Tag Archives: dance

2015 Fall Season, NYC


Here are my picks so far for the fall season:

24 September, 7:30 pm
Metropolitan Opera

28 September, 6:00 pm
Mountains May Depart
New York Film Festival, Alice Tully Hall

29 September, 8:30 pm
The Forbidden Room
New York Film Festival, Walter Reade Theater

30 September, 9:00 pm
Cemetery of Splendour
New York Film Festival, Alice Tully Hall

3 October, 8:00 pm
Old Times (preview)
Roundabout Theatre Company, American Airlines Theatre

7 October, 6:00 pm
No Home Movie
New York Film Festival, Walter Reade Theater

8 October, 7:30 pm
21st Century Choreographers – Thatcher, Binet, Schumacher, Peck, Branstrup
New York City Ballet

9 October, 6:00 pm
The Treasure
New York Film Festival, Francesca Beale Theater

12 November, 7:30 pm
You Us We All
Next Wave Festival, BAM Harvey Theater

21 November, 8:00 pm
Thérèse Raquin
Roundabout Theatre Company, Studio 54

Sources for a Film about Vaslav Nijinsky


Shhh!  Don’t tell anybody, but I’m working on a screenplay about art, love, innocence, arrogance and schizophrenia, focusing on the life and death of two artists: Vaslav Nijinsky and Friedrich Hölderlin.

It will be an open-source project, conducted on this blog, my twitter feed and my website, in the spirit of “As We May Think,” a 1945 Atlantic Monthly essay by Vannevar Bush. (Bush’s vision of the memex led to the development of the hyperlink and the World Wide Web.)

I’m starting with this post listing my initial sources, which I will update here until I can figure a way to best document on my website.

  • Nijinsky: A Life of Genius and Madness by Richard Buckle
  • The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky (ed., Romola de Pulszky)
  • The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky (ed., Joan Acocella)
  • Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn As Told by a Friend by Thomas Mann
  • Les Ballets Russes de Nijinsky (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1w6cg5I10c)
  • Nijinsky 1912-L’Après-midi d’un Faune (full version)
  • Nijinsky and Rudolph Nureyev – L’apres midi d’un Faune
  • “The Castaway” by William Cowper
  • The Greeks and the Irrational by E.R. Dodds
  • Schizophrenia as a Human Process by Harry Stack Sullivan, M.D.
  • The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

I’m using these open platforms because it suits my purposes but to be honest, I won’t be unhappy if nobody follows my progress.  (I think I’m the best person to realize this scenario, but if circumstances make that impossible, I want to leave a record for somebody out there who can continue the work.)

Acheron – 21st Century Choreographers, NYCB


21st Century Choreographers III
New York City Ballet
3 May 2014
Lincoln Center, NYC

Music: Francis Poulenc
Choreography: Liam Scarlett
Principal Casting: Rebecca Krohn, Ashley Bouder, Sara Mearns, Andrew Veyette, Amar Ramasar, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Anthony Huxley
Organ Soloist: Michael Hey

Costumes: Liam Scarlett (Costumes Supervised by Marc Happel)
Lighting: Mark Stanley

Premiere: 2014, Lincoln Center

Let’s say it was happenstance, and not a verdict on the state of ballet in 2014, that NYCB’s three-night survey of contemporary choreography concluded with the elegiac Acheron, the first work commissioned by the company from Royal Ballet artist in residence Liam Scarlett.

Set to Francis Poulenc’s Concerto in G for Organ, Strings and Timpani, which the composer wrote over a four-year period in the 1930s during which he was deeply affected – spiritually and musically – by the untimely death of his friend (critic and composer Pierre-Octave Ferroud), Acheron takes its name from one of the five rivers of the Greek underworld. The river of woe.

To quote Praline (Monty Python Flying Circus, episode 6): “Well where’s the pleasure in that?”

After sustained dancing to silence, we confront the shattering opening of Poulenc’s concerto, which becomes more meditative as reflected by the tempo markings: Andante, Allegro giocoso, Subito andante moderato, Tempo allegro. Molto agitatio, Très calme: Lent, Tempo de l’allegro initial and Tempo d’introduction: Largo.

