Monthly Archives: December 2014

Looking Back on 2014

(Note: For my annual list of “Best and Worst of 2014,” click here.)

Endings As Beginnings

Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks rehearsing Restless Creature, photo by Erin Baiano

Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks rehearsing Restless Creature, photo by Erin Baiano. Homepage photo of Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, by W. P.

Wendy Whelan’s farewell turned out to be a joyous event. She radiated happiness that lit up the whole stage, and the other dancers basked in her sunlight. Even in the spontaneous moments she was utterly natural in her movement, accepting the waves of love from her audience graciously. When Jacques d’Amboise stepped onstage to pay his respects, he swept her up in a brief waltz. It was a wonderful sendoff to her new career as impresario, innovator, and modern dancer.

• After four decades as a duo, the famed Eiko & Koma are going their separate professional ways (for now). Eiko has embarked on a solo project, the haunting Body in Place series. (Koma is delving into visual arts; they are still together as a couple.)

• Obama’s pledge to open relations with Cuba will end the standoff and begin a new era of friendship between the U.S. and dance-rich Cuba. I’m not the only one who was celebrating at this news. Perhaps more U.S. dance companies will perform there, and maybe American students wanting to get Russian-style technique will study at the legendary National Ballet School in Havana. It’s tantalizing to think of the cultural exchanges that may ensue.

• So sad to see the last show of ABT’s magnificent, psychologically satisfying Nutcracker at BAM, with excellent choreography by Ratmansky. Next year the company will begin performing it annually at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in California, with whom ABT is also partnering to establish a new ballet school. 

• DNA on Chambers Street went under, but their building was awarded to Gina Gibney by the Department of Cultural Affairs. The new Gibney Dance Center has gotten off to a roaring start, with many ideas for making it a hub of activity.

• The Trey McIntyre Project fell apart (here’s my guess why), allowing McIntyre more time for other projects. This news added fuel to the argument that the single-choreographer company model is simply outmoded.

Other Beginnings

• CUNY Dance Initiative: Someone figured out a win-win solution to the fact that choreographers need space and the 14 or so colleges in the CUNY system have studio hours to spare. The result is that a diverse group of dance have been awarded space on campuses in all five boroughs. While in residence, these dance artists may just unlock a love of dance in some students along the way.

Cathy Weis, photo by Jacques-Jean Tiziou,

Cathy Weis, photo by Jacques-Jean Tiziou,

• The inimitable Cathy Weis has introduced a salon series called Sundays on Broadway in her SoHo loft. The videographer/choreographer welcomes her guests with drinks, a carpet to lounge on, and friendly discussion. The series launched with documentaries from the 60s (works by John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg and Yvonne Rainer and more). Sundays on Broadway has also presented works-in-progress by dance artists like Jennifer Miller and Jonathan Kinzel. It’s free, so take a look at the current calendar—in a couple weeks because the 2015 lineup isn’t posted yet.


• Ballet to gaga: Top ballet dancers are flocking to gaga as a way to expand their range—and maybe having a little experimental fun as well. Osipova and Vasiliev went to Tel Aviv to learn a work by Ohad Naharin and took his gaga sessions to get in the mood. Diana Vishneva invited Danielle Agami to teach a gaga workshop in her festival in Moscow, and I heard that Benjamin Millepied wants to import gaga for the Paris Opéra Ballet. Naharin is ready for this: He has said that gaga is a tool for ballet dancers as well as for modern dancers.

• California Women: When I traveled to the West Coast in June, almost everywhere I looked, both in the Bay Area and L.A. dance scenes, women were in charge. Long live the women’s movement!

• More transgender dancers: At Danspace, the Museum of Modern Art, and Baryshnikov Art Center, I’ve come across really good dancers who happen to be transgender. For a while it seemed to me that Seattle was leading the way on this, but now I realize that crossing gender borders is happening all over. I have no doubt that this particular kind of courage enriches the field.

• Profusion of reality shows: Seems like everyone from NYCB to Condé Naste Entertainment is producing reality shows on dance. I was even filmed for one of them (“Dance School Diaries” on the Dance On network), when I served as a judge in the Los Angeles YAGP. (I don’t think my footage was in the final episode but I didn’t have the patience to find out.) I suppose this is a good avenue by which kids all over the country learn about our field, but it’s not my favorite way to see dance.

What trends have you noticed in 2014?





Like this Featured Uncategorized Leave a comment

New Works at Ailey

Robert Battle has been expanding the Ailey rep in leaps and bounds. Since last year’s cover story in Dance Magazine,  he’s added works by Hofesh Shechter, Christopher Wheeldon, Jacqulyn Buglisi, and Robert Moses.

Hofesh Shechter's Uprising, photo by Paul Kolnik

Hofesh Shechter’s Uprising, photo by Paul Kolnik.

