statement, choreographed to a new musical composition by a collaborator she has worked with previously, Owen Belton, with spoken text by playwright Jonathan Young.
Pite sets the scene in a corporate board room where executives and public relations people are arguing over how to defend themselves as they are embroiled in a public relations disaster. The movement is choreographed to the dialogue – dialogue that is timely in terms of how corporations react to crises – which could also be applied to political crisis management – offering some black humor in the process.
The cast of Rena Narumi, Imre van Opstal, Jon Bond, and Fernando Hernando Magadan gave virtuoso performances as both dancers and actors – with excellent comic timing. In The Statement, Pite makes her points quickly but the choreography is developed in fits and starts, and the end of the piece is an anti-climax.
Although the works presented by the Nederlands Dans Theater were similar in style and choreographic approach, it was the dancers of this company that brought the individuality to each work. The company’s dancers are amazing and deserving of credit in giving these works credibility.
Cirque du Soleil Paramour
November 10, 2016
By Mark Kappel
Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour is a first for Broadway. It is the first new musical of this season, and the first Broadway production developed by the creative think tank, Cirque du Soleil. Now being performed at the Lyric Theater, I attended the November 10, 2016 performance where one can see the collaboration of great artists combining their talents in a new format.
Cirque du Soleil has specialized in exotic and spectacular circus presentations and this is a first – a Broadway musical – with a plot – and in Paramour circus elements are interwoven into what is a very simple story.
Paramour’s story is set in the Golden Age of Hollywood – the picture perfect fantasy landscape. The plot focuses on Indigo, a young singer who is torn between an egotistical film director, A.J., and songwriter, Joey.
Paramour is defined in the sense of illicit love, but in Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour, the romantic triangle depicted in this musical’s plot is a not a unique one. A.J. dreams of his next film success after many failures. He discovers Indigo, who he wants to make into a movie star, and falls in love with her during the process. However Joey still has Indigo’s affection and that is where the tensions rise.
As Paramour’s story is presented in a dream landscape, this is an ideal environment for the expected elements of Cirque du Soleil to be interwoven. With Hollywood films being made in foreign lands, in distant times, in enjoying films of the day one can be an arm chair traveler. This is the intention of Paramour and Cirque du Soleil’s concept.
Besides the talented principal actors – particularly Jeremy Kushnier as A.J. -- and supporting actors, and ensemble, there is a glorious and expert group of circus performers seen at their best in Paramour. The seasoned and extremely talented acrobats, jugglers, and other circus performers who are part of the cast are employed in routines to enhance the dramatic moments in Paramour’s plot, and also excite the audience as well.
Some of these wonderful performers are included in the context of film-making – the twin brothers flying in the air in the musical version of Cleopatra, the acrobats in the Calamity Jane film which has the enthusiasm of the barn-building scene in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and the Act II Chase Scene with acrobats flying on and off trampolines, the rooftops of buildings, and fire escapes. All of these effects are heightened with projections and videos.
Paramour is under the general direction of Philippe Decoufle, who also conceived this production, and also part of the team is Daphne Mauger as choreographer. The score is a collaborative effort with music composed by Bob and Bill, Guy Dubuc, Marc Lessard and Andreas Carlsson, with Andreas Carlsson as the lyricist. All have contributed – and collaborated – to make Paramour the entertaining show that it is.
Even dreams can be over produced but Paramour succeeds in all aspects – particularly as a fantasy and a spectacular entertainment. It is an equivalent experience to unwrapping an unexpected and welcome gift.
Royal Shakespeare Company’s King Lear with Antony Sher
November 6, 2016
By Mark Kappel
The title role in William Shakespeare’s King Lear is a benchmark in an actor’s career and seems only appropriate for an actor who is of a certain age. It is often the crowning glory of an illustrious theatrical career – and a major challenge.
On November 6th, 2016 the Royal Shakespeare Company presented a cinema screening of its recent revival of King Lear, directed by Gregory Doran, with Antony Sher in the title role – a fitting match of an actor to a role.
King Lear is a play about a warring family and the collateral damage to many families and a country as a whole. It is also a play about regret, bad choices, and being an outsider – and how one deals with the loneliness that one is engulfed in when bridges have been burned, and there is a lack of forgiveness and tolerance for other human beings.
In King Lear the title character descends into madness after he abdicates and he divides his kingdom between two of this three daughters – Goneril and Regan – who use flattery to influence their father regarding his decision. Lear’s remaining daughter, Cordelia, does not succumb to Lear’s demands for flattery -- and Lear leaves her nothing.
Lear’s decision results in tragic consequences for all as the political and selfish machinations of the two sisters and their husbands are used for revenge, accessing political power, attaining control of their country and their families, and intrigue, murder and suicide – drawing in not only Lear’s family but also the Earl of Gloucester’s family, particularly his sons, Edgar and Edmund.
King Lear was first performed in 1606, but its themes are relevant in the present day, particularly how family members relate to each other, rivalry over power and money, and the collateral damage that results.
In Gregory Doran’s production of King Lear, Lear is a ruler in a mythic kingdom where he is displayed with an outward façade of greatness. After making his decision to abdicate and divide his kingdom, Lear takes off on a journey of discovery and learning a great deal about the people in his kingdom. There are the reminders of the medieval king, Henry II, who had three warring sons, and how Henry II put into motion intrigues about dividing his kingdom or remarrying, and hoping to have alternate options in terms of his heirs.
It isn’t until after Lear is banished from his two daughters’ households, and those daughters reveal their true selves to Lear, that Lear begins his descent into madness. However in this production Lear’s madness has an aspect of dignity. Lear’s family is not the only family effected by Lear’s decisions as the Duke of Gloucester finds himself embroiled in the sibling warfare between Goneril and Regan, and is drawn into intrigues by his illegitimate son, Edmund – who in this production is often seen as a Greek chorus outsider looking on the carnage that the families are creating – and is viewed through the prism of humor. Gloucester is blinded but could not see clearly even when he had his sight.
This revival is dominated by the towering performance of Antony Sher as King Lear. Sher is moving and scattered. His Lear is an individual interpretation. With Doran’s clear direction the combination is a memorable production of Lear – reflecting the fact that King Lear is a play about contradictions and emotions.
Most moving is Lear’s confrontation with Gloucester, as two authoritarian figures are pictured who are weakened and the relationship between themselves and their children is reversed. The children take over the parents’ lives and the parents are controlled by them – for better or for worse.
Lear’s daughters, Nia Gwynne as Goneril, Nathalie Simpson as Cordelia, and Kelly Williams as Regan are seen as less than sympathetic. Gwynne’s Goneril is filled with rage which is switched on and off through the play, and Williams' Regan has ice running through her body – a combined image of a strict school marm and Mrs. Danvers with a smile. Simpson does not represent Cordelia as the perfect daughter but even with her imperfections, Lear clearly chooses the wrong daughter to entrust his kingdom and his love.
The trials and tribulations of Edmund are well played by Paspa Essiedu, and Edgar played by Olivier Johnstone encapsulates the character being trapped in Edmund’s intrigues. Gloucester, played by David Troughton, is a human being torn between obligation and honor, which influences his bad choice in regard to which son he should be trusting. And then there is Graham Turner as the Fool, who represents the fools among us who often offer common sense solutions to the world’s problems – they certainly simplify them.
King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s major tragedies, and this production is one in which the entire cast triumphs.
Zora Neale Hurston, Leading Light of the Harlem Renaissance
November 5, 2016
By Mark Kappel
From October 20 through November 20, 2016, Woodie King, Jr.’s New Federal Theatre, in association with the Castillo Theatre, is presenting Lawrence Holder’s Zora Neale Hurston: a Theatrical Biography, celebrating Hurston’s 125th birthday.
This presentation replicates a production of this play that was performed at the American Place Theatre in 1998 which was directed by Wynn Handman, and starred Elizabeth Van Dyke in the title role and Joseph Lewis Edwards as the men in Hurston’s life including her first husband, Herbert Sheen, a jazz musician and Hurston’s classmate at Howard University who later became a physician, Alaine Locke, who supported her work, and other writers of the period including Langston Hughes, and Richard Wright. In this production Woodie King, Jr. is the director and Wynn Handman, who directed the play at the American Place Theatre, is consulting director.
Hurston, an important literary figure in her time, was an acclaimed writer associated with the Harlem Renaissance being a novelist, a playwright, and a journalist. She was born in Alabama in 1891, and she attended Howard University and Barnard College being awarded her college degree in anthropology. Ms. Hurston wrote four novels. Besides more than 50 published short stories, and plays that were produced on Broadway, she was best known for her 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. But she was also a political activist opposing integration.
After her journalistic coverage of a 1948 Florida murder trial, Hurston was charged in a case of child molestation in the United States even though she was in Honduras at the time. In spite of the fact that Hurston proved her innocence, the accusations permanently damaged her career. Hurston ultimately died in obscurity. However over the years her work has been re-evaluated and she was been revered posthumously.
Zora Neale Hurston: a Theatrical Biography tells Hurston’s story in flashbacks while she waits for a bus to take her back home to Florida at a bus station in New York on Christmas Eve in 1949. In the space of 90 minutes Holder’s play brings to life the rise and fall of Hurston’s literary career, her relationships with men, the obstacles she faced in achieving success in education, and her career as a writer.
As Hurston, Elizabeth Van Dyke brings Hurston to life as the play follows Hurston from her experience living in the all black town of Eatonville, Florida, to her studies at Barnard College – writing on black folklore and anthropology.
Hurston also restaged folk dances in her stage works through her anthropological research. Among them was the Bahamian Fire Dance, the finale of her folk revue, The Great Day, which premiered in 1932 at Broadway’s John Golden Theatre. This fact was briefly mentioned in Zora Neale Hurston: A Theatrical Biography. Luminaries in the dance field of the day pursued their interest in the Bahamian Fire Dance including Irene Castle, Doris Humphrey, Ruth St. Denis, and Helen Tamiris with performances on Broadway, in concert halls, and in nightclubs during the period from 1932-1936. Hurston has not been given ample credit for her contributions to dance.
Zora Neale Hurston: a Theatrical Biography is not merely a history lesson. Holder presents living and breathing characters and thoughts behind Hurston’s decisions – both personal and professional – that enhanced and influenced Hurston’s writing. Van Dyke and Sheen bring Holder’s words to life – as well as the characters they are playing. Van Dyke is a brilliant storyteller portraying an equally brilliant story teller.
In attending a performance of Zora Neale Hurston: a Theatrical Biography, one encounters an engrossing theatrical experience performed by actors on top of their game – and also the opportunity to learn about an important figure in American political and literary history. An example of what a theatrical experience should be.
American Ballet Theatre Presents Jessica Lang’s World Premiere
David Koch Theater
October 27, 2016
By Mark Kappel
The mission of American Ballet Theatre’s annual fall season is to present world premieres and company premieres as part of mixed-bill programs in contrast to the company’s Metropolitan Opera House season when full-length ballets dominate the repertoire.
During the second week of its fall season at the David Koch Theater, on October 27, 2016, American Ballet Theatre presented a world premiere work by Jessica Lang, in a program that also included two major revivals.
Jessica Lang is a graduate of the Juilliard School and a former member of Twyla Tharp’s Tharp! She has choreographed for many major ballet companies in the United States, and also for her own company, Jessica Lang Dance.
Her Notes was inspired by Lang’s research into the life of composer Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, a sibling of the composer, Felix Mendelssohn, but prolific in her own right having written more than 450 musical compositions. Lang focused her attention on an obscure piece of Mendelssohn’s music, The Year, which is a series of piano pieces named after the months of the year. For Her Notes, Lang chose the January, February, June and December piano pieces which were played at this performance by piano soloist, Emily Wong.
Rather than representing the seasons that inspired the music, Lang chose to focus on the experiences that the composer faced during the time period when The Year was composed. But quite clearly, Lang doesn’t represent Mendelssohn Hensel literally in her dance piece – nor do the costume designs by Bradon McDonald and the scenery design by Jessica Lang give the impression of an historical period.
The fact that it was well danced by the aforementioned Stella Abrera, Isabella Boylston, Christine Shevchenko, Katherine Williams, Sarah Lane, Cassandra Trenary, James Whiteside, Arron Scott, Alexandre Hammoudi, and Calvin Royal III also resulted in the fact that Lang created a showcase for these wonderful dancers.
The first of the two major revivals was Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations which was premiered by the Royal Ballet in 1946 and was acquired by ABT for its repertoire in 1992. Choreographed to Cesar Franck’s music of the same name with unique designs by Sophie Fedorovich, Symphonic Variations represented Ashton working in the style of a neo-classicist displaying a choreographic voice that is understated and sophisticated with a small cast of only six dancers. It is a display of fluid dancing, and a case in point how effective the illusion can be when a dancer transitions from movement to repose. In this relatively short work, Ashton emphasized simplicity and created a serene atmosphere.
In their dancing – and in repose – the cast of Cassandra Trenary, Christine Shevchenko, Skylar Brandt, Cameron McCune, Calvin Royal III, and Alban Lendorf moved fluidly, gliding over Franck’s music.
The second revival was George Balanchine’s Prodigal Son, a work created for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes in 1929. Prodigal Son entered American Ballet Theatre’s repertoire in 1980. Based on the Biblical parable, and choreographed to Sergei Prokofiev’s commissioned score, Prodigal Son is also notable for its designs by Georges Roualt.
Narrative ballets were not Balanchine’s forte yet in Prodigal Son he effectively tells this narrative with clever use of simple props, organic movement, and with Prokofiev’s music as a soundtrack, the emotional aspects and seductive facet of the story come through. In particular the final moment of the ballet when the Prodigal Son returns home and is embraced by his father hits dramatic and emotional notes.
Jeffrey Cirio, in the title role, encapsulated boyishness in the title role, and also exhibited wonder as he set off on his journey to experience the world. His was a complete performance both in his dancing and acting. Hee Seo, in her own sophisticated manner, projected the exoticism and pathos of the Siren. What made this performance of Prodigal Son as successful as it was can be attributed to the committed performances by every cast member including those of Jonathan Klein and Simon Wexler as the Prodigal Son’s Two Servants and the performances of the all-male ensemble that played the Drinking Companions.
This mixed-bill program represented diverse styles of choreography, wonderful vehicles for the company’s dancers, and confirms American Ballet Theatre’s mission to present provocative repertoire during its fall season.
The Bolshoi Ballet Dances The Golden Age
October 16, 2016
By Mark Kappel
To inaugurate its 2016-17 season of live screenings of the Bolshoi Ballet, Pathe Live/Fathom Events presented Yuri Grigorovitch’s The Golden Age on October 16, 2016.
With a libretto by Yuri Grigorovitch and Isaak Glikman, The Golden Age is an enigmatic examination of Russia during the early years after the Bolshevik Revolution – all choreographed to a score composed by Dmitri Shostakovich, including a transcription of a well-known piece of Broadway music.
This production of The Golden Age is Grigorovitch’s revision of his 1982 creation and was revived by the Bolshoi ballet this season to celebrate Grigorovitch’s 90th anniversary. The Golden Age was danced by the Bolshoi Ballet in New York in 1987.
Grigorovitch’s ballet was inspired by a 1930 Soviet Realist ballet of the same name choreographed by Vasily Vainonen for the Mariinsky Ballet, which focused on the experiences of a Soviet football team in the West and culminated in a joint dance in praise of work by the Soviet footballers and capitalist workers. Grigorovitch’s new version of The Golden Age does have its roots in Soviet political and social philosophy but not to the same degree.
In an intermission interview Irina Shostakovich, Dmitri Shostakovich’s third wife, praised Grigorovitch’s intention to create a ballet to Shostakovich’s music. Shostakovich had stopped composing for ballets after an article was published in Pravda, “Ballet Falsehood”, in the 1930’s which criticized Shostakovich’s music for The Bright Stream. And it should be noted that Grigorovitch’s co-librettist for The Golden Age, Isaack Glikman, was a friend of Shostakovich. In spite of the radical revision to The Golden Age’s libretto there was some lineage and precedent.
Set in a seaside town in Russia in 1923, this is the period of the New Economic Policy during which experiments in free enterprise and trade were allowed – resulting in corruption and crime.
The story focuses on a young dancer, Rita, who performs in The Golden Age restaurant nightclub show. Her chance meeting with Boris, a young fisherman, at a performance by the Young Workers’ Propaganda Theatre, results in a blooming love affair. But one of Rita’s fellow performers and a local crime boss, Yashka, attempts to break up the romance. To the point that Yashka organizes an attack on Boris and his fellow fishermen. Lyushka, a fellow performer of Yashka’s at The Golden Age restaurant, attempts to kill Yashka in a fit of jealousy, but he ultimately kills her. Yashka is overpowered by Boris’ compatriots, and Rita and Boris have their happy ending. In fact the plot and emotions in this ballet are close in context to Romeo and Juliet and other romantic tales.
This turbulent story is told swiftly which includes displays of entertaining dance show pieces focused on social dancing, and emotional pas de deux between the major characters. Most notable is the Tango section in the second act which is danced to a transcription of the familiar Broadway show tune, Tea for Two, and the final – and most powerful – pas de deux in the ballet is danced to the second movement adagio of Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto.
Grigorovitch’s employs the classical vocabulary skillfully as well as the acrobatic lifts and partnering that the Bolshoi Ballet has become known for. The Golden Age proves to be more than just an entertainment but a passionate choreographic statement.
It is in these narrative ballets that the Bolshoi Ballet principal dancers shine. As was the case with Nina Kaptsova as Rita, Ruslan Skvortsov as Boris, Mikhail Lobukhin in the role of Yashka , and Ekaterina Krysanova as Yashka’s friend and accomplice, Lyushka. Kaptsova and Skvortsov played their roles with the proper romanticism, and danced beautifully and cleanly. Lobukhin is an excellent actor and dancer who personified the villainous Yashka, and Krysanova was superbly malicious and a schemer as Lyushka. You couldn’t have had a better cast in this ballet.
Simon Stephens’ Heisenberg
Manhattan Theatre Club – Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
October 15, 2016
By Mark Kappel
Solving a puzzle or an attempt at untying a knot can be a challenge. Simon Stephens suggests such a challenge in his new play, Heisenberg, which the Manhattan Theatre Club is now presenting at the Samuel Friedman Theatre from October 13 through December 11, 2016.
Seen on October 15, 2016, Heisenberg is a provocative and dazzling play that questions how human beings communicate with each other in today’s society. The short answer is with great effort.
Simon Stephens, a prolific playwright, who won international acclaim for his play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time, sets the scene in a London train station at the height of the rush hour. Georgie Burns, (played by Mary-Louise Parker) spots Alex Priest (played by Denis Arndt), a much older man, and initiates a connection by kissing him on the neck. Alex, who is from Ireland, is a butcher and has never married. Georgie is a waitress – a free spirit from New Jersey who could also be described as kooky and seductive – and also a pathological liar. She is, in fact, waiting for her British-born husband – and the questions about her personal life remain unanswered.
This unconventional relationship blooms as these two strangers spar with each other for about 90 minutes. A fencing match of sorts with comic and insulting barbs – and surprise revelations and betrayals -- but the relationship grows and their bond strengthens. Both Georgie Burns and Alex Priest are emotionally wounded warriors who have connected with each other.
Stephens paints this picture in concise words which are channeled and sifted with skill by director Mark Brokaw. All of the action is confined in a small space in which there are only two chairs and two tables – with part of the audience on stage in close observation -- and facilitated by Brokaw’s direction the audience travels with these characters from location to location as their relationship moves laterally and forward.
And hanging over this play – who is Heisenberg? Werner Heisenberg was a scientist, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1932. In September 1941 Heisenberg traveled to German-occupied Copenhagen and met with Niels Bohr – a meeting that was the subject of Michael Frayn’s play, Copenhagen. This random connection between Georgie Burns and Alex Priest may have been inspired by Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle” with the principal characters representing particles which collide or separate in an uncertain and unpredictable manner. A metaphor for everyday life.
This comic-drama is a unique look at a May-December romance with witty and erudite dialogue – and offers an opportunity to watch two stage actors at their best and on top of their game. Parker and Arndt are artful in interpreting these complicated characters and make them believable – they are wily and persuasive. And both are in the excellent hands of director Mark Brokaw who guides both actors splendidly through Stephens’ play.
Paper Mill Playhouse’s First Offering of the Season – The Producers
Paper Mill Playhouse
October 8, 2016
By Mark Kappel
The Paper Mill Playhouse’s first offering of the 2016-17 season is a musical comedy that seems like it never left us even though it closed its successful Broadway engagement in 2007 -- The Producers, a musical based on the 1968 comic film directed by Mel Brooks. From September 28 through October 23, 2016, you can join the hilarity in attending a performance of The Producers at the Paper Mill Playhouse – and quickly understand why The Producers was the Broadway hit that it was.
With a musical score by Mel Brooks, and a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, The Producers puts all of the stereotypical characters one perceives to be involved in the theater under a magnifying glass. The producers are the blustering and overpowering Max Bialystock, and the timid and neurotic accountant, Leo Bloom, who concoct a scheme to produce a monstrous Broadway flop in order to run away to Rio with the investor’s money.
That scheme blows up in their faces when after doing and producing everything wrong, the play, Springtime for Hitler, is a hit! But the play is also about a strong and empathetic relationship between Bialystock and Bloom in which both of these strong characters develop and grow. Also The Producers is a humorous and outrageous valentine to the Broadway Theater – thorns and all.
The Paper Mill Playhouse production of The Producers has some connections to the original Broadway production. Director Don Stephenson played Leo Bloom, and John Treacy Egan played Franz Liebkind in the Broadway production. Here Stephenson, and choreographer, Bill Burns, have re-created Susan Stroman’s original direction and choreography. All of which holds up well – with all of its shtick, madness, and lack of political correctness.
In any production of The Producers the burden is placed on the actors who play the roles of Leo Bloom, and Max Bialystock, who form the partnership to produce the worst musical that has ever opened on Broadway. Headlining The Producers is David Josefsberg, who heightens the frantic characteristics of Leo Bloom, and for Michael Kostroff, who brings to the character of Max Bialystock the necessary comedic bluster while being a teddy bear at the same time. Kostroff has had a priorconnection with this role as he understudied the role of Bialystock on The Producers first national tour. His interpretation and performance of the opening number in The Producers is a personal interpretation – placing emphasis on Bialystock’s vanity, and ego, set against the theatre signs representing Bialystock’s “hits” and “flops”. He comes into his own in Betrayed, a tour de force.
Josefsberg portrays the perfect nebbish who suddenly evolves into an assertive human being and opens up himself to love – who happens to be Ulla, Bialystock & Bloom’s sexy receptionist.
Also in supporting roles are Ashley Spencer as Ulla, Kevin Pariseau as Roger De Bris, Mark Price as Carmen Ghia, and John Treacy Egan as Franz Libkind, who enhance their characters with their over-the-top interpretations.
The Paper Mill Playhouse production of The Producers emphasizes that The Producers is an ensemble musical in many aspects. All of the cast members contribute to fulfilling Mel Brooks’ vision.
Once the audience has felt it has the permission to laugh – navigating comedy that can only described as vulgar, and cutting – and which ridicules the major characters -- Mel Brooks’ comic outlook effortlessly communicates to the audience – a whole new generation of audience members.
The audience doesn't roar with laughter at every comic moment in The Producers but they are getting it. Certainly underscored by the roar of applause when The Producers comes to its uplifting finale.
What a wonderful way for the Paper Mill Playhouse to open its season!
Ken Bloom’s Anecdotes from Broadway
By Mark Kappel
Show & Tell, the New Book of Broadway Anecdotes by Ken Bloom, published by Oxford University Press, is a collection of stories, remarks, and behind the scenes fables, legends, and back stories that bring to life what it would be like to be involved in the everyday life of the Broadway theatre. Some of the anecdotes have been revealed in other forms and in other books, but most of them have been directly passed on to Mr. Bloom by many Broadway personalities.
There is also an element of surprise in all of these anecdotes as the book is divided into categories, and each anecdote is set up with background information that places each one in context.
Critics are skewered – and anecdotes expose how Broadway producers treated them – as well as publicists and most of all, actors, directors, writers, and choreographers. If you have put these theatrical artists on pedestals, you may want to borrow a ladder and help them down from their pedestals. But these anecdotes are an entertaining read.
It would not be possible to list them all in this review, but there are a few worth mentioning that are amusing and informative.
Gwen Verdon was attracted to the idea of a musical being developed of the film version of Chicago way back in 1953 when she had seen the film version with Ginger Rogers – and was drawn to the subject again by the Watergate hearings in the 1970’s -- an example of how long the ideas for Broadway musicals percolate, and then are written and produced. Also the fact that the music for The Wiz was not written entirely by Charlie Small. He was a front for a group of songwriters who all contributed songs to the show. When Bob Fosse used the words magical and anachronistic to describe his costume design ideas for Pippin to costume designer Patricia Zipprodt, she asked for further clarification. Fosse came up with the answer, “Jesus Christ in tennis shorts”.
However the most fascinating anecdotes were those of casting decisions and what could have been. Among them would be Frank Sinatra’s agent asking that Sinatra be considered for the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Others considered for the role of Tevye included Danny Kaye, Danny Thomas, Tom Bosley, and Walter Matthau. David Merrick offering the part of Dolly in Hello, Dolly! to Jack Benny with George Burns as Horace Vandergelder, John Cleese being up for the lead in the Broadway production of Half A Sixpence, and Kaye Ballard being considered for the title role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
What turn of fate would have happened if Nancy Walker had been contracted to play the role of Miss Marmelstein in I Can Get It For You Wholesale instead of Barbra Streisand or Jack Lemmon playing Albert Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie instead of Dick Van Dyke, or Mitzi Gaynor as Lola in Damn Yankees instead of Gwen Verdon.
There was also a long list of actresses considered for the title role in Mame including Lisa Kirk, Nanette Fabray, Dolores Gray, Kaye Ballard, Alice Ghostley, and Judy Garland – Angela Lansbury landed the part and Broadway history was made.
A notable historical anecdote was a Danish production of Porgy and Bess presented in the late 1940’s during the Nazi occupation. The Danes used “It Ain’t Necessarily So” to jam Gestapo radio lines – and it became a symbol of the resistance.
There are also some wonderful anecdotes concerning the out-of-town tryouts of plays and musicals – too many to mention here. Those might have been forgotten with the passage of time.
For the Broadway theatre fan it is the joy of having all of these anecdotes in all one place and to savor them – a must read for theatre enthusiasts.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival – Program Four
October 5, 2016
By Mark Kappel
The City Center Fall for Dance Festival’s fourth program offered another varied program which included performances by one company from Europe and the remaining performances by companies based in the United States.
Jessica Lang Dance presented the New York premiere of Jessica Lang’s Tesseracts of Time, a collaborative work with Lang’s choreography and designs by Steven Holl Architects – merging dance and architecture – and divided into four parts.
In Tesseracts of Time, there was clever use of video combining dancers perched on various levels of architectural elements with live dancers either mirroring the movements or moving in opposite directions or in contrast to the visual images. There were also sections of the piece in which the dancers danced amidst architectural design elements physically on stage.
What Jessica Lang achieved were arresting images that are now typical of an urban landscape in the 21st century and danced to varied music by David Lang, Morton Feldman, John Cage, Iannis Xenakis, and Arvo Part.
During the past decade the Royal Ballet of Flanders’ artistic mission has been evolving with a focus on contemporary ballet and modern dance.
In this snapshot performance the Royal Ballet of Flanders danced the American premiere of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Fall, which exemplified how the company’s repertoire has evolved. Having been premiered by the company in 2015, Cherkaoui turned to Arvo Part’s Frates, Spiegel im Spiegel, and Orient and Occident, to choreograph a work for nine dancers that focused on amorphous movement. Cherkaoui used the ladies on pointe sparingly as they were manipulated by their partners with designs that were tune with autumn images and the changing of seasons.
The cast of Alexander Burton, Matt Foley, Virginia Hendricksen, Drew Jacoby, Kozuki Kazutomi, Jason Kittelberger, Yevgeniy Kolesnyk, Philip Lens, Fiona McGee, Nancy Osbaldeston, Raymond Pinto, Aki Saito, Acacia Schachte, and Wim Vanlessen, absorbed Cherkaoui’s movement and presented his choreographic pictures effectively.
Also on the program Demetia Hopkins-Greene of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater who gave a virtuoso performance in Alvin Ailey’s Cry. Ailey was notable for translating his stories into choreography, and he did just that magnificently in the solo, Cry – the struggle of black women down to every detail.
Cry is a series of short dances that runs the gamut of passion, emotion, and joy, and Hopkins-Greene told that story with every cell in her body with style and grace.
The Sarasota Ballet only recently performed at the Joyce Theater in an all-Frederick Ashton mixed-bill program in August, and makes a return engagement at the City Center Fall for Dance Festival performing Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand.
International guest artists and the Sarasota Ballet dancers combined and integrated their efforts to perform Ashton’s gem – noted for Ashton’s subtlety and musicality when necessary, and with emotion and boldness when necessary – all danced to Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B Minor. It is amazing how Ashton encapsulated this compelling story within the confines of Liszt’s music.
Marguerite and Armand was created as a star vehicle for Margo Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, and was premiered by the Royal Ballet in 1963. Inspired by Dumas’ The Lady of the Camellias, and enhanced by Cecil Beaton’s costume and scenery designs, it is a story that has been tackled by many other choreographers. However Ashton put his stamp on this intimate dramatic ballet which had disappeared from the Royal Ballet’s repertoire after the retirements of its two original stars – only revived as a vehicle for Sylvie Guillem and performed by the Royal Ballet in New York in 2004 as part of the Lincoln Center’s Ashton Festival. The Sarasota Ballet acquired Marguerite and Armand in 2015.
The principal roles in this performance were danced by guest artists Alina Cojocaru as Marguerite, Friedmann Vogel as Armand, Johan Kobborg as Father, and Calin Radulescu as the Duke.
Seen in the relatively intimate setting of the City Center, Marguerite and Armand, has its moments of mystery and reckless love which were expressed in the dancing of Cojocaru and Vogel. There was definite chemistry between them which brought passion to this performance of Marguerite and Armand.
In this instance the City Center Fall for Dance Festival presented bold, varied and entertaining programming.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival – Program Three
September 30, 2016
By Mark Kappel
The City Center Fall for Dance Festival lives up to its mission year after year presenting a variety of dance companies, and making tickets affordable to enable a wide audience to attend its performances. And this year was no exception.
The Festival’s third program, seen on September 30, 2016, included performances danced by companies based all over the world – examples of different dance styles and performing repertoire that would not have been exposed to New York dance audiences were it not for this Festival. On this program the diversity represented was hip hop, contemporary ballet, tap dancing, and a hybrid of modern dance and ethnic dance.
Opening the program the CCN de la Rochelle/Cie Accrorap presented the American premiere of Kader Attou’s Opus 14. Attou’s choreographic turf is hip hop and taking this style to a new level. The CCN de la Rochelle is one of France’s National Choreographic Centres, and Kader Attou is the first hip hop choreographer named to be its artistic director. He continues to expand the artistic boundaries that were established in 1974 when the company was founded.
Attou’s Opus 14 was created in 2014, a piece for 16 dancers who are responding to music composed by Regis Baillet. The piece has elements of hip hop, break dancing, and modern dance – far more than street dancing. It is a piece that has structure but comprises virtuoso break dancing and modern dance movement intertwined. The dancing was fluent and the overall concept urbane and sophisticated.
Ayodele Casel, a virtuoso tap dancer, danced her own composition, While I Have The Floor. While I Have The Floor opens with a video of Gregory Hines praising the talent of Ayodele Casel and from there Casel’s written and spoken monologue surveys the foundations of tap steps and the many female pioneers who left behind contributions to the world of tap dance. Would have appreciated more tap dancing than there was in this solo piece. It was not self-congratulatory but instead a tribute to the people who broke with tradition and prejudices in the tap dance world and allowed for tap dancers such as Ayodele Casel to find their artistic path.
The Hong Kong Ballet returning to the City Center Fall for Dance Festival presented the American premiere of Jorma Elo’s Shape of Glow. Choreographed to three separate pieces of music including Mozart’s Symphony No. 28 in C and Piano Concerto No. 278 in B Flat, and Beethoven’s Consecration of the House Overture, Shape of Glow was premiered by the Hong Kong Ballet on May 23, 2014.
The Hong Kong Ballet, under the direction of Madeleine Onne, has achieved a reputation as a beautifully trained group of ballet dancers who exhibit their versatility in contemporary works and the full-length classics.
Elo’s Shape of Glow was choreographed in the style of a Balanchine-like neo-classical ballet without the usual speed and modern dance influences that have been trademarks of Elo’s other choreographic work that I have seen. Although the choreography lapsed into predictable patterns, the choreography showed off the strengths and classical lines of the company’s dancers.
The performance concluded with the Bangarra Dance Theatre of Australia, an aboriginal performing arts company combining the aboriginal culture with contemporary dance, dancing the American premiere of Stephen Page’s & Djakapurra Munyarryun’s Spirit, an umbrella title as Spirit showcased excerpts from many works in the Bangarra Dance Theatre’s repertoire.
In this piece Page is represented by the contemporary choreography and Munyarryun is represented by the traditional choreography. Presented in vignettes separated by black outs, these excerpts did have a connecting thread describing the traditions of the aboriginal culture, and creating an engrossing atmosphere.
With the exception of Casel’s While I Have The Floor, the pieces presented were ensemble pieces which showed off the dancers’ skills and strengths in their particular style of dance. Great dancing and provocative choreography.
Once again the City Center Fall for Dance Festival presented a satisfying to a very responsive audience.
London Revival of Miss Saigon Presented by Fathom Events
September 22, 2016
By Mark Kappel
In advance of the Broadway debut of the recent London revival of Miss Saigon, on September 22, 2016, Fathom Events presented a cinema screening of this production which was originally filmed in London on September 24, 2014.
With music composed by Claude-Michel Schonberg, and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., Alain Boubil, and Michael Mahler, Miss Saigon was a huge success when it opened on Broadway in 1991. This new London revival has been directed by Laurence Connor, with musical staging by Bob Avian, and additional choreography by Geoffrey Garratt.
This new production of Miss Saigon has been enhanced with new scenery designs by Totie Driver and Matt Kinley based on an original concept by Adrian Vaux, and with costumes designed by Andreane Neofitou.
This performance was filmed to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Miss Saigon’s London premiere. When it premiered Miss Saigon was one of the many sung-through musicals that were being produced in London and later transferred to Broadway. But this is Miss Saigon’s first revival, and long-awaited by fans of this musical.
Based on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Miss Saigon geographically re-locates this familiar story to Vietnam in the 1960’s during the American involvement in the Vietnam War. Even with the change of the setting of this story from Japan to Vietnam, Miss Saigon retains the elements of the culture clash of different political, and social values that were reflected in Puccini’s opera. In some ways these conflicts are further amplified in this adaptation especially from the French point of view as Vietnam was once a colonial territory of France -- presenting a different perspective from what most Americans had of the Vietnam War.
Miss Saigon focuses on the ill-fated romance of an ordinary American marine, Chris (played by Alistair Brammer) and a young Vietnamese woman, Kim (played by Eva Noblezada) – a relationship exploited and manipulated by a hustler and pimp, The Engineer (played by Jon Jon Briones), an enigmatic figure of mixed Vietnamese and French descent who feels victimized by the colonial wars in Vietnam. He sees his hope to emigrate to the United States and seize the benefits of the American dream slipping through his fingers when the American troops depart from Vietnam – a feeling of abandonment after the suffering experienced by the Vietnamese people during the endless years of war.
Chris meets Kim in a brothel in sleazy and corrupt Saigon. Their one-night stand is a reckless Romeo and Juliet inspired romance which changes their lives forever. Chris leaves Saigon with the withdrawing American military forces. Kim is left behind with a child that is produced in that reckless one-night stand, and is then forced to flee Vietnam to Thailand after she kills, Thuy, her intended bridegroom who becomes a Communist Commander. A dramatic moment in which Kim prevents the Commander from killing her son.
Through an American organization set up to find children that were fathered by American servicemen during the Vietnam War, Chris – now married – seeks out Kim in Thailand and must reveal his past to his wife, Ellen, (played by Tamsin Carroll). Ellen comes to terms with her husband’s past, and also accepts the child he brought into the world.
Of course Miss Saigon is also famous for the helicopter descending on Saigon as the American forces retreat from Vietnam – an iconic image punctuating the military failure that the Vietnam War proved to be.
This story is given the grand operatic treatment with soaring melodies and arias that reflect the emotions and fears of the leading characters in the fog of war that draw the audience in to the emotional struggles that they are wrestling with.
When Miss Saigon initially premiered in London more than 25 years ago, the cast of Jonathan Pryce and Lea Salonga became overnight stars. No doubt it is inevitable that Eva Noblezada and Jon Jon Briones will achieve the same success when they re-create their roles when this revival opens on Broadway next year. Noblezada is blessed with an amazing voice and acting skills, and Briones brings both the evil and comic sides of The Engineer’s personality. However the entire cast is excellent and enlivens Laurence Connor’s new production of Miss Saigon.
A special finale ended this performance with the participation of three of the three original London cast members of Miss Saigon, Jonathan Pryce who played The Engineer and Lea Salonga who played Kim (and also played these parts on Broadway to great acclaim), and Simon Bowman, who played Chris with each participating in scenes from Miss Saigon with their revival counterparts. For fans of this musical, this was an amazing tribute to these great artists.
This was a fortunate opportunity to re-visit this thoughtful and provocative musical from the distance of 25 years and re-acquaint oneself with the raw feelings one had experienced in the 1990’s when the after effects of the Vietnam War represented open wounds and indifference. Wounds and all it was worth re-visiting this unsettling time in American history as represented by the major artistic statement that Miss Saigon is and why it still remains compelling and popular for audiences of today.
Something Rotten!, A Funny Theatrical Romp!
St. James Theatre
September 13, 2016
By Mark Kappel
If you are searching for an escapist theatrical experience and you want to have an entertaining evening, Something Rotten! at the St. James Theatre is the perfect solution.
In writing the music and lyrics, Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, with Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell writing the book – and with Casey Nicholaw as director and choreographer, acting as the wizard who puts this funny and clever high-speed musical together – Something Rotten! is an homage to the Broadway musical and a gift to Broadway -- an equally enjoyable journey for both a theater insider, and the occasional theatergoer.
Having opened in April of last year, and attending a performance on September 13, 2016, Something Rotten! is still going strong and retains its freshness with a virtually new cast. When the Minstrel opens the show with “Welcome to the Renaissance” you know you are in for an unpredictable and humor-filled ride. This opening musical number is an extraordinary historical survey of the waning years of Elizabethan England that sets up this musical for the audience.
Something Rotten! focuses on brothers Nick Bottom (Rob McClure) and Nigel Bottom (Josh Grisetti) who are confounded by – and consumed with jealousy of – the success of William Shakespeare (Eric Sciotto) who is receiving rock star adulation from his adoring public, and accessorizes his behavior with excessive vanity, paranoia and ego. In a desperate attempt to knock Shakespeare off his pedestal and to fulfill his own ambitions, Nick Bottom consults with soothsayer, Nostradamus (Brad Oscar) to come up with a scheme to achieve his own success no matter what the price might be. Although Nostradamus somehow mangles the name of Shakespeare’s next “hit”, he does foresee that the next major theatrical art form will be the Broadway musical.
Then the mayhem and theatrical alchemy begins as Something Rotten! mocks and parodies this much esteemed art form – it becomes theatrical bedlam, perfectly-timed comedy, and tests a Broadway audience’s knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays, and the genuine article, a Broadway musical comedy.
In, “A Musical” during which Nostradamus and Nick Bottom, and this musical’s talented ensemble, describe their plan, they perform clever parodies of familiar musicals – we all know them – with pointed accuracy while also making allusions to 16th century England – even the bawdy nature of the times.
McClure and Grisetti play the Bottom Brothers with comic precision. You perfectly understand their ambitions and needs, and why and how they are weighing their choices for the better and the worse. Their performances were excellent examples of the old bromides that less is more, and being in the moment.
