March 21, 2007
Latest Dance Articles - Major Catchup Edition
I have four articles in the current issue (available only in print) of Ballet Review, which is too many, but two were bumped inadvertently from the previous issue.
West Coast, West Side on San Francisco Ballet's week at Lincoln Center:
It’s hard to watch Artifact without regret for what might have been. Back in 1988, when it seemed that every major company was scrambling to get a Forsythe commission and Frankfurt Ballet came to New York’s City Center for its own planned invasion, we thought that we were looking at the future of ballet post-Balanchine. As dark and churning as the works were, there was a genuine attempt to assimilate and develop classical ballet. This was supposed to be our generation’s contribution, and Part 2 of Artifact Suite eloquently shows why. What happened?
Revival and Repertory at Covent Garden - Sleeping Beauty and the Mixed Rep and Gala programs at the Royal Ballet.
Alina Cojocaru and Marienela Nuñez were both dancing Aurora at the top of their games. Cojocaru’s delicacy and modesty is naturally attractive in the role, but she is not a consistent performer. She has bad days when her feet start flopping, but traditional repertory with marginally slower footwork shows her at her best. It was glorious to see her in a performance that justified all the fuss as she sailed through the balances in the Rose Adagio without even needing to show off. Cojocaru balanced through placement; she was on her leg the moment her shoe touched the floor. Nuñez balanced no less successfully, but from muscular strength; one could sense her driving her thigh forward to recalibrate her equilibrium.
In the front of the magazine, two short pieces, one reporting on both Akram Khan and (quoted below) Nrityagram Dance Ensemble:
As with their performances at the Joyce Theater a year previously, one marveled at the skill and stagecraft of the dancers and also at the taste and craft of Sen in her compositions. With their impeccable suspension and control the dancers make the style look deceptively easy (it takes seeing lesser Odissi dancers to know just how good Sen’s are). Here the company was almost too good. It has been performing the same program for month. Rather than looking fatigued, their work in unison was amazing. But it looked too drilled, with a high gloss that was difficult to penetrate.
The second on the Sourcing Stravinsky at Dance Theater Workshop with Yvonne Rainer's anatomization of Agon.
Seeing the steps of the opening men’s quartet danced by women, one realizes that everything will be the same, but completely different. Rainer’s fascination with changing the text by changing the situation – substituting women for men; fracturing and switching the order of sections and substituting music – are interesting, although the better one knows the original, the more wry it becomes. A monitor showed a video of Balanchine’s male solo from the first pas de trois; Catterson turned the screen away from the audience and attempted to reproduce it as she watched but we could not.
And available online at Danceview Times:
“Troilus and Cressida (Reduced)” is one of those goofball pieces that Taylor makes every now and again. . .Rob Kleinendorst is the stalwart but incompetent Troilus. He wears a pair of purple velvet pants designed by Santo Loquasto that keep falling down in what might be a backhanded tribute to Kevin MacKenzie’s ill-fated Romeo on television with Natalia Makarova. With three red-caped Greek invaders skulking about in pursuit, “Troilus” is brief, silly and harmless, but the result wasn’t worth the resources. Disney did better with the music using dancing ostriches and hippos.
New (Old) Balanchine in DC Suzanne Farrell Ballet dancing Balanchine rarities.
The performance wasn’t given full-dress treatment; Farrell herself dubbed it a “working rehearsal.” She spoke briefly in front of the curtain, saying that she felt very aware of the line between ‘preserve’ and ‘preservation’. To her, “preserve” was passive and “preservation” is active, which gave her license to adapt and rework. As she went on, it was clear she wasn’t talking about wholesale changes, but tailoring each work to the current dancer as Balanchine himself might have.
February 15, 2007
Latest Dance Article
Armitage Gone! Dance for Danceview Times:
Though I didn’t find it compelling, the structure and formality of “Time” kept it watchable; it had the doggedness of a running dream.
The above snippet illustrates what I found hardest about this review: getting the balance right. Armitage knows her craft; but I think there are better works out there than what I saw. It's easy to say that directly in this blog, but that isn't useful in a review; you want to allow the work to be judged on its own. Also, this is the first time I've seen Armitage's work. Dismissing anyone's work in print on the first viewing should only happen in extreme circumstances. Yet, neutrality isn't really neutral in reviewing. My neutral stance, no matter how fair I'd like to be, is a pan. I didn't really like it. Apollinaire Scherr also had mixed feelings, but liked what she saw and slanted it towards a recommendation:
I haven't always been an admirer--in fact, I positively detested her last outing, at the Duke. But everything on the Joyce program is worth seeing--cherishable, even. I didn't love every moment, but I loved the spirit of it: and that's the point--it has a spirit.
The distance between her assessment and mine is actually not that great, but it's a potent reason to know how much your taste overlaps with a given reviewer's.
Another noteworthy article this week was Gia Kourlas' interview with Miranda Weese before she leaves NYCB to go to Seattle and PNB. Kourlas has a gift for features (she did one of me and Chuck Askegard in '99); she managed to ask some very direct questions, kudos to Weese for answering them directly yet with tact and diplomacy.
February 8, 2007
Latest Dance Article
Personality, a review of the "Essential Balanchine" triple bill at New York City Ballet - and the unannounced tribute to Melissa Hayden:
The minutes went by as d’Amboise spoke and “Liebeslieder” — a masterpiece, but a long masterpiece — was still to come, yet he was mesmerizing in his stories, his blarney and his need to connect to her and (perhaps even more) us. He told of going down to see Hayden in North Carolina as she lay in the hospital on oxygen. Her mind took care of mundane details, telling her children there was a pot roast in the freezer in case d’Amboise stayed the night, but even then she was thinking of the stage. On seeing him, “Oh, Jacques, you came for my last dance.” Technique may make a dancer, but personality and hunger is what makes a star. Dancing Hayden’s role in “Stars and Stripes,” Ashley Bouder has that hunger.
January 28, 2007
Latest Dance Article
Tributes on the Tribute to Kirstein program at NYCB including the NYCB premiere of Tribute by Christopher d'Amboise:
The musical selections testified to Bach’s range and the choreographic quotations to Balanchine’s range. That also meant things didn’t always follow and the piece was quite derivative. Without particularly looking for them, I caught segments cribbed from “Symphony in C” and “Concerto Barocco.” D’Amboise’s take on Balanchine style also got fussy; his choreography tended to feminize the men. Still, “Tribute” was created for the school as a teaching ballet, and one is more tolerant of the derivative nature of a ballet for that purpose. It was an amiable but inconsequential work that was better section by section than as a whole.
January 23, 2007
Latest Dance Articles
In this week's Danceview Times, Partners and Shadows: New dancers in the Stravinsky ballets
If we’ve lost Peter Boal to Seattle, we haven’t lost his shadows. Sean Suozzi, Tyler Angle and Adrian Danchig-Waring were all taught by Boal at SAB. Suozzi, who has also worked with Boal in Boal’s own chamber ensemble, went into his teacher’s role in the first pas de trois [in "Agon"]. Suozzi’s attack is more violent than Boal’s; it brought to mind Edward Villella, an earlier proponent of role. Suozzi’s performance was syncopated and forceful but with depth and intelligence, relishing the soft-shoe flavor of the combinations. He still pushes too hard, but maybe in a few performances he’ll stop trying to show us that he gets it. Angle looked well-paired with Danchig-Waring, two finely-bred young attendants in the second pas de trois with Teresa Reichlen. Reichlin was daring and aerial: long and sharp, but flickering as a flame. Angle is the one who looks as if he may be the replacement for Peter Boal in five years. He has the talent, presence and elegance; the main difference is that Angle is less reticent, and — here lies the danger — less modest.
Not in print, but in the current (February/March, 2007) issue of Pointe Magazine, Talkin’ ’Bout My Generation: Young Choreographers At Covent Garden
The founder of England’s Royal Ballet, Ninette de Valois, had her recipe for a balanced repertoire. It included classics, contemporary works and novelties, all in proportion. The company’s current director, Monica Mason, has spent her tenure getting the classics back in order. It was time to tackle the other ingredients in de Valois’s stew by presenting two new works by young English choreographers, along with a Balanchine masterpiece, in November, at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.
Though the program notes spout grandly about neuroscience and “freedom space,” Wayne McGregor’s work can have the depth of a music video. However, his new piece for 10 dancers, Chroma, would have de Valois checking “topical novelty” off her list in approval. Shortly after this performance, Mason announced McGregor’s appointment as resident choreographer—not the proportion de Valois imagined.
January 15, 2007
Latest Dance Article
Beauty's Debutantes, on Sterling Hyltin's debut as Aurora (among several others) at NYCB.
Even with her lively presence, one could sense that Sterling Hyltin had the jitters in her debut as Aurora in Peter Martins’ “Sleeping Beauty”.
The first paragraph of that review got rejiggered a few times, because of the way I write reviews. I take notes during the performance, then transcribe them at home and craft the review from that. It means I have a clear record of my immediate thoughts as I watched, but the danger is that the notes have little perspective in their immediacy. On the first draft, I felt that I dwelled too much on Hyltin's nerves. It does need to be mentioned, but nerves in a debut as Aurora is more the rule than the exception. By changing the order of the sentences to front-load the paragraph with more about Hyltin, as opposed to Hyltin's nerves, I felt it better reflected what actually happened.
Glamorous and malevolent, Barak looked as if she didn’t only use NYCB’s previous interpreters as models; there seemed to be a bit of Walt Disney’s Maleficent as well as The Wicked Witch of the West thrown in. If there is any justice, she’d be groomed and put on a path to becoming a Principal Character Artist. But of course, NYCB is a company that doesn’t need such things. Or does it? Now that the company is doing more and more narrative ballets for better and for worse, are they going to admit that it takes different abilities, training and coaching to dance and act them, or are they going to keep pretending that changes in repertory have no consequences?
It's nice to have gotten to the point in reviewing where I feel able to open up a can of worms, as in that last sentence, without feeling as if I need to close it again. It's a very interesting issue - and one I hope to discuss in the future here, but I was assigned to cover debuts in Sleeping Beauty.
January 4, 2007
Latest Dance Articles - Catching Up Edition
Catching up on both recent articles and some pieces from when I went on hiatus:
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo - Make 'em Laugh:
In the Trock’s version of “Les Sylphides”, Olga Supphozova (Robert Carter) grinned maniacally as she thundered across the stage in the Mazurka. She posed at the front wing to secure our undying affection (or else) and then literally jogged offstage for the sprint to the back wing to barrel out for another bout of leaps. My companion, a woman who had danced the same role professionally and had to make that same breathless dash, leaned over and whispered. “It feels exactly like that.” It’s funny either way but if you know the role, it’s hilarious.
