Violette

Violette Verdy died this week, a terrible loss.

I had the good fortune to spend time with her last year, when I was preparing a profile of her for The Nation magazine. Those hours were amongst the most delightful I have spent with anyone. I brought her maccaroons and tea, which we ate in her hotel while we talked. One night, we went to the ballet. It was a privilege to sit next to her.

I miss her, as do many, many other people.

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Singing and Dancing—Why Can’t they Just get Along?

I recently wrote a piece for The Nation on dance in opera, inspired in part by Dmitri Tcherniakov’s new production of Prince Igor (and its famous Polovtsian Dances) for the Metropolitan Opera. The piece is now out. For those of you who have a subscription, it’s avaiable here, and for those who are not, I’ve attached a PDF:

IgorNation

Here’s a short excerpt:

“Thirty or so dancers in pale body paint…appeared from beneath the poppies….With the first note of the women’s chorus…the dancers popped up and began undulating and twisting their torsos, tracing calligraphic shapes with their arms in the air or touching their hearts, their heads. In the faster passages, the dancers jumped over the hedges and ran in zig-zagging paths across the stage. When the chorus sang “Khan! Khan!”, a few of the dancers formed couples, with the men pushing and pulling the women by their necks and long, loose hair. During the finale, the men began jumping more frantically, reaching and kicking until, with the last ringing note, the dancers fell to the ground, once again concealed beneath the flowers.”

Here‘s a little excerpt from the dances, as choreographed by Itzik Galili for Tcherniakov.

And here’s a video of Fokine’s version:

 

 

So, which do you like better?

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.)

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.)

MacArthur fellowships for Kyle Abraham and Alexei Ratmansky

reatmanskyssimonschluter
Photo by Simon Schluter for theage.com.au

It was just announced that two choreographers, Kyle Abraham and Alexei Ratmansky, have won MacArthur fellowships. Congratulations to both!

It’s no secret that I think Ratmansky is one of the most quietly innovative choreographers working today, breathing new life into ballet without making grand pronouncements about his intentions. Mainly he revitalizes by doing, by taking history into account while also taking stock of the present, and making the language of ballet seem new and fresh and of our time. Dancers who work with him become more connected to the music, and to their own imaginations. The music he uses opens up and reveals new secrets. In his dances there is space for humor, classicism, vulgarity, warmth, loneliness, despair.

I’ve been excited about Ratmansky from the beginning and have written about his work several times since his arrival in NYC. In 2009, when he had just been named choreographer in residence at ABT, I wrote this piece, “Ratmansky Takes Manhattan,” for The Nation. Earlier this year, I wrote a long piece about the making of his recent Shostakovich Trilogy, also for The Nation, “Running Like Shadows.”  In 2011, when ABT first performed The Bright Stream, I did a little essay on the ballet’s history for Playbill. A few of the outtakes from several interviews appeared in this cumulative q&a in DanceTabs, “Balletic Musings, a Continuing Conversation,” in August.

Needless to say, the MacArthur is great news. Dance is back. Congratulations to both!

An Ongoing Conversation with Alexei Ratmansky

Ratmansky demonstrating a step to Luciana Paris, of ABT. Photo by Andrea Mohin.
Ratmansky demonstrating a step to Luciana Paris, of ABT. Photo by Andrea Mohin.

This q&a, for DanceTabs, is a composite of various interviews I’ve done with the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky since 2009, when I wrote my first profile of him for The Nation, “Ratmansky Takes Manhattan” (2009). Through his straightforward, thoughtful answers, I think one gets a tiny glimpse into the way he thinks about dance, music, and the creative process. Here’s a short excerpt:

“I sense a big support from history. You can’t really go to the university and learn choreography. I guess you can be an apprentice, but I never had that luck. So for me it’s the only way to learn the craft. Staging another choreographers’ ballets is a great, great school. I discovered that when we did Le Corsaire at the Bolshoi. We had about sixty minutes of original Petipa steps. My co-choreographer Yuri Burlak and I really wanted Petipa’s part of it to lead us. So everything that we knew had come later we got rid of…I’ve also re-staged ballets by Massine with new choreography, like Scuola di Ballo [for the Australian Ballet], as well as Lopukhov’s Bolt and The Bright Stream, and Fokine’s Golden Cockerel [for the Royal Danish Ballet].”

Here’s my recent piece on the Shostakovich Trilogy, “Running Like Shadows”.

 

Come Home Charley Patton, a Review (The Nation)

Ralph Lemon in Come Home Charley Patton, Photo by Eric Stone, appeared in Bomb Magazine.
Ralph Lemon in Come Home Charley Patton, Photo by Eric Stone, appeared in Bomb Magazine.

I recently reviewed Ralph Lemon’s new book, “Come Home Charley Patton,” in The Nation. The memoir/travellog is a companion piece to his theatrical work of the same name, and is full of Lemon’s delicate cartoons, photographs, and endless lists of notes from the rehearsal process. It’s an occasionally engrossing, frustrating read. Here’s a link to the review.

And for those who can’t access the link, here is a pdf of the piece.