Monthly Archives: April 2014

Stage Animal vs. Screen Animal

Seeing the new production of Cabaret (which is terrific) got me thinking about different kinds of performing. Alan Cumming as the MC and Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles are both fascinating, but for entirely different reasons.

Alan Cumming in Cabaret, photo by Joan Marcus

Alan Cumming in Cabaret, photo by Joan Marcus

In the tradition of Fosse dancers Ann Reinking and Bebe Neuwirth, Cumming’s body assumes highly designed shapes in which each detail expresses volumes. A mere crossing of the hands overhead suggests revelry, the curling of his fingers suggests appreciation of beauty, a sudden squat speaks of squalor. His face is a collision of expressive modes: smirking, childishness, calculation, hedonism. He lurks and prowls, enjoying his effect on the audience. He’s a stage animal.

Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles, photo by Joan Marcus

Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles, photos by Joan Marcus

On the other hand, Michelle Williams, who has been so alluring in her movies (Take This Waltz, Blue Valentine, My Week With Marilyn), shrinks a bit from the stage. The camera loves her face for its vulnerability, sensuality, and honesty—and she projects those feelings in Cabaret too. But her body somehow comes off as less than the sum of its parts. It’s not the shape that’s a problem (she has nice legs and good proportions); it’s the energy. Any one of the chorus girls puts out more physical energy than Williams. Dancers are trained to communicate with every inch of their bodies. And that is accomplished partly by projecting pleasure in one’s own body.

Minnelli as Sally Bowles

Minnelli as Sally Bowles

That sense of pleasure is what’s missing from Williams. Just look at this YouTube of Liza Minnelli in the song “Mein Herr” from Cabaret.  She’s free, she’s brazen, she’s loving entertaining and lapping up the gaze. She’s exquisitely conscious of her power over the audience. She’s part of the recklessness and obliviousness that led up to Nazi power. She’s a danger zone.

Of course Liza was equally comfortable on screen and onstage, so maybe it’s not a fair comparison. And Williams is a very different Sally Bowles from Minnelli. She plays it more like the late Natasha Richardson did. I’m guessing here because I didn’t see the Roundabout Theatre Company’s original version in 1998, but this article spells it out.  Richardson too was called “brave” (as Williams was called in this review by Ben Brantley)  and played it as though she wasn’t really a professional entertainer—apparently more like the character was originally written by Christopher Isherwood.

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe

But what it means for this revival is that Williams, though poignant in many scenes, is less compelling than Cumming. And that was disappointing to me because she was compelling when she played Marilyn Monroe. She held your eye constantly, which created the charisma that was essential for the story. Williams is a screen animal.

That shrinking in her portrayal of Sally Bowles  (I think it resides in the shoulders) wasn’t in evidence in My Week With Marilyn. She allowed the camera to come to her, to discover her. But when you’re onstage, you can’t rely on the camera’s lens. You have to be totally, unambivalently, willing to reach out across the footlights.

So…Williams is not a stage animal and she doesn’t help build the architecture of Rob Marshall’s Fosse-tinged choreography. But, by giving a truthful, emotionally complex performance, she does contribute to the powerful story that Cabaret tells.


1 person likes this Featured Uncategorized 1

David Neumann

What happens when a funny guy gets serious? For dancer/actor/writer David Neumann, the recent deaths of both his parents have cast a shadow over his life and his current interdisciplinary work-in-process, I Understand Everything Better. Also on the program are more upbeat solos from the past, like Tough the Tough (Redux) and You Are In Control. The truth is, there was always something serious and searching in Neumann’s solos. Under the bumbling, staggering Everyman there was a thread of existential questioning, expressed in both movement and words. A few years ago, Neumann was brilliant in the Beckett program he shared with Baryshnikov, revealing an affinity for that absurdist/serious playwright. Before that, he brought a sharply quizzical quality to the roles he played in works by Big Dance Theater and Jane Comfort and Company.