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch - Bausch's Baedeker
A woman in a cocktail dress was staring at the audience. A man in a suit walked up to her. “What are you doing?” He asked. “I’m smiling. Without a reason. It’s difficult, try it.” He did. And it was. “Keep smiling.” She offered helpfully, as they backed off the stage. “Without a reason. It’s difficult.”Limón Dance Company - After Limón
It’s interesting to compare “Dances for Isadora”, rather than to MacMillan’s bioballet, to Frederick Ashton’s “Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan”.
Roseanne Spradlin Dance - Mosaic of Survival
At the most dryly theatrical moment in the first half, all four performers brought out stuffed black ravens to dance a quadrille. Each held his or her raven differently; [Walter] Dundervill looked fabulous with one perched on his head.
Apart from the Trocks, I chose things other than ballet to review. The ABT season was already covered by other writers; NYCB only has one or two press nights for Nutcracker (and I've covered it several times). I chose the three above to round out my viewing. It's much harder to write without depth of viewing; the hardest was the Limón piece. I'm indebted to the kindness of the publicist (Audrey Ross) who offered me a ticket to the program I was not reviewing as well the one that I was. It made a difference getting to see the company twice. It didn't change my impressions; it helped to confirm them. I needed that; I felt uncomfortable reviewing Limón and Humphrey having seen so little of both.
December 15, 2006
Some signs of good dance (or other critical) writing
This is like one of the tests in Cosmo: Are you being attacked by a rabid wolverine? Answer these 10 easy questions and find out!
It's good dance writing if:
- It told you what you needed to know about a performance.
- It helped you understand something you were confused about.
- It helped you to notice something you hadn’t previously seen.
- It put into words a thought about the performance that you were having difficulty expressing.
- It helped you understand another point of view – why someone would have disliked a performance that you liked without taking away your right to your own conclusion.
- It entertained you.
- You marveled at the writing style.
- It made you want to see an artist’s work.
- It made you want to go see more dance.
For the knitters - a knitting post is coming up soon, I promise.
December 14, 2006
How not to write a press release
From a release received today from Dance New Amsterdam:
B.J. Sullivan, the New York native responsible for “safety release technique”, created Walk-in-Closet in an attempt to eradicate the dichotomy between the selves we present to the world, and the selves that we keep behind closed doors.
What wrong with this description? It sounds like a grant proposal rather than a release because the sentence describes not what the dance is, but what it's trying to do. As I've said before, the goal of a critic isn't the same as the goal of a grant maker. I don't care what the social benefits of the dance are or what the dance is trying to do (I'll make that decision myself from watching it, thanks); I need to know what it is. What's the music, how many people are in it. Is it possible to describe a moment of the dance - particularly one that gives a picture of the entire mood? Use descriptive language and get a picture in our minds.
The language choices don't work here. "Attempt" weakens the idea that "eradicate" wants to convey. "Dichotomy" in context seems pretentious. The idea of a walk-in closet as a metaphor for a private life is a powerful and familiar one; better language could connect the dots. A possible example (with completely made up facts - my apologies to BJ Sullivan)
BJ Sullivan breaks into the hidden spaces in our lives in Walk-in-Closet, a tense dance for women who spy on each other's private moments while Bernard Hermann's movie soundtracks drone ominously in the background.
Also, while "release technique" is familiar to most NY dance writers, "safety release technique" without an explanation just provokes humorous visions of Susan Klein and Barbara Mahler dancing to Men Without Hats. I know space is limited, but explain the idea - and why I need to know about it - or leave it out.
December 13, 2006
Critiquing the Critics
Time Out New York has just published an article critiquing the New York critics in several fields including dance. Like much of what TONY does, it’s aimed more at titillation than at stimulating discussion. TONY decided to work in the form of a survey, which dooms the enterprise at the outset: There is too small a group of respondents (though there may be more I don't know, in the list of panelists I recognize seven names as dance professionals) for any type of real analysis. But numbers and rankings are more sexy than a discussion. I’m rather surprised TONY didn’t give each of them stars.
Here’s a do it yourself guide to evaluating a critic. It takes more work, but you’ll learn more from it:
Go to a performance, one popular enough that you know it will be reviewed by several papers. Think about what you saw. Now read every report you can possibly find on the same performance.
Apollinaire Scherr, a critic at Newsday, blogger at Artsjournal and one of those reviewed, wisely notes that, “to say that a critic's got ‘good taste’ is just saying, ‘She's like me!’” At the same time, how close a critic’s viewpoint is to your own – I refer to it as “overlap” – is important and useful to know when reading them. I’ve learned that certain colleagues will usually dislike something I enjoy and with others I have a relatively close overlap. Overlap does matter. Reading a review by someone with whom I have almost no overlap is like visiting a parallel universe. Often it’s instructive; sometimes it’s disorienting or even infuriating. Still, reading contrary opinions helps you define your own aesthetic.
There are less subjective criteria. Depth of viewing is important. Openness is as well, the openness to realize that each performance needs to be judged on its own merits, and that not only is ballet not modern, but French ballet is not American ballet is not English ballet is not Release Technique is not Graham is not Cunningham is not Tanztheatre. A critic should not judge one form or aesthetic by another’s goals. (And that, Mr. Rockwell, is another reason why the differences between them matter.) The nuts and bolts of being a good writer matter as well, although there is one writer I can think of, who when someone criticized that critic’s pedestrian writing style, I responded, “But at least I know I went to the same performance.”
Update 12/15/2006: More thoughts on the subject here.
November 1, 2006
Latest Dance Articles - on doing interviews
White Nights in the Autumn, 2006 issue of Dance Now. The issue is not online, but worth seeking out - along with my article on the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg, Debra Craine reports on the Mariinsky and Bolshoi in their London season and John Percival writes on both company's earliest London appearances. There's a lot more of interest as well, including Jane Simpson on narrative ballets (Great minds. We were seeing some of the same performances in London and it would certainly make one interested in the subject.)
[Alina] Somova has only been in the company since 2003 and is still a coryphée. She’s blond, and all limbs and wild lines – thin, pulled out and hyperflexible. Despite soulful white acts, she seemed to prefer Odile to Odette. She looked coached (at least, compared to ballerinas in many other companies) but she’s strange. She and Kolb ended the adagio in the Black Swan pas de deux four counts early and waited to strike a final pose. In the coda she did messy fouettés that the audience loved, but the audience of tourists in the top priced seats at the Mariinsky would probably have applauded wildly for dancing bears in tutus if Tchaikovsky were playing and the ticket said Swan Lake.
An interview with Yuri Possokhov in the Autumn 2006 issue of Dance View.
DanceView: Are you feeling yet like you know what your voice is?
Yuri Possokhov: I know what my nature is. Not voice, but nature I know. And I want to be as close as possible to my nature. It will be revelation; I don’t want to be artificial.
This interview taught me a ton, including some elemental lessons about conducting an interview on tape. It's not a conversation. It's an interview. If you have a conversation, when you transcribe it, it will have all the ellipses of a normal conversation where the thoughts were clearly understood by the participants, but the words never got spoken. What was perfectly comprehensible at the time reads as either boring or gibberish. I excised a few pieces of the interview where this happened. And even more practically in the same vein, no matter how awkward it feels for the flow of speaking, once you've asked a question, don't say anything - ANYTHING - until the other person has answered in a full and complete sentence. Wait for them to be done in order to avoid ellipses, or what happened more often in this tape: sections where we were both talking at once and it took several repeats to make out what was said.
Possokhov was conducting an interview in a second language for him, a brave feat for any one. A lot of editing needed to be done both for grammar and flow, but I think it's essential; the interview needs to accurately reflect as the person's thoughts and that's not always a verbatim transcript. There were enough changes that I did something unorthodox and let Possokhov read the piece before I submitted it. I wanted to be sure it represented his thoughts properly.
The difference isn't that large here, but as an example, this is the verbatim transcript of the quote above.
LAW: Are you feeling yet like you know what your voice is?
YP: I know what my nature. Not voices, but nature I know. And I want to be as close as possible to my nature. It will be revelation [two short words unintelligible] otherwise I don’t want to be artificial.
Another major change to make the article read better is to pare my questions down to the bare minimum. They were usually longer, with some preamble, chat and explanation done to try and draw Possokhov out - he's not shy, but he's thinking in Russian and answering in English. It's a lot of work. Most of that is cut out, except where illuminative, and Possokhov's answers are spliced together to keep me discreetly in the background. I'm not the subject of the interview.
October 27, 2006
Latest Dance Article
From Ballet Review, Fall 2006 (not available online) on the Joffrey Ballet's "Cool Vibrations" program in Chicago last April:
More than a decade after leaving New York the company is dancing well, is organizationally sound and on impressively solid financial footing. Only a handful of dancers who entered the company before its move are still here but it looks much as it did in New York, including a repertory of varying quality from Ashton and Ballets Russes masterpieces to schlock. The dancers commit top energy to every step they do, which is needed for the lesser works in the repertory, but they will need to change gears when they dance choreography like Ashton’s Cinderella that they don’t need to sell.
October 16, 2006
Latest Dance Article
Conversations with a Legend on Pandit Birju Maharaj:
Sen, the senior of Maharaj’s students, announced that instead of performing an eleven beat composition, she would perform a new one of nine and a half beats. Nine and a half. I asked a friend expert in Indian dance to count the beats after the performance; it wasn’t possible with English numbers, but could be done with bols. It seemed the performance’s length was because Maharaj was enjoying himself so much that he could not stop.
October 8, 2006
Latest Dance Articles - I'm exhausted edition
Two coasts. Seven days. Five performances. Four Articles.
I'm not reviewing anything next week. Yay.
I have two articles this week in DVT. Scenes from the Buffet covers Fall for Dance's program - coincidentally that also contained a dance by PNB.
. . . a choreographer needs to make journeyman works. Even so, bringing to City Center good dancers in choreography that isn’t distinctive enough to hold its own against previous versions makes the company look provincial, and worse, reinforces the stereotype of ballet wasting great dancers on unremarkable dances.
My review of their hometown program for B-R is considerably more positive.
Birthdays and Repetitions covers Reich@70 at BAM, with performances by Akram Khan and Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker.
“Fase” would have been fascinating if only for the endurance involved. Set to four of Reich’s compositions, “Piano Phase”, “Come Out”, “Violin Phase” and “Clapping Music”, it was about 40 minutes long and was danced by only two dancers. It was quite a feat, not just of endurance.
The article on Pandit Birju Maharaj will come out in the following issue of Danceview Times, and the Pacific Northwest Ballet piece in a future issue of Ballet Review.
October 4, 2006
Latest Dance Article
Minutiae on Shen Wei Dance Arts for Danceview Times.
The four dancers were simply dressed in maroon tops, grey undershirts and brown pants; their movement was slow and meditative. The chanting by Ani Choying Dolma was haunting; sometimes keening and sometimes mumbled prayers. As the dancers rolled and stood again, the flakes fell silently off them like snow and away from them like earthly concerns. They emerged purified.
