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writers on dancing

 Volume 3, Number 39  October 24, 2005     The weekly online supplement to DanceView magazine

Best Feet Forward

"Director's Choice"
Pacific Northwest Ballet
McCaw Hall
Seattle, WA
September 22 - October 2, 2005

by Sandra Kurtz
copyright ©2005 by Sandra Kurtz

There are probably as many clichés about beginnings (start with your best foot forward, begin as you mean to continue, a good beginning is half the battle) as there are projects that people have begun, which is why it's tricky to write about Peter Boal's inaugural program at Pacific Northwest Ballet without sounding like an aphorism. But he has indeed begun with his best foot forward, and I would be glad if he were to continue as he has started. It's not so clear that a good beginning is half the battle in this case, if developing a thriving ballet company is indeed considered a battle at the beginning of the 21st century. Boal has assembled a strong collection of works for "Director's Choice," his first program in his first season in Seattle, and the dancers have matched it in the strength of their performances, but at least some of the credit for that goes to the recently retired Kent Stowell and Francia Russell. A ballet company is the product of long-term development, and although Boal has begun well, it will take some time to see the results of any significant changes he might make.
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Bids for Recognition

“Marguerite and Armand”, “La Fete étrange”, “Pierrot Lunaire”
The Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
London, U.K.
October 17 – November 1, 2005

by John Percival
copyright ©2005 by John Percival

Fantastic. I guess that Tamara Rojo is around the same age that Fonteyn was when she developed from simply being the best of the Royal (or actually then still Sadler’s Wells) Ballet’s dancers into being a ballerina of true international standing. And now Rojo has staked her claim to eminence, as it happens, in one of Fonteyn’s great roles: in Ashton’s “Marguerite and Armand”. In more than 40 years only Fonteyn and Sylvie Guillem danced the role; now it has a third great interpretation, as different from either of them as they were from each other, but again deeply moving. This past week at Covent Garden Rojo was luckier than Guillem, too, in having a credible, feelingly loving Armand in Federico Bonelli (no Nureyev, but personable, ardent and dashing), whereas Guillem, deprived of either Nicholas LeRiche (busy making a new ballet in Paris) or Jonathan Cope (stopping dancing) had to make do with Massimo Murru who proved feebly without impact. All the more a shame because she was showing even more heartfelt subtlety than before.
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Elemental Ballet

Earth, Air, Wind and Fire
The Royal Danish Ballet
Coopenhagen, Denmark
Washington, DC
October 13 - 18, 2005

by Eva Kistrup
copyright ©2005 by Eva Kistrup

Since the opening of the new Opera House at Holmen, The Royal Danish Ballet has five stages at its disposal: The Old Stage, The renovated New Stage, The Opera stage, Takkelloftet (the small stage at the Opera) and Tivoli’s Concert Hall (for the annual “Nutcracker” run). Unfortunately, production budgets and resources have not followed suit, leaving the company on the dangerous road of stretching resources in an attempt to fill out opportunities and put bums in seats, the latter being the main success criteria at The Royal Theatre and the primary reason why Bournonville is so scarce in this years’ repertoire. Bournonville does not sell well at home.
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Woman in the Dunes

Yumiko Yoshioko:  Before the Dawn
Daisuke Yoshimoto:  Eros and Thanatos
New York Butoh Festival
Theater for the New City
New York, N.Y.
October 20, 2005

by Tom Phillips
copyright ©2005 by Tom Phillips

In a workshop at the Japan Society for the New York Butoh Festival last week, Yumiko Yoshioko taught her students to walk like “smiling buddhas,” slowly and serenely centered.  Then she turned them into “perverse turtles.” They crossed their eyes, thrust out their upper teeth, pinned their upper arms to their sides, wiggled their fingers, bowed their backs and lurched around grasping for gratification of 108 desires hidden under their shells. Yoshioko demonstrated at length, transforming her lithe and liquid movements into jerky spasms, her serene face into a ridiculous mask. The perverse turtle made its U.S. stage debut Thursday night, along with many other sub- and pre-human creatures, in the American premiere of Yoshioko’s “Before the Dawn.” It’s a tour de force of metamorphosis, from the protozoan to the nearly human. 
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Compagnie Maguy Marin
Queen Elizabeth Hall
London, U.K.
October 22 & 23 2005

by John Percival
copyright ©2005 by John Percival


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Cool Craft

Compagnie Marie Chouinard
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
San Francisco, California
October 22, 2005

By Rita Felciano
copyright ©2005 by Rita Felciano

This past weekend, presented by San Francisco Performances, Montreal’s Compagnie Marie Chouinard made its much delayed Bay Area debut. While admiration for the ten fabulously trained and incredibly committed dancers never waned, the choreography, dazzling as it was, never managed to elicit more than cool respect.