The Ailey season at NY City Center continues to January 4, but the “All New” program that I just saw appears only two more times: Dec. 26 and 28. In Hofesh Shechter’s Uprising (2006) seven men crouch, crawl, and pitch forward in a crazy run with arms behind them like scorched wings. The ambience is menacing. A hug turns into a battle; a pat on the back in a circle of guys erupts into a slap fest. They move along the floor like hungry animals. The places invoked veer from a gym to a street protest to a prison. It’s a staggering work, and the Ailey dancers pull it off with vigor and the right touch of occasional humor.

For a certain kind of gender balance (a hair’s breadth away from stereotyping), Jacqulyn Buglisi’s Suspended Women (2000) depicts privileged 19th-century women trapped in their own femininity. A. Christina Giannini’s voluminous dresses give the dance an aristocratic feeling. The 15 women form a sisterhood but when four men enter they become agitated or jealous or evasive. Linda Celeste Sims, as always, lends passion and dignity to the proceedings.

Suspended Women by Jacqulyn Buglisi, photo by Paul Kolnik

Suspended Women by Jacqulyn Buglisi, photo by Paul Kolnik. Homepage photo shows Hope Boykin.


The power of Matthew Rushing’s world premiere Odetta stems not from the choreography but from the subject, the dignified singer who had marched with Martin Luther King for Civil Rights era. During the ’60s her majestic voice was a plea for justice, peace, and freedom. Hearing the recording of her “Masters of War” brought me back to the anti-war fervor of that time.

Rachael McLaren & Marcus Jarrel Willis in Matthew Rushing's Odetta,  photo by Mike Strong

Rachael McLaren & Marcus Jarrel Willis in Matthew Rushing’s Odetta, photo by Mike Strong

However, it’s a lighter moment that is the highlight: a charming duo to the song “A Hole in the Bucket.” What a surprise to hear Harry Belafonte’s inimitable voice along with Odetta’s! (The recording is from 1960.) The skit between Jacqueline Green and Yannick Lebrun charmingly depicts a rural couple sassing each other.

The Ailey company is so bursting with talent that one can always discover new favorites. In Uprising, Rinaldo Maurice wriggled through the choreography with an enchanting mercurial quality. In Odetta, Jeroboam Bozeman was gripping in the “John Henry” solo, and Megan Jakel hurled herself through the “Glory, Glory” section with abandon.

To see get tickets for the rest of the Ailey season, click here.

Like this In NYC what to see Leave a comment

Wahoo! We’re Friends With Cuba Now

Ballet Nacional de Cuba in Don Q, with Viengsay Valdes

Ballet Nacional de Cuba in Don Q, with Viengsay Valdes, courtesy Valdes

Great news for the dance world! Obama just announced that the United States will resume friendly relations with Cuba. As Rachel Maddow pointed out, Cuba is good at producing ballet dancers, baseball players and…spies. This last of these professions is what led up to the exchange of political prisoners that made yesterday’s terrific news possible.

We will now set up an embassy in Havana and they will have one here. It will take longer for the embargo to disappear, but we’re on the right track.

There are many reasons that the U.S. should open up to our island neighbor just 90 miles off our shores, and music and dance are at the top of the list. Singing and dancing are so much part of their daily lives that theor professional performances are infused with a sense of ease and warmth, and shot through with sheer energy.


Carlos Acosta in class at BNC for international visitors. All photos by me in 2010 unless otherwise noted.

I was enchanted with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba (BNC) when I first went there in 2006 for the International Ballet Festival of Havana. The halls of the theaters were dimly lit during intermission, but the dancers lit up the stage and put everyone in a party mood. When the Cuban audience really likes something—which is often—they clap and cheer along.

Osipova & Vasiliev, 2006, photo by Margaret Willis

Osipova & Vasiliev, 2006, photo by Margaret Willis

I realized that BNC is loved all over the world and that it was only the U.S. that had bad relations with the country. (Our 53-year embargo was unilateral, meaning no other country penalized them in this way.) I met colleagues from Canada, England, Sweden, Italy, Argentina, and of course Russia while I was there. That’s where I first saw Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev (they were teenagers then), and Mats Ek and Ana Laguna. And of course, I met the legendary Alicia Alonso and her ex-husband, the late Fernando Alonso, who was responsible for dance education throughout the island.

Hallway of National Ballet School, Havana

Stairwell of National Ballet School, Havana

Later, in 2010, American Ballet Theatre, along with a posse of supporters, performed in the Havana festival, and Kevn McKenzie taught a class at the National Ballet School. That year, a small group of NYC Ballet dancers also had a great success.