Acheron then moves between pas de deux by three principal couples (Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring, Rebecca Krohn and Tyler Angle, Ashley Bouder and Amar Ramasar), a male soloist (Anthony Huxley), and ensemble sections with five couples from the corps de ballet.

Let’s say this is a work that requires more than one look.

Two Hearts – 21st Century Choreographers, NYCB


Two Hearts
21st Century Choreographers III
New York City Ballet
3 May 2014
Lincoln Center, NYC

Music: Nico Muhly
Choreography: Benjamin Millepied
Principal Casting: Tiler Peck, Tyler Angle
Singer: Dawn Landes

Costumes: Kate & Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte (Costumes Supervised by Marc Happel)
Lighting: Roderick Murray

Premiere: 2012, Lincoln Center

Benjamin Millepied and Nico Muhly have created four works together so far: From Here On Out at American Ballet Theater, Triade at the Paris Opera Ballet, One Thing Leads to Another at the Dutch National Ballet and Two Hearts at New York City Ballet.

Written on a principal duo (danced superbly on Saturday by the original principals Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle) and 12 corps de ballet members, this heart-breaking ballet draws inspiration from the murder ballad “Lord Thomas and Fair Ellinor,” perfectly sung in this performance by Dawn Landes.

Millepied is a master of partnering, and the duets in Two Hearts are revelatory. Tiler Peck’s ability to balance flawless technique with profound Romantic melancholy is phenomenal. What a night.

Vespro – 21st Century Choreographers, NYCB


21st Century Choreographers III
New York City Ballet
3 May 2014
Lincoln Center, NYC

Music: Bruno Moretti
Choreography: Mauro Bigonzetti
Principal Casting: Maria Kowroski, Brittany Pollack, Tyler Angle, Jonathan Stafford, Joaquin De Luz
Pianist: Alan Moverman
Mezzo-Soprano: Meg Bragle
Soprano Saxophone: Ed Joffe

Costumes: Julius Lumsden (Costumes Supervised by Holly Hynes)
Lighting: Mark Stanley

Premiere: 2002, New York State Theater

Vespro is the first of three Bigonzetti/Moretti ballets commissioned by NYCB, the others being In Vento (2006) and Oltremare (2008). The designer Julius Lumsden, an artist in residence at NYCB, is also a strong presence in this dance, with costumes that evoke Italian Futurismo.

Vespro is choreographed for 13 dancers and three on-stage musicians – a pianist, soprano saxophonist, and a countertenor (who was replaced by a mezzo-soprano for this performance). The libretto is based on writings by Michelangelo Buonarroti.

The ballet begins with Joaquin De Luz first perched on top of the piano, then crashing onto it repeatedly as the other dancers observe and respond. This male lead – originally choreographed for Benjamin Millepied – is a tour de force, with an unusual focus on the upper body. In fact, all the dancers perform at the edge of the impossible, ever challenged with going off-balance.

But Saturday’s performance was mostly distinguished by the appearance of Maria Kowroski, the only remaining dancer from the original cast. As if into a bespoke gown, Ms. Kowroski slipped effortlessly into Vespro‘s extreme neoclassical forms.

Sonatas and Interludes – 21st Century Choreographers, NYCB


Sonatas and Interludes
21st Century Choreographers III
New York City Ballet
3 May 2014
Lincoln Center, NYC

Music: John Cage
Choreography: Richard Tanner
Principal Casting: Tiler Peck, Amar Ramasar
Pianist: Elaine Chelton

Costumes: Carol Divet
Lighting: Mark Stanley

Premiere: 1982, Eglevsky Ballet

Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar danced with astonishing precision and subtlety, their musculature lit sharply from above as they moved in seemingly effortless harmony with Cage’s fiendishly complex rhythms.

After the final presentation of Les Bosquets, Program III opened with a 1980s work by NYCB Ballet Master Richard Tanner.

Tanner set his Sonatas and Interludes to five pieces from John Cage’s groundbreaking work of the same name for prepared piano, which Cage composed in the 1940s, shortly after encountering Vedic philosophy and the teachings of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy.

