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“Three Solos and a Duet”
Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ana Laguna
The Broad Stage, Santa Monica College • Santa Monica, CA
September 4–5, 2009

Reviewed by Victoria Looseleaf

 

If there’s anything that Mikhail Baryshnikov cannot do—besides, perhaps, split atoms—nobody’s told him. Now 61, he could have rested on his ballet laurels, but having moved into the contemporary realm nearly two decades ago, Baryshnikov still has the power to seduce, surprise, and satisfy. And, let’s face it, the iconic dancer can turn a simple saunter onstage into a riveting event.


Which is what he did to open the program with Alexei Ratmansky’s capricious Valse-Fantasie. A story of lost love, the 10-minute work, set to music of Glinka, features a jaunty Baryshnikov in mime mode, his über-expressive hands equal to his eternally fleet footwork. Windmill arms swoop and shoulders shrug while a series of sharply etched ballet steps flow into knee-slapping lunges.


Benjamin Millepied’s Years Later offers a peek into Baryshnikov’s past with film of the dancer at the start of his career. From 2006, the work now features haunting saxophone music by Philip Glass as a live Baryshnikov ponders his celluloid self, abetted by Asa Mader’s video projections. A meditation on aging, the work blends nostalgia and reality as the two figures not only collide but coalesce to reveal a startlingly authentic artist, one who today acknowledges his limitations by mining gold from a tiny jump, a swiveled hip, a bopping head.


In an excerpt from Mats Ek’s Solo for Two (1996) Baryshnikov appears briefly while the glorious Ana Laguna, Ek’s wife and muse, displays her actorly dancing. At 54, Spanish-born Laguna commands the stage with elongated lunges, backward skittering, and exquisite balancing poses, all set to a plaintive Arvo Pärt score.


In Ek’s 22-minute Place, created for Baryshnikov and Laguna two years ago, the duo interacts with a table and carpet in this kinetic story of a couple who reunites. Light-hearted and loving one moment, squaring off separately the next, the pair looks splendid. Laguna, phoenix-like, rises into an arabesque before moving into Baryshnikov’s arms. They also bound about in unison and do battle with the table, moving on and under it as well as dragging it around the stage. Generating full-throttle emotion, the dancers surge with fidgety moves, their urgent passions nothing less than infectious.

 

Growing old never looked so good.

 

 

Mark Morris Dance Group
Mostly Mozart Festival • Rose Theater, NYC
August 19–22, 2009
Reviewed by Susan Yung


Mostly Mozart co-commissioned two new works by Mark Morris that showed—and expanded—his range, as well as his integral relationship with music. Morris’ dances, often refreshingly unembellished and legible, nonetheless always feel like special occasions. His two new works were no exception. Visitation is set to Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 4 in C Major, played live by Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax. Dallas McMurray greets the other dancers in a meaningful way, one by one—locking hands, then pulling away with regret. It’s unclear whether he’s arriving or leaving, or if they are, but it feels profound, like a visitation should.


A melancholy sense of parting imbues much of the movement, performed in Elizabeth Kurtzman’s earth-toned pajama separates and lit tenderly by Nicole Pearce. Arms float down from overhead, or arc up and back as the body’s weight sighs into a plié. At other times, McMurray strides with great purpose, striking his heels percussively, or leaps and throws open his chest, arms raked back, as if to cheer the mood of the dancers he’s leaving. And Morris’ trademark humor appears toward the end of the short dance in the horseplay and ostentatious entrances of the women, borne like Cleopatras by teams of men.


Empire Garden contrasts sharply. Morris bravely chose Charles Ives’ Trio for Violin, Violoncello, and Piano (Ma and Ax were joined by Colin Jacobsen on violin), which is dotted with Americana musical quotes and more than one melody vying for dominance. Kurtzman’s flag-inspired uniforms, which separate into three color groups, conjure imagery of marching bands, the military, and sports teams. The movement begins with starts and stops and intriguing gestures; the dancers might be using a secret sign language. The music, at first dark and mysterious, becomes more boisterous and rhythmic, shifting into a march. As snippets of American songs pass by, the choreography seems to react with vaguely militaristic miming, a competition of some sort, nautical jigs.


Teams hoist mates aloft, possibly in victory or as lookouts; partners interlock and scuttle like crabs, gazes locked. Recurring motifs include flattened-out barrel jumps, and pairs in which one dancer grand-jetés and the other responds with an overhead fan kick. The entire group of 15 forms a triangular tableau ascending in height, one of the few moments of geometric symmetry in a visually and aurally ambitious, cacophonous dance that extends Morris’ breadth.