The program consisted of “24 Preludes by Chopin” (1999) and “Le cri du monde” (2000)

Chouinard knows what she is doing. A skillful and experienced dance maker, she clearly translates her vision onto the stage. She creates a universe completely her own and fills it with creatures who inhabit it consistently and fully. Her dances have the crystalline edge of diamonds, they also could cut through glass. The work is unmistakably hers. That should be enough. Yet I found myself stunned by the quality of the dancing while my interest in the choreography never rose above dutiful acceptance. By the end of the evening that had descended into a “so what?” question.
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New Works from Sensedance

By Susan Reiter
copyright ©2005 by Susan Reiter

[choreography by Henning Rubsam]
Baruch Performing Arts Center
New York, NY
October 16, 2005

There was much to admire in the 90 minutes of dancing Henning Rubsam offered at this unfamiliar subterranean performance space—pleasant, thoughtful classical choreography that did not attempt to overreach; scrupulous dancing; the occasional dash of whimsy. There was the appealing bonus of the opportunity to see several leading dancers from the on-extended-hiatus Dance Theater of Harlem: Melissa Morrissey and Ramon Thielen, who had performed with Rubsam before, and Andrea Long, who was new to his choreography.
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Taking Liberties

11th Annual DC International Improvisation Plus Festival
Various Locations
Washington, DC
October 13 - 18, 2005

by George Jackson
copyright ©2005 by George Jackson

Survivors say that it was the prohibition against improvisation that killed modern dance in Germany during the Nazi period. Because improvisation is impossible to control as a process and has unpredictable outcomes, Hitler's bureaucracy became wary of it. New ideas that might turn up in improvisation sessions could prove to be subversive. Indeed, if that is so and improvisation helps to keep us free, I would like to thank this festival's instigators for 11 years of guarding our liberties. Undoubtedly they had fun too, but this festival's smooth operation over a long period of time must have involved work, in particular from its founder, Maida Withers, and her constant colleague, Daniel Burkholder. This year, I saw only two of the improv sessions: "Breaking the Sound Barrier" (October 15, Jack Guidone Theater at Joy of Motion's studios in Friendship Heights) and "Tilt by mostly men" (October 18, Millennium Stage North at Kennedy Center). Mary Wigman, "the giantess" of German modern dance in the first half of the 20th Century, had believed in improvisation for many years prior to the Nazis. She used it as an aide to open new options in choreographing and as a training tool for her students to counterbalance their strict technique classes. Important as it was in her universe, she did not equate it with choreography and warned of its danger for impressionable minds—instilling bad habits instead of broadening the horizon.
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American Ballet Theatre
at City Center

A New Ballet at ABT!

"Les Sylphides", “Afternoon of a Faun”, “Paquita (pas de deux)”, “Kaleidoscope”
American Ballet Theatre
City Center
New York, New York
October 20, 2005

by Leigh Witchel
copyright ©2005 by Leigh Witchel

A new ballet—an actual ballet that looks, waddles and quacks like a ballet—is news. A new ballet commissioned by American Ballet Theatre is even happier news.

ABT’s first repertory evening at City Center began with one of ABT’s first ballets, “Les Sylphides” and ended with its newest. “Kaleidoscope” is a world premiere choreographed by Peter Quanz to Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5. It’s straight ballet and recalls many Balanchine ballets, most particularly “Ballet Imperial”. There are three movements, a large corps (four female demis, eight women and six men) and two lead couples. Ethan Stiefel and Gillian Murphy danced the first movement, Veronika Part and Maxim Beloserkovsky the second and all returned for the finale.
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Repertory Riches

"Apollo," "Gong, "The Green Table"
American Ballet Theater
New York City Center
New York, NY
October 21, 2005

by Lisa Rinehart
copyright ©2005 by Lisa Rinehart

ABT possesses a treasure trove of one-act ballets created by the world's most gifted choreographers. These gems glitter in the exotic intimacy of the New York City Center, providing evidence that, when expertly handled, dance can be meaningful and moving—not just because of excellence in execution, but because of content. This is saying a lot for an art form that originated as a stylized display of courtly elegance. "Apollo" (Balanchine), "Gong" (Morris) and "The Green Table" (Jooss) make a formidable display exemplary of ABT's breadth of repertory choice. These evenings don't tend to sell out big opera houses, but there's arguably more bang for the buck.
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Girl Power

“Les Sylphides”, “Afternoon of a Faun”, “Paquita”, “Rodeo”
American Ballet Theater
New York City Center
New York, NY
October 22, 2005 Matinee

by Mary Cargill
copyright ©2005 by Mary Cargill

ABT’s women were front and center at this matinee, beginning with a sprightly “Les Sylphides”, led by Irina Dvorovenko and Gennadi Saveliev. The conductor, Ormsby Wilkins, kept things at a lively clip, and, from reports, it was a much more vibrant performance than earlier in the week. Dvorovenko danced the Mazurka with a delicate and playful flirtatiousness, which suited her somewhat grand approach; this was a ballerina having fun, not some wispy dream of lost illusions. She by and large avoided flirting with the audience, though she did seem to enjoy the bursts of applause. Saveliev, though not built along romantic lines, gave his solo an introspective lyricism. Their pas de deux, though, did look a bit under-rehearsed and the “message from the other world moments” seemed more about complicated partnering than whispers from the mysterious deep.
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Remembering the Ballets Russes