August 14, 2006
I was a busy boy this Spring – here are several articles that have recently been published:
These are not online, but I have pieces in the current issues of Ballet Review and Dance Now –
In the Summer ’06 issue of B-R there are three pieces – a report on Pennsylvania Ballet dancing two Balanchine programs (Theme/Prodigal/Western and Midsummer):
[The company] has a particularly good Prodigal in Philip Colucci. Reminiscent in build and masculinity to Edward Villella, Colucci turned in a vigorous and powerfully impatient performance.
. . .
Titania suits [Julie] Diana’s gifts; she has the delicacy of a spring afternoon. She doesn’t have the expansive attack of a dancer like Suzanne Farrell, but she has her soft, pale innocence. The squabbles with Oberon weren’t laden with ire, but she was funny in her scenes with Bottom as only a beautiful woman can be – by playing the scene straight and letting the situation get the laughs.
An article on English one-act narrative ballets in repertory at the Royal and Birmingham Royal Ballets:
De Valois’ choreography for the female corps [in Checkmate] is also revealing. The pointe work - walks, hops and changes of weight from foot to foot - require strong feet rather than supple ones. Though de Valois was not a chess player and needed to be taught the moves of the pieces, she moved her dancers as one might move chess pieces, decisively and forcefully into designs and tableaux.
. . .
Les Rendezvous is a relatively early work, but one can already see Ashtonisms. There are familiar opposing walks on either relevé or pointe and the final “shrug” of the arms that crops up, done here by four female demi-soloists. . . In a completely different way from ,em>Checkmate, the work is just as specific to the time and as expertly and cannily crafted.
For the men Ashton created an ingeniously designed Spanish-influenced dance. It starts with character steps and moves to classical ones, such as assemblés and beats but even the turns are constructed to finish in forgiving positions and look harder than they are. The dance seems designed not to overexpose the men in a fledgling company but to still make them better dancers.
And a report on two La Sylphides, Johan Kobborg’s in London and Nikolaj Hübbe’s in Toronto:
London: [Sorella] Englund’s conceit that Madge is actually a damaged sylph attracted to James is too pat for my tastes. The ballet is more resonant if Madge is governed by larger cosmic forces rather than smaller personal ones. Still, Englund has earned a right to her interpretation over the years and it’s acceptable if one takes her brilliant performances in isolation. But it is better left to enriching the interior dialogue of the performer than seeping into the accepted interpretation of the ballet.
Toronto:The details of [Guillaume] Côté’s interpretation were similar to [Aleksandr] Antonijevic’s, including the wedding ring stopping his flight, but his strongest attribute as a romantic hero is his unshakable innocence. He makes the repertory believable. He’s got ballon as well; even his petit allegro is big, though Antonijevic’s petit allegro is sharper. Ironically, the one thing Côté doesn’t do affectingly is die. Perhaps that’s the price of innocence.
In the Summer ’06 issue of Dance Now, a feature Yuri Possokhov and his Cinderella for the Bolshoi:
His soul shows in his ballets as well. Reflections, created in 2005 for San Francisco Ballet and yet to be seen in London, shows the passion that makes Possokhov interesting. An enormous work set to Mendelssohn’s first symphony, it has a corps of women in tutus (also by Woodall) complete with fascinating echoes of corsetry. The work is formally crafted but suddenly a ballerina slides across the stage on her pointes and tumbles to the floor. There’s an emotional rawness sometimes to the point of awkwardness. Possokhov wears his heart on his sleeve. Even so, he can craft steps eloquently; combined with the honesty of his sentiments, he’s an expressionist whom formalists can love. “Critics in Moscow said I brought American ballet to Russian stage. Here in San Francisco, I am too Russian. It’s unpredictable. More and more, I think that audiences everywhere are different.”
I'm also working on a longer interview with Possokhov that will be in a coming issue of Dance View (print version).
It would be delightful to see an Ashtonian “Sylvia” from ABT, but I’d be satisfied to see a “Sylvia” danced in the company style. If only they had one. What we saw on Wednesday night was a hodgepodge of influences that through lack of a point of view never coalesced. There are also restaurants, usually chains in any and every city, where you know the food will be fine, even good. One year, everything is served with chipotle and the next it’s all in green curry, depending on the trends. It’s not really Mexican or Thai, perhaps it’s Mexican-ish or Thai-esque. In the end though, it’s still the same inoffensive chicken breast that you forget by the next meal.
If you’d like to compare, here’s a journal I did of a week’s worth of Sylvia danced by the Royal Ballet in London.
In the Fall ’06 issue of knitsimple Mischief Managed, an article on (irony of ironies) project management for knitters:
My own project journal is just a list, but that’s all I need. Projects are divided into the following categories (acronyms courtesy of the KnitList:)
FO – Finished Object. Nirvana.
AFO – Almost Finished Object. Needs darning, blocking or seaming.
WIP – Work in Progress. Currently being knit
UFO – Unfinished Object. Houston, we have a problem.
In the Queue. – Amazingly enough, there is no acronym for this category, and it’s one of the most important.
HALFPINT – “Have a Lovely Fantasy Project, I’ve no Time”. Ideas that will have to wait until the right moment.
TOAD – Trashed Object, Abandoned in Disgust. Disgust can be liberating.
July 30, 2006
Latest Dance Article
Thin Brew, a review of Mark Morris' Sylvia
When Morris does finally give Sylvia her variation in Act III, the steps don’t add up architecturally to a variation. You don’t need wildly original steps or tons of vocabulary to make a successful dance — “Esplanade”, anyone? You do need a design to the phrases; how they connect and interact. Morris’ phrases lay there inert. Sometimes, as in Sylvia’s coda with Aminta in Act III, they look straight out of the classroom. More often, as when he begins a male duet with the men hopping in a circle as if doing the Alley Cat at a Bar Mitzvah, they’re just dull.
When polishing the review, I felt there were too many references to Ashton's Sylvia; something I would not have done in other circumstances. A work should be judged on its own, and as Mary Cargill notes in a review of the second night, the Ashton revival was still a year off when Morris was making his version. But I left them in. What I was saying (that Morris' choroegraphy is weak) goes far enough against conventional wisdom that I was going to have to back up my assertion in much greater detail, and that also meant bringing the Ashton in for comparison.
June 27, 2006
Latest Dance Articles
Funerals, Weddings and Westerns on Miranda Weese's debut in In Memory Of . . . and a look at Russian Seasons:
Weese began her career as a virtuoso, speeding through Merrill Ashley’s coloratura soprano roles. Maturity (and injury) added darker coloring as well as emotional complexity to her dancing; to extend the metaphor she’s become the company’s preeminent contralto.
Remembrance of Things Past on Neil Greenberg's concert at Dance Theater Workshop:
“At this point in the making of the dance my friend Michael Mitchell died.” The last line projected at the back of the stage in Neil Greenberg’s “Not-About-AIDS-Dance” (1994) encapsulates the urgency of it. Eight friends died while the dancers created the piece, as did his brother Jon. Greenberg himself was HIV+.
Fast forward twelve years later. Protease inhibitors made him asymptomatic. Greenberg looks in admirable dancing shape, better than I have seen in a few years. He’s still making dances.
Taylor is fascinated by the pastoral, but he’s done this before and better in works such as Arden Court.
Quaternary is also a U.S. premiere, and Christopher Wheeldon’s fourth ballet for SFB. Choreographed in his slickly inventive, contemporary mode; Quaternary is as calculated as a fashion ad.
May 22, 2006
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The Spring, 2006 issue of Ballet Review arrived in my mailbox today. It is not available online, but I have two pieces in it:
In the front section there's a report on Wheeldon's Swan Lake for Philadelphia:
The most exciting thing about his corps work is its spatial energy; it bursts with patterning and peelings and surges in unexpected directions. It is classical in vocabulary but very much of its time. It doesn't look like Petipa – it moves too much and too fast. It doesn’t look like Balanchine – instead of the erect carriage of the torso Balanchine used, Wheeldon prefers a more mobile one, especially of the upper torso, seemingly influenced by contemporary dance. It looks flattering on the company and makes Pennsylvania Ballet look like a company that has the resources to do Swan Lake even though they just barely have enough dancers to tackle it.
But this isn’t just a new classical ballet; it’s a new version of Swan Lake. Wheeldon’s work can’t be judged only on the fluency of his choreography, but on his treatment of the story. Do any of the changes or deviations from the traditional Swan Lake illuminate or enrich the story? Has he made a Swan Lake that is in any way better than a traditional version? The answer is no.
I wrote the above in October, 2005; there's a good chance if I had seen Evenfall (had it existed) at that time I might have been more willing to cut Wheeldon a break. I've found that Wheeldon usually keeps at a theme or genre for several times until he gets it.
I've also got a longer report on the end of the Ashton Centennial Season at the Royal Ballet:
These performances brought Monica Mason’s second full season running the Royal Ballet to a close. Her approach has been cautious and partially guided by the commemorative obligations of the Ashton centennial, but it’s painfully easy to imagine far more perverse approaches to a centennial than the respectful one Mason took. From the look of the company’s dancing the retrenching has done the company good. Even with a large contingent of dancers of many nationalities, the company looks English.
Now that Mason no longer has the Centennials to oblige, it's interesting to note that the coming season unfortunately has very little Ashton. I'm willing to trust Mason. For the past two years there have been precious few new works, and little MacMillan. I might prefer the Ashton but there are people clamoring for premieres and MacMillan as well. Still, what the Ashton Centennial showed without a doubt is the ballets need to be danced to be danced well. I hope she'll put more back in 2007-8. Were it me, I would have cut Theme and Variations and put in another Ashton work, but that's because I can see Theme with little effort and I haven't had luck with the Royal dancing Balanchine. A British Balanchinomane might think otherwise.
May 15, 2006
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NYCB's Spring Gala - new ballets by Peter Martins and Christopher Wheeldon:
. . . in “Evenfall”, Wheeldon is doing just what one would hope he’d do with his talent and resources. He’s making classical ballets for our era.
May 8, 2006
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Variety without cohesion, the premiere of In Vento, the new Diamond Project Ballet by Mauro Bigonzetti:
Bigonzetti seems to be trying for a frisson this work might have had two decades ago if he worked before William Forsythe instead of after. It’s also one of life’s little ironies that choreographers who have the least to do with Balanchine are the ones who most loudly proclaim their devotion to him. This work is “humbly and passionately dedicated to Mr. Balanchine, my master and master of all my masters.” This little bit of brown-nosing is about as convincing as when Boris Eifman tried it.
April 13, 2006
Lisa Rinehart's piece on James Sewell Ballet shows something she does particularly well - air her criticisms without seeming to try and settle a score.
