Monday, October 29, 2012

Ephemera—Performance Notebook, Hurricane Sandy edition

Hurricane Sandy is on the way. City's shut down, and one of the odd benefits of the subway being halted is that the near-constant subterranean rumbling is also temporarily stopped. 

Georgina Pascoguin kicking out the jambs in Bachground with Ballet Next. Photos: Paul B. Goode

Ballet Next at the Joyce

  • The post-big company phase in the careers of ex-principals Michele Wiles (ABT) and Charles Askegard (NYCB)
  • Caught one of two bills
  • A duet (Stravinsky Divertimento) by NYCB soloist Georgina Pascoguin and Askegard, who choreographed it. He partners well; she excels in character roles for NYCB, but here, with no specific narrative, looked mainly fierce
  • Brian Reeder's Picnic for six dancers is based on a film about some girls who go missing
  • Victorian style cotton frocks and black tights/toe shoes an effective metaphor for a stifling era, but they also disguise the body and its lines
  • Michele Wiles the mysterious central figure, proving she has lost none of her pinpoint balance or turning ability
  • Mauro Bigonzetti's BachGround (ouch) shows his effective dramatic lighting and flair for visually bold imagery
  • The six dancers, wearing black skirt-backed shorts, sit on chairs upstage and frantically pivot them 180º to demarcate solos and duets
  • Muscular movements with Bigonzetti's trademark neurotic gesture arms/hands
  • Live music in the Askegard and Bigonzetti a nice touch
  • This ambitious week run that showed some range could have benefitted from more rehearsal

Pina Bausch's "...como el musguito..." at BAM

  • Her continuous involvement of viewers through the dancers' entering and exiting via the side stage-house steps, and up the side aisles, is overlooked as a means of establishing audience connections. 
  • The dancers can appear larger-than-life onstage—glamorous, handsome, beautiful, hair silken or musculature perfect, but when they move among us, they become one of us. 
  • Come to think of it, nearly every time it was a woman using this pathway
  • The women reminded me of the Wilis from Giselle (or a similar massing of forlorn women, from Swan Lake or La Bayadere, etc.) as they drifted onstage in their evening gowns, heads hanging down, barefoot, like some sort of sorority of sad souls
  • It became perhaps a bit too easy to see everything through the filter that Pina was ill while creating this, even if she was unaware of the illness  

Ensemble Basiani of Tblisi, Georgia at Church of St. Mary the Virgin

  • Transcending Time all-traditional program part of the White Light Festival
  • Traditional folk songs and hymns, all-male, a cappella, choir of the Georgian patriarchate from Tblisi
  • Powerfully visceral experience as a viewer
  • Ranged from fog-horn like, loud, demonstrative singing to soft, delicate lullaby volume
  • Georgian-style yodeling ("krimanchuli") hit some high notes, but otherwise the range seemed to be contained to a middle octave
  • They wore knee-length, military-feel navy blue coats with pewter decorations and black boots
  • There's no subsititute for the authenticity of a choir like this, singing traditional songs in their native tongue
Stay safe and dry. See you on the other side of the hurricane, when the trains resume their rumbling.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos—Unpacking the Mind-Attic

Vtirines. Photo: Benoit Pailley
The experience of walking through Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos, at the New Museum feels like I'd imagine it would be to walk through the artist's studio or attic. Her own work is interspersed with that of artists who influenced her, or that she admires, with a surprising emphasis on highly academic naturalists' rendering of flora and fauna, some dating back to 1705. This supporting work in a way tells us more about Trockel than her own artwork, which can be opaque and mysterious. The sum effect of the collection and the installation is haunting and provocative.

Some Trockel knitted pieces sous crab. Photo: Benoit Pailley
Trockel's yarn works in this exhibition are fastidious. Yarns of different colors are stretched horizontally or vertically—wooly-textured minimalist abstractions. There are several stunning, large-scale knit pieces of dark blues, their purl sides showing rebelliously. A stack of knitted samples with graphic designs (interestingly, not represented in the show otherwise) sits in a plexi cube with a giant crab on top. It is outdone by a giant (once 27.5 pound) lobster carapace that sits near a painted triptych by the orangutan Tilda, arranged by Trockel as Less sauvage than others. A corner room, tiled in bathroom white, contains an inverted fake palm tree and a delightful sculpture —a birdcage containing fake birds that move unexpectedly via hidden mechanisms.

