Friday, December 27, 2013

Ephemeralist's 2013 Highlights


The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
Praised to the hilt already, but I'll keep recommending this funny, lighthearted, insightful novel about an abolitionist's ward until you read it. One book I'm looking forward to re-reading.

The Dog Star by Peter Heller

Another gem in a year of good books. Stands out for its humanity, and affection for dogs, in a people-less world.


Matt Harvey, New York Mets

Oh Matt, you bright, shining, fallen, but hopefully once more shining shooting star, you... at least Mets fans had a few weeks of joy and a taste of victory.

America's Cup

Technology arising from the desire to win may lead us to a better world. Imagine such leaps of imagination applied to energy conservation or humanitarian causes. Plus, catamarans flying over the water at 70 mph.

Chris Froome, Team Sky, winner of the 2013 Tour de France
Nothing against 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, but Froome's 2013 victory pushed the thought of Wiggins sitting waggishly in that throne out of mind for at least a bit.


James Turrell, Aten, Guggenheim

Transported viewers briefly to an alien morphing color-saturated, egg-shaped world. Slick, for sure, but worked for me.

Stanley Whitney, Team Gallery

Speaking of saturated colors and geometry, such a brilliant surprise from an underrated painter. At once firmly rooted in the history of abstraction, and completely fresh.


ABT, Koch Theater, Met Opera House
No denying it... a huge event in the world of ballet: Ratmansky' Shostakovich Trilogy. ABT's fall rep season at the Koch featured the company in choreography by major playas: Tharp, Ratmansky, Morris. Seeing fresh faces—Joseph Gorak, James Whiteside—gain confidence and roles is always rewarding, alongside company stalwarts Marcelo Gomes and Gillian Murphy. But I missed David Hallberg's presence immensely; at least he's slated for several Met season ballets this summer.

Dance Theater of Harlem, Rose Theater

Showing great talent and promise, far more than could reasonably be expected after a total reboot.

Rashaun Mitchell's Interface, with Silas Riener, Baryshnikov Arts Center

Another pair of artists who have great skills, a sense of adventure and curiosity, and the ability and resources to make things happen. The site-specific visual environment, by Davison Scandrett, made magic use of a difficult windowed corner theater. They also performed the overstuffed Way In at Danspace—less successful, but which raised yet more questions.

Paul Taylor's Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal), Koch Theater
So much invention and astonishing technical demands in this naif-style caper.

New York City Ballet, Koch Theater

Justin Peck's emergence as a choreographer. Anthony Huxley (and here) in Mozartiana. And, as always, Sara Mearns, Tiler Peck, Robert Fairchild, and Tyler Angle in anything.

Troy Schumacher/Satellite Ballet, Joyce Theater

Among many chamber ballet troupes, Schumacher's stood out. The premise of a true collaboration between choreographer, visual artist, poet, and composer seems trite, but Schumacher did seem to infuse the dances, performed by an all-star cast, with some internal structure or narrative. 

San Francisco Ballet's season, Koch Theater
When a major ballet company from outside the Gotham comes a-knockin' with rep by Ratmansky, Morris and others, it's a rare treat.


A Midsummer Night's Dream, Theatre for a New Audience
What a way to inaugurate Theatre for a New Audience's Polonsky Center in Fort Greene. Julie Taymor thinks vividly in three dimensions. And sure the new theater has lots of technical merits, but most of her magic is done with simple devices. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ailey—Celebrating Matthew Rushing, and 3 Premieres

Aszure Barton's LIFT. Photo: Paul Kolnik
Ailey is like a big ocean liner, steaming along, impervious to swells, waves, sharks, and other crazy things in the water. Likewise, it's so big that it's not easy for one person to change its course, even if that person is Artistic Director Robert Battle. But the effects of his hand on the wheel can finally be felt after a couple of years. The Dec 22 evening program featured three new works, and not a revelation to be had (repertory-wise, that is). It included Wayne McGregor's Chroma, Aszure Barton's LIFT, and a classic from Bill T. Jones, an excerpt from D-Man in the Water.

LIFT checks off pretty much every item on a theoretical "Ailey commission wish list." Dramatic chiaroscuro lighting (by Burke Brown). Rhythmic drumming akin at times to a pulse (by Curtis Macdonald). Shirtless men whose muscles gleam in the (see #1). Women dressed in beautiful halter dresses with rippling fringed skirts (by Fritz Masten). Everyone in gold chokers. Large group sections of hopping, like a show of strength in a celebratory tribe, a refrain of which ends the piece. Various sections of shifting tempo and dynamics, from [previous item] to a unusual deliberate duet by Linda Celeste Sims and Jamar Roberts in which they cross the stage while continuously touching. While Barton doesn't create many connected dance sentences, she has a good sense for what provides maximum dramatic effect. Add to this the stunning visual impact that this beautiful company possesses, and the result is affecting and powerful.
Home, by Rennie Harris. Photo: Paul Kolnik

Chroma, originally done in 2006 but new to Ailey, is quite a contrast. McGregor's style—rippling torsos, thwacked splits, everything pushed—adds a new note to the Ailey canon. It  fit the more balletic dancers best, such as Sarah Daley. The music by Jack White and Jody Talbot ranges from visceral rock to more tempered violin + piano. It's rare to see such a completely overhauled set at Ailey: John Pawson designed a white box with curved seams to eliminate sharp corners, and a punched-out rectangle to provide most entrances and exits. Lucy Carter's lighting design shows just how far white can be pushed, from subtle warm gradations to eerie ice blue. The multi-hued unisex camisole and trunk costumes by Moritz Junge worked better for the women; the spaghetti straps looked too delicate on the men.

Bill T. Jones' D-Man premiered on his own company in 1989, but this tribute to then-company member Demian Acquavella, who died of AIDS, has retained as much vibrance and freshness as its Mendelssohn score. The cast showcased the high energy Kanji Segawa, who I hadn't yet seen so prominently featured. The only drawback is that Jones' own company remounted the piece recently at the Joyce, diluting the impact of its remounting after so many years.

On December 17, company veteran Matthew Rushing was celebrated in two of the company's keystones, Grace and Revelations, plus a medley of excerpts from Pas de Duke, Love Songs (both choreographed by Ailey), and Home. We were assured in a pre-show speech (by either Judith Jamison or Robert Battle—were two speakers necessary?) that Rushing isn't retiring, that he's simply being honored. And deservedly. No one has a finer internal acceleromater, which leads to a great economy of movement, nor greater precision, nor inner drive. Even what might be construed as a flaw—not "selling it" to the audience by smiling or making constant eye contact—comes across as humility. With this in mind, Rushing looks least natural in Pas de Duke, with its Vegas showboating and shiny costumes, and most comfortable outwardly expressing inner emotion in Love Songs to Donny Hathaway's gorgeous rendition of "A Song For You." 

As one of many men in Ron Brown's Grace, he looked like a man setting to some serious work, and along the way discovering wonder and moments of, well, grace. In Rennie Harris' Home, Rushing read as the 16-year-old he was when he started with Ailey, skipping and strutting in circles around the cast. A lovely bonus came in Revelations—the recently retired Renee Robinson guest cameo'd as the woman with parasol. It was one instance during the evening when spontaneous applause wasn't directed at Rushing, and proved the loyal Ailey audiences take pride in treating the dancers like family.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Juilliard's New Dances Plus: A Pina Bausch Revival and Three New Dances

Wind von West, by Pina Bausch
Juilliard's New Dances series showcases the school's accomplished dance students by class year. But it has also become a major commissioning entity for burgeoning choreographers; last week's production included world premieres by Brian Brooks, Takehiro Ueyama, and Darrell Grand Moultrie, plus the grand bonus of a reconstructed work by Pina Bausch, Wind von West. The three new dances, by nature, share a certain sameness; they all involve moving around a couple dozen good dancers for 20 minutes or so. Invariably, there are pull-out virtuosic solos and small group sections interspersed with stretches of sheer traffic control often involving running or matrices. 