Daivd Neumann, photo by Cherlynn Tsushim a. Photo on homepage by Baranova

Daivd Neumann, photo by Cherylynn Tsushima. Photo on homepage by Maria Baranova

This evening is co-presented by Jacob’s Pillow, which has presented Neumann before with great success.  April 26 at MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets, call 413.662.2111 or click here. 

The final work I Understand Everything Better comes to American Dance Institute in Rockville, MD in March, 2015 and Abrons Arts Center in NYC April, 2015.

Like this Around the Country Uncategorized what to see 1

Dance Theatre of Harlem

The most radical new work that DTH has commissioned since it’s rebirth is Donald Byrd’s Contested Space. There’s a hard, gotta-have-it edge to it that plunges these young innocents into a darker, more obsessive side of themselves. They rise to the challenge beautifully—and it’s good to see the Byrd intelligence on this coast again. (Catch a glimpse of him being his devastatingly honest self in this “Choreography in Focus.”) 

Ashley Murphy and Sam Wilson in Contested Space, photo by Rachel Neville.

Sam Wilson and Alexandra Jacob in Contested Space. Photo on homepage is Ashley Murphy & Wilson. Photos by Rachel Neville.

We’ll also learn a bit of history, with past-carry-forward 
by Thaddeus Davis and Tanya Wideman Davis. It’s based on the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to the North, where they worked as porters, entertainers, and soldiers. One of the interesting things about this piece is that it lists a dramaturge, the scholar Thomas DeFrantz. American choreographers tend to shy away from dramaturges, while in Europe they are quite popular.

To honor the purely classical side of DTH, the company also performs Frederic Franklin’s version of the “Pas de Dix” from Petipa’s Raymonda. Franklin, who originally staged it for DTH in 1984, had served as a mentor to this company for years. (Read Sascha Radetsky’s wonderful memory of Franklin here.)

Completing the season are resident choreographer Robert Garland’s very nifty New Bach (1999), in which the dancers shuttle between ballet steps and the Harlem Shake; and Ulysses Dove’s Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven (1993), possibly the least serene choreography you will ever see to Arvo Pärt.

April 23–27, Jazz at Lincoln Center, click here for tickets.



1 person likes this In NYC Uncategorized what to see 2

Russia’s Third Ballet City

Vladimir Vasiliev

Vladimir Vasiliev

Moscow and St. Petersburg are famous for their ballet companies. But the city of Perm, just west of the Ural Mountains, has an excellent ballet company too. It also hosts an annual Diaghilev Festival and the biennial Arabesque Ballet Competition. It is this last, which is led by the great heroic dancer of the Bolshoi’s storied past, Vladimir Vasiliev, that brought me to Perm.

Diego Cunha and Amanda Gomes, from Brazil

Diego Cunha and Amanda Gomes, from Brazil

This year Arabesque, which ran from April 3 to 13, attracted dancers from across Russia and countries as far flung as Japan, Korea, Brazil, Venezuela, Portugal, Belgium, Austria, Kazakhstan, Turkey, South Africa and the U. S. The International Jury included the likes of Nina Ananiashvili and Nikolai Boyarchikov. I served on a second group, the Press Jury, for the first half of the series.

Each participant showed two classical variations if they entered as a soloist, or a pas de deux if they entered as a couple. If they made it past Round I, they had to show more classical, plus a contemporary work. Certain pieces were also submitted for a prize in choreography. The level, both technically and artistically, was consistently very high. The whole 10-day event, including Opening and Closing Ceremonies, took place in the Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre, which was built in the 19th century with funding from Diaghilev’s grandfather. (Diaghilev grew up a few blocks away, in a large house that was also built by his grandfather.)

Of the 83 participants, two were American: Joy Womack, now dancing with the Kremlin Ballet in Moscow, and Mario Vitale Labrador, a soloist with the Mikhailovsky in St. Petersburg. I couldn’t help feeling proud of their superb, very individual, dancing, and that they were among those who won prizes. (For full results click here.)

