Dancers & Companies

Wendy Perron's First Blog

Why Is Naharin's Work So Mesmerizing?

After seeing Ohad Naharin’s Decadance performed by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, you don’t come out of it saying This part was good and that part wasn’t. You come out of it having experienced humanity in a raw state. When Ebony Williams in bizarre feathery get-up on stilts, lip synchs to a song of grunts, sighs, and yells, there is something both artificial and ruthless about the way she uses her whole body and face. The recorded sounds seems to come from her gut, spiced up by a touch of Eartha Kitt and Harpo Marx too. The scene is almost funny, but it’s too mesmerizing to laugh.

Cedar Lake invited Naharin to spend three months with them setting Decadance, which is a compilation of excerpts of previous works. The dancers (all of them technically fantastic) have journeyed deep into themselves to get to a place of rawness. His demands go beyond pretty or beautiful, an aesthetic that is shared with Graham. But the movement sometimes looks like krumping or butoh. I think the hypnotic effect has to do with the vulnerability he encourages in his dancers. It gets to something essential about being human—or even animal. In the beginning, when they line up downstage for an excerpt from Naharin’s Virus, their gloved hands look like paws—until each dancer explodes, one at a time, into their personal version of condensed fury.

Another aspect of Naharin’s work that draws you in is the inventive ways he pulls audience members onto the stage. This time, I was one of those led by the hand to the performing space. I don’t have to tell you that it is quite a mental and physical switch from sitting and watching to being under the lights. My personal guide looked at me with fierce eyes that told me what to do. And yet there was room to play; you felt an instant camaraderie with the other dazed souls onstage. My guide turned out to be Shani Garfinkel, who is actually from Naharin’s Israeli company, Batsheva, and had joined Cedar Lake temporarily as both dancer and his assistant.

The program continues until July 1.

The Mothers Made Me Cry

After seeing various casts of Peter Martins’ Romeo + Juliet and American Ballet Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty—and reading lots of reviews—I feel like the mothers have been overlooked. Everyone talks about the different Juliets and Auroras, but Darci Kistler as Lady Capulet really brought the tragedy home, and Susan Jaffe as the queen was the emotional center of the new Sleeping Beauty.

Kistler gave extravagant weight to her every gesture. She had to practically rond-de-jambe around her huge dress, and she did so with generous sweeping arms. Maybe because of her grandeur, when she reacted to the deaths—first of Tybalt, then of Juliet—you felt the tension between her position in life and her immediate grief.

Susan Jaffe was a noble and radiant Queen. When the King, in a fit of rage, ordered Catalabutte (his chief minister) killed, Jaffe went into slow-motion action to calm him. She took his hand and placed her check tenderly in his palm. That did it. The feeling of her cheek in his hand appeased him, and he could now forgive. It seemed like all is OK in a land where a wife’s touch can bring down a king’s ire. It’s like a little shadowing of the Lilac Fairy mitigating Carabosse’s vengeful death sentence.

Kota Yamazaki, Mina Nishimura, Raja Feather Kelly and Julian Barnett, Photo by Janelle Jones

Japanese-born, New York–based choreographer Kota Yamazaki returns to his roots as a butoh dancer in Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination. He explores butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata's idea of the extreme fragility of the body. Yamazaki is joined by contemporary luminaries Julian Barnett, Raja Feather Kelly, Joanna Kotze and Mina Nishimura, each of whom engages in drastically eccentric pathways, making the body appear to disintegrate before your eyes. Music is by Kenta Nagai and visual environment by lighting wizard Thomas Dunn. Dec. 13–15, Baryshnikov Arts Center. bacnyc.org.

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Melina and Regina Willoughby, photo by Ashley Concannon

There's a surprising twist to Regina Willoughby's last season with Columbia City Ballet: It's also her 18-year-old daughter Melina's first season with the company. Regina, 40, will retire from the stage in March, just as her daughter starts her own career as a trainee. But for this one season, they're sharing the stage together.

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Career
Garnet Henderson and Rebecca Hadley, PC Julie Lemberger

"So what do you do?"

