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Ratmansky’s smashing new ballet for ABT (DanceTabs)

The première of Ratmansky’s new “Symphony #9,” set to Shostakovich, was one of those moments when, within seconds, you know you are in for a wild ride. Like much of his work, it’s witty, grand in design, and full of detail. It’s also an impressive vehicle for the dancers—they look absolutely radiant and extraordinary in it. Especially Herman Cornejo; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him pushed so far. What more can a dancer ask for?

Here a link to my review for DanceTabs:

And here’s an excerpt:

“Wisely, Ratmansky hasn’t given Cornejo a partner, the better to show off the musicality of his dancing, the stretch of his legs in the air, the way his body reveals the shifts in dynamics and the melodic line. In the final movement Ratmansky pushes him even further: Cornejo seems to be moving faster than is humanly possible. If it doesn’t kill him, it will place him on the Mount Olympus of male bravura.”

An Interview with Shantala Shivalingappa (DanceTabs)

Last week, I happened to share a flight to Sarasota with the Kuchipudi dancer and choreographer Shantala Shivalingappa. She was on the way to the Ringling International Arts Festival, where she performed Shiva Ganga. Taking it as a sign, I asked her for an interview, to which she graciously agreed. I think you’ll find her answers as graceful as her dancing.

And here is a short excerpt:

“What I love about [kuchipudi] is the combination of contrasts: something very strong in the legs—it’s very intricate and quick in the footwork and also very anchored into the earth—but the upper body is full of grace and swaying and undulating. I love the contrast between something very strong and rooted and powerful and at the same time extremely graceful and fluid and lyrical.And musical. Dance in India is inseparable from the music. They are just one [places the palms of her hands together to illustrate]. Actually it’s one discipline in the beginning: dancing, music and theatre.”

All in all, we’re just bricks in the wall (or so Hofesh Shechter would like us to believe)

Just a few disconnected thoughts on Schechter’s “Political Mother,” currently completing its run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The show comes wrapped up in a radical package: it’s loud, it’s angry, it’s a commentary on power and conformism! Suck it up! In reality, it’s vacuous: sound and fury, signifying nothing. The politics are vague and outdated: even the style of our dictators has changed. The authoritarian despot who screams and intimidates from atop a balcony (like the faceless man in Schechter’s nightmare vision) has, for the most part, been replaced by cajolers and folksy types who know where the real power lies—in the media and the services of the secret police. Today dictators know that lies and fast-talk are far more insidious than browbeating. What’s so enraging about Schechter’s critique is that it’s so un-specific. Who is the enemy? Third-world despots? Israel? The West? Ourselves? Your guess is as good as mine. The only clue comes at the end, when the words “where there is pressure there is folk dance” appear, spelled out in lights. Much of the dancing has a vaguely Middle-Eastern folk feel: circle-formations, arms upheld or intertwined, bouncy steps, and bent knees. Aha! perhaps the “system” Schechter is rebelling against lies somewhere in that part of the world. (After all, he was born in Israel; though his company is based in the UK.) If so, the figure screaming atop a raised platform, grunting gutturally into a microphone, seems even more misplaced, more Hitler or Perón than Netanyahu or Ahmadinejad.

The production values are impressive; really beautiful, sculptural lighting creates cones and beams and triangles of light which, with the help of a thick, omnipresent fog, appear solid enough to bite into. (The lighting design is by Lee Curran.) Tireless, liquid-moving dancers, seemingly able to morph into any shape, sink soundlessly into the ground only to spring up again with mad bursts. In the final section, they take it up another notch, dancing at a velocity meant to evoke sped-up film, without losing clarity. They are impressive, and impressively diverse to boot, and they make the most of Schechter’s very limited vocabulary, which combines the communal feel of folk dance with the boneless liquidity of street-dance forms like Jookin. But Jookin displays a far greater variety of moves than this choreography (and a sense of humor) and folk dance is capable of a far wider range of emotion and rhythmic complexity. (Not to mention that Schechter’s vocabulary in this work is very similar to that of a recent work he set on Cedar Lake, “Violet Kid.”) The first image, of a Samurai preforming hara-kiri to Bach choreal music, seemed to hover in a dreamlike, cinematic space that lingered in one’s mind more tenaciously than the dancing that followed.