James Sewell tries hard to make amusing, irreverent and meaningful dance, but with the three pieces on offer at the Joyce, he comes up short. His influences are a mixed bag of classical ballet, six years of contemporary dance with Feld Ballets/NY, and dabblings in yoga and Qigong. The result is work that's decently structured, professionally presented and essentially unremarkable—a virgin pina colada for the subscription set.
This is harsh criticism (better to be flat out bad than serviceable), but there's a method to the meanness. Sewell can do better.
There's a lot of food for thought on both sides of that idea - easy enough to say someone can do better. Yet, the painful truth is that some work, no matter how competent, is still not a valuable addition to the canon. And try telling that to the artist (myself included) who needed to make it.
A picture is worth a thousand comebacks. Read this entry on immigration by The Editors at the Poorman (scroll down at a leisurely pace for the best effect) for one of the best single picture retorts I have seen.
March 20, 2006
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Trouping the Classics on Tchaikovsky Perm Ballet for Danceview Times.
On a Saturday they danced “Sleeping Beauty” at the Lehman Center in The Bronx. The performance ended at 10:00 pm. Assumedly they ate afterwards, if they could find an open restaurant by the time they cleared out of the theater. Then probably they slept, woke up and got on a bus to load into the McCarter Theater in Princeton, rehearse and have the curtain go up on “Swan Lake” at 4:00 pm. They performed in Boston two days later.
Top Drawer Taylor, also for DVT, on Arabesque, Nightshade and Promethean Fire:
[Trusnovec] exemplifies the best of what this generation has to offer dance. We aren’t a subtle generation, nor are we a gentle one. What grace and elegance we find doesn’t spring from these qualities. We’re about energy and intensity. Like Wendy Whelan, who typifies a similar stance in ballet, Trusnovec has an ethos of burning commitment to the movement. It’s intelligent, not wildly misdirected or thoughtless.
March 12, 2006
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Spring Rounds, Dust and Esplanade during Paul Taylor's season at City Center:
San Francisco Ballet gave “Spring Rounds” its debut last summer, now the Taylor company is giving the piece, set to selections by Richard Strauss after Couperin, its New York premiere. I saw SFB perform the dance during their repertory season in San Francisco. The main difference between the two productions is the steps. There are plenty of steps when SFB dances it; and they do them well. When the Taylor company does it, there are barely any steps—and they’re doing it right.
March 2, 2006
Paula Citron on Jewels
Presented without comment. I'll let her words speak for themselves.
Which brings us to the problematic Emeralds. While Balanchine does create fetching lyrical movement of consummate grace that emulates the gentle turns, dainty jumps and delicate footwork of the period, his choice of music sinks the dancing. In Rubies and Diamonds, his composers are synonymous with the style. For Emeralds he chose dreary music by Gabriel Fauré that bears no relation to the dance.
Hopefully, when the copyright is over, some smart person will go back to the music of Adam, or even Delibes, and reset the choreography over the poignant, melancholy melodies that are so sadly missing from this section.
OK, I will comment. That is the stupidest thing I have ever seen in print about Balanchine. Too bad there isn't a real choreographer out there (James Kudelka, Ms. Citron?) who knew what sort of music that choreography really called for and would boldly go and reset it once all the foolish naysayers and stick-in-the-muds, to say nothing of the choreographer, are dead. After that, maybe we can do something about the boring bits in Ashton or Tudor.
I can't believe her editor wasn't kind enough to strike that paragraph before it hit print.
March 1, 2006
That’s about one page, single-spaced or four long paragraphs.
This is the first time in a while I’ve had to write to strict space limits and it’s a fascinating exercise. It changes everything you do. I’ve had conversations with my friend Alexandra Tomalonis about newspaper style; as a writer for the Washington Post it is quite familiar to her. Those discussions came in handy.
The biggest difference is that I did not focus on what I thought was best about the performances. I focused on what was newsworthy; this meant concentrating on the new productions even they did not contain the best work of the weekend. The dancers only got mentioned in passing, and only selected dancers. There’s barely enough room to get the reader up to speed on the production itself. As Alexandra said, for a new production, review the production. If the production has already been written about, then review the performances.
You choose your details carefully. There’s about enough room to describe one moment in the ballet, it had better be emblematic. There’s also no room to cover your ass in 500 words. If you want to make an assertion, you have to make it without qualification. I only had room to say “Gonzalo Garcia that was the next best thing to seeing Jacques d’Amboise in the role [of Apollo]”; I didn’t have the room to explain why I felt that way even though I never saw d’Amboise dance the role.
As reportage, 500 words aren’t satisfying; I can barely give the reader an inkling what happened. But it is sufficient for summary and opinion and there are certain performances where that’s enough. I could see doing more of these, especially where I’m “checking in” on a familiar company or production.
February 19, 2006
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Three Couples Times Three for Danceview Times.
This year will mark [Wendy] Whelan’s second decade at NYCB. In that time, we’ve seen the best qualities of her dancing: her courage, intensity and close-to-brutal honesty. Christopher Wheeldon gave her a role that summarizes those gifts and resets them so that we see not just courage but vulnerability, not just intensity but tenderness, and not just honesty but angelic compassion.
While you're there, there's a new writer making his debut at DVT, Michael Popkin. He talks about Friday's program - Wheeldon's version of Scènes de Ballet and Union Jack. Check it out.
February 8, 2006
When it rains it pours.
I have now knit five toilet paper covers. Really. They are to accompany an upcoming article on embellishing knitting in Knit.1 Magazine. I won’t spoil the fun by telling more (especially as I have neither decorated the TP covers nor written the article) but to my satisfaction it seems that a toilet paper roll has similar dimensions to a human head. Ruminate on that, but it does mean that the covers make very cute little skullcaps as well.
The Travel Issue of the magazine comes out on the 14th, coincidentally, my first blogoversary. I have a piece in this issue on knitting and travel. Also upcoming in Ballet Review are two articles, one on the June repertory in London and also Swan Lake at Pennsylvania Ballet.
The writing queue overfloweth right now.
Finished in first draft:
Being written –
Future Projects –
And the Swamp Thing of the queue – the potential rewrite of a manuscript for Knit.1 that, if it goes through, will vacuum up most of my time for the next two months. I apologize for being coy, but I’d rather not get the editors pissed off for giving away content. I really enjoy working with both Adina and Leslie at Knit.1. They’re reasonable and fun, and Adina makes me feel calm . . . at least in comparison.
You can catch Adina on the tube on March 5 at 3 pm on the Oxygen Network; she’s on a new show called Stitchcraft that also features Miss Lily Chin, whom I coincidentally had dim sum with today at Ping’s Seafood. The perennially stylish Eve Ng arranges a get-together after Chinese New Year, and we all gorged on turnip cake and roast pork wrapped in rice noodle. We’ve sampled a few of the dim sum places: Golden Unicorn, 20 Mott and Ping’s. I’m partial to Ping’s; the dim sum get to the table most fresh here. Go with a large group so that you can sample more. Overeating wildly was about $16 per person.
February 5, 2006
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Neatness Counts - on three performances at NYCB this week.
It’s the Age of Neat at New York City Ballet. One of the qualities of several of the current dancers—the one that seems the hardest to swallow for viewers who saw the company in Balanchine’s time—is neatness.
January 15, 2006
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For Danceview Times - Ashley Bouder and Sofiane Sylve's debuts in Peter Martins' Swan Lake at NYCB. New Swans:
As Odile, [Sylve's] technique was as dangerous as black ice.
. . .
[Bouder's] first lakeside scene seemed restrained and calculated at the opening from the effort to do justice to it but soon her back sang. Like other swans who aren’t all leg, that’s where she will find the role.
. . .
Adam Hendrickson has always been that oxymoron, a tasteful and intelligent jester.
There was a third debut, 20 year old Sara Mearns was plucked from the corps. Tom Phillips covers that, go and read.
January 9, 2006
What gets cut, Chapter 2
From yesterday’s DVT review, there were two sentences cut from the end of the penultimate paragraph:
It was delightful, but it’s actually wrong for the ballet. Still, if we could only all be wrong like Ashley Bouder. . .
They were cut after consultation with the editor, but she did not cut them. I did.
The first review I ever did of NYCB for Danceview Times was assigned to me literally on the plane. I was on a flight from Brussels taxiing to the gate at JFK when Alexandra asked me to cover a performance a few days later. I agreed to it and didn’t think much of it until I took my seat in the theater. I knew the program (their “Viennese” evening) but hadn’t checked the casting. Who was leading the first ballet out?
“Oh Christ. I don’t want to review her.” I’d just made a ballet on her the year before. How could I review her? Worse still, I thought she was miscast in the role.
Alexandra Ansanelli nailed everything in the sixth variation and her pas de deux too, especially her rapid footwork and fast, accurate turns. Her impressive strength in that delicate body is always surprising. She isn’t yet a natural choice for the role; Ansanelli is the ingénue of the company right now, and the central ballerina role in Divert is a figure of quiet authority. It’s not just that the variation is faster and harder and it’s not just that she’s at the center of every design. She presides over the dance, and Ansanelli tends to dance in her own magical world. She’s an enchanted princess in a queen bee role. The performances are investments for later; she’ll gain the authority needed with time.
It took me several shots to write that paragraph, and it’s not one of my best. I can see the contortions in it; if I didn’t know her I might have written “Ansanelli performed well in a role she isn’t suited for” and have been done with it. For the audience that’s the better sentence because it reflects their point of view. They don’t know Ansanelli. But at the time I couldn’t write it. Ironically enough, I think she did the role again just recently for Farrell’s company at the Kennedy Center honors telecast; I didn’t get to see it and find out if my predictions were correct.
I haven’t known Bouder as intimately as Ansanelli; I’ve seen her grow up from a distance. I first saw her dance at CPYB a decade ago. When I participated in Choreoplan there in 1999; I had first pick of dancers. I was planning an ensemble piece; the first thing I said was that I did not want Ashley; that she should go to someone who could give her a leading role.
Later that year she came to SAB. She danced with the school at some NYCB performances in Christopher Wheeldon’s Scènes de Ballets as part of a group of five.
She did the lead in Stars and Stripes at the SAB Workshop Performance the following year. When I saw her dance at CPYB she was an amazing technician, but never seemed to smile. It could have just been my luck on what performances I saw, but the girl in the workshop performances at SAB beamed and took the audience into the palm of her hand. And something else, something about her makeup. . .
After the performance I saw Darla Hoover smiling like a mother hen. Hoover had been in NYCB and taught Bouder at CPYB. “Darla, who taught Ashley to do her makeup?” I asked her. She said that she did, but I already knew that. Onstage Ashley’s eyes (especially the brows) looked just like Darla’s.
In 2001 I was covering an Interpreters Archive filming and there was Ashley learning a variation Balanchine created in 1935. I think she was 17.
The last real conversation we had was after Ashley came back from the yearlong absence that had so many people concerned. I was at SAB rehearsing, I think with Peter. Ashley came down the hall and we hugged.