As neat and tidy as the yarn pieces are, her sculptures are generally rough, often indiscernible, glazed cast shapes evoking chunks of meat or architectural elements, or Fluxus-style agglomerations of objects into other objects. Some large plexi vitrines, resembling natural museum dioramas, contain assemblages of her sculptures and other objects that look randomly trapped. Some of Morton Bartlett's ballerina sculptures from the 1950s are included. The methodology seems to be the beacon of her curious taste. 

Curating is fun... in a Trockel vitrine. Photo: Benoit Pailley
Tiny, pastel-hued glass impressions of sea creatures by Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka from the 1800s are among the treasures by the supporting cast of artists, as are botanical paintings by an anonymous artist on a Royal Botanical Expedition to New Granada around the turn of the 18th century—sharply elegant renderings of plants against typographical-looking vertical lines. Found object bird sculptures by James Castle and a collection of densely scribed, handmade books by Manuel Montalvo are fascinating inclusions. And a group of Judith Scott's densely layered or biomorphic yarn sculptures from the 80s/90s parallel Trockel's own favored media.

Organized by Trockel and Lynne Cook for the Reina Sofia, it's a rewarding look at this German artist who has received little exposure in the US, but whose fascinating, jammed-attic mind is unpacked a bit in this exhibition, which runs through January 20, 2013. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Notebook review—ABT's City Center Season

Polina Semionova & Marcelo Gomes in Symphony #9. Photo: Gene Schiavone
In the interest of brevity, trying something new: a notebook-style review of main points, but not all of the connecting words. 

The sublime Herman Cornejo. Photo: Gene Schiavone
Alexei Ratmansky's new Symphony #9 to Shostakovich
  • It's terrific.
  • Plotless, witty, contemporary
  • Broken 4th wall directly engages audience
  • Shostakovich music humorous, brazen, with charismatic solo instruments like trombone, clarinet
  • Dream A cast: 1) Marcelo Gomes & Polina Semionova, 2) Craig Salstein & Simone Messmer, + Herman Cornejo
  • Couple #1 romantic, searching out some unknown thing and finding it = happiness
  • Couple #2 funny, playful, nobody plays w/the audience quite like Salstein
  • Cornejo a loner, oracle, guiding light; his final whirling pirouettes and collapse are like seeing the center of whatever universe we're peering into. One of the finest performers in ballet today.
  • B cast: Roberto Bolle & Veronika Part (waaaay more tragic), Sascha Radetsky & Stella Abrera (less in the moment), + Jared Mathews (would have thought Daniil Simkin was a shoe-in for this role, but Jared basically works)
  • Costumes by Keso Dekker wonderfully modern: photographic jersey print tees and cross-back dresses lined with gold; black velvet tights
In sum—Ratmansky's best effort for ABT thus far, finally departing from the romantic notions inherent in the story ballets he's done for the company, as well as the quite dreamy, abstract Seven Sonatas. His work for NYCB has been stronger (Russian Seasons, Concerto DSCH, Namouna)—was there some allegiance to nostalgia with ABT that tethered him?  

Reminder—Symphony #9 returns alongside the other two parts of his trilogy in ABT's spring/summer season.

See you in the spring! Symphony #9. Photo: Gene Schiavone
Rodeo, choreographed by Agnes de Mille to Aaron Copland's score
  • An intro film by Ken Burns puts in context the uniquely American style and subject
  • Pacing and staging are spacious, very Western American in feel
  • Copland score and painted sunset backdrops complete the American thing
  • Xiomara Reyes in lead was born for this role
  • Nice to see Radetsky get the girl; his tap ain't bad either

Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, choreographed by Mark Morris to Virgil Thompson
  • Great to see this Mark Morris gem in the rotation
  • Feeling of non-stop action, risk-taking hand grabs by partners 
  • Fluidity, lyricism, satisfying musicality and rhythm
  • Morris makes beautiful flowing phrases that read like really good writing 

In the Upper Room, choreographed by Twyla Tharp to Philip Glass
  • Wow, this needed rehearsal; the usual rough edges were pretty ragged
  • nice to see some less familiar faces in the womens' pointe roles, among the tougher technically speaking: Skylar Brandt and Nicole Graniero in particular
  • Sometimes the sheer adrenaline gets the better of dancers, like Luciana Paris and Sascha Radetsky, but it works in the end with the controlled chaos
  • Messmer excelled as a main stomper, and Isabella Boylston as well, on pointe 
  • Norma Kamali's black, white & red costumes remain surprisingly fresh and slightly shocking

The Moor's Pavane, choreographed by José Limon to Henry Purcell
  • Gomes is, predictably, perfect as the Moor. He commands the house with the back of his head, for cryin' out loud.
  • Surprise: Cory Stearns is pretty nefarious as His Friend, his long fingers snaking around the Moor's shoulders 
  • Julie Kent fragile, beautiful, vulnerable as the Moor's Wife.

  • Salstein always looks like he's having a ball in ABT's short rep seasons. Though not the most naturally gifted dancer (although the bar is ridiculously high at ABT), he continues to elevate his technique to match his enthusiasm, magnetism, and appeal. He also takes ownership of the stage and whatever roles he's given, which—not coincidentally—are increasingly higher-profile.
  • Messmer also had an outstanding season; she and Salstein worked together well
  • Amazingly, Santo Loquasto designed costumes for Rodeo and for Drink to Me

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

NYCB—Hyltin nails The Cage

Maria K and Tyler A in Symphony in C. Photo: Paul Kolnik
A fall season-ending visit to NYCB featured a varied program that seemed solid in theory, but perhaps wouldn't hold many epiphanies. The keystone, for me, was Balanchine's Symphony in C, my favorite ballet by him, with its crisp structure, unrelenting technical and spatial challenges, and changing dynamics. 

Younger dancers led three of the four sections. Ana Sophia Scheller, a new principal, showed her signature confidence and solid technique in the first movement, paired with the capable Jared Angle, though I look forward to when she relaxes a little. Erica Pereira sparkled in the lyrical third section, paired with an enthusiastic Antonio Carmena; her compact size reduces the scope of the movement, but it is crystalline. Lauren King, a corps member, and soloist Adrian Danchig-Waring took on the fourth, slightly abbreviated section; she danced with brio, and he jumped higher than anyone. The second movement, the quiet soul of the ballet, was grounded by the ever-deepening partnership between Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle. They are becoming the new go-to equation for serious duets, and deservedly so.
Brava, Sterling. Hyltin in The Cage. Photo: Paul Kolnik

The thrill of the program, however, was Sterling Hyltin's performance as the Novice in The Cage, a new role for her. This Jerome Robbins oddity has remained a repertory staple in part because its leads offer two women the potential for great dramatic breadth. Hyltin's trademark wavy blond mane was sheathed under a black bob with an apparent effect of liberating her. She is a brave dancer, but I sometimes feel that because of her petite size and her hair, she's cast in soubrette or girly roles. But as the latest initiate in a community of spider-like creatures, she threw herself into attacking the poor guys who crossed her path, including Justin Peck. Peck, one of the more muscular company members, is now known as the next hot choreographer in the wake of the smashing success of his NYCB debut, Year of the Rabbit (review here). Still, in his day job, he was a formidable foe to Hyltin until she unleashed the extent of her powers. The Queen was danced by Rebecca Krohn, a perfect fit. This Myrtha-like role calls for absolute command, both presence-wise and psychologically, which Krohn manages. 

The bill led off with Danses Concertantes (1972), the year of the mythical Stravinsky Festival. Not Mr. B's finest choreography-wise, but it satisifies visually, with gem-tone carnivalesque costumes and hand-painted playful scrims. But it feels as if the movement were created as an afterthought to perhaps satisfy the investment made in the production elements and score commission. The doodlings of four pas de deux carry the work forward flittingly. You only need see Symphony in C to realize the difference in quality, like comparing a merinque to cassoulet... although sometimes you just might want a Pavlova.

Akram Khan's Vertical Road: The Dark and the Light

Photo: Richard Haughton
"The eight dancers in Akram Khan’s Vertical Road seem to react reflexively to the powerful beat underlying Nitin Sawhney’s textured, atmospheric score. It’s not immediately clear why their movements are so engaging, but soon enough, the reason becomes evident—the pulsations echo the tempo of our beating hearts."

