Posts Tagged ‘American Ballet Theatre’

Mark Morris’s Pleasant Ballet for ABT

Monday, November 9th, 2015

By Rachel Straus

Mark Morris’s After You, a new commission from American Ballet Theatre, is textbook pleasant and thus a convenient opener for a company wishing to present a thirty-minute ensemble work. Performed by 12 dancers and set to a composition by Johann Hummel (Septet in C-major, Op.114 “The Military”), the ballet’s title, After You, refers to what is said when two people nearly collide. One person gives permission for the other to take the lead. Thus the ballet, seen October 27 at the former New York State Theater, evokes an abnormally civilized world of dance—especially for Morris, who has been celebrated for making ballets to classical music that dabble in physicalized human faux pas. Nothing of this sort is seen in the three sections—titled Allegro con brio, Adagio and and Menuetto. In Isaac Mizrahi’s unisex style silk pajamas in fuchsia and tangerine orange, the ensemble carries out ballet steps in suspiciously peaceful harmony with each other. Hummel’s music, under the baton of David LaMarche, supported this mood in its grinningly bright orchestration.


Arron Scott, Stella Abrera and Calvin Royal III in After You. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor.

Arron Scott, Stella Abrera and Calvin Royal III in After You. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.

Despite the polished performances of principals Stella Abrera and Gillian Murphy (as well as that of winningly confident corps dancer Calvin Royal III), the ballet as a whole made me think that Morris was making fun of ballet. And he said as much at N.Y.U.’s Center for Ballet and the Arts, the day of the work’s premiere (October 20). “I’ll do anything for money,” Morris joyfully admitted in reference to his commission by ABT to a standing room audience event, which was held to launch Dr. Stephanie Jordan’s Mark Morris: Musician – Choreographer (Dance Books). At N.Y.U., Morris added that while his dancers can do anything, ballet dancers are limited (they have trouble walking like normal people and they dramatically emote, which he despises). Of course, this is not the first time that Morris has made fun of ballet dancers. But I nonetheless had to wonder why ballet companies continue to commission him to choreograph, when in return he flips them the bird. The only answer I have is that Morris delivers the kind of conservative fair that colludes with the current conservative ethos of American Ballet Theatre. Jennifer Homans, who directs N.Y.U.’s Center for Ballet, calls today’s ballet companies “big business.” Perhaps ABT needs to commission works that are risk adverse.


From left, Cory Stearns, Veronika Part and Thomas Forster in the company premiere of “Mono-tones I and II.”

From left, Cory Stearns, Veronika Part and Thomas Forster in the company premiere of “Mono-tones I and II.”

Also in the program was ABT’s premiere of Frederick Ashton’s ground-breaking Monotones I and II, created for The Royal Ballet in 1965 and 1966, respectively. Ashton’s ballet is inhabited by three dancers (in each section), who perform only slow, unfolding movement. The work becomes daring for its hushed quality (no “ta da” moments, no multiple pirouettes). Ashton once explained that his ballet was inspired by space travel. Set to Satie’s titular score (originally orchestrated by Debussy), the music of Monotones suggests time lapses through the pregnant pauses that float throughout the score. With matching caps, the dancers appear in sleek unitards (lime color and then white). Originally designed by Ashton, these costumes help render the dancers into heavenly bodies. Their supported adagio work brings to mind the movement of comets drawing the night sky in parabolic splendor. In the second section, Veronika Part dances most of the ballet on pointe, thereby transforming into a white rocket pointing to the sky. Her two partners (Thomas Forster and Cory Stearns) look as though they are preparing her for lift off by burnishing her limbs with theirs. These are not men and women, Ashton suggests, but forces; their technical elegance ensures seamless orbit in zero gravity.


The last ballet on the program, Kurt Jooss’s Green Table (1932) can also be said to be radical because it is about war. Despite the United States’ continual of fighting wars since 2001, it seems odd that no ballet companies have chosen to tackle this looming subject. Of course, it’s a risky subject. War does not beget happy endings. This fact is clearly presented in Jooss’s ballet, whose subtitle is a Dance of Death in Eight Scenes. Dancing the character Death, the virile Marcelo Gomes shows that no scythe is needed to kill. The musculature of his legs and arms, further emphasized by a gladiatorial costume that emphasizes the bulk of his quadriceps and pectoral muscles, is weapon enough. The work is not so much a kinesthetic dance experience as a set of stark tableaux. It’s eye-widening to see how much war’s violence can be communicated with so little movement.