Sciotto creates a caricature of Shakespeare that one loves and hates, who lives off the oxygen of his fans, and you wouldn’t doubt that he would stab you in the back and throw you a going-away party. Leslie Kritzer as Bea is the dutiful and supportive wife of Nick Bottom mocking the sexism of the time and is hopeful for changes in the future, and Catherine Brunell is the bumbling Portia who brilliantly lands the physical comedy, and the subtle line readings which are skillfully delivered. As the object of Nigel Bottom’s affections it is clear that they are a match made in heaven. Then there is Oscar’s Nostradamus – Oscar a modern day vaudevillian who understands that you have to break an egg in order to make an omelette. Edward Hibbert is the wise cracking Lord Clapham and Master of the Justice – precious and snooty.
Quite often theatrical artists take themselves a little too seriously, and one needs to have the reality check that Something Rotten! provides. If you haven’t seen Something Rotten! already, and if you haven’t returned to Something Rotten! to see these masterful new cast members, take the most direct route to the St. James Theatre and indulge yourself in the hilarity that ensues in Something Rotten!
Saving Radio City Music Hall
By Mark Kappel
The Radio City Music Hall opened its doors in 1932. Designed by Edward Durrell Strong with interior Art Deco designs by Donald Deskey, the Radio City Music Hall was designed and built with the purpose of offering high quality entertainment at prices ordinary people could afford. It was and still remains a showplace, a tourist attraction, and during its golden age it was known for its format of presenting six screenings a day of first-run movies, and presenting four stage shows on a daily basis. It was a unique entertainment experience.
I am of the generation that could remember my mother’s parents taking me and my brother to the Sunday morning shows at the Radio City Music Hall to see some of the great American films which were paired off with imaginative stage shows that included the Radio City Music Hall’s ballet company, variety acts, the world-famous Rockettes, and cameo appearances by movie stars. It was a magical place, with the orchestra appearing out of nowhere, and big Wurlitzer organs being played that filled this very large movie palace with music. Seeing the films and stage shows at the Radio City Music Hall was an integral component of the New York experience – and a ritual for New Yorkers and tourists. However this important New York cultural institution was in danger of being demolished and could have been lost.
Saving Radio City Music Hall, A Dancer’s True Story, by Rosemary Novellino-Mearns, published by Turning Point Press, documents the activism by the Radio City Music Hall’s performers, and show business and political allies that led the fight in obtaining the Radio City Music Hall landmark designation and saving it from demolition.
Rosemary Novellino-Mearns, Dance Captain of the Radio City Ballet Company, and her husband, William Mearns, Captain of the Radio City singers, organized the Showpeople’s Committee to Save Radio City Music Hall – and ultimately succeeded in saving the Radio City Music Hall from demolition, and it is the brave story of this activism -- the disappointments and successes in this quest -- that is described in this book.
Also in the book are the descriptions of the Radio City Music Hall’s daily life with performances taking place, rehearsals, the various departments churning out costumes, and the musicians, the dancers, and the technicians, who put on the Radio City Music Hall’s elaborate stage shows.
It is notable that the ballet company at the Radio Music Hall had been the oldest professional ballet company in the United States with such notables as Patricia Wilde, and Melissa Hayden among its members. The ballet company was disbanded in 1974, and the Radio City Music Hall’s fortunes began to decline in 1978 after a series of poor choices of films – resulting in a decline in audience attendance. That is when the threat of demolition reared its ugly head, and inspired the efforts to save the Radio City Musical Hall -- and give it a future.
The book is filled with statistics and information about the Radio City Music Hall, from rehearsal schedules to photos of performers, and an appendix which provides technical information about the theater, and a chronology of all of the films and shows that were presented at the Radio City Music Hall from 1932 until 1979, when the Radio City Music Hall’s existence was saved but the format of entertainment presented moved away from film to stage shows and concerts only.
This book serves an invaluable first-hand acount of the struggle to save the Radio City Music Hall providing details about its daily operations, and what audience members were able to experience at the Radio City Music Hall during its heyday. This book is a major contribution to our urban history, and a well-earned tribute to the people who spent the time and effort to save this important New York cultural institution.
Peter Wright’s Memoir, Wrights and Wrongs
By Mark Kappel
Published by Oberon Books, Wrights and Wrongs, My Life in Dance by Peter Wright with Paul Arrowsmith, is Peter Wright’s candid memoir of his life in professional dance. Known primarily as a former artistic director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Wright has gained the reputation of being one of the most astute stagers of the 19th century classics in the dance world with deep experience in the administrations of dance organizations in Great Britain and Germany.
Besides his long association with the Royal Ballet and the Birmingham Royal Ballet, as a dancer he studied at the leading ballet institutions in Great Britain as well as with Kurt Joos – performing as a member of Joos’ company when the company was in exile in Great Britain during most of the years before, during and after World War II. Wright was also the balletmaster for the Stuttgart Ballet when John Cranko was the company’s artistic director, and it was while working with the Stuttgart Ballet that Wright staged his iconic production of Giselle.
In his memoir, Wrights and Wrongs, Wright lays out the history of the beginnings of the Royal Ballet in the 1940’s and 1950’s, and also describes the rejuvenation of dance in Germany after World War II.
Wright reveals, in his early years, seeking out dance training against his father’s wishes, and joining Kurt Joss’s company – and also working with the Royal Ballet – chronicling the Royal Ballet’s historic tours in the 1950’s, his relationship with Ninette de Valois, the Royal Ballet’s founding artistic director, and frank comments about the dancers and choreographers he worked with. Also Wright participated in the London productions of Finian’s Rainbow and Flower Drum Song, choreographed the London production of Fiorello! and Lionel Bart’s musical, Blitz! He also supervised and choreographed many ballets that were filmed for television.
In providing the narrative of his career in dance, Wright is straightforward about his strengths and weaknesses, the professional relationships and connections he has made, and often is outspoken about the talent and work ethic of the people he worked with. On balance there were some indiscrete and unkind remarks about his colleagues which diminish this memoir. But he is just as upfront in regard to what he learned from each of them, and how he applied what he learned as a dancer, and artistic director.
Wright describes in detail how he was involved in the transformation of the Royal Ballet’s New Group into the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, and the company’s move from London to Birmingham. He also describes his disappointment in not being fully considered when the position of artistic director of the Royal Ballet became open during his tenure working with the Royal Ballet organization. Wright reveals the candidates under consideration for that position during several searches for a new artistic director, the rationale for the choices, and his opinion of the choices. Wright is also very blunt about how and why decisions are made by artistic directors and also expresses his own philosophy as an artistic director.
There are particular words of wisdom to be fully considered by artistic directors, and those who wish to be, including his statements that “The director of a ballet company is the dancers’ champion, but he – or she – should not always think like a dancer.” Or “A wide-ranging vision is a necessity for a company director who must be able to see the bigger future.”
Wright’s talents as a stager of the classics is not as well known in the United States although his production of Giselle has been danced the by Houston Ballet, and his production of Giselle has also been staged for the National Ballet of Canada and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet – both companies having performed Wright’s production of Giselle in New York. The Royal Ballet performed his production of The Sleeping Beauty in New York during the 1970’s, the Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet performed his new version of The Sleeping Beauty at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1986 as part of an American tour, and his production of Swan Lake has been seen in Canada as danced by the Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet in Toronto in 1983.
One of the highlights of this book is Wright’s description of how he approached his first staging of Giselle, and stagings of subsequent production of Giselle for ballet companies during his career. Wright reveals his inspiration, research, revisions, tradition, and how the roles in Giselle should be danced and interpreted – and also how design played a part in the theatrical aspects of staging a 19th century classical ballet. Most interesting was giving the option to the dancers playing Giselle to decide whether they wish to stab themselves during Giselle’s Mad Scene – committing suicide which was in the original production of Giselle – or opting for the dying of a broken heart that has become part of the tradition of interpreting the role of Giselle.
There is also a chapter describing his collaboration with Frederick Ashton on a production of The Sleeping Beauty, as compared to his own productions – with particularly focus on designs and how they contribute to the success of a production of The Sleeping Beauty. There are also details of his productions of The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Coppelia, and what goes on in the mind of a producer of a classic ballet and choices that must be made.
In particular there are words of wisdoms to producers of a full-length 19th century classic, “To tackle a big classic you need experience of directing big scenes and making dramatic points rather than just producing choreography”, “Young choreographers or former dancers run the risk of still looking at a big ballet only from a dancer’s perspective.” But a more general bit of wisdom is, “The choreography must express what the choreographer is attempting to say without extra embellishments.”
There are also several interesting revelations. Among them is his confirmation that he choreographed short sections of John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet, and Onegin, because Cranko’s alcohol problems kept him from rehearsals. Wright did give Cranko great credit for giving him choreographic opportunities and to gain experience as a balletmaster but when Wright left the Stuttgart Ballet, his relationship with Cranko was strained.
Wright also provided an analysis of Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography and his memories of working with MacMillan as an associate when MacMillan was artistic director of the Royal Ballet. He is particularly critical of MacMillan’s widow, Deborah MacMillan, for changing the choreography and designs for her husband’s ballets.
For any balletomane who wishes to know what it is like to be an artistic director of a ballet company – inside and outside – Wrights and Wrongs, is an excellent read, and one can thank Mr. Wright for being honest and forthright about his experiences, and looking back on his decisions with some objectivity.
Sarasota Ballet Makes Its Debut at the Joyce Theater
August 8, 2016
By Mark Kappel
The Sarasota Ballet made its New York debut at the City Center Fall for Dance Festival in 2014, and caused a stir. Relatively new in the dance world, the Sarasota Ballet has earned its status as a ballet company of interest in a short period of time establishing itself in Sarasota, Florida, as well as in engagements at the Kennedy Center and Jacob’s Pillow -- also spending the time and devotion to honing its artistic perspective.
The Sarasota Ballet was founded by former Stuttgart Ballet principal dancer, Jean Allenby, with the intention of establishing a company in Florida that would have its own artistic niche, and serve the community of Sarasota, which didn’t have a ballet company.
Since its founding 25 years ago, the company has had three different artistic directors, and all have put their artistic stamp on the company’s repertoire. The current artistic director is Iain Webb, former soloist of the Royal Ballet, whose primary contribution to the company has been to add Frederick Ashton’s classic and lesser known works to the company’s repertoire – many of which are not even in the Royal Ballet’s current repertoire. Webb has been ably assisted by his wife, Margaret Barbieri, former principal dancer of the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, who is the company’s assistant director, and like Webb had danced the Ashton repertoire under the guidance of Ashton himself. They have re-staged many of these Ashton works for the Sarasota Ballet with painstaking care passing on the Ashton style to the company’s dancers.
The Sarasota Ballet is now making its Joyce Theater debut from August 8-13, 2016. For this engagement the Sarasota Ballet is performing an all-Ashton program with the overall title, A Knight of the British Ballet, which includes a few familiar works, and those that are not as familiar, and danced with a commitment to the Ashton style. What is represented is not an historic or academic exercise, but to see a renewal of an artistic legacy that is relevant to today’s audiences, and is not regularly seen on New York stages.
Although the artistic directors of ballet companies the world over are rediscovering the charms of Frederick Ashton’s ballets, New Yorkers are starved for their performances but for the occasional performances of these ballets by American Ballet Theatre. The Royal Ballet performed in New York in 2015, and the only substantial Ashton work the company performed was The Dream – and with the company’s infrequent American tours since 1976, it is now a rarity for the Royal Ballet to perform Ashton’s ballets here in the United States.
The program opened with the rarely seen Vales Nobles et Sentimentales which was premiered by the Sadler’s Wells Ballet in 1947, revived in 1986, and given its company premiere by the Sarasota Ballet in 2012. Choreographed to Ravel’s music of the same name, Ashton created a romantic atmosphere, set in a ballroom with Sophie Fedorovich’s design of a series of screens used to create mirror and passing images of the dancers. Valses Nobles et Sentimentales presented style and elegance at a time of austerity in Britain. The simplicity of Ashton’s choreographic statement was ably presented by Danielle Brown and Ricardo Graziano as the principal couple – a charming gem that has been rediscovered.
In contrast was Ashton’s Tweedledum and Tweedledee which Ashton created for a gala in 1977 and was danced originally by Wayne Sleep, and Graham Fletcher as the twins, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and Lesley Collier as Alice, all of the Royal Ballet. This comic work – reflecting the traditions of Christmas pantomime – with its core being a game of musical chairs – is choreographed to Percy Grainger’s Shepherd’s Hey and Country Gardens, and was given its Sarasota Ballet premiere in 2016.
Danced with charm by Alex Harrison, Logan Learned, and Samantha Benoit, it is amazing that Ashton, in his choreography, says more in five minutes than many ballets say in 30 minutes or more.
In contrast is the life and death experience of Ashton’s The Walk to the Paradise Garden, choreographed to Delius’ music from A Village of Romeo and Juliet (also used by Antony Tudor in his 1-act version of Romeo and Juliet), is an atmospheric and forgotten piece that Ashton created for the Royal Ballet in 1972 with Merle Park, David Wall, and Derek Rencher dancing the principal roles. The Walk to the Paradise Garden had been danced by the Royal Ballet in New York in 1974, and unfortunately has disappeared from the Royal Ballet’s repertoire. Recently added to the Sarasota Ballet’s repertoire and danced with innocence and urgency by Ricardo Graziano, and Danielle Brown, and Jacob Hughes as the figure of death confirming that this piece still rings true today.
Following were excerpts from two longer works choreographed by Ashton. Jazz Calendar was premiered by the Royal Ballet in 1968, choreographed to music by Richard Rodney Bennett with designs by Derek Jarman. The scenario of the ballet is based on the nursery rhyme, Monday’s Child. Although not currently in the Royal Ballet’s repertoire, the Joffrey Ballet performed this ballet frequently in New York in the 1970’s, and the Sarasota Ballet added Jazz Calendar to its repertoire in 2015. The music by Bennett is jazz-tinged with the music composed for only 12 instruments. Excerpted in this performance was the blues pas de deux, Friday’s Child, which was danced at its premiere by Antoinette Sibley and Rudolf Nureyev, and here, danced by Ellen Overstreet and Edward Gonzalez bringing out the jazz elements in the choreography.
Also performed was the second movement from Sinfonietta, which was premiered by the Royal Ballet in 1967 and given its Sarasota Ballet premiere in 2014. Choreographed to music by Malcolm Williamson, the second movement of Sinfonietta is a dream sequence in which one female dancer is held aloft and manipulated by five male dancers – with the intention of not allowing the female dancer’s feet to touch the ground. As the lone female dancer, Victoria Hulland, was supported by Ricardo Rhodes, David Tlaiye, Jamie Carter, Daniel Rodriguez, and Daniel Pratt, and convincingly presented the theatrical illusion of Hulland floating in thin air.
Closing the program was Façade, given its company premiere by the Sarasota Ballet in 2008, and is one of Ashton’s early works. The music by William Walton was intended to accompany avant garde poems written by Edith Sitwell and was chosen by Ashton to create a ballet divertissement for the Camargo Society in 1931. Façade is a series of dances that parody the social dances and British music hall acts of the 1920’s and the 1930’s. Although a ballet active in the Royal Ballet’s repertoire, Façade, like many other Ashton ballets, has been rarely seen in the United States. The Joffrey Ballet had often danced Façade in New York in the 1970’s and the Colorado Ballet danced Façade in New York in 2000.
Façade is notable for Ashton’s tongue-in-cheek humor as each section of the ballet is a comic vignette inspired by Walton’s take on the popular songs and dances of the twenties. Façade remains an unusual marriage of typical English entertainment, a bit of camp – and one’s feeling that one has experienced and seen high art at the same time. The tango section – which is danced by a debutante and an older manipulative partner, is where Ashton’s comic touches are most apparent. It was danced by Danielle Brown and David Tlaiye with all of the style and panache one would see in a performance on Dancin’ With the Stars – with a little wink of an eye.
This program was a revelation in its performances of Ashton works known and less known, and the Sarasota Ballet, I hope, will continue to perform these ballets on a regular basis to allow a whole new generation of dancers to learn Ashton’s unique choreographic style. However also a revelation was the Sarasota Ballet itself which improves on each viewing with the indications of even greater things to come – and perhaps more frequent New York visits.
Cagney, The Musical
Westside Theatre (Upstairs)
August 4, 2016
By Mark Kappel
The legendary film actor, James Cagney, is best known for his portrayals of roles as a tough guy. However he was an accomplished hoofer, and stage performer. Besides a prodigious number of film performances, Cagney also performed on Broadway and in vaudeville -- and he had been associated with a well-known Broadway star, George M. Cohan, who Cagney portrayed in his Academy Award winning performance in the 1942 film, Yankee Doodle Dandy. And this year is Cagney’s 117th birthday!
These contrasting images inspired the new off-Broadway musical, Cagney, which examines James Cagney’s life – both professional and personal – within the framework of a musical tale. With a score by Robert Creighton and Christopher McGovern, and a book by Peter Colley, Cagney examines this unique actor’s rise to stardom – a combination of tenacity, survival skills, and talent -- and also revealing many of the important people that had an impact on Cagney’s personal life and professional life.
The musical is framed by its starting and ending point in 1978, an evening in which James Cagney (played by Robert Creighton) receives the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. Cagney reveals details of James Cagney’s varied career – from Cagney being discovered when vaudeville was breathing its last breath, noting classic lines in his films, struggling against typecasting when under contract at Warner Brothers, as well as being accused of being a Communist by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
In his personal life one catches sight of the family ties with his mother and brother, and the growing relationship with fellow entertainer, Frances, whom he married. Many of the important personages in Cagney’s professional life, including Jack Warner (played by Bruce Sabath), and Bob Hope (played by Jeremy Benton) – and a multitude of others -- are played by a cast of only five supporting players.
In the end Cagney comes to terms with the fact that he is best known for playing the tough bad guys in films and that is what his fans wanted – even though he tried to play roles that allowed him to break that image.
The score is highlighted by the insertion of well-known songs that Cagney sang and danced in in the film Yankee Doodle Dandy including “Give My Regards To Broadway”, “Harrigan”, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, and “You’re A Grand Old Flag”. The new music for this musical is memorable and serves to tell Cagney’s story well.
Choreographer Joshua Bergasse finds his footing throughout Cagney with intricate tap dance sequences that enhance the plot as well as present an excellent display of virtuoso tap dancing by the cast members.
Robert Creighton, in this musical’s title role, is a force of nature, multi-talented, and has a striking resemblance to Cagney. His performance makes it clear why he won the Fred Astaire Award for Outstanding Male Dancer in An Off-Broadway Show. And the gifted supporting cast of Jeremy Benton, Danette Holden, Bruce Sabath, Josh Walden, and Ellen Zolezzi are versatile in portraying the many personalities that populate Hollywood during Cagney’s heyday as a movie star. Director Bill Castellano has fashioned a structure to present Cagney’s life in an interesting and involving manner.
Cagney, the film actor, was unique, and Cagney, the musical involves the audience in pondering the obvious for what is an exceptionally entertaining musical.
A Second Look At The National Ballet of Canada’s The Winter Tale
David Koch Theater
July 30 (Matinee), 2016
By Mark Kappel
A second opportunity to experience Christopher Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale danced by the National Ballet of Canada, as presented by the Lincoln Center Festival, revealed more details in Wheeldon’s choreography, and the dramatic details became clearer with this additional viewing.
In this second performance, a matinee performance on July 30, 2016 at the David Koch Theater, the National Ballet of Canada gave the ballet another absorbing performance by a second cast of dancers that lended their own interpretations to the roles in this intense ballet.
The series of details focused on the relationship between Leontes and Polixenes was depicted from the beginning of the ballet as that of an enduring comradeship that went back to these Kings’ childhood. Represented as little boys, playing together, the seeds of their friendship is planted which makes the betrayal to come later that much more unexpected. Clearly these were royal families that formed close and safe bonds that were ruptured by one man’s irrational act, and Wheeldon displays this in his choreography emphasizing those dramatic moments. As the plot unravels and goes out of control, The Winter’s Tale still comes to a qualified happy ending. But it is a tale of great regret for past actions. Quite moving was the blessing of the marriage of Perdita and Florizel by both Leontes and Polixenes, underscoring another important aspect of The Winter’s Tale – the relationships between children and their parents.
At this performance the cast was led by Guillaume Cote as Leontes, Sonia Rodriguez as Hermoine, Rui Huang as Perdita, Svetlana Lunkina as Paulina, Peter Ottmann as Antigonus, Felix Paquet as Polixenes, and Skylar Campbell as Florizel.
Cote and Rodriguez brought a great deal of artistic maturity to their roles. Cote is an excellent actor/dancer and how he presents Leontes’ deepening madness offers a balance to Rodriguez’s interpretation of Hermione as a trusting human being until Leontes’ betrayal is revealed. The sense of betrayal was represented in every step and move, and also reflected in the equally compelling responses by Felix Paquet’s Polixenes. These pivotal characters were also solidly supported by Lunkina’s heart-rending Paulina. Rui Huang and Skylar Campbell, in their roles, portrayed the innocence and joyfulness in young love, both in their acting, and also in their polished and technically accomplished dancing. Their dancing literally floated on the music. Ottmann as Antigonus here again displays the artistic maturity to bring this humble and dignified character to life.
In this performance the National Ballet of Canada presented its qualities as an ensemble of dancers that balances both the dancing and story-telling when the company performs narrative ballets. I hope that these performances have given New York audiences a sample of what this company can do at its best, and also welcome the National Ballet of Canada again at the earliest opportunity.
The National Ballet of Canada Dances Christopher Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale
David Koch Theater
July 29, 2016
By Mark Kappel
The Lincoln Center Festival presents the National Ballet of Canada for the first time at the David Koch Theater, from July 28-31, 2016, performing the New York premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s dance interpretation of Shakespeare’s play, The Winter’s Tale -- the second ballet choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon shared as a co-production between the National Ballet of Canada and the Royal Ballet – the first was Alice. Nearly brand new to the National Ballet of Canada’s repertoire, its company premiere of The Winter’s Tale was on November 14, 2015.
For The Winter’s Tale Wheeldon assembled the same creative team that worked with him on Alice – with a commissioned score by Joby Talbot and designs by Bob Crowley. Talbot’s music for The Winter’s Tale is more traditional than his score for Alice although his instrumentation in The Winter’s Tale’s score is more varied and unique including an onstage band of musicians playing an accordion and a dulcimer – and Crowley’s designs, also more traditional, give The Winter’s Tale a sense of place – and season.
Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale had been placed in the category of a comedy by Shakespearean scholars and then re-thought to be placed among his late romances. The paradox is that the first half of the play consists of tragic elements, and the second half of the play diverts emphatically with comic elements and a relatively happy ending. Also there is the puzzling stage direction, “Exit, pursued by a bear” which is noted in this dance version of The Winter’s Tale as a projection of a bear before the bear kills his innocent victim, Antigonus.
Creating a ballet version of The Winter’s Tale is a challenge because not all of the plot elements can be depicted in dance terms. The complicated plot made simple is that King Leontes of Sicily suspects that his wife, Hermione, is having an affair with his long-time friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia – even suspecting that Hermione’s soon to be born child is not his but Polixenes'. Leontes’ uncontrolled jealousy is not explained and he doesn’t have a “Iago” to encourage this behavior. Leontes banishes Hermione to prison, she is put on trial, she has her child, and she ultimately dies. Also Leontes’ male heir, Mamillius, dies leaving Leontes’ legacy in jeopardy. Hermione’s child is exiled, and Paulina and her husband, Antigonus, bring the child to safe haven in Bohemia. She is brought up by a shepherd, and is renamed Perdita. Perdita ultimately meets Polixenes’ son, Florizel, who in courting Perdita masquerading as a shepherd. This relationship evolves into a love match, and ultimately is blessed by the estranged Leontes and Polixenes, bringing together both royal families and kingdoms.
Wheeldon has included a great deal of exposition in the first act of The Winter’s Tale which uses a choreographic vocabulary that is a fusion of contemporary ballet and modern dance – then on to the second act which is pure dance -- with ballet the primary choreographic vocabulary -- and the third act culminates in celebrations before the supernatural moment of a statue of Hermione coming to life to forgive Leontes for his jealousy. Throughout The Winter’s Tale Individual characters perform dance monologues – setting the tone of the piece and illuminating the inner conflicts of the characters. The finale stage picture of Paulina in front of Mamillius’s statue is chilling and compelling. The choreography communicates anguish and dramatic tension, and then there are the anomalies of Hermione being pregnant yet being thrown about by Leontes, Polixenes, and the palace guards. It does suspend reality
In comparison to Wheeldon’s approach to Alice which seemed to be guided by a non-linear narrative, the general plot lines of The Winter’s Tale are presented in this ballet version in a more straight-forward manner, and the choreography is an instance of less is more. In many aspects The Winter’s Tale is a more mature work than Alice – with more sophisticated and thoughtful choreography.
The National Ballet of Canada is a welcome visitor to New York and one of the reasons is that the company brings energy, and commitment to the story ballets that the company dances. And, in fact, the National Ballet of Canada’s production of The Winter’s Tale is also less maudlin than the Royal Ballet’s production.
On July 29, 2016, the cast for The Winter’s Tale was Evan McKie as Leontes, Jurgita Dronina as Hermione, Elena Lobsanova as Perdita, Svetlana Lunkina as Paulina, Peter Ottmann as Antigonus, Brendan Saye as Polixenes, and Francesco Gabriele Frola as Florizel.
McKie was kingly and yet consumed by the conflicts that his character, Leontes, is facing – a compelling combination of Hamlet and Siegfried. Dronina played the devoted Hermione with subtlety and her character’s compassion at the end of the ballet heals all of the wounds and conflict that Leontes has created in what seemed to be his irrational acts. Equal to McKee’s Leontes was Brendan Saye’s Polixenes portraying the surprise of Leontes’ betrayal and false accusations. Then there was the engaging couple of Elena Lobsanova as Perdita, and Francesco Gabriele Frola as Florizel, who displayed pyrotechnical dancing – reflecting their joy in love. Also Lunkina’s Paulina was seething with emotion – representing the character with the most wisdom trying to fix the problems with rationality and also protectiveness of the members of the royal families.
It’s marvelous for New York audiences to have the opportunity to see the National Ballet of Canada once again in a relatively short time, and I hope that the company’s visits will be an integral part of a New York dance season as the company had been in past years.
Agnes de Mille Telling Stories in Broadway Dance By Kara Anne Gardner
By Mark Kappel
Published by Oxford University Press, Kara Anne Gardner’s Agnes de Mille Telling Stories in Broadway Dance, explores de Mille’s legacy of her work on Broadway from the 1940’s through the 1960s – breaking barriers in the male dominated world of Broadway choreography and directing. This involving book focuses in detail on six musicals – Oklahoma!, One Touch of Venus, Bloomer Girl, Carousel, Brigadoon and Allegro -- and provides a portrait of Agnes de Mille, who broke barriers throughout her career as a choreographer, and as the first female director/choreographer to work on Broadway.
De Mille’s influence on choreography and direction of Broadway musicals is unequivocal, which Kara Anne Gardner’s well researched study faithfully confirms.
De Mille claimed ownership of the scenarios she wrote for the dance sequences that she choreographed for Broadway musicals, creating narrative dances which were as integral to a musical’s libretto as the writer who wrote the book dialogue in a musical. De Mille created choreography that was required for each musical’s themes from stylized folk dances to ethnic dance – whatever was required to tell the story.
Claiming ownership of copyright on what she created de Mille wanted her contributions to be recognized not only in the credits in a printed program but also in royalties and ongoing payments rather than being paid as other choreographers were paid, as work for hire. In her efforts to defend her own rights, she was one of the founders of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society which acts as a watchdog and overseer of the contributions of directors and choreographers working on Broadway and in theatres all over the United States. The SDC is a union protecting the legal rights of its members and establishing intellectual property rights for choreographers.
As described in this book, it was de Mille’s – sometimes negative and sometimes positive – relationship with Rodgers and Hammerstein and their unwillingness to recognize and pay her for her contributions to Oklahoma and Carousel that not only resulted in a major rift between them but also motivated her crusade to assert and establish intellectual property rights for choreographers.
Gardner describes in detail de Mille’s early concert pieces that were to be the antecedents of her later work on Broadway. There is also a history of each musical that de Mille contributed to with details of her contributions and how they were ultimately recognized. De Mille’s working methods are described through letters, de Mille’s papers, cast members and associates in describing the evolution of the choreography that de Mille created. In so doing there is the recognition that de Mille left a personal stamp on the productions she choreographed and directed – particularly Carousel, Oklahoma, and Brigadoon.
De Mille created choreography for each of the musicals examined with the specific themes to be presented as being paramount, dance origins incorporated into the musicals, and wove them into the scenario of each musical. There were American dance forms in her choreography for Oklahoma! and Carousel, and appropriate Scottish-themed choreography in Brigadoon.
A description of her work in Brigadoon was explained that the character and culture of the Scottish people could be best understood in their dances. Through her experience she also learned how to work with dance music arrangers to create the scores she needed to bring her ideas to the stage.
Also noted was the influence that De Mille’s experience with the concert dance form had on the work she created for Broadway. It is revealed that her Civil War Ballet in Bloomer Girl might have been intended as a stand-alone piece and was a reaction to the how war was effecting people at the time Bloomer Girl premiered on Broadway. Although not mentioned in this book, it has been attested that De Mille reworked choreography she had created for Allegro, integrating it into one of her landmark ballets, Fall River Legend.
But what was also an important ingredient in her work was that she was an American creating for a uniquely American art form, the Broadway musical, and Kara Anne Gardner’s Agnes de Mille Telling Stories in Broadway Dance explains for the historical record de Mille’s personal contributions to this important American art form, as well as methodology that aspiring choreographers can learn from.
Globe Theatre Performs The Merchant of Venice at the Lincoln Center Festival
Rose Theater at Jazz At Lincoln Center
July 23, 2016
By Mark Kappel
This year’s Lincoln Center Festival has presented particularly diverse theater productions. One of these theater productions is the Globe Theatre’s return to New York from July 20-24, 2016 to perform a new revival of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in a production directed by Jonathan Mumby with the distinguished British actor, Jonathan Pryce in the role of Shylock.
The Globe Theatre has performed many of its Shakespeare revivals with as much authenticity as possible with details of the era in which these plays were first performed. This was very much in evidence in this superb and provocative revival of The Merchant of Venice seen on July 23, 2016 – a problematic play in terms of whether it is directed as a romantic comedy, or focuses on the overpowering tragic figure of Shylock, his conflicts with society, and the relationship he has with his daughter.
The Merchant of Venice picks up a thread that goes back across three centuries to the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290. The story is set in Italy at a time when Jews lived in ghettos, and were restricted to making their livings in particular trades. One of them was money lending because it was considered a sin for Christians to be involved in such activity in Elizabethan England and other parts of Europe. Christians did lend money to each other but they were not allowed to charge interest – an issue that becomes a bone of contention between two of the principal characters in this play.
Shakespeare’s knowledge of Jewish life would have been limited. The English merchants of the day might have had contacts with Jews in the flourishing Jewish communities in Morocco, Turkey, Antwerp, Amsterdam and Venice -- and Shakespeare might not have known the historic place that Jews had in Italy where in 16th century Venice, there was an active cultural scene of frequent contacts between Jews and Christians – where Jews were not only money lenders but also doctors, scholars, craftsmen, poets, and musicians.
Performing The Merchant of Venice in the 21st century presents a dilemma in terms of how Shylock is portrayed, and whether The Merchant of Venice is presented as a comedy or one that balances both comedy and tragedy. Shylock is definitely the villain of the piece and The Merchant of Venice would be interpreted as a play with a revenge theme. But the complicated character of Shylock has been portrayed differently through the ages – being grotesque, a stereotypical villain in a melodrama – to a pathetic hero – as interpretations have responded to human events and have evolved over time.
Mumby’s production of The Merchant of Venice is set in its time, 1597, emphasizing a balance between tragedy and comedy juxtaposed against the age’s anti-Semitism, racism, and greed. As these prejudices existed in 16th century Europe, they are unapologetically represented in this production of The Merchant of Venice. Jews living in Venice at the time were required to wear signs of their religion -- wearing a red hat when going about their normal business outside the Jewish ghetto – and a yellow circle on their clothes – details that are focused upon in this production. Shylock is portrayed as a tired and elder merchant who is victimized by those who do not respect him or his religion – and all of the characters are motivated by wealth – how to obtain it, how to keep it, how to spend it, and the power it brings.
The play’s opening scene is at a Venetian carnival where among the many events taking place is a masque depicting cupid bringing together two lovers, dancing, and a street brawl – two Jewish merchants are attacked on the street.
Thereafter, The Merchant of Venice’s complicated plot is revealed. Bassanio (played by Dan Fredenburgh) needs money to court Portia (played by Rachel Pickup) an heiress of Belmont. He asks his friend Antonio (played by Dominic Mafham) for a loan but as Antonio’s money is tied up in shipments, Antonio approaches Shylock (played by Jonathan Pryce) for a loan. If Antonio defaults, Shylock could enforce his bond which would be a pound of flesh – an act of revenge on Shylock’s part.
In order to succeed in winning the love and Portia’s hand in marriage, Bassanio must choose one of three caskets with her photo in it – and he meets the challenge of choosing the correct casket – the lead casket. However there is also the underlying attraction between Bassanio and Antonio which does confuse the issue at hand.
As there are reports that Antonio’s ships are lost and Shylock wants to redeem his bond in court –Bassanio offers money instead as a settlement rather than a pound of flesh. In demanding the forfeiture of his bond, Shylock is then accused of attempted murder of Antonio. Now having Shylock at his mercy, Antonio demands that Shylock’s goods be confiscated, and in order to save his life, Shylock must convert to Christianity, and give his possessions to his daughter, Jessica (played by Phoebe Pryce) as a dowry as she wishes to be married to Lorenzo (played by Andy Apollo). Shylock agrees to these conditions – and in spite of these indignities suffered by Shylock, Antonio does not relent even when he learns that his ships are safe – and so are his fortunes.
However this version of The Merchant of Venice does not end on a happy note as Shylock is seen in the ritual of his conversion and baptism into Christianity – while his daughter, Jessica is seen distraught, singing in Hebrew, wailing, and watching her father being put through this degrading ritual. It is a powerful and haunting moment.
Pryce’s Shylock dominates this production – being emotionally and dramatically compelling - and inspiring. Pryce commands the stage in every scene he is in.
However in the same play, Shakespeare has created a major part for a woman, Portia, who in the second act has disguised herself as a man, and as a judge to facilitate Antonio’s defense in court. Rachel Pickup is assertive and mysterious at the same time –and also shows uncanny ability in making sense out of the throwaway light comedy that is written into her character.
This production of The Merchant of Venice also concentrates on the relationship between Shylock and his daughter, Jessica. In the Venice of the time, there are many Jews with Germanic heritage who are living there, and this is reflected in this production where Shylock and Jessica speak in Yiddish when emotions are at their height – they are outliers in society. Another layer of this relationship is that Pryce’s daughter, Phoebe Pryce, plays the role of Jessica in this revival. Stefan Adegbola as Launcelot Gobbo provides the comic relief in The Merchant of Venice an over the top performance which includes interaction with two volunteers from the audience. However every member of this excellent cast is to be complimented for their performances and throwing a spotlight on a different and meaningful interpretation of this enigmatic play.
Takarazuka Makes Its Lincoln Center Festival Debut
David Koch Theater
July 21, 2016
By Mark Kappel
The Lincoln Center Festival’s theater offerings were highlighted by the performances of Takarazuka, the all-female theater company of Japan, which has received international praise for its productions of musical entertainments as well as Broadway musicals – classic Broadway musicals such as Guys and Dolls, The Sound of Music, Oklahoma, and West Side Story.
The Takarazuka Revue was founded by Ichizo Kobayashi, a business man who became a politician – and was President of Hankyu Railways, in Takarazuka, Japan, in 1913. The company now operates out of two theatres – one in Takarazuka and one in Tokyo. What’s makes the company exceptional is that all roles in the musicals and the musical entertainments are played by female actors who have been trained at the Takarazuka Music School.
The company is currently performing its production of Chicago, with the original staging from Broadway’s current revival, at the David Koch Theater from July 20-24, 2016 – and distinctive would be understating what a Takarazuka performance is like.
Chicago, with a score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, and a book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, has found a permanent place on Broadway with its revival that will celebrate its 20th anniversary and has spawned national tours in the United States and international productions.
In a television interview Bob Fosse’s wife, Gwen Verdon, explained that Fosse was inspired by the Watergate hearings in the 1970’s when he was creating the musical, Chicago. But Chicago has had renewed interest in this current age of celebrity court trials and reality television. Takarazuka, has put its own stamp on this story and production, performed in Japanese with English subtitles.
The current Broadway revival originated at City Center Encores with direction by Walter Bobbie, and choreography by Ann Reinking in the style of Bob Fosse. With the scenic design minimal with only a jury box in which the orchestra is appearing and playing, and simple black costumes designed by William Ivey Long, Chicago’s story of corruption and scandalous murder trials has a Brechtian tone, and a feeling of menace.
With Takarazuka performing Chicago you have the added ingredient of women playing all of the roles. The principal roles are clearly defined and call for different skills in interpretation, acting, dancing and singing the roles. And there is no loss in the edginess and self-deprecating humor that is inherent in Chicago.
There wasn’t one weak link in the cast seen on July 21st, 2016. Hikaru Asami as Roxie Hart and Yoka Wao as Velma Kelly interpret their roles as being their own best friends, and Keaki Mori supplies the down to earth humor inherent in the character of Matron Mama Morton. Where this performance is unique is in seeing female actors in the male roles. Saori Mine projected the suitable amount of sliminess and smugness in the role of Billy Flynn even though it is clear that you are hearing a female voice singing the part, and Chihiro Isono projects the cellophane ordinariness of Amos Hart. The pace of the musical is also heightened by the rapid-fire delivery of the dialogue in Japanese which has a different cadence as compared to the dialogue being spoken in English.
However the overall performance was polished yet revealed a feeling of spontaneity in which the cast gave its individual interpretations of these roles.
The performance concluded with a Takarazuka Encore – a finale of nine numbers from different shows in the company’s repertoire –including a follies tinged, Hello Takarazuka!, Latin music, an earnest performance of Frank Sinatra’s signature song, That’s Life, Glory To Be Takarasiennes, Takarazuka, Home in My Heart, and finishing with a bit of German operetta. It had allof the kitschy and high camp of a Las Vegas or Paris revue – but all was performed with earnestness and sincerity – and performed with an appreciation of the audience’s positive response to what they had to offer.
Although unique is an overused word, in describing the Takarazuka’s performance, it is apt and appropriate.
Some Enchanted Evenings – The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin By David Kaufman
By Mark Kappel
During her lifetime, stage and film actress Mary Martin was an icon – considered one of the queens of Broadway, who toured nationally and internationally in Broadway musicals. An all-American who grew up in Texas, married early in life, and after not having the success in Hollywood, she would have wished for, and had married a second time, she was lured to New York where she became a bonafide Broadway star for the ages. Perhaps to today’s generation she would be best known as the mother of Dallas star, Larry Hagman.
But there is a lot more to be learned about Mary Martin, a task taken on by David Kaufman in his book, Some Enchanted Evenings – The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin, published by St. Martin's Press.
Mary Martin grew up in Weatherford, Texas and was the daughter of a prominent lawyer in this small town. At a young age, she married her first husband, Benjamin Hagman, and after having her first child, she opened her own successful dance schools and continued private singing lessons.
Intermittently she pursued her acting, singing and dancing studies in Hollywood leaving behind her son to be raised by her mother and many different boarding schools. Not long after she decided to pursue a career as a movie star, she divorced her husband in absentia. Hollywood offered her only small and insignificant parts in movies although there were a few important roles that were memorable even if they were small roles such as in Night and Day. However due to pregnancy she relinquished the starring role in Holiday Inn.
