Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ballet Hispanico—Casting a Wide Net

Rodney Hamilton, Vanessa Valecillos, Mario Ismael Espinoza in Espiritu Vivo. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor
Ballet Hispanico is a work in constant process—less about defining what comprises Hispanic dance than stretching its definition and possibilities. The company of 16 is made up of seemingly ever fewer dancers of latino descent (standouts are Min-Tzu Li and new member Jamal Rashann Callender), but one or more major elements in the works in repertory relate to artists of Spanish-speaking countries. Performances continue at the Joyce through April 29.

Brooklynite Ronald K. Brown choreographed one of the season's premieres, and the hook seems to be that he uses music by Susana Baca, the dusky-voiced Peruvian singer (who I sadly missed performing live the first week). Brown's movement for Espiritu Vivo significantly tempers the propulsive, gravity-bound African vocabulary he so skillfully deploys on his own company. He has adapted some of the motifs—the pulled-back elbows, spearing leaps, and floating attitude turns—but they're softened and somewhat drained of the feverish energy so contagious in his dances. It's pleasant enough, but it came off as among the most basic of the choreographer's compositions. Still, give Ballet Hispanico credit for pursuing a highly successful contemporary dancemaker outside the geographical/linguistic parameters, even if the connection is but filament-thin.

I reviewed Mad'moiselle (by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa) two years ago, and this year I wasn't as distracted by some of the production elements (like the pink trannie wigs) and could appreciate more the snappy pace of the varied and numerous scenes and musical selections, the shapely and muscular movement, and the high level of skill by the dancers. Again, Li danced the lead role, engrossing in her convincing state of detachment and with her refined, bold lines.

In contrast, the program led off with Pedro Ruiz's Guajira (1999). With its traditional feel and narrative tracing the lives of peasants, it evoked an earlier era in the repertory, concentrating more on folkloric-oriented dances rather than following the more recent free-form conceptual connection to being Hispanic (under Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro).

What Ballet Hispanico is doing is not easy or safe, but in a way, having a loose, yet defined, premise has allowed the company to expand in many ways while (without getting too literal) retaining a constant voice. This admittedly wooly identity isn't a bad thing amid a world-wide klatch of like-sized ballet companies.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Barcelona Ballet: Corella's Next Phase

Angel Corella in the world premiere of Pálpito, by Barcelona Ballet. Photo: Erin Baiano
Barcelona Ballet (originally Corella Ballet) is in town for its second New York season at City Center through April 20, led by artistic director Ángel Corella, who retires in June as a principal with ABT. At 36, from the perspective of dancing, Corella has peaked despite his perpetual boyish charm. But in respect to running a company, he's still young. Since beginning a foundation in 2001, and then the company in 2008, more and more of his boundless energy has gone to running the company, and his appearances in ABT's full-length ballets have dwindled.

Remarkably, Barcelona Ballet is the only dedicated classical ballet company in Spain, where contemporary-modern ballet is favored. And after seeing the performance on Tuesday, it's apparent that recruitment and training are taken seriously. Corella is reknowned for his joyfulness when dancing, gaining him a loyal and fervent following. It doesn't hurt that his spins and leaps can be unforgettable (when controlled, for their virtuosity; when uncontrolled, for their sheer hubris), nor his Prince Charming looks. But a number of men in his company have fantastic physical gifts. Christopher Wheeldon's For 4, created for a Kings of the Dance program which included Corella, showed off the talents of Fernando Bufalá, Alejandro Virelles, Aaron Robison, and Dayron Vera in a playful, freewheeling series of ensembles and showcase solos.

The evening began with Clark Tippett's Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1, for four pairs plus 16 corps members. Tippett, American, danced with ABT and Tharp as well as choreographing. His fairly straightforward interpretation of ballet immediately showed the dancers' solid fundamentals. Each pas de deux was emotionally shaded to compliment the costumes' hues. The elegant (and missed in NYC, albeit formerly buried in ABT's deep ranks) Carmen Corella, sister of Ángel, wore shades of mid to dark blue and danced somberly, and Momoko Hirata—a revelation of sprightliness and confident strength—bright pink, balancing the dusky gold corsets (designed by Dain Marcus) of the corps.

