Birds With Skymirrors

“Mysterious” and “cataclysmic” were the words I used to describe Lemi Ponifasio’s Tempest: Without a Body four years ago. I remember strange ceremonial scuttling in front of floating, blood-stained walls. I remember an apocalyptic ending of thrashing and crashing. (Click here and scroll down for my review.)

MAU Lemi Ponifasio "Birds with Skymirrors".

Birds With Skymirrors, photo by Sebastian Bolesch

Now, with his New Zealand–based group MAU, Ponifasio brings Birds With Skymirrors to BAM for its U. S. premiere Nov 19–22. This is a rare chance to see an artist who transports us far beyond our everyday concerns. Or….maybe the end of the earth as we know it is an everyday concern. Many of the MAU dancers are from low-lying atolls where it’s said that the effects of climate change are felt before other parts of the world. The title is based on something he witnessed while working in the Micronesian Islands. He saw birds soaring through the sky carrying strips of videotape in their beaks. Struck by the beauty of this image, he also felt it as a kind of omen for the end of nature.

Photo by Sebastian Bolesch

Photo by Sebastian Bolesch

A multi-disciplinary artist, Ponifasio has designed the set as well as the choreography. The dancing is gestural and interspersed with chanting. Expect a dark vision, highly theatrical and at times emotionally shattering.

For tickets, click here.

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Batsheva’s Sadeh21

Coming to BAM Nov. 12–15 is Batsheva Dance Company with its astonishing Sadeh21. I just saw it at CAP UCLA’s Royce Hall and can’t wait to see it again.

Sadeh21, photo by Gadi Dagon, Courtesy CAP UCLA

Sadeh21, photo by Gadi Dagon, Courtesy CAP UCLA

From the moment the first dancer enters with her solo, you feel that scraping kind of rawness that is a signature of Batsheva. Each dancer seems to be wringing her or his body out, trying to empty oneself of something pernicious. And yet they are in control. The refrain in gaga sessions, “Connect pleasure to effort,” is embodied in every movement.  What I find miraculous is that what looks like yanking the body open also feels organic. The dancers connect one drastic movement to the next, creating a flow, not just shoving their bodies into shapes. And through this yanking, this rude whipping and clipping, you get to know each dancer as an individual.

Sadeh21 (meaning 21 movement studies, though the choreography goes way beyond studies) plays with time and expectation. After the first six solos, you wonder if the whole dance will be solos. (It isn’t; it blossoms into beautiful trios and groups.) During these solos, the term “Sadeh1” is projected on the backdrop…and you wait a long time for “Sadeh2.” But Naharin makes an accordion of time, so the whole dance lasts only 75 minutes.

He plays with expectations in textures too. After the first few fast & furious solos, Rachael Osborne dances slow in such a magnificent way that you melt along with her. And when all the men put their hands on each other’s shoulders, as in a folk dance, again everything slows down and gets divinely simple.

If you can, join me on November 14, when I will be moderating the Iconic Artist Talk with Naharin before the show.

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Kontakthof For the Ages

I was fascinated and appalled by Pina Bausch’s Kontakthof when I saw it in 1983. As I wrote at the time, “The work was amazing in its craft, its looniness, its integration of movement, text, acting and film—and its brutality.” The topic was heterosexual attraction, but each budding romance came up against a wall of stubbornness—bullying, actually—but with that special Bauschian obsessiveness that somehow turns it into art.

Kontakthof,  photo by Oliver Look

Kontakthof, photo by Oliver Look

The review is in my book of collected writings, page 69. In describing the piece further, I had written in the New York Native: “It consists basically of ten straight couples going through a cycle of seduction, molestation and separation with a few ghastly pleasures in between.”

So, am I recommending that you see Kontakthof when it comes to BAM Oct. 23 to Nov. 2? Yes, for two reasons. First, because Bausch’s work in the last decade of her life was so full of sensuality and delight—I’m thinking of pieces like Nelken and Bamboo Blues (which graces the cover of my book)—that we sometimes forget what an unflinching vision of male-female mayhem she could project. Second, because after Bausch’s death in 2009, the company can still fill the stage with many stories at once.