“Do you know how much we missed you?” I asked.
“Well, I’m back!” was the answer.
I’ve said this about watching Alexandra or Ashley, but watching them onstage is like watching my favorite niece. I know their flaws but they don’t matter to me. But that doesn’t help the reader. So my job is to try and balance personal knowledge with what was actually onstage. The fact that I have some connection to the dancers compromises my work somewhat, but it also enriches it. Every reviewer has a bias. This is a glimpse into mine.
January 8, 2006
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[Miranda] Weese knows how to lead a cast and still connect graciously with the audience. She’s a great Queen Bee, Margo Channing without the booze and smokes.
December 20, 2005
Making the dance blogosphere bloggier
Slowly but surely, the dance blogosphere is picking up steam. A few dance bloggers have been having a conversation via email regarding multimedia blogging; Ed McPherson suggesting video blogging and Doug Fox talking about podcasts. I think both ideas are exciting, but not ones I’m going to take up. What I’m doing here, particularly relating to dance, seems to be oriented towards dance writing and the written word. I hope Ed and Doug will follow up on their ideas.
What else can we do to stimulate the discussion? Individual blogs have a clearer focus as the discussion and topic can be under closer control, but group efforts are what will make the conversation grow. Artsjournal’s roundtable about New York brought new voices into the arena. Assuming my role as resident crank of the dance blogosphere, I thought the results were mixed; there was some interesting discussion and some bloviating. There’s no sin in that – blogging arose in the first place as a place for people to mouth off. But if there’s enough of it in what’s supposed to be a discussion, a roundtable becomes a circle jerk.
The point I’d like to make to dance bloggers out there is that without the web of links that interconnect and cross-reference, it isn’t really a blog; it’s a diary or a column. Use the medium. Comments and especially trackbacks can be a hassle because of spamming but without them people don’t know that you’ve referenced their blog (This means you, Mr. Wright!) and there’s no feedback. If you’re using Movable Type, upgrade to version 3.2; the spam control is significantly improved. I got rid of most trackback spam with a single plug-in, TBPingLinkLookup.
If you can, make an effort to read other dance blogs and continue their discussions. This won’t suit everyone; Rachel Howard isn’t blogging for the same reason as Rachel Feinerman. But that’s what will build the web that keeps bloggers like Ariel from feeling like they’re out in the wilderness.
December 17, 2005
Since Rajika Puri, who will probably eternally be The Elegant Lady in the Fur to me, is responsible for introducing me to the beauty of classical Indian dance, there was no way I was going to miss her concert at the Rubin Museum of Art.
The museum, on 17th and 7th is in the building that was Barney’s well before it went posh. If I recall correctly, Dad brought me there for my first navy blazer when I was about 11. Instead of six floors of off-price suits, it now houses art from the Himalayan region and a small auditorium downstairs. (Knitter report: There are hand knit and crocheted scarves from Nepalese women’s cooperatives in the gift shop, but most textiles are woven and embroidered.) The auditorium is interesting and informal with tables sprinkled among the chairs and candles lit for atmosphere, but looks as if it was designed more for beauty and atmosphere than for practical concerns. The audience is level rather than raked - it looked as if the rear of the auditorium was actually raked slightly in reverse.
Devi-Malika was a performance of “manifestations of the feminine divine in India”. It was efficient in resources: a director, a musician (Steve Gorn playing a bamboo flute and other percussion) and Puri herself who sang, spoke and danced. Projections and film were used judiciously to heighten the atmosphere or practically to give Puri a brief rest in a solo performance. Puri and her director, Yuval Sharon, collaborated well; their focus made efficiency seem extravagant.
Six aspects of the feminine divine were shown. As the lights dimmed we heard a low resonant rumble; it was Puri beginning the tale of Lalita (beautiful), a creation myth. Indian classical dance is magical as a solo form; the narrative intimacy and power enables a talented performer to conquer the stage. Clothed in silk and bells (but with relatively little makeup – the theater is small and her eyes don’t need it) Puri has a similar magnetism to the best Graham dancers. It’s totally different than the magic of a ballet dancer; weight versus weightlessness. Darci Kistler was omnipresent yet intangible on a stage, like sunlight or dew. She perfumed the space. Puri, in the way I imagine Martha Graham, is a vortex into which all energy onstage converges and through which it must pass.
Her manifestations are colored by this power. Parvati – “of the mountain” and Shiva’s consort is both power and feminine guile. Her power is her beauty; Shiva was entranced by Parvati the moment he saw her. Puri changes her posture as Parvati; she becomes lighter, gently swaying confidently and seductively. This becomes even more so in the story of Savitri ("born of the sun"), the princess who renounced her status to marry the man of her choice and was so beautiful and quick-witted that she could trick Death out of his intended quarry – her husband. The most delightful of all the vignettes, Puri used a mask that appeared unexpectedly to create a duet out of a solo.
Saraswati, a river diety, was represented in music and on film. Gorn played a raga named for her while we saw only Puri’s bejeweled hands on film, performing larger-than-life mudras that flowed like water. It was a lovely and intelligent interlude. She returned as Radha. A common girl as fair as Krishna was dark (With his indigo skin he was known as Shyam – evening); their love elevated her to godhood in partnership with him. The final incarnation, was Sati, “true” – the namesake of the Hindu custom of immolation. But Sati was more than human; she could throw herself into a fire in vengeance for her father’s slight to her husband, Shiva, yet return to Shiva as Parvati – in her own sweet time, a millennium later. And as Puri ended, “But that is another story”.
Puri is not an anthropologist and makes no bones that what she’s offering us is her take on traditional myths. She has the taste to accomplish this and knows how much she can bend the twig before it breaks. It isn’t a reinterpretation as much as a view from other angles, such as a dance only of jeweled hands on a projected screen. She knows how to make what she is doing feel traditional even when it obviously isn’t.
There are a few common threads I’ve noticed in the Indian dance I’ve seen to date, but none more striking than the attitude towards sensuality and sex. In some of the most compelling Western myths, when mortals and gods couple the consequences are dire, far outweighing the pleasure. Even without the intersection with the supernatural, sex and pleasure are often followed by misfortune or punishment hard on its heels. In these dances sex is not only pleasure, but inspiration, bestowing creativity and poetry on the fortunate participants. Even in its poetic euphemisms (“Ah Monsoon, you have drenched me”) the sensuality is celebratory. (Added 12/18/05: The closest equivalent that comes to mind from Western culture is the Song of Songs.) It’s surprisingly hard to calibrate one’s brain to an artistic vision of sex completely untainted by shame. This is idealized, just as the portrait of women in Indian dance is idealized. But it is a fascinating and thought-provoking ideal.
The troika of Puri, Sharon and Gorn provided us with a jewel of an evening, an intricate box with several compartments each with a different surprise. Puri was as delightful talking afterwards as performing; she is very self-aware as a performer. If there was any difficulty with the performance it was that she came up short of breath early on when singing before she found her rhythm and a way to release her diaphragm as singing requires while still engaging it as dancing requires. It was one of the first things she acknowledged about the performance.
Puri lives comfortably in more than one artistic world. She’s acted in Julie Taymor’s productions and performed in several fusions of Western and Indian dance including meshing it with Flamenco and anatomizing it in a post-modern fashion. Fusion probably came naturally to her; she holds one of the secrets to it. To meld both worlds you must understand and honor both equally and know what can mesh and what cannot. But magnetic performers such as Puri can reconcile what lesser talents wouldn’t be able to. In her many incarnations she can contain multitudes.
November 19, 2005
A Choreographer's Diary
Here's a blast from the past.
A Choreographer's Diary was written as a diary of the creation and production of Dance as Ever's 1999 concert.
The diary was arguably a proto-blog, written before blogs and blogging software became common. I wanted to give it a permanent home on my own website and it seemed logical to present it in blog form.
It's quite long, but I think an interesting record from start to finish of the production of a chamber dance concert.
November 14, 2005
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It seems it was my turn to be Carabosse at Danceview Times this week.
The entire dance aims to walk a line between comic and poignant, but the emotional complexity of “Men’s Stories” is at the pedestrian level of television. Men are just like big kids. Who would have thought it?
Cedar Lake: The name conjures up images of an expensive suburb somewhere. Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet might as well come from an expensive suburb, one where people have more money than taste.
A negative review is often more memorably written than a postive review and people might think they're more fun to write. They aren't for me. They're written in anger, not glee, and they leave me feeling unpleasant, bitter and remembering the bad reviews I've gotten and how it felt to read them.
I've rarely written a negative review because of incompetence. There are too many good dancers in the city desperate for work. As I wrote in the Cedar Lake review,
. . . if you are paying a living wage in New York City and can’t hire excellent dancers you’re brain-dead.
If a piece gets a negative review, it's because I disagree with the aesthetics of the work, often because I think the work substitutes effect or shock value for craft. It's a battle nobody else may care about, but I do passionately.
My mood at the time of viewing affects the review and I try to compensate for that and discount criticisms I think arise from it. For the record, I was not in a bad mood when I saw Lubovitch, but was in a foul mood by the time I left. For Cedar Lake, I elected to take a bus instead of the subway to their theater, which is in an area underserved by mass transit (the far west side of Chelsea) and the traffic was horrendous - it took 20 minutes to go 9 blocks. I jumped out of the bus on 47th and 9th and walked the rest of the way, arriving at the last minute. It did not help, but I think this review arises less out of the situation than my dislike of that genre of dance.
Ironically, I had lunch with Tai on Saturday afternoon and we went to see Ballets Russes together. We've been friends for close to 20 years - how do you handle giving a negative review to a show in which your friend is dancing? "Tai, I saw the show on Thursday and I was reviewing. I complemented the dancers, but I wasn't happy with what [Lubovitch] was doing. Don't read my review." And we went on with lunch.
November 12, 2005
This has been a hard week as a dance writer. I saw two performances and loathed both of them. Really loathed. Performances that were completely not my aesthetic, that I'd rather not have seen and that in both cases had I not been reviewing I would have walked out of.
I now have to try to fashion two comparatively objective reviews for the same publication that don't sound alike.
I need to see something I love next, because Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet (it ain't ballet, I don't care if they jam their women into pointe shoes) made me feel bitter, twisted and old.
On a happier note, I also saw Ballets Russes today, which is a sweet little treasure. If you haven't seen it already, it's worth it if only to see Mia Slavenska tarted up with red lipstick in her wheelchair swearing that Balanchine would have fallen in love with her for her looks. Natalia Krassovska is as I recall her from 1991, when she was setting Les Sylphides on Lexington Ballet. There's only the single man in that ballet, so I did not work with her, but I was assigned to take her out to lunch, which was a rather pleasant duty. She loved being around younger men, and she loved to talk about the Ballets Russes. I recall asking her about the double saut de basques that Marie-Jeanne purportedly did in Ballet Imperial, but although Krassovska also danced the lead, she didn't recall them.