Kaufman describes her first encounter with Oscar Hammerstein which was an audition for a chorus job at the St. Louis Civic Opera – and before the audition she informed Hammerstein that she would be performing a song that Hammerstein would not be familiar with, “Indian Love Call” for which Hammerstein wrote the lyrics, and Martin didn’t get the job.
She auditioned for Cole Porter and appeared in his new musical, Leave It To Me! singing her signature song, “My Hearts Belongs To Daddy!” Martin had married her second husband, Richard Halliday, and abandoned her movie career. She instead pursued a career on Broadway where she had been received well – and was a great success.
She was later to create the iconic roles of Nellie Forbush in South Pacific and Maria in The Sound of Music, both Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, and was embraced by Broadway and television audiences in the title role of Peter Pan, toured in Annie Get Your Gun and Hello, Dolly!, and starred opposite Robert Preston in I Do! I Do!
The greats who composed and wrote the Broadway musicals of the Golden Age, wrote musicals for Mary Martin, creating a legacy that is not matched by many Broadway performers. Musicals were composed for her by Cole Porter, Kurt Weill, the team of Rodgers & Hammerstein, and Noel Coward, and she toured in musicals composed by Jerry Herman and Irving Berlin.
Back stories about the roles she played are told in detail as well as what seemed to be a long list of major Broadway roles she turned down – among them the roles of Laurey in Oklahoma, Eliza Doolittle in My Fairy Lady, Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly!, and Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. And, of course, there is a chapter devoted to the legendary tour of James Kirkwood’s Legends with Carol Channing, which took place towards the end of her life.
Martin is portrayed warts and all including the occasions when she was difficult to work with, how she and her husband Richard Halliday took over the shows she was in, and her prejudices. There was also the strained relationship she had with her son, Larry Hagman, who seemed to be in a constant state of war with his stepfather.
An interesting anecdote was her admiration for Dame Margot Fonteyn, who was one of her idols, and was the only special guest attending performances of South Pacific that Martin wanted to be made aware of before a performance. She even sent her daughter Heller to study ballet at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School in London.
These details and anecdotes are part and parcel of Kaufman’s well researched book. Included in the book is a quote from Florence Henderson in response to Mary Martin’s passing, “She was so generous; she always let people into her circle of light.” If you wish to know more about Mary Martin as a Broadway legend and her personal life, this is the book to read as it allows the readers to enter her circle of light.
Valentina Kozlova Dance Conservatory of New York’s Spring Gala
June 25, 2016
By Mark Kappel
On a yearly basis, as a measure of the progress of her students, Valentina Kozlova puts her students of the Dance Conservatory of New York through their paces in her annual international ballet competition and also in concerts. On June 25, 2016, at Symphony Space, the Dance Conservatory of New York’s annual spring concert was presented including a mix of student dancers and professional dancers including among them medalists from the recent Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition.
This spring concert included a diversity of students but this year also focused on the students’ ability to dance classical repertoire. In this 90-minute presentation, there was a great deal of variety in terms of the repertoire that was danced.
Brecke Swan and Paolo Cervellera were both highlighted in Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique, and Le Corsaire Pas de Deux, and Mari Bell and Jack Furlong were highlighted in La Fille Mal Gardee Pas de Deux.
Other highlights included Mari Bell dancing a variation from Coppelia, Anna Guerrero dancing a variation from La Vivandiere and in Ju Mi Lee’s Uncatchable, and Elizabeth Seibel in a variation from Giselle.
Katya Saburova, Elizabeth Seibel, Mari Bell, Maria del Mar Wikkeling, and Anna Guerrero were featured in a suite of group dances and variations from Le Corsaire.
Also performed in this concert were works choreographed by Olga Verterich, Sharon McPeak, Nina Buisson and Vitaly Verterich.
These concerts are a measuring stick for the progress made by Valentina Kozlova’s students, and it is always a pleasure to see how they have improved technically and artistically. These students represent the future in dance, and if these students represent that future, the future is good.
American Ballet Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet
Metropolitan Opera House
June 22, 2016
By Mark Kappel
Productions of Romeo and Juliet are now standard in the repertoires of ballet companies today. It wasn’t always that way, and it took several decades before ballet companies came to terms with the box office appeal of this particular narrative ballet. The story is timeless. With the ingredients of Sergei Prokofiev’s evocative and sweeping score, and its scenario, there was a blue print to follow, and choreographers found inspiration to choreograph dance versions of one of Shakespeare’s classic plays.
Since 1984 American Ballet Theatre has been regularly performing Kenneth MacMillan’s version of Romeo and Juliet, with new designs created by Nicholas Georgiadis. Premiered by the Royal Ballet in 1965, MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet is a version in the grand opera house tradition which emphasizes the tragic romance and its psychological underpinnings. Juliet‘s confidence, her sexual awakening, and her recklessness, and Romeo’s impetuosity are focused on.
Choreographically this version is elegant and passionate, and the story about these doomed lovers unravels slowly. Having seen MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet danced by American Ballet Theatre, the Royal Ballet, and the Royal Swedish Ballet, one also is aware that this version of Romeo and Juliet is haunting, unsettling, and timeless.
MacMillan has cleverly choreographed and theatrically plotted Act I of Romeo and Juliet with the fight scenes and family feuds in Verona’s market place, its cushion dance in the ballroom scene, sensual Balcony Scene Pas de Deux danced by Romeo and Juliet -- while also emphasizing the innocence of the two protagonists in this ballet -- and the marvelous comedic dances for Mercutio – even as he faces death. In Act II and Act III the tragedy unfolds and illuminates the fates faced by the doomed lovers.
Although MacMillan has set the stage it is up to the dancers to portray and fully realize these characters, and live through the story as it evolves.
On June 22, 2016, American Ballet Theatre offered the cast of Gillian Murphy and Alexandre Hammoudi in the title roles, and Jeffrey Cirio as Mercutio, Blaine Hoven as Benvolio, Thomas Forster as Tybalt, and Daniel Mantei as Paris who all did just that. Murphy highlighted the coltish nature of her interpretation of Juliet, while Hammoudi expressed his coolness and machismo. Cirio is more than a technical whiz kid – the pathos he created in his death scene was genuine.
Also Devon Teuscher, as Lady Capulet, and Martine Van Hamel, as the Nurse, supplied the juxtaposed moments of tragedy and comedy.
In able support was ABT’s corps de ballet making the market place and ballroom scenes seem like living pictures. Every member of the corps de ballet was interpreting characters and people in the everyday life of Verona offering the down-to-earth atmosphere that this story needs to convey.
There is a reason why not only Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet remains compelling, but also why American Ballet Theatre has put its particular stamp on this production and it has remained popular with audiences.
New York Live Arts
June 16, 2016
By Mark Kappel
On June 16, 2016, a unique presentation of choreographers’ work was performed at New York Live Arts. Choreographers Elisa Monte, Molissa Fenley, Margo Sappington, and Jennifer Muller combined their resources to present Monte/Molissa/Margo/Muller – Live! as a collaborative effort to showcase their own creations.
This special performance included premieres as well as a familiar piece, and were examples of why these choreographers are separate and apart from so many others. They are unique and have their own choreographic signatures.
Opening this performance was Molissa Fenley and Company presenting two works, The Third Coast, a world premiere, and Mali, a New York premiere, that have been both presented as parts of a larger work, Water Table. Both pieces focus on the paradox of the abundance or lack of pure water in so many parts of the world.
The Third Coast, a work for two dancers, is choreographed to Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Hwit, and, To Stanford, from Out of Noise, in which Fenley’s choreography focuses on fluid motion, free flowing, and straight lines. As danced by Christiana Axelsen and Rebecca Chaleff, one felt the calmness of observing a view of a lake. Mali is a self-contained solo, danced by Fenley herself, choreographed to original music, Laetitia Sonami’s Dry Poem, which is contemplative and precise.
In contrast was Elisa Monte Dance dancing the premiere of Elisa Monte’s Dextra Dei. Choreographed to music by Tibor Szemzo, this piece evolved beginning in 1989 as a response to the effect of AIDS. The piece consists of a men’s quartet and at this performance there was a new section which added four women to the work.
Monte’s choreography focuses on the ritualistic with floor work, and acrobatic and bold movement. In this piece Maria Ambrose, Shay Bland, Clymene Baugher, Andy Jacobs, JoVonna Parks, Alrick Thomas, Thomas Varvaro, and Wade Watson communicate the moodiness that is represented in the choreography, putting into dance movement so much for an audience to ponder.
Margo Sappington’s Entwined explores how bodies respond in a sensual manner and also spiritually at the same time, choreographed to Erie Satie’s piano piece, the Gnossiennes. The choreography was the only work on this program that was balletic in style – and the ladies were in pointe shoes – however Sappington created this work from a contemporary point of view and offered engrossing choreography to this timeless music by Satie.
Entwined was beautifully and sensitively danced by Lillian Di Piazza and Marjorie Feiring, both of the Pennsylvania Ballet, Chyrstyn Maria Fentroy and Silken Kelly, both of the Dance Theater of Harlem, and Marlon Taylor-Wiles, evoking a wonderful sense of connection.
Closing the program was Jennifer Muller/The Works performing the world premiere of Working Title, choreographed by Muller to original music by Yut and the Hot Four. Muller, in her choreography, focuses on the extremes of human emotion and how they effect relationships.
The dancers, Alexandre Balmain, Sonja Chung, Seiko Fujita, Gen Hashimoto, Elise King, Elijah Laurant, Michelle Tara Lynch, and Shiho Tanaka, portray people avoiding contact and their intensity defied some of the joyous music that Muller has choreographed this piece to. The tone of the piece doesn’t change until the final section in which each dancer portrays a self-awareness of what has resulted from their relationships. The lesson learned that effort must be made in order for a relationship to succeed.
This performance recognized the obvious. These choreographers are masters in their inspiration, creativity, and in their craft. They offered provocative choreography that reflected their own voices, and their creative input should not be limited to self-produced showcases such as these but in the repertoires of modern dance companies and ballet companies.
American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake
Metropolitan Opera House
June 14, 2016
By Mark Kappel
American Ballet Theatre includes performances of Swan Lake during each of its annual Metropolitan Opera House seasons – a fixture during the New York dance season. It wasn’t until 1966 that American Ballet Theatre had staged a full-length production of Swan Lake, and since that time, American Ballet Theatre has presented revisions of past productions of Swan Lake as well as new productions of Swan Lake. Over the years this ballet has become a mainstay in the company’s repertoire.
American Ballet Theatre’s current production of Swan Lake dates back to 2000, and has been staged by Kevin McKenzie, with reverence for the tradition of Swan Lake as an iconic ballet. With atmospheric designs by Zack Brown this production has all of the grand opera trappings that a production of Swan Lake should have. However there are a few unique revisions that are included in this production.
There is the introduction of a prologue, during the ballet’s overture in which two dancers – portraying aspects of Von Rothbart’s evil alter egos – magically change Odette into her swan form. The seductive Von Rothbart appears in the Act III Ballroom Scene, and flirts and taunts the princesses vying for Siegfried’s hand in marriage, as well as the Queen Mother. Also in reducing the running time of this production of Swan Lake, there is the loss of a portion of the fourth act, an emotional highpoint in the ballet during which Odette and Prince Siegfried are battling Von Rothbart’s evil and grappling with the fatal choices they must make.
As many current productions of Swan Lake are, American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake is a composite of other productions of Swan Lake from the past, and additional choreography from many different sources. Some of the changes and additions provide more dancing opportunities than other productions of Swan Lake as well as providing details that make the narrative clearer. Also Tchaikovsky’s beloved score has been cut in some places and restored in others – or set pieces have been placed in different order in a particular act of the ballet.
However this production does have an overview of the story, presents the story with clarity, and provides a setting for the dancers in the principal roles to freely interpret the roles of the Swan Queen and Prince Siegfried.
Tchaikovsky’s music still shimmers and shines in this production of Swan Lake, and the ballet still remains a standard by which a company is evaluated from the principal dancers down to the corps de ballet. On June 14, 2016, American Ballet Theatre presented a cast of dancers who defied expectations in Swan Lake’s principal roles.
In the challenging dual roles of Odette/Odile, Isabella Boylston successfully delineated these two different characters through her dancing – allowing the choreography to speak. She was sympathetic in her manner as Odette, and supplied the necessary bravura as Odile in the Black Swan Pas de Deux to distinguish the two different characters she was portraying. Alexandre Hammoudi portrayed Siegfried as a lost soul wanting to make an emotional connection with a woman – and was befuddled and dazzled by Odile – as he was by Odette – creating the confusion he had to feel when realizing he had betrayed Odette.
In this production having two different dancers portraying Von Rothbart presents the juxtaposition of evil – and another aspect of evil – the ability to hoodwink and to seduce and be seduced. In that respect James Whiteside, as the Von Rothbart in human form, succeeded especially in his ballroom solo dancing to the rarely performed Russian Dance. His evil counterpart, a monster or creature Von Rothbart, was played appropriately manipulative and feared by Thomas Forster.
As in most performances of Swan Lake it is the corps de ballet that shines as brightly as the dancers in the principal roles – from the dancers’ performances in the character dances to the ensemble dances in the white acts. The corps de ballet’s dancing sets the tone for the tragedy which culminates in the tragic ending of this ballet.
In dancing Swan Lake, American Ballet Theatre succeeds in earning its reputation as a company of international standard.
The King and I
Lincoln Center Theater At Vivian Beaumont Theater
June 9, 2016
By Mark Kappel
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I premiered on Broadway in 1952. Composed and produced as a vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence, The King and I is based on the experiences of Anna Leonowens, an Anglo-Indian daughter of an Indian army soldier who was the governess for the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860’s.
In reviving this shining gem of the golden age of Broadway musical theater in a sumptuous production, the Lincoln Center Theater has given the world of theater and theater audiences an extraordinary gift.
In The King and I cultures clashes, prejudices present themselves, as well as a special bonding between Anna and the King as Siam opens up to the Western world.
These challenges are communicated through a memorable score by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and an empathetic and inspiring book by Oscar Hammerstein II. This story is a story for the ages.
In the opening moments of The King and I Anna and her son, Louis, arrive in Siam at a time of social and political change. She confronts a King who is trying to acknowledge the need to make what could be construed as revolutionary changes and breaks with tradition as Siam wishes to join the world of nations -- and is the target of both economic and political encroachment from outside forces. Although Anna has been engaged to teach the King’s many children, she proves to be a trusted advisor to the King, and in observing the treatment of the Burmese princess, Tuptim, by the King, Anna also attempts to influence the evolution of the traditional and social norms in Siam.
Director Bartlett Sher has expertly guided this production with the goal of seeking out emotional and pivotal moments in this story and framing them. All is enhanced by the physical production with costumes designed by Catherine Zuber, scenery designed by Michael Yergen, and lighting designed by Donald Holder. They capture the atmosphere of what Siam might have been like at the time.
Now a year after its opening, and after winning the Tony Award for Best Revival last season, The King and I continues to please. What enhances and colors this revival are the performances of the talented actors in the principal roles who explore this musical’s wide range of emotion.
There is a new cast in this revival of The King and I. Marin Mazzie as Anna and Daniel Dae Kim as the King depicting two independent beings whether it is in a meeting of the minds or in their confrontations. They form a lasting bond in spite of their differences.
Mazzie is a towering figure and a forthright force of nature as Anna – it is a compelling performance – beautifully sung and heartfelt – and combined with the chemistry between herself and Kim’s commanding presence -- and being adept in his comic timing as the King – revealed is the mutual respect between these two characters who are motivated by pride as much as anything else.
There are also superlative performances by Ruthie Ann Miles as Lady Thiang, Ashley Park as Tuptim, Conrad Ricamora as Lun Tha, and Paul Nakauchi as Kralahome. And then there are the amazing children – fresh and innocent.
Jerome Robbins’ original choreography is the blueprint for Christopher Gatelli’s choreography in this production. The gem is “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet which captures Robbins’ spirit and humanity – and symbolism – as the piece holds an important place in The King and I’s narrative and also is a reflection of American and Siamese cultures.
One of the many impressive aspects of this production is the experience of hearing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s magnificent score with 29 musicians playing the original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett, and the dance and incidental music arranged by Trude Rittmann.
The King and I is optimistic and entertaining, and is also sentimental – but in facing our hurried and harried life on a day to day basis, its sweeping story is a lesson for our time. See The King and I before it closes on June 26, 2016, and experience it, as The King and I will change your life.
Hero’s Welcome By Alan Ayckbourn
59E59 Theaters – Brits Off-Broadway Festival
June 9, 2016
By Mark Kappel
The second, in the series of two Alan Ayckbourn’s plays, Hero’s Welcome, opened on June 9, 2016, as part of the 59E59 Theaters’ Brits Off-Broadway Festival. An American premiere, Hero’s Welcome is Ayckbourn’s 79th play, and was performed by the Stephen Joseph Theatre of Scarborough, with Ayckbourn directing this incredibly talented group of actors.
Hero’s Welcome is a descriptive and pointed narrative about the experiences of the many military service women and men returning home after a long absence, the search for acceptance, what they have left behind, and how their world has been turned upside down.
In Hero’s Welcome, the principal character, Murray returns to Hadsforth after 17 years absence – after fleeing under a cloud – and where he left Alice, now the mayor of Hadsforth, at the wedding altar. He is a decorated soldier who is heralded for rescuing children from an emblazoned building, and he is accompanied by his young foreign bride, Baba.
Murray is initially welcomed back with medals, marching bands, and television interviews. He now has a new plan for his future which includes bringing his family’s hotel back to life, and renewing old friendships. Yet one feels that there is something underneath his skin that he is wrestling with that he cannot admit. Murray also proves to be a mild-mannered catalyst causing the resurgence of repressed memories, relationships that break down – and even provokes thoughts of murder.
Needless to say the townspeople are not happy to see him back in Hadsforth, whether alone or with his new mysterious foreign bride, and are eager for Murray to leave town as soon as possible.
Murray has found himself in a war zone at home with a select group of townspeople participating in psychological warfare – targeting each other with carefully aimed darts and employing Ayckbourn’s acerbic language as a tool. One’s initial response is that you would want to avoid these people or maintain a long distance from them. Clearly the flawed and unlikable characters in Hero’s Welcome are collateral damage, consequences of a country sending its citizens off to war. The walking wounded are not only the soldiers and war veterans, but also those that are left behind at home.
The themes introduced, and the concerns expressed in Hero’s Welcome are right out of newspaper headlines, and Ayckbourn has examined these themes in a careful and thoughtful manner. There is a clear point of view yet all sides are compassionately represented. Ayckbourn’s writing stirs the emotions, makes one more than a little uncomfortable, and reinforces his reputation as a thought-provoking playwright.
The superb cast of Stephen Billington as Brad, Elizabeth Boag as Alice, Russell Dixon as Derek, Charlotte Harwood in the dual role of Kara and Simone, Evelyn Hoskins as Baba, and Richard Stacey as Murray bring Ayckbourn’s provocative words to life – words and thoughts that an audience should ponder.
Confusions By Alan Ayckbourn
June 8, 2016
59E59 Theaters – Brits Off-Broadway Festival
By Mark Kappel
In cooperation with the Stephen Joseph Theatre of Scarborough, the 59E59 Theaters’ Brits Off-Broadway Festival is presenting two distinctive plays written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn. Ayckbourn is a prolific playwright, and his plays often focus on current events – some of which are metaphors for broader social and political issues. Both plays are being performed in repertory by a troupe of actors hand-picked by Ayckbourn.
The first of the two plays, Confusions, which opened on June 8, 2016, is a series of five interlinked one-act plays in which one character in each play is the link to the next play. Culminating with the final play in which five people sit alone on four park benches.
In the first play, “Mother Figure”, a harried mother is exhausted by her children, missing adult conversation, ignores the absence of her husband – and she infantilizes and shames her next door neighbors. Then on to the second play, “Drinking Companion”, where the mother’s husband (not seen but mentioned in “Mother Figure”) bungles his attempts to seduce two women in a hotel bar – the two women who are fearful and are eager to escape his advances – one hard-boiled woman, and the other less sophisticated -- but no more interested in the drunk and inept seducer.
Ayckbourn skillfully leads the audience to the third play, “Between Mouthfuls” shifting focus on to the waiter who had been eavesdropping on that bungling seducer, and moves on to a hotel dining room where he overhears the details of a councilor’s wife’s description of her collapsing marriage. All is revealed in animated conversations involving two couples who are connected in intertwining relationships, and are surprised by each person’s revelations – punctuated by the facial expressions and body movements of the waiter serving them, with split-second precision. You only hear the parts of the conversations that the waiter hears, but it is easy to fill in the gaps.
More in tune with what Americans deem as British farce is the fourth play, “Gosforth’s Fête”, moving on with the councilor’s wife who next turns up as the guest of honor at a church gala – where the participants’ lives are falling apart at the seams. Yet another embarrassing relationship is revealed in an awkward and unpretentious manner as the Fête’s events are prepared for in a tea tent – chaos ensues in the midst of riotous physical comedy, and human beings trying to cope with failing technology including a public address system gone awry, and pouring rain.
Confusions ends with the fifth play, “A Talk in the Park” , with a contrasting tone and mood – five lonely strangers seeking connections and invading each other’s space as they vie for seats on four park benches. Although in keeping with Ayckbourn’s strain of humor, “A Talk in the Park” offered a juxtaposition of underlying emotions and isolation in comparison to the previous four plays.
These plays range from comic farce to black comedy, and are scented with sentimentality and poignancy. Confusions’ structure is similar to that of Schnitzler’s La Ronde, except in Confusions there are running jokes and relationships that are seared with social satire. You often feel the knives turning in the wounds. Ayckbourn’s gift of language and his crafting of circumstances and situations is very much in evidence in Confusions – and he has orchestrated and choreographed humor and satire in both words and movement – all enhanced by the virtuoso performances by the excellent cast of Stephen Billington, Elizabeth Boag, Russell Dixon, Charlotte Harwood, and Richard Stacey.
It is noteworthy that Ayckbourn has referred to Confusions as an “entertainment” rather than a play. And what an entertaining evening this was to see Ayckbourn and these wonderful actors at the top of their game.
American Ballet Theatre Dances Le Corsaire
June 4, 2016
Metropolitan Opera House
By Mark Kappel
American Ballet Theatre shifted in tone and style in presenting its performances of the full-length ballet, Le Corsaire, a ballet based on a tale by Lord Byron, which was performed on June 4th, 2016 at the Metropolitan Opera House.
As a ballet Le Corsaire is a bit of a paste and glue affair as the score includes the work of Adolphe Adam, Cesare Pugni, Riccardo Drigo, Leo Delibes, and Prince Oldenbourg, and this production, ably staged by Anna-Marie Holmes, is based on choreography by Konstantin Sergeyev after Marius Petipa. Le Corsaire had been a staple in the repertoires of Russian ballet companies, and it wasn’t until Rudolf Nureyev defected from Russia and often performed a modified version of the virtuoso Act II Pas de Deux that Le Corsaire became known in the West. It took many more years before the full-length ballet entered the repertoires of ballet companies’ outside of Russia.
What is also distinctive about Le Corsaire is that it is one of the 19th century full-length ballets in which male dancers are in the forefront – this ballet has four important male roles and lots of opportunities for the male dancers to show off what they can do.
As Le Corsaire is translated as The Pirate, you can count on the fact that this ballet is filled with adventure, surprising scenic effects, kidnapping, a shipwreck, and lots of swashbuckling pirates. As soon as the curtain goes up, the audience is engrossed in the sight of the pirates on a sailing ship – one is immediately geared up for this pirate fantasy.
Once the pirate ship is seen sailing towards its destination, the story-telling begins. Lankendem, the owner of a bazaar, sells off two of his slave girls to a pasha. The pirate, Conrad, falls in love with one of them, Medora, and is determined to kidnap her – but his efforts are thwarted by Lankendem and Birbanto (Conrad’s cohort). Conrad ultimately saves Medora and Gulnare, whisks them off to sea – and survives a shipwreck. Interspersed in between these plot points are the dancing Odalisques, the Act I Pas d’Esclave Pas de Deux, a Pas de Trois danced by Conrad, Ali, and Medora (performed generically today as Le Corsaire Pas de Deux), and the Jardin Anime Divertissement, the Pasha whimsically dreaming of his garden coming alive as a metaphor for some of the women in his life.
This is all an excuse for virtuoso dancing and there is lots of it in Le Corsaire. At this performance Le Corsaire was danced by a superlative cast. As Medora, Gillian Murphy sparkles and glistens, with a throwaway technique that makes the challenging aspects of the choreography seem simple. She was equally matched by Mathias Heymann as Conrad, an elegant partner and actor on exchange from the Paris Opera Ballet, and Daniil Simkin as Ali winning over the audience with his virtuoso dancing. Just as luminous was Stella Abrera as Gulnare, and as sinister, were Gabe Stone Shayer as Lankendem and Arron Scott as Birbanto. Although all of the dancers in the aforementioned principal roles had their moments to shine, American Ballet Theatre’s magnificent corps de ballet also had its moments – particularly in the Jardin Anime Divertissement in Act III.
With its fanciful story, virtuoso dancing, and over the top scenic effects, one should put all seriousness aside, and sit back and enjoy American Ballet Theatre’s production of Le Corsaire.
American Ballet Theatre Performs
La Fille Mal Gardee
Metropolitan Opera House
May 30, 2016
By Mark Kappel
During its current Metropolitan Opera House season, American Ballet Theatre has presented two classic ballets choreographed by Frederick Ashton. American Ballet Theatre opened its Metropolitan Opera House season with Ashton’s Sylvia, and has followed with a revival of Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardee seen on May 30, 2016.
Created for the Royal Ballet in 1960, Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardee has been described as Ashton’s pastoral ballet – a ballet inspired by the landscape of the countryside in Suffolk, England, but is also an homage to the romantic ballets of the early 19th century.
Although inspired by Jean Dauberval’s version of this ballet that was premiered in the late 18th century and performed in many different versions since, Ashton’s version has an Englishness about it that makes his rendering notable and distinguished.
Dauberval’s original scenario is mirrored in Ashton’s version which focuses on a controlling mother, Widow Simone, who is forcing her daughter Lise, into what she perceives to be a brilliant match with Alain, a vineyard owner’s dim-witted son -- but Lise’s affections have been focused on Colas, a young farmer. Through a series of mishaps, miscommunications, missteps, and comic moments, La Fille Mal Gardee has a happy ending, all danced to John Lanchbery’s free adaptation of Ferdinand Herold’s music, and presented with the beautiful costumes and scenery designed by Osbert Lancaster. These elements create an atmosphere in which Ashton’s choreography and theatre craft are showcased – there is even a pony to pull a cart, a Maypole dance, and a clog dance. Each of these elements set a time and place, and in combination these elements create beautiful stage pictures.
Ashton’s choreography and staging borrows from productions of La Fille Mal Gardee that were danced in Russia and also in Central Europe. Distinctive is the first act ribbon dance which is danced by Lise and Colas as well as the comic dance by a cockerel and hens that is seen in the opening moments of the first act. In the first act’s second scene displayed are virtuoso variations for Lise and Colas, and a comic clog dance danced by Widow Simone with Lise’s friends in support – but all are connected as part of the narrative and you get to know these characters well. Every character is also delineated by the props and activities they are involved in in the ballet. Besides the ribbons in the ribbon pas de deux, the farmers are carrying farming tools and hay bales, and even in the manner that Widow Simone adjusts her hat or puts on her scarf indicates who she is – warts and all. And Ashton even makes these props “dance” showing the theatrical side of Ashton’s choreography.
I have seen performances of Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardee by many ballet companies, and from those experiences the ballet’s success is intertwined with the dancing, acting, and comic skills of the dancers who are dancing the principal roles. With those skills the dancers can draw the audience in to this charming ballet and its story.
Stella Abrera as Lise and James Whiteside as Colas were a beautifully matched pair of lovers – dancing Ashton’s allegro and challenging choreography with wit and charm. This was evident in the three pas de deux danced by this couple which challenged the dancers in virtuoso choreography as well as adagio choreography, and also their ability to convey comic mime. There is no room for anything less than perfect execution and characterization.
Most amusing was to see Marcelo Gomes turn loose in his performance of Widow Simone, with swagger, false femininity, and perfect performance of Widow Simone’s comic clog dance. Gomes’ Widow Simone gives the impression that she must have been a handful and a spitfire herself in her day. And Arron Scott as Alain was channeling Martin Short’s comic timing and acting, making Alain both a comic and sympathetic character.
In all you had a heavenly and joyous evening of dance – and how much better our lives would be if American Ballet Theatre didn’t wait another decade before performing La Fille Mal Gardee again.
Bright Star, A Sentimental and Nostalgic Journey
May 29, 2016
By Mark Kappel
Bright Star, one of the Tony nominated musicals of this current season, with music composed by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell -- with lyrics by Brickell and a book by Martin -- tells an original, sentimental, romantic, heart-warming, and nostalgic story. Bright Star succeeds in telling this story both in words and music, and taking the audience on a wonderful journey – a journey testing the human spirit and understanding human nature.
Alice Murphy, a literary editor, who lost a child during her younger years in the 1920’s, rekindles those memories when she meets a returning young solder from World War II in the 1940’s – all unfolding in a small town in North Carolina. Bright Star focuses on Alice’s journey to close a chapter in her past, and reveals her acceptance and appreciation of herself in the present, and opens up her mind to look forward into the future. There is a bit of romance, redemption, and optimism in a world that is confusing and confounding. This compelling tale is revealed in flashbacks and evolves like a mystery novel.
The interconnection of all of the lives involved in this story is how we try to understand human nature, and how we accept and forgive in a simple and straightforward manner.
Bright Star’s narrative is enhanced by the score which is inspired by country music, bluegrass music, and country ballads, that serves to communicate the characters emotional burdens, moments of happiness, and cathartic experiences, and creates the ambiance of the geographic location where this story takes place. The songs are memorable and inspiring as well – and they stay with you when you leave the theater.
Director Walter Bobbie has directed this story well in an uncomplicated staging employing Eugene Lee’s module house – which is the home for some of the musicians – and becomes the home and other locations that are required to bring to light the story of Bright Star. Jane Greenwood’s simple costume designs expose a great deal about the characters as well. Also many of the pivotal moments in Bright Star are punctuated by Josh Rhodes’ choreography.
Carmen Cusack as Alice Murphy gives a towering performance – a sensational Broadway debut. Cusack was equally matched by her co-star, Paul Alexander Nolan in the role of Jimmy Ray Dobbs, Michael Mulheren as Mayor Josiah Dobbs, A.J. Shively as Billy Cane, Hannah Elless as Margo Crawford, Stephen Bogardus as Daddy Cane, Dee Hoty as Mama Murphy, and Stephen Lee Anderson as Daddy Murphy – and the wisecracking performances of Sarah Jane Shanks as Lucy Grant, and Jeff Blumenkrantz as Daryl Ames. These actors’ performances tug at the heartstrings and amplify the triumph of the human spirit both in words and through the music of this endearing musical.
And at this performance on May 29, 2016, Steve Martin did make a surprise appearance playing with the orchestra in the Act II Entr’acte – an appearance that was greeted with a huge display of appreciation by the audience.
Bright Star, in and of itself, is a must see not only for the performances of the actors, the tuneful and memorable score, and the benefit of uplifting your spirit – which is the alchemy for an involving and entertaining theater experience. Uplift your spirit and see Bright Star!
Trip of Love -- A Nostalgic Journey and Adventure
May 21, 2016
By Mark Kappel
Trip of Love, the creation of James Walski as director, choreographer, and book writer, and now playing at Stage 42, is a nostalgic trip into the 1960’s when adventures were influenced by drugs, politics, and social crises. Reflected in the music, literature, and dance, these all come together in Trip of Love in a performance I attended on May 21, 2016.
In Walski’s program notes, he describes the Broadway tradition of revue-style shows and decries the fact that these shows have become a dying breed. Trip of Love represents a revival of the revue-style show – and it is a welcome addition to the New York theatre scene.
The fable of Trip of Love focuses on a young woman who craves adventure with its ultimate goal to search for love. In an Alice in Wonderland moment she is transported to the mysterious and notorious 1960’s. In a revue-like format, she is guided through, and experiences, the sights and sounds of the 1960’s dancing and singing to a playlist of songs that represent music that is the soundtrack of life during that time period.
The music would be familiar to anyone living through those years -- who would sing these songs in their showers – and perhaps even sing them in their sleep. The song list runs the gamut from Motown favorites to songs from the British invasion, folk music and bossa nova, and Walski has cleverly created choreography, and iconic visual images, that represent this era.
There isn’t any dialogue in Trip of Love. The story, such as it is, is represented in interwoven vignettes providing narrative clues, with the iconic songs expressing the emotion of the moment or describing the moment.
From the very first instant the audience walks into the theater, they are experiencing the era – an inkling of how the story will enfold. Stage 42’s walls are decorated with the iconic painting styles of the 1960’s – excerpts from songs made famous during the 1960’s.
Caroline (played by Kelly Felthous) is seen in the audience as a lost ticker-holder. She is literally swept off her feet and becomes a participant and onlooker in this Alice in Wonderland entertainment. Along the way she meets Adam (played by Austin Miller) at a Vietnam War protest. She finds love – he proposes –singing Moon River, and they get married and fly off in an air balloon – singing Up, Up and Away. But Adam goes off to protest the war – with Caroline finding herself alone again – returning to join the audience at the end of the show. What is fun for the audience is joining in the experience and celebrating Trip of Love’s three rousing finales numbers.
Does Caroline ultimately find love after experiencing this dream-like adventure as compared to her mundane life. We don’t know that. But we experience an amusing and nostalgic journey with Walski creating choreography typical of the period and significant signposts during this trip of love. And with the music and lyrics washing over you, and you are humming The Girl From Ipanema, Up Up & Away, These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ , Downtown, A Sign of the Times, Where The Boys Are, Windmills of Your Mind, Wipe Out, You Don’t Own Me, and Blowin’ In The Wind, you don’t know if the 1960’s and its music helps one stumble upon that answer. However it is the journey that is important – and it is funny, fun, and vibrant.
This adventure was enhanced by the costume designs by Greg Barnes, the scenery designs by Robin Wagner, and the lighting designs by Tamotsu Harada.
Walski’s Trip of Love is beautifully revealed by the members of the hard-working cast including Joey Calveri, Brandon Leffler, Kelly Felthous, Dionne Figgins, Austin Miller, Kristin Piro, Laurie Wells, and Yesenia Ayala as they burnish the tongue-in-cheek humor and perform, sing and dance with commitment, charm and authority – taking the audience back decades to a very different time – and is the final ingredient in the formula to make Trip of Love a most entertaining two hours in the theater. You can’t lose taking this Trip of Love.
School of Rock – The Musical
Winter Garden Theatre
May 15, 2016
By Mark Kappel
There is no doubt that it is difficult to keep the roof on at the Winter Garden Theatre with the energy and enthusiasm that is generated by its current occupant, Tony-nominated, School of Rock – The Musical. Based on the 2003 film of the same name, this stage musical of this familiar film brings all of the quirkiness and hijinks that was in the film version, and provides a launching pad for this story to jump off the stage and creates an instant bond with an audience.
School of Rock – The Musical focuses on the story of Dewey Finn, a wannabe rock star who has been fired from his band and with a little imagination and initiative of his own, he poses as a substitute music teacher at an elite prep school to pay his rent. Dewey abandons the academic curriculum, finds the inner musical self within each of the students, and turns the class members into a rock band. The story has its antecedents in one of the great musicals of the Golden Age, The Music Man. School of Rock – The Musical is The Music Man of our time with all of the outrageousness that commands our attention in the world we live in.
This new musical is the product of a collaboration of creative artists that you would not be expecting to be on the same page much less working on a musical of this genre. The revered Andrew Lloyd-Webber goes back to his rock music roots with a few interpolations from the classics – with Glenn Slater providing the narrative and anthem-like lyrics – and well-regarded Julian Fellowes provides the book – a clever transfer from film to stage. School of Rock – The Musical also marks a welcome return to Broadway for Andrew Lloyd-Webber. In spite of its hard-rock score it is a traditional musical in many aspects – resulting in an enthralling, high energy, and touching musical with a knock out cast.
Alex Brightman inhabits the role of the boorish, clumsy, bungling – yet down to earth -- Dewey Finn – a ball of unlimited and untamed energy -- and knows when to step out of the spotlight to allow the kids to shine. These multi-talented child actors carry their own spotlights and beg for the audience’s attention – in a good way. You cannot describe them as supporting players, and the performances of Spencer Moses as Ned, Nathalie Charle Ellis as Patty, are pivotal members of this incredible cast, and also special plaudits for Mamie Parris in the role of Rosalie, who had the opportunity to display her versatility, and her coloratura soprano.
Director Laurence Conner has kept the high energy level of this show up to The School of Rock’s finale succeeding in making sure that what’s on stage is spontaneous and exuberant. Lloyd-Webber and Slater have come up with a score that serves the story and also has tour de force moments for each major character.
And there are life lessons to take to heart. The School of Rock – The Musical includes hopes and aspirations – what people can do – setting goals – and what potential we have within ourselves. What’s more important are the children and grown-ups who might be inspired to pick up an instrument and play it, after they have seen this highly entertaining musical.
American Ballet Theatre Dances Ashton’s Sylvia
Metropolitan Opera House
May 11, 2016
By Mark Kappel
To open its Metropolitan Opera House season, American Ballet Theatre has revived its glorious production of Frederick Ashton’s Sylvia – which is a co-production with the Royal Ballet
First premiered by the Royal Ballet in 1952, Ashton created his version of Sylvia as a tribute to, and vehicle for one of his muses, Margot Fonteyn. To honor the centenary of his birth, Ashton’s Sylvia was revived by the Royal Ballet in a restaging by Christopher Newton in 2004.
Sylvia’s origins are in Torquato Tasso’s play, Aminta, and was choreographed for the Paris Opera Ballet by Louis Merante in 1876. There have been a few other versions of Sylvia besides Ashton’s. Mark Morris choreographed a contemporary version for the San Francisco Ballet, in addition to John Neumeier’s new version of Sylvia for the Paris Opera Ballet, and Hungarian choreographer, Laszlo Seregi, who choreographed a version for the Hungarian National Ballet that was performed by many ballet companies in Europe in the 1970’s.
In references to ancient myth, Sylvia is one of the Goddess Diana’s huntress nymphs. Although renouncing love, Sylvia becomes the object of affection of two men, the evil Orion who kidnaps her, and the shepherd Aminta. Eros is the facilitator who brings Sylvia and Aminta together. However their relationship doesn’t get off to the best start when Sylvia aims a lethal arrow at Aminta – which seems like certain death – but it is Eros who intercedes in reviving him, and he lives another day. Eros aims his arrow at Sylvia, and Sylvia falls in love with Aminta. Although Sylvia ingeniously fools her abductors, it is Eros who intercedes again and saves Sylvia from her captors. Aminta’s constant love, and Sylvia being won over by Aminta consummates their union – with the intervention of the Goddess Diana who kills Orion, and blesses the union.
These twists and turns of plot are shades of the plots in Daphnis and Chloe, and Le Corsaire. The culmination of the ballet is a lively wedding divertissement.
For this production Christopher Newton has reproduced the filigree and needlepoint choreography that Ashton created for his version of Sylvia enhanced by the designs by Robin and Christopher Ironside. Ashton’s version is more than just a pageant but a story with dramatic conflict – which does have a happy ending. Ashton’s choreography requires quicksilver footwork and the choreography’s challenges bring out a great deal of a dancer’s artistry and technical skill. One can see Ashton’s subtlety, musicality, and the creative patterns for the ensembles.
Ashton’s Sylvia is a ballet that suits American Ballet Theatre’s dancers at this time. And that was evident in the performance of Sylvia on May 11, 2016. Ashton’s choreography requires special phrasing and purity of line, and ABT’s dancer strive towards that goal – they also embrace their moments in this ballet.