Wanted: Artistic Director of a Ballet Company

Monday, September 21st, 2015

By Rachel Straus

Two mid-size ballet companies in North America are in search of artistic directors. Gradimir Pankov is leaving his post at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens of Montreal after 15 years. John McFall is departing Atlanta Ballet after 20 years. In comparison to the majority of the 140-odd ballet troupes across the North American continent, which have minimal seasons and only a handful of dancers, Les Grands and Atlanta employ between 20 and 30 dancers and commission in-demand choreographers for their seasons and tours. So, what is required to helm a mid-size ballet company? Les Grands recently posted the following criteria for their artistic director search:

  1. “It is important that the AD leads the company by working in the studio, as a teacher, coach, repetiteur, or choreographer.”
  2. “The AD reports directly to the Board and is responsible for the company’s look, repertoire, choreography, programming, and is an artistic leader.”
  3. “[The AD has] a mind to fiscal responsibility, and a vision that includes the community’s desire for entertainment [and] artistic achievement.”
  4. “[The AD should have] a reputation for artistic quality and the contacts and ability to bring the world’s greatest contemporary choreographer’s work to the repertoire of the Company.”

It seems, if one takes the Les Grands advert as more than wishful thinking, the search committee wants the AD to do everything in the studio, know everyone in the ballet world, and have a head for business. Does such a wunderkind currently exist?

Loudes Lopez, a former principal dancer with New York City Ballet, is perhaps the only person who fits the bill. She became the AD of Miami City Ballet in 2012, after serving for five years as the executive director of Morphoses. She kept this company afloat, even after its founder, the choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, jumped ship in 2010. Lopez achieved this feat by inviting guest choreographers to direct separate seasons and by keeping her wary board close. Prior to her work with Wheeldon, Lopez served as the executive director of the George Balanchine Foundation, which is concerned with educational outreach. As a New York City Ballet dancer for approximately 24 years, Lopez developed an intimate understanding of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins’ repertory, having performed their works while both choreographers were alive. Lopez is a particularly marvelous fit for Miami City Ballet because she was born in Cuba. She is able to fundraise in her native tongue and in a city, known as the gateway to Latin America.

While Lopez appears to be the dream AD, other recent AD hires reveal the more typical profile of a former principal dancer turned ballet master in chief. Take Madrid-born Angel Corella, who danced for American Ballet Theatre. He was hired by Pennsylvania Ballet in 2014. Because of various circumstances, he did not come with impressive executive credentials. After retiring from the stage, Corella returned to his native Spain and attempted to create a ballet company, first in the Castile and León region and then in Barcelona. Corella didn’t have experience fundraising and the Spaniards, especially in the wake of the financial crisis, vacillated about, and then declined to back his ballet company.

Then there is the Cuban-born José Manuel Carreño, another star of American Ballet Theater, who became the AD of Sarasota Ballet in 2011, upon his official retirement from the stage. He is now the head of Silicon Valley Ballet (formerly Ballet San Jose). Like Corella, he came to his first job with scant training in fiscal management, fundraising, or marketing experience.

It will be interesting to see who Les Grands and Atlanta Ballet will hire. In the recent past artistic directors of renowned ballet companies used to be choreographers, such as George Balanchine at New York City Ballet, Frederick Ashton at Royal Ballet and John Cranko at Stuttgart Ballet.  Thus their companies had unique artistic profiles. These days ballet companies are in the odd business of performing the same repertory as their fellow troupes. It makes for a homogenized ballet world. My hope is that Atlanta and Les Grands will hire a choreographer, one who puts a real stamp on the artistic “product” of their company. Perhaps this new AD will also be a woman. That would be doubly groundbreaking.

The Ballet World and the Star System

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

By Rachel Straus

In 1955 the British dance critic R. J. Austin calculated that American Ballet Theatre, whose roster of choreographers continually changed, would focus on it star dancers to solidify its reputation as a premier ballet company. Austin calculated right. Today ABT is powerful because of its stupendous dancers, whether they’re on the masthead or employed as guest artists for only a season.