The film dwells more on the personalities of the dancers than it does on the dances themselves, which probably makes it more interesting for the general public, if a lost opportunity. But maybe Ballets Russes will make people want to know more about Massine's choreography or see more than the fleeting glimpse we got of Nijinska's Etude.
November 11, 2005
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It's a Leigh-o-rama in the current issue (Fall, 2005) of Ballet Review. It is not available on the web - ask about purchasing copies or subscriptions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pennsylvania Ballet Triple Bill (Raymonda Variations, Continuum, The Concert)
Made between Polyphonia and Morphoses, which were commissioned by New York City Ballet in 2001 and 2002, Continuum was created for San Francisco Ballet. The three works, all to music by György Ligeti, are said to be a trilogy. Maybe so, but it is a trilogy that has not been seen together, I think wisely. [Authors note - this article was written before the performances at the Miller Theater last September that presented all of the works together.] Continuum does not look like a sequel to Polyphonia but closer to its mirror, as if Wheeldon had too many ideas for a single ballet and split them between commissions. Better to do that on two separate companies and coasts.
In addition to both using Ligeti’s piano pieces (Continuum also adds in a piece for harpsichord that gives the work its title) both ballets use four couples and concentrate on a series of pas de deux and solos. Of course the steps are not exactly the same as those in Polyphonia, but Wheeldon’s response to very similar music is.
An Italian Straw Hat at the National Ballet of Canada
The human interactions belabor the point as well. We got the joke about Virginia and Felix’s insatiability about five penetrations back. All the sex actually gets in the way of character development. The differing attitudes towards love and sex among the three couples exist principally in Kudelka’s head and never make it across the footlights to us.
At the end of the ballet Kudelka makes a traditional pas de deux for Ferdinand and Hélène to celebrate their wedding. It’s lovely, and it also shows that ballet already has, and always has had, an expressive language for love in its own vocabulary that makes the same point better than brute literalism. It’s not only unnecessary to be literal; it’s duplicative.
San Francisco Ballet Repertory Programs 4 and 5 (including Yuri Possokhov's Reflections and Study in Motion)
Possokhov thinks big; both are sprawling works for large casts to music that doesn’t easily support a ballet – Scriabin Piano Pieces and Mendelssohn’s First Symphony. His work doesn’t fall easily into the usual boxes. It’s not ballet mixed with modern dance, it doesn’t lean toward tanztheater or dramballet, and it isn’t House of Balanchine formalism. Possokhov is most interested in theatrical effect, but not at the expense of form or vocabulary. He’s literally making contemporary ballet – not a hybrid form but an attempt to make classical ballet on his terms and in his era. That alone makes him interesting.
November 1, 2005
Jennifer Homans on Ashton
Via dirac at Ballet Talk, there's an article on dance in The New Republic.
It's bad form to criticize a colleague, but the article is a tremendous disappointment. Homans is repeating the same tired shibboleths about Ashton that New York critics used a generation ago to justify their preference for Balanchine (that Fred, he's so dear, so twee, so trivial . . .) and adding a layer of historical sludge to justify it.
Ashton's choreography tends to extended, breathless phrases filled with Isadora-like flourishes and feints, barely controlled by conventional grammar. Known for working with gestures and rushes of dramatically tinged movement, which sent him flying across the studio, he would then turn to the dancers and say, "now, what did I do?" In sum, Ashton backed his way into classicism, often pressing ballet into the service of impersonation and his own acute observations of social manners and codes. This led him to a unique and subtle but (as we shall see) highly perishable idiom.
Or, at least as Homans sees. She writes about dance the same way that other writers in TNR write about politics: as if somewhere there was a jury summation to be made or an election to be won (or worse, a doctoral thesis to be defended). We learn what Homans has learned from reading Secret Muses, which makes more sense to her than most of what she saw onstage. Ashton's classicism does come from outside the academy, but his comprehension of it is firm - he's also the man who went up to the balcony to watch Sleeping Beauty and "get a private lesson" from Petipa. Just look at Scènes de Ballet, the Act II divertissement in The Two Pigeons (which bothered some critics who were expecting character dance, and it isn't - it's a classical set piece with a character flavor) the court dances in Cinderella or several other examples.
This has been Homans' modus operandi in several of her articles, which range far and wide but at least all the ones I've read have been about the rise (or not) but always fall of ballet: Historical research laid on thick in a reverse-engineered attempt to justify her own tastes.
So why do British audiences love Ashton so unconditionally? What do they see that I do not?
Ashton's ballets are hard to fathom for an eye trained to American - or Balanchinean - classicism. It took me years. But since Homans can't see it, it must be a unique quirk of the British character. Is it possible that while Homans is delving into her sociology texts and biographies, the audience is actually looking at the ballets?
October 27, 2005
Don’t try this at home, kids.
8:15 am Wake up
1:15 pm – lunch with Jane and Roy
2:30 pm – Sadlers Wells Theatre. Birmingham Royal Ballet – Solitaire, Checkmate, Lady and the Fool
5:15 pm – matinee ends. Get on packed No. 38 bus to Holborn, walk to Covent Garden.
6:00 pm – sit in
Vilar Floral Hall and transcribe notes. Note running times of ballets carefully. Solitaire is 27 minutes, La Fête Étrange is 35 minutes long.
7:30 pm – Miss Solitaire at Sadlers Wells.
7:30 pm – See La Fête Étrange at Covent Garden with alternate cast you won’t see otherwise.
7:57 pm. Solitaire ends at Sadlers Wells. 20 minute intermission begins.
8:07 pm – Attempt to leave Covent Garden during applause. Realize you are penned in by placid applauding couples and infirm ladies.
8:10 pm – Applause ends. Permanently cripple only two infirm ladies as you clamber over them, to be penned in on the stairs out of the stalls circle by waddling men.
8:12 pm – Break free of waddling men and chattering ladies on stairs, head out to Bow Street.
8:14 pm – Catch cab while heading towards Strand.
8:20 pm – Arrive at Sadlers Wells.
8:23 pm – Checkmate begins, blessedly slightly late.
10:25 pm – program at Sadlers Wells ends. Walk to Angel, take extremely circuitous route home because of infrequency of subway trains (Northern line south to Moorgate, Hammersmith Line to Edgeware Road finally after passing up three previous Hammersmith trains when you realize that the Circle Line train you should take just isn’t coming, District Line to High Street Kensington)
11:30 pm – arrive at High Street Kensington. Grab a salad to take back to hotel room.
midnight – head for my stray wireless curb at Iverna Gardens to quickly download email.
12:15 am – back to room. Eat late supper, finish note taking and other writing for the day.
1:45 am – bed.
It was quite exhausting, but a very illuminating day filled entirely with English character ballets that I would never see otherwise. No one is making one-act narrative ballets any more. We seem to only think now in terms of full-evening story ballets or one act abstract works. La Fête Étrange has links to Tudor’s Lilac Garden, Solitaire to Robbins’ Interplay. I found Checkmate the most interesting; I had never seen Ninette de Valois’ choreography before, and it is very competent. It’s very much of its time (immediately prior to the Second World War) and uses a chess game as a metaphor for negotiation and combat. It isn’t like The Green Table but you can tell they were made in the same era.
October 24, 2005
Latest Dance Article
A New Ballet at ABT! - on the first night of repertory at City Center.
Kaleidoscope is an amiably crafted and competent, but not immediately distinctive work. I’m unsure where [Peter] Quanz is heading with this ballet but often one can’t easily get a handle on classical works. It may take several ballets to know what’s a reference and what’s a rip-off
October 15, 2005
What gets cut
My first article for Ballet Review was 14,000 words, so it’s no surprise that my biggest challenge as a dance writer is a tendency to over-document. The best solution for me is a “cooling-off” period (ideally a week if I have it), after which I can cut tangential points or trivia more dispassionately.
In two recent articles I cut the better part of a paragraph from each. In the first, a dancer’s pointe work was not up to expectations. It seemed to me that it was because of severe bunions, and I thought that because of the look of her shoes. That was all educated guesswork, but even if I could have confirmed it, it should have been cut. The article was about several programs during a season, not about that dancer. It was too specific a detail to warrant the digression. I mentioned her pointe work with no explanation.
In the second, I cut a paragraph on what I thought the ramifications of a specific commission would be on the career of a choreographer because ruminations on the life of a guest choreographer sound as much like career advice as analysis. The reader doesn’t care, and the choreographer really couldn’t care less, so out it went.
October 7, 2005
Latest Dance Article
Igor's Show - covering the Birmingham Royal Ballet's Stravinsky program - is not available on the web, but in the Autumn, 2005 issue of Dance Now, which also has a lot of coverage on the Bournonville Festival. It's easier to find in the UK, but can be purchased by subscription from overseas.
If you’re a choreographer, Stravinsky can be either your best friend or your most formidable opponent. His complex and layered scores, no matter how challenging harmonically, are rhythmically danceable. It’s their greatest asset. But music as textured and structurally secure as Stravinsky’s is like a corset for choreography; there’s plenty of support and not much room to breathe.
. . .
The best Maiden [in Rite of Spring] was the final one, Carol-Anne Millar. She took the best route to making her solo work; she tore into it ferociously. In a lucky bit of synchronicity, Barry Wordsworth and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia were exceeding themselves in the pit that night as well. It made for the most savage and exciting performance, and the first time I have seen the ballet where it felt as if someone were trying to dance herself to death.
. . .
[Scènes de Ballet] [Nao] Sakuma has the warmth, charm and importantly, the chops for the role. I’m pleasantly surprised she has the lines. When I saw her as The Young Girl in The Two Pigeons at the Ashton Festival in New York last year, her limbs seemed linear and almost severe. I thought she might look better in Balanchine. Though this is probably all in the way she approached the role rather than any physical change, she seemed to have grown a few appealingly soft curves for a warm, rounded line that looked better in Scènes.
. . .
In the smallest of packages, Duo Concertant tells you almost everything you need to know about Balanchine’s view of love. . .[Robert] Parker and [Elisha] Willis had no trouble with the conceits of the ballet; as good as Parker looked in The Two Pigeons last year in New York, in this programme he looked more comfortable in the Balanchine rather than Scènes. Willis also looked more at home here. She is a quiet, introverted dancer, even a bit closed off but the contrast between his playfulness and her shyness works. He’s in charge; he charms her and it makes it all the more charming to us.
October 4, 2005
Latest Dance Article
The most delicious aspect of the solo was the sensuality of it. “Ah, Monsoon, you have drenched me”—desire and high art were intertwined in the most elegant and beautiful manner.