V (2001) completed the program. This repertory staple seems to have softened over the years but remains a vivid and haunting telling of its Schumann score.

 

 

Tulsa Ballet
The Joyce, NYC
August 10–17, 2009
Reviewed by Wendy Perron


This company of international dancers made a fine debut in New York, with a (mostly) well-chosen program, excellent dancing, and vivid character portrayals.


We don’t see enough MacMillan in this country, so his Elite Syncopations was much appreciated. Although it looks like a historic piece, perhaps a cross between Massine’s Gaîté Parisienne and the musclemen of Nijinska’s Les Biches, it was made in 1974. Couples moved in Vernon Castle–type steps, like a tame version of the roaring ’20s. Once you got past Ian Spurling’s elaborately silly costumes, the humor of the piece, performed to the lilting piano rags of Scott Joplin and others, became infectious. One of the highlights was a hilariously ingenious duet with the tall Marit van der Wolde and the short Mugen Kazama. Small and quick, with a shock of black hair, Kazama is the funniest ballet dancer I’ve seen in years. Another highlight was the beautiful dancing of Karina Gonzalez, a principal after only three years with the company. Never overdoing, she projects a natural joy, contained only by clean lines. Also admirable was the freshness of Ashley Blade-Martín’s presence.


Nacho Duato’s Por Vos Muero (1996)—grounded yet ethereal, modern yet medieval, sensual yet chaste—showed the range of these spirited dancers. The luscious weightiness of Duato’s sweeps and swoops is not something every ballet company can master. But Tulsa Ballet did a great job, especially its shining star, Gonzalez. The blood red curtains and dark panels of Duato’s own set design added a sense of mystery. The quiet moments of interaction with this visual element—a hand caressing a panel, a face disappearing behind it—revealed his poetic genius.


This Is Your Life (2008), choreographed by Young Soon Hue, was the kind of piece college kids made in the ’70s when they discovered that dancers could talk. Based on a dorky game show, the narrative of the cocky TV host lacked irony. And the dancing/acting out of each contestant’s life was so literal that when all the men donned black tutus, you just went “Whaaa?” The love duet at the end, which showed that Young Soon Hue can really choreograph, also did not fit the story. However the dancers carried the day. Ricardo Graziano transcended the role of gay hairdresser with real kinetic wit. Ma Cong was fierce as a trapped businessman with the shakes. Gonzalez was again meltingly lovely in the out-of-place pas de deux. And the terrific Kazama returned with uproarious mock braggadocio as a super-confident tango guy.

 

 

jill sigman/thinkdance
Solar One: Stuyvesant Cove Park, NYC
September 5–6, 10, 12, 2009
Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

 

One man’s trash might be another man’s treasure, but in Our Lady of Detritus, Jill Sigman gives us a good measure of both. From late summer to early fall, Sigman toured this “portable, interdisciplinary performance installation” to several New York City parks, providing a free spectacle and a blend of wonder, mystification, education, expiation, and motivation to folks who just happened to be hanging around or passing through. I caught it on a perfect day by the East River at Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Cove Park, home of the green energy arts and education center Solar One.


Sigman portrays the hallowed lady, festooned in flourescent orange and hot pink and—look closely now—recycled plastic doodads, found or donated. In a procession launched from Solar One’s headquarters, Our Lady is borne on an elaborately decorated wagon, pulled through the park’s esplanade by her composer/singer/DJ (Kristin Norderval) on a pedal-powered “food for thought” vending cart, and heralded by a carnival barker (Mariana Ferreira). The remarkable sights and sounds might remind viewers of religious processions honoring Hindu deities or Mediterranean, Mexican, or Afro-Atlantic saints.

 

The Lady has come to hear our sins—all about the trash that individuals and industries discard without concern for environmental and health consequences. She has come laden with the green tech of solar panels and rechargeable batteries; a voicemail system that, when called from our cellphones, serves as a 21st-century confessional booth; and a wagonload of Cheez Doodles, apparently the saint’s sacrificial offering of choice.

 

The description sounds nutty, but the visual and aural effects—particularly the colorful, exacting display designed by Sig­man and Norderval’s operatic chant­ing—can be captivating. All the better to get folks to stop, look, listen, and maybe pick up an informational brochure on composting or a postcard listing numerous green-friendly resources. And, if that’s not enough, there’s Ferreira holding a contorted pose—she rolls herself up like a blanket—while manically chattering about a floating garbage patch in the Pacific. It’s huge, and she suggests that we might like to vacation or even relocate. “Celebrities buy land there,” she cries, “because it will last forever!”