On May 21, throngs descended on the Metropolitan Opera House to see David Hallberg dance Basilio, the poor barber, across from guest artist Polina Semionova, dancing the headstrong Kitri, in “Don Quixote.” On May 28, Hallberg played Prince Albrecht to guest artist Alina Cojocaru’s Giselle in the eponymous ballet. What seemed to matter to audiences (and critics) in these full-length ballets, where fifty plus dancers performed, was the performance of these principal dancers. The audiences got their money’s worth. Semionova, Cojocaru and Hallberg are at their peak of their artistry.

Hallberg dances like he is in the act of discovery. He has mastered ballet technique to the point that he plays with steps, rather than merely executing them. His confidence as an actor grows nightly. As Basilio he was all brio, showing unswerving confidence that he could win Kitri, despite all those rich suitors. As Albrecht, Hallberg dances as innocently as Cojocaru’s Giselle, whose heart he breaks and who saves him from The Wilis that are bent on his destruction. When Hallberg sequentially scissors his legs in the air six times, he resembles Christ suspended on the cross. His arms stretch wide, his expression is deathly. Hallberg’s face as much as his legs reveal his passion, his fear that if he stops dancing the Queen of The Wilis will kill him.

But Hallberg’s ability to create meaning isn’t what ticket holders, at least those I spoke to, are discussing. Hallberg’s technique and beautiful leg line are the points that dominate the conversation. Balletomanes are comfortable objectifying dancers and reducing ballets to its dancing stars. The choreography takes a back seat to discussions about virtuosity, and how principal dancers’ performances measure up to other principal dancers’. And that is a problem, if you consider a dance an artwork, in which the movement of every one on stage imbues the work with expressive value.

This complaint about ballet being reduced to stars and their tricks is as old as Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810). The French dancer and ballet master argued in “Lettres on Dancing and Ballets” (1760) for creating a ballet whose power lays in the sum of its parts. The ballet master, writes Noverre, has a responsibility to the entire work:

“Without forgetting the principal players in the piece, he should give consideration to the performers as a body; if he concentrate his attention on the premières danseuses and premiers danseurs, the action becomes tedious, the progress of the scenes drawn out, and the execution has no power of attraction.”

Kevin McKenzie’s staging of “Giselle” ocassionally grows tedious. It’s not that the ensemble dancers in the village scene of Act I don’t perform their steps beautifully. It’s that their steps convey little about the village life in which their dancing is supposed to express. The villagers dance much like The Wilis, who are ghosts! In both scenes, the dancers perform ballet steps.

So why didn’t McKenzie create folk dances and take the women off their pointe shoes for the village scene? Because audiences want to see virtuosity, even among the corps dancers, and because ballet dancers want to perform ballet steps so that they can have a shot of performing the roles of Giselle and Albrecht some day. Unfortunately, the plot of “Giselle” gets ground down by this assembly line standardization of choreography, which churns out a few principal dancers who can dazzle with their turns and leaps. This keeps the audiences focused on the sport of dance, which tends to sap the overall quality and meaning of a ballet.

May Dance in New York City

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

By Rachel Straus

May 1-2

Guggenheim Museum

The popular Works + Process series presents “American Ballet Theatre on to Act II.” Current ABT dancers will perform excerpts from their upcoming Metropolitan Opera House season. ABT alumni will discuss the challenges dancers face in the second act of their careers.  You can watch the event each night at 7:30 via livestream.

May 2

Baryshnikov Arts Center

In the final spring installment of BAC Flicks: Mondays With Merce, two Charles Atlas films of Merce Cunningham’s dances will be projected on widescreen. In “Crises” (1960), elastic cords connect the dancers to each other. Dramatic entanglements ensue. In “Native Green” (1985), John King’s music and William Anastasi’s evoke a scintillating spring. Cunningham scholar Nancy Dalva will speak to former Cunningham dancer Gus Solomons, Jr.

May 3-June 12

The David H. Koch Theater

The opening week of the New York City Ballet’s spring season will showcase 12 of Balanchine’s works, which insiders refer to as “black and white” ballets because the costuming is bare bones. Most often, the women wear black leotards and white tights. The men wear black tights and white t-shirts. The choreography is hardly sparse. Up next will be the May 11 world premiere of Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s “The Seven Deadly Sins,” set to the Kurt Weill score, featuring Patti LuPone and Wendy Whelan as sisters (which will be hard to believe). The final week’s performances are titled “See the Music…” and will highlight NYCB’s musical repertory as performed by its 62-piece orchestra. The June 12 “Dancer’s Choice” performance will feature works handpicked by the company’s dancers. Over the seven-week season, the company will perform 19 works by Jerome Robbins, Susan Stroman, Christopher Wheeldon, NYCB Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins, and George Balanchine.

