Live Arts Festival: Middle East and North Africa

Whatever ideas we each have of the Middle East and North Africa, New York Live Arts is about to explode those notions. Starting this week, the Live Ideas Festival expands our knowledge with a truly global look at the arts in the Middle East and North Africa.

Dancers, filmmakers, musicians, literary and visual artists from Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Israel, Palestine, Morocco, and Tunisia descend on NY Live Arts on 19th Street from February 8 to April 3. The full title of the festival is “MENA/Future – Cultural Transformations in the Middle East and North Africa Region.” The full spectrum includes 45 performances, installations, gallery exhibits, master classes, and panel discussions.

Arkadi Zaides in his solo "Archive," photo by Christopher Reynaud de Lage,

Arkadi Zaides in his solo “Archive,” photo by Christopher Reynaud de Lage

The first dance entry is Archive by Arkadi Zaides, a Russian-born dance artist based in Tel Aviv. His work Quiet bowled me over when I saw it in Israel a few years ago. He engaged two Israeli and two Arab men in a raw, suspenseful, disturbing quartet that grappled with the hostility between them. I later interviewed Zaides when I wrote this post asking the question, Can dance address the Israel/Palestine Divide? Not someone to evade reality, he said, “Violence is perpetuating. Power is blinding. I cannot disconnect from more global questions.”

In Archive, Zaides dances in front of archived footage filmed by volunteers from the Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. In doing so, Zaides asks: “What is the potential for violence embedded in each individual body?” (Along with that, I would say Hey, My Fellow Americans, we should get a glimpse of the kind of violence our government is supporting in Occupied Palestine.)

Another must-see work that is 2065 BC by Adham Hafez, who co-curated the festival with NY Live Arts programming director Tommy Kriegsmann. Based in Cairo, Hafez is an interdisciplinary live wire who crosses borders as well as genres. According to the press release, “The production aims to present the audience with a complex set of questions, where the ethics of occupation are dealt with in a manner that is dark, comic and politically ignited.”

A work by Adham Hafez

A work by Adham Hafez

None of this will be easy. We may not leave the theater with smiles or deep sighs of satisfaction. But it’s an opportunity to educate ourselves about a part of the world that is way more complex than we might think. Proceed at your own risk. I believe this Live Arts Festival is necessary viewing for us as citizens of the world.

For more info and tickets, click here.

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Big Dance: Short Form

“The ensemble of dancers is like a band.” So says choreographer Annie-B Parson; she should know—she’s worked with David Byrne on a number of projects. Her group, the tiny (six-member) Big Dance Theater, performs a New York premiere called Goats as an ensemble at the Kitchen, and I’m sure it’s gonna rock.

Goats with, left to right: Enrico D. Wey (foreground lying), Elizabeth DeMent (in wheel chair), Tymberly Canale (background sitting), Jennie Liu (kneeling), Aaron Mattocks (standing with stick)

Left to right: Elizabeth DeMent, Enrico D. Wey, Tymberly Canale, Jennie Liu, Aaron Mattocks

Known for its multi-media scenarios where narratives intersect with a certain frisson, Big Dance Theater makes you sit on the edge of your seat with wonder and bemusement. Co-directors Parson and Paul Lazar decided, this time around, to create concise, vivid distillations instead of an evening-length work. They say they’re inspired by forms like “novellas, folk tales, diary entries, pencil drawings, thumbnail sketches, and the single page of a notebook.” Each performer has a certain responsibility to shape the work. As Parson continued her comparison (in this “Choreography in Focus”): “They have to figure out who they are in the band.”

Tymberly Canale

Tymberly Canale

In addition to Goats, the extraordinary dancer/actors of BDT will perform other New York premieres that are solos and duets. The audience is invited to party with the band during intermission, when they celebrate their 25 anniversary. January 6 – 9 and 13 – 16 at The Kitchen. Click here for tickets.

Aaron Mattocks, all photos by Liz Lynch, courtesy ADI

Aaron Mattocks, all photos by Liz Lynch, courtesy ADI


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De Keersmaeker’s Partita 2

Charmatz and De Keersmaeker in Partita 2, Beyer partly hidden, photo by Herman Sorgeloos

Charmatz and De Keersmaeker in Partita 2, Beyer partly hidden, photo by Herman Sorgeloos

A violinist plays Bach’s second Partita on a stage that’s completely dark except for a crack of light. She leaves the stage. Silence. Two dancers break open the crack of light and start running in an arc; they are the mature Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and the youngish Boris Charmatz. Wearing athletic shoes, they dash, jump, drag each other down, or allow a moment of playfulness. Sometimes their dancing looks like a game of tag; other times they are tethered to each other, feeling each other’s weight and age, as one circumscribes a big wheel shape on the floor. There’s a driving energy, a determination to get through all their cycles of the movement material, and yet there’s plenty of air too. To watch the shifts from restraint to arduousness becomes engaging. Catching the echoes of past movement phrases is another pleasure. The difference in age and gender serves as a point of contemplation.

