Memorable Performances of 2013

It’s that time of year. Looking back, here are fifteen particularly memorable performances from the last twelve months, in no particular order.What were the most memorable performances in your year? I’d love to hear about them.

Dmitry Krymov’s play Opus No. 7, at St. Ann’s Warehouse, a highly choreographed, very physical exploration of history and memory. The second half of the program, Shostakovich, was especially powerful. In it, Krymov (who wrote, designed, and directed) explored the historical role of the great Russian composer, depicting him as a kind of tragic clown, a whimpering, simpering tool of the Soviet state. A devastating portrait of the grotesque compromises history forces upon us. It was all I could do to drag myself out of the theatre at the end.

A link to my review.

Akasha, Shantala Shivalingappa’s latest solo kuchipudi evening, which I caught at the Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven over the summer. Shivalingappa is one of the foremost interpreters of the Southern Indian classical form kuchipudi, a light, fluid dance that brings together storytelling, rhythmic footwork, silvery jumps, and refined, stylized gestures. Throughout the evening Shivalingappa took on different identities: Krishna as a naughty but irresistible child; a young shepherdess, playing her flute; a betrayed lover. But most impressive was her transformation into Bhairava, god of destruction, at the end. This slight, crystalline dancer became a human tornado, with flashing eyes and slicing limbs vibrating in space.

A link to my recent interview with Shivalingappa.

Shivalingappa as Bhairava. Photo by Elian Bachini.
Shivalingappa as Bhairava. Photo by Elian Bachini.

Alexei Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy, for American Ballet Theatre: A project Ratmansky has been mulling for years, ever since composing his first ballet to Shostakovich as a ballet student. The pieces – the Ninth Symphony and the Chamber Symphony in C minor, plus the Concerto for Piano and Trumpet – span Shostakovich’s career and represent a cross-section of his musical and temperamental styles. What is most remarkable about the triptych is its range, and the interweaving of ideas from one ballet to the next. Here is a world, Shostakovich’s world as seen by Ratmansky.

Here’s my review for DanceTabs.

And here is a link to a longer piece about the making of the trilogy, and about Ratmansky’s affinity with Shostakovich’s music, for The Nation.

American Ballet Theatre in Alexei Ratmansky’s Symphony #9. © Gene Schiavon
American Ballet Theatre in Alexei Ratmansky’s Symphony #9, the first section of the Shostakovich Trilogy. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

–The return of Ratmansky’s Namouna: A Grand Divertissement, to New York City Ballet. A kind of deconstructed nineteenth-century adventure-story, Namouna is pure, goofy, effervescent pleasure. And the company looks splendid in it.

You can read more about it here.

Tyler Angle, Rebecca Krohn, Sterling Hyltin, and Sara Mearns in "Namouna." Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Tyler Angle, Rebecca Krohn, Sterling Hyltin, and Sara Mearns in “Namouna.” Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Petrushka, performed at the New York Philharmonic as part of A Dancer’s Dream. The full evening, a collaboration with the Giants Are Small production company, didn’t work (Baiser de la Fée was a mess), but Petrushka was a blast. There were puppets, projections, dancing onion domes, and even a dancing bear on a ball (thank you, Amar Ramasar). The musicians got up and danced as well, made musical jokes, and played Stravinsky’s score with real folk flair. Sara Mearns played the Ballerina Doll, but Ramasar stole the show.

Here’s my review for DanceTabs.

A Bend in the River, by Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, performed by the Khmer Arts Ensemble as part of Season of Cambodia. Shapiro’s reinterpretation of classical Cambodian dance brought this ancient, but somewhat remote, art form crashing into the present. The musical score, by Him Sophy, is the first modern composition for traditional pin peat ensemble, a radical extension of its range of colors, dynamics, and rhythmic contrasts. The plot, drawn from folklore, functions both as pure storytelling, as a skeleton for elegant and lively dance sequences, and as an allegory of national reconciliation. A very moving piece of theatre.

Read more here.

Carla Körbes in George Balanchine’s Apollo, performing with Pacific Northwest Ballet at City Center. A luminous, quietly profound performance that made the ballet glow from within. Körbes was the best Terpsichore—the most natural and lyrical—I have seen in person.