"Ballets Russes"
San Francisco, California
openiing in cinemas November 4, 2005

by Charlotte Shoemaker
copyright ©2005 by Charlotte Shoemaker

A testament to the impact of the first incarnation of the Ballet Russe is that when Diaghilev, its creator, died in 1929, people thought that ballet had died with him. Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine's new film "Ballets Russes" shows what happened next. The film is about the successor companies that began in 1932 and lasted for 30 years. During a decade of that time the Ballets Russes split into rival companies; one was the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, and the other called itself The Original Ballets Russes. Both companies toured widely through Europe, North and South America, and Australia, creating, in small towns as well as major cities, an audience for ballet where there had been none before. Not only did they bring virtuoso dancing, innovative choreography, and sets and costumes designed by the likes of Miro, Matisse and Dali, but they were also the epitome of glamour. I am one of the millions of people who fell under their spell although I never saw them dance on stage. When I was a child, every time I visited my grandmother, I would curl up on the window seat and pour over her collection of their programs trying to somehow absorb them into my being. The cover of each one proclaimed: Sol Hurok presents the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. Inside were elegant photographs of magical people like Alexandra Danilova and Leonide Massine moving in ways I had never even imagined, creating a world that utterly fascinated me.
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The Kennedy Center
Festival of China

Magical Puppets and More

“Cathay: Three Tales of China”
Ping Chong & Company
and the Shaanzi Folk Art Theater
Terrace Theater
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC
October 21, 2005 

by Naima Prevots
copyright ©2005 by Naima Prevots

Magical puppets, brilliant story telling, innovative digital animation, amazing multiple images, and true cross cultural collaboration were all part of “Cathay: Three Tales of China”. Ping Chong, author and director, gave us an unforgettable evening that was original, imaginative, and provocative. All three stories were based in Xian, the ancient capital once the crossroad of the world, during the Tang Dynasty. Collaboration was with the Shaanxi Folk Art Theater and the Carter Family Puppet Theater (based in Seattle). Stories ranged from a traditional tale about a king and the sacrifice of his beloved wife and consort, to one about the Japanese invasion of China, to a contemporary commentary focused on  characters in a fictional Grand Hotel. Chong wrote in the program notes about his first visit to Xian in 2000, when ancient history was the predominant theme. He contrasted this with his 2002 visit, where the sleepy city had witnessed a rush “to modernity and entrepreneurial frenzy” but he noted  “something quintessentially Chinese remained.” With dazzling artistry, all parties involved in this production succeeded in keeping the audience spellbound. The puppets seemed human, as they did what seemed impossible, from the smallest most subtle of gestures, to the largest leaps and bounds. There were numerous images that appeared on multiple screens of various sizes, always distinct and visually striking. There was humor, tragedy and love, as the tales unfolded, capturing our hearts and eyes.  
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Shanghai Song and Dance Ensemble
Eisenhower Theater
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Washington, DC
October 16, 2005

by George Jackson
copyright ©2005 by George Jackson

This troupe is misnamed! There's no singing, just a bit of chanting here and there and warrior calls. The group ought to be dubbed China Riverdance. There's the same trashing of tradition as by those Irish steppers whose hard-hitting thrusts distort and exploit their nation's dance heritage. And, like Riverdance, these Shanghai lads and lasses are precision drilled. The big difference is that Shanghai S & D processes material that's of aristocratic taste and uses folk-derived dances only secondarily. Scenes start out as elegant apparitions, spookily still before being given a treatment that turns straightforward dancing into movement soundbites and overwhelms the costumes' subtle tints with lighting that becomes garish.
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Strange Dreams

“Rite of Spring” and "Folding"
Shen Wei Dance Arts
Eisenhower Theater
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC
October 21, 2005 

by Alexandra Tomalonis
copyright ©2005 by Alexandra Tomalonis

Shen Wei’s dances are rich, dreamy, and cold as glaciers.  Each dancer is an island, even when dancing chest to chest with another. In his “Rite of Spring” (2003), the dancers move through the two-piano version of Stravinsky’s landmark score like gymnasts engaged in games of solo chess. In “Folding (2001), dancers scurry and glide ever so slowly, high priests of an alien galaxy, skirting each other as they move about the stage. Paradoxically, both dances invoke associations with ritual as they avoid enacting them. This paradox is one of the reasons Shen’s dances are so exciting. We may not know what ritual the dancers are, or are not, enacting, but we know that they do. The dances also have a strange and wondrous beauty. Shen is a painter, and his dances are moving paintings: are three-dimensional visual experiences.
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ABT's Spring Season, reviewed by Mary Cargill

"On Frederick Ashton's Brand of Classicism," by Michael Popkin

NYCB's Spring Season, reviewed by Tom Phillips

Miami City Ballet's spring season, reviewed by Carol Pardo

National Ballet of Canada's 2005-2006 season, reviewed by Denise Sum

Reports from London (Jane Simpson), New York (Gay Morris) and San Francisco (Rita Felciano)

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last updated on October 17, 2005