When violinist Amandine Beyer returns, seeing/hearing all three interact suddenly fills one’s senses. We’ve witnessed something spare and near-nothing grow to something incredibly satisfying.

De Keersmaeker and Charmatz, photo by Anne Van Aerschot

De Keersmaeker and Charmatz, photo by Anne Van Aerschot

This is non-narrative dance at its best. It’s where the radiance of pure dance and pure Bach intersect. Partita 2 (which I saw at Sadler’s Wells in London last spring), is part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, Oct. 29–30. Gerald W. Lynch Theater, John Jay College. Click here for tickets.



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Ponydance at Abrons Arts

For groups that dip into the lusciously ludicrous, I vote for Ponydance. When I saw this zany quartet’s Anybody Waitin? in a tiny upstairs bar in Dublin four years ago, they crashed every idea of what good choreography is. In some ways it was more like a play, with characters who dare each other to break social barriers. But their dancing is full-throttle, top speed and, well, maybe a bit haphazard. But after a while you feel certain themes underneath. For one, the theme of waiting—although they spend no time at all standing still. This is not Waiting for Godot by that other Irish institution, Samuel Beckett.

Anybody Waitin? Photo by Brian Farrell

Ponydance’s Anybody Waitin? Photo by Brian Farrell

Ponydance, directed by Leonie McDonagh, is two women and two men, or, to divide it another way, three thin people and one charmingly chunky person. They pair off into same-sex duets more often than hetero; they relish interrupting each other—and the audience. In their brazenness and seeming anarchy, they remind me a bit of DanceNoise of a couple decade ago.

Ponydance, photo by Brian Farrell

Ponydance, photo by Brian Farrell

The aggressive manner in which they coax the audience to be part of the show could be irritating but is so bold that you find yourself laughing in disbelief. They grabbed my friend and encased him in a tiny portable tent, from which he emerged wearing a scant flowery outfit.

I’m curious to see how the barroom-brawl effect in Dublin will translate to Abrons Arts Center, October 7−10. Click here for tickets.

Anybody Waitin, which is co-presented by the Irish Arts Center, is part of Abrons’ Travelogues dance series, curated by Laurie Uprichard.


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Hoffbauer at Gibney

Funny, forlorn, and fabulously sardonic, Patricia Hoffbauer presents her new Dances for Intimate Spaces and Friendly People. Don’t trust the title because she is working with a level of irony and dead-serious silliness that most choreographers cannot carry off. The cast is multi-generational and the site is multi-studio-ous. The audience can wander in and out of four studios at the new Gibney space on Chambers Street. Each of them contains a treasure chest of Hoffbauer’s Dadaist fantasies. In one of them, former Tharp greats Sara Rudner, Jennifer Way and Tom Rawe get tangled up in their steps and offer garments to the onlookers. A certain comic element creeps in. If I’m not mistaken, Yvonne Rainer makes a cameo appearance. In other rooms you will find other downtown luminaries such as Keith Sabado, George Emilio Sanchez, and David Thomson. This crew could be a postscript to my blog post on the new acceptance (hopefully) of aging dancers.  Studios B, C, D & E at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, Sept. 30–Oct. 3, 2015. For more info and tickets, click here.

Jennifer Way, Sara Rudner, and Tom Rawe, photo © Scott Shaw

Jennifer Way, Sara Rudner, and Tom Rawe, photo © Scott Shaw

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Sonia Olla — Tablao Style

Sonia Olla at 14th St. Y, photo by Maite H. Mateo

Sonia Olla at 14th St. Y, photo by Maite H. Mateo

For the real flamenco experience that you would get in the tablaos of Seville, you can’t beat Sonia Olla Flamenco Dance Company at the Theater at the 14th Street Y. I was sitting so close that when she started whipping her head around, her comb flung out and hit my leg. She’s a maestro of swirling shawl, jabbing heel work, and the alternation between stormy and calm. In that flamenco land where pride commingles with seduction, her fingers trace her torso upward and she flips her skirt in back as she swivels her hips.

Gypsy singer Ismael de la Rosa Fernández is a thrill to hear and watch. As he raps his knuckles on a table to get going, you feel he was born into flamenco. (He’s a member of the renowned La Familia Fernández.) Then he pours out his voice with passion and textures that change in a single breath. Under the table, his feet are rapping out the sharply syncopated rhythms. When, toward the end of the evening, he stands up as though to challenge Olla while fiercely loving her, the sparks between them fly. In this video snippet you can get a tiny glimpse of how the two ignite each other’s energy. And you can see why Madonna asked them to choreograph for her Rebel Heart tour.

Olla and Fernández

Olla and Fernández

Ángel Ruíz plays a classical flamenco guitar, sometimes making it sound as fluent as a harp. When, in the coda, he stands up and shyly joins in with the palmas (hand clapping), the audience cheers.

