Posts Tagged ‘Wendy Whelan’

Fall for Dance Festival: Recapping Program 1, 2 and 5

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

By Rachel Straus

The seventh annual Fall For Dance Festival came to a meaty close on October 13.  Program five at New York’s City Center trafficked in high testosterone, thanks to China’s LPD-Laboratory Dance Project’s No Comment (2002) and Yaron Lifschitz’s Circa (2009), which is also the name of the Australian acrobatic troupe. In both works the body was treated like a battering ram.

Circa by Justin Nicholas Atmosphere Photography

In Circa, the performers used not only their fellow artists’ thighs and shoulders, but also their faces, as launching pads for balancing in midair and jettisoning across the space like Evel Knievel. In No Comment, the men continually fell to the floor, as though blown down by an invisible hammer. As a finale, they stripped to their waists to reveal their glistening muscular torsos. Like fight club winners, they took their bows. But their message—sex objects who pulverize themselves are cool—confounded me.

Visions of aggression and angst trumped visions of cooperation and kindliness in the three FFD programs of 12 dances from 12 international and national-based companies seen on September 28 and 30, and October 13. Perhaps the programming, spearheaded by artistic advisor Stanford Makishi, not only represented his personal preferences, but also reflected the times. The majority of the works were made in the past four years, and only two dated before 2002. This decade hasn’t been an easy ride; the dances reflects that.

The festival’s first program ended with Martha Graham’s Chronicle, which was made in response to rising European fascism before World War II. The first section of Graham’s 1936 work surprisingly echoed the last work in the festival: Deseo Y Conciencia (2011). In Deseo, flamenco choreographer-performer Maria Pagés donned a red costume that transformed into a shroud. Likewise, the gargantuan red underskirt worn by Blakeley White-Mcguire in Chronicle possessed the same import. Both women became symbols of mourning, evoking through their blood-red cloaks a fraught world.

Maria Pages. Photo by David Ruano

Blakeley White-McGuire. Photo by Michele Ballantini

The two most ambitious works, of the 12 viewed, were Pam Tamowitz’s Fortune (2011) and Christopher Wheeldon’s Five Movements, Three Repeats (2012). Both tendered subtlety, nuance and mystery. (Full disclosure: Fortune was choreographed on the Juilliard School dancers and I work at Juilliard.) In Fortune, Tamowitz set 21 dancers, costumed in hot pink and red unitards, against a field of greenish yellow. Here was a happy Mark Rothko painting. Though Tamowitz’s movement vocabulary is clearly inspired by Merce Cunningham’s, she doesn’t ignore the music as was Cunningham’s way. Tamowitz’s sharply sculptural patterning, full of pregnant pauses, reflected Charles Wuorinen’s stop and go Fortune (performed by a quartet Juilliard School musicians). In response to Wuorinen’s abrupt shifts in sounds, which instantly dissolve as though they never happened, Tamowitz evokes mini narratives, some absurd, others resonant of a city life, where pedestrians walk with laser-eye certainty.

Juilliard Dancers in "Fortune." Photo by Rosalie O'Connor

Also of note was Christopher Wheeldon’s Five Movements, Three Repeats, which was made for Fangi-Yi Sheu & Artists. Sheu, a former Graham dancer born and trained in Taiwan, is now based in New York. She is one of the great performers of our time. Her guests were none other than Wheeldon’s former colleagues at New York City Ballet: Tyler Angle, Craig Hall and Wendy Whelan. To a recording of Max Richter’sMEMORYHOUSE and Otis Clyde’s The Bitter Earth/On the Nature of Daylight, Wheeldon didn’t treat Sheu as some modern dance oddity among the City Ballet dancers.

At the beginning of every other section of Five Movements, Three Repeats, Sheu undulated her spine like a fern seeking light. Her pliable torso work was best picked up in Hall’s simultanesously-occurring solo that spiraled into the floor. Later on, Sheu and Hall folded their limbs into each other. Their duet featured a melding of their bodies, and organically blended central aspects of their different technical training (Sheu’s focuses on weight, Hall’s on ethereality).

Ms. Sheu and Mr. Hall. Photo by Erin Baiano

Though Sheu’s legwork is akin to the arrow-like esthetic favored by ballet choreographers, Wheeldon didn’t devolve to his usual histrionics: over-choreographing women’s leg extensions in the pas de deux. Consequently, Sheu did not become a human gumby. Instead, she partnered Hall’s weight as much as Hall partnered her’s. Wheeldon’s venture into making work for a modern-trained dancer is heartily welcome. The task seems to stretch him instead of over-stretching his female collaborators.