Maria Kochetkova making her debut in the title role was bold, clever, and unrelenting. One of the challenges for the dancer dancing the title role in this ballet is the well-known Act 3 pizzicato variation which had been Ashton’s creation to spotlight Fonteyn’s best attributes as a dancer. Kochetkova was lyrical and musical in this variation punctuating Delibes’ music and Ashton’s choreographic phrasing. Blaine Hoven as Aminta was a stalwart partner and empathetic. Kochetkova and Hoven’s third act pas de deux was polished and joyous. Also admirable was Daniil Simkin, whose villainous Orion was not a caricature. Arron Scott’s Eros was noble as was Devon Teuscher’s Diana.
There were also wonderful performances in the third act divertissements including those of Sarah Lane and Craig Salstein as the Goats, Zhong-Jing Fang and Calvin Royal III as Ceres and Jaseion, Stephanie Williams and Alexei Agoudine as Persephone and Pluto, and Melanie Hamrick and Gray Davis as Terpsichore and Apollo.
As in all of Ashton’s ballets there is his unique charm and his humanity – and a wonderful display of dancing.
American Ballet Theatre’s performance of Sylvia was an auspicious beginning for the company’s 8-week long Metropolitan Opera House season.
Tuck Everlasting – The Musical
May 7, 2016
By Mark Kappel
One of this Broadway season’s new musicals is an imaginative re-telling of Natalie Babbitt’s cherished children’s novel, Tuck Everlasting. Tuck Everlasting was one of several musicals that opened during the last week of this crowded Broadway season on April 26, 2016 at the Broadhurst Theatre.
Set in the early part of the 20th century -- in New Hampshire -- Winnie Foster (charmingly played by Sarah Charles Lewis and making an impressive Broadway debut) lives with her widowed mother (Valerie Wright), and her grandmother (Pippa Pearthree). Running away from what she feels are her mother’s constraints – Winnie has a chance meeting with Jesse Tuck (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) and his family. She soon learns the secret of the Tuck Family who accidentally drank from a magical spring in the nearby woods and as a result the Tuck Family members are immortal.
Winnie is open to search out new adventures in the world, and the Tuck Family understands her and embraces her curiosity. At the same time the family feels that an intruder has come into their quiet life, and is concerned that their secret will be revealed.
Their concern is well founded as The Man in the Yellow Suit (Terrence Mann), the comic villain of the story, discovers the Tuck Family’s secret – and the penultimate climax to the story – will Winnie drink from the magical spring or return to her own family.
Before making this life changing decision, Winnie embarks on her own personal adventure – the heroine of her own story -- which the audience happily joins and experiences. From the opening number where a great deal of exposition is revealed, Tuck Everlasting casts a spell over the audience and there are moments in this story that are sensitively presented and makes one well up with emotion.
What was unique was a show-ending ballet which highlights the important moments in Winnie Foster’s life -- an instance of dance making a stronger statement than words, and brings back memories of the dream ballets made famous by Agnes de Mille.
The score with music composed by Chris Miller and lyrics by Nathan Tysen, and a book by Tim Federle and Claudia Shear, has been well tailored to its subject matter and the live musical stage. The score is tuneful and memorable, and the book is true to the essence of the original novel.
Much credit goes to director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw who creates magic – all of which is enhanced by Walt Spangler’s scenery designs, Greg Barnes’ Tony nominated costume designs, and Kenneth Posner’s lighting designs.
And then there are the members of the Tuck Family including Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Jesse Tuck, Carolee Carmello as Mae Tuck, Michael Park as Angus Tuck, and Robert Lenzi as Miles Tuck – and Terrence Mann as the enigmatic Man in the Yellow Suit, Fred Applegate as Constable Joe and Michael Wartella as Hugo, and Valerie Wright and Pippa Pearthree. They breathe life into these characters and perform their roles with conviction.
Magic or magical are words that might be overused in describing what musical theater can be. However Tuck Everlasting’s magic is true magic and teaches children and adults valuable life lessons. These are the ingredients for a unique theatrical experience of joy and entertainment.
Valentina Kozlova’s International Ballet Competition – Dancers and Choreographers of the Future
April 30, 2016
By Mark Kappel
The sixth Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition was held from April 25-29, 2016 at Symphony Space. The award winners were announced on April 30, 2016, and were celebrated in a gala performance. Unlike other dance competitions, the Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition includes categories in ballet and modern dance, and also offers modern dance choreographers a showcase for their work. The awards and prizes that are given to competitors are focused on further studies and engagements, and company contracts, to allow the dancers and choreographers to develop their careers. As Ms. Kozlova stated at the end of the Awards Ceremony – “every performance brings you closer to your goal” – clearly stating the mission of this Competition. What was evident was the high standard of the competing dancers.
The Competition’s distinguished judges were Andris Liepa, Nina Buisson, Charles Jude, Nina Ananiashvili, Patricia Aulestia, Olga Guardia de Smoak, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, Sergei Soloviev, Sun Hee Kim, Jeon Mi Sook, Jelko Yuresha, Tracy Inman, Joe Lanteri, Terrence Marling, Jennifer Muller, Radenko Pavlovich, Troy Powell, Lawrence Rhodes, Margo Sappington, Peter Stark, Ben Stevenson, Martine Van Hamel, and Septime Webre.
The Award winners are:
Grand Prix: Ildar Tagirov (Russia)
Contemporary and Choreography Competition Prizes
Gold – Rye Cooley (USA)
Silver – Cielo Ibarrola (Paraguay)
Bronze: Julia Miro (Spain) & Anna Thomashoff (Austria)
Gold – Orlando Harbutt (USA)
Silver – London Mills (USA)
Bronze – Somer Mia February (South Africa)
Gold – Yun Ju Lee (South Korea)
Silver – Gilles Delellio (Belgium)
Bronze – Nikita Boris (USA)
Gold – Vivian Lorena Bobadilla (Brazil) & Jeong Eun Lee (South Korea)
Silver – Ye Seul Roh (South Korea)
Bronze – Yewen Xu (China)
Gold – Seung Uk Song (South Korea)
Silver – Hee Won Ham (South Korea)
Bronze – Hui Yeob Jeong (South Korea)
Gold – Vivian Lorena Bobadilla & Willer Rocha (Brazil)
Silver – Fernando Godoy & Breno Camargo (Brazil)
Bronze – Lara Fransen & Jonas Blerick (Belgium)
Groups: Gold – Willer Rocha, Fernando Godoy, Vivian Bobadilla, Breno Camargo & Gabriela Velasco (Brazil)
Gold – Richardo Sheir, Olga Poltarak & Evgeniy Shevtsov
Silver – Ildar Tagirov
Bronze – Maxime Mathieu Quiroga
Classical Competition Prizes
Gold – Caroline Grossman (USA)
Silver – Ye Eun Lee (South Korea)
Bronze – Katya Saburova (Russia) & Yun Ju Lee (South Korea)
Gold – Seung Min Yoo (South Korea)
Silver – Seon Hyang An (South Korea) & Ye Jin Joo (South Korea)
Bronze – Chae Rin Roh (South Korea) & London Mills (USA)
Gold – Eun Soo Lee (South Korea)
Silver – Keita Fujishima (Japan)
Gold – Nikita Boris (USA)
Silver – Seon Mee Park (South Korea)
Bronze – Maria Clara Ambrosini (Ecuador)
Silver – Justin Valentine (USA) & Gilles Delellio (Belgium)
Bronze – Miguel David Aranda (Paraguay)
Gold – Maria Iliushkina (Russia)
Silver – Da Woon Lee (South Korea) & Hee Won Cho (South Korea)
Bronze – Anna Guerrero (Philippines) & Brecke Swan (USA)
Gold – Seung Hyun Lee (South Korea)
Silver – Dong Heon Kwak (South Korea) & Gwan Woo Park (South Korea)
Bronze – Thomas Giugovaz (USA)
Among the guest artists appearing in this gala were Erica Pereira and Daniel Ulbricht of the New York City Ballet who danced a spirited performance of George Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, and Ms. Kozlova herself danced Margo Sappington’s Le Reve d’Isodora – both as tributes to Violette Verdy. Reverential were Kumura Ayano and Brooklyn Mack of the Washington Ballet dancing Giselle Act II Pas de Deux, and Risa Mochizuki and Leonid Flegmatov of the New Jersey Ballet searing in the contemporary dance piece, Retorno. The gala culminated with an artistically mature performance of the Black Swan Pas de Deux danced by Soo Bin Lee and Seunghyun Lee.
Displaying talent beyond their years were prizewinners Nikita Boris and Justin Valentine dancing Esmeralda Pas de Deux, Caroline Grossman dancing the variation from Grand Pas Classique, Eun Soo Lee dancing Harlequinade, and Maxime Mathieu Quiroga dancing Le Petit Prince.
The next Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition will be held at Symphony Space from June 5-10, 2017.
MasterVoices Presents Dido & Aeneas
April 28, 2016
By Mark Kappel
In presenting a staged version of Henry Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas at the City Center on April 28, 2016, MasterVoices collaborated with singers, musicians, and dancers culminating in a unique and musically satisfying concert.
Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas is one of the jewels of the Baroque era. Performed with Nahum Tate’s libretto this performance was enhanced by the addition of a new prologue composed by Michael John LaChiusa.
Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas was created as an opera comprised of a prologue, and three acts with Tate’s libretto inspired by Virgil’s Aenead, re-telling the doomed romance of Dido and Aeneas, and a sorceress’s plot to impede the two protagonists – and ultimately destroying the city of Carthage. It is Dido’s distrust of Aeneas and fear of his betrayal that dooms this tragic romance – a tragedy doomed by the fates.
In Purcell’s day musical entertainments, called masques, were not only examples of high art, but also the tapestry for networking – both personal and political in British court circles. Such manipulations and networking would make the politics of our day seem underpowered and unimportant. In Dido & Aeneas one not only sees the disintegration of a relationship but also political intrigue and destruction.
With the prologue lost to the ages, Michael John LaChiusa has composed a new prologue, entitled The Daughters of Necessity: A Prologue, which is presented in two parts. The first being a gathering of mortals with current references – including the mention of Donald Trump, New Jersey, and turning off cell phones – with the serious second part the bantering of the three fates: Nona who spins the thread of life, Decima, who measures it, and Morta who cuts the thread and thereby causes death. This new prologue creates the foreboding for the tragedy that is yet to come with both the humor and seriousness also depicted in choreography and movement.
This production of Dido & Aeneas was directed and choreographed by modern dance choreographer Doug Varone with musical direction by Ted Sperling – with dancers from Varone’s company as significant participants. In addition there were the voices of the MasterVoices chorus, and the musicians of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. This was a beautifully thread collaboration and a rare presentation of both music and poetry.
From the Broadway stage came Kelli O’Hara as Dido, and Victoria Clark as Morta and the Sorceress, and from the opera world, Elliot Madore as Aeneas, Anna Christy as Decima and Belinda, and Sarah Mesko as Nona and the Second Woman. Nothing could be more inspiring then to experience Ms. O’Hara and Ms. Clark bringing their wide range of talents to this enterprise – and to see facets of their performing personalities that are different from what we have seen on the Broadway stage.
There have been dance versions of Dido & Aeneas – most recent ones choreographed by Mark Morris and Sasha Waltz, and here Doug Varone makes his contribution in presenting and visualizing this well-known story. His dancers are observers, manipulators, and dancer Alex Springer as Mercury, influences Aeneas to leave Carthage and to leave Dido – and not defy the will of the gods.
The combination of these artists from the music world, the dance world, and the Broadway theatre world results in an important evening of theatre and music. Ninety minutes of music, poetry, singing, and dance that proved to be vastly entertaining and stretching the artistry of all of the participants.
Miami City Ballet Performs Two New York Premieres
David Koch Theater
April 15, 2016
By Mark Kappel
In its second program on April 15, 2016 at the David Koch Theater, the Miami City Ballet performed another classic Balanchine ballet and two works created for the company. This program represented contrasts and a clue to the company’s artistic future.
Balanchine was represented by Bourrée Fantasque, choreographed to music by Emanuel Chabrier, which was one of the first works he created – in 1949 -- for the newly-formed New York City Ballet. Structured similarly to other neo-classical pieces of the day, it is divided into three sections with principal couples leading a corps de ballet all combined for the third section’s finale – a work for 42 dancers that is danced in fewer than 30 minutes.
Although one would expect similarities to Theme and Variations, and Symphony in C, Bourrée Fantasque is more of a forerunner to Western Symphony and Stars and Stripes which Balanchine created in the 1950’s.
In the last few decades Bourrée Fantasque has rarely been performed in New York although the New York City Ballet performed Bourree Fantasque in 1993 to commemorate Balanchine’s death, and it had been in the repertoire of American Ballet Theatre during the early 1980’s. Bourrée Fantasque is not one of Balanchine’s major works, it is an interesting rarity and a glimpse into the development of Balanchine as a choreographer.
The Miami City Ballet dancers brought a forthright approach to dancing the three movements of this ballet which varied from the comic elements in the First Movement danced by Jordan Elizabeth Long and Shimon Ito, to the more placid choreography of the Second Movement danced by Simone Messmer and Rainer Krenstetter, and the rousing Third Movement was which danced by Nathalia Arja and Renato Penteado. As in Miami City Ballet’s performances of Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements in the company’s first program, Miami City Ballet dances Balanchine’s works on its own terms.
The two commissions on the program have their roots in two very different choreographic styles. New York City Ballet resident choreographer, Justin Peck, created Heatscape to Martinu’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra. With projected scenery to depict a warm summer day and the dancers in simple white and tan costumes, one has the vision of young people romping on a beach. Peck has choreographed several ballets in which the lynchpin is the exuding of youthful energy. Heatscape is another that can be included in that genre of Peck’s ballets. The solos and the cascading corps de ballet groupings produce this energy and a sense of being carefree in this non-stop piece of choreography. Heatscape was danced with exuberance by Emily Bromberg and Renan Cerdeiro in the first movement, Tricia Albertson and Kleber Rebello, in the second movement, and Andrei Chagas, Jeannette Delgado, and Shimon Ito in the third movement.
On the other hand Liam Scarlett, a former soloist of the Royal Ballet, has his European roots, and although his work requires the same level of energy as required in Justin Peck’s choreography, there is more overall subtlety in Scarlett’s choreography. Liam Scarlett’s Viscera, set to music by American composer, Lowell Liebermann, was Scarlett’s first work for an American ballet company, and has been restaged for the Royal Ballet. It is useful to see a choreographer at his or her beginnings and examine how they have developed – whether they have found a choreographic voice – or not. Scarlett tends to focus on upper body movement and partnering in his ballets, using the dancers in asymmetrical patterns, but also punctuating musical phrases in every step. In Viscera these choreographic elements are ever present.
The cast of Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg, Carlos Miguel Guerra, Jeanette Delgado, Renato Penteado, Kleber Rebello, Jennifer Lauren, Callie Manning, and Zoe Zien connected with Viscera’s emotional moments and textures.
This welcome engagement of the Miami City Ballet has defined its artistic future and it will be interesting to see how its artistic mission will be developed with the acquisition and commissioning of new works. The company deserves its place as a regular visitor to New York.
Miami City Ballet Makes Its Debut at the David Koch Theater
David Koch Theater
April 14, 2016
By Mark Kappel
The last time the Miami City Ballet performed in New York in a full company engagement was in 2009 at the City Center when the company was under the guidance of its founding artistic director, Edward Villella. The Miami City Ballet more recently has participated in the City Center Fall for Dance Festivals, and made its New York debut at Brooklyn College in 1988 – the company hasn’t been seen often in New York City.
Therefore Miami City Ballet’s current engagement at the David Koch Theater from April 13-17, 2016 is a rare opportunity to see performances of an important American ballet company. The Miami City Ballet is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and now under the guidance of former New York City Ballet principal dancer, Lourdes Lopez, the Miami City Ballet is presenting two different programs during this engagement which is being presented by the Joyce Theater. Enhancing this engagement is live music which is being superbly played by the New York City Ballet Orchestra.
The two programs that Miami City Ballet is presenting during this engagement include works by George Balanchine, an acquisition choreographed by Twyla Tharp, and also works created especially for Miami City Ballet.
The first of the two programs, performed on April 14, 2016, included George Balanchine’s classic Symphony in Three Movements, a work created by Balanchine for the New York City Ballet’s Stravinsky Festival in 1972. This is a work that Miami City Ballet performed during the company’s City Center season in 2009. In Symphony in Three Movements Balanchine returned to the style of ballets he choreographed in the 1950’s emphasizing modernism --- angular movement and simplicity. It is a direct response to Stravinsky’s intricate music.
The principal cast of Nathalia Arja, Kleber Rebello, Patricia Delgado, Renan Cerdeiro, Ashley Knox, and Jovani Furlan, along with Miami City Ballet’s supporting soloists and corps de ballet, danced Balanchine’s choreography in a high speed mode.
New to Miami City Ballet’s repertoire was Twyla Tharp’s Sweet Fields, choreographed to Shaker Hymns, which Tharp had created for her own troupe. An ensemble work that is separated into ten sections, Tharp’s choreography is spiritual and reverential, and also bold enough to throw in a few comic twists. Dance to recorded music, the choreography is ritualistic in its nature, and sometimes lost on the darkly lit stage. Sweet Fields was danced with sophistication and respect by Miami City Ballet’s dancers.
Concluding the performance was a work commissioned for the company, Alexei Ratmansky’s Symphonic Dances, choreographed to the piece of the same name composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Symphonic Dances is all about dancing with Ratmansky’s choreography eating up the stage space.
Symphonic Dances is divided into three unrelated sections. The first of which is reminiscent of The Rite of Spring and Les Noces where one of the male dancers has a red mark on his shirt, with another male dancer often in mirror image dancing the same choreography. One sees his interaction with the community, and often represents the image of an outsider. The second section is inspired by Balanchine’s La Valse which is also dominated by a sense of the outsider. In contrast the final and third section is series of ensembles building up to a finale and final tableau.
Ratmansky’s choreography focuses on the strengths of the dancers – a cast ably led by Jeannette Delgado, Nathalia Arja, Tricia Albertson, Kleber Rebello, Renato Penteado, Callie Manning, Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg, Jennifer Lauren, Jovani Furlan, Reyneris Reyes, and Didier Bramaz. However Ratmansky has visited these same themes more effectively in his other works.
The combination of these vital works resulted in an engaging performance by the Miami City Ballet.
Bolshoi Ballet Dances Don Quixote
April 10, 2016
By Mark Kappel
Fathom Events presented the last of its Bolshoi Ballet screenings on April 10, 2016 – ending the season with the company’s current production of Don Quixote, newly staged by Alexei Fadeyechev. This production of Don Quixote premiered in February of this year with new scenery designs by Valery Leventhal and new costume designs by Elena Zaitseva.
In many respects Don Quixote is the Bolshoi Ballet’s signature work. The choreography is based on that by Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky with additional choreography by Rostislav Zakharov, Kasiyan Goleizovsky, and Anatoly Simachev. The score for Don Quixote also includes music composed by many composers as well.
Fadeychev’s version has its roots in his own research concerning the libretto, the choreography, the music, and the designs from previous Bolshoi Ballet productions of Don Quixote. But this production is most notable for the feeling of its humanity, the dancers living within the skin of the characters, and also succeeding in entertaining every member of the audience.
The ballet version of Don Quixote tells one story among the many in Cervantes’ book, and often productions of Don Quixote tend to be a series of virtuoso dances with limited narrative content. This production, however, focuses on the story more than other productions, as well as a focus on details, and creating living pictures in every scene in each of the ballet’s three acts. The characterization is left in the hands of the dancers dancing the principal roles and that is where the casting choices are paramount. In spite of the fact that the focus is on a handful of principal characters, the Bolshoi Ballet’s production of Don Quixote is danced as if it’s a company piece.
This performance was left in the capable hands of Ekaterina Krysanova as Kitri and Semyon Chudin as Basilio, who both provided the fire and virtuoso dancing that these roles require. They also fleshed out the characters they were portraying not only with their dancing but also with their skills as actors. Both are assured technicians as well – all contributing towards making their characters vibrant on stage. Their performance in the final Grand Pas de Deux in Act III was superlative and assured.
The same could be said for Ruslan Skvortsov as Espada, Kristina Karasyova as Mercedes, and the regal Olga Smirnova as the Queen of the Dryads.
Also notable were the featured dancers, Daria Khokhlova as Cupid, and Anna Tikhomirova and Yulia Stepanova dancing the Bridesmaids’ variations in the third act. The Bolshoi Ballet’s productions of the 19th century classics come alive because of the wonderful Bolshoi Ballet character dancers, and in this production of Don Quixote, the character dancing of Alexei Loparevich as Don Quixote, Roman Simachev as Sancho Panza, Denis Medvedev as Gamache, and Yegor Simachev as Lorenzo, Kitri’s Father made these hapless characters believable and easy to identify with.
As the last screening of the Bolshoi Ballet’s 2015-16 season, the company was ending the season on a high note. Now on to next season and Fathom Events continuing support making it possible to see these live screenings of the Bolshoi Ballet in the United States.
Dance Theatre of Harlem at the City Center
April 8, 2016
By Mark Kappel
The Dance Theatre of Harlem has returned to the City Center for a brief engagement from April 6-9, 2016, performing a mixed-bill program which included two New York premieres, and two familiar pieces. The two New York premieres represented the work of female choreographers as part of an artistic initiative being taken by the Dance Theatre of Harlem to achieve greater representation of female choreographers in its repertoire – and also serving as an example for other ballet and dance companies.
In this performance on April 8, 2016, the two New York premieres were the work of well-known New York ballet teacher, Elena Kunikova, and modern dance choreographer, Dianne McIntyre. Divergent in styles, the one thing they had in common in the choreography was that the ladies were dancing on pointe. But that was where the similarities ended.
Elena Kunikova was represented by Divertimento, a neo-classical work for six dancers choreographed to Glinka’s Divertimento Brillante. This series of academically choreographed variations, pas de deux, and group dancers are expansive and pleasant to watch – not a criticism at all in this day and age when choreography seems to be more complicated than it needs to be on the surface. Divertimento is a clever exercise in teaching classical deportment and classical ballet style. And its allusions to the 19th century classics was represented by roses downstage, and in the final minute of the piece there were short references to The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, and others of the classics.
Modern dance choreographer, Dianne McIntyre, created Change for the Dance Theatre of Harlem in 2016. It is a work inspired by women who have shown leadership – and clearly the women depicted in this piece are those who have responded to the changing world around them, and also who exhibited strong leadership in making sure that change was for the positive rather than the negative. These struggles were depicted through the instruments of only three female dancers – all of whom danced on pointe – but clearly McIntyre used a modern dance vocabulary to express struggle and change.
Also on the program were two familiar pieces one of which was choreographed by Helen Pickett. Her piece, When Love, a duet choreographed to music by Phillip Glass, reflects influences from Pickett’s experience working with William Forysthe. Glass’ music was a soundtrack for this ballet but there is a voice over describing the assignation of the two principals on stage that blossoms and grows, and heightens in its intensity. In their performance of When Love, Chyrstyn Fentroy and Jorge Andres Villarini depict how their relationship evolves, and ultimately evolves into a happy ending.
In Coming Together, Nacho Duato channels the emotional and expressive words of Sam Melville, a political activist who was killed in the Attica prison riots that began in September 1971. The choreography is also inspired by Frederic Rzewski’s music. The choreography is relentless and also sophisticated. By virtue of the performance of the Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers, Coming Together could very well become a signature work for the company.
This program danced by the Dance Theatre of Harlem represented a wide variety of dance styles and was enthusiastically danced by the company’s dancers.
Pennsylvania Ballet Makes Its Joyce Theater Debut
March 29, 2016
By Mark Kappel
For many years the Pennsylvania Ballet, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has been a frequent visitor and a part of the New York dance scene since the company’s founding. In the past the Pennsylvania Ballet has been the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s resident ballet company, and the Pennsylvania Ballet has also performed at the City Center. However in the last few decades the company’s New York visits have been far less frequent.
The Pennsylvania Ballet has returned to New York, after a long absence, making its debut at the Joyce Theater from March 29-April 3, 2016. Now directed by Angel Corella, and diverting from an artistic policy that had been developed from the company’s founding in 1963, what was presented was a program of contemporary ballet pieces choreographed by American choreographers whose work is familiar to New York audiences.
On March 29, 2016, the Pennsylvania Ballet performed a program that included works by Matthew Neenan, Trey McIntyre, and Nicolo Fonte – all of these works having their New York premieres, all choreographed for the company’s dancers.
Matthew Neenan, is a former member of the Pennsylvania Ballet and is the company’s choreographer in residence, and he was represented by Keep, danced to string quartets composed by Alexander Borodin and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Employing classical ballet vocabulary infused with modern dance, Neenan explores relationships – combative, real or imaginary – dividing his piece into two sections which juxtapose different moods and atmospheres. His choreography for the familiar Borodin String Quartet isn’t romantic but contemplative, and a bit mysterious.
Dancers Amy Aldridge, Francis Veyette, Lauren Fadeley, Ian Hussey, Jermel Johnson, Evelyn Kocak, Alexandra Hughes, Andrew Daly, Lillian DiPiazza, and Arian Molina Soca brought a host of emotions in the execution of Neenan’s choreography.
Trey McIntyre was represented by The Accidental, choreographed to songs from Patrick Watson’s album, “Adventures in Your Own Backyard". McIntyre’s exploration of Wilson’s music is a collection of random responses to the rhythms inherent in the music moving the dancers fluidly through his piece. Divided into four sections it is the fourth section in which Craig Wasserman gives a virtuoso performance.
Closing the program was Nicolo Fonte’s Grace Action, Fonte’s personal response to Phillip Glass’s expansive music which was also reflected in Brad Fields’ subtle and effective lighting design. Grace Action was an experiment in moving dancers through space danced ably by dancers Lillian DiPiazza, Arian Molina Soca, Lauren Fadeley, Ian Hussey, Mayara Pineiro, and Etienne Diaz.
This program of works by a new generation of choreographers speaks to their personal comments on, and use of music, and the incorporation of costume and lighting design elements in their concepts. They all speak to audiences in a diverse manner.
This performance was also a hint of the artistic direction that Angel Corella will be taking the Pennsylvania Ballet, and I hope that the company will be able to perform frequently in New York in the future to see how these changes are implemented.
Hong Kong Ballet Makes Debut at Joyce Theater
March 15, 2016
By Mark Kappel
New York audiences rarely get to see performances of ballet companies that are based in Asia. Although the Hong Kong Ballet has performed in New York in the past, it has been too many years between engagements.
In a welcome engagement, the Hong Kong Ballet made its debut at the Joyce Theater from March 15-20, 2016 performing a mixed-bill program that included the work of three contemporary choreographers.
Directed by Madeleine Onne since 2009, the company’s repertoire is an eclectic one dancing full-length classics and the works of Asian and European contemporary choreographers. In this Joyce Theater engagement, the Hong Kong Ballet danced a mixed-bill program which featured the work of three international choreographers.
For the opening night performance on March 15, 2016, the Hong Kong Ballet danced a work by Chinese choreographer, Fei Bo, resident choreographer of the National Ballet of China, who was represented by an excerpt from his dance piece, A Room Of Her Own. Based on a play by Wenlin Xia, and premiered in 2011, A Room Of Her Own has been choreographed to Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor, and focuses on heroine, Lu Xi, who is engulfed in a suffocating relationship with her choreographer husband – and fears her husband’s relationship with a new colleague. A Room of Her Own expresses these conflicts in an abstract manner, but the psychological drama is very clear in the manner of how this piece is danced.
This excerpt begins with one of the female dancers seated at a desk where she imagines the relationships between her husband, and the new colleague. Bo’s choreography shows the intertwining of these principal characters’ relationships. The cast of Yu-yao Liu, Miao-miao Liu, and Jia-bo Li created powerful personas in this vignette.
Spanish choreographer, Nacho Duato, was represented by Castrati, a piece for nine male dancers. Choreographed to music by Antonio Vivaldi and Karl Jenkins, this contemporary dance piece focuses on the period of time when women were forbidden to sing in church, and as a result instituted the practice of young boys being transformed into castrato singers. The Hong Kong Ballet has had this dance piece in its repertoire since 2012.
In this piece only one of the male dancers experiences the ritualistic act of castration. Duato’s choreography is exemplified by its large and bold movement, and effectively projects the brutal moment of the ritual of castration.
The ensemble cast of Jie Shen, Jun Xia, Wei Wei, Jia-bo Li, Lucas Jerkander, Shunsuke Arimizu, Chun Long Leung, Ricky Hu, and Lin Li brought great power to Duato’s choreographic images.
Also on the program was Krzysztof Pastor’s In Light and Shadow, a work created by this Polish choreographer to music by Bach. Although abstract the choreography subtly makes allusions to baroque dances and master painters – including Michelangelo, Vermeer, and Rembrandt. In Light and Shadow opens with a duet from The Goldberg Variations followed by solos, duets and ensemble dances danced to the Third Orchestral Suite.
With the dancers in a vast array of costumes, Pastor has choreographed quiet moments – with lots of entrances and exits that flow into solos, pas de deux, and ensemble dances that lead up to an exuberant finale to end the piece.
In all of these pieces it should be noted that the choreography included pointe work, and exploited the Hong Kong Ballet’s dancers’ nobility and pride, and communication with the audience. From the efforts made by the company’s artistic director, Madeleine Onne, and the excellent performances of the dancers, in this performance the Hong Kong Ballet proved itself to be a company of international standard.
During this engagement the Hong Kong Ballet is spotlighting its contemporary repertoire, and I trust that in future New York engagements that the company will have its opportunity to perform ballets in its classical repertoire. The Hong Kong Ballet’s performance was a welcome addition to this season informing audiences about the dance scene in Asia.
Pacific Northwest Ballet Performs Contemporary Ballet Program
February 26, 2016
By Mark Kappel
For its second mixed-bill program, performed at the City Center on February 26, 2016, Pacific Northwest Ballet presented repertoire that is one of the alternatives in which dance choreography may develop or emerge in the present moment – and perhaps for the immediate future.
The mixed-bill program’s choreographers have direct connections to the contemporary dance scene in Europe. One of its leading lights, William Forsythe, former artistic director of the Ballet Frankfurt, was represented on the program as well as two former dancers of Ballet Frankfurt, who have developed careers as choreographers.
William Forsythe was represented by his The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, choreographed to Shubert’s 10th Symphony, which is a non-top virtuoso piece danced by a cast of only five dancers. Danced by Angelica Generosa, Margaret Mullin, Elizabeth Murphy, Benjamin Griffiths, and Jonathan Porretta, this is Forsythe in his neo-classical period further extending the Balanchine style with the inclusion of classical ballet virtuosity. The atmosphere is punctuated by the pastel color costumes for the dancers including the flying saucer tutus worn by the ladies. In this piece the Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers jumped over the technical hurdles in the choreography with ease.
Canadian-born Crystal Pite created Emergence for the National Ballet of Canada in 2009, and it was acquired by the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2013. This piece of non-stop movement was just as much inspired by the music of Owen Belton, as it was inspired by the style of William Forsythe. The program notes provided by Pite indicated that her primary inspiration was the hierarchal structure of a beehive, and there were choreographic allusions to Jerome Robbins’ The Cage, Act II of Giselle, and The Rite of Spring. As a concept there were great possibilities, but the cogent ideas were not developed after establishing the basic theme in the piece.
David Dawson’s A Million Kisses To My Skin was created for the Dutch National Ballet in 2000, and was acquired by the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2012. Choreographed to Johan Sebastian Bach’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Dawson’s piece has all of the style of a neo-classical ballet with a mathematical pattern of linking classical ballet steps – from one to the next. There were few moments when one could take a breather, but served its purpose as an opener for this mixed-bill program.
In this program there were debuts in both A Million Kisses To My Skin and Emergence which fostered spontaneity and energy in these pieces, and one could not under emphasize that Pacific Northwest Ballet’s dancers were challenged by what choreographers David Dawson and Crystal Pite required them to dance.
The Pacific Northwest Ballet provided variety in the two programs that the company presented during its New York engagement. It is a company that should perform in New York more frequently.
Pacific Northwest Ballet Returns To The City Center – Program One
February 24, 2016
By Mark Kappel
Pacific Northwest Ballet will be performing at the City Center from February 24-27, 2016 in a return engagement, and with decidedly different programming as compared to the company’s engagement at the Joyce Theater in 2014.
For this engagement, Pacific Northwest Ballet, under the artistic direction of Peter Boal, former principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, the company’s repertoire is a reflection of the company’s history and also a reflection of its current artistic mission in moving forward.
Pacific Northwest Ballet is one of the major ballet companies in the United States that has had a series of artistic directors who have had professional associations with the New York City Ballet and have put the ballets of George Balanchine on the front burner. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s opening night program on February 24, 2016 was a mixed-bill program dedicated to Balanchine’s ballets that the company had not danced in New York before.
The Balanchine ballets performed on this program were all acquired by Pacific Northwest Ballet during the 1980’s. Balanchine’s Square Dance was the first of these acquisitions in 1981, dancing Balanchine’s revised version. The original version which included Western attire and a square dance caller had been abandoned – although it is still performed from time to time by the Joffrey Ballet. In his revision Balanchine removed all of the decoration and ornamentation – removing the Western attire and the square dance caller -- added a male solo variation, and stripped down the choreography to its essence. Danced to music by Corelli, Square Dance lends comparisons to Balanchine’s iconic neo-classical work, Concerto Barocco.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s performance of Square Dance was marked by the speed and clarity in which was danced. Although the contemplative male solo often seems out of place, within this performance, the solo was interwoven well. The cast was more than ably led by Leta Biascucci and Benjamin Griffiths.
George Balanchine created Prodigal Son for the Diaghilev Ballet Russes which premiered the ballet in 1929. The ballet was choreographed to a commissioned score by Serge Prokofiev, with expressionistic designs by Georges Roualt, and a libretto by Boris Kochno based on the Biblical parable. Pacific Northwest Ballet acquired Prodigal Son in 1984. Prodigal Son is one of Balanchine’s few one-act story ballets, and the ballet’s leading role is tailored to a male dancer of technical and dramatic power.
There are striking images incorporated into the choreography of Prodigal Son, and those images were emphatically pronounced in the dancing by the principal dancers, the corps de ballet, and the few character dancers in the ballet. Jonathan Porretta danced the title role with dramatic intensity, and Lesley Rausch was suitably haughty as the Siren.
The third work presented on Pacific Northwest Ballet’s all-Balanchine program was Stravinsky Violin Concerto, a ballet that Balanchine created for the New York City Ballet’s Stravinsky Festival in 1972, and was acquired by the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1986. Returning to Balanchine’s modernist period of choreography, Stravinsky Violin Concerto is distinguished by its angular movement and departure from balletic convention -- a kissing cousin to Agon and The Four Temperaments. It is minimalist yet substantial at the same time – and intense and familiar at the same time.
Stravinsky Violin Concerto was danced with authority by the cast of Lesley Rausch, Jerome Tisserand, Noelani Pantastico, and Seth Orza.
The performances of all three Balanchine ballets on this program reflected freshness and spontaneity. Many of the dancers were making their debuts in their roles adding a bit of voltage to the performances on the program.
And welcome that Pacific Northwest Ballet is performing a program of works that is linked to the company’s legacy – and performing them well.
Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s Cinderella
February 18, 2016
By Mark Kappel
Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, in its engagement at the City Center from February 18-20, 2016, has chosen to perform Jean-Christophe Maillot’s intriguing and provocative production of Cinderella, which the company had performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2003.
Maillot has garnered a reputation for his approach to full-length narrative ballets that often highlight details from well-known stories but always presents those details in a unique setting and from a unique perspective. The unexpected is expected.
The scenery is designed in a minimalist style, the costumes are deceptively simple, and just as simple theatrical effects emphasize the important dramatic signposts. Also Maillot’s productions of Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, and The Taming of the Shrew – and Cinderella -- have shown off Maillot’s theatrical ingenuity, and his exploration of the psychological underpinnings of these classic stories. An audience member must come to a performance of Maillot’s narrative ballets with his or her imagination in their coat pocket. Some of these details and narrative concepts are not always communicated well.
In his version of Cinderella Maillot focuses on the relationship between Cinderella’s Mother and Father with less emphasis on the budding romance between Cinderella and her Prince. When Cinderella’s mother passes on and her father remarries, Cinderella chooses to remember her parents’ marriage as being idyllic. Her idyllic perception of that marriage serves as her paradigm in contrast with her father’s unsuccessful second marriage.
When we first come upon Cinderella she appears and dances in bare feet admiring the ball gown that her mother wore. The invitation to the Prince’s ball is delivered by a mysterious stranger whose identity is obscured by a red hood. However the mysterious stranger is revealed as the Fairy Godmother, who really is the spirit of Cinderella’s Mother – and this Fairy Godmother is assertive and pushy, and doesn’t leave anything she plans for Cinderella’s future to chance. The Fairy Godmother literally pushes Cinderella into the arms of the rather spoiled and detached Prince at the ball.
Cinderella’s father also appears at the ball and imagines the Fairy Godmother to be the earthly incarnation of his dead wife. They dance together during the Prince’s ball, and also are seen in a double pas de deux with Cinderella and the Prince. Cinderella dances in bare feet through this ballet. There are no glass slippers. The only reference to Cinderella’s uniqueness is her feet being splattered by gold glitter – which is also a prominent detail in the Fairy Godmother’s costume. Although the Prince and Cinderella have their happily ever after in the end, there is also a reconciliation between the Father and the Mother’ spirit, and the Father’s rejection of his second wife.
Although Maillot strays from the most familiar of the Cinderella librettos, the ballet is danced to Serge Prokofiev’s familiar music. Maillot’s choreographic vocabulary is that of contemporary ballet and modern dance – often distancing himself from literal mime to communicate the story.
It is the dancers of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo who bring immediacy and credibility to Maillot’s concept of Cinderella bringing their own personalities to the major roles.
Mimoza Koike as The Fairy/Mother, and Gabrielle Corrado as The Father embroider the details of these characters’ complicated relationship, and Anjara Ballesteros as Cinderella, and Lucien Postlewaite as the Prince breathe life into this modern interpretation of this happily ever after fairy tale.
Maude Sabourin brings the necessary coloration to the role of The Stepmother, and Gaelle Riou and Anne-Laure Seillan exhibit the silliness of The Sisters. The comedic moments are left to the characters described as The Pleasure Superintendents (played by Alexis Oliveira and George Oliveira) who prepare The Sisters for the Prince’s ball.
In all a provocative reading of Cinderella in Maillot’s hands and choreography, brought to life by the wonderful dancers that comprise Les Ballets de Monte Carlo.
Kathryn Posin Dance Company Returns to the 92nd Street Y
92nd Street Y - Buttenweiser Hall
February 11, 2016
By Mark Kappel
After a successful engagement at the 92nd Street Y’s Buttenweiser Hall in 2014, the Kathryn Posin Dance Company has been invited back to the 92nd Street Y for a return engagement. The Kathryn Posin Dance Company is dancing at the 92nd Street Y on February 11 and 12, 2016 in a program that celebrates the work of Kathryn Posin, and her collaborators.
For this opening performance on February 11, 2016, the Kathryn Posin Dance Company performed a work seen during the company’s 2014 engagement at the 92nd Street Y, Century Rolls, which Kathryn Posin choreographed with the assistance of Momchil Mladenov, and choreographed to the music of the same name by John Adams. The most balletic piece on the program, Century Rolls is a non-stop shot of energy. The choreography is rhythmic and percussive, and the fluid choreography is seen as a swirl of orange as danced to Adams’ pulsating music.
To commemorate Kathryn Posin’s professional benchmark as a choreographer, revived especially for these performances was Waves, created for the American Dance Festival in 1975 and choreographed to an original piece of music by electronic music pioneer Laurie Spiegel. After Waves’ initial success it was also acquired by the Nederlands Dans Theater, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, and the Eliot Feld Ballet. Lance Westergard, one of the original cast members of Waves, reconstructed the work now 40 years after its premiere.