Nino de los Reyes, photo by Maite H. Mateo

Nino de los Reyes, photo by Maite H. Mateo

The young Nino de los Reyes spices up the evening with a physical wildness in his solo Alegrias section. As though yanked here and there by invisible forces, he twists and turns, stomps and vibrates his heels. After a waterfall of clicking fingers, he might turn fiercely and then get pulled into an off-balance torque. His dancing is kinetically exciting—without the usual preening of male flamencos. It’s pure dance energy and so individual that he reminded me of the brilliant flamenco improviser Israel Galván.

Tablao Sevilla will only be repeated on Sunday at 3:00, September 13. My advice: Reserve a ticket at a table. Though it’s a bit more expensive, you’ll be close to the flying hair combs. (On September 11 and 12, the company performs Por Los Caminos, which I have not seen.) Olé to the 14th Street Y for presenting this terrific company.

To buy tickets click here. 

Olla with Shawl, all photos courtesy Sonia Olla Flamenco Dance Company

Olla with Shawl, all photos courtesy Sonia Olla Flamenco Dance Company

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Rosie Herrera at Ballet Hispanico

This season Ballet Hispanico offers four programs that range from Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s sure-fire Sombrerisimo to a world premiere by relatively unknown Miguel Mancillas.

In between is Rosie Herrera’s Show.Girl. A daring new voice on the landscape of contemporary dance, Herrera has produced gritty, surprising works that have an absurdist quality yet are sharply focused. Her Dining Alone shed light on all kinds of craziness around food, from chewing a friend’s hair as though it were pasta to stepping on empty plates on a long pathway.

With that same zany aesthetic, Show.Girl. explores the idea of the female performer as entertainer. Herrera herself took a job as a showgirl at the age of 16. In this interview in Dance Magazine, she says about the experience, “It taught me a work ethic and the basics of being an entertainer. High-quality craft can be transformative… Cabaret taught me the power of humor and how you can utilize humor to manipulate the audience.”

Show.Girl. photo by Grant Halverson © ADF

Show.Girl. photo by Grant Halverson © ADF

Her imagination knows no bounds. Some see an affinity to Pina Bausch, with her pungent gestural vocabulary, surreal images, motley crew of obsessive individuals, and extravagant non-sequiturs. But Herrera, who is based in Miami, draws deeply on her Latina roots. The result is a strong spicy voice that reveals the dark underside of human behavior—as well as its light side.

Ballet Hispanico’s season runs from April 14 to 26 at the Joyce. For info and tickets, click here.

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Graham Dancers Stretch in New Directions

How does the Martha Graham Dance Company morph and change and keep up with the times? How do you expand the repertoire without relegating these amazing dancers to mere versatility? That’s a question that Janet Eilber, artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, has had to contend with for years. When the company opens its 89th season on February 10, we’ll see some of her answers.

PeiJu Chien-Pott in Echo, by Adonis Foniadakis, photo by Hibbard Nash

PeiJu Chien-Pott in Echo, by Adonis Foniadakis, photo by Hibbard Nash

As staunchly grounded and emotionally motivated as Martha Graham work is, some of the new work catapults the dancers in new directions. Take Adonis Foniadakis’ Echo, which he made for the company last year. Although it’s based on a Greek myth, that’s where its similarity with the Graham tradition ends. His movement style is all melting chests and curling or darting limbs, allowing multiple currents to criss-cross the body like a sped-up Trisha Brown chain of ripples. Whether or not the particular Greek myth, Narcissus and Echo, appeals to you, you can’t help but admire how completely the Graham dancers rise to the occasion.

The Snow Falls in Winter, photo by Brigid Pierce

The Snow Falls in Winter, photo by Brigid Pierce

Annie-B Parson takes them in a completely different direction in The Snow Falls in Winter (2008). It’s not the movement that is highly complex, but the performance demeanor. Parson wants the dancers to “be themselves”—no embellishment—yet they must speak lines from Ionesco with a certain sense of wit. In this “Choreography in Focus,” Parson talks about how the dancers have to shed their Graham style in order to be more Cunninghamesque, i.e., where “the dancing is enough,” and yet remain connected to everything around you.

Peiju-Chien Pott in Lamentation, photo by Hibbard Nash

PeiJu Chien-Pott in Lamentation, photo by Hibbard Nash

The most reliable source of new-meets-old in the last few years is Eilber’s brainchild Lamentation Variations. This year, the four choreographers taking a stab at re-interpreting the iconic portrayal of grief are Kyle Abraham (see his “Choreography in Focus” here), Michelle Dorrance, Liz Gerring, and Sonya Tayeh.

All these new forays offset the usual collection of mid-century Graham classics which, frankly, we would not rush to see if that’s all there was in these programs. But the juxtaposition of newer work might shed light on hallowed pieces like Errand Into the Maze, Embattled Garden, Frontier, and Primitive Mysteries. But it’s also interesting to watch how these works, which have sculpted the Graham bodies, may (or may not) serve as a springboard into other aesthetic arenas.

For tickets to the season at the Joyce, which runs from Feb. 10 –22, click here.


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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.

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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.


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