Here is a review of that performance. And you’ll find an interview with Körbes here.

Seth Orza and Carla Körbes in Apollo. Photo by Lindsay Thomas.
Seth Orza and Carla Körbes in Apollo. Photo by Lindsay Thomas.

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s En Atendant and Cesena, performed by her company Rosas at BAM. These pieces took me completely by surprise. De Keersmaeker is one of those artists whose work I respect but don’t always enjoy. Her tendency toward repetition and asceticism can be arduous. But in these two pieces, set to polyphonic fourteenth-century music performed by singers who walked onstage among the dancers, the asceticism had a higher, spiritual purpose. The works were like monastic exercises. But singers, and the shifting patterns of their voices, made the experience far from arid.

Here’s a review of the two pieces.

The singers and dancers in Cesena. Photo by Stephanie Berger.
The singers and dancers in Cesena. Photo by Stephanie Berger.

Frederick Ashton’s A Month in the Country, with Julie Kent and Guillaume Côté, at American Ballet Theatre. Based on Turgenev’s play, Ashton’s ballet is about love on a Russian country estate. Masterfully constructed, there is not a wasted moment or gesture. Its heroine, Natalya Petrovna, is a silly, shallow woman, but her suffering is all the more touching because it is so inevitable and trite. Côté, débuting in the role, perfectly embodies the young tutor Petrovna falls for: innocent, handsome, and mindlessly sensual. Kent shows remarkable intelligence and sensitivity—she understands Petrovna inside and out.

Read more here.

Julie Kent in A Month in the Country. Photo by Marty Sohl.
Julie Kent in A Month in the Country. Photo by Marty Sohl.

Sous leurs pieds, le paradis, by the Tunisian dancer/choreographer Radhouane El Meddeb: one of the most oddest, most compelling solo performances I’ve seen. It is set to a recording of an extremely long song, Al-Atlatl, perfumed on a recording by the Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. El Meddeb interprets Kulthum’s variations in a his own secret language of the body, gliding around the darkened stage with tiny steps, flickering his hand like a hummingbird, ornamenting his path with mysterious gestures. His body exudes a kind of painful vulnerability.

You can watch a video of the piece here.

Justin Peck’s Paz de la Jolla, for NYCB. The promising young choreographer (who also dances with NYCB) had a break-through with this ballet, set to Martinu’s Sinfonietta La Jolla. I was most struck by the underwater ballet he created in the second movement, a completely unexpected feat of fantasy and craft. Peck has learned a lot from watching and dancing in Ratmansky’s ballets. But he also has a strong, athletic, fresh voice. And he’s not afraid to exploit pointe-work, or partnering, without looking the least bit old- fashioned. In the spring, he’s making a new work to a commissioned score by the indie songwriter Sufjan Stevens.

Here’s a review of Paz de la Jolla.

The finale of Justin Peck’s Paz de la Jolla. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
The finale of Justin Peck’s Paz de la Jolla. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Mark Morris’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato at the White Light Festival. Endless words have been written about this piece, so I won’t add more here. Along with his recent Socrates, it is Morris’s most profound, profoundly human work. The music is sublime. What else is there to say.

Well, I did try to say more here, in this review. And here is my recent profile of Mark Morris for The Nation.

A moment from "L'Allegro." Photo by Kevin Yatarola. Lauren Grant in the background, Maile Okamura in the foreground.
A moment from “L’Allegro.” Photo by Kevin Yatarola. Lauren Grant in the background, Maile Okamura in the foreground.

Lil Buck’s evening at the Le Poisson Rouge was one of the most rollicking evenings of the year. This Memphis Jooker, who became famous via a viral video in which he half-improvised to Saint Saëns’ “dying swan,” danced his heart out to jazz, Stravinsky, Galician bagpipe music, Philip Glass (played by Yo Yo Ma), and Klezmer, along with his cousin Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles. He’s deeply musical and totally willing–even hungry–to try anything. He has said that he considers Yo Yo Ma to be a kindred spirit, and he may be right.

Here’s a review of the evening, and a profile in Dance Magazine.

