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The Royal Ballet
The Kennedy Center • Washington, DC
June 23-28
Reviewed by Wendy Perron

 

The Brits can choreograph love duets to die for. Ashton’s one-act A Month in the Country (part of a triple bill) and Mac­Millan’s full-length Manon are cases in point. But—and this shows how far The Royal Ballet has come globally—the dancers who exquisitely embodied their rapture were Carlos Acosta (Cuban) and Tamara Rojo (Spanish) in the Macmillan, and Alexandra Ansanelli (American) and Ivan Putrov (Russian) in the Ashton.

 

Acosta in Manon (1974) gave one of the most moving performances I have seen on a ballet stage. He is a dancer who makes you feel something, even when he is standing still (which his character Des Grieux does a lot in this ballet). His first set of développés toward Manon, ending in a multiple pirouette that sinks to the floor in devotion, was so touching that he erased any sense of Acosta the superstar.

 

Rojo was tantalizing, emotional, and tragic. She flung herself into the treacherous lift-spin-drops in the bedroom scene. Her impulsive dive onto the bed to wait for Des Grieux’s return added a touch of humor.

 

Acosta and Rojo’s desire to be close was evident in every detail of their deep slides and grand glides. Massenet’s ominous and lilting music, played live by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, helped make this a stirring story.

 

Ansanelli, as an adulterous lady of leisure in A Month in the Country (1976), gave one of her greatest performances—and sadly her last in the U.S. Gracious and yet hungry for sensual contact, she made every detail count. Ivan Putrov, with an open face and youthful vigor, was the tutor, whom every female in the house wants to win. The only real choreography (there is much drawing-room play acting) was the soaring lifts and entwinings between Ansanelli and Putrov. At the end of this illicit liaison, she bourrées side to side, head dropped back in gorgeous surrender. Not many ballerinas today can project such a grand and tragic sense of romance.

 

Two ultra-contemporary pieces sandwiched Month in the rep program. Wheeldon deployed Michael Nyman’s propelling music and a mysterious Gehry-like translucent structure upstage for his 2006 DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse. When dancers stepped behind it they looked like ghosts from the past. Some of the churning and undulating moves reminded me of Within the Golden Hour, Wheeldon’s beautiful piece for San Francisco Ballet last year. Two cataclysmic moments, when the music and dancing stopped dead and the lights changed drastically, seemed like Wheeldon’s answer to Forsythe bringing the curtain down with a thud to interrupt the dancing in Artifact.

 

Wayne McGregor’s Chroma was like plunging into ice water. The piercing music (by Joby Talbot) and aggressive extensions, pushed beyond ballerina decorum, made you shiver at first, but after a while the water was fine. Better than fine. The choreography pried the dancers’ bodies open in unsettling and exhilarating ways. The partnering was killer and the counterpoint satisfying. Each of the 10 dancers, stretched to extremes, was awesome.


Philadanco
The Joyce Theater, NYC
June 15–21, 2009
Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

 

Taken on its own terms, Philadanco is a triumph: nearly 40 years in existence under the leadership of Joan Myers Brown; an African American troupe, bearing up now in a climate that’s tough on arts groups from every culture; a rock-solid Philadelphia institution with a world-class reputation; a robust engine of dance education for its city and state.

 

Felicitous imperfections and bits of individuality sing out from each Philadancer. Your eye can skip from one performer to the next with the enjoyment of discovery. They remind us of gifted, dedicated youngsters we might know from around the way, kids who have grown and done well for themselves, not airbrushed gods and god­desses of the stage.

 

Guest choreographer Rennie Harris made the best use of this realness, deploying his mass of dancers to reflect the character of an entire city without losing that precious texture of individuality. Philadelphia Experiment succeeds as a can’t stop/won’t stop celebration of the hometown and a sly praisesong to decades and two hemispheres of black dance culture.

 

There’s a social issues undercurrent here, too, indicated by photo slides, truncated voiceover material hinting at a disturbing incident, and program notes acknowledging “political, social and economic change.” But the dance itself? Nothing but a party partying down pretty hard.