May 3

The Apollo Theater

This Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater benefit performance will showcase Camille A. Brown’s 2007 solo “Evolution of a Secured Feminine,” which catapulted this complex, hip, young choreographer into the spotlight.


May 10-22

The Joyce Theater

The two-week engagement of Cuba’s Danza Contemporanea de Cuba stands out for its offering of three works: The U.S. premiere of “Casi-Casa,” created by the quirky, inventive Swedish choreographer Mats Ek, set to disco, hip-hop, swing and jazz; the world premiere of “Horizonte” by former Ballet Hispanico dancer Pedro Ruiz; and “Demo-N/Crazy,” made by Sydney Dance Company artistic director Rafael Bonachela, which has been said to wow for its athletic partnering and semi nudity.

May 12-14

Cedar Lake Theater

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet will present a new installation created by artistic director Benoit-Swan Pouffer. Part choreographed dance performance and part interactive installation, audience members are invited to move freely through the space where the dancers will be performing.

May 12-15

Dicapo Opera Theatre

Dances Patrelle will present the world premiere of Francis Patrelle’s “Gilbert & Sullivan, The Ballet!” an evening-length work, featuring live music and singers, and inspired by characters drawn from Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas.

May 13

Buttenwieser Hall at 92nd St. Y

The “Fridays at Noon” free series will culminate with informal performances by tap and step dancing virtuosos Marshall Davis, Jr., Andrew Nemr, and their guests. Davis, Jr. performed in Savion Glover’s Tony Award winning “Bring in ‘Da Noise Bring in ‘Da Funk.” Nemr has the credentials too, having performed along side the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Jimmy Heath, Les Paul, Harry Connick and the Lionel Hampton Orchestra.

May 16-June 29

Metropolitan Opera House

American Ballet Theatre will hold its annual seven-week season. The big event will be the New York premiere (June 9) of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Bright Stream.” Also of interest will be two world premieres (May 24-26) by Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon, a New York premiere by Benjamin Millepied, and a revival of Antony Tudor’s “Shadowplay.” The full-length ballet offerings will be “Giselle,” “Swan Lake,” “Cinderella,” “Coppelia,” “Don Quixote,” “The Sleeping Beauty,” and “Lady of the Camellias.”

May 20

Ailey Citigroup Theater

“Performing the Border” aspires to blend and build on the grammar of two Indian classical dance forms, Bharata Natyam and Odissi.  David Phoenix Singh, who runs Dakshina Company, a Bharata Natyam and modern dance company, and Nandini Sikand, who directs Sakshi Productions, a neo-classical and contemporary Odissi dance company, will collaborate.


May 21

Manhattan streets

This year’s New York City Dance Parade will showcase 65 dance genres. The parade will start on 21st street, move down Broadway, pass through Union Square, and take over University Place, Eighth Street and St. Mark’s. The House, Techno and Disco floats will lead the celebrants to Tompkins Square Park and to DanceFest, which will offer stage and site specific dance performances and free dance lessons. This will not be a sedentary experience.

May 23

Judson Memorial Church

This year’s Movement Research Gala will feature Trisha Brown’s “Set and Reset” (1983) as performed by its original cast of dancers, who have become dance makers in their own right.

“Black Swan”: A Beastly Ballet Film and Martha Hill: Modern Dance Wrestler

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

By Rachel Straus

How many ballet clichés can one film hold? Answer: Enough to make you puke. And that is what Natalie Portman spends a fair amount of time doing in “Black Swan,” the pulp ballet movie directed by Darren Aronofsky, which opened December 3. Portman, who plays Nina Sayers, a corps member of a ballet company, isn’t just a bulimic. Like her historic predecessor Victoria Page in the film “Red Shoes” (1948), La Danse makes her bonkers. Ballet, as the old cliché goes, demands a ballerina’s complete subjugation of pleasure. And so the normal desires of a young woman—a love life, some independence and autonomy—are as remote to Nina as a good meal.

