Page 2 of 2

My “best of 2012” list

There is something attractive about the idea of putting together an end-of-year list, no matter how artificial the concept. It offers us the illusion of good housekeeping and gives us permission to indulge in semi-serious nostalgia about the year that has just passed. Was it a good year for dance? Well, it has certainly had some highpoints. Here are a few, in no particular order.

1. The final Merce Cunningham Events at the New York Armory.

The final Event at the Armory. Photo by yours truly.
The final Event at the Armory. Photo by yours truly.

These were epic performances, and though technically they took place just before the New Year, for me, they marked the start of a new era, post Merce. The enormous Drill Hall, which spans an entire city block, was filled with people, six thousand strong, and the level of excitement and sadness was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The Cunningham dancers, together for the last time, danced as if in a trance. The whole thing was spine-tingling. Here’s what I wrote at the time, in The Nation:

“At the final performance at the Armory, on New Year’s Eve, the dancers gazed at the audience in shell-shocked amazement, as waves of applause rippled through the hall. Silas Riener, looking gaunt after the intensity of the tour and the relentless schedule of the final weeks, did a solo from the 1992 work Enter that led him as far as his body could go, swatting his arms and moving his head jerkily, like a man possessed, while sinking into deep squats that switched, seemingly without transition, into turns, or flipping himself from a downward facing position to an upward one, the arch in his back reversing dramatically. Emma Desjardins, a sensualist of the stage, looked as if she were about to cry. Jennifer Goggans, a company veteran, seemed the most at ease, joining Daniel Madoff in a stately, formal walkabout on one of the platforms. Andrea Weber, with her athletic, healthy, beautiful body, smiled beatifically, as if constantly amazed at the challenges presented to her. As electronic and brass sounds filled the hall (I think it was David Behrman’s “Open Space With Brass”), she bent her legs deeply, balancing on her toes, then tipped into a sideways tilt and slowly curved her spine backward and looked up at the heavens. She was dancing for Merce. They all were.”

2. Dorothée Gilbert in the Paris Opéra Ballet’s Giselle.

Dorothée Gilbert in Giselle. Photo from www.dorothee-gilbert.com
Dorothée Gilbert in Giselle. Photo from http://www.dorothee-gilbert.com

Until her performance, I admired but was not fully seduced by the company during its visit to New York. Mostly, I was impressed by the corps of wilis in Giselle, who danced with such eerie precision that they made me think of those movies where animators take one person and multiply him ten-thousand-fold to create a multitude. But Gilbert’s beauty and charm, and the freshness of her interpretation, won me over completely. In The Faster Times, I wrote:

“Like all the Paris Opéra dancers, it seems, the twenty-eight-year-old Gilbert is a very beautiful woman, without being anonymously pretty. Long, long neck, strong jawline, gorgeous shoulders, sensitive back, pronounced Gallic nose. But what is most noticeable is her eyes, which are enormous and bright, and remarkably lively…Every emotion and thought is easily legible, and more importantly, we see what she sees. In this, she reminds me of Indian classical dancers, for whom the eyes play an essential role in bringing the narrative to life, while simultaneously enveloping the viewer with their charm….In Gilbert’s Giselle, the eyes tell the whole story: from her initial shyness to her delight in Albrecht’s attentions, her disappointment with the results of the “he loves me, he loves me not” game, her love of dancing, her absolute lack of guile, and, in the end, her fatal incomprehension of Albrecht’s betrayal.”

3. Shantala Shivalingappa at Fall For Dance.

Shantala Shivalingappa in Shiva Ganga. Photo by C.P. Satyajit.
Shantala Shivalingappa in Shiva Ganga. Photo by C.P. Satyajit.

I know,  I know, Shivalingappa was on my 2011 year-end list last as well. But I just can’t get enough of this classical Indian dancer, who specializes in kuchipudi. At Fall For Dance, she performed a shortened version of her evening-length solo Shiva Ganga. As I wrote in DanceTabs, “she is one of the most musical dancers I have ever seen, in any form. Not only are the movements of her body indistinguishable from the music, but she can switch from slow to fast, muscular to fluid, potent to sensual in an instant, with total ease….Her solo ended with the dancer bent forward, near the floor, arms rippling. Her body had become a landscape.”

