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“Reflections”
Segerstrom Center for the Arts • Costa Mesa, CA • January 20–23, 2011 • Reviewed by Victoria Looseleaf

 

Finally: a program with the girls out in force. Unfortunately, their force fields—no matter how magnetic—fizzled in the overly long (nearly three hours), unevenly paced program. Sure, there were fleeting moments of brilliance—both in choreography and technique—but they were in short supply.

 

Modeled after and produced by the same team as “Kings of the Dance,” “Reflections” tried harnessing the estrogen power of seven Russian ballerinas trained at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in custom-made works. And for those concerned about the dearth of female choreographers these days, this program had them in spades, or at least there was a trio of high-gloss gals: Aszure Barton, Lucinda Childs, and Karole Armitage.

 

Why, then, begin the concert with Nacho Duato’s reworked Remansos? Originally for a male trio, this rendering featured Anastasia Stashkevich, Yekaterina Krysanova (both Bolshoi soloists), and Olga Malinovskaya (Estonian National Ballet), partnered by three Bolshoi men—Denis Savin, Vyacheslav Lopatin, and Ivan Vasiliev, respectively. Pretty, yes. Deep, not exactly, though the feathery armwork and intense pliés made for some nice imagery, performed to Alexey Melentiev playing the music of Enrique Granados, live.

 

After intermission (already?), the gorgeous, elastic-limbed Polina Semionova (Staatsballett Berlin), soared through Strauss Incontra Verdi, a 1995 work by Renato Zanella, adapted for the ballerina last year. Her body adorned in a glitzy pantsuit, Semionova pranced, turned, and leapt in neo-clown mode before wowing with a series of fouettés.

 

So much for the new. In any case, Barton’s Dumka had promise, featuring Bolshoi soloist Yekaterina Shipulina, moving dramatically to Tchaikovsky, her back fluid as rippling water one moment, her demeanor giddy the next. Too bad the short showcase, with lots of show but little to say, lacked cohesion. Childs’ Book of Harmony, featuring Malinovskaya making perpetual motion look easy, was in-your-face choreography that didn’t quite go the distance demanded by John Adams’ propulsive score.

 

With Armitage’s Fractus, a duet for Krysanova and Savin (to Rhys Chatham music), blackouts gave a feeling of urgency that complemented the tough-love partnering, including Savin spinning Krysanova upside-down. San Francisco Ballet’s Maria Kochetkova tackled Jorma Elo’s One Overture with grit, the classical vocabulary fragmenting into quasi-moonwalking and shoulder-shimmying, while still maintaining hallmark Russian smoothness, enhanced by Mozart and Biber melodies.

 

Longtime partners Osipova and Vasiliev looked sharp in Bigonzetti’s Serenata, while the inexplicable inclusion of Balanchine’s 1955 Pas de Trois was nevertheless welcomed, with Shipulina, Semionova, and Alexander Volchkov displaying articulated footwork and stunning lines. As for Bigonzetti’s grand finale, Cinque, featuring all but Semionova and Malinovskaya, the femmes (though not quite fatales) cavorted on chairs with wigs and hanging tutus, their solos offering preening, backbending, and the occasional wrap-a-leg-around-the-neck trick. Alas, there was nothing earth-shattering, although the Vivaldi pieces, performed live, were sumptuous.

 

“Reflections,” a cool concept, is in need of a thoughtful makeover.

 

Yekaterina Shipulina in Barton's Dumka. Photo by Steve Dawson, courtesy Segerstrom Center

 

 

Sarah Michelson
The Kitchen
NYCJanuary 13–22, 2011 • Reviewed by Siobhan Burke

 

There are dances that tell stories, and there are those, like Sarah Michelson’s Devotion, that distill familiar ones to an essence, wringing out qualities that you didn’t know were there. In this new work, a collaboration with Richard Maxwell and his New York City Players, the stories are biblical, and the essence resides in a peculiar place between ecstatic and austere. Letting Michelson take you there is a near-transcendent experience.

 

The seats of the blackbox, rotated from their usual configuration, line the long side of the space. In the wide darkness, things loom: from the ceiling, two hulking clusters of scoop lights, with a third sprouting up from the floor; on the walls, four paintings by TM Davy, which look like Baroque portraits. These depict modern men and women cast in a saintly glow, one of whom appears to be Michelson.

 

Not only does Michelson’s image preside over the work—its “creator,” lingering—but also her voice, which delivers Maxwell’s poetic text at the beginning and end. In the opening narration, amid refracted meditations on Genesis and the birth of Christ, we hear the inner dialogues of Adam and Eve in Paradise: “Adam thought, There is so much to share. Thank you.” Eve, tasting knowledge, realizes, “Whatever demons possess me, they are doubled by desire.” The two of them “felt fear together, of falling.”

 

Meanwhile, Rebecca Warner (the Narrator, embodied) plunges through a courageous solo; she is nowhere near falling, but her tension suggests a holding-on-tight. Utterly focused, she strikes one extreme Cunningham-esque pose after another: wide fourth-position pliés, deep lunges, severe side-tilts of her torso. Occasionally, Nicole Mannarino, the Spirit of Religion, appears behind her, whirling rapidly.

 

This rigor, a Michelson hallmark, carries over into a marathon solo for 14-year-old Non Griffiths (Mary), which evolves into a cold duet with the actor James Tyson as Jesus. (Tyson and Jim Fletcher, who plays Adam, are both members of the Players, and do an admirable job of tackling the movement.) Griffiths, dressed in white, may be tiny, but she meets Philip Glass’ exultant Dance IX head-on.

 

Some may recognize Dance IX from Tharp’s In the Upper Room; a few of the steps, and the costumes by James Kidd, Shaina Mote, and Michelson, also recall that 1986 opus. Spliced with original music by Pete Drungle, Glass’ pulsating horns fuel the cyclical motifs, the transfixing repetitiveness, of the choreography. The integral lighting design, by Michelson and Zack Tinkelman, also plays a rhythmic role, as one of the hanging fixtures swings into motion, keeping time like a pendulum.

 

Warner and Griffiths give intrepid performances. But it’s Eleanor Hullihan (Eve) who seems like Devotion’s true heroine. If Griffiths is an emblem of purity, Hullihan is her sensuous counterpart, the abandon to her containment. In her duet with Fletcher, she exudes athletic vitality and feminine strength. (The two wear matching uniforms of red leotards with white on the bottom—pants for him, a mini-skirt for her.) A hopeful glint in her eye, she repeatedly bounds across the length of the space, diving into Fletcher’s arms or onto his shoulders. She takes his hand and pulls him toward the theater doors, a threshold that he is reluctant to cross.

 

“Children. Have to tell you this message…We can live, free, without anxiety.” This refrain from Maxwell’s text echoes in the mind long after Devotion ends. Michelson takes us to many places, but among them, those extremes of freedom and angst, penetrating the rapturous depths of them both.

 

Eleanor Hulihan as Eve in Michelson's Devotion

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