Ailey

This is Chalvar Monteiro (in a photo by Daniel Azoulay), of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He joined the company in 2015, after dancing for Kyle Abraham for several years. In a company of powerhouses, his dancing stands out for its clean lines, quiet bravura and focus (as you can see here). My eye always seems to find him on the stage. He never skimps on the details, but his dancing has energy and vibrancy, too. Here he is in Sinner Man, from Revelations. My review of the company’s June 17 matinee is at Dancetabs.com

Catching up

This time of year, it’s hard to keep up with the goings-on in the dance world (particularly ballet). Here is a round-up of recent performances and news:

Evgenia Obraztsova in <I>Romeo and Juliet</I>.<br />© Rosalie O'Connor. (Click image for larger version)
Evgenia Obraztsova in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

1. Herman Cornejo and Evgenia Obraztsova performed a touching rendition of Romeo and Juliet at the Met. It was Obraztsova’s début with the company—here’s hoping this new partnership will blossom in coming seasons. Here is a link to my review, for DanceTabs.

https://i2.wp.com/cvj1llwqcyay0evy.zippykid.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/gs-herman-cornejo-happy-jump_1000.jpg
Herman Cornejo at the same performance. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

 

2. New York Theatre Ballet, alias “the little company that could,” held its first season in the sanctuary at St. Mark’s Church, its new home. On the program were works by Frederick Ashton, Richard Alston, David Parker, Antony Tudor, and the young choreographer Gemma Bond. The space fits the company beautifully, and the inclusion of live music (piano and voice) made all the difference. Here’s a link to my review, for DanceTabs.

New York Theatre Ballet in Anthony Tudor's Dark Elegies.© Yi-Chun Wu. (Click image for larger version)
New York Theatre Ballet in Anthony Tudor’s Dark Elegies. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.

3. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater closed out the season with a Rennie Harris’s moving Exodus (new this season), Robert Battle’s No Longer Silent (a company première), and, of course Revelations. Here’s my review, for DanceTabs.

4. And finally, Julie Kent gave her final performance with ABT, a finely-etched portrait of Juliet in the well-loved Kenneth MacMillan production. As always with this thinking ballerina, every detail was beautifully distinct. It is difficult to imagine works like A Month in the Country without her.

Julie Kent, the soul of simplicity, as always. Photo by me.
Julie Kent, the soul of simplicity, as always. Photo by yours truly.

 

Ailey Does It

Rachael McLaren and Kirven Douthit-Boyd in Wayne McGregor's Chroma. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Rachael McLaren and Kirven Douthit-Boyd in Wayne McGregor’s Chroma. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Alvin Ailey is dancing at the Koch Theatre in Lincoln Center this week, with its singular mix of exuberance, power, and finesse. Here’s my review of some of the new works (including Robert Moses’ The Pleasure of the Lesson and Wayne McGregor’s Chroma), for DanceTabs.

And a short excerpt: “As a secondary consequence, it has been fascinating to see how these choreographers’ works are in turn transformed by the Ailey dancers. They don’t just do the steps, they mold them to their style and personality.”

 

 

 

 

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.

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.”

Virginia Johnson, DTH, and the Question of Race

Virginia Johnson with her DTH dancers. Photo by Andrea Mohin for the Times.
Virginia Johnson with her DTH dancers. Photo by Andrea Mohin for the Times.

This summer, I spoke with Virginia Johnson, the longtime star of Dance Theatre of Harlem, who is now the troupe’s Artistic Director. You can see the interview, on DanceTabs, here.

Under Johnson’s tutelage, the company has returned from the brink for a successful first season. This fall, her dancers will perform at Fall for Dance in New York. In our interview, we talked about her life in dance, the rise, fall, and rise of Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the very real challenge of diversity in ballet. Here’s an  excerpt: “I look at these dancers and I see that they’re not being corrected. There are some very basic things going on that reveal that they’re being ignored. And we see changes in them so quickly because they are finally getting corrections. The schools need to not only embrace the fact that ballet doesn’t have a color but actually work with the material in the room.”

The question of diversity in ballet is finally coming to people’s attention. Benjamin Millepied mentioned it in an interview related to his upcoming directorship of the Paris Opera Ballet, in comments that pissed off the French media. (He said, “I can’t run a ballet company now, today, and not have it be a company where people in the house can relate to, and recognize themselves in some ways.” Shocking.) ABT has just announced a new initiative whose mission is to reach out to minority communities through Boys and Girls Clubs across the us. (ABT’s Misty Copeland will be the ambassador for the program, which is called Project Plié.) Meanwhile, DTH will be there.