Joy Womack with Mikhail Martinyuk, both of Kremlin Ballet, in Nutcracker

Joy Womack with Mikhail Martinyuk, both of Kremlin Ballet, in Nutcracker

Maria Vitale Labrador, an American with the Mikhailovsky Ballet

Maria Vitale Labrador, an American with the Mikhailovsky Ballet








A good many of the exciting dancers were from the Perm Opera Ballet Theatre, where the choreographer and wise guy known as Alexey Miroshnichenko—whenever he was around, people were laughing—has been artistic director since 2009. (You may remember his name from 2010 when he choreographed The Lady with the Lapdog at NYCB.)   To hear it from the ballet masters, he’s made a difference in the level of dancing since he came. According to Jennifer Homans’ book Apollo’s Angels, the company’s high caliber dates back to World War II, when dancers from the Mariinsky decamped embattled Leningrad for Perm.

Inna Balash, of Perm Ballet

Inna Balash, of Perm Ballet, won first prize

Vasiliev's Class-Concert,

Vasiliev’s Class-Concert for Moscow Ballet

The Opening Ceremony started off with a major work by V. Vasiliev, Class-Concert (2013), along the lines of Bournonville’s Conservatoriat or similar ballets done later by the Bolshoi. But this version begins with the students racing around, showing off, taunting each other, and general mayhem. So when they take their places serenely at the barre, you’ve already seen their unruly spirits. Unnoticeable at first are an elderly man and woman (ballet masters Constantine Matveev and Svetlana Krasnova from Moscow Ballet) seated in either downstage corner, their backs to us. After all the bravura displays of the youngsters, the man rises and walks with a cane toward the woman. She goes to comfort him. They seem to reminisce about their dancing days together. He kisses her hand, but her hand slips away and she disappears from his life.

Maximova and Vasiliev in Spartacus, photo by Serge Lido

Maximova and Vasiliev in Spartacus, photo by Serge Lido, c. 1968

As all those present knew, Vasiliev lost his great love and partner, Ekaterina Maximova, in 2009. During this duet, I am sure I wasn’t the only one who found herself wiping away tears. Since 2009, this competition bears her name, so it’s officially the Ekaterina Maximova Arabesque Ballet Competition, and an image of her dancing is used to advertise the competition.

The closing work, Promised Land, by leading choreographer Radu Poklitaru, was an inventive group piece to Chopin for members of the Voronezh State Opera and Ballet. At the end, several ladders descended from above and all the dancers clustered around the ladders, a few of them starting to climb up toward the heavens—or some ideal place. Unfortunately, Poklitaru could not be present as he is based in Kiev; no further details were needed to explain.

Polina Buldakova, Perm, in Tschikovsky Pas de Deux @Balanchine Trust

Polina Buldakova, Perm, in Tschikovsky Pas de Deux @Balanchine Trust

While watching the classical entries, we saw so many numbers by Petipa and Gorsky that it was a bracing pleasure to see two Balanchine duets—Tarantella and Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux—performed beautifully by members of the Perm Opera Ballet Theatre.


Akexandre Taranov and Eugenia Lyakova, Perm, in Tarantella @Balanchine Trust

Akexandre Taranov and Eugenia Lyakova, Perm, in Tarantella @Balanchine Trust







Yonen Takano, Japan,

Yonen Takano, Japan

Like many competitions these days, there is also a “contemporary” component to encourage dancers to be versatile. When you are judging a ballet performance, you naturally notice imperfections. One woman’s feet are not well arched, one man’s head is square-shaped, somebody falls out of their turn. But these same dancers can be absolutely breathtaking in a contemporary piece where the main measure is full-body dancing. One 16-year-old boy, who made mistake after mistake in the ballet pas de deux, threw himself into his contemporary duet and became a dancer you’d really want to see again.