The featured work was Pálpito (which translates to "hunch"...?), a commission by Rojas & Rodriguez to music composed and produced by Héctor González, with outré costumes by Vicente Soler. Meant to evoke the variety of Iberian culture, it also featured Ángel as—paraphrasing the program—an artist trapped in his role as a dancer, kept from pursuing tranquility, peace, and new horizons. Not too much of a stretch, honestly. The ballet offered interesting moments mixed in with some monotony. The seguidilla/tango sections, to strongly percussive music, lit dramatically by Luis Perdiguero, were dutifully strident and quite entertaining. But the fine line between daring and tacky blurred in costume choices, particularly the ones involving the mens' bare chests and neckties, and lots of black lace.

Corella will forever appear in the mind's eye as an adorable moppet, huge smile slicing his face—again, why audiences adore him. So in serious roles such as this, at least until the finale, his angst felt forced as he angrily strode about the stage, punching his fists in the air. Yet he hammered home the psychological underpinnings through his physical expressiveness, still robust if fading by faint shades. Re-entering after changing into a yet-puffier shirt, he seemed a changed man, his effervescent smile now completely irrepressible, ready to greet his laudatory fans who will forever keep him in their hearts. There'll be ear-splitting cheers, and plenty of tears, at his June 28 send-off after ABT's Swan Lake, but it's nice to think we'll still be able to see him, or at least his artistic hand, from time to time.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Justified Season 3—The Dark Side of Americana

Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens in Justified
Hard to believe S3 of Justified is over; feels like it only just began. To begin with, matching season 2's quality was going to be next to impossible. And the storyline about Mags' money's whereabouts recurred as a periodic reminder of how MAGnificent a character she truly was, worthy of that Emmy won by Margo Martinsdale. Her sole surviving son, Dickie, was periodically incarcerated and released this season, appearing frequently in his orange jumpsuit, not to mention his hacked-up haircut that made his head look like roadkill. And yet he's a survivor.

Boyd and Ava emerged as the new "it couple" in Harlan, with reinforcement by cousin Johnny (whose bar also provided a HQ), the ill-fated Devil, and Arlo Givens, now losing his marbles. New villains included the deceptively cheery butcher, Limehouse, and Quarles, "the Husky," with his dapper suits hiding his awesome trick rail pistol, and sidekick Duffy, always a bewildered comic foil.

Raylan is more alone than ever at the end of the season, after Winona walked out on him even while pregnant with their baby. Arlo has dementia, which has a mixed effect: he keeps envisioning Raylan's mother talking to him, and even though he kills Trooper Tom without remorse (even though there was a chance it was Raylan—"he was a lawman in a hat"), he seems somewhat relieved when he sees Raylan and realizes it wasn't him he killed. Small comfort for Raylan.

In fact, Arlo treats Boyd more like a son than Raylan, and Boyd seems happy to keep Arlo in his posse. Ava keeps after Arlo about taking his meds. Arlo confesses to killing Devil, getting Boyd off the hook. Looks like Arlo will be doing some hard time. It's hard to imagine this father/son relationship will ever be resolved, but I love how family relationships aren't romanticized, so often the case on tv. Also, it's neat to see Ava finally growing a spine and taking on a leadership role, even if it is running a brothel and discovering for herself the power of a well-placed slap or kick (she already knew about bullets).

Loretta turns up, now in possession of Mags' money. Now that Trooper Tom is gone, she is perhaps the one ally and friend Raylan has, oddly enough. At work, he's always been a bit of a pariah, garnering resentment from the other deputy marshals, as well as fatherly smugness from Art, even though they are all basically on his side. And there's the bar owner Lindsey, his landlord and sometime paramour. But that is too practical a relationship to be lasting. 