Not to mention that most of the movement is done in unison—some counterpoint creeps in at the end—and to a relentless, ear-splitting 4/4 beat. The score is by Schechter, who used to play in a rock band, and consists of heavy percussion and wailing rock guitars, with further assistance from the aforementioned screamer and electronic backup. Four percussionists beat their drums onstage, cloaked in half-darkness, wearing military gear. The guitarists rock out from their perch above the stage, under beams of creamy light. Except for a few brief moments of Bach and Verdi—also broadcast at top volume—and some welcome passages of silence, the audience is treated to an hour-long barrage of un-varying rhythm, a relentless march toward oblivion. Little scenelets emerge, divided by blackouts, obviating the need for development of any single idea. The dancers kneel, tremble, run, grapple, and fold into themselves or, conversely, stand in submissive poses with their hands above their heads. They are the victimized, or, as Pink Floyd called them, the bricks in the wall. But then, Pink Floyd’s “Wall” was a more convincing, more anxiety-producing indictment of conformity and the abuse of power than “Political Mother.”

Mark Morris’s new “A Wooden Tree” (DanceTabs)

Just returned from the Ringling International Arts Festival in Sarasota, where I got to see both Shantala Shivalingappa and the Mark Morris Dance Group. Here’s my review of the latter, performing a quadruple bill that included a new work, “A Wooden Tree,” set to songs by the Scottish eccentric Ivor Cutler. As was announced just a few days before the show, Baryshnikov performed; he was clearly enjoying being part of the ensemble. “A Wooden Tree” is an eccentric, awkward little work, in which Baryshnikov and the rest of Morris’s crew are given free rein to explore their inner introversion. Garbed in Elizabeth Kurtzman’s dowdy Scottish wear – scratchy-looking woolens, caps, unflattering dresses, sweater-vests – they interact, clumsily court, briefly couple, or act out little scenes. In a way, it amounts to a pantomime. It feels experimental and awkward, less glib than some of his recent works.

I also interviewed Shantala Shivalingappa. That interview will be posted soon….

Ratmansky on Shostakovich

This interview with Brian Seibert in the Times is a must-read for those interested in Alexei Ratmansky’s obsession with Shostakovich.

Here are three short excerpts:

On Shostakovich: ” It’s much stronger than humor. It’s nihilism. He destroys things. He takes something very seriously, and then he crushes it with the most vulgar melody from the street. He plays with the expectations of the listener. He started playing for silent movies, so he learned the correspondence between action and sound”.

On choreographing: ” When I hear the music I think steps, trying different steps like different gloves. It feels like a crossword puzzle: it exists, you just need to find the right words. I prepare, but there is no useful system to write it down, so I need to have it in my head, and then I’m rushing to give it to the dancers. As soon as they have it, we can shape it together.
On history: “My grandmother still lives with my parents in Kiev. She was born in 1908, with Nicholas II and Tolstoy and Petipa still alive. She lived through all of it, so it’s not so far back. This music speaks important things to me.”

A New Ballet from Justin Peck for NYCB (DanceTabs).

Peck’s Year of the Rabbit had its première on Oct. 5, and seems to have had a wide success. It’s delightfully complex piece, with lots of moving parts. The corps is the star. Here‘s my review for DanceTabs.

And a short excerpt:

“What struck me most about the ballet was its sense of freedom. This was the opening salvo of an imagination unleashed. Compared with the ballet that preceded it, for example (Benjamin Millepied’s Two Hearts), it felt pleasingly uncalculated, like a voyage of discovery. At a time when young choreographers seem overly concerned with appearing weighty and stylishly relevant, Peck appears to be mainly interested in exploring the form.”

Indian Dance and Men in Bikinis—Fall For Dance (DanceTabs)

On Oct. 4, I attended the fourth program of Fall For Dance, with Shantala Shivalingappa, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Jodi Melnick and friends, and an all-male hula ensemble from Hawaii. I wrote about it here, for DanceTabs.
And here is a short excerpt, from my description of Shantala Shivalingappa’s “Shiva Ganga”:

“After several manèges of turns on her knees in the waning light, Shivalingappa’s solo ended with the dancer bent forward, near the floor, her arms rippling. The image was of a body metamorphosing into the river Ganges, the embodiment of grace, beauty, fluidity, flowing in the near darkness. Her body had become a landscape. It was an image of stunning beauty.”
Here she is, in an excerpt from “Shiva Ganga”: