Serenity in the Face of Danger

At Dia:Beacon this weekend, Trisha Brown placed her Group Primary Accumulations with Movers into the Michael Heizer Gallery, whose floor has four huge, deep canyons carved into it. The four women were lying on their backs serenely performing the simple, sensual accumulation: lift the right arm from the elbow; do it again and then lift the left arm from the shoulder; do that again and brush your hair behind your ear. And on and on.

 

Soon each woman was interrupted by two men who picked her up and carried her to a new spot. She did not look at her new surroundings but blithely continued her sequence, hoping they haven’t placed her too close to those canyons. The audience stood behind plexiglass barriers because nobody wants visitors falling into big deep holes. From where we stood, we could not see through to the bottom. I wondered how I would feel being carried to who-knows-where and it could be near a precipice. Trust is key.

 

Another amazing spectacle was seeing Figure 8 (which I used to perform when I was with Trisha’s company in the 1970s) strung out in the very long, Walter de Maria gallery with eight dancers instead of the usual five. This time it was Serenity in the Face of Higher Math. With the right arm they are counting 1; 1,2; 1,2,3, etc, while the left is counting 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 etc. with the simple motion of bringing the fingertips to the top of the head. It’s a diabolical coordination, done to metronome—with eyes closed. Diane Madden, rooted in place, led the group (though with all eyes closed, there was no such thing as following).

 

Opal Loop, as I’ve said in a previous blog, is a beautiful essay on seeing and not seeing, and bringing nature to the stage. And have I mentioned that Dia: Beacon is an ideal place to see Trisha’s work—both its huge, daylit indoor spaces and the surrounding grounds.

 

The novelty of the day was that Trisha herself danced. At 73, she is lithe but fragile. She slowly intertwined limbs with one female dancer at a time. It was moving to see how each of the four dancers interacted with Trisha and supported her gamely, inventively, and lovingly.

Broadway
The "Merde" bag. Courtesy Scenery

Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.

But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?

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Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.

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News
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Sara Mearns in the gym. Photo by Kyle Froman.

New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.

"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "

She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.

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