Twyla Gets Countrified

I interviewed the members of the old-time string-band Carolina Chocolate Drops as well as Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild for this piece on Twyla Tharp’s new dance suite set to five of the Drops’ songs.The dance premièred at BAM last week (unfortunately I was out of town). The band has a wonderfully down-home, and yet modern sound, and they’re excellent musicians. Each of them plays several instruments, from fiddle to banjo to various kinds of percussion and jug. Rhiannon Giddens, the informal leader of the group, has a strong, intelligent singing style (she trained as an opera singer). And of course their kind of music is right up Twyla Tharp’s alley.

You can read the piece here.

And here are the Drops in their infectious “Cornbread and Butterbeans”:

Mapping Shen Wei’s Course

Shen Wei by Ron Antonelli for the Times.

Shen Wei by Ron Antonelli for the Times.

I wrote a feature on Shen Wei for The Times Arts and Leisure section this week, tracing the progress of Shen Wei since his arrival in the US in 1995. In a few weeks (opening April 29), his company will be performing a revival of his 2005 work “Map,” a dizzying puzzle of a dance set to Steve Reich, at Judson Church. This time, though, the piece will be set in the round, with many “fronts.” Shen’s original designs, hand-painted sketches by his composition notes, had to be re-imagined. Shen came up with an ingenious solution: applying the sketches to balloons that will float above the dancers. In addition, Shen will be performing a new ten-minute solo, set to music by Arvo Pärt and John Adams.

 

No Place Like Home

Tom Pecinka in The Soldier’s Tale. Photo by Dana Astmann.

Tom Pecinka in The Soldier’s Tale. Photo by Dana Astmann.

The Yale departments of drama and music and “Yale in New York” teamed up for a performance of Igor Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat at Zankel Hall, a bitter story that perfectly captures the hopelessness felt in Europe after the end of the First World War. Stravinsky was eking out a meager existence at the time (1918), separated from his former life and his bank accounts by war and revolution. He turned to a format he know from his childhood, the fairground theatrical, creating a lean, acidic little story. What’s surprising is how timely it still feels. The Yale players performed it well; the new choreography, by Emily Coates, was well-suited to the tale, and the young actors flung themselves into the tricky, folk-inflected steps. You can read my review for DanceTabs here.

 

Season of Taylor

Sean Mahoney of Paul Taylor in Perpetual Dawn. Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Sean Mahoney of Paul Taylor in Perpetual Dawn. Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Another Paul Taylor season has ended at Lincoln Center. The company is looking fine, and the theater seemed well-filed on all but one of my forays. The dancers put an an impressive twenty-three works over the course of three weeks. But such diversity comes with a down side—not every piece holds up, especially when seen alongside Taylor’s best. It turns out there are a lot of run-of-the-mill Taylor dances. But then, you see something like Black Tuesday or Cloven Kingdom or, in its own bizarre way, Byzantium, and are once again amazed by this man’s imagination. How does Taylor come up with Byzantium, with its archaic priestly figures and orgy scenes? Taylor’s imagination is a mystery, and we like it that way.

I reviewed the season here, for DanceTabs.

And here is a short excerpt: This was “the company’s final New York appearance as a purely Taylor-centered enterprise. As of next year, it will transform itself into a mixed repertory troupe, performing the works of other modern-dance-makers alongside those of Taylor. This is a major transformation, and one that is not easy to envision at this point. Which choreographers will be represented? How will the works be chosen? How will they look on these particular dancers, so practiced in the fluidly athletic, muscular style Taylor has honed over many decades? How will his dancers feel about the change?”

Rocío Molina’s world

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If the Flamenco Festival is anything to go by, flamenco seems to be entering a period of highly original, personal, even eccentric reinterpretations. A week ago, I reviewed Israel Galván’s “La Curva, in which Galván seemed torn between two poles, that of his flamenco “family” (represented by a singer and a palmero, or hand percussionist, sitting at a table), and his new, chosen avant-garde family (represented by the pianist Sylvie Courvoisier). Of course flamenco is more than one thing and always has been. Tensions about its “true,” “pure” nature are as endemic to the form as rhythmic footwork and quebrada turns. But what’s interesting about these choreographers is that they seem to be grappling with personal curiosities, trying to figure out not what flamenco is, but what it is to them at that moment.

Two nights ago, I saw Rocío Molina in her intriguing trio “Afectos” at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Molina’s explorations are less anarchic, more intimate than Galván’s. There’s less rage in her dancing, more whimsy. Like a child, Molina seems to do exactly what she wants, abetted by her two collaborators, Rosario “La Tremendita” (singer) and Pablo Martín (double bassist). At its heart, the show is a kind of structured jam session, in which the three riff off of each other. The shifting relationship between La Tremendita and Molina provides the dramatic storyline. Who are these two women to each other, and what are they trying to say? What is the relation between the singer’s voice and the dancer’s body? Who is stronger, who is the most free? You can read my review of the program here.

In this article for the Times, I attempt to summarize some of the current trends in flamenco.

And here is a short clip from Afectos:

Nuts

Misty Copeland as Columbine. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Misty Copeland as Columbine. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

I can’t say how sorry I am to hear that Alexei Ratmansky’s Nutcracker will not return to Brooklyn Academy of Music after this year. It’s such an imaginative, whimsical, and ultimately touching production. The person I went with this year cried at the end, when little Clara wakes up in her bed and reaches for the Nutcracker boy, only to have him disappear, just beyond her reach. “It’s just so sad,” she said when I asked her what had made her so blue. And it is. The confusion we feel just as childhood slips away from us is our first experience of loss, our first intimation of the limitations of life, of death’s presence just beyond the scene.

I’ve always been moved by another moment in the ballet, when the Nutcracker boy is pushed to the floor during the party scene and Clara first feels a rush of empathy toward him. Only she, among the “real” characters, can see his suffering, and she drags him, with great effort—he is as big as she is—to a chair to take care of him. But before she does, the toys—Columbine and Harlequin and the be-turbaned Canteen Keeper—return to help their fallen brother. He’s one of them, you see.

The Nutcracker boy later returns the favor, in the snow scene. He revives Clara, desperately, when she nearly dies of cold. The scene is echoed in last year’s Shostakovich Trilogy, when, in the fourth movement of Symphony No. 9, the central female character places her hands on her partner’s body, as if to discover the place from which he is bleeding, to protect him. These stolen moments of human concern are one of the things I love  most about Ratmansky’s choreography and what, I think, distinguishes him from the crowd.

Last year I saw three traditional Nutcrackers, including Ratmansky’s. Here’s what I wrote then.

And here is a piece in the Times about ABT’s decision to take its Nutcracker on the road.