DancingDreamsFilmAnd maybe, just maybe, that edge of brutality has softened a bit. After all, Bausch chose this piece as a lens through which to look at two other age groups. A beautiful documentary (Dancing Dreams) was made about teenagers learning Kontakthof—with the brazen Josephine Ann Endicott as coach. (Click here for an amazing clip of that film.) And in England, Bausch made a version for people over 65.

Photo by Oliver Look

Photos by Oliver Look

So, how did it happen that I reviewed Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch a year before it first came to BAM in 1984? I had been invited to perform a solo at a gallery in Basel, Switzerland, and it turned out to be the same week her company appeared at the city’s Kunsthalle. I had a kind of love-hate reaction to it, but of course ambivalence is a time-honored position from which to write. Now I feel fortunate that my Bausch viewing stretches back that far, and I hope it stretches into the future too.

Talking about stories, when she received the Dance Magazine Award in 2008, Pina told a beautiful story about coming to New York as a Juilliard student. This was just a few months before she died, and we caught it on video. 

To get tickets to Kontakthof, click here. 

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Jodi Melnick at BAM

Melnick, photo by Stephanie Berger

Melnick, photo by Stephanie Berger

Jodi Melnick, the tantalizing dancer who brings a sense of glamour to downtown dance, has created a new work for her first BAM performance, Oct 8–11. Titled Moment Marigold, it’s a trio with Maggie Thom (read her Why I Dance) and EmmaGrace Skove-Epes, with music by Steven Reker of People Get Ready.

Though Melnick has brought her brilliance to works by Twyla Tharp, Sara Rudner, Vicky Shick, Susan Rethorst, and has collaborated with Trisha Brown, she has an aesthetic all her own. Quirky yet elegant, intense yet cool, she’s the kind of performer you can’t stop watching.

Moment Marigold, photo by Maggie Picard

Moment Marigold, Melnick at left, photo by Maggie Picard

Moment Marigold is, according to the press release, “an exploration of the stories within our bodies.” I’ve caught several of Melnick’s moods in her own choreography, from a poignant sense of loss to an exploration of zany partnering with David Neumann. 

JodiMelnickCOverIn the Dance Magazine cover story on Jodi, Gia Kourlas calls her dancing “full of delicacy, lucidity, sensuality, mystery, and ferocity.” (Cover photo by Matthew Karas.)

Enough said. Click here to find out how to see her.

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DanceNow at Joe’s Pub

The coziest, coolest way to start the fall season is the four-day run at Dancenow Joe’s Pub Festival. Part of the fun is that you get to vote for your favorite, and then all four winners re-appear in an Encore on Sept 13. There is bound to be something delightful, something dark, something borrowed and something blue.

Chelsea Murphy and Magda San Milan in SInger/Songwriter

Chelsea Murphy and Magda San Milan in SInger/Songwriter

I saw the opening program last night and it was hard to pick just one fave. All the performers were engaging—and I found both old and new “crushes.” The five-minute time limit is heaven sent. If you go on Sept 13, you might see one of these from the first night.

• Sydney Skybetter got things off to a nifty start. Dancers Kristen Bell and Jordan Isadore embodied a strong beat with sharp moves in It’s Not Nepotism If You Do It to Yourself;  they were sexy in a nicely androgynous way. They could have, but didn’t replicate the “swagger” that’s so valued on So You Think You Can Dance; instead they wore slightly rumpled business suits that were refreshingly non-gender-defining (costumes by the performers).

Mark Dendy, all photos by Yi-Chun Wu

Mark Dendy, all photos by Yi-Chun Wu

• Mark Dendy, in an excerpt from his Dystopian Distractions! Part 1, enacted a ridiculous speech by Donald Rumsfield about meeting Elvis Presley in Las Vegas. Dendy’s precise gestures were chillingly ludicrous. Wearing a gas mask (costume by Stephen Donovan), he was fascinatingly unmoored. Dendy’s a master and this was a riveting performance.

• In her swoopy, grounded dancing, Gibney Dance’s Natsuki Arai managed to be strong yet vulnerable—not unlike the poignant Patsy Cline song used for this excerpt of Gina Gibney’s Always.