In October, I interviewed her, and she proved to be as gracious in speech as she is graceful in movement. She told me: “Basically, I don’t think it’s me doing anything, I think we’re just instruments for something coming from somewhere else. If we can allow ourselves to be very transparent, clear, open, empty, then it can happen. You have to be ready. But you have to be qualified, use your talents, train yourself, practice every day so that your legs are strong, to give yourself the full range, but then be quiet. Try to be in touch with whatever is inside and waiting to come out. I’m always expecting to be surprised, and I don’t know whether I can do it.”

4. Moiseyev Dance Company at Fall For Dance.

I expected the company to be dynamic and virtuosic, but I had no idea they would be so damned exciting. Great dancers, wonderful music, and highly effective stagings of folk dance from across the former Soviet Republics.  If you don’t believe me, just check out this Kalmyk Dance:

5. Alexei Ratmansky’s Symphony Number 9.

Roberto Bolle and Veronika Part in Ratmansky's "Symphony No. 9." Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.
Roberto Bolle and Veronika Part in Ratmansky’s “Symphony No. 9.” Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

That Ratmansky has an affinity for Shostakovich we already knew from The Bright Stream and Concerto DSCH. But this new work, for ABT, just got better and better as it went along. A second viewing revealed new depths: “Different details emerged, and the performances of Roberto Bolle and Veronika Part—particularly Veronika Part—revealed a thematic thread I had not noticed before. The symphony was commissioned as a celebration of Russia’s victory over the Nazis. It is essentially upbeat, snappy, even frenetic in its good spirits (at least at first). But it protests its cheerfulness too much, thus introducing a darker undertone. In the first slow movement, there is a sinuous clarinet melody that Ratmansky clearly hears as an intimation of danger. The tango-like pas de deux that dominates this section is furtive; the man and woman constantly turn their heads to make sure they are not surrounded by spies or enemies. A creeping crescendo in the strings seems to evoke great forces encircling the couple. Here and in the movement that followed, the alternate-cast Veronika Part—a great dramatic ballerina—revealed powerful undercurrents of sadness. Where Polina Semionova’s twisting, supple body had given the duet the feel of an illicit tryst, Part’s powerful back and shoulders made it clear that the peril came from without. She communicated fear, desperation, and the desire to protect her lover from harm. Thus, it made even more sense to see the lone male figure—Jared Matthews, in this cast, Herman Cornejo in the first—as a guardian angel protecting the couple.”

6. Herman Cornejo’s dancing, all year long.

drinkcornejo1gs(Cornejo in Mark Morris’s Drink to me Only With Thine Eyes. Photo by Gene Schiavone.)

He was brilliant and funny in American Ballet Theatre’s production of Ashton’s The Dream, swooningly romantic in Sinatra Suite, noble and conflicted in La Bayadère, mysterious and blazing in Ratmansky’s Symphony No. 9, deeply musical in Mark Morris’s Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes.

In November, he told me: “Well, performing for me is really about that experience of giving to the audience. In the studio you work and perfect things, you collaborate with your partner, but for me it’s about what happens on the stage, the ability to give something, to your partner, to the audience. In the studio and the rest of the time I’m just like anyone; the only time I feel different is on stage.”

As far as I can tell, the man can do no wrong.

What were some of your faves? Would love to hear…

Happy 2013 to you all.

Yet another Nutcracker photo

Hee Seo and Cory Stearns in the grand pas de deux in the second act of Nutcracker. Photo by Gene Schiavone.
Hee Seo and Cory Stearns in the grand pas de deux in the second act of Nutcracker. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

This one is from Ratmansky’s version at ABT. Last night, Hee Seo and Cory Stearns danced the roles of “Clara, the Princess” and “Nutcracker, the Prince,” i.e. the adult avatars of Clara and her Nutcracker doll. I must say, each time I see this version, I like it more. Last night (Dec. 13) it looked tighter than ever, which is important in a production with so much detail. I still feel the stage of the Howard Gilman Opera House is a bit small and can look over-crowded at times (as in the party scene), but as the company settles into the intricate choreography (and relaxes into the acting, of which there is quite a lot), the ballet just gets richer and its intentions become more clear. The children’s individual personalities begin to shine through, and one notices all sorts of goings-on: last night I was amused by a little scene of flirtation going on by the staircase while the children opened their presents, as Vitali Krauchenka chatted up Katherine Williams, who kept bashfully looking down at her lap. I’m always amused by the fact that after the men get up from dinner, they are a little drunk, their hair disheveled. Last night, the snowflakes were right on the music, producing that special thrill when music and steps seem to come from the same impulse. The same goes for the three Russians (Mikhail Ilyin, Arron Scott, and Craig Salstein), who have honed their comical Russian Dance to a perfect “bit,” cutting their antics short just in time to take off into a series of repeated jumps that seem to say, “ta-da!” just as the music does. And talking about about timing, Roman Zhurbin’s is a thing of beauty; he can tell you everything you need to know about Drosselmeyer by the extra time he takes to embrace Clara, but also by the pacing of his entrance. Nothing is rushed or overly theatrical. And it helps that he moves like a dancer; his acting has elegance of shape and stillness when it is needed.