 

When the heat of the late summer sun got to be too much—and the sight of the Sainted One walking around with orange snack food stuck to her butt too absurd—I made my way past the gibbering Ferreira, the fishermen dipping rods into the toxic river, and the imposing view of Con Edison’s plant just south of the park’s end. All the way home, though, I noticed, with more intensity, all the trash on our streets.

 

 

Wayne McGregor/ Random Dance
Northrop Auditorium, University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MNSeptember 11, 2009
Review by Camille LeFevre

 

In Entity, Wayne McGregor presents a new species of dancer. With this hour-long 2009 work, the British choreographer set out to create an “autonomous choreographic agent—an ‘Entity’—that can think—and propose moves—for itself,” a program note states. And indeed he has.
The dancers in Entity are physically sentient creatures whose driving impetus is curiosity. Their means of exploring space and each other is their elastic corporeality. And their method of articulation is a movement vocabulary abstracted, it seems, from the instinctive gestures of insects, birds, and animals.

 

McGregor opens and closes the piece with a Muybridge-like image of a loping greyhound, which signals his intentions almost too neatly. Just as greyhounds are bred to run, so this breed of dancers exists only to move. Their DNA is classical ballet technique, taken to a kinetic extreme. Their lines are drawn, and every move extracted from their bodies with crystalline precision.

 

Offsetting this drastic classicism are sporadic shudders, sensual ripples of an upper arm or torso, a flickering hand across a belly. The dancers hyper-extend their rib cages or shoulders, and cock their heads like preening birds. Their arms and legs scythe through and around each other, as if they were praying mantises doing battle. Their hands cleave like mandibles. They sidle up to each other, nudging or touching, before curving around or leaping from each other, often with legs splayed.

 

They’re also a striking amalgam of femininity and phallus—slim, sleek, and androgynous in their little white T-shirts, black briefs, and slicked-back hair. The severity of their physiques underscores the feral intention behind each movement.

 

At one point, the men remove their shirts and exit, and the set’s three scrim-like walls become hovering screens, projected with grainy images: a microscopic honeycomb of cells, math problems, close-ups of a dancer’s body, and streams of computer code. After three women who’ve melted quietly to the floor begin testing the air with tentacle-like limbs, the stage fills again with the virtuosic company. Only this time their bodies appear as rigorous etchings of kinetic code.

 

Curiously, McGregor winds down with a smoothing of the choreography’s sharp edges. Suddenly, Random Dance could be any garden-variety contemporary dance company. Moreover, the piece ends as one dancer carries another off with a clunky run, and the greyhound film returns.
What is McGregor saying about the future of dance, the capriciousness of a choreographic intelligence, the limits of the human body and its inventive potential? We may have witnessed the exhilarating birth of a new dance species, but in the end, it’s only human.

 

 

New Chamber Ballet
City Center Studios, NYC
September 11–12, 2009
Reviewed by Margaret Fuhrer

 

This small troupe is so earnest that you want to root for it. Artistic director Miro Magloire’s commitment to live music, and his avoidance of fussy costumes and fancy lights, means that Chamber Ballet performances are tasteful, charmingly unpretentious affairs. It’s a special pleasure, too, to see Magloire’s lovely dancers—former New York City Ballet and Miami City Ballet members among them—up close in Studio 4’s intimate space.

 

Headlining this program was the premiere of All the Rage by Constantine Baecher, an American dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet and a veteran Chamber Ballet collaborator. To Martin Stauning’s stormy, uneasy score for piano and violin, Elizabeth Brown, Madeline Deavenport, and Lauren Toole stalked slinkily forwards and backwards on pointe, occasionally deviating from their narrow prescribed routes to wriggle through twisty, syncopated solos. With its serpentine shoulder and hip rolls, Rage was sexier than most of the Chamber Ballet’s wholesome classical fare. Ultimately, however, Baecher’s dreamy dance world couldn’t match the intensity of the insistent, menacing score.

 

The program’s four other short works, all by Magloire, were demurely pleasant. Most appealing was Echoes, in which Anton Webern’s Four Pieces for Piano and Violin alternate with dancing so that, as Magloire explained in his brief introduction, the choreography won’t overwhelm the music’s subtleties. The concept proves surprisingly resilient; “echoes” of the score are, indeed, apparent in the steps, and searching for those correspondences becomes an attractive kind of parlor game. In the end, Echoes was solidly satisfying for its good craftsmanship but didn’t grab us as great art can.

 

Bravo to Magloire for realizing that there are endless possibilities in the simplicity of a group of dancers responding to live music. But it will take a slightly more sophisticated dancemaker than he, or Baecher, to make something truly memorable out of those most basic ingredients.

 

 

Pictured: Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ana Laguna. Photo courtesy Baryshnikov Arts Center

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