I've been reading show runner Graham Yost's weekly overviews, and it's amazing how the practical realities of the business affect the story lines. For example, Natalie Zea was hired for another show, so they can only get her for a few episodes. And that's why Kevin Rankin was killed off; he was hired for something else. So next time someone gets offed, think twice before you feel badly for them.

This show remains one of my favorites, but a little voice keeps whispering unfounded ideas: that the show can really only go five seasons, that Raylan may have worn out his welcome character-wise, will he get nominated for an Emmy again, etc. It felt like Olyphant was onscreen far less than the first two seasons, but he was never less than riveting when he was. (In what I can imagine to be a double-edged sword, Tim Olyphant's prowess as Raylan may actually prevent him from getting auditions for movies, as it's hard to imagine him as anything else. In fact, he said he needs work.)

Like some of the finest tv series in recent years, Justified captures a unique aspect of Americana that has great reserves of evil or misfortune lurking below the surface, such as The Wire, Breaking Bad, Deadwood, and even Arrested Development. If it hasn't already, it will join the pantheon of top shelf tv.

Questions for next season:
Will Raylan & Winona reconcile when the baby arrives? If not, what role will he play in the child's life?
What will become of Arlo?
Will Boyd & Ava continue their rule over Harlan's crime world?

What about Johnny, since he somewhat betrayed them?

And what will become of Loretta, since she's now the family scion of sorts?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dance, Huuuge

Ocean. Photo: Charles Atlas

Within the span of a day, I saw the Royal Ballet's Romeo & Juliet and Charles Atlas' film of Cunningham's Ocean, both in HD, projected huge at BAM Rose Cinemas and the Whitney Museum, respectively. It's increasingly the way of experiencing dance that I'd either not be able to see for geographical reasons, or to record performances never to be replicated because the company has disbanded, in the case of Ocean. So there's great value in both, at relatively low ticket prices.

(1994), to John Cage's score, was filmed by Atlas in 2008 at an breathtaking venue, a quarry in Minnesota transformed into a theater in the round for 4,500 viewers and a huge orchestra. You don't get much of that scale during the dance performance itself, but Atlas includes several minutes of production set-up footage in the opening minutes. The first imagery of the dance itself is of Daniel Squire's body in an extreme close-up, and you can feel the power and explosive tension in his muscles in a way you never could in real life, even if you were dancing right next to him. These close-ups zooms transform the dancers into the superheroes I perceive them to be; their physical genius now more clear to see than ever, in companion with their fierce intelligence. Atlas splits the screen at fortuitous moments so we sometimes see the same duet from two points, or a meta-view of one of his cameras filming what we see on the other screen.

Ocean. Photo by Charles Atlas
The in-the-round aspect of Ocean gives it a unique spot in the repertory. In Nancy Dalva's transcript of an interview with Merce, he says, "Front was wherever you face," and that Merce said he was imagining 12 different access points. She writes that Merce was present during the filming, just offstage. Also notable is that it was inspired by James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, also the wellspring for Roaratorio (1983), performed at BAM last December. These two works are two of my favorite by the choreographer; they're different enough so that it's probably incidental, but whatever bright notes of imagination it sparked in Merce resonated. (In a space-time coincidence, Julie Cunningham and her pure lines happily featured prominently in Ocean, within a week of performing live in the same gallery with Michael Clark.) Ocean screens at the Whitney Biennial through April 15.

The Romeo & Juliet screening presented problems that recur when filming dance, and ballet in particular. The ebullient Federico Bonelli and technically superb Lauren Cuthbertson, in the lead roles of this version by Kenneth MacMillan, were featured frequently in close-ups at the expense of the context of the scene at hand, or the overall stage picture. But both did an excellent job at modulating their projection to accomodate both the balcony patron, who sees them as the size of ants, and the HD cinema viewer, looking up their foot-high nostrils. Perhaps as such filming becomes more commonplace, producers will adapt to these genre-specific filming problems—certainly no barrier to experiencing some of the world's finest dance.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sylvie Guillem—an Etoile in our Midst