Waves is a “classic” modern dance piece with clean lines, and an inspired choreographic response to Spiegel’s music. It is a work that has stood the test of time.
Receiving its world premiere at this performance was Kathryn Posin’s Climate Control, choreographed to Meredith Monk’s Facing North with Meredith Monk and Theo Bleckmann singing Ms. Monk’s music – a first time collaborative effort by Meredith Monk and Kathryn Posin.
In Climate Control, Posin explores many choreographic ideas and links them together juxtaposing people who inhabit different climates. All of this performed to Monk’s unique soundscape. Some dancers are costumed in grass skirts – transporting themselves on snow skis – and other dancers are costumed in parkas – transporting themselves on surf boards. The choreographic vocabulary is a blend of ballet, contemporary ballet, and modern dance. There are lots of comic twists in a series of dance vignettes with both Monk and Bleckmann as collaborators and participants.
One must celebrate the dancers in the company, Cristian Laverde Konig, Daniel Baker, McKenna Birmingham, Kara Chan, Megan Dickinson, Yumelia Garcia, Ryan Redmond, and Adrianna de Svastich for their versatility in dancing these works
This entertaining dance performance was a celebration of Kathryn Posin – her talent and longevity – and her artistic journey to continue to create.
Bolshoi Ballet Dances The Taming of the Shrew
January 24, 2016
By Mark Kappel
One of the rare opportunities to see the Bolshoi Ballet dance works created on its dancers was to see Fathom Events’ live screening of the Bolshoi Ballet dancing Jean-Christophe Maillot’s version of The Taming of the Shrew on January 24, 2016. Although the Bolshoi Ballet has included many ballets created for the company among their live screenings, this was the first of these creations choreographed by a foreign choreographer, and also the first-time that Maillot has choreographed for a company other than Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, which is the company he serves as artistic director.
Prior to the creation of this version of The Taming of the Shrew, the only version known to most ballet audiences has been John Cranko’s widely seen version of The Taming of the Shrew, which he created for the Stuttgart Ballet and is in the repertoires of ballet companies all over the world – including, at one time, the Bolshoi Ballet.
This version was premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet in 2014 and was choreographed to music composed by Dmitri Shostakovich. Jean-Christophe Maillot’s creative team included dramatist, Jean Rouaud, scenery designer Ernest Pignon-Ernest, costume designer Augustin Maillot, and lighting and video projections designer Dominique Drillot.
Debate about Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is that it is misogynist, but Cranko’s version was inspired by Cole Porter’s musical, Kiss Me Kate, and Maillot’s approach is that of two people in love – and Katharina gives in to her husband’s demands not because he is her master but because she has met her match. Maillot’s interpretation is that Katharina and Petruchio are engaged in playing games in order to get what they want. Petruchio sets challenges for Katherina to confirm whether she is his perfect match – and although it may seem that Katherina has submitted to her husband – it is an act. Petruchio is the only person that Katherina can live with and love. They met each other’s match.
Maillot’s adapted libretto is concisely told in two acts. As in the play, the suitors for Katherina’s sister, Bianca, wait impatiently for her to accept their proposals of marriage. However, Baptista, the father of both Katherina and Bianca, wish for Katherina to be married first. Bianca’s suitors find that viable suitor in Petruchio who is motivated by Katherina’s dowry and his own poverty. They exhibit their compatibility at the wedding of Bianca and Lucentio – much to the surprise of the wedding guests.
Maillot communicates the narrative in contemporary ballet vocabulary emphasizing hand and arm movements, and facial expressions. And there is the concept of a theatrical event.
Before the beginning of the ballet, Anna Tikhomirova, who danced the role of The Housekeeper, comes from behind the curtain to present herself as a self-absorbed person who would claw her way to the last pair of shoes being sold at a designer’s store. It sets the tone for Maillot’s concept. That haut couture chic is represented in the costuming, and even the theatrical references from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, and an MGM musical ending, put this Shrew in the 20th century rather than in Shakespeare’s time.
As in other of Maillot’s full-length ballets, the scenery designs are minimalist with angular columns and straight lines – employing lighting effects to transport one from scene to scene. Maillot employs not often heard music composed by Dmitri Shostakovich, who is best known for his moody and dramatic music. In this instance 25 pieces of Shostakovich music including songs he composed for films and for his musical comedy, Moscow Cheryomushki, were used as the score for Maillot’s version of The Taming of the Shrew.
For this screening the Bolshoi Ballet offered the premiere cast in this ballet, Ekaterina Krysanova both kitten like and clawing as Katherina, and Vladislav Lantratov as a regular guy Petruchio. Olga Smirnova as Bianca and Semyon Chudin as Lucentio were portrayed in a more innocent light until the moment when it is Bianca who appears to be the shrew. Also notable was Igor Tsvirko as Hortensio. Although one has seen the Bolshoi Ballet dancers in comic roles, they have been seen far less in comic ballets, and this performance was an opportunity for these dancers to let loose a bit from classical ballet restraints, combined with Maillot’s unique point of view regarding Shakespeare’s classic play.
Broadway’s An American in Paris
January 21, 2016
By Mark Kappel
When the Broadway musical, An American in Paris opened on Broadway last year, it was hailed as the come back of dance to Broadway. Dance played central roles in such musicals as A Chorus Line, Contact, and others. But in many musicals produced today a dance element would be a minor component or non-existent. An American in Paris is a Broadway musical which emphasizes the communication of narrative through dance movement. And after less than a year after its opening on Broadway, An American in Paris is a glittering and sparkling entertainment.
An American in Paris is an inspired stage adaptation of the Academy Award-winning film which starred Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, set to a soundtrack of music by George and Ira Gershwin. The atmosphere was Paris after World War II, where a romance bloomed between an American soldier, and a French shop girl. This classic film, with a screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner and directed by Vincente Minnelli, included iconic choreography by Gene Kelly, telling a uncomplicated story of youth and romance – perfectly in words, music and dance.
Director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has adeptly translated all of these qualities to this stage version with changes and additions to the music that had been used for the film, and a book adaptation that differs from the film. Craig Lucas’ revision of the story has changed some of the characters’ background stories, and emphasizes the reality of what Paris had been like shortly after World War II. In the musical’s opening montage there are vestiges of the Nazi occupation – symbols, and banners – and how Parisians found ways to survive during those difficult times. Composer Adam Hochberg assumes the role of the narrator, and sets the scene of Paris after having suffered through the war years, and the story of romance which is the focal point of An American in Paris.
It is in the opening montage that Jerry Mulligan, an American World War II vet, has a chance meeting with LIse Dassin, who is a perfume shop girl by day, and an aspiring ballerina -- her mother being a well-known French ballerina. Further altering Lise’s back story is that Lise’s parents had been arrested by the Nazis, and she was protected by the rich Baurel family, whose son, Henri, wishes to distance himself from his family’s business.
As Lise is a ballerina, a ballet being created for her becomes the framework for the triangular love story that is set in motion. Jerry Mulligan (the American World War II vet), Adam Hochberg, (the composer), and Henri Baurel (the aspiring nightclub entertainer), all vie for Lise’s attention and affection. The famous An American in Paris ballet is now a ballet designed by Mulligan, with a score composed by Hochberg, and it is Baurel’s family, and an American art lover, Milo Davenport, who contribute the money to pay for the ballet.
The American in Paris ballet has designs influenced by Mondrian, and a neo-classic look created by Christopher Wheeldon. But for the switching of partners between Lise’s dance partner in the ballet company, and Mulligan, this ballet sequence doesn’t have narrative content. However, throughout An American in Paris, Christopher Wheeldon uses dance to tell this story with little exposition and relatively little dialogue. Wheeldon’s strengths as a choreographer were evident in the dance number, Fidgety Feet, and in the An American in Paris ballet.
What brings this story, and singing, and dancing, to life is the multi-talented cast. Wheeldon chose actors for the principal roles whose abilities had their strength in dance. Robert Fairchild, a principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, and Leanne Cope, a member of the Royal Ballet, play, dance, and sing the roles of Jerry Mulligan, and Lise Dassin. Both are winning in their roles and you immediately hope that these characters will get together in the end no matter what the obstacles.
The supporting roles are played by Broadway veterans including Veanne Cox as Madame Baurel, Jill Paice as Milo Davenport, Brandon Uranowitz as Adam Hochberg, and Max von Essen as Henri Baurel. All of them lived their parts – often moving forward the narrative of An American in Paris with their witty deliveries of the dialogue and their repartee.
Further enhancing the atmosphere of An American in Paris are Bob Crowley’s costume and scenery designs, and Natasha Katz’s lighting designs. This is accomplished through recreating the sights of Paris in digital and animated form – helping to create the visual and dramatic pictures in the show.
An American in Paris holds a unique place in terms of current Broadway fare, It is not only for the dance lover, but also would be enthralling and entertaining for all audiences.
Maurice Hines Tappin’ Thru Life
New World Stages
January 9, 2016
By Mark Kappel
Opening on January 11th, 2016, Maurice Hines Tappin’ Thru Life is described as a new song and dance musical. However its underpinnings reflect an autobiographical journey for Maurice Hines who started his career in a family act that played nightclubs, and performed on television variety hours -- and expanding his career by working in the Broadway theater as a performer and choreographer. With his brother, Gregory, and his father, the act was known as Hines, Hines and Dad, performers who were multiple threats – but one of their particular talents was the showmanship and bravura they displayed in their tap routines.
All of this and more was on display at New World Stages in this wholly entertaining evening with reminisces about Hines’ performing life supported by the tap-dancing brothers, John and Leo Manzari, the 12-year-old tap dancing wunderkind, Luke Spring, and the all female Diva Jazz Orchestra, in a show directed by Jeff Calhoun.
Maurice Hines began working in show business when he was five years old. Hines, as an able story-teller, describes his performing roots, and relates his experiences working with the royalty of music including Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Judy Garland and others too numerous to mention. Also mentioned is the strained relationship he had with his brother, Gregory, and also how his parents, and grandmother supported his involvement in show business. This nostalgic journey is enhanced by photos of Hines’ family and the musical greats he worked with.
To elucidate his personal narrative Hines sings many of the standards including songs from Guys and Dolls, and My Fair Lady, Charlie Chaplin’s Smile, and vintage favorites such as Honeysuckle Rose which was sung in tribute to Lena Horne.
Especially poignant is Hines dancing a soft shoe number – choreographed by Henry LeTang for himself and his brother Gregory – with a spotlight substituting for Gregory Hines.
The Hines Brothers made their Broadway debuts dancing with French ballerina Jeanmarie in The Girl in Pink Tights, which was choreographed by the venerable Agnes De Mille. Hines has enhanced his theater credits through his career in the Broadway productions of Sophisticated Ladies and Bring Back Birdie, and national tours of Guys and Dolls, Jelly’s Last Jam, and Harlem Suite. He has also directed, choreographed and starred in Uptown…It’s Hot!, and directed and choreographed Hot Feet, both of which made it to Broadway.
But Hines’ roots are as an entertainer, and in Tappin’ Thru Life Hines exhibits his abilities as an actor, singer, and dancer – and story teller – in a performance showing off his charisma -- a true entertainer in the classic sense. Hines is supported by the incredible Manzari Brothers, Luke Spring – all of whom give Hines a run for his money in the tapping department – and the virtuoso performances by musician members of the Diva Jazz Orchestra.
Maurice Hines Tappin’ Thru Life is a show about Hines’ love for entertaining an audience, and thrives on what an audience gives to him in return. And for anyone who craves this genre of entertainment, sprinkled with some of the finest tap dancing you will ever see, you must experience this marvelous show for yourself.
Noel, Tallulah, Cole and Me, John Wilson’s Memoir of Broadway
By Mark Kappel
Published by Rowman and Littlefield, Noel, Tallulah, Cole and Me, John C. Wilson’s Memoir of Broadway’s Golden Age, is an engrossing, engaging, and entertaining journal of anecdotes by a veteran Broadway producer and director, whose relationships with the Broadway elite were unique.
John Wilson was a producer and director in both London and New York, and up until now, his story has remained relatively obscure. He left behind an unpublished memoir which was passed down through his family, and only recently, Wilson’s great nephew, Jack Macaulay, pursued publishers to bring this memoir to the reading public – with the assistance of Professor Thomas Hischak, a leading theater expert.
Wilson was involved in the theatre from 1925-1955, and he was the producer of, and/or director of many plays by Noel Coward, and he staged the original Broadway productions of Kiss Me Kate, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. He was also the romantic partner of Noel Coward for many years, and ultimately married the first cousin of the last czar of Russia.
Wilson’s track record as a producer or co-producer was enviable as he produced 37 Broadway productions and 15 were hits (having made a profit), and in London, out of the 17 productions he produced, 13 were hits. A prodigious number of plays, musicals, and revivals of plays and musicals, on Broadway, off-Broadway, London, and television. And in 1941 he began his tenure as general manager, co-producer, and director of the Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut.
Wilson’s relationship with Noel Coward began in 1925 during Wilson’s travels in Europe, and he moved to London to be Coward’s lover and business manager. There are wonderful anecdotes about Coward in this memoir including Coward’s juggling of his appearances on stage, and writing plays and revues, and his casting decisions – including the casting of a young Laurence Olivier in the role of Victor Prynne in the original London cast of Private Lives.
Wilson’s memoir includes matter of fact descriptions of his experiences working with the many theater luminaries of the day. His interest in finding an actress who could play Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes focused on Carol Channing because he wanted an actress who could make an audience laugh in that role, and Channing was the only actress who had auditioned who fit these requirements.
Mr. Wilson also worked with Olivier in the London production of Edna Ferber’s and George S. Kaufman’s The Royal Family, and Greer Garson, playing a small role in the London production of Mademoiselle.
Wilson also closely worked with Tallulah Bankhead and writes in detail of Bankhead’s battles with Phillip Barry when she appeared in his play Foolish Nation, and mentioned his memories of working with Marlon Brandon in another Bankhead vehicle, Jean Cocteau’s The Eagle Has Two Heads.
Wilson knew well the movers and shakers in the theatre world as well as the socially connected in New York and London. The memoir has been annotated with biographies of the many luminaries Wilson came into contact with as well as descriptions of the plays and the projects he was involved in.
Noel, Tallulah, Cole and Me represents a remarkable documentation of theater history that informs and entertains.
“But He Doesn’t Know The Territory” The Making of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man By Meredith Willson
By Mark Kappel
Originally published in 1959, the University of Minnesota Press has re-issued Meredith Willson’s memoir, “But He Doesn’t Know The Territory” The Making of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, an anecdotal journal focusing on The Music Man’s route to Broadway.
The Music Man has been praised by many as an iconic American musical based on the lifetime experiences of the composer Meredith Willson growing up in a small town in Iowa. The story of a con-artist salesman, Harold Hill, who makes a random stopover in Iowa City, Iowa, to sell musical instruments and band uniforms to the local children – but not having any experience or credentials to teach music or to organize a band. Harold Hill’s presence in Iowa City turns this small town upside down, he falls in love with the local music teacher, and changes the lives of the citizens of Iowa City in the most positive way.
Willson, himself, had a varied career in the music business. He was a musician, orchestrator, conductor, and composer of Broadway musicals and film scores. Willson also composed symphonic works and chamber music, and popular songs. He composed only four musicals. Three of which, The Music Man, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and Here’s Love, made it to Broadway.
Willson’s memoir is as intimate as a memoir can be describing the genesis and development of a Broadway musical in the 1950’s during the time period that is often described as the Golden Age of Broadway Musicals. The Music Man had to make its own individual journey to Broadway which is a different journey from the journeys Broadway musicals must make today. It was a different time and place, and the story told in The Music Man reflects a more innocent time as well.
The Music Man is often performed by high school and college dramatic groups, and community theaters, even though it has only been revived once on Broadway. And many of the names attached to The Music Man are less familiar to audiences of today, but this memoir tells a fascinating story.
Among the inside stories was the long list of actors who were considered for the role of Harold Hill including Dan Dailey, Gene Kelly, Ray Bolger, Jackie Gleason, Danny Kaye, Lloyd Bridges, Phil Harris, Milton Berle, Art Carney, and Bert Parks (who eventually was a replacement in the role during its Broadway engagement). Although many of these actors were formally approached to play Harold Hill the reasons why they turned down the role are revealing in regard to what was at stake for an actor to be the star of a Broadway musical at the time. Particularly as so many of these actors had very successful film careers and didn’t want to put important film projects on hold. But it seemed to be a Eureka moment when Robert Preston auditioned for the role of Harold Hill and got the role which Preston also played in the movie version.
And then there was the pursuit of Kermit Bloomgarden to be the director – which is an example of persistence and intensity on Willson’s part – going after what you want – and the relief that the best of Broadway’s talent was confirmed to direct, as well as costume and scenery designers, and a theatre was also booked.
But Willson also journals the genesis of the script and how it developed working with Franklin Lacey – and what actually appeared on the Broadway stage after plot elements were manipulated and eliminated after more than thirty drafts of the script. Also described is the long tryout period on the road which was typical of the time during which the creative team had to make changes, persuade actors to absorb criticism, and also how audiences responded to the original material and new material as The Music Man evolved.
One of the out of town experiences described was during the final week of the Philadelphia tryout, when Robert Preston’s understudy, Larry Douglas, had to go on with little or no rehearsal, without having the latest script and music revisions, and choreography, yet every member of the cast was there to help him through it, an example of how important out-of-town tryouts are for creating camaraderie among the cast members.
For me this fascinating memoir was revealing on a personal note because The Music Man was the first Broadway musical that I experienced – unforgettable moments and unforgettable memories. Now these many years later I have been informed about how The Music Man reached Broadway. If you haven’t read this wonderful memoir already, it is a must read.
Bolshoi Ballet Dances The Lady of the Camellias
December 6, 2015
By Mark Kappel
Under the guidance of artistic director Sergei Filin, the Bolshoi Ballet has reached out to many Western European choreographers to acquire repertoire and commission new works. On December 6, 2015, Fathom Events presented a live screening of the Bolshoi Ballet’s production of John Neumeier’s The Lady of the Camellias – one of these new acquisitions – which had its company premiere in 2014.
Neumeier created The Lady of the Camellias for the Stuttgart Ballet, which premiered the ballet in 1978, as a vehicle for Stuttgart Ballet star, Marcia Haydee. The Stuttgart Ballet and American Ballet Theatre have both performed this ballet in New York.
The ballet is based on the familiar story by Alexandre Dumas, and Neumeier’s story-telling structure focuses on the relationship between Marguerite Gautier and Armand Duval. Neumeier conveys this story in romantic and compelling pas de deux, and all danced to piano concertos and piano music by Chopin. Neumeier has also interpolated the story of Manon Lescaut and Des Grieux which is presented in Marguerite’s flashbacks predicting what fate might be before her. This reference is in Dumas’ story as the book, Manon Lescaut, is gifted to Marguerite. In contrast to the opera approach to this story, the ballet is produced with a minimum of scenery which is enhanced by elaborate costuming designed by Jurgen Rose. The ballet has all of the ingredients to be mined by the Bolshoi Ballet’s dancers.
Neumeier begins the ballet with a Prologue in which Marguerite’s possessions are being auctioned after her death. Armand Duval arrives at this auction late and emotionally stressed – and begins to remember his relationship with Marguerite which is represented in episodes and flashbacks. Unlike other of Neumeier’s narrative ballets, Lady of the Camellias’ plot is told in a linear fashion. Neumeier has given most of the dancing to the interpolated characters of Manon Lescaut and Des Grieux, and several supporting characters that appear in Dumas’ original story. In the end Marguerite is left to her fate and dies alone.
Although Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias is flawed in many aspects as it is more of a dance play than a ballet, and the combination of Chopin music and silence often does not provide the necessary dramatic underpinnings for the important events in the story, it is a vehicle for a superb dramatic ballerina.
The Bolshoi Ballet fielded a high caliber cast which also included a guest artist. Svetlana Zakharova displaying both her dancing and dramatic skills played Marguerite and guest artist Edvin Revazov of the Hamburg Ballet played the role of Armand. Zakharova was glamorous and sympathetic as Marguerite, and Revazov as Armand was tremulous, supportive, and dramatically believable throughout his romantic relationship with Marguerite.
Integral in this ballet are the characters of Manon and Des Grieux who represent the past and future of what the relationship between Marguerite and Armand might be like. These characters also shoulder most of the interesting and powerful dancing. These roles were danced in a multi-dimensional manner by Anna Tikhomirova as Manon Lescaut, and Semyon Chudin as Des Grieux.
Also notable were the performances of supporting characters in the ballet, Kristina Kretova as Prudence Duvernoy, Mikhail Lobukhin as Gaston Rieux, Andre Merkuriev as Monsieur Duval, Daria Khoklova as Olympia, and Vyacheslav Lopatin as Count N. These dancers gave flesh and blood to these characters in emotionally and dramatically charged performances, which, for some reason, Neumeier has only sketched out.
Neumeier’s The Lady of the Camellias remains a ballet that doesn’t reach its important plot points in an expedient manner, and often labors with too much or too little choreography to tell its story. However The Bolshoi Ballet’s performance of The Lady of the Camellias was a reflection of the company opening up its artistic horizons, and Fathom Events’ live screening of this performance allows a worldwide audience to view the Bolshoi Ballet dancing a ballet which has not been included in its touring repertoire.
Valentina Kozlova’s Dance Conservatory Performance Project Presents Nutcracker Winter Suite
December 5, 2015
By Mark Kappel
In a departure from past years, Valentina Kozlova’s Dance Conservatory Performance Project did not present a full-length production of The Nutcracker. Focusing on the intermediate and advanced students of Kozlova’s Dance Conservatory of New York, this year’s presentation was an abridged version, Nutcracker Winter Suite, which did not rely on the traditional libretto, and focused on the dancing itself.
With choreography and staging by Margo Sappington, Valentina Kozlova, and Vitaly Verterich, Nutcracker Winter Suite included all of the familiar pieces from The Nutcracker including Act I’s Snow Scene, and in the Land of the Sweets, the Grand Pas de Deux, the national dances, the Waltz of the Flowers and also dances which connected these divertissements including the interpolated character of the Christmas Star.
This performance presented on December 5, 2015 at Symphony Space, was shorter in length – compressed to about 70 minutes -- but still provided a great deal of dancing and a measuring stick for the excellent training and mentoring that Kozlova’s students are receiving.
In this performance the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Her Cavalier were danced by Nikita Boris and Justin Valentine, prize winners at the Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition this past year. Both showed grace and poise, and professionalism in The Nutcracker Act II Grand Pas de Deux.
Valentine did double-duty partnering Revital Naroditski as the Snow King and Queen in the Snow Scene, and also notable were Caroline Grossman as the Christmas Star, Brecke Swan in the Arabian Dance, Mari Bell and Jack Furlong in the Russian Dance, Yuri Cho, Anna Christina Rocha, Elizabeth Seibel, and Katya Skorniakova in the Marzipan, and Isabelle Breier and Anna Guerrero in the Spanish Dance.
All of these dancers were featured in the equivalent of the ballet’s Act II Finale, providing a suitable ending to this presentation, and a celebration of the holiday season.
Fathom Events Presents The Kenneth Branagh Theater Company In The Winter’s Tale
November 30, 2015
By Mark Kappel
When one of the major stars of theater and screen organizes a theater company of his own one must take notice. Kenneth Branagh, who has appeared regularly on the London stage, has founded his own theater company which debuted in its first performances at the Garrick Theater in London. Participating in this venture as an actor-manager – and director – Branagh makes a personal artistic statement in his choice of plays that comprise this company’s repertoire, and how these plays are produced and performed.
Fathom Events has made it possible for a wider audience to experience the maiden voyage production of this new theater company, William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, which was screened worldwide on November 30, 2015.
The first recorded performance of The Winter’s Tale was in 1611 at Whitehall before King James I, and in 1613 The Winter Tale’s was presented as part of the wedding celebrations of King James’ daughter, Elizabeth (who became as the Winter Queen of Bohemia) to Frederick V. Elizabeth of Bohemia was the grandmother of the first Hanoverian, George I, to ascend to the throne of England.
Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is an enigmatic play because it cannot be defined as a comedy or a tragedy in conventional terms. This play about jealousy and betrayal has both elements of comedy and tragedy. This production, co-directed by Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford, attempts to bridge and define this juxtaposition. This is accomplished in an intimate production that presents the twists and turns of the play’s plot to the audience in an immediate mode.
In this version of The Winter’s Tale, the play is presented in the environment of a Christmas Court and designed to appear that this tale is taking place within a Victorian Christmas Card. Snow is falling in the royal court of Bohemia. In this festive atmosphere, the royal family begins the Christmas celebration sitting down to watch the home movies of King Leontes of Bohemia, and his boyhood friend, King Polixenes of Sicilia, and it is from that starting point that Shakespeare’s tale is told.
This tragic comedy of obsession and redemption is initiated by King Leontes (played by Kenneth Branagh), who has power and wealth, a loving family and loyal friends but his jealousy sets in motion a series of events and intrigues that result in tragic consequences. Leontes is convinced that his friend, Polixenes (played by Hadley Fraser) is having an affair with his wife, Hermione (played by Miranda Raison), which destroys the friendship of these two kings. Leontes puts his wife on trial and then sends her to prison.
Upon his wife giving birth to their child, Leontes is convinced it is an illegitimate child and orders the child to be abandoned. Paulina (played by Judi Dench), and her husband Antigonus (played by Michael Pennington) protect the child, and put the child in the care of a shepherd in the kingdom of Sicilia.
From tragedy to well-mannered comedy, the plot of The Winter’s Tale shifts years later when the children of Leontes and Polixenes, Perdita (played by Jessie Buckley) and Florizel (played by Tom Bateman) find each other, and in spite of the doubts imparted by their fathers, they receive the blessing of both kings to marry. A political necessity as Leontes’ heir, Mamillius has died.
It is no wonder that although The Winter’s Tale was considered to be a comedy, it is now placed in the category of Shakespeare’s late romances as most of the play is filled with psychological drama. It is only in the final acts of the play that there are comedic moments, and the plot’s loose ends are tied up into a happy ending.
The co-directors of this production have been able to expose the sexual tensions and jealousy in the plot of The Winter’s Tale most effectively – and also by placing the action of the tragic components of the play in the colder climate of Bohemia – and then placing the more comic moments in the milder environment of Sicilia – the contrasts in The Winter’s Tale are emphasized.
The Winter’s Tale is also known for its curious bit of stage direction, “exit pursued by a bear” and in this production, the death of Antigonus by a polar bear is accomplished with projections and zips by in a flash.
Branagh plays Leontes as a tormented character susceptible to the Shakespearean tragic flaw of jealousy – a flaw many of Shakespeare’s characters suffer from. Branagh’s performance as Leontes convinces the audience that there might be some justification for his jealousy, and it is there that Branagh illuminates the emotional struggle that Leontes is going through.
Judi Dench as Hermione’s loyal friend, Paulina, is protective, speaks her mind, and has the foresight to protect the life of Perdita. Dench brings a quiet dignity to the role of Paulina commanding the stage during every moment she is before the audience.
Miranda Raison is imposing and full of grace as Hermione – especially in the scene where she transforms herself from statue to a spirit which haunts Leontes. But the other cast members Hadley Fraser, Jessie Buckley, Tom Bateman, and Michael Pennington all play well together creating a unique interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s enigmatic plays.
Fathom Events Presents David Suchet in The Importance of Being Earnest
November 3, 2015
By Mark Kappel
Fathom Events not only presents live cinema screenings of ballet performances, and has increased its offerings of live theater performances as well. Fathom Events made it possible for an international audience to see the recent London revival of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest with David Suchet as Lady Bracknell on November 3, 2015.
Considered one of Wilde’s greatest achievements and a play that seems to age like wine, it is a parody and satire of Victorian social morays and view of marriage, with the added ingredient of false personas unraveling – in particular that of John Worthing, who has a double life – one in London and another in the country – in pursuit of the hand of Gwendolen Fairfax.
In this superb and sparkling revival directed by Adrian Noble, there is the secret ingredient of a male actor playing the role of Lady Bracknell – a tradition in British musical hall and pantomime that also goes back to Shakespeare’s day – and adds a particular resonance to the play’s comic moments.
In this revival of The Importance of Being Earnest, it is David Suchet who subtlety chews the scenery as the self-described gorgon, Lady Bracknell, wreaking havoc, verbalizing insolent barbs at the principal characters, and ultimately resolving the chaos that the principal characters have created. Whether intended or not this unique casting choice creates many more opportunities to mine the satire and comedic moments in Wilde’s play.
Then there is Suchet as the unique actor that he is as he lives and breathes Lady Bracknell, reading a line like it could cut a diamond, and makes the interview scene hilarious with subtle gesture, a wink and a smile, and wit. His glare would cut steel – and cut down anybody in Lady Bracknell’s way – a force to be reckoned with.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the Roundabout Theater Company in New York presented a very successful revival of The Importance of Being Earnest in which Brian Bedford played the role of Lady Bracknell. Also Mark Rylance appeared in the role of Olivia in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night on Broadway with the Globe Theater Company, and there have also been the acclaimed performances of Jefferson Mays in the musical The Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, and Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It is not such a contrast with traditional casting these days, but nevertheless a trend that exposes new and different aspects of these characters.
However Lady Bracknell is actually a supporting character in Wilde’s play, and it is the romantic entanglements of the four young characters that are the core of this play. Emily Barber as Gwendolen Fairfax, Michael Benz as John Worthing, Philip Cumbus as Algernon Moncrieff, and Imogen Doel as Cecily Cardew, direct their daggers at each other, unravel mysteries – and those mysteries are unraveled by the supporting character of Miss Prism (played by Michele Dotrice) who is having her own flirtation with the local vicar, Reverend Canon Chasuble (played by Richard O’Callaghan).
Adrian Noble’s able direction keeps this revival’s tempo moving forward at a quick pace but leaving room and space for the comic lines to land -- providing the opportunities for all of the actors in this revival to shine.
The alchemy of the direction and the strength of the acting performances by this talented cast results in a delightful revival of this comedy of manners in which all’s well that ends well.
Ballet Memphis Returns to New York
October 29, 2015
By Mark Kappel
Ballet Memphis, a youthful company and earning national recognition – directed by Dorothy Gunther Pugh, and based in Memphis, Tennessee -- returned to New York performing at the Joyce Theater from October 27 – November 1, 2015. This was Ballet Memphis’ second engagement at the Joyce Theater having made its Joyce Theater debut in 2007.
Ballet Memphis’ repertoire includes full-length ballets and one-act works, but has enhanced its reputation by commissioning new works on a regular basis. For this engagement, most of the works that Ballet Memphis performed were from the company’s Memphis Project and River Project series. Three of the new works presented on this program included local Memphis references whether it was in the music or in the subject matter. All of the works presented had their premieres within the last three years. Ballet Memphis consistently brings the flavor of Memphis to New York during its infrequent New York engagements.
On October 28, 2015, Ballet Memphis performed a mixed-bill program which included the work of four choreographers, two of which are company members. This survey of works from Ballet Memphis’ repertoire indicates the growth and range of the company – and the mentoring of choreographic talent that is so necessary for the art form.
The choreographer most familiar to New York audiences was Matthew Neenan, who was represented by The Darting Eyes.
The jumping off point for this piece was inspiration from images of baptisms along the shores of by the Mississippi River. Neenan included many ideas in this work as well as presenting images of local “characters”. These images were conveyed in a mix of dance styles from classical to modern and vernacular. As a musical soundtrack Neenan employed gospel, bluegrass, and Handel, which also reflected the myriad of images he was conveying in his piece.
Gabrielle Lamb is better known in New York as a dancer than a choreographer. She was represented on this program by I Am A Woman: Moult. In Lamb’s work women were costumed in corsets and hoops – and moved in controlled formations and patterns set against the movements of men wheeling mannequins on and off the stage. The dancers connected in groups yet created an atmosphere of randomness – and also isolation.
The remaining two works on this program were contributions by two of Ballet Memphis’ dancers.Steven McMahon was represented with the opening work on the program, Confluence, which was danced to a soundscape of Gospel music as well as Dvorak. Described as a work picturing the building of a community, Confluence is light and airy, specific in its choreographic vocabulary, and showed off the company’s dancers.
Reflecting women’s issues was Rafael Ferreras, Jr.’s Politics – presented in an office setting – with the movement vocabulary a mixture of ballet and hip-hop. This work included a cast of eight women – dancers who danced on pointe, and dancers who danced in sneakers – the latter dancing choreography influenced by the local Memphis derived hip-hop style of Jookin’ – and danced to spirituals sung by a group of local Memphis singers – and also Bach. The women, dancing in different styles, were not represented as rival groups, but in removing their sneakers and pointe shoes at the end of the piece, there seemed to be a unity and a joining together of these women.
All four works on the program presented a wide range of new commissions by Ballet Memphis, and were danced by a group of talented and committed dancers.
I wish the company could perform in New York more often in order to observe its artistic development, as the company experiments with the artistic visions of many different choreographers..
Paper Mill Playhouse Presents New Musical - The Bandstand
October 24, 2015
By Mark Kappel
In supporting its mission to present new musicals, and to do so making an evening out less expensive than travelling into New York to see a Broadway musical, the Paper Mill Playhouse opened its 2015-16 season with a new musical, The Bandstand. Being presented at the Paper Mill Playhouse from October 8 through November 8, 2015, the plot of The Bandstand focuses on a group of returning World War II veterans who have music in common – and ultimately form a band.
There is much to celebrate in The Bandstand. First it is an American musical with an important American story to tell, and it is a musical that has been inspired by American veterans returning from World War II – a metaphor for the struggles that many of the military veterans of recent Middle East wars are experiencing today. Their inspiring stories are what make The Bandstand both entertaining and compelling.
The collaborative team for The Bandstand does not have a Broadway track record. The Bandstand’s music has been composed by Richard Oberacker, and Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker have collaborated on the book and lyrics. But the production is helmed by Andy Blankenbuehler, as both director and choreographer, who is represented on Broadway with his choreography for Hamilton, and was the director/choreographer for the Broadway musical, Bring It On!
Circa 1945, The Bandstand focuses on a mismatched band of military veterans who join together to compete in a national songwriting competition hosted by a local radio station in Cleveland that my take them to the national finals in New York City, and a possible career in a Hollywood musical. The leader and organizer of the band is an aspiring composer, Donny Novitski, who wishes to form a band consisting of only military veterans – all of whom have their own demons to cope with partially caused by their traumatic experiences during their World War II service. They encounter the challenges of adjusting to civilian life, complicated relationships they get involved in, which often distracts them from their professional goals. This is a story about the veterans who return to Main Street America.
As the story focuses on how the returning soldiers cope with post traumatic stress disorder, emotional and involving moments are presented – with the emphasis on bonding, and friendship and loyalties – and the aspirations of a young generation who aspire to a better life than what had been planned for them because of the eventuality and dislocation caused by World War II. This is not as maudlin as described. This is a vibrant and fascinating story – gripping – and most important, entertaining.
The original score for The Bandstand, influenced by 1940’s swing music, is lively and is that much more engaging as much of the music is played by the actors. Music is an important focal point in their lives, and the actors playing the music, performing it, and being inspired by it, enhances the story of these military veterans. Throughout the musical score draws the characters, and expresses those characters’ emotions. The final musical number, Welcome Home, expresses the frustration and outreach for support that our returning military veterans desperately need.
Director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler connects the plot elements at a quick pace including an opening number which presents a great deal of exposition, and introduces the principal characters. The choreography also represents the themes of the characters’ aspirations.
Although the characters need to be more explicitly drawn, the actors playing them bring these involving characters to life. The talent of the cast members cascades over the footlights – a wonderful combination.
Corey Cott as Donny Novitski gives a forceful performance as his theatrical, singing, musical, and dancing skills are tested – and Laura Osnes as Julia Trojan, Novitski’s best friend’s widow – plays her character sympathetically and also assertively Also notable was Beth Leavel in the supporting role of Mrs. Adams, as was the remainder of the featured cast including Joe Carroll as Johnny Simpson, Brandon J. Ellis as Davy Zlatic, James Nathan Hopkins as Jimmy Campbell, Geoff Packard as Wayne Wright, and Joey Pero as Nick Radel.
This musical could not have been placed in better hands than with this excellent cast. Even before The Bandstand opened at the Paper Mill Playhouse there had been buzz about a Broadway transfer. I hope that producers and investors will give the creative team of The Bandstand the opportunity to continue its work and ensure that The Bandstand will be seen by a wider audience. The exuberant standing ovation by the Paper Mill Playhouse’s audience indicated that the themes of The Bandstand strike a chord.
Bolshoi Ballet Dances Giselle
October 11, 2015
By Mark Kappel
To open the Bolshoi Ballet 2015-16 season of live screenings, Fathom Events presented one of the 19th century classics which have been in the company’s repertoire since time immemorial – Giselle. The Bolshoi Ballet currently has two productions of Giselle in its repertoire. One staged by Vladimir Vasiliev which veers from tradition to some extent, and Yuri Grigorovitch’s staging which is more traditional.
Presented on October 11, 2015, the Bolshoi Ballet danced Yuri Grigorovitch’s current production of Giselle, which premiered on May 2, 1987. As with other productions of the classics staged by Grigorovitch, they are produced with an ideal and parable in mind – linked to tradition – but also seen through the prism of a choreographer.
There is also a strong collaboration between Grigorovitch and his designer Simon Virsaladze in terms of the stage pictures that are incorporated into the overall production of the ballets that this team worked on together. And this production of Giselle was the last time they worked together as a team.
The tale of Giselle is typical of other Romantic ballets of the early 19th century in which an innocent woman is deceived by a man – whether it is an aristocrat or a peasant. In Giselle, the innocent village girl is deceived by an aristocrat, Count Albrecht, who disguises himself as a humble peasant. Count Albrecht’s deception unravels when Hans, the Gamekeeper, a rival for Giselle’s affections, reveals that Albrecht is engaged to the Duke’s daughter, Bathilde. When the deception is disclosed, Giselle dies of a broken heart.
It is in the second act of the ballet that Giselle’s forgiving spirit and Albrecht’s regret in his deception that saves Albrecht from the revenge of the Wilis. This simple story allows for a great deal of dancing filling out the details and emotions that are buried in the story, and also creates the differing atmospheres in the ballet’s two acts.
The collaboration of Grigorovitch and his designer, Virsaladze is very much in evidence in Act II of Giselle as a stage picture came out of thin air employing clever stage craft in which Giselle rose out of her grave through a trapdoor, and at the end of the ballet descended into her grave. One could not help not to notice such an appropriate and adept design element.
This particular performance also was greatly anticipated because it paired off the Bolshoi Ballet’s defacto prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova in the title role with guest artist Sergei Polunin dancing the role of Albrecht. Zakharova was not your typical Giselle as she is not fragile while Polunin was remote as an aristocrat would be but not seemingly having any strong affection for Giselle. However their dancing was superbly matched.
Denis Savin portrayed Hans the Gamekeeper as a believable rival for Giselle’s affections, and Ekaterina Shipulina was an aristocratic and imperious Myrtha Queen of the Wilis.
Adding to the pyrotechnics of the performance were Daria Khokhlova and Igor Tsvirko dancing the Act I Peasant Pas de Deux cleanly and with polish.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival – Program Five
October 10, 2015
By Mark Kappel
The closing program presented by the City Center Fall for Dance Festival provided a sampler of a wide variety of dance styles. The Festival’s fifth of five programs, as seen on October 10, 2015, included a rare glimpse of a work by a choreographer that is little known in this part of the world, a modern dance company from Israel, a spirited flamenco performance from Spain, and a piece that paired off a classical ballet dancer with an actor/mime artist.
Opening this performance was the Israeli contemporary dance company, L-E-V, presenting the New York premiere of Killer Pig, a creation by L-E-V’s co-artistic directors, Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar. This piece is described as telling the story of a troubled person ‘s drive by a primal instinct to kill. The music by Ori Lichtik is a soundtrack for a tribal ritual with some of the dancers offering primal screams as they moved and convulsed in confined spaces and within groups. As danced by Gon Biran, Sharon Eyal, Rebecca Hytting, Mariko Kakizaki, Leo Lerus, Douglas Letheren, and Keren Lurie Pardes., this work had inate power.