Lil Buck and Yo Yo Ma. Photo by Erin Baiano.
Lil Buck and Yo Yo Ma. Photo by Erin Baiano.

Paco Peña and Ángel Muñoz, performing with the Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company in Flamenco Vivo at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Peña’s guitar-playing is simultaneously epic and intimate; with each solo, he embarks on a voyage of the imagination. Muñoz is a force of nature, and a master of suspense. He looks like he’s improvising, picking up the trail of the music and molding it to his mood, taking the musicians and the audience along for the ride. The combination of these two makes for a great evening of music and dance.

More here.

Shostakovich‘s opera The Nose, at the Metropolitan Opera. Composed when Shostakovich was only twenty-five, this opera is dynamic, wildly original, funny, surreal, full of folk elements and surprises. (I especially loved the folk aria set to balalaika.) It has all the energy and sense of discovery that, for me, Nico Muhly’s Two Boys lacked. A real doozie to sing–my greatest admiration goes to the cast. And the William Kentridge production is pure constructivist eye-candy. The best production I’ve seen at the Met since, well, Khovanshchina.

Tiler Peck’s Dewdrop in The Nutcracker. One of the most exciting performances of the year, and reason enough to revisit this ballet. In fact, this is true of everything Peck dances. With her phenomenal musicality, she makes ballet look like the easiest, most natural thing in the world.

Tiler Peck as Dewdrop in the Waltz of the Flowers. (photo by Paul Kolnik.)
Tiler Peck as Dewdrop in the Waltz of the Flowers. (photo by Paul Kolnik.)