The remounting of Wind von West (1975) is a major collaboration between Pina's alma mater, Juilliard, and the Pina Bausch Foundation, charged with overseeing her life's work. The significance of this project is as much about the future of Bausch's work as this one piece's artistic import. It's primarily a mix of her fluid, organic, somber style that is most memorable from her last solo at BAM (alongside an image of a fish), in Danzón, and still poses or arrested movements. 

The stage is segmented by gauze partitions into four receding chambers that were never utilized to maximum dramatic or metaphorical effect. A white-sheeted bedalso lightly used—loomed on one side. The celadon gowns and long hair were elements that would carry through her life's work. On the whole, it felt like an impressionistic scan of her signature voice, devoid of humor and text, yet perhaps more coherent than the pieces that would comprise the bulk of her oeuvre. But the mere fact of its existence holds great promise for future remountings, even if they lack her final stamp. 

Wind von West
Brooks' work tends to combine OCD tendencies in addition to his signature slithering arm and upper body action. He imbued his dance, Torrent, with extra finesse, no easy task for such a large cast. The class of 2016 formed a self-perpetuating cross-stage line one by one, falling gently but precisely into place. Sometimes the line would process clockwise, breaking apart and reforming seamlessly to release and absorb a soloist. The class moved as one organism.

In Nakamuraya, Take Ueyama dedicated his dance to the Kabuki great Nakamura Kanzaburo—a nice conceit, but the paean was unclear in the dance itself, which included some too-cute miming to start, a romantic duet to Lou Reed's "Perfect Day," and the requisite high velocity group segments. Moultrie's Seeds of Endurance revisited some of these adrenalized pack movements; his dancers shed their long, flounced gowns to reveal flesh-toned briefs and camisoles that evoked our natural state. Both contained exhilarating moments, but the structural demands of the exercise perhaps dictated too-similar scripts.

That said, the Juilliard New Dances series is unsurpassed in showcasing the maximum number of excellent dancers in new, commissioned choreography, and in rare remountings. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Chéri—A Romance in Dance

Alessandra Ferri & Herman Cornejo.
Photo: Joan Marcus
Chéri, based on the novella by Colette, continues Martha Clarke's unique hybrid genre of theater, utilizing movement to advance the story. Clarke—who conceived, choreographed, and directed this Signature Theater production, which runs through December—had the foresight and fortune to engage ABT principal Herman Cornejo and ex-principal Alessandra Ferri as the leads. He is the eponymous Chéri, son of Charlotte (Amy Irving), and lover of his mother's best friend, Lea (Ferri), nearly twice his age. Chéri is a charming, spoiled man who can't resist a glimpse in the mirror, a habit that eventually comes back to haunt him. His mother has put up with the affair for six years, and finally arranges for Chéri to marry a wealthy young woman his age.

We learn fragments about everyone's disparate states of mind in Irving's four brief monologues (by Tina Howe). Irving imbues them with enough salt and snap so that we feel her own vanity, and the guilt in her complicity in the awkward relationship. The two dancers never speak, but they spend a great deal of time embracing, un/dressing, and twirling and spinning in multitudinous ways, often with Ferri's legs and feet as punctuation. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Glorious Notorious, A Chronicle of Dance Artists

Cristina Moura (2007)
Peggy Jarrell Kaplan's exhibition at Ronald Feldman Gallery in Soho, Glorious Notorious (through Dec 21) chronicles the choreographers and performers who have defined our near-past and current cultural lives. Rather than focus on the body in motion, instead the 50 photographic portraits peer into the artists' psychological states as seen through their piercing gazes, or playfully posed with a prop or in a gesture or movement. A densely packed corner installation features artists shot in South Africa earlier this year. Several videos play, including of Trajal Harrell and Daniel Linehan, bright stars in the current dance galaxy.