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Susan Marshall's Cerebral Cabaret
I have to admit, I was a little bit skeptical of the Harkness Dance Festival’s “stripped/dressed” theme before seeing Susan Marshall’s Sawdust Palace, the final performance in this annual series at the 92nd Street Y, on Sunday afternoon. The idea, devised by curator Doug Varone, was for each of the festival’s artists to present a two-part evening: first, to discuss the creative process behind a particular dance (to expose its inner workings, “strip it down”) and then to “dress” that piece up, showing the final, polished version, fully costumed and lit.
I went into part one expecting the kind of banality I’ve endured at many a post-show talkback (vague answers to vague questions that too frequently dilute the power of what I’d just seen) or a spoon-fed explanation of what the piece was about (“…and this part is meant to represent…”). I was eager to plough through all that and get to the work itself. I had heard that Sawdust Palace was a collection of cabaret acts, a departure for Marshall, whose sensibility tends toward the serious and contemplative. Did I need to know anything else? Did I need to know even this much? (That whole question of, “How much should we need to know about the art to appreciate the art?”)
Maybe not. But regardless, Marshall’s “Stripped” presentation far exceeded my expectations. In a brief 20-or-so minutes, she gave us some useful context for Palace—how it fit into her trajectory of dance-making and into the broader New York dance landscape—without giving too much away.
Joseph Poulson and Luke Miller in "Body Music"
She offered, for example, a more nuanced way of saying what I just said two paragraphs ago. What I call “serious and contemplative,” Marshall characterizes as a particular “flow” of experience that moves from audience to performer. Typically, she said, her work invites the audience in, asking us to infer, derive our own meaning, figure out what’s going on there. As an example, she showed her five-minute “Book,” a quiet excerpt from her 2006 Cloudless, in which two performers gently page through an encyclopedia (assisted by an enormous fan), while two others whisper in their ears: a mysterious exchange of information, which tells no story but the one we choose to bring to it.
Palace, Marshall said, reverses the direction of that flow, with performers making a more concerted effort to entertain us. The work was commissioned in 2006 for Bard Summerscape’s Spiegeltent, a portable dance hall with a lavish interior, traditionally home to circus and cabaret. (Set designer Susan Zeeman Rogers admirably reproduced that rough-hewn sumptuousness in the Y’s intimate Buttenweiser Hall.) And indeed, Palace, which came after intermission, deals delightfully in reckless, fun exhibitionism, in silliness and sexiness for its own sake. The 15 acts include a gymnastic tea service, a sensuous ruse in which the unassuming pianist (Alexander Rovang) ends up shirtless with his hands tied in a knot, and a new vignette exploring what Marshall calls “the idea of a woman who could manipulate her breasts through puppetry.” (That woman was the brave Jacquelyn Landgraf.)
But the flow in Palace, as far as I perceived it, doesn’t just go one way, and while some moments are stronger than others, the combination of in-your-face humor and thoughtful repose makes for an enchanting whole. Marshall gives our minds plenty of space in which to roam around, asking “What’s this? What’s that?” Her beguiling performers get ensnared in perplexing scenarios that are Pina Bauschian in their absurdity. Objectively futile tasks—like Joseph Poulson and Darrin Wright smacking various body parts together in “Body Music”—seem driven by a definite, if indefinable, underlying logic. In “Belt Man,” Darrin Wright peels off his shirt to reveal multiple belts wrapped around his bare torso. He places one on the ground, lies down beside it, pops to his feet through a stealthy little flip, steps reluctantly over the boundary he’s created for himself, and begins again—and again and again. “What is he doing?” I wonder. But at the same time, his ceremonial focus convinces me that, whatever it is, it’s important.
Doesn’t sound unlike everyday life, actually: finding purpose—and joy—in the repetitive and ridiculous. Life, as they say, is a cabaret.
Kristin Clotfelter and Alexander Rovang in "Salute to Love"
Photos by Julie Lemberger, courtesy 92Y.