Alvin Ailey, Rebooted

 Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Chroma, D-Man in the Waters (Part I), LIFT New York, City Center 20 December 2013 www.alvinailey.org www.nycitycenter.org Ailey, Recharged Since stepping into Judith Jamison’s shoes just two-and-a-half years ago, Robert Battle has set in motion a quiet revolution at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Like his frequent curtain speeches, Battle’s leadership seems to combine a lack of flash with a determination to honor and extend the virtues of his dancers. He may appear low-key, but don’t be fooled. As he said, with a self-deprecating chortle, before a recent performance, Ailey fans should tighten their seatbelts. Battle seems intent on demonstrating that Ailey dancers can dance anything, no matter what the style or mode of composition (contemporary ballet, modern dance, post-modern dance, hip-hop). But what is in a way even more striking is how the repertory he chooses – often, it must be said, by trendy choreographers – is transformed by the Ailey dancers, with their combination of individuality and collaborative spirit. Despite registering strongly as individual personalities, they are equally involved with each other onstage; like the members of a family, each dancer has his role to play. And one can feel the dancers’ hunger for new challenges – I have yet to see a less than full-throttle performance, even when a choreographer’s style does not quite fit the company’s technique, as with Paul Taylor’s Arden Court last year. Often, they reveal aspects or colors I’d never noticed before. I’m always surprised by how, in the finale of Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16 – a portrait of postmodern Israeli alienation – the Ailey dancers manage to show concern for the audience members they lure onto the stage. Instead of feeling terrified and embarrassed, their “victims” sense that they will be looked after; because of this, they are able to really let themselves go.   Jacqueline Green in Wayne McGregor's Chroma.© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) Jacqueline Green in Wayne McGregor’s Chroma. © Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) The new works this season – Chroma, D-Man in the Waters (Part I), and Lift – are a typically eclectic mix. Chroma, by the British choreographer Wayne McGregor, whose whiplash-inducing style and penchant for cool lighting displays have propelled him to the forefront of contemporary ballet, seems geared to show that the Ailey company can be as contemporary and dazzling as anyone today. Ailey is also the first non-ballet company in the US to take on Chroma, originally made for the Royal Ballet (in 2006). (It is performed off-pointe.) Whatever the values of the ballet – and I’ll admit its de-humanized, often sexual contortions, blaring score, all-white set, and fierce presentationalism leave me quite cold – Battle has proved his point. These dancers can twist and split their legs and slide and grapple with the best. And they look good doing it. In a slow, stretchy pas de deux, the gorgeous, long-limbed Alicia Graf Mack, especially, transforms herself into something not quite human, capable of bending and twisting to almost frightening extremes. (McGregor has a way of turning dancers into a catalog of body parts.) At times, her long, curled-over leg is reminiscent of a scorpion’s tail.   Alicia Graf Mack and Vernard J. Gilmore in Wayne McGregor's Chroma.© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) Alicia Graf Mack and Vernard J. Gilmore in Wayne McGregor’s Chroma. © Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) But not even these dancers can imbue Chroma with rhythmic variety or subtle accents – there is nothing subtle about McGregor’s arm-yanking couples or the way the men constantly pry the women’s thighs apart – but they do manage to color the movement with theatrical undertones and style. The work comes across as less violent, more attitude-driven, like a music video.   Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in BIll T. Jones's D-Man in the Waters (Part 1).© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in BIll T. Jones’s D-Man in the Waters (Part 1). © Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) D-Man in the Waters (Part I) is perhaps the best-known work by the American modern dancer and choreographer, Bill T. Jones, (it was revived by his own company just this year). Created in 1989 at the height of the Aids crisis, D-Man is a cry of defiance against the disease. It is less notable for its actual dance vocabulary than for its energy and joy. (Similarly the Mendelssohn Octet to which it is set is built upon the insistent repetition of a single motif.)  It is a dance of life, clearly meant to evoke a community of people fighting for survival, with exuberance and love. Lines of camouflage-wearing dancers form and dissolve, bodies dive and fall, dancers “swim” vehemently against the tide. At Ailey, the balletic notes of the work stand out: feet are pointed, pirouettes are rigorously vertical, feet skitter in petit allegro. The clarity allows certain details to pop, as when one of the dancers (Michael Francis McBride) returns to the stage to pick an invisible flower and hold it delicately in his hand. The Ailey dancers capture the work’s warmth and underlying innocence, toning down their big personalities to allow the piece to speak for itself. In a quartet for a man and three women in which each teeters toward the floor, Jammer Roberts – who is having a fantastic season – stands out for his gentle concern, so remarkable in a man with his Atlas-like physique (he is six foot five).   Belen Pereyra, Michael Francis McBride and Rachael McLaren in BIll T. Jones's D-Man in the Waters (Part 1).© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) Belen Pereyra, Michael Francis McBride and Rachael McLaren in BIll T. Jones’s D-Man in the Waters (Part 1). © Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) That physique is put in dramatic relief in the third première, the only completely new work this season, Aszure Barton’s Lift. This is Barton’s first collaboration with the company; the Canadian choreographer has her own modern dance ensemble, and has also worked with Netherlands Dance Theatre, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and American Ballet Theatre (among many others). Even so, as often happens when a choreographer is exposed to this company, she has – consciously or unconsciously – created an “Ailey” piece: high-energy, with a strong rhythmic impulse and a not-so-subtle African flavor. (The bouncing steps, the wing-like arms, the grass-like frayed skirts.) That said, it’s the only work on the program that allows us see the dancers in a new light, revealing aspects of their technique and physical qualities untapped elsewhere. Barton seems particularly fascinated by Jammer Roberts’s back, a knotty landscape of muscle and concentrated energy. As he rolls, twitches, and billows his torso beneath a bright light, facing away from the audience, his arms fluttering and beating like the wings of a pterodactyl, his body becomes a rocky landscape. He crouches, on his tiptoes, and slowly expands, becoming twice his original size, seeming to fill the whole stage.   Linda Celeste Sims and Jamar Roberts in Aszure Barton's LIFT.© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) Linda Celeste Sims and Jamar Roberts in Aszure Barton’s LIFT. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Linda Celeste Sims and Jamar Roberts in Aszure Barton’s LIFT. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

My final review of the season is of three premières at Alvin Ailey (by Aszure Barton, Bill T. Jones, and Wayne McGregor). The company, under the still-new leadership of Robert Battle, is looking great. Here‘s my review.

And a short excerpt:

“But what is in a way even more striking is how the repertory [Battle] chooses – often, it must be said, by trendy choreographers – is transformed by the Ailey dancers, with their combination of individuality and collaborative spirit. Despite registering strongly as individual personalities, they are equally involved with each other onstage; like the members of a family, each dancer has his role to play. And one can feel the dancers’ hunger for new challenges – I have yet to see a less than full-throttle performance, even when a choreographer’s style does not quite fit the company’s technique, as with Paul Taylor’s Arden Court last year.”