Bill Irwin and Tiler Peck seemed to be a mismatched pair but brought their talents together in a collaborative work, Time It Was/116, choreographed by them – and Damian Woetzel. Danced to a ticking clock contrasted with Philip Glass violin music and silence, Irwin was represented as a Chaplinesque everyman who is a bit of an outcast, but wishes to seek a relationship with a ballerina. As they exchanged each other’s choreographic vocabulary these dancers revealed many aspects of their personalities – and displayed themselves as unique artists.
The Boston Ballet returned to perform at the City Center Fall for Dance Festival dancing a short work by Soviet choreographer, Leonid Yakobson, which proved to be the most intriguing piece on the program. Yakobson, whose work has rarely been seen in this part of the world was associated with the Mariinsky Ballet , and also choreographed for his own company, Choreographic Miniatures.
When Mikhail Baryshnikov had defected to the West, he often danced Yakobson’s solo, Vestris, and but for Yakobson’s Rodin danced by the San Francisco Ballet represents the limited exposure of Yakobson’s work in the United States. Also notable is that Yakobson’s version of Spartacus preceded Yuri Grigorovitch’s version by a decade.
This ballet oddity was Yakobson’s Pas de Quatre, an homage to the Romantic era choreographed to excerpts from Bellini’s opera, Norma, a work that was given its world premiere by Choreographic Miniatures in 1971. This production was lovingly staged by Vera Solovyeva and Nikolay Levitskiy.
Anton Dolin’s Pas de Quatre was also an homage to the Romantic era but that’s where the similarities end. Yakobson’s creation does not include rivalries among the ballerinas -- no parody either. The fluid choreography was evident when the ballerinas were intertwined in short group dances that framed each ballerina’s solo variation. Besides assured technique and mastery of style there was a calming gentleness in the performances of Maria Baranova, Erica Cornejo, Ashley Ellis, and Misa Kuranaga.
The program ended with the American premiere of Impetu, featuring Jesus Carmona’s virtuoso performance in his self-choreographed solo supported superbly by vocalists Jose Ibanez and Maka Ibanez, and musicians, Daniel Jurado, Oscar Lago, and Thomas Potiron. Cremona’s flamenco solo built up gradually in its power and emotionality. A fitting conclusion to this program and also this year’s City Center Fall for Dance Festival.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival – Program Four
October 9, 2015
By Mark Kappel
The City Center Fall for Dance Festival presented its fourth program on October 9, 2015 featuring an evening of varied dance which included a modern dance company, an Indian dance company, a tap dance company, and one of the leading ballet companies in the United States.
Opening this program with style and grace was Nrityagram from India, dancing the American premiere of Surupa Sen’s Shivashtakam (An Ode To Shiva). Choreographed by artistic director and company member, Surupa Sen, this piece was inspired by a 9th century Sanskrit poem describing the magnificence of Shiva, the cosmic dancer who creates and also destroys. Displayed was precise and stylized movement with commanding performances by Bijayini Satpathy and Surupa Sen, who were supported deftly by musicians, Rohan Dahale, Manu Raj, Jateen Sahu, and Siddhartha Sarkar.
In contrast the San Francisco Ballet was represented by Hans van Manen’s Solo, a six minute piece of choreography for three male dancers danced to violin music by J.S. Bach. The piece was created for the Nederlands Dans Theater in 1997, and has been performed by the San Francisco Ballet since 2012. Solo is a showcase for male virtuoso dancing incorporating movement of every part of the dancers’ bodies – and infused with self-deprecating humor and parody. Displaying their virtuosity was the cast of Gennadi Nedvigin, Joseph Walsh, and Hansuke Yamamoto who sprinkled their performances with entertaining showmanship.
Adding even more contrast was the Stephen Petronio Company dancing Petronio’s Locomotor, a piece in which Petronio explores forward and backward movement in random and symmetrical patterns -- choreographed to music by Clams Casino which included silence, church bells and a compilation of sounds. Petronio choreographs with clean lines which were emphasized in the energetic and dynamic performances of the company’s dancers, Cori Kresge, Gino Grenek, Barrington Hinds, Jaqlin Medlock, Nicholas Scission, Emily Stone, Joshua Tuason, and Melissa Toogood.
Closing Program Four of the Festival was a Festival world premiere choreographed by Michelle Dorrance for her company Dorrance Dance, Myelination, which also included improvisational work by the company’s dancers. This company is an accomplished group of dancers, who danced to live music by Gregory Richardson and Donovan Dorrance, dominated by percussion and voices with the dancers creating a score of their own with their piercing and focused top work. The piece opens with three intertwined dancers in front of the curtain in clever choreography combining arms and legs, then opening to ensemble and solo dances, building to a kinetic conclusion.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival – Program Three
October 7, 2015
By Mark Kappel
The City Center Fall for Dance Festival’s third program included participation by two major dance companies as well as a company from Brazil, and the pairing of a modern dancer with a classical ballet dancer. Another City Center Fall for Dance Festival performance that was enhanced by the variety of dance forms that was presented.
This performance on October 7, 2015 opened with Brazil’s Companhia Urbana de Danca performing Sonia Destri Lie’s EU DANCO – 8 SOLOS NO GERAL, which had premiered in 2011. Lie’s improvised choreography included street dancing and random vernacular dance choreography creating the atmosphere of an urban scene – all on a bare stage. Although the choreographic sequences did not build from one to another, there was spontaneity on stage that was physical and musical. Filling the empty stage space was the energy coming from the excellent dancing of Rafael Balbino, Johnny Britto, Raphael Russier Felipe, Miguel Fernandes, Jessica Nascimento, Julio Rocha, Tiago Sousa, Andre “Feijao” Virgilio, and Allan Wagner.
Fang-Yi Sheu’s Pheromones focused on the pairing of Sheu, and Herman Cornejo, principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre, in a duet which had premiered at the Vail International Dance Festival in 2014. Choreographed to Philip Glass’ Facades, this amorphous modern dance piece defined the striking and different styles of dance that each dancer is a proponent of – no emotional or choreographic variety – just experimenting with movement – and the dancers gave instinctive and polished performances.
Also on this program, the Houston Ballet presented the New York premiere of Stanton Welch’s Maninyas, an abstract work which is a series of solos and duets choreographed to Ross Edwards’ Maninyas Concerto for Violin Orchestra. First danced by the Houston Ballet in 2005, this work for five couples presents these dancers moving in and off the stage through the allusion of walking through shimmering curtains.
Welch’s choreography reflects influences from works by Jiri Kylian and Nacho Duato – and individualizing this work with his own touches of contemporary dance. The exceptional cast of Jessica Collado, Christopher Coomer, Karina Gonzalez, Oliver Halkowich, Elise Elliott, Ian Casady, Katelyn May, Rhodes Elliott, Allison Miller, and Charles-Louis Yoshiyama give the choreography an emotional and dramatic punch – responding to every note of Edwards’ music.
Closing the program was the Paul Taylor Dance Company dancing Taylor’s Brandenburgs, choreographed to the music by J.S. Bach., and premiered on April 5, 1988. In this closer look at Brandenburgs one can see Taylor invoking allusions to George Balanchine’s Apollo as Michael Trunsnovec is inspired by his three muses (Michelle Fleet, Parisa Khobdeh, and Eran Bugge) in intricate and emotional choreographic patterns – as intricate as the music this piece was choreographed to. One saw a master at work – and the wonderful and polished performances by the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s dancers.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival - Program One
October 1, 2015
By Mark Kappel
The City Center Fall for Dance Festival has become known for its variety, presenting important ballet and dance companies both domestic and foreign, and in recent seasons has also commissioned world premieres.
This programming was reflected in this year’s Festival. Its first program seen on October 1, 2015, presented this variety of programming which is available to the ticket-buyer at only $15 a ticket -- making it a bargain in this environment of high ticket prices for many dance presentations in New York City.
Opening this program was the Miami City Ballet, which has performed at the City Center Fall for Dance Festival in the past, but on this occasion the company performed in New York for the first time under the company’s new artistic director, Lourdes Lopez. The Miami City Ballet has earned its reputation for being an exponent of the Balanchine repertoire and style, and for this engagement the Miami City Ballet performed George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante, which has become a standard work in the repertoire of many American ballet companies.
Clearly the Miami City Ballet has reinforced its reputation as being a ballet company that is a faithful interpreter of Balanchine’s choreography and style. Allegro Brillante is a choreographic snapshot but requires both brilliant allegro dancing as well as pure adagio. Patricia Delgado and Renan Cerdeiro led a strong cast of dancers which met the challenges of the ballet’s choreography.
As an ode to an everyman and outsider, Doug Elkins Choreography, Etc. presented Elkins’ Hapless Bizarre, which showcases a modern day Chaplinesque figure who just can’t seem to fit in – and this in a world that is more reminiscent of the 1960’s than the 21st century. In an atmosphere of “how to” books and advice, there is an off-stage voice who attempts to advise this hapless hero – danced by Mark Gindick – trying to be helpful in terms of how he confronts people of all kinds and stature – and how he can fit in. Even the costuming and the music feels like the 1960’s, and the modern and vernacular choreography also alludes to the 1960’s. At times the comedy and parody runs into walls, but Hapless Bizarre provided an entertaining and comic outlook on fitting into a fast-paced world that spans decades.
The L.A. Dance Project, founded by artists from many disciplines, performed Justin Peck’s Murder Ballades. Choreographed to music by Bryce Dessert, Peck exploits the best of the company’s dancers, Stephanie Amurao, Anthony Bryant, Aaron Carr, Julia Eichten, Morgan Lugo, and Rachelle Rafailedes, in a piece that channels Jerome Robbins’ N.Y. Export Op. Jazz. Peck paints a choreographic urban landscape that is integrated with a visual installation designed by Sterling Ruby. Peck’s vocabulary in Murder Ballades is that of contemporary dance with a classical ballet flair that appears from time to time. An overall vision or inspiration is not always coherent throughout the piece. However Murder Ballades showcases the L.A. Dance Project’s dancers.
Closing the program was Che Malambo, making its Festival debut, performing a work of the same name choreographed by Gilles Brinas in collaboration with Che Malambo’s energized dancers. The piece danced by this company of all male dancers, is inspired by a contest dance traditionally performed by gauchos that originated in the 17th century. Enhanced with flamenco style choreography, rhythmic drumming and song, with the dancers utilizing whirling lassos and rapid footwork, this piece becomes a spectacle of virtuoso dancing and a performance that is not only entertaining but exhilarating.
Daddy Long Legs – Two Character Musical Opens At Off-Broadway Davenport Theatre
September 26, 2015
By Mark Kappel
Daddy Long Legs, a musical version of the 1912 novel by Jean Webster, premiered at the Davenport Theatre on September 28th, 2015 for what will be an open-ended engagement. In short, Daddy Long Legs is the first gift of the new theatre season.
Webster’s lineage as the daughter of Mark Twain’s niece and Mark Twain’s business manager with family members also involved in the temperance and suffrage movements – and herself a graduate from Vassar College – is juxtaposed against choosing a heroine for her story that is exactly the opposite. About an orphan, without the privileges or station to be able to succeed in life, but she does.
Webster’s novel has inspired several stage adaptations and also several movies. The collaborative team who was inspired to create this musical version of Daddy Long Legs, Paul Gordon (composer and lyricist), and John Caird (librettist and director), have focused a great deal of their work on adapting great novels to the stage. Daddy Long Legs has been performed in regional theaters in the United States – the first production at California’s Rubicon Theatre Company in 2009 -- and a limited engagement in London. Daddy Long Legs has now made its way to the cozy Davenport Theater.
This two-character musical is set in the early part of the 20th century, and tells the story of Jerusha Abbott (played by Megan McGinnis), the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home. Jerusha is informed that one of the John Grier Home’s trustees has shown an interest in her because of her potential as a writer. That benefactor, Jervis Pendleton (played by Paul Alexander Nolan), but only known to Jerusha as Mr. John Smith, agrees to pay her way through college under the condition that he remains anonymous, and she must write him a letter every month – which not only describes her progress in school but also reveals her personal experiences, and her emotional self. These letters are filled with humor, fantasy, experiences, friendships, wit, frustration, and a growing love for reading and literature, while also describing how Jerusha faces challenges primarily left to her own devices – yet succeeds.
Mr. John Smith is assumed to be old and eccentric, but is actually a young New York bachelor who is the uncle of one of Jerusha’s school classmates. Jerusha names her benefactor, Daddy Long Legs after glimpsing his shadow – a tall long-legged man. Although Jervis doesn’t reveal himself as Daddy Long Legs to Jerusha, he does meet Jerusha under the guise of visiting his niece. When he meets Jerusha there is instant chemistry, and their affection develops over the years.
Jerusha is intellectually curious as she is exposed to a diversity of new ideas during her college years – even joining the Fabians. Jersusha’s earnestness emerges immediately – and the relationship between Jerusha and Jervis is just as much intellectual as emotional. Jerusha describes herself with self-deprecating humor, and an understanding of the benefits of an education.
Their relationship blooms through these letters – and through Paul Gordon’s romantic and melodic score. Jerusha is the heroine of her own story – much in the style of a Jane Austen novel and the universality of a Cinderella story – it is the coming of age of a young woman in a society that is not enthusiastic about a woman searching out educational opportunities much less working – only marriage is in her future.
A highlight of Paul Gordon’s score is “My Manhattan”, a valentine to New York, but there are many gems in Gordon’s score.
John Caird has created a straight forward staging that allows the characters to appear and disappear – and interact – to and from Jervis’ wood-paneled study and Jerusha’s trunk-filled room. Appropriate for an intimate theater’s stage and the immediacy of contact with the audience. This simple and uncomplicated story is told with directness as exemplified in Caird’s adaptation of the story as well.
McGinnis and Nolan have a wonderful chemistry between them, and besides their excellent vocal and acting skills, their performances are among the many reasons that make Daddy Long Longs the delightful and charming theatrical experience that it is.
I would like to pack this intimate and entrancing musical into my suitcase so I could take it wherever I go because of the life lessons that are contained in it.
Lincoln Center at the Movies and Fathom Events Present The San Francisco Ballet
September 24, 2015
By Mark Kappel
Lincoln Center and Fathom Events have entered into a joint venture which will facilitate cinema screenings of performances by American dance companies that will be transmitted all over the world. Under the banner of Lincoln Center at the Movies: Great American Dance, the participating companies during this first season will be the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ballet Hispanico, the New York City Ballet, and the San Francisco Ballet. This joint venture is significant as American dance companies have not jumped in with both feet in regard to the trend of dance companies all over the world turning to cinema screenings to present their performances internationally and expand their audiences.
Screened on September 24, 2015, the first presentation of this series was that of the San Francisco Ballet dancing Helgi Tomasson’s production of Romeo and Juliet.
The San Francisco Ballet premiered Tomasson’s production of Romeo and Juliet in 1994. Standing on the shoulders of choreographers who have translated Shakespeare’s well-known play to dance, and following Serge Prokofiev’s score, Tomasson has followed the blueprint of other productions of Romeo and Juliet. But in so doing, he has streamlined the story-telling to the point that exposition is minimal, and his neoclassic and academic style of choreography adds to the economy of the story-telling language employed to tell this familiar story.
Directed by the experienced dance film maker, Thomas Grimm, the three acts of this production of Romeo and Juliet have been edited down to two hours with the narrative explained and punctuated with quotes from Shakespeare’s play visible on the cinema screen. Act III is preceded by a montage of plot points from Act I and II, which provides the audience with flashback narrative leading up to the final tragic moments of the ballet.
Tomasson hasn’t included any significant departures in his adaptation of Romeo and Juliet but does include two interesting expositional components. Juliet appears in the market scene where Romeo kills Tybalt and observes this tumultuous scene, the anguish of her family, and knowing how this act of violence will effect her relationship with Romeo. Tomasson includes another narrative moment in which Friar Laurence sends a young priest on the mission to contact Romeo and inform him about the plot he and Juliet have conjured up – potions and deception – that would allow this couple to live happily ever after rather than ending in tragic circumstances. The young priest’s journey is represented in crossovers on the stage -- and bumping into and interacting with people along his journey. But the details of how he fails in his mission are not clear. Romeo is seen as being informed about Juliet's death.
One of the enviable pluses in Tomasson’s production is the designs by Jens-Jacob Worsaae which represent a colorful palette and historical accuracy. In many respects it is Worsaae who sets the narrative scene and provides the necessary exposition.
Also the dancers in the principal roles are successful in invigorating the characters. The pairing of Maria Kochetkova and Davit Karapetyan as Juliet and Romeo represent dancers who are capable of bringing to life Tomasson’s choreography and also add emotion and passion. Kochetkova is a waif-like Juliet and one sees her transformation into womanhood, and Karapetyan becomes more and more assured in his pursuit of Juliet even as the tragedy unfolds. Pascal Molat as Mercutio provides the needed comic irony, Luke Ingham as Tybalt the necessary passion-filled malevolence, and Joseph Walsh as Benvolio presenting himself as more than a dispassionate observer of the drama that unfolds.
Over the years, the San Francisco Ballet has made an effort to cast strong dancers and personalities in character roles in the full-length ballets that the company dances. Most notably in Romeo and Juliet was Sofiane Sylve as a cold Lady Capulet, Ricardo Bustmante as Lord Capulet, who is horrified and moved upon learning of Juliet’s death, and the compassion of Jim Sohm as Friar Laurence. Myles Thatcher brings a matinee idol quality to the role of Paris.
This screening was introduced by Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan, and there was a short intermission feature about the young ballet students who participated in the performance of Romeo and Juliet, and also background on how the sword fights were taught and executed.
I hope that this first screening of the series – and the others to come – give a wider audience a perspective on the quality of the work being produced by American dance companies.
A Chorus Line FAQ by Tom Rowan
Published by Applause Theatre and Cinema Books
By Mark Kappel
Tom Rowan’s A Chorus Line FAQ is an authoritative book about all things concerning one of the most beloved Broadway musicals, A Chorus Line, which opened on Broadway in 1975.
Having seen A Chorus Line in its Broadway incarnation eight times, as well as the international company in London, and the most recent Broadway revival in 2006, I can attest to the fact A Chorus Line has proved to be an enduring Broadway masterpiece, and depicts a slice of American life that has proved itself to be universal, resonating with audiences all over the world. A Chorus Line is a musical in which the score, book, direction, and choreography aligned in a unique fashion.
It has been said if a story, play, musical or movie has a plot similar to Cinderella, you will have a hit. And A Chorus Line became a Cinderella a story for the 20th century – and a model for the reality television shows of our time with an audience rooting for the characters to get the job and succeed.
The book for A Chorus Line was developed out of interviews with gypsies – the backbone of American musicals – who dance in the chorus and sometimes are elevated to stardom, and some who were not. It is their stories that are represented in A Chorus Line.
Under Michael Bennett’s skilled direction – and his masterful choreography – the creative team of Nicholas Dante and James Kirkwood (as book writers), Marvin Hamlisch (composer), and Edward Kleban (lyricist), Robin Wagner (scenery designer), Theoni Aldredge (costume designer), and Tharon Musser (lighting designer) collaborated on an iconic musical that is universal and relevant to all audiences. Once must also credit Joseph Papp for taking the risk of developing A Chorus Line in workshops at the Public Theatre – and producing its first performances – and then transferring it to Broadway.
After knowing so much about A Chorus Line and its imprint on the American musical tradition, what don’t we know about A Chorus Line? That’s the starting point of Rowan’s book. And among the least known facts are that Neil Simon contributed to the musical’s book, the character of Zach was partially based on Michael Bennett’s professional and personal life, and there are exhaustive biographies of the creative team of A Chorus Line, and the original Broadway cast members.
One experiences how A Chorus Line was developed through its workshops, how the characters changed, how songs were integrated in this musical, and what second thoughts Michael Bennett and his creative team had along the way. These insights are also included in the descriptions and histories of A Chorus Line’s London production, national touring companies, the film version directed by Richard Attenborough (which included the revelation that Mikhail Baryshnikov had been considered for the role of Zach in one of the proposed film treatments of A Chorus Line), and A Chorus Line’s Broadway revival in 2006.
And there are interesting facts about Michael Bennett’s post A Chorus Line projects including Ballroom – Beverly Sills, Sada Thompson, and Dolores Gray were among those actresses considered for the leading role – and Dreamgirls – requiring Michael Bennett to persuade Jennifer Holliday to return to the cast – Holliday thereafter emerging as a major star in her Tony Award winning performance in the role of Effie White.
Therefore included in this book is everything you wanted to know about A Chorus Line and then some, making A Chorus Line FAQ a must have for those are lovers of A Chorus Line and for theater lovers in general.
National Ballet of China's the Red Detachment of Women
David Koch Theater
July 11, 2015
By Mark Kappel
The National Ballet of China's second offering during its Lincoln Center Festival engagement was a signature work in the company's repertoire, The Red Detachment of Women, which premiered in 1964. The Red Detachment of Women dates back to the Chinese Cultural Revolution, but the ballet's structure is similar to 19th century full-length ballets -- even the style of the choreography speaks Russian, although there are ample influences from Chinese traditional dance. The Red Detachment of Women received some notoriety as it was seen by President Nixon during his historic visit to China in 1972.
Based on a screenplay adapted from the movie of the same name, with choreography by Li Chengxiang, Jiang Zuhui, and Wang Xixian, the plot of The Red Detachment of Women focuses on the conversion of a peasant girl living in Hainan Island, joining the Chinese revolutionary forces, and her rise in the Chinese Communist Party -- during the Ten Year Civil War which took place from 1927-1937.
Qionghua (danced by Zhang Jian) rises from servitude after being harrassed by the wealthy landowner she works for -- ultimately joining the all-female battalion of Red Guards which defeats the landowner who once exploited her.
The exposition of the plot is expressed in short vignettes which are dominated by mime rather than dance. And then there are ensemble dances which are influenced by Chinese traditional dance forms, and classical ballet, which are performed in the atmosphere of dancers waving patriotic banners, and dancing to music that included themes from patriotic songs and anthems -- many of those themes recognized by enthusiastic audience members. These musical moments were supported by a full chorus.
There were many sections in the ballet that were effective fusions of choreography and theater craft. One of the more notable examples was an endless series of soldiers jumping across the stage building momentum along with the music as these revolutionaries went into battle.
The choreography, in many sections of the ballet, is highly militaristic, yet there are many moments in the ballet where emotions shine through as well as the earnestness of the protagonists in their beliefs. But there is no question that this ballet is tinged with propaganda.
At the performance on July 11, 2015, The Red Detachment of Women proved to be an excellent showcase for the company's dancers from the principals down to the character dancers. Both Zhang Jian as Qionghua, and Zhou Zhaojui as the revolutionary commander Hong Changqing, gave tour de force performances.
I look forward to a return visit by this company sooner than later, but also with a more balanced repertoire that reflects the company's expanding artistic vision.
Nationial Ballet of China Dances The Peony Pavilion
David Koch Theater
July 8, 2015
By Mark Kappel
The Lincoln Center Festival's major dance presentation this summer is the National Ballet of China which will be performing at the David Koch Theater from July 8-12, 2015. This marks the company's Lincoln Center debut although the company has appeared in New York at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the past -- the most recent visit being in 2005 when the company performed its film to stage adaptation of Raise Your Lantern.
The National Ballet of China was founded in 1959 creating a new form in dance in China with the support of Russian teachers and choreographers. Emphasis had been placed on the 19th Century Russian classics, but the National Ballet of China, now under the directorship of Feng Ying, has commissioned new full-length ballets based on Chinese themes and stories, and has built on the legacy of inviting many Western choreographers to work with the company including Ben Stevenson, Roland Petit, Natalia Makarova, John Neumeier, and staging works by Maurice Bejart, and John Cranko.
For this engagement the National Ballet of China will be presenting two full-length ballets that have their cultural roots in China. Seen on Jully 8, 2015, the first of these works, The Peony Pavilion, is a ballet in two acts which was premiered in 2008. Based on a play written by Tang Xianzu in the 16th century, The Peony Pavilion is a ballet adaptation of this story in which Du Liniang (danced by Zhu Yan) falls asleep in her garden and dreams of meeting Liu Mengmei (danced by Ma Xiaodong). Du Liniang dreams that they fall in love, but upon awakening from her dream and being obsessed with her love Liu Mengmei, she dies. Du Liniang's ghost descends to the underworld where it is decided that she is supposed to marry Liu Mengmei, and she returns to her garden -- asking Liu to exhume her body and return her to life. When Liu Mengmei attempts to fulfill Du Liniang's wish, he is arrested, but is ultimately pardoned by the Emperor.
Choreographer Fei Bo, with the assistance of adapter and director, Li Liuyi, and producer, Zhao Ruheng, has structured this version of The Peony Pavilion in a non-linear narrative with the important signposts in the story presented in inner dialogues danced by the characters, and one short lvoe pas de deux in Act II danced by Du Liniang and Liu Mengmei. Du Liniang is also represented by two alter egos, the Flower Goddess (danced by Zhuang Jian), and Kunqu (sung by Yu Zuejiao) who appear and disappear in pivotal moments in what is more a dance play than a ballet.
Most of the choreography has its roots in contemporary ballet and modern dance, and in particular, modern dance is represented in the ensembles of dancers, who dance choreography that repeats itself in patterns. Throughout The Peony Pavilion there are stage pictures that are reflective of the hand of the piece's director, and the design team of Michael Simon, Emi Wada, and Han Jiang.
As a soundtrack for this ballet, Guo Weinjing has orchestrated and arranged the music of such Western composers as Debussy, Holst, Ravel, Prokofiev, and Respighi.
In many aspects the Peony Pavilion is a compelling showcase for the well-trained dancers in the company -- more as actors than as dancers -- but nevertheless an opportunity to see a different method of story-telling and a compelling theater experience by the National Ballet of China.
Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Performance Project
June 19, 2015
By Mark Kappel
On June 19th, 2015, the students of the Valentina Kozlova Dance Conservatory Performance Project performed an evening of excerpts from the 19th century repertoire, and new works, at Symphony Space in New York -- a program highlighting the progress and training of the young dancers that they are receiving under the guidance of Valentina Kozlova and her faculty.
Highlighted were three medal winners from the Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition, Justin Valentine dancing La Fille Mal Gardee Pas de Deux with Nikita Boris, and also dancing La Sylphide Pas de Deux with Revital Naroditski. And young Caroline Grossman showing her development as a dancer in Nina Buisson's Shattered Glass.
Also notable were Brecke Swan in both a variation from La Bayadere and in Margo Sappington's Christina's World, as well as the soloists, Caroline Grossman, Elizabeth Seibel, Mari Bell, Maria Celeste Rodriguez Perez, Anna Guerrero, and Nikita Boris in variations from Le Corsaire.
Valentina Kozlova, herself, brought her own artistry to the forefront dancing in Le Reve d'Isadora, inspired by the life and work of Isadora Duncan, choreographed by Margo Sappington, with Vitaly Verterich, who was compelling as Kozlova's partner.
The evening ended with Mari Bell, Nikita Boris, and Revital Naroditski dancing Jazz Samba from Margo Sappington's For Ella, and a deserved bow by all of the students who participated in the perfomance.
Paper Mill Playhouse Presents the World Premiere of Ever After
June 6, 2015
By Mark Kappel
Can there be another take on the Cinderella story -- a story that is universal and is the underlying plot line of most stories written in the past, present -- and no doubt the future?
For its final production of the season, the Paper Mill Playhouse presented a different approach to the Cinderella story, and another possible Broadway-bound musical, Ever After. Ever After, based on the 1998 film of the same that starred Drew Barrymore, is another film to stage adaptation that seems to be the current theater trend. Some of these adaptations "sing" and others do not. Ever After does sing. This clever and enchanting musical, which began performances on May 21, 2015 and will continue through June 23, 2015 -- is a delightful adaptation of a familiar story.
Ever After's protagonist is Danielle de Barbarac, the daughter of a nobleman in 16th Century France, and is committed to servitude to her stepmother. This tweaked version of Cinderella follows Danielle de Barbarac through her adventures standing up to her scheming stepmother, befriending Leonardo da Vinci, ultimately winning over the Crown Prince of France -- all without the help of a fairy godmother -- succeeding with her wits and street smarts. This is an empowered and educated Cinderella who is not in hot pursuit of a Prince Charming.
There are many plot twists in Ever After -- before Happily Ever After. The story begins wtih the arrival of Danielle's stepmother, who finds the living conditions she is confronting to be below her station. Danielle's father dies before his daughter reaches adulthood. But before he departs this earth, he has the intellectual audacity to give his daughter a copy of Thomas More's Utopia.
Danielle's first encounter with her possible Prince Charming, Prince Henry of France, is when he is in the act of running away from the palace and an arranged marriage to the daughter of the King of Spain -- and is stealing Danielle's father's horse. Prince Henry gives Danielle gold francs for her inconvenience. With the Prince's money in hand Danielle goes to court to reclaim a servant who was sold into slavery by her stepmother. Danielle disguises herself as a courtier, and it is at the royal court that Danielle and Prince Henry have another chance meeting that blossoms from friendship to courtship. This is the beginning of Danielle's journey towards Happily Ever After.
Danielle is a survivor -- climbing the social ladder from servant to princess -- and is an accidental princess at that. Her experiences, confrontations, decision-making, and solutions empower her. By a twist of fate, Leonardo da Vinci is enlisted to be a member of her support team, and when their relationship is tested, he persuades Prince Henry and Danielle to let their guard down in order to find happiness.
Ever After's story is involving and imaginative, and it is supported by a score which is chromatic, emotional, and true to the tradition of Lerner and Loewe, and Rodgers and Hammerstein -- tuneful with wry and witty lyrics, and is synergized with the self-deprecating satire that dominates Ever After's book. The score, with music by Zina Goldrich, and lyrics -- and book -- by Marcy Heisler, represent a seamless collaboration and succeeds in tellling a story that is a bit off beat.
Kathleen Marshall is at the helm as director and choreographer, and I hope will be given more time to improve the timing of punch lines in Ever After to allow them to successfully land with more regularity. The foundations are already there within the book and the score. The components just need some clarity and focus. But it stilll prompts one to say that fixes to flaws are easily made, and the work should continue.
Ever After also succeeds because of the talented cast members who bring the characters to life. As a substitute wicked stepmother, Christine Ebersole plays Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent with a glint in her eye and wit. Tony Sheldon brings to life an ageing but intuitive Leonardo da Vinci, and Charles Shaughnessy enlarges the character of King Francis with his adeptness at light comedy. The two protagonists, Margo Seibert as Danielle de Barbarac, and James Snyder, as the object of her affection, Prince Henry, have a unique chemistry.
The cast has great depth including the actors who play the smaller roles and assorted characters that Danielle encounters in her journey. Among them Charl Brown as Captain Laurent, Julie Halston as Queen Marie, Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Gustave, and Mara Davi as Marguerite de Ghent, and Annie Funke as Jacqueline de Ghent, Danielle's stepsisters.
All of the elements in this alchemy make for an entertaining theater experience.
Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition
May 30, 2015
By Mark Kappel
From May 26-30, 2015, the fifth annual Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition was held at Symphony Space in New York. The Competition consisted of four days of rounds for classical ballet, and contemporary choreography and dance, on the Youth, Student, Junior, and Senior Division levels with 180 dancers from 22 countries participating. Besides the awards, scholarships and contracts with professional companies were also on the line with the participants in the classical competition dancing varied repertoire including variations and duets from the 19th century classics -- and compulsory choreography for the contemporary dance competition -- for the men, choreographed by Austin Lam, and for the women, choreographed by Hyonjun Rhee. Also presented was new choreography.
The distinguished jury included Violette Verdy and Mikko Nissinen as Honorary Chairs, Andris Liepa as Chairman of the Judges, Tracy Inman as President of the Jury for Contemporary Dances, and the judges, Deborah Hess, Zhirui Zou, Miriam Messa Pelly, Frank Andersen, Bruno Agati, Nina Buisson, Alexandre Proia, Nina Ananiashvili, Oleksi Bessmertni, Jan Broeckx, Patricia Aulestia, Olga Guardia de Smoak, Pedro Carneiro, Sergei Soloviev, Hae Shik Kim, Sun Hee Kim, Jeon Mi Sook, Jelko Yuresha, Charles Askegard, Jacqulyn Buglisi, Hiller Huhn, Radenko Pavlovich, Shelly Power, Lawrence Rhodes, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Setpime Webre, and Margo Sappington.
The combined Awards Ceremony and Gala took place on Saturday, May 30, 2015 at Symphony Space. During the Awards Ceremony awards were given to the following participants:
Gold Medal - Hanna Park and Kyung Min Kim
Silver Medal - Caroline Grossman
Bronze Medal - Nicole Diaz and Catherine Faia
Gold Medal - Nikita Boris
Silver Medal - Yein Yi
Bronze Medal - Yae Ji Park and Jessica Restivo
Gold Medal - Goh Eun Lee
Silver Medal - Revital Naroditski
Bronze Medal - Nika Afonina
Gold Medal - Nations Wilkes-Davis
Silver Medal - Leroy Mokgatle
Bronze Medal - Justin Valentine
Gold Medal - So Jung Lee
Silver Medal - Francesca Dugarte
Bronze Medal - Jae Eun Jung and Risa Mochizuki
Gold Medal - Wonjun Choi
Silver Medal - Sun Woo Lee and Gian Carlo Perez
Bronze Medal - Byul Yun
Gold Medal - Austin Lam
Silver Medal - Jeong Won Lee
Bronze Medal - Revital Naroditski
Solo 10-13 Years:
Gold Medal - Caroline Grossman
Silver Medal - Katya Saburova and Faith Marshal
Solo 14-16 Years:
Gold Medal - Min Seon Choi
Silver Medal - Nikita Boris
Bronze Medal - Revital Naroditski and Marlena Brinkmann
Solo 17-20 Years:
Gold Medal - Yoon Joo Hun and Hong Lee
Silver Medal - Maria Ribas
Bronze Medal - Hee Rae Kim
Gold Medal - Woo Sung Jeon
Silver Medal - Jeong Won Lee and Ui Heon Jeong
Bronze Medal - Not Awarded
Solo Over 21 Years:
Gold Medal - Yujin Lee
Silver Medal - Ga Yeong Kim
Bronze Medal - Yansi Mendez Bautista
Gold Medal - Austin Lam
Silver Medal - Icaro Freire and Young Chae Kim
Bronze Medal - Guilherme Riku
Gold Medal - Francesca Dugarte/Gian Carlo Perez
Silver Medal - Icaro Freire/Guilherme Riku
Bronze Medal - Lauren Heskath/Leroy Mokgatle
The Gala performance that followed featured many of the medal winners and among the highlights were Gian Carlo Perez and Francesca Dugarte dancing Don Quixote Pas de Deux, Nikita Boris and Justin Valentine dancing La Fille Mal Gardee Pas de Deux, So Jung Lee and Sun Woo Le dancing The Sleeping Beauty Pas de Deux, Goh Eun Lee and Beo Msu Park dancing Talisman Pas de Deux, Caroline Grossman dancing a variation from Le Corsaire, Hanna Park dancing a variation from Harlequinade, Austin Lam dancing How It Began, Leroy Mokgatle dancing Freedom The Tribute, Nations Wilke-Davis dancing a variation from Coppelia, and Icaro Freire and Guilherme Riku dancing Alter Ego.
In tribute to Maya Plizetskaya, Valentina Kozlova gave a heartfelt and emotional performance of Fokine's The Dying Swan. All part of an inspired evening of dance.
The next Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition will be taking place in April 2016.
The Royal Ballet Dances La Fille Mal Gardee
May 5, 2015
By Mark Kappel
Fathom Events' final presentation of this season, in its series of live screenings of the Royal Ballet, was on May 5, 2015 -- the Royal Ballet's performance of La Fille Mal Gardee. Choreographed by Frederick Ashton, La Fille Mal Gardee is a ballet in the Royal Ballet's repertoire that is recognized as a signature work. Based on Jean Dauberval's ballet of the same name, which premiered in the late 18th century, Ashton's version uses the same libretto and the music by Ferdinand Herold -- arranged by John Lanchbery -- and translated this fun Gallic tale into an English pastoral ballet which is further enhanced by Osbert Lancaster designs.
Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardee transcends time and place because this ballet has become a favorite of ballet audiences over decades -- and all over the world. The ballet has also served as an excellent showcase for the dancers appearing in the principal roles of Lise and Colas -- roles originally created by Nadia Nerina and David Blair when the ballet premiered in 1960.
The ballet's plot is as simple as it can be. Widow Simone wishes her daughter, Lise, to be married to a vineyard owner's son, Alain, while Lise prefers Colas, who is a young farmer. The plot's twists and turns evolve into a happy ending. But it is how the characters journey to that happy ending is where the comedy and the unexpected come into play -- and also is vastly entertaining for an audience.
Included in his choreography and concept Ashton channeled his Suffolk countryside reminiscences, Lancashire clog dances and other forms of folk dancing -- and also a maypole dance further reflecting the ballet's country roots. With the story involving a pony and cart, it is a ballet that charms the audience.
The pairing of dancers in La Fille Mal Gardee is most important not only in regard to the chemistry they bring to their roles, but also how they collaborate as dancers. Natalia Osipova as Lise and Steven McRae as Colas seemed to be in tune. They knew their characters and in many ways Osipova is a natural soubrette and McRae is a natural demi-character dancer -- and these are the primary requirements for the protagonists in this ballet. La Fille Mal Gardee is a comic ballet and the rapport between the dancers dancing the principal roles is an important element in the ballet's success.
Besides the principal roles of Lise and Colas, the comic elements are also presented by the leading characters of Widow Simone, Lise's mother, and Alain, Lise's suitor. Then you have the comic chickens with Michael Stojko as the bossy Cockerel.
Performing La Fille Mal Gardee as well as it does is one of the reasons why the Royal Ballet is an internationally-known ballet company.
The Life and Times of Cy Coleman
Published by Applause Theater and Cinema Books
May 1, 2015
By Mark Kappel
Printed by Applause Books, Andy Propst has written an absorbing and fact-filled biography of Cy Coleman, entitled You Fascinate Me So, The Life and Times of Cy Coleman.
Although Cy Coleman had a great reputation as a popular song writer and composed many successful Broadway musicals, he has not been as esteemed as other composers for the Broadway stage.
Propst chronicles Coleman's childhood, his musical education, and forging a career as a jazz and nightclub performer -- typical of living in New York -- but a reflection of Coleman's networking with colleagues and persistence in creating visibility for himself and his music, and putting a roof over his head.
Coleman began his days in the musical field as a child prodigy, then as a jazz pianist and composer of popular songs, and then adding another chapter to his life, he was a prolific composer of Broadway musicals until his death in 2004. Among his best known musicals are Sweet Charity, City of Angels, Barnum, and The Will Rogers Follies. But there are many others of his musicals that have their charm including Seesaw, The Life, I Love My Wife, Little Me, the star vehicle for Lucille Ballet, Wildcat!, and On The 20th Century, which is currently being revived by the Roundabout Theater Company in New York.
Propst's biography of Cy Coleman includes many interesting tidbits and details of Coleman's professional life. Perhaps little known is that Coleman and his then writing partner, Carolyn Leigh, auditioned to compose the score for Gypsy. One of the songs written for that audition for Gypsy, Be A Performer, found itself a new home in the score of Little Me.
Also included in the book is the genesis of Colelman's first pop hit, Witchcraft, and chapters on the significant musicals in Coleman's career. Particularly interesting were the details of the Broadway journey of Wildcat!, and how it was created as a vehicle for Lucille Ball. Also chronicled was the development of Sweet Charity, Seesaw's rocky road to Broadway and opening on Broadway, as well as the ups and down of casting Madeline Kahn in the role of Lily Garland in On The 20th Century.