NIna Ananiashvili teaching class, photo by me

NIna Ananiashvili teaching class, photo by me

One of the high points was watching Nina Ananiashvili give class. She’s a force of nature when she teaches, constantly speaking (in two or more languages), demonstrating, correcting. She shoots out into space when showing a combination; she comes in close when correcting a dancer. She is in hyper mode, performing everything full out, including, as I saw that morning, a double tour en l’air.

I had such a good time in Perm, soaking in the history, watching the dancing, and meeting new colleagues from Russia, Germany, and Italy. It was cold and snowy but the dinners each night warmed us. If you haven’t been around when Russians start giving toasts, then you’d be in for a fun ride—especially if Alexey Miroshnichenko is the toastmaster.

Alexey Miroshnichenko

Alexey Miroshnichenko at the Closing Ceremony








Like this Featured Leave a comment

Flashy or Trashy? Light Rain

Beckanne Sisk and Fabrice Calmels in Light Rain, photo by Siggul:Visual Arts Masters.

Beckanne Sisk and Fabrice Calmels in Light Rain, photo by Siggul:Visual Arts Masters.

When two dancers performed an excerpt of Arpino’s Light Rain (1981) at the Youth American Grand Prix gala last week, I was happy to see it again. I was grooving on the rhythm—there’s a really strong hold after the first percussive beat—and the sexy, sinuous movement. I love the way, after many repetitions of that staccato rhythm, the music starts swirling and so does the choreography. It was performed with tantalizing boldness by Beckanne Sisk of Ballet West and Fabrice Calmels of the Joffrey Ballet.

At intermission, I ran into a friend who said she found the duet over-the-top raunchy. “Too many hip rolls, and that last position is—” she used a word that meant it did not belong in a theater. The New York Times review pretty much echoed her reaction.

Valerie Robin and Fabrice Calmels of the Joffrey in Light Rain, photo by Herbert Migdoll

Valerie Robin and Fabrice Calmels of the Joffrey in Light Rain, photo by Herbert Migdoll

That last position of Light Rain’s central duet is, to me, no more suggestive than some of the moments in Balanchine’s Bugaku or Kylián’s Petite Mort. Don’t most 20th-century pas de deux have an erotic component anyway? I started thinking about why something strikes one person as tasteless and not another. There are certainly times when I felt a piece was tasteless, for instance I tend to react that way to Boris Eifman’s work though I know the Russians adore it. So why did I not feel it with Light Rain and should I feel guilty for enjoying it? Does perceiving taste or tastelessness have to do with time and cultural expectations?

During the 1980s Light Rain was a big hit for the Joffrey Ballet. It showcased the super articulation of the dancers—not just in arms and legs, but in the pelvis too. It had a brazenness that was part of what marked the Joffrey as unique. With pieces like Arpino’s Sea Shadow (1962) and Trinity (1970) and Robert Joffrey’s Astarte (1967), the Joffrey was the sexy ballet company. (Of course, it was also the historic ballet company, what with its major reconstructions of Nijinsky’ Rite of Spring, Massine’s Parade, Jooss’ Green Table, and more.) Light Rain was well matched with the trippy music (by Douglas Adamz and Russ Gauthier) and well crafted in each of its sections. Audiences loved it—just as they did last week at the YAGP gala.

Perhaps when the Light Rain duet is taken out of context of the Joffrey rep, it’s more susceptible to charges of tastelessness. And maybe we’re not used to seeing such pieces at the Koch Theater, which after all is the house of Apollo (i.e. Balanchine). But then again, sometimes it’s satisfying to see a ballet that blithely crosses over from Apollonian to Dionysian territory.