The Seven Deadly Sins at City Ballet

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

By Rachel Straus

New York City Ballet’s new staging of  “The Seven Deadly Sins,” which had its premiere at the company’s spring gala on May 11,  puts Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s dark, sinister “ballet chanté” of 1933 into a new context: a tinsel-town soundstage, complete with unison hoofers in the grand finale. Choreographer Lynn Taylor-Corbett, whose credits include Broadway’s “Swing,” has essentially created a Cliff Notes version of this irony-laced yarn, dragging  principal dancer Wendy Whelan and guest artist Patti Lapone through seven shallow scenes of human transgression and stripping the work of its brooding soul.

In the original 1933 production, choreographed by George Balanchine for Les Ballets 1933, singer Lotte Lenya and dancer Tilly Losch were presented as Anna I and II, yin yang composites of the same woman. The fact that Lenya and Losch bore a striking resemblance to each other, and were about the same age, probably helped Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht’s scenario. It concerns the Annas experiencing seven American cities, encountering seven “deadly” sins, and struggling with each other’s opposite personalities.

When Balanchine revived the work in 1958, he cast the 21-year-old Allegra Kent across from the significantly older Lenya. New York Times dance critic John Martin dubbed the production  “a stunning revival of a minor masterpiece.” But not all critics concurred, though the vision of Kent carried aloft on a human-size plate wearing just lingerie lingered in the mind, says dance writer Deborah Jowitt.

Balanchine was never afraid of being naughty. He also wasn’t afraid of “Seven Deadly” dissapearing after its run. No one filmed the performance. This may say more about what Balanchine thought of his “minor masterpiece” than City Ballet’s capacity to film performances in the 1950s. But this point is conjecture.

Now flash forward 60 years. At a City Ballet studio event, Lynn Taylor-Corbett suggests to Peter Martins that she make a reintepreted revival of “Seven Deadly Sins.” With a penchant for commercially-driven projects, Martins agrees to the venture and to Taylor-Corbett’s casting of the matronly-looking Patty Lapone, who sings like a battle ax, and the bone-thin Wendy Whelan, who dances like a steely wraith. The hope was that the project would bring in new audiences (read Broadway ticket holders). At the gala, I did see Matthew Broderick arm and arm with his wife Sarah Jessica Parker.

Unfortunately, on stage Whelan and Lapone never formed a convincing relationship, twin-like, sisterly, or otherwise. Lapone mostly stood on the sidelines, serving as singing narrator. Whelan danced Taylor-Corbett’s forgettable choreography, becoming a pawn rather than a protagonist in the rapidly unfolding events.

The greatest interest in Taylor-Corbett’s ballet was Beowulf Boritt’s sets of seven cities. In Memphis, where the sin is “Pride,” Whelan flitted about in imitation of Isadora Duncan during an audition for a sleeze-style cabaret. The black and red décor said bordello, as did the lighting by Jason Kantrowitz. In San Francisco, where the sin was “Envy,” Boritt’s backdrop of quaint Victorian row houses against a boundless blue sky was enviable. In Baltimore, where the sin was “Greed,” Boritt created a salon, channelling both Phillipe Starck’s overblown modernism and the Belle Epoque’s love of patterns. From two gargantuan black and white striped, tasseled love seats, Anna’s overfed suitors embarked on a mutually fatal duel.

As for Taylor-Corbett’s choreography, it lacked movement invention or good movement imitation. In Boston, where the sin was “Lust,” Whelan and Craig Hall peformed a romantic pas de deux.  Muscular and in a wife beater, Hall looked like Marlon Brando in Elia Kazan’s film version of “Street Car Named Desire.” He lifted Whelan aloft in shapes and transitions that looked exactly like moments in Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain”—which Whelan and Hall perform frequently.

Following the performance, this reviewer read the Brecht text, which was translated into English by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman. What crystalized from the text, but not from Taylor-Corbett’s production, is that the production hinges on demonstrating the conflict between the Annas: Anna I wants money and power; Anna II wants love and a creative outlet. Also, Anna II allows Anna I to push her around. But only in the last scene of Taylor-Corbett’s work is their conflict delivered without a doubt and Anna II emerges triumphant. As Anna II  (Whelan) collapses in front of her families’ spiffy new home, Anna I (Lapone) walks up the stairs in a mink, looking like a character from “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

The gala’s second half was devoted to Balanchine’s “Vienna Waltzes,” which premiered at the 1977 City Ballet gala.  If you don’t care for the music of Johann Strauss II, Franz Lehar, or Richard Strauss or for watching a carousel vision of dancers waltzing for 46 minutes, this ballet may not be for you. But despite the work’s repetitiousness, “Waltzes” is visual spendor at its finest;  Karinska’s five sets of costumes, ranging from full-skirted 1860s crinoline ball gowns to sleek white silk Roaring Twenties dresses are a fashionista’s delight.

In the pit, Clotilde Otranto energetically conducted such ditties as the “Explosions-Polka” and excerpts from “Der Rosenkavalier.” Principals Maria Korowski, Jennifer Ringer and Megan Fairchild demonstrated their strikingly differing styles through the same steps. That said all City Ballet dancers waltz with a brilliant elegance.

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.