 

“Do you remember the days of slavery?” a voice chants over a locomotive rhythm, and a projected piece of art reads, “We the people of the United States are sick and tired of getting the runaround.” Meanwhile, 15 bodies dance the invincibility of black life—life so unbeatable, in fact, that even when you think Experiment is over and the dancers take a bow, it flares up again, driving the audience wild.

 

But not all of Philadanco’s experiments yield useful results. Guest choreographers Camille A. Brown (Those Who See Light) and Hope Boykin (Be Ye Not) proffer ideas that get smothered in the busyness onstage.

 

Brown, a movement whiz on the rise, for once gets done in by her own inexhaustible cleverness and her dancers’ skill. Her piece seems less about its stated theme of seeking and manifesting spiri­tual light than about how many ways you can move your body. And Kurt “KC” Clayton’s inexplicable original score should really be paired with a chase scene in an action flick.

 

For Be Ye Not, Boykin links her premise—being your true, if lonely, self vs. conforming to the crowd—to obvious interactions and a well-worn movement style. It’s pasteboard. Were it not for the doe-like sweetness of lead dancer Dawn Marie Watson, there’d be little reason to pay attention.

 

Philadanco’s audiences dearly love Enemy Behind The Gates (2002), by Christopher L. Huggins. The pairing of heady Steve Reich music with a virtuosic corps hinting at military rectitude and valor went over well at the Joyce. Like the Boykin and Brown pieces, Enemy inspires everyone to stow that Playbill—with its confusing, distracting program notes about “enemies that look like you”—and just rest back and take in the passing show. The dancers deliver a knockout. That’s swell, but I think we can get more from art, and I vote for more Harris, more coherence, more invention, and far more provocation.


LAFA & Artists
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
Doris Duke Theatre Becket, MA July 1–5, 2009
Reviewed by Theodore Bale

 

Last August in the Doris Duke Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow, I sat rapt while a 20-foot digital image of Fang-Yi Sheu floated above the audience in David Michalek’s extraordinary Slow Dancing. I didn’t know then that his elegant digital portrait would foreshadow the U.S. debut of Sheu’s company, LAFA & Artists, in the same theater less than a year later. Neither did I appreciate then the formidable talents of Bulareyaung Pagarlava, LAFA’s co-artistic director and principal choreographer. After all, I had seen only a few seconds of his work (albeit stretched out over 10 minutes) in Michalek’s film.

 

The ensemble’s introduction at the Pillow was thrilling news for dance fans, and buzz about the group is catching like wildfire. Sheu is well-known for her prowess as an interpreter of Martha Graham’s work. With her own company, however, she has made a radical shift in aesthetics. The only woman in her seven-member company, she is a triumphant diva in the midst of six handsome young men who are accomplished gymnasts and acrobats as well as commanding dancers.

 

The company acronym is a blend of letters from the names of its founders: Bu-LA-re-yaung (Pagarlava) and FAng-Yi (Sheu). Both are from Taiwan and have worked with that city’s celebrated Cloud Gate Dance Theatre.

 

Pagarlava’s three dances were sepa­rated by intermissions, but they are actually better suited as movements in one evening-length work. Single Room (Excerpts) is an extended solo in which Sheu hovers and balances over a simple long table, never revealing her method of support, and moving so skillfully that it is impossible to discern where one phrase stops and another begins. Like a hummingbird possessed of colossal strength, she defies gravity just as she did in Slow Dancing, but here in real time.

 

The two surrounding dances, 37 Arts and Summer Fantasia Part I--Summer at Jacob's Pillow, expertly layer and shift between disparate events. The former begins with a fight over a milk bottle and leads to episodes of hand­stands, boomerang-tossing, balancing folded newspaper pages on the nose, and jumping through hoops. Suddenly it shifts to a rough, erotic duet for Ming-Cheng Huang and Sheu set to Renaissance songs by Dowland, and later a ragged tango for two men. In Summer Fantasia the men dance through an endless series of archetypal scenes, all provoked by a blue-and-white striped beach towel, and clearly making an ironic commentary on Ted Shawn’s legendary Men Dancers.

 

Graham had her start in vaudeville; nearly a century later Sheu and Pagarlava are using the same format to radiant physical and metaphorical effect.

 

 

Photo by Karli Cadel, Courtesty Jacob's Pillow

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