I’ve fallen completely in love with the dance for the Polichinelles; the kids do a kind of rocking saunter, then drop to the ground and crawl back through each other’s legs; then they hop  from side to side with one leg in attitude. It’s so simple, but it works. The Waltz of the Flowers is still hopeless; the flowers do so little dancing, and the four bees prancing on the melody are simply not funny, nor does the whole “funny” concept fit the mood. Maybe one day Ratmansky will change it?

But all is forgotten once the final pas de deux begins. The two children face their adult manifestations but they don’t see each other.  Each couple holds hands. The children slowly walk into an opening at the back of the stage, and the adults dance an emotional pas de deux; the heart catches. It’s also and extremely hard pas de deux, requiring lots of strength, enormous endurance, and some bravery (as when the man swings the ballerina around with her leg out to the side and just hopes that she’ll stay up). Last night, Seo and Stearns had a few flubs, but the feeling was right. A joy laced with awe and even a touch of sadness. Seo was luminous; Stearns looked at her with a love-smitten smile, as if assuring her that even if things did not go seamlessly, he would be there. And he was. It wasn’t perfect, but it was moving.

Another Nutcracker

In Alexei Ratmansky’s new “Nutcracker”, now in its third season, the heroine (Clara) is not quite a little girl, more like a pre-teen. Because of this, her feelings for the Nutcracker and his human incarnation are, well, complicated. When he collapses after his battle with the Mouse King, she tends to him with great seriousness, as an adult would, but moments later, there they are, throwing snowballs at each other like kids. Conversely, in her pas de deux, the adult ballerina who represents Clara’s future self, cries like a little girl. The little girl never quite disappears. As in Tachikovsky’s sumptuous, deceptively sunny score, turbulent emotions lie just below the surface. Growing up is hard—loss lurks at every corner. But, like Tchaikovsky, Ratmansky has the good sense to fold this somber message into a sparkling, delightful package, filled with children and lush, imaginative choreography.

Gomes:Part(Photo by Andrea Mohin for the NYTimes. Dancers: Marcelo Gomes and Veronika Part.)

Nutcrackers Galore (from Faster Times)

As Nutcracker season comes to NY, a meditation on two approaches (Balanchine’s and Ratmanskys’) from last year. You can see the article here.

And a short excerpt:

“People often roll their eyes at the “Nutcracker”—so conventional! So twee!—but I am amazed each year by the emotional fullness of this ballet. It must be hell to dance day in and day out for an entire month, as the New York City Ballet does each year, from the day after Thanksgiving until New Year’s Eve. We have heard tales of slippery artificial snow in the Waltz of the Snowflakes, and, thanks to Sophie Flack’s new semi-autobiographical novel “Bunheads” (a fun read) we now know that the snow-flakes have a bitter taste when they inevitably flutter into the dancers’ mouths. I’m sure it’s a bore to feign delight, or to have Tchaikovsky’s melodies playing in a continuous loop in one’s brain. I feel for the dancers, really, I do, but even so, every year I am struck by how stirring and satisfying “The Nutcracker” can be, in the right hands.”

The new DanceView is out!

And includes my  Letter from New York DanceviewFall with reviews of the Australian Ballet, Shantala Shivalingappa’s contemporary-dance solo evening at the Joyce, Larry Keigwin, Trisha Brown’s “Astral Converted” at the armory, and Mark Morris’s “Dido and Aeneas.”

As you can see from the TOC, it also includes Mary Cargill’s review of ABT’s spring season, great reading (though I disagree with her quite strikingly about Ratmansky’s Firebird!).

Yuan Yuan Tan (in Yuri Possokhov’s Raku) is on the cover. The photo is by Erik Tomasson. (Yes, he’s Helgi Tomasson’s son.)

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.”