There must be something in the water: Last week, we announced that Madonna is directing Michaela DePrince's upcoming biopic. And yesterday, we got wind of another major dance film: According to The Hollywood Reporter, Fox Searchlight has sealed the deal to make Ailey Ailey's life and work into a movie. Yes, please.
While some movies falter along their way to the big screen, we think this one's got legs (and hopefully a whole lot of lateral T's and hinges and coccyx balances, too). Why?
Back in 2012, after 14 years dancing with Mark Morris Dance Group, choreographer John Heginbotham ventured out on his own. Don't think of it as going solo, though.
Almost from the outset, Heginbotham has embarked on a series of fruitful collaborations with other artists, via his namesake company, Dance Heginbotham, and through a stream of independent projects. His creative partners have covered a range of talents and genres: illustrator Maira Kalman (in 2017's The Principles of Uncertainty), opera director Peter Sellars (for Girls of the Golden West, which debuted at San Francisco Opera in November), and contemporary-music luminaries such as Tyondai Braxton and Alarm Will Sound.
Here's What He Has To Say: About starting his company, his rehearsal process and why he's drawn to creative mash-ups.
Raise your hand if you've ever walked out of the studio with just one thought on your mind: a big, juicy cheeseburger. But raise your other hand if instead of getting that burger, you opted for a hearty salad or stir-fry.
While dancers need to fuel their bodies with nutrient-dense meals and snacks, plenty of foods get an unfair bad rap. "The diet culture in this country vilifies various food groups as being bad while championing others as good," says Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "But black-and-white thinking like that has no place when it comes to food."
Some foods have less nutrition than others, admits Hogan, but if you're eating what you crave and honoring your hunger and fullness cues, she says you'll probably get the variety of nutrients your body needs. Here are seven foods that can have a place on your plate—guilt-free.
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
Ten years is a long time for a dance production to run, but Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Sutra, an athletic, meditative spectacle featuring 19 Shaolin monks and a malleable set of 21 wooden boxes (designed by Antony Gormley) is still striking a chord with audiences worldwide. To celebrate the milestone, Sutra is returning to Sadler's Wells, where it all began. March 26–28. sadlerswells.com.
Whether playing a saucy soubrette or an imperious swan, Irina Dvorovenko was always a formidable presence on the American Ballet Theatre stage. Since her 2013 retirement at 39, after 16 seasons, she's been bringing that intensity to an acting career in roles ranging from, well, Russian ballerinas to the Soviet-era newcomer she plays in the FX spy series "The Americans."
We caught up with her after tech rehearsal for the Encores! presentation of the musical Grand Hotel, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes and running March 21–25 at New York City Center. It's another tempestuous ballerina role for Dvorovenko—Elizaveta Grushinskaya, on her seventh farewell tour, resentfully checks into the Berlin hostelry of the title with her entourage, only to fall for a handsome young baron and sing "Bonjour, Amour."
When Andrew Montgomery first saw the Las Vegas hit Le Rêve - The Dream 10 years ago, he knew he had to be a part of the show one day. Eight years later, he auditioned, and made it to the last round of cuts. On his way home, still waiting to hear whether he'd been cast, he was in a motorcycle accident that ended up costing him half his leg.
But Montgomery's story doesn't end the way you might think. Today, he's a cast member of Le Rêve, where he does acrobatics and aerial work, swims (yes, the show takes places in and around a large pool) and dances, all with his prosthetic leg.
Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
A flock of polyamorous princes, a chorus of queer dying swans, a dominatrix witch: These are a few of the characters that populate the works of Katy Pyle, who, with her Brooklyn-based company Ballez, has been uprooting ballet's gender conventions since 2011.
Historically, ballet has not allowed for the expression of lesbian, transgender or gender-nonconforming identities. With Ballez, Pyle is reinventing the classical canon on more inclusive terms. Her work stems from a deep love of ballet and, at the same time, a frustration with its limits on acceptable body types and on the stories it traditionally tells.
The latest fitness fad has us literally buzzing. Vibrating tools—and exercise classes—promise added benefits to your typical workout and recovery routine, and they're only growing more popular.
Warning: These good vibrations don't come cheap.