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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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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Jump Rhythm Jazz Project

The jazz dancer Billy Siegenfeld is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his Jump Rhythm Jazz Project. Four years ago, I wrote in Dance Magazine that “Billy Siegenfeld is one of a kind.”

There is no other dancer who gets as low and growly, who infuses his body with jazz rhythms that burst out of him, sending emotions in different directions.

Billy Siegenfeld, Justin Barbin Photography

Billy Siegenfeld, Justin Barbin Photography

Siegenfeld has enriched the jazz dance and tap communities in Chicago for a quarter century. He has combined the rhythms of both by making the body a percussive instrument. And it’s got to have that Swing, as opposed to rock’s steady downbeat. With the polyrhythms of true jazz, he has written, “These accents are voiced at moments when the ear least expects to hear them.” That sense of surprise leads to an explosiveness—at least when Siegenfeld himself is dancing. (You can see that in this short clip of him dancing—and vocalizing—alone.)

In true jazz, Siegenfeld wrote in the new book Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and Branches, the dancer combines two different rhythms into a unity “that allows each to have its own say.” When this happens, the accents “pop off the ground with the stunning unpredictability of a perfect accident.”

Some of those perfect accidents are sure to surface in JRJP’s 25th-anniversary concert, Oct 24 to Nov 2 at Stage 773 in Chicago. The program  includes the very moving duet Poppy and Lou, revivals of No Way Out and Too Close for Comfort, a work by company member Kevin Dumbaugh, and guest artists.

For tickets, Click here  or here.

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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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This Dancing Life

Whether or not you’re familiar with Ira Glass’s pitch-perfect storytelling on This American Life, you’re in for a treat if you can catch his act on its 30-city tour. Instead of asking other people questions, he’s talking about his own life. And instead of just talking, he is dancing too.

The famous radio personality has teamed up with two dancers who are as funny and curious—and goofy—as he is: choreographer Monica Bill Barnes and dancer Anna Bass. Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host is a delicious show, an excuse to tell stories embellished by dance, and a chance for general audiences to see into dance.

Anna Bass, Ira Glass, Monica Bill Barnes, photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz

Anna Bass, Ira Glass, Monica Bill Barnes, photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz

The boyish, wonder-full side of Glass that we hear over the radio blossoms when he joins Barnes and Bass in step-kicks and baton twirling. How can an untrained person join two professional dancers and not make a fool of himself? First, he laughs at himself before anyone else does. Second, it’s the timing. He’s learned a thing or two from orchestrating his show for almost 20 years. When he’s telling us a story, he plucks the iPad as though it were a harp, tapping it with a flourish to usher in some music or another voice at just the right moment. That sense of theatrical timing enables him to join Barnes & Bass in some of their numbers—and to boost their theatricality.

In his Act II monologue, he is nicely awestruck by the commitment and passion of dancers. After noting that Monica and Anna started lessons at ages 7 and 5, he asks the audience: “How old were you when you starting training for your job?”

The cleverly told stories alternate with dancing, and all three seem to be bursting at the seams to bring you this fun stuff. As jolly as all this is, the show slows down and dips into something deeper.  When Glass was talking about a husband taking care of his dying wife, Barnes & Bass stood on a table set with dishes, not moving. Suddenly one would fall toward the other, allowing the dishes to clatter to the floor.

Naturally, the show ends with a big show number, blasted confetti and all.

Click here for the complete info on the tour, which continues next Saturday in Houston and travels to points west, Midwest, and Miami.

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Vicky Shick’s Everything You See

Vicky Shick’s epic work Everything You See is coming to the adventurous American Dance Institute in Rockville, MD, September 19 and 20. I say epic not because it’s long or heroic or spectacular (it is none of those things), but because it strings many intricate vignettes into something larger, some sort of ceaseless dance-as-thought continuum. Hundreds of tiny ordinary things somehow accumulate into one extraordinary thing.

Left to right: Laurel Tentindo, Lily xxx, Heather Olson, photo by Alviar Goro

Left to right: Laurel Tentindo, Lily Gold, Heather Olson, photos by Anjola Toro

It’s layered visually, so you see one dance in front of you, and another one behind a translucent screen that bisects the space horizontally. Barbara Kilpatricks’ ingenious costumes too are layered, adding to the eccentric look of the 10 performers. I’m one of those eccentric people. I wear a bubble-wrap tutu with shreds of tulle hanging from it—and of course, my glasses.

This is our third version, and each time I learn something new about Vicky’s approach. Or, since Vicky is purely intuitive and not at all methodical, I learn something new about the alchemy of the choreography, visual element, and sound design by Elise Kermani.

Here’s an irony that I caught onto this time: Although each little bit of movement material is made of stops and starts—a swipe here, a scoop there, a little peck on the cheek that’s almost hidden—putting these hundreds of puzzle pieces together has created a pleasant sense of ongoingness that you can just roll with. Everything You See casts a soft, intimate spell.

Last year, when I was just realizing about this spell, this is what I wrote.

Marilyn and Jon Kinzel

Marilyn Maywald and Jon Kinzel

You can never see all that happens in Everything You See. You experience the two simultaneous planes of dancing no matter which side you choose. Sometimes I think the audience might see it this way: The dancing in front of you is in Technicolor and the dancing behind the screen is in Sepia. (Lighting is by Carol Mullins.) Or maybe the first side is the present and the far side is the past…a memory. Kermani’s sound track, with its snatches of song and sound effects, encourages this feeling of memory.

The best way to see Everything You See at ADI is to sit on one side on Friday night and the other side on Saturday night. It’s the same piece, but you will see different, constantly changing dance-scapes. Click here for more info.

Me in costume

Me in my tutu

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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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