The Joffrey Ballet in Light Rain, photo by Herbert Migdoll

The Joffrey Ballet in Light Rain, photo by Herbert Migdoll

1 person likes this Featured Uncategorized 3

Dance Salad

Milonga by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, photo by Diego Franssens

Milonga by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, photo by Diego Franssens

Where in the U.S. can you see the works of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Beijing Dance LDTX, and stars of Paris Opéra Ballet all in one festival? The answer is easy: Dance Salad in Houston. Artistic director Nancy Henderick searches the globe for tasty choreography to offer her audience in Houston. Her formula is to provide excerpts from a range of international works, some familiar, but mostly new. Almost every year includes something by the mercurial Cherkaoui, and this year it’s his Milonga with a cast of 10 tango dancers from Argentina, two contemporary dancers, and five tango musicians.

Treading on Grass by Li Hanzhong & Ma Bo, photo by Wang Xiao-Jing

Treading on Grass by Li Hanzhong & Ma Bo, photo by Wang Xiao-Jing

Beijing Dance LDTX, a stunning group, performs two works by the husband-and-wife team Li Hanzhong, who co-founded the company, and Ma Bo. Treading on Grass is set to the piano version of Stravinsky’s Firebird, and Sorrowful Song is danced to Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

Another highlight is bound to be Manuel Legris and Laetitia Pujol of Paris Opéra Ballet dancing the rapturous pas de deux from Preljocaj’s Le Parc and a duet from Neumeier’s Sylvia. Manuel Legris, now the artistic director of the Vienna State Ballet, was a POB étoile for two decades, and Pujol is a current étoile.

Preljocaj's Le Parc, photo by Gregory Batardon

Preljocaj’s Le Parc, photo by Gregory Batardon

But Dance Salad offers many other ingredients too. Dancers from the Royal Danish Ballet, Norwegian National Ballet, and Staaatstheater Wiesbaden from Germany, are also part of the festival. At no other one-weekend festival can you see so many top dance artists from Europe and Asia. It’s worth the trip. April 17–19, 2014, at Cullen Theater, Wortham Center, Houston. Click here for more info.

Cygne by Daniel Proietto, photo by Erik Berg

Cygne by Daniel Proietto, for Norwegian National Ballet, photo by Erik Berg

Like this Around the Country what to see 1

Ballet Hispanico

Artistic director Eduardo Vilaro continues to expand what “Hispanic ballet” may mean. In his new Hogar (home), he explores the immigrant identity, using live music by Russian composer Ljova. His Asuka, the piece that celebrates Celia Cruz from 2011, appears on Program C. (In this “Choreography in Focus,”  he talks about how Celia Cruz embodied the Latino experience). Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s irrepressible Sombrerísimo appears on Program A, and her madcap Mad’moiselle is on Program B, along with Hogar. Also on the season are works by Edwaard Liang, Nacho Duato, Edgar Zendejas, and a world premiere by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano. April 15–27 at the Joyce. Click here for tickets.

Rehearsal of Sombrerisimo, photo by Paula Lobo

Rehearsal of Sombrerisimo, photo by Paula Lobo

Rehearsal of Hogar, photo by Paula Lobo

Rehearsal of Hogar, photo by Paula Lobo


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

My Upcoming Talk With Sergei Filin

I am honored to conduct the one public interview that the Bolshoi’s artistic director is giving while he’s in NYC. In Sergei Filin’s first trip to the U.S. since the horrific acid attack that nearly blinded him, he is here is to serve on the jury of Youth America Grand Prix, with which he’s had a long relationship. My talk with him will be a pre-performance event Friday, April 11, on the Promenade of the Koch Theater open to all who have tickets to the 15th-anniversary gala that same night.

Sergei Filin in Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, 1990s, photo by Damir Yusupov @Balanchine Trust

Sergei Filin in Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, 1990s, photo by Damir Yusupov @Balanchine Trust. Photo of Filin on homepage was taken by me in 2012.

Looking back at my interview with him a few months before that attack, it seems that things were going well, though he knew some dancers were unhappy. But no one could have anticipated the savagery of a hit-man throwing acid in Filin’s face.