This is the first question many of us ask when we're getting to know a new person—but it's one I've come to dread. When I tell people that I'm a dancer, occasionally I am met with enthusiasm and interest. But more often, I'm met with confusion, condescension or even hostility. "Oh, that's fun. I wish I could do something fun like that," a new acquaintance once said to me. She then proceeded to tell me about how difficult her job was and how hard she was working, making it clear that in her mind "fun" meant "easy." And if I had a dollar for every time a simple getting-to-know-you conversation has turned into a debate in which I've had to defend my career choice, maybe I could quit one of my other jobs.

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Dancers & Companies
Peter Martins. Photo by Adam Shankbone, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

(Update: Peter Martins will be taking a leave of absence from the company as more accusations surface. Read more here.)

Yesterday The New York Times reported that New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet are jointly investigating sexual harassment claims involving Peter Martins. According to a statement from SAB, it "recently received an anonymous letter making general, nonspecific allegations of sexual harassment in the past by Peter Martins at both New York City Ballet and the school."

Martins, who serves as NYCB's ballet master in chief and SAB's chairman of faculty and artistic director will not be teaching his weekly class at the school as the investigation continues. He currently maintains his positions at both organizations.

While sexual harassment allegations have recently been made against a growing list of Hollywood heavy-hitters, politicians, news anchors and other men in positions of power, this is the first investigation this year of a major figure from the dance world.

Immediate reactions were varied, though emotionally charged. Here are a few of the many responses:

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From left: Justin Peck, Rebecca Krohn, Jonathan Stafford and Craig Hall. Photo by Erin Baiano, via The New York Times.

On Saturday, New York City Ballet announced who will be leading the company while ballet master in chief Peter Martins is on a self-requested leave of absence amidst an ongoing investigation into sexual harassment allegations.

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Thinkstock

Simone Messmer was 19 the first time she used cocaine. She was at another company's gala when someone pulled out a bag of the white powder. There, at the coat check counter, party guests took turns snorting the drug. "I was hesitant, but at the time I was willing to try anything once," she says. "Everyone around me was getting hyped up. But for me, it made me feel grounded."

She would later learn that her reaction—feeling grounded instead of hyped—probably had to do with undiagnosed ADHD. The sensation kept Messmer, then a corps member at American Ballet Theatre, returning to the drug multiple times a week for a year. And it nearly jeopardized her career.

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Dancers & Companies
Barker in class with Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo by Stephen A'Court, Courtesy RNZB

According to several reports from New Zealand–based news outlets over the past week, the Royal New Zealand Ballet is facing significant internal upheaval just a few months after Patricia Barker took over as artistic director.

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Dancers & Companies
PC Getty Images

Last night, the New York City Ballet board of directors approved ballet master in chief Peter Martins' request for a temporary leave of absence amidst an ongoing investigation into sexual harassment.

The investigation came to light on Monday, when the New York Times reported that NYCB and the School of American Ballet had hired a law firm to investigate their leader after receiving an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment.

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Dancers & Companies
Wendy Whelan with Kyle Abraham

While it's appalling that any male leader would use his power to humiliate women, the accusations against Peter Martins opens up a wonderful, rosy possibility. In an email conversation about Martins stepping down temporarily, a friend of mine wrote, "They won't hire a man in this climate."

I suddenly found myself getting giddy with the thought that a woman might lead New York City Ballet. I pictured a former NYCB principal coming in and calming the dancers down, respecting them, inspiring them, treating them like adults, listening to them and encouraging communication between all factions of the company.

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Health & Body
Ascaf, Courtesy Batsheva

A newcomer to Batsheva's main company, 23-year-old Amalia Smith is quickly learning how to keep her body safe and supple during Ohad Naharin's rigorous rehearsals and world tours. Fatigue has become both a hurdle and a teacher.

"Decadance is pretty much a marathon, and the new piece Venezuela is such crazy cardio I nearly had an asthma attack!" says Smith. Fortunately, the new discoveries she's made through Gaga have helped her handle its intense demands.

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