These are fruitful exchanges—and necessary for the artistic growth of BNC. Although the Cuban training is excellent, the taste in choreography tends to be, shall we say, behind the times. The reason for so many defections, beside the poverty, is that the dancers rarely get to perform new works. Alicia Alonso, who is the force behind the strict training, choreographs ballets that look like they are from the ’50s—the same vintage as the cars in Havana’s streets.

Rehearsal at Danza Contemporanea de Cuba

Rehearsal at Danza Contemporanea de Cuba

At Danza Contemporanea studio

At Danza Contemporanea studio

Interestingly, contemporary dance in Cuba, though less heralded and less supported by the government, is more artistically sophisticated. I saw the fabulously gritty/sexy  Danza Contemporanea de Cuba in their studio. The drummers ignited passionate dancing and each dancer had individual flair. When they brought a program to the Joyce in 2011, though, their rep wasn’t as exciting as I knew it could be. But this brought up interesting issues, so I posed this question: How do you keep cultural identity without falling into clichés?

Osniel Dalgado with Malpaso, photo by Roberto Leon

Osniel Delgado with Malpaso, photo by Roberto Leon

Osnel Delgado, a terrific wildman of a dancer who emerged from Danza Contemporanea, is bringing his own company, Malpaso Dance Company to the Joyce in March and Jacob’s Pillow in August. My guess is that both Danza Contemporanea and Malpaso will be upping their number of touring weeks.

Big thanks to Obama for ending a ridiculously one-sided policy of squashing a small country’s economy—but not their spirit. I’m excited, as are various key people on social media (see below) to witness the cultural exchanges that blossom because of this. Many Cuban defectors have been enriching ballet companies around the world with passionate, technically adept dancing—not to mention superhuman turns and balances. (Click here to read Alicia Alonso’s statement on defectors.) And now our dance artists can give back to Cuba.

Viengsay Valdes rehearsing Swan Lake in BNC studio

Viengsay Valdes rehearsing Swan Lake in BNC studio. Homepage photo of Valdes by Matthew Karas.

All photos by me in 2010 unless otherwise indicated.

This new detente is a wish come true for Viengsay Valdes, the superb dancer who is now the prima of BNC. At the end of this feature story on her, she says it would be fantastic if the White House opens up cultural exchanges. But she also admitted in a later issue that she is well aware that the Cuban company is behind the times. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the opening of relations also opens up the choreographic possibilities for BNC?

Here are some quick reactions to my question on Twitter and Facebook, What good dance news do you think will come of opening of relations with #Cuba?

Eduardo Vilaro, artistic director, Ballet Hispanico: “Loving Obama’s bold move. Excited by the possibilities.”

Robert Johnson, dance writer: “American ballet students will travel there to study. More artistic exchanges.”

Lourdes Lopez, artistic director, Miami City Ballet: “so excited to see more Cuban talent here and share artistic experiences.”

Judith Sanchez Ruiz, dancer/choreographer based in Berlin, former member of Trisha Brown Dance Company: “A big DAY for CUBA and US. Thank you Mr. President. It has been a long way but finally is over. Let’s meet in (mi Habana)….It is such an incredible news for Cubans all over the world….- it is the right thing to do…. “NO ES FACIL”. Just Obama could have done something like this. Incredible!!!!”

Jordan Levin, arts critic, Miami Herald: “More of cult xchange that brot us MalPaso & growth in Cuban dance world.”

Cynthia Bond: “I took US class w/AfroCuba de Mantanzas in 90s: more pls!”

Toba Leah Singer, author of Fernando Alonso: Father of Cuban Dance: “This is the biggest Cuban victory since the defeat of the CIA-engineered Bay of Pigs invasion, during which time Fernando offered to send the dancers back from their tour of Eastern Europe to participate in defending the island against the Yanqui attacks. He reasoned that they had great stamina and would make excellent marksmen. Fidel thanked him, but rejected the offer, saying, “Let them dance. It’s what they do best, and dance is also important in defending the Revolution.”




Like this Featured Uncategorized Leave a comment

John Cage’s Revolutionary Relevance

John Cage’s revolutionary idea: Dance (or any art) is not about something, it is something.

Cage watching Carolyn Brown in her dressing room at BAM, 1970

Cage watching Carolyn Brown in her dressing room at BAM, 1970

He lived this philosophy rather than preached it. His m.o. was curiosity, joy, and hard work, and it’s now been captured in John Cage Was, a big new book of photos taken by James Klosty between 1967 and ’72. Those were the years Klosty trailed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, whose members included Carolyn Brown, Mel Wong, Sandra Neels (who has reconstructed Cunningham’s work), and Douglas Dunn (click here for his riddle-like tribute to Merce). Accompanying these masterful yet spontaneous photographs are quotes from dancers, composers, and visual artists, all incorporating the words “John Cage was.”