The sixteen sonatas and four interludes of Cage’s full work express the eight dominant emotional themes (Rasas) described by the Nātyasāstra, an ancient work of dramatic theory: Rati (love); Hasya (mirth); Soka (sorrow); Krodha (anger); Utsaha (energy); Bhaya (terror); Jugupsa (disgust); Vismaya (astonishment).

In Tanner’s choreography, a pianist performs onstage (the highly accomplished Elain Chelton in Saturday night’s performance) as a couple execute a pas de deux.

Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar danced with astonishing precision and subtlety, their musculature lit sharply from above as they moved in seemingly effortless harmony with Cage’s fiendishly complex rhythms.

DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse – 21st Century Choreographers, NYCB


DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse
21st Century Choreographers II
New York City Ballet
30 April 2014
Lincoln Center, NYC

Music: Michael Nyman
Choreography: Christopher Wheeldon
Principal Casting: Sara Mearns, Robert Fairchild, Megan Fairchild, Gonzalo Garcia, Maria Kowroski, Tyler Angle, Tiler Peck, Andrew Veyette

Costumes: Jean-Marc Puissant
Set: Jean-Marc Puissant
Lighting: Jennifer Tipton, recreated by Jesse Belsky

Premiere: 2006, The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden

I wish I could’ve taken my father to this ballet. He had an intuitive feel for vehicles of all kinds and how they could be made to run faster, smoother, and with ever-refined elegance. He died thirty-two years ago, and I do declare I missed him at this performance. He would have absolutely got this production.

A close collaboration between choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and designer Jean-Marc Puissant, around the idea of a train journey inspired by Michael Nyman’s MGV, or Musique à Grande Vitesse – High-Speed Music (composed to commemorate the 1993 inauguration of the north European line of the French high-speed train á grande vitesse, more commonly known as the TGV), DGV brilliantly explores the intersection of the theatrical and the functional through a tour de force ballet for 26 dancers, with four pas de deux.

A phenomenally prolific dance-maker, Christopher Wheeldon is a knowledgeable creature of the New York City Ballet. He moved to the city to join NYCB at age 19, and began choreographing for the company in 1997, retiring as a dancer in 2000 to focus on dance-making. In 2001, Wheeldon became the New York City Ballet resident choreographer and first resident artist.

Designer Jean-Marc Puissant began his career as a dancer, studying at the School of Paris Opera Ballet and the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris before performing with the Birmingham Royal Ballet and Stuttgart Ballet, where he danced and created roles in classical, neo-classical and contemporary repertoires.

Michael Nyman’s work encompasses operas and string quartets, film soundtracks and orchestral concertos. He is perhaps best known for his film scores, which include a dozen Peter Greenaway films (The Draughtsman’s Contract and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, etc.); Neil Jordan’s The End Of The Affair; several Michael Winterbottom features (Wonderland, A Cock And Bull Story, The Trip); and Jane Campion’s The Piano.

An abstract work that is at times quite raw, DGV propels 26 dancers on a trip where the romance of a train journey collides with the machinery of speed.

From Nyman’s program notes for the original score:

“MGV runs continuously but was conceived as an abstract, imaginary journey; or rather five inter-connected journeys, each ending with a slow, mainly stepwise melody which is only heard in its ‘genuine’ form when the piece reaches its destination. The thematic ‘transformation’ is a key to MGV as a whole, where musical ideas- rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, motivic, textural – constantly change their identity as they pass through different musical ‘environments’.”

Wheeldon described the music as “open and full of air,” noting: “I wanted to capture that feeling you get when you are travelling – of being suspended in time and space.”

Against a sculpture of buckling steel, the corps de ballet evokes the machinery of the high-speed train as four couples track the journey through intricate, seemingly impossible pas de deux that wonderfully exploit Sara Mearns’ graceful athleticism and famously supple spine, Maria Kowroski’s regally expansive limbs, Tiler Peck’s  brilliant technique, and Megan Fairchild’s luminous stage presence.