September 29, 2005
I just got an advance copy of The Ballet Companion. My positive opinion from the galleys is confirmed; it's a good trustworthy reference and Eliza should be very proud. The dance professionals I have shown it to have been extremely impressed and want to purchase it for their school or recommend it to students and parents. I'm proud of my contribution to it, not that I always remember correctly what that was. I looked at a few sections and thought "I didn't write that", then looked at my drafts and found out that, no, I had - at least in initial draft. There's very little I wrote that went into the book as is, but that is to the good. Still, I've written so much over the past few years that I'm starting to not remember what I've written after another 40-50 thousand words have passed in the interim.
There was only one thing that I immediately and correctly thought "I didn't write that." - a single "indisputably" in the section on Balanchine. I didn't have a problem with Eliza's assertion (a case can be certainly made for Balanchine being the best choreographer of the 20th Century, especially on this side of the Atlantic), but I'm a cover-your-ass kind of writer and to me, writing "indisputably" is like taping a sign to your book that says "DISPUTE ME". Also, especially after a year where I've tried to concentrate on Ashton as well as Balanchine, I'm less interested in who's top dog. It doesn't matter.
The book tightened my writing and it made me notice the rhetorical constructions I use on the first draft that need to be combed out when editing. "Really", "actually", "in fact", "I think that" or "in the end" don't contribute to the thought; they're leftovers from the thought process. Writing weekly for Danceview Times continued the tightening process. Ballet Review isn't laissez-faire about copy; they edit the most rigorously of the places for which I have written. But it's a quarterly and Alexandra's background is The Washington Post. Newspaper writing is less leisurely and more muscular. I was finishing the article on the Royal Ballet for B-R this week and started trying to put together a "lede" - something I never thought about before writing for DVT. I didn't do a lede; the article is a 4000 word piece about several performances. A punchy intro wouldn't have fit the same way it does in a 700-1200 word piece about a single performance.
September 27, 2005
Latest Dance Article
A brief at Danceview Times about Ashley Bouder's guest appearance in Capriccio.
She entered with two cavaliers as the newest discovery of an impresario, did a brief and charming dance and another scene where she proceeded to devour a cake as greedily and messily as she could.
While you're at it, Lisa Rinehart is a new writer at Danceview Times. Her review of Jennifer Monson is both judicious and well written. Check it out.
September 23, 2005
I just finished a first pass through a long article on the Royal Ballet. Yes, from June. It's quite late; it just didn't seem to want to get written. I had to comb through it to achieve some consistency in tense usage - something I always have to watch for. My notes are usually written in present tense and it gives a sense of immediacy, but it reads strangely if you're reading the article months after the performance.
In this article and in most of my current work, I'm using tenses as follows.
Discussing "eternal" qualities of the production that will not change (even if the person discussed is dead) - present tense: Ashton's use of pointe work is subtle.
Discussing qualities of a dancer that extend beyond the instant performance - present tense: He is more comfortable dancing than acting.
Discussing the qualities of the specific performance - past tense: The dancers performed as if by rote.
I'd be interested in hearing how other people handle tense usage.
September 18, 2005
Latest Dance Article
This one was an interesting challenge. I suggested to my editor (Alexandra Tomalonis) two concerts I thought were worthy of coverage, but asked not to do them because I felt I knew both people (Glen Rumsey and Miro Magloire) too closely to have "clean hands". But other reviewers were doing other assignments and it came down to - if I wanted them to be covered, I would have to cover them. I'm a walking conflict of interest in the very close-knit dance world, so I have already had experience walking this tightrope, I think with some integrity. It's impossible to write as if you didn't know and like the people you review. I wouldn't have asked for them to be reviewed had I not felt their work deserved - and could handle - coverage. If I had hated it? Like most other reviewers in that situation, I would have probably asked not to file. I also think it's important to make your connection to the artist clear, but it's difficult to do that without being "noisy". I've had the disclosure removed by editors in some articles because they felt the work didn't need it - which made me slightly uncomfortable but also proud that I could maintain my objectivity.
I don't mind being openly supportive or partisan (it's done honestly), what's harder is keeping myself from pulling punches and switching allegiances. Ironically, this belies my previous post. When I am writing about colleagues and friends, I can't say the dialogue isn't directed at them in some way. I know they're reading it and yes, I am trying to think about the reader first, but I can sense the difference in tone because the intended audience has shifted slightly. That said, I still stand by what I wrote in more usual circumstances.
Plastic sheets like overgrown shower curtains were hung from the poles as scenery, forcing the audience to shrink away or duck through them to get to their seats. The atmosphere—intimate, close and shrouded—was like a jamboree at a sex club.
New Chamber Ballet is a barebones operation rigorously pared down to the essentials. Small casts, simple leotard costumes and no lighting beyond a dimmer are all part of an ascetic approach. But there’s also glorious live music, Bach played so beautifully on violin and piano by Melody Fader and Erik Carlson that it could make the most uncomfortable folding chair bearable.
September 17, 2005
Choreographers vs. Critics
I have empathy for O'Connor's anger. I've both written and been written about. As an artist, the one thing any artist wants, even more than the viewer liking the work is him or her getting it. Hate it or love it, but please know what I was trying to do and not tell me my work was about something that never crossed my mind the entire time I made it. There's one review I got that I know was supportive and positive - everyone told me so. I hated it; the author's take disturbed me enough that it took a few weeks to recover. To this day I can't bring myself to put it in my press kit.
I'm also a writer. And the toughest lesson to learn when you've done both is that the writer is not having a dialogue with the artist. His or her dialogue is with the reader and potential audience. The point is to tell the reader what s/he saw and thought of the work. S/he doesn't need to understand, or "get" your work. S/he only needs to be able to formulate an opinion based on his or her viewing. The only thing the writer owes the artist is basic professional and ethical standards. If you sent out a press release and invited them to come, view and write, you're fair game. I try to work at a higher standard than that, but that's my choice, not my obligation.
To be even more cold-hearted, if you can get a publication like the New Yorker, a general interest publication that devotes less and less space to dance - and even so only at Acocella's pleasure because she is committed to writing on it - to write about you, count yourself lucky.
For all these reasons I would not publicly comment on a review except in very limited circumstances where the author was factually grossly inaccurate or ethically compromised. A review is a subjective view from the audience's point of view - a point of view I can never fully share in my own work. O'Connor's objections boil down to "she doesn't understand the work" but my take on her article is that she takes all four choreographers seriously, and is not particularly negative and not vindictive. She doesn't seem to take pleasure in O'Connor's work, but I'd say she observed it closely, respectfully and understands it - just not the way O'Connor would like.
I haven't seen O'Connor's work in a long while, but in the piece I saw, when the dancers were miserable and unhappy he showed it by having them do ballet exercises. I don't see that O'Connor understands Acocella's aesthetic with more sensitivity than she understands his so it might have been best to call it a draw and let discretion be the better part of valor.
August 26, 2005
Latest Dance Article
Suzanne Farrell Ballet performing Balanchine's Don Quixote, for Dance International, but available in the print issue (Fall 2005) only.
For people used to the traditional version, Balanchine’s version is a shock. It’s not the comic love story of Kitri and Basilio, with the Don relegated to the sidelines; it is a dark meditation on love and idealism. Sprawling and only partially successful, it is as daring, personal and ambitious as anything Balanchine ever attempted, and it is anything but entertainment.
. . . it feels as if the problem is with this staging and that Farrell has taken her adoration and worship of Balanchine and transferred it to the Don. In doing so, the objectivity the ballet needs is lost.
August 4, 2005
Latest Dance Articles
Two in the Summer 2005 issue of Ballet Review - available only in print.
Giselle and Stravinsky Violin Concerto at the National Ballet of Canada
Tall with long lines, [Guillaume] Côté looks, partners, dances, and acts like a prince, yet he is still young enough to be believable as an innocent Albrecht who does not understand the damage he is causing. He's already fulfilled much of his promise but there is still more potential and he keeps growing in authority.
Because he's older, Aleksandar Antonijevic has to take a slightly more duplicitous approach, but he handles it artfully. The difference can be seen in Act I when Hilarion sounds the horn to call the noble hunting party and Albrecht hears the fateful response. Côté realizes that he's trapped; Antonijevic instead swings into action thinking of a way out. He had a very fine moment when he had almost managed to convince [Greta] Hodgkinson that all could be explained and then Bathilde appeared. When Giselle confronted him and he looked away, it was as much in sad apology as regretful anger, as if he still believed even then that he could have pulled the whole charade off and not hurt anyone.
La Fille mal Gardée at Pennsylvania Ballet
The company offered two pairs of leading couples, of which Julie Diana and James Ady were most satisfying. Diana comes from San Francisco Ballet and is a fortunate addition to Philadelphia's roster. As Lise, she was a mix of charm, mischief, and delicacy. Her footwork and bourrées were especially fine, particularly a series swift battements serrés as Ady set her down from a lift that conveyed exactly the fluttering ecstasy Ashton intended at that moment. Her performance of the mime sequence Ashton preserved from Karsavina’s recollections was also delightful. Naughty, but not cruel, she was a Lise one could both love and laugh with.
July 27, 2005
Latest Dance Article
This is a ballet about combat and rebellion; the corps de ballet and the military battalion corps do not seem far apart.
July 19, 2005
Latest Dance Article
Over the Top and Nobody Does it Better. Don Quixote on the opening night of the Bolshoi's New York season.
The Bolshoi has not tamed Zakharova’s freak show extensions; they are still very much in evidence and border on the gynecological. In Act II, Zakharova flirtatiously pulled down her skirt for modesty during a comic moment in a lift. We’ve seen far more than that already, why bother? The vulgarity is one problem, but how vulgar can one call Zakharova’s extensions in a production where Mercedes folds herself in half backwards?
The stupefyingly flexible Irina Zibirova stunned us all in the tavern scene, only to be outdone by Anna Antropova’s gypsy dance, which involved hurling guitars willy-nilly, sliding wildly on the ground in a backbend and if possible, going over the top of Over The Top.
July 17, 2005
Latest Dance Article
Giselle-isms on the Vishneva/Corella Giselle at ABT last Tuesday.
Vishneva’s Act I was filled with Giselle-isms. The shy glance with averted eyes, the head held forward and down; it was all there. She’s got her Giselle-isms down so that even if they are not sincere, they are still convincing. It’s the Big Star version: Eau de Giselle.
July 11, 2005
Latest Dance Articles
Part’s Odile is big, raw-edged and weirdly gleeful. She’s like some over the top forties movie villainess, perhaps Tamara Toumanova playing a communist double agent, laughing as she drugs the hero. You never knew evil could be this much fun.
Not available on the web, but in the current issue of Dance Now, a review of Boston Ballet's La Sylphide.
The ending tableau of Madge standing over James’ body was a bleak image of empty triumph and there was dead silence in the audience. [Merrill] Ashley eschewed a theatrical interpretation and paradoxically she was absolutely riveting.
July 9, 2005
A few more rules on dance writing
To go with these:
12. Don't slam a company that can't take it. Criticise in scale - it isn't going to destroy the Royal Ballet if I slam Symphony in C, but what if I'm the only review some little group performing at Joyce Soho or WAX gets? Save the zingers for someone who can handle it.