Sean Donovan and Javier Perez in Jane Comfort's Excuse Me, But…

Sean Donovan and Javier Perez in Jane Comfort’s Excuse Me, But…

•Jane Comfort’s Excuse Me, But… for two very fussy characters (Sean Donovan and Javier Perez) who kept asking for their food to be perfect. The skit got funnier as it progressed, ultimately equating food attachments with all-out sexual desire, sending the audience into cascades of giggles and guffaws.

• Completely new to me was the duo Chelsea Murphy and Magda San Millan. What a couple of nutty women—in the best sense. After opening their act with mock sincerity, they swerved from apologetic to raunchy in Singer/Songwriter, surprising us with their bawdiness at every turn.

• David Parker and Jeffrey Kazin, downtown’s resident vaudevillians, ended the evening with a scintillating tap rendition of the Jackson Five classic “I Want You Back.”

For info on tix for the next three nights and Dancenow NYC’s final blowout Encore, click here.

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Downtown Dance Festival

For a festival that started modestly 33 years ago, the Downtown Dance Festival is bursting at its seams. The fare ranges from established companies like Jennifer Muller/The Works (see Muller’s delightful “Choreography in Focus”) and Lori Belilove’s Isadora Duncan Dance Company, to  new groups like the colorful (and rhythm-ful) Dorrance Dance.

Isadora Duncan Dance Company

Isadora Duncan Dance Company; homepage photo of Sanjukta Sinha of Erasing Borders by Madhu Photograph

The international fare is also adventurous. Wednesday is devoted to the Erasing Borders dance festival, which includes six dance artists from India, and Thursday brings a premiere by South African choreographer Theo Ndindwa for Battery Dance Company, which hosts the festival.



Add to this a rare U.S. appearance by the new Madrid-based duo Entomo EA & AE. These two crazy guys poke and shudder and tangle in such insect-like ways that you could swear their arms are antennae and their legs are wings. They seem to have caught the rhythms of preying mantises; they could just as easily be mating or fighting to kill—shades of Jerome Robbins’ The Cage. (I was so impressed by them at the Havana festival in 2010 that I wrote them in this post.)

This year the festival takes place Aug. 17 to 21 in Battery Park City’s Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park. Click here for full schedule.

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Lincoln Center Out of Doors

For those of us who actually enjoy summers in the city, Lincoln Center Out of Doors is icing (ice cream?) on the cake. Because the concerts are free, audiences tend to be huge and wildly enthusiastic. So I advise you to get there early if you want a seat up front. But it’s also pleasant to meander toward Damrosch Park Bandshell later on and observe the crowd from the back.

Rennie Harris Puremovement

Rennie Harris Puremovement, Courtesy RHPM. Photo on homepage @ Christopher Duggan

Pam Tanowitz Dance Photo ©Christopher Duggan

Pam Tanowitz Dance, photo © Christopher Duggan

This year, you can soak up the power of hip-hop culture on July 24, when Rennie Harris Puremovement—with three NYC premieres—shares a program with a Brazilian hip-hop group called A Batalha do Passinho. On July 25 you can see the clean ballet/Cunningham blend of Pam Tanowitz, who is paired with the music group Eight Blackbird.

Mr. TOL E. RAncE Photo ©  Christopher Duggan

Mr. TOL E. RAncE, photo © Christopher Duggan

Next week brings Camille A. Brown with her dance-theater work on race, Mr.  TOL E. RAncE, which was just nominated for a Bessie. A highly theatrical performer herself, Brown is both fearless and charming (see her Choreography in Focus). She is passionate about her chosen themes. On August 2, she shares the evening with another daring artist, the singer/songwriter Stew, who calls his current group The Negro Problem. So get ready for a smart, irony-drenched challenge to racism from two artists who have something to say.

For complete info on this series, click here.

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Boston Ballet Comes to NYC

For its very first New York season, Boston Ballet is mixing history with high modernism in two programs. They include works by Balanchine, Forsythe, Nijinsky, Kylián, Elo and others. Both programs will be noteworthy, but if you can only see one I would vote for Program I.