Not enough has been written in praise of the New York City Ballet Orchestra, surely one of the best bands working in this town. With a schedule of seven performances each week of rotating repertoire, this group performs perhaps three or four times the repertoire of a typical symphony orchestra. Ballet requires the total integration of music and dance. The NYCB Orchestra is an essential, integral partner in this miracle.

La Stravaganza – 21st Century Choreographers, NYCB


La Stravaganza
21st Century Choreographers II
New York City Ballet
30 April 2014
Lincoln Center, NYC

Music: Antonio Vivaldi, Evelyn Ficarra, Robert Normandeau, Serge Morand, Ake Parmerud
Choreography: Angelin Preljocaj
Principal Casting: Emilie Gerrity, Lydia Wellington, Claire Kretzschmar, Brittany Pollack, Gretchen Smith, Sara Adams, Craig Hall, Sean Suozzi, Daniel Applebaum, Allen Peiffer, Joseph Gordon, Devin Alberda

Costumes: Herve-Pierre, supervised by Holly Hynes
Set: Maya Schweizer, supervised by Mark Stanley
Lighting: Mark Stanley

Premiere: 1997, New York State Theater

The lady from Atlanta nailed it.

She may have been already a little lit, asking me, “So what did you think?” (I think she mistook me for her husband in the bar line.)  I said something forgettable (cribbed from the program notes), before she offered her own – much more perceptive – aperçu:

“I say it was the settlers versus the indians.”

(She really liked the previous evening’s performance of Hedwig and the Angry Inch with Neil Patrick Harris, but I digress.)

We were discussing Angelin Preljocaj’s first work for NYCB, a 1997 ballet for twelve dancers commissioned for the Diamond Project, reprised for the 2014 spring opener. The director of Ballet Preljocaj, based in Aix-en-Provence, Angelin Preljocaj was born near Paris where he started in classical ballet before turning to contemporary dance, studying and working with a stellar list of choreographers including Karin Waehner, Zena Rommett, Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber, Quentin Rouillier, and Dominique Bagouet.

To my eye (for what that’s worth), Waehner’s expressionism and Cunningham’s sense of space had a lasting formative impact. That combination of a dark narrative sensibility matched by clean lines, along with a virtuoso’s appreciation of pure speed, may have played a role in Peter Martins’ decision first to commission this work and second to cede creative control entirely to Preljocaj.

Depending on the context, la stravaganza can be translated as “extravagance” or, perhaps even better, “fantasticness.” Set to a mix of Vivaldi and electronic music and depicting an encounter between six couples dressed in contemporary clothes and six who could have stepped out of Baroque theater, Preljocaj’s ballet is, to my mind, foremost a ghost story and secondly an essay on what it means to perform dance in its historical context.

In other words, settlers and indians.

I repeat, one important theme emerging from this series is the absolutely integral role played by the corps de ballet in NYCB’s artistry.

Year of the Rabbit – 21st Century Choreographers, NYCB


Year of the Rabbit
21st Century Choreographers II
New York City Ballet
30 April 2014
Lincoln Center, NYC

Music: Sufjan Stevens (orchestration: Michael P. Atkinson)
Choreography: Justin Peck
Principal Casting: Lauren Lovette, Tiler Peck, Teresa Reichlen, Harrison Ball, Robert Fairchild, Craig Hall

Costumes: Justin Peck (costumes supervised by Marc Happel)
Lighting: Brandon Stirling Baker

Premiere: 2012, Lincoln Center

After Les Bosquets, Program II opened with Justin Peck’s acclaimed 2012 work Year of the Rabbit, a ballet for 18 dancers set to Michael P. Atkinson’s string orchestration of Sufjan Stevens’s Enjoy Your Rabbit, an electronica album based on the Chinese zodiac.

Much has been written about Justin Peck’s emergence as a world-class choreographer and also about his affinity for the New York City Ballet: his innate understanding of the pure distillation of movement and music, the rhythmic pulse and quickness, that are the company’s hallmarks, and also his collegial relationship with these dancers in particular. I’d like to focus on his genius for extramural collaboration, which I believe has already made a significant impact on NYCB’s storied history – one that extends through George Balanchine at least as far back as Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. I say Peck goes further than his legendary predecessors through an unprecedented talent for looking outside the world of classicism to create entirely new collaborations in which music and dance form an integral whole while retaining full artistic autonomy.