Cage was the architect of the ideas that made Merce Cunningham a renegade: the idea of creating music and dance separately but performing them simultaneously; the idea that there is no silence—there is always sound inside us or around us—and no stillness; and the idea of chance as an alternative to personal taste when composing music or dance.

He was also Cunningham’s musical advisor, driver of the VW tour bus, and the father figure who made touring fun for the dancers. His hobbies—playing chess and hunting for mushrooms—were legendary.

Cage on right, dancers, from left are, Carolyn Brown, Sandra Neels, Susanna Haymen-chaffee, Mel Wong, Chase Robinson

Cage on right, dancers, from left are, Carolyn Brown, Sandra Neels, Susana Hayman-Chaffey, Mel Wong, Chase Robinson, 1971

Many well-known people have colorful ways to describe Cage in this book. Baryshnikov calls him a “wicked genius.” Twyla Tharp calls him a “gentle anarchist.” Robert Wilson contributes a visual poem about his “renaissance mind.” Carolyn Brown (whose own book on Cage and Cunningham is passionately complex ) says Cage was “the heart and soul of the Cunningham Dance Company, making the experience of dancing with Merce an ever-surprising, vital, life-changing voyage.” The composer John Luther Adams writes, “Cage’s music is all about…the experience of listening.” You will find other quotes by Yvonne Rainer, Mark Morris, Stephen Sondheim, Gavin Bryars, and Yoko Ono.

Merce and Carolyn Brown rehearsing Suite in Westbeth Studio, 1972

Merce and Carolyn Brown rehearsing Suite in Westbeth Studio with Cage at the piano, 1972

Klosty’s photos reveal Cage to be an impish, spontaneous person. (I remember when he “played” the cacti at Danspace in 1977, with utter glee at the sound of each pluck of the prickly plant.) He was always up for a photo op, unlike Cunningham who, it may be apparent in these pages, was less eager to cooperate with the camera.

Cage with Carolyn Brown and Chase Robinson, 1971

Cage with Carolyn Brown and Chase Robinson, 1971

As Klosty writes in his introduction, he hopes that readers will find here “glimpses into an always searching, unfailingly playful, uniquely beautiful spirit.” And those glimpses abound in these pages. And if you want to find out why Ain Gordon, son of David and Valda, at the age of 5 or 6, called John Cage his best friend, well, buy the book.

I love the clarity of Cage’s idea that art or dance is something in itself rather than in the service to something else. And yet I still hear people struggling to define what a dance is “about,” assuming they’ll find a theme or “meaning” if they dig under a pile of form or pattern. Yes, sometimes there is a theme that can be identified, but other times there may be a focus, not necessarily a theme.

I think Cage liberated us from certain stale expectations and conventions. He accomplished that with his gusto for life as much as with his groundbreaking ideas. Thank you, James Klosty and Wesleyan University Press (which has published seven of Cage’s books, starting in 1961), for reminding us of his presence with this profusion of beautiful, at times poetic images. Click here to order the book.

Merce and John at Westbeth, possibly looking into the makings of Cage's "prepared piano," 1972

Merce and John at Westbeth, possibly looking into the makings of Cage’s “prepared piano,” 1972. All photos by James Klosty




Like this Featured Uncategorized 2

Meredith Monk at BAM

I’m a city girl, but if anyone can make me feel at one with nature, it’s Meredith Monk. The tones of her voice seem to rise up out of the earth or drop from the sky, the rhythms seem to ride the waves of the ocean or crackle like fire.

To celebrate her 50th season of making work—dances, music compositions, operas, films—she is presenting On Behalf of Nature at BAM Dec. 3–7.

On Behalf of Nature, all photos by Julieta Cervantes

On Behalf of Nature, photos by Julieta Cervantes

The word unique doesn’t even begin to describe how singular, inimitable, and towering Monk is as a multidisciplinary artist. Many dance artists have passed through her work, including Ralph Lemon, Ann Carlson, Blondel Cummings, Liz Lerman, and Janis Brenner. (Not to mention Monk’s huge influence in the music world.) And for those of us who never coexisted in a studio with her, experiencing her large and deep vision (for me, it started in the 70s with Vessel and Education of a Girlchild) invites a kind of archetypal connection to reverberate in one’s soul. She’s a national treasure, whether or not there is official recognition of this.

Ellen Fischer, photo by Julieta Cervantes

Ellen Fisher in On Behalf of Nature

On Behalf of Nature reflects Monk’s longtime involvement in Buddhism, with its ideas of compassion and harmony. Eight performers, moving collectively about the stage of BAM’s Harvey Theater, suggest the a contemporary understanding of spirituality. The costumes, designed by Yoshio Yabara, are made from the performers’ old clothes. On Behalf of Nature won’t be an action-packed adventure, but it is sure to give us insight into who we are on this earth today.

Click here for tickets.


1 person likes this In NYC what to see Leave a comment