When I reviewed this company three years ago, I wrote that Forsythe’s The Second Detail “knocked it out of the park.”  Even in that review I had a hard time saying why. I just remember how galvanizing it was, how alert-making every decision was, how beguiling that the row of 14 chairs upstage gave the dancers a different plane to exist on. The Second Detail shares the program with two works I know nothing about: Alexander Ekman’s Cacti and Jose Martinez’s Resonance.

Isaac Akiba in The Second Detail, photo by Gene Schiavone

Isaac Akiba in The Second Detail, photo by Gene Schiavone

Program II is the more historical one. It includes a careful reconstruction of Nijinsky’s rarely performed Afternoon of a Faun (1912), which I reviewed in 2009 when BB assembled the best Diaghilev program I’d seen during that centenary year. Balanchine’s stunning architectural masterwork Symphony in Three Movements will be a reminder that he was an advisor at the birth of Boston Ballet in 1963.

BB was the first company to produce an all-Kylián evening, but the Kylián piece they are bringing, Bella Figura, is not one of my favorites. I feel the same about Plan to B, by BB’s resident choreographer Jorma Elo. But we in New York don’t see enough of either of these fascinating choreographers, and I admire artistic director Mikko Nissenen’s artistic taste, so I am going to give myself another chance to warm up to those works.

Dusty Button and Bo Busby in Plan to B, photo by Rosalie O'Connor

Dusty Button and Bo Busby in Plan to B, photo by Rosalie O’Connor

Boston Ballet has some terrific dancers, including Kathleen Breen Combes, Misa Kuranaga, Lia Cirio, Jeffrey Cirio, and John Lam. It will be interesting to see if NYC falls in love with Boston Ballet the way it/they/we did with San Francisco Ballet. June 25–29, Koch Theater, Lincoln Center. Click here or here for more info.

John Lam in The Second Detail, photo by Gene Schiavone

John Lam in The Second Detail, photo by Gene Schiavone

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Eiko On Her Own

Fred & Ginger. Sonny & Cher. Eiko & Koma. These longterm partnerships are so ingrained that when they break up, it can be hard to believe. No, Eiko and Koma are not breaking up as a real-life couple. But they are working on separate projects. Eiko has been collaborating with students at the Eugene Lang College within the New School,  while Koma is working on visual art projects. Now she is making a duet for herself and the younger, Tokyo-based dancer Tomoe Aihara that explores their age difference. Two Women uses natural light, a futon Eiko made herself, and only ambient sound. Eiko calls the piece “raw and odd.” Two Women  is part of the River to River festival on Governors Island. Go to Building 110: LMCC’s Arts Center at Governors Island, ground floor, entrance adjacent to the Manhattan ferry dock to your right. Here’s the schedule: Friday, June, 20 at 2:10 pm (take 2:00 pm or earlier ferry);
 Sunday, June 22 at 2:00 pm (take 1:30 pm or earlier ferry). Click here for more ferry info.

Eiko in Governors' Island. Photo by William Johnston.

Eiko in Governors Island. Photo by William Johnston.

The River to River festival provides a cornucopia of performance goodies—all free—through June 29, so you might as well take a look at their whole calendar. 

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Cedar Lake


Orbo Novo. Homepage photo: Grace Engine. Photos by Julieta Cervantes

If you want to see work by the latest European choreographers performed by awesomely technical dancers, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is for you. In its 10th-anniversary season, the company brings Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Orbo Novo, with its tender encounters and intricate oozing through a large trellis, and Hofesh Shechter’s Violet Kid, which is so fiercely herd-like that one might call it contemporary tribal. Also on the season are works by Norway’s Jo Strømgren and Sweden’s Alexander Ekman. I would just advise that you bring your night-time spectacles because much of the lighting is dim.

Good news: Cedar Lake recently named Crystal Pite associate choreographer. We don’t see enough of her work in New York. Her circuitous chains of energy can be mesmerizing. The apocalyptic Grace Engine, which she made for Cedar Lake in 2012, is part of this season. (See my “Choreography in Focus” with her.) June 11–14 at Brooklyn Academy of Music and American Dance Festival. Click here for more info.


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