At a time when Broadway's music was the popular music of the day, the background stories of how and why Coleman's music was recorded, and descriptions of how the songs were interpreted by leading recording artists and nightclub performers, presents a fascinating back story.
The details and anecdotes are annotated with quotes and enhanced with the aid of interviews with Coleman's colleagues, and actors he worked with on his musicals. Besides illuminating the career of one of Broadway's most important composers, Propst's You Fascinate Me So, is a must have for every Broadway musical fan.
Bolshoi Ballet Dances Ivan The Terrible
April 21, 2015
By Mark Kappel
Pathe Live concluded its presentations for the 2014-15 season with its April 21, 2015 screening of the Bolshoi Ballet's production of Yuri Grigorovitch's Ivan The Terrible -- a ballet created during the Soviet era, but presented in a new production that premiered in 2012.
The Bolshoi Ballet performed Ivan The Terrible in New York in 1975 -- the same year the ballet premiered in Moscow. Other than the Bolshoi Ballet, the only other ballet company to perform Ivan The Terrible has been the Paris Opera Ballet.
Like most ballets created during the Soviet era, there is a degree of rewriting of Russian history from a political and moral perspective. In this instance, a condemnation of a Russian czar who wielded uncontrolled power, and created chaos in medieval Russia.
The ballet opens with Czar Ivan IV being crowned and after 13 Boyar daughters are presented to be chosen to be his wife, he selects Anastasia, which proves to be a love match. Over time the relationship between Czar Ivan and the Russian nobility deteriorates. The Boyars plot against him -- led by Prince Kurbsky -- and Anastasia is poisoned when she mistakenly drinks the poison intended for Czar Ivan. Surrounded by political and military enemies, Ivan sinks into madness -- and is demonized -- taking his place in Russian history as Ivan The Terrible.
For his ballet version of Ivan The Terrible Grigorovitch chose Serge Prokofiev's music from the 1944 Eisenstein film, Ivan The Terrible, as well as excerpts from other of Prokofiev's musical pieces, including the Russian Overture, the Alexander Nevsky Cantata, and the Third Symphony. Similar to the formula in his production of Spartacus, Grigorovitch focused on a heroic style of choreography and gesture, creating a demonic portrait of Czar Ivan and tragic portraits of Ivan's wife, Anastasia, and his rival, Prince Kurbsky.
In an intermission interview with Boris Akimov, the creator of the role of Prince Kurbsky, he revealed that Kurbsky was not a principal character in Ivan The Terrible when the ballet was in rehearsals. In the end, Grigorovitch felt it would add to the plot -- based on historical research -- to depict the evolving relationship between Ivan and Kurbsky, who were close. But the relationship deteriorated into an adversarial one over time. Kurbsky also secretly loved Ivan's wife, Anastasia, which added tension to their friendship, and to the tragedy when Kurbsky's plot resulted in the horrible mistake of Anastasia being poisoned.
Throughout the ballet Grigorovitch utilizes the ensemble to represent every strata of Russian medieval society -- and does so with the ensemble manipulating the ropes of church bells -- acting as a Greek chorus observing the political chaos during the terrible times of Czar Ivan. Choreography for the ensemble groups tended to be ritualistic and repetitive which aptly enhanced these chaotic times.
But Grigorovitch was at his best when cleverly filling in the details with stage craft throughout this ballet including the horrifying depiction of how Ivan sinks into madness by being captured in the spider web of the ropes that ring the church bells.
Although Ivan The Terrible doesn't represent Grigorovitch at his best as a choreographer, he does create absorbing and involving stage pictures with the help of his collaborator, designer Simon Virsaladze. These stage pictures are similar to the illusions created by the great theater directors in Europe during the 20th century.
What makes a revival of Ivan The Terrible interesting and worthwhile is that this ballet provides two incredible roles for male dancers. Yuri Vladimirov created a sensation when he danced the title role, as did Boris Akimov in the role of Prince Kurbsky.
In this performance the title role of Ivan IV was danced by Mikhail Lobukhin -- and his arch enemy, Prince Kurbsky, was danced by Denis Rodkin. Both dancers gave virtuoso performances not only as dancers, but also as actors. These performances were contrasted with the portrayal of Anastasia by Anna Nikulina, a tragedy as she is caught in the middle of this political feud between Czar Ivan and Prince Kurbsky.
Ivan The Terrible is an epic ballet when performed well, and Pathe Live enabled a worldwide audience to experience this unique ballet that may not be toured widely by the Bolshoi Ballet.
Dance Theatre of Harlem Returns to City Center
April 10, 2015
By Mark Kappel
After a long hiatus the Dance Theatre of Harlem has returned to the City Center for a company engagement from April 8-11, 2015. As the Dance Theatre of Harlem's artistic director Virginia Johnson mentioned in the performance program, this engagement has been described as a homecoming for the Dance Theatre of Harlem -- performing again at the City Center and presenting repertoire that is sprinkled with vintage works, works from the recent past, and the new. Repertoire included familiar works but on the program danced on April 10, 2015, the Dance Theatre of Harlem presented a company premiere.
The company premiere was Nacho Duato's Coming Together, a piece employing music composed by Frederic Rzewski incorporating repeated text from a letter written by Sam Melville - a political activisit who was killed in the Attica prison riots that began in September 1971.
As in the musical composition Duato's choreography mirrors repetition with relentless movement that is influenced by Duato's artistic past at the Netherlands Dance Theatre. Although the sections of the piece move seamlessly from one section to another, the sections are also disconnected, jarring, and hyper in nature. The piece tends to be a showcase for male virtuoso dancing and Da'Von Doane, Anthony Savoy, Dylan Santos, Samuel Wilson, Francis Lawrence, and Jorge Andres Villarini were up to the task which was matched by the performances of the cast's female dancers, Chyrstyn Fentroy, Jenelle Figgins, Ashley Murphy, Emiko Flanagan, Alison Stroming, and Lindsey Croop.
When the Dance Theatre of Harlem began its artistic journey the works of George Balanchine held a significant place in the company's repertoire. Performed on this program was Balanchine's Agon in which Dance Theatre of Harlem's founding artistic director, Arthur Mitchell, had created a principal role. The astringent choreography is an example of Balanchine as the modernist -- yet a classic work that has stood the test of time.
The cast of Emiko Flanagan, Frederick Davis, Samuel Wilson, Chyrstyn Fentroy displayed how much they have grown into the roles in this ballet, with Fentroy displaying particular drama and tension in the pas de trois.
One of the company revivals was Christopher Huggins' In The Mirror of Her Mind, choreographed to the Second Movement of Henryk Gorecki's Symphony No. 3. On the surface of the piece depicted is a woman's inner dialogue contemplating past loves and ghosts from her past with the choreography's primary aspect being acrobatic lifting. One does not get the dramatic punch line untl the end when the lone female dancer (Ashley Murphy) expresses her anguish.
The Dance Theatre of Harlem's program ended with a rousing performance of Robert Garland's Return danced with panache by Jenelle Figgins, Da'Von Doane, Lindsey Croop, Frederic Davis, Dylan Santos, Jorge Andres Willarini, Chyrstyn Fentroy, and Francis Lawrence.
The Dance Theatre of Harlem's City Center engagement is one more step towards the company's evolving artistic growth.
Ballet West Makes Debut at Joyce Theater
March 25, 2015
By Mark Kappel
Ballet West, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and established in 1963, has not performed often in the eastern part of the United States. The company has been directed over the years by the founder Wilhelm Christensen, followed by Bruce Marks, John Hart, Jonas Kage, and currently by Adam Sklute, acquiring a repertoire that represents the company's legacy, and is also forward-looking.
But for recent participation in the City Center's Fall for Dance Festival, Ballet West hasn't performed in New York in full company strength since its City Center engagement in 1980. At this time Ballet West might be better known for its participation in the television reality show, Breaking Pointe.
For its Joyce Theater debut engagement from March 25-29, 2015, Ballet West presented repertoire more in the contemporary mode dancing ballets that have been commissioned by the company during the directorship of Adam Sklute.
Represented on this program were works by Helen Pickett, Matthew Neenan, Nicolo Fonte (Ballet West's resident choreographer), and Val Caniparoli. Helen Pickett's contribution was the world premiere of Games. Pickett has used Vaslav Nijinsky's Jeux as a jumping off point also employing Debussy's music -- a contemporary reinterpretation for three dancers - -two female dancers and one male dancer. Originally envisioned as a game of tennis as a metaphor for the relationship of the three dancers, Pickett has updated this metaphor to the present and these characters are transported to an urban setting. The sexual relationships between them are transparent and the movement organic. The sexual and sometimes combative relationships between the three protagonists take place in an urban street and also in an office. This menage a trois of sorts -- portrayed and danced by Allison DeBona, Christopher Ruud, and Arolyn Williams -- is as real as one could get.
The remaining pieces on the program were New York premieres, but created by choreographers whose work has been seen in New York with some frequency.
Matthew Neenan's The Sixth Beauty, choreographed to solo piano music by Alberto Ginastera is a series of vignettes to evocative piano music representing different moods from dance to dance but similar in choreographic vocabulary. The highlight was an emotional and mood changing pas de deux danced by Christiana Bennett and Rex Tilton -- choreography that knitted together modern and contemporary ballet -- drifts back and forth.
Nicolo Fonte's Presto, choreographed by Ezio Bosso's Quartet No. 5: XI, Presto, is a dance for two couples dancing complex choreography at breakneck speed with angular and sudden movement highlighted in the choreography. Sculptural images are represented with movement as strident as Bosso's music. Presto was danced with intensity by Adrian Fry, Katherine Lawrence, Alexander MacFarlan, and Jacqueline Straughan.
The most substantial piece on the program was Val Caniparoli's The Lottery, based on Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery", with music by Robert Moran. Jackson's story -- isolated in a small town in the United States in 1948 -- depicts an ancient ritual updated for that time. The citizens gather for a pre-harvest event in the town and one of the citizens is chosen to be stoned to death. But unlike in Jackson's short story in which the chosen citizen is known -- Caniparoli keeps the dancers on stage and the audience in a state of heightened expectation of the "winning ticket" being picked by the individual dancers.
The locale for this ritual is within the boundaries of white picket fences with seven couples being introduced through a series of pas de deux -- and then the mood changes musically and choreographically as the tension is upped until the lottery begins. The dancer who is transformed into the "chosen one" dances his or her own ending to the ballet -- a dance of death -- with the stones plummeting on the community from above.
Caniparoli often channels Agnes de Mille in his concept and movement style, but Caniparoli keeps up the intensity and tension throughout the piece, and provides an excellent dramatic vehicle for Ballet West's dancers.
It is hoped that it won't be too long before Ballet West returns to perform in New York.
Steps Beyond Presents Artists Talk Series - American Dance Machine for the 21st Century
Steps on Broadway
March 22, 2015
By Mark Kappel
As part of its ongoing Steps Beyond Artists Talk Series, presented on March 22, 2015, was a panel discussion, Passing It On: A Conversation with the American Dance Machine for the 21st Century.
Since the American Dance Machine was reconstituted by founder/producing artistic director Nikki Feirt Atkins, and artistic director, Margo Sappington, the American Dance Machine for the 21st Century, has rededicated its mission to perform Broadway choreography in live concert form.
Besides Ms. Atkins and Ms. Sappington, other panelists included stagers Karin Baker, Tome Cousin, Robert LaFosse, and Lars Rosager, and dancers Georgina Pazcoguin and Amar Ramasar of the New York City Ballet, and Ariel Shepley.
Discussion focused on how Broadway gems are re-staged for the American Dance Machine with input from the original choreographers, stagers, and dancers who were involved in the creation of the choreography. Voiced by all panelists, what makes the American Dance Machine's presentations of these works by legendary choreographers as unique as they are was passing on the intent envisioned by the original choreographers -- and passing those intentions on to the next generation of dancers.
American Dance Machine performed at the Joyce Thater last year and plans future performances in New York next season.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the Paper Mill Playhouse
March 21, 2015
By Mark Kappel
As part of its current season, the Paper Mill Playhouse is presenting the East Coast premiere of a new film to stage version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which has been produced in association with the La Jolla Playhouse.
The animated flm to stage version of Walt Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, inspired by Victor Hugo's 1831 novel, made its local debut on March 15, 2015 and will continue at the Paper Mill Playhouse until April 5, 2015.
The first stage adapation of Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, directed by James Lapine, had been premiered in Berlin in 1999, but was not produced in the United States. This new version, directed by Scott Schwartz, has been adapted by the original composing team -- music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz -- who have used music from the Disney film, the Berlin production, and new music composed for this production -- and a new book by Peter Parnell. The intention was to draw on the essentials from Hugo's novel -- a novel filled with intrigue, scandal, corrupt politicians, and three of its major characters focused on the same love interest.
Taking place in the late 15th century, the back story of the tense relationship between Frollo and his brother, Jehan is presented, and Jehan's son, Quasimodo being placed in Frollo's care at Jehan's death. Quasimodo, as raised by Frollo, becomes the bell ringer of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France -- and is trapped in the Notre Dame Cathedral. He, like other Parisians, is living under the tyrannical rule of his uncle, Frollo. Esmeralda, a gypsy girl, has captured the hearts of Quasimodo, Frollo, and Phoebus (the Captain of the Guard). Esmeralda survives on her wits and emotions -- and although she shows kindness to Quasimodo, contempt for Frollo, and perhaps true love for Phoebus, she uses all of them to survive. As the plot develops all of these characters' lives are intertwined.
Their adventures lead Quasimodo to freeing Esmeralda from Frollo's impresonment, and Esmeralda saving Phoebus from certain death. But upon being recaptured by Frollo and refusing to be his mistress. Esmeralda seals her fate. Quasimodo does triumph -- with the gypsies in support -- being inspired to throw Frollo to his death -- recognizing how contemptible Frollo is and his false sentiment when he sends Esmeralda to her death. And just as the story began, Quasimodo remains alone.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame is also a character in the story, and in this musical is depicted in a decorous design by Alexander Dodge. At the time Hugo wrote his book, France was in the midst of societal changes. It was Hugo's belief that new technology would spoil the peoples' appreciation of art. That belief motivated him to spotlight the grandeur of Notre Dame in his novel, thereby making it an important component in this story.
This adaptation features the vague theatrical convention that the actors are a troupe of balladeers who are telling Hugo's story, and take on their characters donning cosutmes and make-up in full view of the audience. Narration is interpolated -- breaking the fourth wall -- and in order to reveal crucial plot elements.
The onstage 32-member Continuoso Arts Symphonic Chorus enhances the musical atmosphere -- focusing on the operatic impulses in the score -- significant music that is filled with emotion and drama. There are anthem-like songs in the score and they amplify The Hunchback of Notre Dame's serious intent. For authenticity sake the second act opens with the chorus singing part of the score in Latin.
Although the score doesn't soar like an opera might, the score for The Hunchback of Notre Dame is compelling and melodic -- and draws the audience into the story.
As told in this musicalized version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, this is not the archetype of what one would expect from a Disney production such as The Lion King, The Little Mermaid or The Beauty and the Beast -- and is much more weighted with the sobering intent of Les Miserables or The Phantom of the Opera.
The combination of music, lyrics, dialogue and designs makes for a compelling evening in the theater which is enhanced by the magnificent cast of Michael Arden as Quasimodo, Patrick Page as Frollo, Ciara Renee as Esmeralda, and Andrew Samonsky as Phoebus, and Erik Liberman as Trouillefou.
The Royal Ballet Dances Swan Lake
March 19, 2015
By Mark Kappel
If there is a reocurring theme in this season's Royal Ballet live screenings, it has been selecting bread and butter repertoire that is familiar. On March 19, 2015, Fathom Events presented one of those familiar ballets -- the Royal Ballet's current production of Swan Lake, which was staged for the Royal Ballet by Anthony Dowell in 1987. It is a production that has been seen often during Royal Ballet tours, and was created with authenticity in mind -- inspired by Professor Roland Wiley's book, which focused on Tchaikovsky's three ballet scores, and inspired by Anthony Dowell's pedigree as a distinguished interpreter of the role of Prince Siegfried during his dancing career.
As Wiley's research revealed, Swan Lake, at its premiere by the Bolshoi Ballet, was not the disaster that had been described or had been the conventional wisdom, although the Marius Petipa/Lev Ivanov version staged at the end of the 19th century for the Mariinsky Ballet, is the blueprint for all productions of Swan Lake. This production of Swan Lake is set in the time period of the late 19th century with its sense of history and manners. The narrative is told clearly through mime and pure execution of the choreography, although this production's distorted costume and scenery designs by Yolanda Sonnabend are abstract rather than historically detailed.
Over the years Frederick Ashton's Neapolitan Dance has been restored to this production of Swan Lake, David Bintley choreographed the first act waltz, and an always present magnificent corps de ballet serve as ingredients in the Royal Ballet's classic production of Swan Lake. In this production, the corps de ballet sections of the ballet are augmented by young ballet students who give this production a uniqueness that also emphasizes the sense of tradition that Swan Lake represents in ballet history.
Balletomanes will purchase tickets for performances of Swan Lake as often as there is a new generation of dancers to interpret the principal roles of the Swan Queen and Prince Siegfried. This performance featured Natalia Osipova in the dual role of Odette/Odile, taking on one of the classic roles that she has recently made her debut in since joining the Royal Ballet in 2013.
Osipova's performance was a unique melding of the Royal Ballet's tradition and Soviet tradition in the interpretation of these roles, and also in choosing the versions of the choreography she danced in Swan Lake's most famous dance passages. Although not poetic, Osipova's Odette proved to be interpreted in a subtle manner -- her performance was focused, well-coached, and refined. Her Odile was more confident and secure.
Osipova's Siegfried was Matthew Golding, who has a history of dancing principal roles in the classics. He offered stalwart partnering and in the moment acting which made his Siegfried compelling. Although the Natalia Osipova and Matthew Golding partnership was not fully formed, clearly Golding was commanding and presented Osipova in a delicate manner.
As always the Royal Ballet's character dancers added dimension to pivotal roles in Swan Lake including Gary Avis as the suitably menacing Von Rothbart, Elizabeth McGorian regal as Siegfried's mother, and Alastair Marriott as Siegfried's whimsical tutor.
This performance also showcased the company's talented dancers in supporting roles including Ryoichi Hirano as Benno, the Act I Pas de Trois as danced by Francesca hayward, Yuhui Choe, and Alexander Campbell, and Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera in the Neapolitan Dance.
Conductor Boris Gruzin kept Tchaikovsky's music flowing -- music that was composed to be danced to -- and inspired excellent playing from the Royal Opera House's musicians.
The Royal Ballet is planning a new production of Swan Lake at some point in the future, and I trust that it will be a production that will be respectful of the company's tradition and association with this iconic ballet.
Hong Kong Dance Company Performs The Legend of Mulan
David Koch Theater
March 5, 2015
By Mark Kappel
Making its New York debut, the Hong Kong Dance Company performed its dance adaptation of The Legend of Mulan, at the David Koch Theater on March 5, 2015. Presented by the China Arts & Entertainment Group, an enterprise administered by the Ministry of Culture for the People's Republic of China, this engagement marked the fourth cooperative presentation between the China Arts & Entertainment Group and the David Koch Theater.
The Hong Kong Dance Company was established in 1981, and its current artistic director, Yang Yuntao, directed and choreographed this production of The Legend of Mulan, with a libretto adapted by playwright Gerard C.C. Tsang.
The story of Mulan dates back to a fifth century Chinese poem in which Mulan, a peasant girl, disguises herself as a man to join the army in place of her aged father. After gaining a reputation for her valor, and bravery, she gives up her position at the Chinese Court, and returns to her home town. The task of weaving at a loom and the sounds of working at a loom are metaphors for a simpler life -- closer to the people -- and a more rewarding life -- and remembrances of that simpler life are the motivations for Mulan to return to her father and to her village.
In this dance piece Mulan's memories of learning about life's experiences from her father -- and Mulan's relationship with her father represents the core of the story -- the relationship between father and daughter is prominent. Mulan raises the morale of the war-weary soldiers while in combat, but ultimately longs for the simpler life that her village had to offer.
The Legend of Mulan is told in contemporary, modern, folkloric, and acrobatic choreography in an economic language. The group war dances danced by an ensemble of soldiers do get repetitive in spite of the small inclusions of acrobatic virtuoso dancing -- but the visual images were striking. The movement is uncomplicated and not overwrought -- all enhanced with equally uncomplicated designs that add to the striking visual images.
In the title role, Pan Lingjuan, displayed both her dancing and acting abilities. One can see the transformation in her character and the emotion that accompanies her journey -- just as striking was the performance of Huang Lei as Mulan's sympathetic father -- and then there was the heroic dancing of Chen Jun as the General. The cast members contributed to what is an effective and sentimental re-telling of this legendary story that is ingrained in China's cultural history.
The Sound of Music FAQ By Barry Monush
Published By Applause Theater & Cinema Books
February 27, 2015
By Mark Kappel
It would be impossible to explain a phenomenon, and the 1965 Oscar-winning film version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's stage musical, The Sound of Music, and how it has become one. Capturing the public's imagination and dominating the box office beginning in the 1960's plus home video sales, television versions, stage revivals, recordings, cast reunions -- sing-along presentations of the film, a live television version which was shown nationwide in 2013, Lady Gaga singing a medley of music from The Sound of Music as part of the Academy Awards telecast, cast reunions, and a fascination with the Von Trapp Family.
Therefore Barry Monush's The Sound of Music FAQ, which is a guide to everything you wanted to know -- or knew -- about The Sound of Music, serves as a useful, descriptive, entertaining, and absorbing guide.
Included are detailed facts and fiction about the Von Trapp Family, and how their lives were portrayed in the stage and film versions. The casts of American and international stage versions of The Sound of Music, and how the cast members were chosen to be in The Sound of Music -- both stage and film. Also included is the shooting schedule of the movie with locations, and the rationales for making changes and adaptations from the stage version of The Sound of Music to the film version.
Then there is the statistical information which includes a comprehensive list of the cities where the film version of The Sound of Music had its road show engagements and revival engagements in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and other parts of the world -- as well as box office receipts and snippets of the reviews of the film.
There is also a comprehensive discography of stage cast recordings and the film's cast recording, as well as the songs from The Sound of Music's score included in popular recorded albums -- as well as pop culture references to The Sound of Music.
The Sound of Music has touched people in a number of ways. From my own experience watching my brother perform the role of Captain Von Trapp in a school production of The Sound of Music or my own uncontrollable urge to get off a tour bus in the middle of Austria's countryside, and duplicate Julie Andrews' spins during the opening moments of the film version of The Sound of Music.
If you are a completist, The Sound of Music FAQ should have a permanent place in your library, and for those of us who have been touched by The Sound of Music in some fashion or another, Barry Monush's The Sound of Music FAQ is an indispensable guide in exploring The Sound of Music as a major American film musical and how it has been interwoven into America's cultural fabric.
The Royal Ballet Dances Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale
February 17, 2015
By Mark Kappel
On February 17, 2015, Fathom Events presented a screening of the Royal Ballet's production of Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale -- a ballet which revealed how much Wheeldon has improved as a choreographer/story teller.
It was during the 2014-15 season that the Royal Ballet presented the world premiere of Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale -- Wheeldon's second full-length commission for the company. Based on Shakespeare's play and collaborating with the same composer (Joby Talbot) and designer (Bob Crowley), who worked with him on Alice, Wheeldon's approach to telling the tale of The Winter's Tale is adventurous -- and also perilous -- as this is uncharted territory and a story not as well known as Alice. But Wheeldon has made an effort to bring some structure and coherence to his ballet version of The Winter's Tale that was somewhat lacking in his Alice.
The Winter's Tale is not Wheeldon's first dance adaptation of a Shakespeare play having created versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream (for Colorado Ballet), and Hamlet (for the Bolshoi Ballet). Wheeldon has compressed the essence of the play into three acts of nearly all pure dancing -- truly a challenge considering the play's complicated plot and high energy emotions. Wheeldon's approach is that of a psychological drama with a sprinkling of comic elements.
The plot of The Winter's Tale moves from the court of Sicily to the court of Bohemia -- 16 years later -- and then returns to Sicily. A prologue sets up the lynchpin of the plot with Leontes (danced by Edward Watson), Leontes' wife Hermione (danced by Lauren Cuthbertson), and Polixenes (danced by Frederico Bonelli) seemingly in a love triangle. Hermione is about to have a baby -- Leontes is jealous of Hermione's relationship with Polixenes -- and you have the ingredients for an archetypical Shakespearean tragedy.
At the beginning of the ballet Wheeldon cleverly presents the developing relationship between Leontes and Polixenes -- first as young boys -- growing to adulthood -- the relationship also developing between Leontes' pregnant wife, Hermione, and Polixenes, which Leontes obsesses about -- similar to Othello -- creating a breach among these three characters. In spite of the fact that Hermione is pregnant, the choreography has her being thrown about by Leontes, Polixenes, and palace guards -- which can be seen as less than realistic.
Leontes' madness is fueled by the death of his heir, Mamillius, the trial of Hermione and her death -- her child taken by Antigonus (danced by Bennet Gartside) -- and after surviving a storm, Antigonus abandons the child in Bohemia. Antigonus is the husband of another important character in the ballet, Paulina, who is involved in this intrigue -- and Antigonus is chased away by one of Shakespeare's famous stage directions, "Exit, pursued by a bear" -- illuminated by a projection of a bear.
The child is then taken into the care of a shepherd. Many years later the surviving child, Perdita (danced by Sarah Lamb), is courted by Prince Florizel (danced by Steven McRae) -- somewhat in the manner of Albrecht in Giselle, and Act Two of The Winter's Tale becomes an occasion for folk dancing -- and dances to celebrate the burgeoning love between Perdita and Florizel. However Florizel's father, Polixenes does not approve of the match, and Perdita and Florizel sail off to Sicily with Polixenes in hot pursuit.
Returning to Sicily, where the seeds for the tragedy were planted, Paulina (danced by Zenaida Yanowsky) recognizes Perdita as Leontes' child which results in a reconciliation of the two kings. Paulina then persuades Leontes to make a pilgrimage to visit the memorial statues of Hermione and Mamillius -- the statue of Hermoine comes to life and dances with Leontes in a moment that would originate in a Greek tragedy. Perdita is Leontes' heir and her engagement to Prince Florizel is blessed by both kings -- reuniting Leontes and Polixenes into an enduring friendship -- and a happy ending.
Wheeldon's choreographic language includes that of classical ballet, modern dance, and mime -- communicating anguish and dramatic tension through angula movement, repeated hand movement, and grimacing faces. The pure dance aspects of Act Two serve up very little of the ballet's narrative.
The Winter's Tale is an excellent vehicle for the dancers in the principal roles -- particularly Edward Watson in the role of Leontes. Wheeldon has drawn on these dancers' strengths and showcases them.
Talbot's commissioned score is accessible and underscores the narrative. Crowley's designs depend less on video and projections, representing a more conventional approach to scenery.
What is significant in The Winter's Tale is that Wheeldon has made a major step in his ability to tell a story, and has also created a vehicle for the Royal Ballet dancers that reflect the company's status as an important ballet company on the international scene.
Bolshoi Ballet Dances Swan Lake
January 25, 2015
By Mark Kappel
Yuri Grigorovitch's production of Swan Lake has evolved during the time period it has been in the Bolshoi Ballet's repertoire.
Grigorovitch's production premiered in 1969, and at the time of its premiere, the Russian Ministry of Culture required that Grigorovitch include a "Happy Ending". But in 2001 When Grigorovitch had the freedom to revise his production of Swan Lake, he substituted an ending to match the sadness and tragedy reflected in Tchaikovsky's music.
New York audiences have had a recent exposure to this production of Swan Lake during the Bolshoi Ballet's Lincoln Center Festival engagement in 2014. Pathe Live offered an additional opportunity for audiences to acquaint themselves with Grigorovitch's version of Swan Lake in a live screening that was presented on January 25, 2015.
Grigorovitch tells the story of Swan Lake with Soviet era economy -- condensing the ballet into two parts -- eliminating much of the mime -- and enlarging the role of Von Rothbart -- renamed the Evil Genius -- into a major character and dancing role in the ballet. He has also included the intrusive character of the Fool, and Grigorovitch rechoreographed the national dances in Act III for each of the individual princesses seeking Siegfried's hand in marriage -- all on pointe.
Grigorovitch's production includes choreography by Vladimir Bourmeister, Marius Petipa, and Alexander Gorsky, besides his own.
Grigorovitch has also re-arranged Tchaikovsky's score -- reinstating music usually cut and cutting other music that is traditional in most productions of Swan Lake. This editing is focused on making the story-telling of this enigmatic ballet clearer and also espousing a particular point of view of what Swan Lake is about. Instead of a "Happy Ending", Grigorovitch has presented the audience with an ambivalent ending in which Siegfried is shown to betray Odette, and lives with the guilt for doing so. In spite of the reduction of mime, telling the story is the most successful aspect of Grigorovitch's production of Swan Lake.
There is a point of view in this production of Swan Lake. Grigorovitch has proscribed that the dancer portraying the Swan Queen to do so in a cold manner as if the two roles of Odette and Odile are spirits or ghosts -- all in a dream that Siegfried is caught up in. Fate takes the hand of the leading characters in this version of the ballet, and there is less emphasis on the poetic.
In Act I Siegfried is presented with a sword rather than with a crossbow signifying his coming of age, and becoming a warrior/soldier.
Svetlana Zakharova playing the dual role of Odette/Odile brought dramatic powers to her performance besides her technically secure dancing. Both her Odette and Odile were commanding and assertive. She was equally matched by her Siegfried, Denis Rodkin, who had been seen as the Evil Genius during the Bolshoi Ballet's New York engagement last year -- and in the role of the Evil Genius was Artemy Belyakov, who brought a youngish and unrelenting personality to this role.
Igor Tsvirko brought the appropraite and heart stopping pyrotechnics to the role of the Fool.
Grigorovitch incorporates each of Siegfried's potential brides into the character dancers in Act III. There is a hint of the folkloric in the choreography but these dances are danced on pointe. Angelina Karpova (Hungarian Bride), Maria Vinogradova (Russian Bride), Anna Tikhomirova (Spanish Bride), Xenia Zhiganshina (Neapolitan Bride), and Maria Semenyachenko (Polish Bride) brought their own individuality to their performances of these dances -- which have musical choreography and room for interaction with Siegfried -- and move the story forward.
Also enhancing this production of Swan Lake were the performances of the Bolshoi Ballet's character dancers, Yekaterina Barykina as the Princess Mother, Alexei Loparevich as the Tutor, and Alexander Fadeyechev as the Master of Ceremonies.
The music was elegantly and movingly played by the Bolshoi Orchestra guided by conductor Pavel Sorokin.
Although the Bolshoi Ballet's production of Swan Lake cannot be described as being emotionally compelling in all its aspects, it does have a unique perspective on this story, and provides a showcase for all of the dancers in every role in the production.
Mariinsky Ballet's Swan Lake
Brooklyn Academy of Music
January 22, 2015
By Mark Kappel
The Mariinsky Ballet opened its engagement at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with its production of a Swan Lake, a version by Konstantin Sergeyev that dates back to 1950. In the intervening years since this production's premiere, the Mariinsky Ballet has toured the world with Swan Lake -- and last performed this production of Swan Lake in New York in 2002.
Typical of Soviet era productions of the 19th century classics, there are revisions in this production which includes a "Happy Ending", a reduction of mime, and the intrusion of the character of the Joker. Although these additions and distractions make this production different from others that are performed today, more than just the essence of Swan Lake is presented in the Mariinsky Ballet's production. The Mariinsky Ballet performs Swan Lake with a distinct recognition of heritage. This is a clear and straightforward production, and when beautifully danced, it reinforces the Mariinsky Ballet's reputation for being one of the best ballet companies in the world.
In contrast to the revisions, this production is traditional in many respects. The story is told mostly in dance terms. It is implied that Siegfried must marry. Despondent about the choices he must make, Siegfried sets off on a hunting trip to the forest where he comes upon Odette, the Swan Queen, who is under the spell of the evil Rothbart. She is a human being at night and a swan by day. Siegfried makes a vow of eternal love to her, but Rothbart is accompanied to the ball by Odile, who resembles Odette. Siegfried is fooled -- and in most productions of Swan Lake, Siegfried and Odette are doomed forever due to Siegfried's breaking of his vow. It is only the "Happy Ending" that is unusual, and perhaps, a little jarring in this production. In the closing moments of this production, Siegfried breaks Rothbart's wing, and Rothbart dies. The evil spell has been broken -- and Siegfried has freed the Swan Queen along with the other Swan Maidens. Siegfried's vow of eternal love to Odette has triumphed.
How this production conveys this story is a fusing of choreography and designs. In Act II the swan corps de ballet moves across the stage as one revealing the poetry and eloquence that is innate in this ballet. Simple design elements such as lanterns carried by the ensemble at the end of Act I indicating that day is turning into night, and creating the image of the Act II Lakeside Scene, the Swans swimming across the lake in theatrical illusion -- and to see the Swan Queen emerge in human form as she meets and confronts Siegfried -- an image used in George Balanchine's restaging of Act II of Swan Lake.
The Mariinsky Ballet offers a superb corps de ballet, excellent character dancing, and a feeling of the poetic that permeates this production of Swan Lake.
As in most productions and performances of Swan Lake, the ballet rests on the shoulders of the two principal dancers dancing the roles of Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried. On January 22, 2015 these principal roles were danced by Oxana Skorik and Xander Parish.
Skorik is among the young dancers being groomed for better things within the Mariinsky Ballet, and British-born and trained, Xander Parish joined the Mariinsky Ballet after having been a member of the Royal Ballet. Although both dancers are still trying to find their way in these roles their "in the moment" acting, and defined execution of the choreography they danced, speaks much to their future performances in these roles -- that they will grow and develop. However they did make the Black Swan Pas de Deux the theatrical experience it should be, and were powerful as well as lyrical in Act IV.
In support the Mariinsky Ballet's character dancers, Yuri Smekalov as an assertive and dancing Rothbart, Elena Bazhenova as Siegfried's mother, and Soslan Kulaev, as the Tutor, brought the narrative to life, while Yaroslav Baybordin brought the required pyrotechnics required to the role of the Joker.
The national dances in Act III were performed with aplomb and flair. The music was magnificently played by the Mariinsky Orchestra although there were moments when the musical tempi got bogged down under the direction of Gavriel Heine.
In all the Mariinsky Ballet's performance of Swan Lake may be one of the highlights of this current dance season -- a welcome opportunity to see a production of one of the classics performed in a manner in which the dancers have a full understanding of what the ballet is about, and the ballet's lineage.
Mariinsky Ballet Dances Ratmansky's Cinderella
Brooklyn Academy of Music
January 18, 2015
By Mark Kappel
In the midst of the cold winter month of January, the Brooklyn Academy of Music is sponsoring a residency of the Mariinsky Theater of St. Petersburg, Russia, with the bulk of the performances being performed by the Mariinsky Ballet. These performances were part of an historic moment in New York City's history as three major Russian ballet companies performed in this city within the space of six months in three different venues. These companies have also danced full-length story ballets that haven't been performed in New York by visiting ballet companies in some years.
The first performance I attended during this residency was on January 18, 2015 in which the Mariinsky Ballet presented Alexei Ratmansky's first version of Cinderella, a full-length ballet premiered by the company in 2002. Among Ratmansky's first ventures in creating a full-length ballet, he did use the basic structure of Prokofiev's well-known score, but his vision was a more modern day concept -- a concept for the 21st century.
Ratmansky has revised the libretto of Cinderella relocating the story in an urban environment. That environment includes the street people and entertainers that would inhabit such an environment -- and the visuals are steel girders and columns -- an industrial town -- and no references to royalty or royal deference. Costumes also reflected a retro, but haute couture fashion sense.
Ratmansky's Cinderella is showcased in minimal decor by Ilia Utkin and Yevgeny Monakhov emphasizing the decay in urban life. The scenery is steel-framed and monochrome -- metal staircases -- and an empty clock transforms into a chandelier for the ballroom scene. There is also a 1930's atmosphere that permeates the scenery as well as the choreography. The atmosphere is similar to the depression-era movies produced in the United States.
To fit into this different environment, Cinderella's Stepmother (danced by Anastasia Petushkova) is a self-absorbed social-climbing socialite, and her father (portrayed by Soslan Kulaev) has a problem with alcohol often seeking out Cinderella for money to feed his habit. The Fairy Godmother is described as a Fairy-Tramp (portrayed by Lyubov Kozharskaya), but is presented as a bag lady who doesn't transform into the Fairy Godmother that is traditional, or makes magic. Cinderella's Stepsisters, named here as Khudishka (danced by Xenia Durovina) and Kubishka (danced by Anna Lavrinenko) seemed to be unfeeling and ambivalent -- and are not comical. The stepsisters' dance teachers (danced by Biktoria Brileva and Yuri Smekalov) seemed to be drawn as characters similar to dance contestants on Dancing with the Stars.
The four seasonal variations are danced by male dancers offering a very different choreographic vocabulary in contrast with Prokofiev's rhythmic and syncopated music than seen in other productions of Cinderella.
Spring was danced by Vladislav Shumakov, Summer was danced by Boris Zhurilov, Autumn was danced by Konstantin Ivkin, and Winter was danced by Andrey Solovyov -- all costumed and portrayed to look like street entertainers -- and in the Prince's search for Cinderella in Act III his search takes him to a brothel and a gay bar. This is not a traditional Cinderella nor do the characters transform themselves or evolve through the ballet -- nor is there any romance -- and there is certainly no magic.
Ratmansky's choreography is an odd mix of ballet, contemporary ballet, modern dance, and variations on popular dances -- somewhat an instance of change for change sake without a particular perspective of the Cinderella story that is uniquely his own. Ratmansky's voice has been heard much clearer in other full-length ballets he has choreographed.
Often the choreography in this production of Cinderella was out of sync with Prokofiev's score. The score was magnificently conducted by Valery Gergiev, but his interpretation of Prokofiev's score seemed at odds with Ratmansky's interpretation of the score.
At this performance, the title role was danced by Anastasia Matvienko, and the Prince was danced by Alexander Sergeyev. The Mariinsky Ballet is a magnificent company, and the principal dancers and the company members all gave committed performances and illuminated Ratmansky's complicated concept of the story.
Royal Danes Perform at the Joyce Theater
January 14, 2015
By Mark Kappel
Auguste Bournonville's choreography has gone in and out of fashion over the years. American ballet companies perform the Bournonville repertoire intermittently and American audiences haven't had the opportunity to appreciate it as much as they might. Fortunately, Bournonville specialists, the dancers of the Royal Danish Ballet, have performed Bournonville's classic ballets during American tours, and also in self-organized ad-hoc groups.
The principals and soloists of the Royal Danish Ballet, who are dancing at the Joyce Theater from January 13-18, 2015, are participants in an ad-hoc group -- directed by one of the company's principal dancers, Ulrik Birkkjaer. For this Joyce Theater engagement, the dancers of the Royal Danish Ballet are performing an all-Bournonville program.
The last time the Royal Danish Ballet performed in New York was in 2011. That engagement did include examples of the Bournonville repertoire -- staged by the company's artistic director, Nicolaj Hubbe, who has recently experimented with new productions of Bournonville ballets that have been deemed controversial. This performance's program included excerpts from several of Bournonville's ballets -- some better known than others -- and presented with spare and minimal production elements.
Besides the Bournonville training and the stage manners, what distinguishes the Royal Danish Ballet's dancers is that they have danced the Bournonville repertoire in continuity. Bournonville's choreography is notable for its quick steps, and quick changing of positions. In execution acting plays an important part in the performance of the choreography. Lifting is at a minimum, and the male and female dancers share an equal partnership on stage and also in importance of the roles they play on stage. Most often the parts played by the dancers are neither kings nor queens -- sometimes supernatural creatures -- but usually characters that one would be familiar with in everyday life.
