Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Happy 85th to Philip Glass

Maki Namekawa on piano. Photo: Susan Yung

The Glass Etudes at Kaatsbaan Celebrating Philip Glass’s 85th Birthday
offered two ways to experience the composer’s music—played live by a solo pianist, and accompanied by commissioned dances by five choreographers. The Kaatsbaan event, co-presented by Pomegranate Arts and performed on the outdoor stage, smartly programmed five sections with all different artists. Each featured three etudes; two for solo piano (the bread), and one with dance (the meat). It made for a fast-moving two hours, with the sun a natural clock, dropping dramatically behind the cloud-enshrouded Catskills.

The program also showed that Glass’s work is amenable to tap dance, a pairing I’ve never seen before. Leonardo Sandoval choreographed a dance for himself and three tappers to Etude #13, toying with syncopation, counterpoint, and marking time. The four assumed geometric formations, moving in a roundabout or spinning on their own axes, and elicited the rushing feel of Glass’s music. Pianist NoĆ© Kains played as bookends Etudes #1 and #2, drawing out emotional arcs by varying volume and dynamic.
Caitlin Scranton and Kyle Gerry. Photo: Bess Greenberg

Conor Hanick was the pianist for the second set, playing Etudes #3 (jazzy, dark, quick), #8, and #19 (dissonant, accelerating, crazily disparate parts for each hand). Bobbi Jene Smith and Or Schraiber danced, establishing a diagonal psychological rope by staring intently at one another. Their dramatic moves and gestures—concave torsos, deep lunges, yearning arms—evoked the feel of a tango in process, with all its push and pull. This was underscored by their garb: she in a dark slip dress and loose long hair, he in dark shirt and pants.

Patricia Delgado danced Justin Peck’s choreography solo to pianist Timo Andres’s rendition of the propulsive Etude #6, one of the more familiar etudes to me. In a black jumpsuit and sneakers, Delgado began seated on a chair, pulling away reluctantly from this base to roll on the floor, ultimately drawn to move more expansively by the powerful music. There was something feral about the movement—her arms and hands like claws, clutching about her torso with angst. At the end, she lay down and pulled the chair over her body. Andres played Etude #5 to begin the set, a slow, majestically sad piece with a murmuring left hand part, and a flighty upper line. He ended with Etude #10, with a springy rhythm, speeding tempo, hammering lower part, and twinkling upper notes.

Chanon Judson. Photo: Bess Greenberg

Lucinda Childs choreographed a duet for Caitlin Scranton and Kyle Gerry, with pianist Anton Batagov. What a treat to see a new dance by this renowned, and yet still underrated icon of modernism. Childs has frequently collaborated with Glass over the decades, perhaps most famously on the opera Einstein on the Beach (with Robert Wilson), but also on concert dance programs. Often, her phrasing loops and repeats, as does Glass’s music, with subtle variations evolving in live performances. The dances are tightly crafted, with nary a filler phrase or lapse. Dancing to Etude #18, the pair works together much of the time, grasping one another; whirling, Scranton aloft with her bent legs encircling Gerry, or in separate orbits; in courtly, ballroom-like phrases; pulling apart, but always re-meshing like gears. To begin, Batagov played Etude #15, darkly bombastic, with ebullient descending arpeggios; to end, #12, pensive, key shifting to major.

Maki Namekawa played Etudes #7, #11, and #20, with choreographer/performer Chanon Judson (of Urban Bush Women) dancing the middle piece. In a vibrant aqua dress (notably, all costumes are by Josie Natori), Judson pulsed, arching her back, moving in flowing, organic shapes. She rolled on the floor, leaning on one hip and pedaling her legs quickly, then more softly; rising, with fast skipping feet, punching the air and slicing it with fan kicks. Namekawa began with #7, sensitively rendering its many duples and shimmering chords, and ended with the contemplative Etude #20 and its falling notes dotting a solemn, expansive aural tapestry.

Barns at Kaatsbaan designed by Stanford White. Photo: Susan Yung

Kaatsbaan’s Chief Executive & Artistic Officer Sonja Kostich is departing for the Baryshnikov Arts Center, in the wake of Stella Abrera (artistic director) leaving to take over ABT’s Onassis School. Let’s hope that the venue’s artistic direction continues along the strong vision of the Glass Celebration, in which Pomegranate commissioned the work, which was developed at Kaatsbaan. It's rare to see such a beautiful setting paired with an equally sublime program.