The Inevitable Best-Of List for 2013

It’s that time of year. Looking back, here are fifteen particularly memorable performances from the last twelve months, in no particular order.What were the most memorable performances in your year? I’d love to hear about them.

Dmitry Krymov’s play Opus No. 7, at St. Ann’s Warehouse, a highly choreographed, very physical exploration of history and memory. The second half of the program, Shostakovich, was especially powerful. In it, Krymov (who wrote, designed, and directed) explored the historical role of the great Russian composer, depicting him as a kind of tragic clown, a whimpering, simpering tool of the Soviet state. A devastating portrait of the grotesque compromises history forces upon us. It was all I could do to drag myself out of the theatre at the end.

A link to my review.

Akasha, Shantala Shivalingappa’s latest solo kuchipudi evening, which I caught at the Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven over the summer. Shivalingappa is one of the foremost interpreters of the Southern Indian classical form kuchipudi, a light, fluid dance that brings together storytelling, rhythmic footwork, silvery jumps, and refined, stylized gestures. Throughout the evening Shivalingappa took on different identities: Krishna as a naughty but irresistible child; a young shepherdess, playing her flute; a betrayed lover. But most impressive was her transformation into Bhairava, god of destruction, at the end. This slight, crystalline dancer became a human tornado, with flashing eyes and slicing limbs vibrating in space.

A link to my recent interview with Shivalingappa.

Shivalingappa as Bhairava. Photo by Elian Bachini.
Shivalingappa as Bhairava. Photo by Elian Bachini.

Alexei Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy, for American Ballet Theatre: A project Ratmansky has been mulling for years, ever since composing his first ballet to Shostakovich as a ballet student. The pieces – the Ninth Symphony and the Chamber Symphony in C minor, plus the Concerto for Piano and Trumpet – span Shostakovich’s career and represent a cross-section of his musical and temperamental styles. What is most remarkable about the triptych is its range, and the interweaving of ideas from one ballet to the next. Here is a world, Shostakovich’s world as seen by Ratmansky.

Here’s my review for DanceTabs.

And here is a link to a longer piece about the making of the trilogy, and about Ratmansky’s affinity with Shostakovich’s music, for The Nation.

American Ballet Theatre in Alexei Ratmansky’s Symphony #9. © Gene Schiavon
American Ballet Theatre in Alexei Ratmansky’s Symphony #9, the first section of the Shostakovich Trilogy. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

–The return of Ratmansky’s Namouna: A Grand Divertissement, to New York City Ballet. A kind of deconstructed nineteenth-century adventure-story, Namouna is pure, goofy, effervescent pleasure. And the company looks splendid in it.

You can read more about it here.

Tyler Angle, Rebecca Krohn, Sterling Hyltin, and Sara Mearns in "Namouna." Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Tyler Angle, Rebecca Krohn, Sterling Hyltin, and Sara Mearns in “Namouna.” Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Petrushka, performed at the New York Philharmonic as part of A Dancer’s Dream. The full evening, a collaboration with the Giants Are Small production company, didn’t work (Baiser de la Fée was a mess), but Petrushka was a blast. There were puppets, projections, dancing onion domes, and even a dancing bear on a ball (thank you, Amar Ramasar). The musicians got up and danced as well, made musical jokes, and played Stravinsky’s score with real folk flair. Sara Mearns played the Ballerina Doll, but Ramasar stole the show.

Here’s my review for DanceTabs.

A Bend in the River, by Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, performed by the Khmer Arts Ensemble as part of Season of Cambodia. Shapiro’s reinterpretation of classical Cambodian dance brought this ancient, but somewhat remote, art form crashing into the present. The musical score, by Him Sophy, is the first modern composition for traditional pin peat ensemble, a radical extension of its range of colors, dynamics, and rhythmic contrasts. The plot, drawn from folklore, functions both as pure storytelling, as a skeleton for elegant and lively dance sequences, and as an allegory of national reconciliation. A very moving piece of theatre.