In “Black Swan” the protagonist is pain, not this rising dancer Nina. The foil is satire: Nina lives in a pink room among stuffed animals and a tinkling ballerina music box. Whether in the studio or at home she is everyone’s punching bag. Is she an artist? No way. She’s a tool. And when she uses a primitive one to kill herself, she says with a smile “I felt it.” Meaning that she finally understands the dual demands required of the ballerina performing the lead in the late 19th century ballet “Swan Lake:” The White Swan is the virgin and sacrificial lamb; the Black Swan is the whore and murderer (according to Aronofsky). Nina dies with a smile on her face knowing she was both. Now that’s morbidly pathetic.  

Why does Nina dance? Where as Victoria Page (played by Royal Ballet principal Moira Shearer) answers this question in “Red Shoes” with the poise of a peacock—telling her future boss that it’s as necessary as living—no one bothers to ask Nina why she’s willing to endure the mental and physical demands of a highly disciplined life. This lack of character development strikes at the heart of Aronofsky’s problematic ballet flick. The director possesses zero admiration for anyone striving to be an athlete and an artist before they reach their 30th birthday. There is no convincing footage demonstrating how dancers fall in love with the possibility of becoming art. Bone-thin Portman, who is on screen 99 percent of the time, isn’t a dancer. How could she demonstrate the joy and power of dancing? The fact that American Ballet Theatre soloist Sarah Lane is her dancing double doesn’t help. Lane is shot from the calf down or at distance that makes her look like a specter.

Aronofsky got one thing right: Dancers experience pain (subsuming themselves to the aesthetic and physical demands of their art form). But in “Black Swan,” pain is the trope to drive home Aronofsky’s plot in which Nina transforms into a swan—scales and all. Nina’s transformation is gory and sadistic. She mutilates (until she loses finger nails, cracks her bones, and plunges glass into her belly). She is sexually exploited and victimized (in hopes of becoming a more sensual dancer). All the while she goes mad (seeing things and imagining others).

Aronofsky recently told the media that he was surprised that the ballet world didn’t roll out the red carpet, when he announced that he would be making a dance film that would take “Swan Lake” and turn it into a gore fest where female dancers are featured as sex-starved or sex-crazed victims of male power. Perhaps those who were asked to be Aronofsky’s consultants caught his previous film, “The Wrestler” (2008).  In it an aging pro wrestler (Mickey Rourke) is addicted to being pumped, popping pills, and being applauded for getting pulverized. At the end of “Black Swan,” Nina dances “Swan Lake,” whipping her standing leg in perfect circles while her working leg rises up and down on pointe (fuettes). The crowd roars as though she’s Hulk Hogan at a Las Vegas World Wrestling Championship.

Following in the tradition of slasher movies and exploitation films, “Black Swan” is particularly American because it thumbs its nose at high art and its earnest, eccentric, obsessive purveyors. With this in mind, critics reviewed “Black Swan” favorably. Vincent Cassel as the sadistic ballet company chief, Barbara Hershey as the “Mommy Dearest” mother, and Winona Ryler as the aging, raging Ballerina are appropriately monstrous and consequently entertaining. But why New York City Ballet principal dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied signed on to play The Prince continues to pain me. My guess is that his decision has something to do with money and a lot to do with Natalie Portman, who is now his girlfriend.


Another film that involves dance, but will not get the kind of publicity as the Portman vehicle is Greg Vander Veer’s. At Symphony Space on December 6 in conjunction with Martha Hill Dance Fund, Vander Veer screened an excerpt of his work-in-progress documentary on the dance pioneer Martha Hill (1900-1995).

Hill’s impact on modern dance education in America was equal to Serge Diaghilev’s impact on ballet performance in Europe, writes Janet Mansfield Soares (Wesleyan University Press, 2009). The former Martha Graham dancer created dance departments at New York University, Bennington College, and The Juilliard School. She helped foster dozens of others around the world. She organized the first summer seasons of what is now the American Dance Festival.

In her recent biography of Hill, Soares unearths and reveals Hill’s gargantuan mission to make the nascent modern dance movement as viable as the 400-hundred-year-old ballet tradition. The focus of Vander Veer’s documentary excerpt and Soares’s book is Hill’s battle to bring modern dance (in combination with ballet training) to Lincoln Center, where The Juilliard School was in the process of creating a state-of-the-art, performing arts headquarters.