From an article for Playbill on Akram Khan's Vertical Road in Lincoln Center's White Light Festival.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Year of the Peck

Photo: Paul Kolnik
Review of Justin Peck's Year of the Rabbit (to music by Sufjan Stevens) for NYCB, at Dance Magazine.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Picasso Black and White at the Guggenheim

The Milliner's Workshop, 1926
Believe it or not, it's been 32 years since MoMA’s Pablo Picasso retrospective. In addition to the Met’s King Tut show in 1976, it was one of the first such blockbuster exhibitions as we know them, necessitating timed ticket entry, long lines, and ubiquitous tote bags. That 1980 show made such an imprint on contemporary culture’s memory that it gave us enough Picasso for a very long time. MoMA did a thoughtful 2003 examination of Picasso in relation to Matisse, and Gagosian Gallery has showcased selections from the Spaniard’s work, but until the Guggenheim’s current Picasso Black and White survey, through January 23, 2013, his work has been oddly simmering in the background.

As the title implies, the Guggenheim’s show, organized by Carmen Giménez and travelling to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, focuses on the artist’s black, white and in-between work. It’s a smart and bracing premise for Picasso, among the most prolific modern artists both in terms of sheer quantity and genre-wise, allowing some thematic pruning. A bit of a magpie, he flitted between styles and approaches, bouncing ideas off of his peers, experimenting constantly and keeping what stuck. The show covers an astounding stretch, between 1904 and 1971, with 118 artworks, 38 of which are new to our shores. The reductive nature of many of the artworks spotlights Picasso’s genius of converting concept into representation. 

Head of a Horse, Sketch for Guernica
There are many smaller-scaled sketches. A number are of day-to-day subjects; still lifes, cats and roosters, intimate portraits. Several are studies for some of his iconic larger politically-themed canvases, including Guernica and Rape of the Sabines, isolating a detail that might get lost in the larger tumult, such as Head of a Horse, Sketch for Guernica. Some freshly-seen works are astonishing, such as The Milliner's Workshop, which bridged cubism and surrealism and parlayed the quotidian into the realm of the sublime. 

Picasso's great output meant that he produced a lot of mediocre stuff while running through the checklist of the 20th-century's styles. But his named is equated with genius for a reason. This show refreshes an appreciation of how revolutionary and inventive he truly was, before the time of tote bags.  

Photos: The Milliner’s Workshop (Atelier de la modiste), Paris, January 1926. Oil on canvas, 172 x 256 cm. 
Musée national d’art moderne/Centre de création industrielle, Centre Pompidou, Paris, Gift of the artist, 1947. © 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: CNAC/MNAM/Dist. Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY

Head of a Horse, Sketch for Guernica (Tête de cheval, étude pour Guernica), Grands-Augustins, Paris, May 2, 1937. Oil on canvas, 65 x 92 cm. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Bequest of the artist. © 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: © Archivo fotográfico Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Met Museum—Bernini Maquettes and Medieval Industrial Design

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Model for the Lion on the Four Rivers Fountain, ca. 1649–50. Galleria dell’Accademia di San Luca, Rome
Photo by Zeno Colantoni, Rome
In the Met Museum's Robert Lehman Wing is a show that perhaps no other institution save possibly the Morgan could assemble: BerniniSculpting in Clay, through January 6. On view are 39 small maquettes and 30 charcoal drawings by Bernini (and a few colleagues), in preparation for his large scale sculptures and monuments. Because they're essentially sketches and on a small scale, they exude spontaneity and a liveliness that is lacking in the finished work. Unfinished, fired clay, they look as if they could've been sculpted yesterday.

Bernini (1598-1680) is one of the great sculptors in history, even if (or maybe because) he lived in the Baroque era, when excess ruled. Ample fabric yardage billows around each figure, and he had a particular knack with draping and enlivening fabric as it personified human movement or became an allegory for external forces such as weather, or political or religious turmoil. The maquettes' diminutive size (most are between 10-20" high) allows a small, close spotlight to exaggerate the shadows and creases that would appear on a much larger scale with the sun acting as the spotlight. He was also able to superbly express dense muscularity in both men and animals, particularly his Model for the Lion on the Four Rivers Fountain.

A number of drawings are on view, showing Bernini's deftness with chiaroscuro in two dimensions. The dynamic of a twisting torso is explored in variations; details of the human body are refined and simplified. Photographs of his completed sculptures and monuments are hung strategically behind the related maquettes, giving an immediate real-world context. It's a compact, thrilling exhibition that shows the Met at its best.

Shaffron of Henry II of France when Dauphin Steel, gold, brass
Franco-Italian, ca. 1490–1500 (redecorated 1539) Rogers Fund, 1904
Speaking of, the Arms and Armor Hall has been refreshed. It's one of my favorite galleries at the Met, a self-contained satellite, a display of medieval industrial design par excellence that encapsulates industrial skill, function, and protection, all while evoking superheroes, chivalry, and royal courts. (MoMA's exhibit including bulletproof wear is the contemporary equivalent.) 