Sylvie Guillem is one of the iconic dance stars of our time who can command packed houses solo, no matter what she chooses to perform—in the tradition of Nureyev/Fontaine, Baryshnikov, and currently Diana Vishneva and Nina Ananiashvili, at least in New York. Guillem performed an evening called 6000 Miles Away at the Koch Theater last weekend, presented by the Joyce Theater Foundation and titled to allude to London's distance to last year's tsunami in Japan. She chose work that flattered her strengths, such as her jointless, alarmingly limber extensions (at 47 years of age) and St. Louis-arched feet. And yet the evening's sum total felt slightly perfunctory and distant.

Sylvie Guillem in Rearray. Photo: Bill Cooper
Guillem danced in two of the night’s three works. William Forsythe created the strongest of those two, Rearray, from 2011. While the choreographer has moved away from creating similar ballet-based dances and toward dance-theater for his own troupe, The Forsythe Company, he made an exception for Guillem, on whom he set In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. How could he not be lured to work with a dancer with such natural physical gifts? The series of duets contained his trademark spidery legwork mixed with proper posés, blackout scene changes, and a spacious soundscape by David Morrow. Guillem was partnered by Massimo Murru of La Scala, offering a warm, humorous counterbalance to the perpetual alabaster cool of Guillem, the étoile.

Mats Ek choreographed Bye (2011), the most theatrical of the dances, to Beethoven. Charming film elements (by Elias Benxon) were projected on a door-shaped panel that served as a portal and a mirror, or perhaps simply as a window onto the thoughts in Guillem's head. Wearing Katrin Brannstrom's plain, everywoman clothes, Guillem's face appeared large on film, and she emerged from behind the panel—morphed to flesh from film, to color from black and white. The effect was sentimental and introspective.

The middle dance, 27'52" (2002), was choreographed by Jiri Kylian and performed by Aurélie Cayla and Lukas Timulak, to music by Dirk Haubrich after Mahler. Kylian's signatures were ample—flexed feet, a hotplate flicking of extremities. Cayla removed her top for reasons unclear, and both tucked themselves under flaps of floor covering. Kees Tjebbes designed the effective, clear lighting, featuring an array of downspots. In an evening dedicated to Guillem, the dance's merits fell short merely by her exclusion.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mets — Let's do a Happy Dance

Wright giving Murphy a victory noogie
Let me boast about the Mets, if only for a fleeting moment:
  • The Mets have the highest winning percentage, 1.000 (okay, it's one of four teams, still...)
  • David Wright's BA: .583; he's within 4 of the Mets' all-time RBI record.
  • 10 players are batting over .300, including 3 pitchers.
  • Jon Niese threw a no-hitter into the 7th inning the other day; it was broken just as his pitch count neared its maximum.
  • Daniel Murphy not only drove in the game-winner last night, he made a stellar defensive play. DEFENSIVE play.
  • The newly reconfigured Citifield Stadium seems to have relieved at least (and most importantly) Wright of some anxiety, even if it's coincidental.
  • They swept eternal foe Atlanta, and Chipper Jones wasn't playing.
  • RA Dickey climbed Mt. Everest and blogged and lived to tell about it.
And if you believe in karma, then consider this:
  • The Yankees were swept in their opening series against Tampa Bay.
  • I don't want to pick on poor Joba Chamberlain because that is one horrific injury, but... a trampoline?
  • Today, full coverage of the Yankees' first win was buried in the sports pages of the New York Times, where it habitually precedes Mets' coverage. (Yes, for good reason, I know.)
  • The Marlins, in a brand new stadium with a retractable roof and friggin' fish tanks as backstops, and shiny new shortstop José Reyes, bought from the Mets, just had their manager Ozzie Guillen suspended for five games for proclaiming his adoration of Castro.
Of course I don't expect it to last. Statistically it can't, and honestly, I've been a Mets fan for too long to believe otherwise. But for the moment, let me savor the situation.