Read more here.

Carla Körbes in George Balanchine’s Apollo, performing with Pacific Northwest Ballet at City Center. A luminous, quietly profound performance that made the ballet glow from within. Körbes was the best Terpsichore—the most natural and lyrical—I have seen in person.

Here is a review of that performance. And you’ll find an interview with Körbes here.

Seth Orza and Carla Körbes in Apollo. Photo by Lindsay Thomas.
Seth Orza and Carla Körbes in Apollo. Photo by Lindsay Thomas.

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s En Atendant and Cesena, performed by her company Rosas at BAM. These pieces took me completely by surprise. De Keersmaeker is one of those artists whose work I respect but don’t always enjoy. Her tendency toward repetition and asceticism can be arduous. But in these two pieces, set to polyphonic fourteenth-century music performed by singers who walked onstage among the dancers, the asceticism had a higher, spiritual purpose. The works were like monastic exercises. But singers, and the shifting patterns of their voices, made the experience far from arid.

Here’s a review of the two pieces.

The singers and dancers in Cesena. Photo by Stephanie Berger.
The singers and dancers in Cesena. Photo by Stephanie Berger.

Frederick Ashton’s A Month in the Country, with Julie Kent and Guillaume Côté, at American Ballet Theatre. Based on Turgenev’s play, Ashton’s ballet is about love on a Russian country estate. Masterfully constructed, there is not a wasted moment or gesture. Its heroine, Natalya Petrovna, is a silly, shallow woman, but her suffering is all the more touching because it is so inevitable and trite. Côté, débuting in the role, perfectly embodies the young tutor Petrovna falls for: innocent, handsome, and mindlessly sensual. Kent shows remarkable intelligence and sensitivity—she understands Petrovna inside and out.

Read more here.

Julie Kent in A Month in the Country. Photo by Marty Sohl.
Julie Kent in A Month in the Country. Photo by Marty Sohl.

Sous leurs pieds, le paradis, by the Tunisian dancer/choreographer Radhouane El Meddeb: one of the most oddest, most compelling solo performances I’ve seen. It is set to a recording of an extremely long song, Al-Atlatl, perfumed on a recording by the Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. El Meddeb interprets Kulthum’s variations in a his own secret language of the body, gliding around the darkened stage with tiny steps, flickering his hand like a hummingbird, ornamenting his path with mysterious gestures. His body exudes a kind of painful vulnerability.

You can watch a video of the piece here.

Justin Peck’s Paz de la Jolla, for NYCB. The promising young choreographer (who also dances with NYCB) had a break-through with this ballet, set to Martinu’s Sinfonietta La Jolla. I was most struck by the underwater ballet he created in the second movement, a completely unexpected feat of fantasy and craft. Peck has learned a lot from watching and dancing in Ratmansky’s ballets. But he also has a strong, athletic, fresh voice. And he’s not afraid to exploit pointe-work, or partnering, without looking the least bit old- fashioned. In the spring, he’s making a new work to a commissioned score by the indie songwriter Sufjan Stevens.

Here’s a review of Paz de la Jolla.

The finale of Justin Peck’s Paz de la Jolla. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
The finale of Justin Peck’s Paz de la Jolla. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Mark Morris’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato at the White Light Festival. Endless words have been written about this piece, so I won’t add more here. Along with his recent Socrates, it is Morris’s most profound, profoundly human work. The music is sublime. What else is there to say.

Well, I did try to say more here, in this review. And here is my recent profile of Mark Morris for The Nation.

A moment from "L'Allegro." Photo by Kevin Yatarola. Lauren Grant in the background, Maile Okamura in the foreground.
A moment from “L’Allegro.” Photo by Kevin Yatarola. Lauren Grant in the background, Maile Okamura in the foreground.

Lil Buck’s evening at the Le Poisson Rouge was one of the most rollicking evenings of the year. This Memphis Jooker, who became famous via a viral video in which he half-improvised to Saint Saëns’ “dying swan,” danced his heart out to jazz, Stravinsky, Galician bagpipe music, Philip Glass (played by Yo Yo Ma), and Klezmer, along with his cousin Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles. He’s deeply musical and totally willing–even hungry–to try anything. He has said that he considers Yo Yo Ma to be a kindred spirit, and he may be right.