I’ll start with an extract from an interview with the New York Times dance critic Roslyn Sulcas:

JUSTIN PECK: I first heard “Rabbit” on WNYC, in a profile of a string quartet who had done these arrangements of his “Enjoy Your Rabbit” album. I was really taken with the music, found it really innovative and danceable, and I kind of kept it on my radar. I started experimenting with it during a few sessions at the New York Choreographic Institute, and Peter Martins [City Ballet’s ballet master in chief] was encouraging. When he asked me to do a piece for the company, I invited Sufjan to the ballet and told him what I wanted to do.

SUFJAN STEVENS: …I’d had requests before from choreographers, mainly college students doing liturgical modern dance. But I didn’t know anything about ballet. When I moved to New York, I had a ballet friend who dragged me to “Apollo,” and I hated it. Ballet seemed so anachronistic, so formal and classical and archaic and irrelevant to pop culture, the world of YouTube and reality television. I didn’t understand it.

But when Justin invited me to do the “Rabbit” ballet, he persuaded me to have an education and kind of curated my experience. He would say, come and watch this, watch that, then we would talk about it. “Agon” was when it really clicked for me. There is no pandering, there is nothing coy about it — it is so distilled and perfect, immaculate. That’s what convinced me that ballet was important. It is all about absence of self — there is no ego in it, even though there is extreme self-consciousness. Ballet is like proof of the existence of God, whereas my art is proof of the existence of me. It made me understand how selfish and boring it can be to make art that is all about yourself.

Not to take anything away from George Balanchine, but nobody had to sell Igor Stravinsky on ballet. Not only does Justin Peck have the choreographic chops and good taste in music necessary to create ballet of the first order, but he also has that strange quality of the impresario – that of the unleashed imagination combined with an intuitive sense of the popular – that sets him and today’s NYCB quite apart in the world of 21st century ballet.

Something important is happening in the building formerly known as the New York State Theater, and Justin Peck and his corps de ballet are at the epicenter.

Namouna, A Grand Divertissement – 21st Century Choreographers, NYCB


Namouna, A Grand Divertissement
21st Century Choreographers I
New York City Ballet
29 April 2014
Lincoln Center, NYC

Music: Edouard Lalo
Choreography: Alexei Ratmansky
Principal Casting: Sterling Hyltin, Ashley Bouder, Sara Mearns, Robert Fairchild, Megan Fairchild, Abi Stafford, Daniel Ulbricht

Costumes: Marc Happel and Rustam Khamdamov
Lighting: Mark Stanley

Premiere: 2010, Lincoln Center

Divertissement – A short dance within a ballet that displays a dancer’s technical skill without advancing the plot or character development. Origin: early 18th century (specifically denoting a short ballet): French, from divertiss-, stem of divertir, from Latin divertere ‘turn in separate ways.’

Steeped in the classical tradition with a technical idiom all his own,  Alexei Ratmansky is a dancer’s dream. He makes dances that combine the conventions of 19th century ballet with the highest level of virtuosity attainable today.

Inspired by a ballet score by Édouard Lalo, Namouna, A Grand Divertissement features seven principal dancers and more than twenty supporting cast members.

A young man in a sailor suit (Robert Fairchild) is tempted by three sirens (Ashley Bouder, Sara Mearns, and Sterling Hyltin) and a chorus of nymphs before he finally chooses his true love.

Enough about the ballet. Let us talk about Sara Mearns.

In many ways Sara Mearns does not seem to fit the NYCB mold, but bless her, she is our decade’s ideal Balanchine ballerina. Tall, long-legged, with a famously supple spine and expressive hands that evoke Indian classical dance, she is also a powerful stage actress.

If only Mr B could have seen her dance.

This is not to take away from the brilliance of Ashley Bouder, Sterling Hyltin, and Megan Fairchild. More to come.