The problem for Hill and her dance department was the New York City Ballet. Under the executive leadership of Lincoln Kirstein (whose connection to power was that of an oligarch), City Ballet demanded the dance portion of the Juilliard building for its School of American Ballet. At the panel, former Juilliard dance student Risa Steinberg talked about the debacle. Steinberg, now the Associate Director of the Juilliard Dance Division, described how she and fellow students stood outside the State Theater and asked people to sign a petition to keep her school alive. “The voices of all these other people became as loud as Balanchine’s money,” said Steinberg. In the end, the dance division prevailed. But the story is much larger than City Ballet versus Juilliard’s dance department. It’s about the ongoing battle between ballet and modern dance for money, theaters, and audiences. The details are ugly. The personalities are colossal. I hope this film by Greg Vander Veer and his young associates gets made.


Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival: Never a Dull Moment

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

If you’ve ever sat in the theater watching a dance and wondered how the performers went from working with the choreographer in the studio to being masters of their own movement on the stage, the Emmy award-winning filmmaker Elliot Caplan has made just the documentary for you. It’s called 15 Days of Dance – The Making of Ghost Light. On August 5 at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Caplan spent an hour describing his process and showing an excerpt of his 2010 film. Why just an excerpt? Because 15 Days is 22.5 hours long.

Clearly not a commercial enterprise, 15 Days bears the mark of Caplan’s advanced station as a documentary filmmaker of dance. Like Merce Cunningham, who gave him his first job filming dancers (and whom he served for 15 years as the company’s filmmaker in residence), Caplan records movement from unconventional perspectives. In 15 days, he digs deep into the ritualistic process of—watch, do, repeat, watch, do, repeat—that is the basis for most dance creation. While this process may sound like a snore, it is not. The twelve dancers of the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company, who are the center of the film, are hothouse flowers. All under age 20, they are schooled within an inch of their life in the rigors of classical technique. It’s fascinating watching them take codified ballet movements (passé, pirouette, penché) and slowly fashion them into the narrative threads that give choreographer Brian Reeder’s Ghost Light its glow.

Wearing a Yankee baseball cap and sitting with Jacob’s Pillow Scholar in Residence Maura Keefe, Caplan demonstrated that he is a devotional dance documenter—and a mensch. While most dance documenters arrive on the scene when the dance is done and paid for, in the case of 15 Days Caplan took the initiative. He convinced the University at Buffalo, where he serves as a professor and the Center for the Moving Image’s artistic director, to foot the bill for the creation of a dance. When Caplan got the funding, he made two calls: to New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. The ABT Studio Company called back first. They recommended for the job the choreographer Brian Reeder, a frequent contributor to the company’s repertoire.

Formerly a dancer with ABT, New York City Ballet, and Ballet Frankfurt, Reeder doesn’t mind being around moving cameras while making a dance in the breathless space of 15 days. His ballet, set to a recording of Aaron Copland’s Music for the Theater with Leonard Bernstein conducting, pays homage to the mix of sleaze and innocence redolent of vaudevillian stage culture.

Yet 15 Days isn’t focused on the ballet’s subject or the final product. Caplan documents the job of dancers, working day in and day out in a bare bones studio. In the half-hour segment seen at The Pillow, Caplan creates a near seamless compilation of the 15 days in which the dancers learned Reeder’s material. We see the dance from beginning to the end, but it’s not in a continuous spate of time. At the beginning of the rehearsal process (and the dance), the performers are tentative. Watching them is at times is cringe-making: many of the women have bodies of 12 years olds and their vamping like vaudevillians just doesn’t cut it. Yet by the end of the 15 days (and the end of the ballet), the dancers almost own the material. (And the pixy leg blond, who I noticed most, has acquired just enough je ne sais quoi to deliver a sexy backbend).

Ultimately, this section resembles time-lapse film. As the lithe dancers repeat, absorb, and own Reeder’s choreographic material, it’s like watching petals of an exotic flower opening in slow motion. When the dancers take command of the material, the film blossoms.

You can see three of the 20 segments of Caplan’s epic work on how a dance is created from the ground up by going to It’s worth the trip.

As for the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, where this free event took place, it is a dance Mecca. Anyone interested in the following—ballet, modern, jazz; Butoh, Flamenco, tap; dance film, dance history, and historical dance sites (the Pillow is a National Historic Landmark)—should make a pilgrimage to Becket, Massachusetts in the Berkshires. It’s only a 20-minute drive from Tanglewood. It’s beyond special.