Here’s a review of the evening, and a profile in Dance Magazine.

Lil Buck and Yo Yo Ma. Photo by Erin Baiano.
Lil Buck and Yo Yo Ma. Photo by Erin Baiano.

Paco Peña and Ángel Muñoz, performing with the Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company in Flamenco Vivo at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Peña’s guitar-playing is simultaneously epic and intimate; with each solo, he embarks on a voyage of the imagination. Muñoz is a force of nature, and a master of suspense. He looks like he’s improvising, picking up the trail of the music and molding it to his mood, taking the musicians and the audience along for the ride. The combination of these two makes for a great evening of music and dance.

More here.

Shostakovich‘s opera The Nose, at the Metropolitan Opera. Composed when Shostakovich was only twenty-five, this opera is dynamic, wildly original, funny, surreal, full of folk elements and surprises. (I especially loved the folk aria set to balalaika.) It has all the energy and sense of discovery that, for me, Nico Muhly’s Two Boys lacked. A real doozie to sing–my greatest admiration goes to the cast. And the William Kentridge production is pure constructivist eye-candy. The best production I’ve seen at the Met since, well, Khovanshchina.

 

Tiler Peck’s Dewdrop in The Nutcracker. One of the most exciting performances of the year, and reason enough to revisit this ballet. In fact, this is true of everything Peck dances. With her phenomenal musicality, she makes ballet look like the easiest, most natural thing in the world.

Tiler Peck as Dewdrop in the Waltz of the Flowers. (photo by Paul Kolnik.)
Tiler Peck as Dewdrop in the Waltz of the Flowers. (photo by Paul Kolnik.)

A Sentimental Education: Martha Clarke Takes on Chéri

Herman Cornejo and Alessandra Ferri in Martha Clarke's "Chéri." Photo by Joan Marcus.
Herman Cornejo and Alessandra Ferri in Martha Clarke’s “Chéri.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

 Here is my feature on Martha Clarke’s new dance/theatre work, Chéri, now playing at the Signature Theatre. I also includes an interview with Herman Cornejo on the making of the show. A short excerpt:

MH: How was the piece developed?

HC: We started about a year ago. We worked whenever I was free. Sometimes it was just Mondays, or after seven in the afternoon. Then, when Signature Theatre signed on to present the work, we were able to rehearse for two or three months in the theatre. At the beginning, we would go to the studio without a plan, without preconceptions, and read the book together. A word or a phrase from the book would inspire us, and we would start creating steps to express the emotions in that line or word. From the beginning, Alessandra and I had amazing chemistry and that’s why we were able to go as far as we did. We all made it together.

Mark Morris—Plainspoken Poet

Mark Morris at Ojai.
Mark Morris at Ojai.

I spent several months last year working on a profile about the choreographer Mark Morris for The Nation, interviewing current and former dancers, collaborators, and of course Morris himself. The greatest pleasure for me, was attending the Ojai Music Festival, where Morris had been invited to curate the musical offerings. (He is the first choreographer to be asked.) As everyone knows, he has a very musical mind, and his choices for the festival, grouped around the figure of Lou Harrison and the theme of “Western composers,” were eclectic, eye-opening, sometimes infuriating, and often quite thrilling. His next big project is a staging of the Handel opera Acis and Galatea in 2014.

Here is a link to the profile. And a short excerpt: “Morris is looking very pleased with himself, in rumpled cargo shorts, a red polo shirt, matching red socks and Franciscan-style sandals. With his broad chest and even broader belly, a scraggly beard, leonine head of graying hair and gleaming greenish eyes, he looks like a Welsh poet, a mischievous Buddha, a disheveled and possibly disreputable emperor….Something about the arrangement of his limbs as he perches on a stool—the extreme angle of his knees, perhaps—reveals the uncanny flexibility of a former dancer. “I was a fabulously good dancer,” he tells me later, and it’s true, too. I’ve seen the tapes.”

http://www.thenation.com/article/177447/plainspoken-mark-morris