Before the performance Danish dance critic Erik Aschengreen greeted the audience and provided an overview of the Bournonville ballets that this group of dancers was to dance.
The program opened with the Pas de Sept from A Folk Tale, a ballet that premiered in 1854. A Folk Tale's story focuses on Hilda and Junker Ove who eventually wed -- this Pas de Sept is danced as part of the wedding festivities. Performed here in simple costumes, one can see the schooling and exhuberance of the dancers.
The Pas de Deux from Flower Festival in Genzano is only danced out of context as the full-length ballet was last performed in 1929 and only this pas de deux has survived. The ballet, created in 1858, takes place in Genzano, Italy at the time of the village's flower festival.
What distinguished this performance of the Flower Festival At Genzano Pas de Deux, danced by Ida Praetorius and Andreas Kaas, was the fact that the dancers put this pas de deux in narrative context with their acting as well as their dancing.
Two rarely seen excerpts were included in this program. The Jockey Dance from Bournonville's final ballet -- From Siberia to Moscow, a ballet performed last in 1904, was revived with the assistance of rare ballet films from the early 20th century. This excerpt is a unique combination of virtuoso and character dancing -- a competition danced with enthusiasm and swagger by Sebastian Haynes and Marcin Kupinski.
Le Conservatoire was premiered in 1849 and takes place at the Paris Opera Ballet School. In 1926 dances from the ballet's first act -- including the Pas de Trois -- were fashoned as a divertissement. In this piece Bournonville's French roots were showcased.
Perhaps the best known and most performed of Bournonville's ballets is his full-length La Sylphide. The Paris Opera Ballet premiered the first version of La Sylphide in 1832, and Bournonville created his own version for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1836. In La Sylphide, James is about to get married but follows his ideal love, the Sylph, into the forest and through the subterfuge of Madge the Witch, kills the Sylph. The second act of the ballet is nearly all dance and it was those excerpts that were represented in this program.
In spite of the fact that these excerpts were performed out of context, without the proper scenery and lighting, and no corps de ballet, Bournonville's humanity showed through. Besides the brilliant dancing by Gudrun Bojesen in the title role with Ulrik Birkkjaer as James, Sorella Englund as Madge -- Susanne Grinder, Kizzy Matiakis, and Femke Slot as the Three Sylphs -- these dancers were acting in the moment and brought the story to life.
The rousing finale of this performance was the Pas de Six and Tarantella from Napoli. Created in 1842, this 3-act ballet is a signature ballet for the Royal Danish Ballet, as Gennaro saves his love, Teresina, from Golfo, who rules the Blue Grotto. Gennaro and Teresina are re-united and the ballet's third act includes a classical pas de six, and a tarantella, as part of the ballet's wedding celebration.
It was in this piece that the Royal Danish Ballet dancers pulled the stops out providing a rousing finale to an excellent performance.
During the Dance Chat which followed this performance Erik Aschengreen mentioned that the Royal Danish Ballet is planning a Bournonville Festival in 2018, and I hope that the Royal Danish Ballet will perform in New York well before then.
The Bolshoi Ballet Dances The Nutcracker
December 21, 2014
By Mark Kappel
As part of the holiday season, Pathe Live presented a screening of the Bolshoi Ballet dancing Yuri Grigorovitch's The Nutcracker on December 21, 2014
One of several Grigorovitch productions being presented by the Bolshoi Ballet during the 2014-15 season, this production of The Nutcracker has been a mainstay of the Bolshoi Ballet's repertoire since its premiere in 1966. This is not an innovative production of The Nutcracker. Grigorovitch tells the story in choreographic language that is simple, economic, and musical. All aspects of this production give the impression of opening a Christmas card -- and also presenting itself as a large grand production while at the same time reflecting many intimate moments.
The Nutcracker was not the popular ballet it is today. In Russia, The Nutcracker was thought of as a ballet for children and ballet school productions. Grigorovitch decided to change the conventional wisdom concerning productions of the Nutcrackers by casting children when he needed to in his production, but the primary protagonists would be danced by adult dancers.
In Grigorovitch's production the story of The Nutcracker focuses on Marie and her adventures with the Nutcracker Prince. There is the traditional Christmas Party in the first act where Drosselmeyer (danced by Andrei Merkuriev) presents the Stahlbaum's daughter Marie (danced by Anna Nikulina) with a Nutcracker Doll -- who is transformed into the Nutcracker Prince (danced by Denis Rodkin) -- triumphing over the Mouse King (portrayed by Vitaly Biktimirov). Marie and the Nutcracker Prince triumph over the menacing mice but it is a celebration of young love -- and both roles are danced by adult dancers.
Act II takes the audience to the Land of the Sweets and the divertissements are choreographed for a couple each -- all of which were the toy dolls under the Christmas tree in the first act. Represented are the Spanish Dolls (danced by Andrei Bolotin and Elizaveta Kruteleva), Indian Dolls (danced by Anna Rebetskaya and Alexander Voytyuk), Chinese Dolls (danced by Svetlana Pavlova and Yegor Sharkov), Russian Dolls (danced by Anna Leonova and Alexander Vodopetov), and French Dolls (danced by Vlsdislav Kozlova nad Maria Vinogradova).
Large ensembles were not ignored with the Snow Scene and the Waltz of the Flowers danced by large ensembles employing the Bolshoi Ballet's large corps de ballet.
Marie's dream is contrived by the dashing and nimble Drosselmeyer who was played and danced with elan by Andrei Merkuriev. In the end Marie awakens from her dream but is encouraged because her Nutcracker Doll has not been broken or harmed. As played by an adult dancer one also feels that the dreams of childhood have now ended as Marie moves on to adulthood.
Anna Nikulina was a charming Marie, and Denis Rodkin, who is taking over a variety of roles at the Bolshoi Ballet, was the appropriately dashing Nutcracker Prince. The combination of these two excellent dancers made for an exciting Grand Pas de Deux.
As visiting foreign ballet companies rarely perform their productions of The Nutcracker when touring the United States, this screening of the Bolshoi Ballet's production of The Nutcracker was a welcome opportunity to see a different and intriguing production of The Nutcracker.
Aschengreen's Dancing Across The Atlantic
By Mark Kappel
Esteemed Danish dance critic Erik Aschengreen has written a history of the Royal Danish Ballet with an interesting slant. In his new book, Dancing Across the Atlantic, USA-Denmark 1900-2014, Aschengreen examines the unique ties and relationships between the Royal Danish Ballet and the United States -- the many Danish-born and Danish-trained dancers who left Denmark to pursue their careers in the United States, and the cross-pollination of American artists.
Focused on is the unique relationship that George Balanchine has had with the Royal Danish Ballet. First being invited to work with the Royal Danish Ballet as a balletmaster to re-stage works by Mikhail Fokine and Leonid Massine, and his own two ballets, Barbau and Apollo. It wasn't until after World War II that Vida Brown staged Balanchine's Symphony in C for the Royal Danish Ballet and a choreographic connection began in earnest between Balanchine and the Royal Danish Ballet. But there were also the many male Danish dancers who made the pilgrimage to work with Balanchine at the New York City Ballet including the New York City Ballet's current artistic director, Peter Martins.
Another instance of cross-pollination was former Royal Danish Ballet dancer, Stanley Williams, who became an influential teacher on the faculty of the School of American Ballet, the ballet school that Balanchine established in New York.
The only straying away from Balanchine were descriptions of productions created for, or staged for, the Royal Danish Ballet by Jerome Robbins, Glen Tetley, and the moderns, Lar Lubovitch, Murray Louis, Alvin Ailey, Paul Taylor, Jose Limon -- and another American who has worked often with the Royal Danish Ballet, John Neumeier. Also included are modern and contemporary choreographers who came from the United States and settled in Denmark to direct and modern and contemporary dance companies.
The Royal Danish Ballet performed at Jacob's Pillow in 1955 which was the first among several American appearances that the Royal Danish Ballet has made in the United States. The reviews of performances during these American tours were mixed and the New York segments of these tours were not major box office successes. Somehow American audiences haven't warmed to Auguste Bournonville's classics as they have to Russian classics. Bournonville's ballets, and the traditions of Bournonville, seem to be an acquired taste for American audiences. That, in spite of the fact, that Americans have admired the Royal Danish Ballets's dancers.
The company has had to face the challenging paradox of preserving the past -- Bournonville's influential ballets - -and also absorbing the Russian 19th Century classics, the works of European choreographers and American choreographers, to complete a transformation which makes the Royal Danish Ballet less isolated artistically than it had been. In fact through the choices of the Royal Danish Ballet's artistic directors, its repertoire is less unique than it had been, absorbing the work of choreographers who have established themselves in Central Europe.
Included in Dancing Across The Atlantic is information and biographies of Danish dancers who have danced with American ballet companies, American dancers who have danced with the Royal Danish Ballet, and general overviews of the three Bournonville Festivals presented by the Royal Danish Ballet, which have garnered the company international recognition. Having attended performances during the first Bournonville Festival myself, I can attest to the fact that many American dance critics recognized the positive attributes of the surviving Bournnonville repertoire and appreciated how these ballets were preserved and danced.
It should be noted that the book has an introduction by Nicolaj Hubbe, the Royal Danish Ballet's current artistic director -- and in many instances the book defends Hubbe's controversial productions of Bournonville ballets and other controversial artistic choices he has made -- and the book has been underwritten, in part, by the American Friends of the Royal Danish Ballet. However on balance the narrative and the photos are worth the time to read this book which provides a unique overview of one of the oldest established ballet companies.
Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Performance Project's The Nutcracker
December 6, 2014
By Mark Kappel
Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Performance Project's production of The Nutcracker was given its annual performances at Symphony on December 6, 2014. Presented as a showcase for the students of Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory of New York, these performances always present a high level of student training and potential professional dancers.
The production includes new choreography for Act I by Margo Sappington, and Act II has been staged by Valentina Kozlova with choreography after Marius Petipa and Vasily Vainonen. At these performances Margo Sappington appeared as a guest artist in the role of Countess Drosselmeyer, who creates the magic, and guides Clara through her Christmas dream.
At the evening performance that I attended Brecke Swan and Nick Palmquist danced the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Her Cavalier, Isabele Breier danced the role of Clara, and Revital Naroditski and Jack Furlong danced the Snow Pas de Deux.
There were also notable performances in featured roles including Elizabeth Seibel and Justin Valentine in the Arabian Dance, and Nikita Boris and Anna Guerrero in the Spanish Dance.
However it was enjoyable to watch the spontaneous performances of the younger students in the roles of the children in the Christmas Party in Act I and in the divertissements in Act II. The spontaneity enhanced their performances. And also to see the result of the training that is being given to the students as well as performance opportunities.
As it always does annually, the Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory Performance Project's production of The Nutcracker is an entertaining two hours that takes you away from the problems of the day.
Also announced at this performance was the upcoming Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition which will take place from May 26-30, 2015 at Symphony Space.
Arthur Laurents' Mainly On Directing
By Mark Kappel
Arthur Laurents' career in the theater is legendary -- a career that spanned several decades as a playwright, book writer for musicals, and a director. Among the major Broadway musicals he was associated with included West Side Story, Gypsy, and La Cage aux Folles -- each musical ground-breaking, and revived, and performed frequently all over the world. Broadway musicals would not be Broadway musicals without him. He was also known for being outspoken, and rationalizing the off and on again professional relationships he had in the theater.
Therefore reading Laurents' Mainly On Directing (now in paperback by Applause Theatre & Cinema Books) is a must read for anyone working in the theater and those who are fans of theater. Mainly On Directing focuses on the collaborative and combative relationships that may or may not result in a Broadway hit. Those relationships include fellow directors, producers, choreographers, designers, actors, composers, lyricists, and book writers. Although Laurents also comments on, and describes his relationships with choreographers throughout the book, there is a section in the book which focuses on the relationship between a theater director and a choreographer which would be a must read for concert dance choreographers as well.
Laurents, who passed away in 2011, left an enormous legacy as the book writer for West Side Story and Gypsy, and who directed productions of these musicals during his long career. His insights into his own work and how to direct reveal themselves as engrossing and intriguing revelations.
In particular are his numerous anecdotes about directing Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, and Patti LuPone in revivals of Gypsy and also his thoughts about the Sam Mendes directed revival of Gypsy which starred Bernadette Peters. How he brought out the best performances from these major theater stars -- as well as Lee Remick in Anyone Can Whistle -- represents his amazing intuitiveness as to how the creative mind works. Also how he pushed buttons, persuaded, and manipulated -- these actresses to give the best performances they had in them -- to serve the material and also to live up to their potential in their interpretation of the roles they performed.
Equally revelatory are his descriptions of his work on La Cages aux Folles -- on the road to Broadway, working with Gene Barry for him to feel more at ease in the part of Georges -- giving him gestures and theatrical allusion to make him feel comfortable in a part he was uncomfortable in portraying.
Also there are the inside stories about those collaborators Laurents might have worked with on some of his famous musicals -- including Michael Bennett as co-director and choreographer on La Cage aux Folles -- and his collaborations with Leonard Bernstein, and Jerome Robbins -- and his relationships with the many theatrical producers he worked with. How he encouraged, cajoled -- and often outwitted -- producers to get what he wanted highlights a skill set one usually doesn't associate with theater directors.
Also fascinating were his thoughts about the most recent Broadway revival of West Side Story in 2009, which Laurents refers to as the bi-lingual production of West Side Story. Inspired by a Spanish-language production of West Side Story produced in South America and seen by Laurents' long-time companion, Tom Hatcher.
The process of translating dialogue and lyrics into Spanish, and directing the actors while shifting from one language to another -- and placing as much emphasis on acting and realism as singing and dancing in this revival of West Side Story, resulted in a provocative production of West Side Story that made this musical even more relevant to today's audiences.
Mainly On Directing is a thought-provoking book of anecdotes, stories and self-examination.
Mikhailovsky Ballet Presents Don Quixote
David Koch Theater
November 22, 2014
By Mark Kappel
To end the Mikhailovsky Ballet's first New York engagement, the company danced its lively and comic production of Don Quixote. The roots of the company's production of Don Quixote date back to Alexander Gorsky's production of Don Quixote for the Bolshoi Ballet in 1900 -- in which Gorsky used the original scenario from Marius Petipa's version of Don Quixote, and some of Petipa's choreography. However as staged by Mikhail Messerer, Messerer has made his own revisions and there are also choreographic contributions from Nina Anisimova, Igor Belsky, Robert Gerbek, Kasyna Goleyzovsky, and Fyodor Lopukhov. This production was premiered by the Mikhailovsky Ballet in 2012 with detailed designs by Vyacheslav Okunev.
In the ballet Don Quixote, the Don is actually the observer rather than a catalyst for the plot which focuses on the romance of Kitri and Basilio -- the Don acts as a facilitator to make their marriage possible and tricking Kitri's father into blessing their marriage. The ballet is a showcase for virtuoso dancing and the Mikhailovsky Ballet served ample helpings of it.
In a similar approach to the company's production of Giselle, the Mikhailovsky Ballet's production of Don Quixote is straight-forward. As in other productions of Don Quixote danced by Russian ballet companies, there is a prologue and the order of scenes of Act II is different from versions of Don Quixote danced by ballet companies in Europe and the United States. The scene in which Basilio fakes his suicide precedes the dream sequence. The figure of Don Quixote also appears prominently in the dream sequence connecting with the dryads in the corps de ballet, the Queen of the Dryads and the vision of Kitri as Dulcinea. Before that dream sequence, Don Quixote fights his way through a spider web to reach the setting where the dryads appear to him. Also the Act III wedding scene takes place in the Duke's palace -- a more opulent environment than the village that Kitri and Basilio live in. There are also a few other touches such as the puppet show which is included in the gypsy camp scene.
Although Okunev's costumes and scenery are colorful, the dancers are part of a human painting from scene to scene. They animate every moment in the ballet bringing humanity to each character. That is evident from the dancers in the principal roles and those dancers in the principal character roles. The ballet also moves forward at a brisk pace. The added character dancing does not bog down the story-telling or gets in the way of the virtuoso dancing displays.
For the matinee on November 22, 2014, the role of Ktri was danced by Oksana Bondareva and the role of Basilio was danced by Leonid Sarafanov. This was a beautifully matched pair with Sarafanov as an excellent and caring partner, but also a dancer with clean technique that is also secure. He and Bondareva pulled off the virtuoso choreography in Acts I and III with ease and stayed in character throughout.
Ekaterina Borchenko made a commanding Queen of the Dryads.
Besides the virtuoso performances by the principal dancers, this production of Don Quixote was enhanced by the excellent performances by character dancers including Marat Shemuinov as an elegant Don Quixote, Pavel Maskennilov as the bumbling Gamache, and Alexey Kuznetsov as the comedic Sancho Panza. They all made their characters sympathetic and charming.
Also there were notable performances by Andrey Kasyanenko as Espada, Valeria Zapasnikova as the Street Dancer, Victoria Zaripova as Mercedes, and Veronika Ignatyeva as Cupid.
This production of Don Quixote was a company effort from the dancers as well as the coaching for this choreography and staging, and the designs that enhanced the story-telling. The Mikhailovsky Ballet's performance of Don Quixote was a fitting end to discovering this company and becoming familiar with its dancers -- and all making an excellent impression.
Mikhailovsky Ballet Presents A Mixed-Bill Program
David Koch Theater
November 19, 2014
By Mark Kappel
For its third program, seen on November 19, 2014, the Mikhailovsky Ballet presented a diverse mixed-bill program which included ballets from the 19th century, the Soviet era, and a contemporary work choreographed by the company's previous artistic director, Nacho Duato.
Duato's Prelude is choreographed to music by George Handel, Ludwig Van Beethoven, and Benjamin Britten. Premiered by the Mikhailovsky Ballet in 2011, this ballet was Duato's exploration of the combination of modern dance and ballet.
Structurally Prelude is a series of disconnected dances which make distant references to Giselle, and to the work of Jiri Kylian, and other European contemporary choreographers. The dances alternated between real and fantasy -- ending with a lone couple on stage disappearing as they walked up stage. The choreography proved to be meandering and out of focus -- although a stretch in style for the Mikhailovsky Ballet dancers.
The cast of Irina Perren, Leonid Sarafanov, Marat Shemiunov, Ekaterina Borchenko, Sergey Strelkov, Irina Kosheleva, and Ivan Zaytsev gave committed performances in Prelude, but Prelude did not serve the dancers well.
Also included in the program was Marius Petipa's Le Halte de Cavalerie which was premiered at the Mariinsky Ballet in 1868. In 1919 Petipa's production was revived at the Mariinsky Ballet by Alexander Shiryaev. Le Halte de Cavalerie disappeared from the repertoires of Russian ballet companies during the Soviet era. But in 1968 Pyotr Gusev reconstructed Le Halte de Cavalerie and restaged the ballet for the Mikhailovsky Ballet in 1975.
Le Halte de Cavalerie's plot has its antecedents in La Fille Mal Gardee, and Coppelia -- with a bit of Graduation Ball. A local village boy, Peter (danced by Leonid Sarafanov) is the object of affection of two village girls, Maria (danced by Anastasia Soboleva) and Teresa (danced by Kristina Makhviladze). A soldiers regiment arrives in the village and must be accommodated by the villagers. Peter objects and is arrested -- and Maria sets up a scheme to save him. Peter and Maria then make their wedding plans -- which are objected to by Peter's other admirer, Teresa, who has captured the attention of the Colonel and other members of the regiment. The Colonel blesses the marriage, the soldiers leave the village, and the village returns to normal.
Choreographically the ballet includes a classical pas de deux for the protagonists -- and character dances danced by Teresa and her regimental admirers -- and the villagers. The classical pas' adagio includes a ribbon dance -- and the choreography provides a great deal of dancing and also communicates the plot well. Le Halte de Cavalerie is a bit of froth, but the humor was conveyed clearly and was deftly danced and portrayed by Sarafanov, Soboleva, and Makhviladze -- and also notably Roman Petukhov as the tipsy Colonel.
Another rarity included in this program was Asaf Messerer's Class Concert. Commissioned by the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in the 1960's to showcase the students of the Academy, Class Concert was taken into the Bolshoi Ballet's repertoire in 1963. Asaf Messerer crafted Class Concert to be a performance version of a ballet class -- featuring the traditional sequence of exercises and steps. There are also vignettes interspersed in between the ballet class exercises including one featuring a group of girls scurrying around to get ready for class -- and the little boys appearing in a section with watering cans -- a metaphor that their talent was being nurtured as if they were flowering plants in a garden.
Class Concert opens with boys and girls in elementary basics of a ballet class building up to turns and jumps -- acrobatic lifts by couples , and a series of virtuoso jump and turn sequences by the company's principal dancers and guest artists.
There are allusions to Auguste Bournonville's Le Conservatoire and Harald Lander's Etudes as vehicles to display the balletic vocabulary from class to dancing a piece of choreography. Here restaged by Mikhail Messerer, the choreographer's nephew, the Mikhailovsky Ballet acquired Class Concert in September of this year, and Class Concert shows off the well-trained dancers of the company from the principals downto the corps de ballet -- as well as the locally recruited, young ballet students.
Mikhailovsky Ballet Presents A Ballet From The Soviet Era
David Koch Theater
November 16, 2014
By Mark Kappel
The Mikhailovsky Ballet's second program, during its first New York engagement, was a ballet that was created during the Soviet era in Russia, The Flames of Paris. The Flames of Paris' libretto by Nikolay Volkov and Vladimir Dmitriev -- as revised by Mikhail Messerer -- is based on Felix Gras' novel, Les Rouges du Midi. All about revolution, The Flames of Paris is a metaphor for revolution in Russia, and was commissioned to mark the 15th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.
Set in Paris and Versailles, the plot shifts back and forth from the activities of the revolutionaries to the intrigue by France's royalty and aristocrats.
This ballet is an anomaly as The Flames of Paris has only been performed by Russian ballet companies in the West. There are several Russian ballet companies that have restaged this ballet including a revised version staged by Alexei Ratmansky for the Bolshoi Ballet. These performances of The Flames of Paris by the Mikhailovsky Ballet were the first in the United States.
Danced to a commissioned score by Boris Asafiev, with choreography by Vasily Vainonen and revised by Mikhail Messerer, The Flames of Paris is a genre of ballet rarely seen in this part of the world.
Messerer's production of Vainonen's 1932 ballet -- which premiered in 2013 -- is a reconstruction rather than a revision. Messerer has drawn from his past knowledge of the ballet and it is obvious that there is no restraint in presenting the revolutionary aspects and spirit contained in the ballet's plot. There are French flags waving everywhere in the ballet. An expression of nationalism that is communicated by the committed performances of the Mikhailovsky Ballet's corps de ballet and principal dancers.
This three-act ballet is short and sweet, and as performed on November 16th, 2014, the running was only a little over two hours. The simple plot is woven in and out of the dance sequences. Philippe (danced by Ivan Vassiliev), leader of the revolutionaries, recruits Jeanne (Angelina Vorontsova), her brother, and father to join the revolutionaries after they had beve been harassed by the local Marquis. At Louis XVI's palace, an actor, Antoine Mistral (danced by Leonid Sarafanov), is killed because of his knowledge that the King has entered into an alliance with Prussia to stamp out the revolution. Diana Mireille (danced by Irina Perren), an actress, reveals the King's plans to the revolutionaries and the revolutionaries storm the palace.
Among the many dance sequences in the ballet is a first act divertissement for the court's entertainment which features Diana Mireille, Antoine Mistral, and a Cupid, that is a reflection of the elitism of the aristocrats of the royal court. This is juxtaposed against the Basques and Auvergnese character dances that are danced by the revolutionaries. The celebration of the successful revolution culminates in the third act, a pageant which features the allegorical dances of Freedom, Equality, and Fraternity -- the dance of Freedom has all of the characteristics one would see in the opening ceremony of an Olympic Games with high and acrobatic lifts which were superbly executed by Marat Shemuinov and Irina Perren.
The third act reaches its height with the performance of the often seen Flames of Paris Pas de Deux danced by Vorontsova and Vasiliev, in which both dancers pull the stops out and fire all of the guns. This was a feast of virtuoso dancing.
Throughout the ballet the stage comes alive with real live action and atmospherics created by the corps de ballet on stage. In spite of its Soviet era characteristics, The Flames of Paris is joyful and entertaining.
Billy Elliot From London
November 15, 2014
By Mark Kappel
Besides presenting live screenings of the Royal Ballet, Fathom Events has also presented live screenings of theater performances that have originated from London. There was a synergy in Fathom Events presenting a live screening of the London production of Billy Elliot - The Musical as Billy Elliot's story is linked to the aspirations of a young British ballet student. Fathom Events presented screenings of Billy Elliot on November 12 and 15, with a third live screening on November 18.
The film version of Billy Elliot had been a surprise success when it was released in 2000 -- and its transition from film to stage retains the film's focus on the miners' strike in County Durham in Northeastern England during the regime of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher -- a time of political confrontation.
In the midst of this politically-charged atmosphere, a young boy, Billy Elliot, discovers he has a natural talent, and a passion for dance. He transitions from his boxing classes to ballet classes with the assistance of a local dance teacher. With the affirmation of his father and family, he auditions for the Royal Ballet School to successfully pursue his dance studies -- and becomes a professional dancer. In the film, Billy Elliot assumes the role of the leading swan in Matthew Bourne's unconventional production of Swan Lake. In the stage version, Billy Elliot sets off for the Royal Ballet School where he has earned a scholarship. There is a fantasy sequence in the stage version in which the younger Billy Elliot dances with the older Billy Elliot -- a professional dancer. It is one of the musical adaptation's weaknesses not to see Billy Elliot fully realizing his dream of being a professional dancer and also receiving the full affirmation from his father and family for achieving this dream.
The film's screenwriter, Lee Hall, wrote the book and lyrics for the stage version of Billy Elliot in collaboration with Elton John. They provide a book and score that tells the story in an effective manner. And the musical itself is in the able directorial hands of Stephen Daldry and choreographer Peter Darling.
The London production of Billy Elliot opened in 2005 and has been thriving. A Broadway production ran for more than three years. The story is inspirationl to many and seems to touch everyone.
There have been a series of young actors who have taken over the title over the years and this live screening was as much a celebration of the success of Billy Elliot as it was for the many actors who have performed the title role. One of the original Billy Elliots in the London producition, was Liam Mower, who has become a professional dancer and is dancing with Matthew Bourne's company, New Adventures. Mower appears in this live screening as the older Billy Elliot -- truly coming full circle.
The London production of Billy Elliot does not sugar-coat the political struggles taking place in Great Britain in the 1980's and the difficulties that a typical Billy Elliot might have in pursuing his dreams. This is a Cinderella story of sorts. But it is not only the character of Billy Elliot that is the primary focus of this musical, but also the many people who support him emotionally, and mentor him. Ultimately Billy's father and brother -- and his grandmother -- and the local coal miners raise some of the money to enable Billy Elliot to auditon for the Royal Ballet School. The London production of Billy Elliot captures the grit, and anxiety of the political and economic atmosphere that existed in Great Britain in the 1980's.
This live screening of Billy Elliot - The Musical reaches emotional heights as performed by an appealing cast who are living their roles as the musical's story unfolds. Elliott Hanna in the title role is an absolute marvel. Besides his dancing ability, he is a superb actor and very comfortable on the stage. He is a star in the making.
Also notable was the sympathetic performance by Ruthie Henshall as the local ballet teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson, and Deka Walmsley's transformative performance as Billy's father, Jackie. The performances of Ann Emery as Billy's Grandma, Chris Grahamson as Billy's older Brother, Tony, Zach Atkinson as Michael, and Demi Lee as Debbie are fresh and these actors are exceptional in their roles.
This particular performance ended with a special finale including as many as 25 of the actors who played the title role during Billy Elliot's London engagement. Billy Elliot is a special experience unto itself and to see the London production is a unique opportunity that Fathom Events has made possible.
American Dance Machine for the 21st Century Makes Its Joyce Theater Debut
November 14, 2014
By Mark Kappel
The American Dance Machine for the 21st Century is making its Joyce Theater debut from November 11-16, 2014. Founded by artistic producer, Nikki Feirt Atkins, with Margo Sappington as artistic director, the American Dance Machine's mission is to be a living archive of musical theater dance.
In fulfilling its mission, the American Dance Machine has acquired and reconstructed original choreography from legendary Broadway musicals. During the Joyce Theater engagement one can see dance excerpts from musicals that haven't been performed on a New York stage in decades. Presented during this Joyce Theater are musical numbers by the greats of the Broadway stage, and those who are following in the footsteps of the greats. Represented on the stage is the work of Joe Layton, Jerome Robbins, Jack Cole, Michael Bennett, Susan Stroman, Margo Sappington, Jerry Mitchell, Rob Ashford, Henry Le Tang, Ron Lewis, Andy Blankenbuehler, and Tommy Tune.
Among those not seen in decades included Popularity from George M! (choreography by Joe Layton) performed by Peter Chursin, the Charleston from Billion Dollar Baby (choreography by Jerome Robbins), Beale St. Blues (choreography by Jack Cole) that had been performed on the Sid Caesar Comedy Hour, Turkey Lurkey Time from Promises Promises (choreography by Michael Bennett) performed by Rosie Lani Fiedelman, Jessica Lee Goldyn, and Khori Petinaud -- and the most provocative piece on the program -- Margo Sappington's One on One from Oh! Calcutta! danced by Georgina Pazcoguin and Craig Hall of the New York City Ballet.
Bu there is also more from the past, and recent past, and recently minted choreography from Broadway musicals which included Pick Yourself Up from Never Gonna Dance (choreography by Jerry Mitchell), the title dance from Thoroughly Modern Millie (choreography by Rob Ashford), Simply Irresistible from Contact (choreography by Susan Stroman), the Music and the Mirror from A Chorus Line (choreography by Michael Bennett), That Rhythm Man from Black and Blue (choreography by Henry Le Tang), City Lights from The Act (choreography by Ron Lewis), the Club from In The Heights (choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler), Mr. Monotony from Jerome Robbins' Broadway, and Doin' The Production Code from A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine (choreography by Tommy Tune).
The American Dance Machine's presentation of these excerpts is cleverly connected from one to the next -- although it is nostalgic to see these pieces on a stage again, all of the choreography presented is powered by its own energy.
Besides the polished, dynamic and energetic performances by the American Dance Machine's company members, all of these excerpts were accompanied by live music.
The American Dance Machine's performances of these classic dance numbers prove that they can be just as entertaining to watch in concert form as they would be within the context of the Broadway musicals that they were choreographed for.
Mikhailovsky Ballet Makes New York Debut
David Koch Theater
November 12, 2014
By Mark Kappel
New York audiences have often seen performances by both the Bolshoi Ballet and Mariinsky Ballet. However there are many other distinguished ballet companies in Russia -- most of which have yet to make it to American shores. From November 11-23, 2014, the Mikhailovsky Ballet, based in St. Petersburg, Russia, makes its American debut at the David Koch Theater in an engagement sponsored by the Russian Ministry of Culture.
The Mikhailovsky Theatre was established by Czar Nicholas I in 1833, and after 1926, the theater became the home of experimental ballets and opera. The ballet company was founded in 1933 by Fyodor Lopukhov, but even before Lopukhov founded the ballet company, in 1923 a young George Balanchine staged dances for the opera, The Golden Cockerel, at the theater. There have also been Russian ballet luminaries who have directed the company including Leonid Lavrovsky, Oleg Vinogradov, and Farukh Ruzimatov.
Under the overall direction of Russian businessman Vladimir Kekhman, which began in 2007, the Mikhailovsky Ballet has been redefining its artistic identity. One of Kekhman's decisions was to appoint Nacho Duato as the company's artistic director -- an association that ended with Duato's departure for Berlin where he is now the artistic director of the State Ballet Berlin. In appointing Mikhail Messerer as the company's Balletmaster in Chief, the company has re-focused on its classical roots.
Known before as the Maly Ballet of St. Petersburg, and now renamed after the theater the company performs in in St. Petersburg, the company has played second fiddle to the better known Mariinsky Ballet. The Mikhailovsky Ballet has toured abroad and has had several successful seasons in London. To enhance this engagement the Mikhailovsky Ballet was accompanied by its own orchestra.
To open the engagement, the Mikhailovsky Ballet danced Nikita Dolgushin's production of Giselle, which was premiered by the company in 2007. With designs by Vyacheslav Okunev, the Mikhailovsky Ballet's production of Giselle is straight-forward and to the point. There are no major revisions or surprises. With the combination of dance and mime, the story is clearly told -- and that, in and of itself, is a major achievement.
Characters are referred to by different names than are known in productions of Giselle danced by other ballet companies. Albrecht is referred to as the Count, Hilarion is referred to as the Gamekeeper, and Albrecht's squire, is referred to as the Count's armor-bearer.
There are a few important dramatic moments that are missing including among them Giselle's mother telling the story of the Wilis and what Giselle's fate might be. Mime is evident in all aspects of this production of Giselle. The dancers are telling the story as they are dancing. An interesting detail is Albrecht's squire warning Albrecht that he should reconsider his relationship with Giselle because he has a fiance. The Mikhailovsky Ballet's production of Giselle is respectful of tradition.
Because this production is as straight-forward as it is, the performances of the dancers in the principal roles makes such a production come alive and give it dramatic realism.
In the November 12th evening performance, Angelina Vorontsova gave a detailed characterization in the title role. Her Giselle was a hesitant young girl and was not passionate until the first act's mad scene. Her Albrecht, Ivan Vasiliev, is an accomplished dancer and stylist, but did not seem aristocratic enough in the role of Albrecht. Sadly the height disparity between these two dancers marred some of the theatrical allusions that are inherent in the second act's choreography.
Ekaterina Borchenko's Queen of the Wilis was more ethereal than threatening. But notable were Yulia Tikka and Andrey Yakhnyuk in the Peasant Pas de Deux, and Anna Naumenko and Valeria Zapasnikova in the Act II Wilis variations.
The program's description of the Mikhailovsky Ballet's production of Giselle is a "Fantasy Ballet in Two Acts" and this reverent production of Giselle is refreshing as compared to other productions of Giselle in which reinterpretation and change for change sake are the focus.
Bolshoi Ballet Dances The Legend of Love
October 26, 2014
By Mark Kappel
Pathe Live initiated its 2014-15 season of live screenings with the Bolshoi Ballet's production of Yuri Grigorovitch's The Legend of Love on October 26, 2014.
Inspired by a drama by Turkish poet, Nazim Hikmet, and danced to music composed by Arif Melikov, the Bolshoi Ballet premiered The Legend of Love in 1961 -- and it was last danced in New York by the Bolshoi Ballet in 1979. The Legend of Love has been absent from the Bolshoi Ballet stages for ten years. The Legend of Love had been symoblic in the Soviet era for the integration of contributions made by artists of several nationalities that made up the former Soviet Union. In fact composer Melikov included five separate chords at the beginning of the ballet which symbolized the five participants from the nations who collaborated on this ballet.
The ballet begins in the royal apartments of Queen Mekhmene Banu (danced by Maria Allash in place of the indisposed Svetlana Zakharova) who can save her dying younger sister, Princess Shryin (danced by Anna Nikulina), by giving up her beauty to Shyrin. This cure is proposed by A Stranger (danced by Evgeny Golovin) and in spite of this person's questionable reputation, the Queen decides to sacrifice herself for the sake of her sister. But when she discovers that she is disgured and Shryin falls in love with the Queen's favorite, the painter Ferkhad (danced by Denis Rodkin), the Queen questions her actions.
Upon discovering the relationship between Shyrin and Ferkhad, Queen Mekhmene Banu dictates that Ferkhad must accomplish an impossible task to win Shyrin. That task is to bore a hole through the mountains to unblock a water source and make the water accessible to the people. As described in an intermission interview, poet Hikmet interpreted water as the symbol for freedom. If the water is freed then the people would also be free.
Although Queen Mekhmene Banu is finally reconciled to the relationship between Ferkhad and Shyrin, upon entreaties from the people, Ferkhad decides to remain in the mountains to complete his task winning the respect of the people.
The narrative is spread over three acts and three hours as this love triangle unfolds, self-implodes, and resolves itself.
Yuri Grigorovitch has structured The Legend of Love in a fashion to showcase the dancers in each of the principal roles while only using the classical vocabulary with hints of folk movement. The heroic and the lyric are fused. Also Grigorovitch includes enough spectacle to utilize the resources of the Bolshoi Theatre.
Maria Allash was a superb Queen fulfilling the role's technical and acting requirements. Communicating the character's emotions is a special challenge because for most of the ballet the Queen's face is veiled. Anna Nikulina portrayed Shyrin as an equal to the Queen and also met the role's technical and emotional challenges. Considering the soaring level of the performances by Allash and Nikulina, it would have been an even greater challenge to equal them in the role of Ferkhad. However Denis Rodkin captured one's attention whenever he was on the stage. If there is a Grigorovitch dancer, he is one.
Also notable was the performance of Vitaly Biktimorov as the evil Vizier.
One commends the opportunity to see the Bolshoi Ballet dance Grigorovitch's The Legend of Love which has been rescued from temporary obscurity by this Bolshoi Ballet revival.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival - Program V
October 18, 2014
By Mark Kappel
The fifth and final program of the City Center Fall for Dance Festival on October 18, 2014, included all of the elements of an international evening of dance. This was also a program of dance that had a theme running through it. Three of the four pieces on the program grappled with the theme of man's relationship with nature and the environment.
From Britain was Wayne McGregor/Random Dance dancing the New York premiere of excerpts from McGregor's Far, a work for 10 dancers performed to a score by Ben Frost.
Far was inspired by McGregor's research of the Age of Enlightenment, a time period when scientists studied the connection of the brain to body movement. McGregor's relentless choreography highlighted every body movement possible by a human being. The piece opened with dancers carrying torches -- and ended with the highlight of Far, a duet -- and in between was McGregor's choreographic exploration. One can be awed by what the dancers can do, but McGregor's artistic statement in Far is one he has made many times over in other pieces he has choreographed.
The Festival also presented its commission of Swedish choreographer Pontus Lidberg's This Was Written On The Water. The piece begins with the appearance of a couple (Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside of American Ballet Theatre), on a stage with snow falling -- exploring their relationship in quiet and gentle partnering -- ending as peacefully as it began. Boylston and Whiteside were eloquent in their manner of dancing.
Aakash Odedra performed Nritta, a virtuoso and rhythmic traditional Kathak variation. Although intentionally created in the abstract, the references to man and nature were evident. Odedra's performance of his own choreography was amazing to watch, and was also emotionally engaging.
Closing the program was the auspicious New York debut of the Sarasota Ballet of Florida dancing Frederick Ashton's Les Patineurs. Earlier this year, the Sarasota Ballet presented an Ashton Festival and Symposium, and has found its niche in performing Ashton's works.
This production of Les Patineurs was staged with care and reverence by the Sarasota Ballet's artistic director, Iain Webb, and Margaret Barbieri, the company's assistant director, based on their professional experience working with Frederick Ashton.
The Sarasota Ballet's dancers danced the choreography in authentic Ashton style, but the dancing was enhanced by American exhuberance. Ashton's Les Patineurs is a reflection of simplicity as it is a depiction of a Victorian skating party danced to music by Giacomo Meyerbeer. The Sarasota Ballet's Les Patineurs was performed with the designs by Willliam Chappell which added to the authenticity of this production. Ashton's choreography includes adagio dancing and virtuoso dancing while at the same time the dancers are portraying distinct characters.
Logan Learned was out front as the Blue Boy with Victoria Hulland and Jamie Carter as the White Couple, and Kate Honea and Nicole Padilla as the Blue Girls.
The Sarasota Ballet's New York debut was a notable one and one looks forward to when the company will return to New York for an enggement in its own right.
City Center Fall for Dance Festival - Program IV
October 17, 2014
By Mark Kappel
The City Center Fall for Dance Festival's Fourth Program, seen on October 17, 2014, included choreography that offered a notable variety of contemporary ballet and modern dance forms. There were themes running through all of the pieces danced on this program which presented similar views of dance and society in the 21st century.