Rocío Molina’s world

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:


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.

Cubist Flamenco

Israel Galván in La Curva (with the pianist Sylvie Courvoisier in the background)
Israel Galván in La Curva (with the pianist Sylvie Courvoisier in the background). Photo by Kevin Yatarola.

Last night I saw Israel Galván in his solo show La Curva.He’s a remarkable dancer, quick and impish and completely in his own world. The show is a kind of cubist deconstruction of Flamenco, all angles and sharp edges, with bursts of dancing intermixed with the Cage-like piano improvisations of Sylvia Courvoisier and the singing of Inés Bacán. Here’s my review for DanceTabs.

Paul Taylor branches out…

Sunset 3menOn Thursday, it was announced that as of next year the Paul Taylor Dance Company will be functioning on a new model, one that takes into account Mr. Taylor’s advancing age and the ephemeral nature of dance. In other words, to ensure the company to survive, Taylor has decided to diversify its repertory, opening itself to the works of other modern-dance choreographers. The plans are still very vague—choreography by whom? Performed with the blessing of whom? But the idea is that Taylor should become a kind of repertory company for modern dance, with a strong base in Taylor’s works. The most similar model I can think of is Alvin Ailey, but even there, the focus is on the new. (Or, as the commenter below points out, perhaps the model is the Limón Company, which presents “programs that balance classic works of American modern dance with commissions and acquisitions from contemporary choreographers.”) The company’s name, too, will change, to Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance—rather clumsy, but there it is.

The good news is that the troupe is doing well. According to the Wall Street Journal, sales are up 27 percent since 2010. Another positive note is that live music, something which has been missing for years, will be part of the equation. (Though to what extent is still unknown. According to a press conference, musicians will be used “where intended by the choreographer,” whatever that means.) Money for the transformation will be provided by the sale of several works of art by Rauschenberg from Taylor’s personal collection—the two artists have known each other for over fifty years and have collaborated on several occasions—with a matching grant from the board.

The details will become clearer over time. What’s sure is that Taylor is entering a new era, and thinking about the future, something that modern dance companies are facing with increasing frequency. The issue as always is whether to close up shop or to continue. And if the latter, how to make a company viable without its founding choreographer. Merce Cunningham decided that the only solution was to shut down the company but keep the school and a licensing arm. Trisha Brown’s company announced last year that Brown would be stepping aside due to health problems, while her dancers would undertake a three-year “farewell tour” under the tutelage of two company veterans. The troupe’s ultimate fate, however, was not fully spelled out (though the signs point toward something along the lines of Merce Cunningham. Martha Graham is soldiering on, conserving (and modifying) its Graham rep and commissioning new works. Tanztheater Wuppertal recently announced that it would begin acquiring new works and auditioning new dancers as of 2015.

One can’t help but feel a certain sense of loss as one of the great modern-dance choreographers contemplates the end of his own creative life, and a future beyond the horizon line.

For more information on the announcement, check out Susan Yung’s blog, The Ephemeralist.

Picking up the pieces

the storage area at Westbeth, a few days after the storm. Photo by me.
the storage area at Westbeth, a few days after the storm. Photo by me.

Eighteen months ago, Hurricane Sandy sent water gushing into the Martha Graham Dance Company’s new storage areas at the Westbeth center in the Village. Thousands of costumes and sets were damaged, some irreparably. I wrote about the destruction at the time, for the New Yorker’s culture blog.

Now I’ve updated the story for the   New York Times, chronicling the company’s recovery efforts and its constant efforts to reinvent itself and remain relevant. As a bonus, there’s a great video by Gabe Johnson, with images of costumes, archival films, and interviews with the dancers.

A Family Feeling

Antonio Canales, surrounded by singers, dancers and musicians at the Gala Flamenca. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.
Antonio Canales, surrounded by singers, dancers and musicians at the Gala Flamenca. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.

The New York Flamenco Festival, in town for its fourteenth edition, opened last night with a Gala Flamenca featuring Antonio Canales, Karime Amaya (grand-niece of Carmen Amaya), Carlos Rodríguez, and Jesús Carmona. It was a well-orchestrated, well-paced show, directed by Ángel Rojas of Nuevo Ballet Español, with a varied mix of solos, pas de deux, and ensembles. Each of the featured performers has a clearly-defined style: Canales’s is blustery and authoritative; Amaya’s austere and monumental; Rodríguez’s clean and showy. But Jesús Carmona, new to the festival, was the show-stopper, a dancer of endless invention and chispa. You’ll find my review for DanceTabs here.

Despite the star turns, though, there was also a lively air of inclusiveness, a sense of everyone being part of an extended family. In one number, the entire cast—musicians, singers, dancers—gathered onstage, around Antonio Canales, and held a kind of party. It was one of the highlights of the night.

In this clip, Jesús Carmona does an alegrías:

Check out…

Companhia Urbana de Dança, by  Renato Mangolini.
Companhia Urbana de Dança, by Renato Mangolini.

Gia Kourlas’s interview with Sonia Destri, the founder of Companhia Urbana de Dança, a company of young  dancers from Rio currently performing at the Joyce as part of a Brazilian dance festival at the Joyce. And go to the Joyce if you can. Destri’s choreography is strong and spare, and the dancers are wonderful: varied, incredibly direct, and vibrant.

Here’s what I wrote about them in The Faster Times when they came to Fall for Dance in 2010:

“Lastly came Companhia Urbana de Dança, from Brazil, made up of beautiful, wild-haired young men from the rougher neighborhoods of Rio. They performed “ID: entidades,” a suite of deconstructed hip-hop, street-dance, and contemporary- dance miniatures set to an extremely spare electronic score consisting of sounds and the odd driving rhythm. This was no “Bring in ‘da Noise” or “Stomp”-style showcase however, but rather a dark, introspective meditation on the dancers’ ways of moving. Each had his specialty—fast-footwork, isolations, fluid movements of the torso and arms. In between, they ran, clashed, embraced. There was a contained aggression in their movements, but also refinement and a kind of innocence.”

NYCB Goes Back to Basics

Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild in the second "aria" of Stravinsky Violin Concerto.
Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild in the second “aria” of Stravinsky Violin Concerto.

The company ended its season in the key of Balanchine, with a strong program of black-and-white ballets: Concerto Barocco, The Four Temperaments, and Stravinsky Violin Concerto. All in all, it was a smashing performance, with the usual highs and lows. Right now, Violin Concerto is in the best shape of the three, with dancing so sharp it made me laugh with glee more than once. Here’s my review, for DanceTabs.