12a: A corollary for companies regarding hubris: don't advertise what you can't back up. If your press materials say your regional ballet company is "world class" and I go to your performance and see something less than the Maryinsky, you can be certain I am going to pan you. So don't do it.
13. Try not to kiss and slap. I have to watch out for this because of the way I take notes. I may not write much when watching a variation except a quick note about someone's sickled foot because I happened to notice it. That can accidentally turn into "X gave a lovely performance though her right foot sickles in arabesque." If she did a good job, don't dilute it with a minor detail.
June 20, 2005
The Ballet Companion
I never announced this publicly (I wanted to wait until it was slated for publication) but I spent the better part of last year assisting in the writing of an upcoming book for Simon & Schuster - The Ballet Companion by Eliza Gaynor-Minden. It's not "my book" and it would be hard to find anything in it beyond a turn of phrase that's in my words rather than Eliza's. She reworked almost everything I wrote to keep the voice of the book consistent, and the results are better for it.
The book is now due for publication in October 2005. Eliza sent me the galleys a few days ago and, bias aside, I was very impressed. I think she's created a very useful primer for both serious students and their families and friends. There's a real range of topics covered carefully and accurately. For people new to ballet and looking to find out more and anyone else lookin to get a good primary ballet reference to technique, schooling and history, I'd recommend it unhesistatingly.
June 1, 2005
Rules I try to follow when writing on dance
These aren’t The Rules, but I think they’re helpful. I’m sure other writers have their own, and I’d be curious what they are.
1. Know your audience. A review in The New York Times or any general publication is different than a review in Danceview Times or any specialist publication. I may need to explain or summarize background, but the reader may also want to know less detail.
2. It’s a completely different skill to write a 350 word review than a 1500 word one. It’s not the same review, only shorter. One is a summary, the other an analysis. For me, it’s easiest to write shorter reviews a bit later after the performance. The minutiae of performance that enrich a longer review recede in my mind and I can concentrate on the broader view.
3. Make sure you tell the reader what s/he needs to know. What are the most newsworthy elements of the performance? A debut or a new production has to be mentioned, as do the performances of the leads. I try to think about what they came to find out, not what I want to tell them. [added 6/2/05] Much of what I write here I learned or honed from doing weekly reviews for Danceview Times. Alexandra Tomalonis' background is newspaper work (The Washington Post) and there's a different set of requirements. A useful corollary to this rule is that if a production is new, review the production. If it's already been reviewed, focus on the specific performance.
4. This one is the most difficult for me, because of my background. The dialogue is with the audience, not the artist. No matter what I might be able to guess about the process, I am writing from the audience’s perspective. I wasn’t backstage; I don’t really know what went on. I only know what we all saw from the seats. My knowledge of the process is useful for the audience, but it’s not my job to give helpful suggestions and they’re usually not appreciated. It’s my job to tell the audience what was on stage.
5. Dance writing has to be more than a litany of opinions and judgments. Nobody really cares whether I liked dancer X or not unless they agree with me. This performance is gone, never to be retrieved. If the reader was there, s/he knows whether it was good or not without me telling them. It’s more valuable to demonstrate a method of analysis and give the reader a path into the work. What can I help him or her to watch for the next time?
6. Damage your credibility and integrity and you might as well quit. Everyone has his or her own weaknesses; I’m more likely to omit information than falsify it. It’s preferable to gloss over a performer’s one bad night rather than fixate on the details, but what if this is a consistent issue? If the reader - or the record - needs to know it, I need to put it in.
7. Dance writing is not scholarly writing and criticism is not a graduate school paper. Style and readability are essential. A review has to be entertaining.
8. Avoid gratuitous zingers. If I couldn’t admit I wrote something to the person’s face, I try not to put it in.
9. It starts to be a problem when you give a specific company or dancer the same bad review over and over. There are problems with continuously harping on the same thing. One doesn’t always have the option, but if I’ve exhausted what I have to say about a certain subject, I try to avoid it for a while.
10. Avoid superlatives; they damage credibility and they’re lazy writing.
[added - 11. I don't read any other reviews of a given performance until I have submitted mine for publication to guard against plagiarism.]
May 31, 2005
Latest Dance Articles
On the web
. . . the rival pressure from ABT’s contingent of pyrotechnicians is strong. The appetite of the audience today is for male virtuosity, and NYCB needed De Luz to keep up, but the Balanchine repertory suited to a short male pyrotechnician is limited; principally Edward Villella’s roles. Baryshnikov encountered a similar problem during his brief tenure. Where is their repertory to come from?
And if you like me, find train wrecks eerily fascinating, Nancy Dalva reviews one this week: Eifman’s Anna Karenina.
The latest print issue of Dance View has come out and my piece on the latest Balanchine Foundation taping, Merrill Ashley coaching Ballo della Regina, is included.
Ashley keeps correcting Scheller’s placement. She brushes the front of Scheller’s hips to show what she wants. “This always has to be long. You don’t want to see a crease . . . you’re on balance. I’m never on balance.” Classical placement pushes the body gently forward from the back of the shoulder blades to avoid “sitting back”. Ashley asks for a slightly different, even more stretched alignment by lengthening the front of the hips. For Ashley in Ballo della Regina, classical alignment is stasis.
This article isn't available on the web, but several earlier ones in a series of reports on the Balanchine Foundation Interpreters Archive tapings are. You can subscribe to Dance View at its homepage - do consider it, it also supports the web edition, Danceview Times.
May 23, 2005
Most recent articles
All we need is a volcano virgin at the end, but all we get is a blackout.
Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Co. in Tracings.
The story of immigration is the story of our country; millions of voices each tell individual tales that blend into one. The details of each tale—my great grandfather was a cabinet maker, Mr. Burgess’ worked on a plantation—are most interesting to ourselves. One must escalate the telling of the tale to something much more than the details.
I've said it before, but Phillips is one hell of a writer.
May 21, 2005
Most Recent Articles
Both in the current (Spring '05) Issue of Ballet Review. Holy Moly, Spring '05 actually appeared during Spring, '05! Ballet Review has not always been known for its punctuality. The magazine can be difficult to find, but is available in the promenade gift shop of the NY State Theater during NYCB performances - or email Ballet Review
Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Mark Godden's The Magic Flute, Halifax, NS
. . . Godden has favored storytelling over dance values, an endearingly retro quality.
He’s not entirely retro. His dance vocabulary moves with the prevailing wind for contemporary ballet; classical legs with the semaphoring arms that come from not only Forsythe or Kylián, but jazz and club dancing as well. Godden’s results are occasionally precious, but more often acceptable. The work looks tailored to the company and he makes the dancers look good.
. . .
Godden doesn’t falter in his handling of narrative, but there’s also music, and he’s up against Mozart. He’s attracted to the humor of the libretto but doesn’t know what to do about its delicacy. [Tara] Birtwhistle is given very earthy choreography but we’re listening to Cheryl Studer’s coloratura trills at the same time. Godden has the obvious analogue to coloratura vocal technique right at hand – pointe work – and dancers who are fluent at it. He uses pointe vocabulary, but sticks with the forceful aspect of it, relévés and turns, and avoids bourrées and other coloratura filigree. Godden also doesn’t make much of ensemble work; it’s all unison and tends towards the hyperactive. His vision has a great deal less texture than Mozart’s.
The Bolshoi Ballet in Don Quixote - Boston, MA
During the scene at the gypsy camp, Yulianna Malkhasyants does a dance with over-the-top mood swings that is the kind of freak-out I’ve only seen her and the Kirov's Galina Rakhmanova put over. . . The Bolshoi’s Mercedes (Maria Isplatovskaya) does her share [of backbends] during the tavern scene directly to the audience, pointedly and excruciatingly slowly after Espada flirts with another woman. They’re a triumphant trick to enforce her status. “Watch this. You can’t leave me. I can fold myself in half backwards.” And after astounding the audience and Espada she disappears, of course, never to be seen again.
. . .
Of all the smaller roles, character and classical, the loveliest dancer was Nelli Kobakhidze. One of a trio of Dryads in both performances, she danced the second variation during the act 3 grand pas. She’s a long-limbed beauty, delicate and strong all at once.
The corps de ballet danced as a single organism, fanning itself in unison in the first act or leaping and banging tambourines as one. The character dances are really classical dances with slight character flavoring, but they sell them as if they were actual character choreography. All the corps work is relatively elementary, but that’s a feature, not a deficit. It allows for beautiful clarity as well as ease.
May 10, 2005
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Henry Darger fulfills every romantic myth of the artist: Solitary, unbalanced, undiscovered, untrained, unrecognized, impoverished and conveniently dead, therefore available for romanticizing, analysis and exploitation.
There's tons to read this week at Danceview Times, so read it all and enjoy!
April 25, 2005
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At Danceview Times: Classical Music and Dance from Cambodia
The Nrityagram ensemble took classical Indian dance and presented it as a theatrical experience. The dancers and musicians from the Royal University of Fine Arts in the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh presented their dance and music as an ethnological experience.
April 18, 2005
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There’s more than enough material here for two separate ballets and neither idea is particularly illuminated by the other.
It took less than a minute after the curtain rose for the audience to know that the performance of the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble was a great one. The rest was simply delightful confirmation.
I also saw Neil Greenberg's Partial View and Dance Theater Workshop last Saturday, but I am so backlogged on dance writing that I'm going to refer you to another (marvelous) dance writer, Nancy Dalva, for her report.
March 22, 2005
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For Danceview Times, the final week of Paul Taylor's season:
Patrick Corbin doesn't try for Gender Illusion in the part; he does drag: nasty, tough transvestite hooker drag with lipstick smeared over his lips, a child playing with Mommy's makeup but also lace-up red patent leather boots with five inch heels.
March 14, 2005
More on the Taylor season at Danceview Times.
. . . the dance looks like it was dreamed up by the company’s director of development . . . the music . . . comes to us directly from Kibbutz Windham Hill.
March 8, 2005
Paul Taylor at City Center.
February 27, 2005
Two short pieces for Danceview Times
Playing Billy Randolph, the Prince Charming of Hollywood, Damian Woetzel looks so natural in a Broadway role you almost wish he’d go to Broadway and raise the standards there—the problem is that his technique would probably get debilitated rather than Broadway’s standards getting raised.
Japanese pop is fascinating to the West because it’s our pop transplanted and handed back to us recognizable but completely transformed.
February 21, 2005
The reason I'm happy to write for Danceview Times is that I'm in good company.
Latest Article (Royal Ballet School)
Watching a graduating performance of any of the major dance academies involves a bit of calculus and science fiction; you’re no longer looking at three dimensions on the stage, but also the fourth: time. You watch the stage and see the young dancer onstage overlaid with the dancer five years hence; how will she develop, where will he be?