In the intrigue that followed, there was a lot of reshuffling at the Bolshoi. During Filin’s medical leave, a “committee” was put in charge, which raised certain questions. Both the general Bolshoi director, Anatoly Iksanov, and notoriously outspoken dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze lost their jobs. (Tsiskaridze has taken over as director of the hallowed Vaganova Ballet Academy.) The dancer accused of plotting the attack, Pavel Dmitrichenko, was sentenced to six years of hard labor, later decreased to five and a half.

Things have quieted down a bit, and now we can look forward to the Bolshoi returning to NYC in July.

So, for all those who have tickets to the final YAGP gala—and it will be a blowout, star studded gala—I hope to see you there. For more info on the gala and to buy tickets, click here.

1 person likes this Featured Uncategorized Leave a comment

Youth America Grand Prix

Larissa Saveliev has a special genius for combining new talent with hallowed artistry in a single program. This year the “Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow” gala on April 10 brings us Misty Copeland, Sara Lane, Lucia Lacarra, and Matthias Heymann as well as recent winners of this worldwide competition. (And I can tell you, as a YAGP judge in three cities this year, that there was plenty of extraordinary young talent.) It also brings the U.S. debut of Evan McKie, whom I’ve been hankering to see dance ever since he wrote this beautiful “Why I Dance” in 2008. He’ll be partnering Olga Smirnova, touted as the hottest, purest new principal at the Bolshoi.

Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin in Diamonds, photo by Marc Haegemon © Balanchine Trust

Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin in Diamonds, photo by Marc Haegemon © Balanchine Trust.

Also from the Bolshoi will be Segei Filin—yes, the artistic director who was nearly blinded when his face was splashed with acid in January 2013. He’ll be interviewed at the Koch Theater at 6:00 on Friday, April 11—by yours truly—right before the 15th-anniversary program. It will certainly be a moment of gravitas to hear him speak out.

The Friday gala presents another cascade of ballet stars including Sara Mearns, Herman Cornejo, Brooklyn Mack, and Daniel Ulbricht, plus two special events. The first is that Ailey’s Alicia Graf Mack and ABT’s Daniil Simkin team up to perform Pas de Duke (1976), the star vehicle that Alvin Ailey created for Baryshnikov and Judith Jamison soon after Baryshnikov defected. The second is a premiere by Justin Peck in which he cast dancers from NYCB as well as from ABT. For tickets click here or the YAGP site.

Daniil Simkin & Alicia Graf Mack in Pas de Duke, photo by Jade Young

Daniil Simkin & Alicia Graf Mack in Pas de Duke, photo by Jade Young. Homepage photo: Sara Lane & Joseph Phillips, photo by Gene Schiavone. 

Like this In NYC Uncategorized what to see Leave a comment

Trisha Brown Company

Son of Gone Fishin' photo by Stephanie Berger

Son of Gone Fishin’ photo by Stephanie Berger

Now that Trisha Brown is no longer making new work, every opportunity to see her past pieces is to be cherished. For the company’s engagement at New York Live Arts, they have reconstructed Son of Gone Fishin’ (1981) with new costumes by the original costume designer, Judith Shea. This work is so complex that it’s hard to glean any sort of structure on first viewing. My advice is to just follow the dancing—and the hypnotic music by the late Robert Ashley.

The program also includes one of Trisha’s most beautiful and haunting works: Opal Loop/Cloud Installation #72503 (1980). The cloud of vapor (it’s not dry ice but a water sculpture by artist Fugiko Nakaya), underscores the dissolution of all things; you never know what part of the dance you will see. The costumes are the best because each of the four dancers looks like they are from a different movie.

The company is also bringing back Solo Olos, which I danced as part of Line Up in the 70s. We learned it forward, backward, and with “Spill” —a nicely messy little detour. We were able to reverse the phrase on a dime, or rather on the impromptu instructions of the “caller.” It keeps your brain on its toes, as it were.

April 8–13, 2014, with various workshops offered. Click here for tickets.

Like this In NYC Uncategorized what to see Leave a comment