A special exhibition, Bashford Dean and the Creation of the Arms and Armor Department (through September 2013) celebrates the centennial of the department, founded by the intrepid Dean. The main Arms and Armor Hall has been refurbished and freshened, and a superb and exotic horse-and-rider installation has given an exalted spot in the main museum entrance's Great Hall, hanging near a rather dour, mustard-hued Warhol Flowers painting—planets colliding at one of the world's great museums. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

NYCB—The Great Partnership

Sebastien Marcovici and Janie Taylor in Orpheus. Photo: Paul Kolnik
The fall New York City Ballet season began with a week of Balanchine’s “Greek trilogy”: Apollo, Orpheus, and Agon. I’d never seen Orpheus (1947), and there’s a reason—it’s not his best. There isn’t much dancing. Sebastian Marcovici had the title role; he did a lot of dramatic gesticulating and standing. Janie Taylor was Eurydice; at least she had some more movement to express her ill-fated pleading and coaxing. Jonathan Stafford, menacing as the Dark Angel, was saddled with a proboscis-studded headpiece. And otherwise, there were a lot of fright-bewigged furies with tacky faux-seashell bikinis, designed, shockingly, by the usually sublime Isamu Noguchi. Some of his set elements, however, were lovely, such as the glowing, earthbound stones that shone faintly through the scrim as they ascended, transforming into heavenly bodies.

Busy? Sebastien again, in Agon with Maria Kowroski. Photo: Paul Kolnik
Apollo was in fine shape in a cast led by Chase Finlay, who seemed born to dance the role, at least in its wide-eyed, headstrong, young interpretation. The muses were danced by Maria Kowroski, Teresa Reichlen, and new principal Rebecca Krohn, all relatively tall and magnetic, yet Finlay—elegant and economical in his movement—held his own. Kowroski and Reichlen also danced in Agon (subbing for Whelan and Bouder). Kowroski, who danced the Pas de Deux with Amar Ramasar, was more than electric ever, her reliably impressive technique infused with urgency. As excellent as she and Reichlen are, it would have been nice to see two different principals in Agon, what with more than a dozen female principals from which to choose.

The black & white program was blue chip Balanchine-Stravinsky, the sweet spot for NYCB. Leading off with Stravinsky Violin Concerto (1972), Krohn—cool and noble—danced with Sebastien Marcovici, looking gallant and energetic; the sly, riveting Janie Taylor paired with Robert Fairchild, one of the jazziest, most improvisational men. Three short ballets comprised the second act. Kowroski and Ask la Cour danced Monumentum Pro Gesualdo (1960); she partnered with Marcovici in the twin piece Movements for Piano and Orchestra (1963). Again, Kowroski looked phenomenal; she seems to have discovered a renewed focus to go along with her under-trumpeted fundamentals and sublime physical gifts. In the perennially charming Duo Concertant (1972), pianist Susan Walters and violinist Arturo Delmoni performed onstage as Megan Fairchild and Chase Finlay alternately observed them and danced. When Finlay offered his hand to her, the coy first shake of her head before agreeing made me love Balanchine even more. Charming humor in ballet is rare.

Chase Finlay and Megan Fairchild in Duo Concertant. Photo: Paul Kolnik
Symphony in Three Movements (1972) is a big, fast, kinda crazy ballet featuring three primary couples and some incredible stage geometry (the opening scene diagonal line of white-clad women is on the season’s poster). Daniel Ulbricht barrelled onstage as only he can; the equally buoyant Tiler Peck joined up with him as they swapped leaps and he lifted her in splits. Sterling Hyltin (who danced with Amasar) excels at allegro; her small frame seems to better deal with fast steps without losing pace or clarity. The statuesque Savannah Lowery is often cast in “Amazon” character roles in which she excels; she was paired somewhat incongruously with the athletic yet refined Adrian Danchig-Waring, who continues to look more relaxed in featured roles.

There’s a section toward the end, after a section break, when the music's pretty much just a strong drum beat. You realize how modern Stravinsky was, how his music was the perfect complement to Balanchine’s equally modern ballet, and how neither the dance nor the music dominated in their collaborations, but supported one another while being completely unique. It's surely one of the great artistic partnerships ever, vibrant and fresh at NYCB.