Deane’s ‘Alice’ Flawed but Fabulous


dsc_3512-1

Set to a mashup of obscure Tchaikovsky compositions compiled and added to by Carl Davis, Deane’s family-friendly Alice stayed faithful to the spirit of Carroll’s very familiar tale. Amanda Cochrane was endearing as the caring but petulant Alice, who pouted, stamped her feet, and bossed around the inhabitants of Wonderland. Alice’s meatiest dancing, however, came in a dream sequence with girlhood crush the Knave of Hearts (William Moore) that was danced not by Cochrane, but rather by “Dream Alice” — Alexandra Kochis, who shined.

dsc_3282-1

(L-R) PBT’s Cooper Verona as the Mad Hatter, Amanda Cochrane as Alice, Masahiro Haneji as the March Hare and Diana Yohe as the Dormouse in Derek Deane’s Alice in Wonderland. Photo by Rich Sofranko.

Alice’s adventure had many stops, including choosing which door to open among many; drinking potions to make her big and small; and interacting with the White Rabbit (Yoshiaki Nakano), the hookah-smoking caterpillar (Joseph Parr) and a cavalcade of fish, fowl and fauna. But the most interesting were her encounters with Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev as the slinky Cheshire Cat, and with tea-party characters the March Hare (Masahiro Haneji), Mad Hatter (Cooper Verona) and a bubbly-sleepy Diana Yohe as the Dormouse.

Were it not for Julia Erickson’s deliciously wicked performance as the Queen of Hearts, the tandem of Corey Bourbonniere (Duchess) and Jessica McCann (Cook) might have stolen the show. McCann’s frenetic and animated portrayal of the crazed pepper-grinder-wielding cook was outstanding.

Led by Erickson’s masterful performance, the second act, at the Queen’s court, was the Alice audiences crave — full of royal pomp and circumstance, the ballet’s finest choreography, and a zany gathering of all the characters that had the audience losing its head with delight.

dsc_2941-1

PBT’s Yoshiaki Nakano as the White Rabbit and Amanda Cochrane as Alice in Derek Deane’s Alice in Wonderland. Photo by Rich Sofranko.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND at PITTSBURGH BALLET THEATRE continues through Sun., Feb. 19. Fridays, 8 p.m., Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. and Sundays, 2 p.m.; Benedum Center, 237 Seventh St., Downtown. $28-108. 412-456-6666 or pbt.org

This review originally appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper on February 15, 2017. Copyright Steve Sucato. Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance Reviews 2017, Pittsburgh City Paper

Verb Ballets Revisits the Work of Heinz Poll


_dsc8911

Verb Ballets’ Nathanael Santiago and Kate Webb rehearsing Andrew Carroll’s “3:00am.” Photo by Bill Naiman.

By Steve Sucato

Verb Ballets latest tribute program to former Ohio Ballet co-founder Heinz Poll entitled Verb Ballets Continues the Legacy of Heinz Poll, will be a homecoming of sorts for Akron-native Andrew Carroll. The former principal dancer with Poll’s Ohio Ballet in the 1980’s and later with Pennsylvania Ballet, returns to the region to restage his 2014 pas de deux “3:00am.” The ballet is one of four on the Friday, February 17 program at Akron, Ohio’s historic Akron Civic Theatre and kicks off Verbs’ 30th anniversary celebration.

Carroll, who is now an associate professor of dance at the University of South Florida, says he set “3:00am” on former student Antonio Morillo to use when auditioning for Verb. Artistic director Margaret Carlson liked both so much she hired Morillo and added Carroll’s 4 1/2-minute pas de deux set to Abel Korzeniowski’s “Satin Birds” from the 2011 film W.E., to the company’s repertory.

Carroll says with “3:00am” he wanted to create a ballet where the two people in it were happy and in love, basking in “that window of time when no one else exists in the world, 3 a.m. ─ it’s just you and the one you love,” says Carroll.  

Joining Carroll’s ballet on the program will be Poll favorite, 1975’s “Schubert Waltzes.” Set to more than a dozen brief Franz Schubert piano pieces performed live by former Ohio Ballet music director David Fisher, the 25-minute ballet for three male/female couples is Poll’s interpretation of Schubert’s music,” says Verb Ballets associate director Richard Dickinson. The ballet looks at the three couples’ individual personalities. Said Chicago Tribune entertainment writer Sid Smith in a 1987 review of the ballet, “For all its stern simplicity, ‘Waltzes’ is broadly emotional, from soaring romance to silliness, culminating in a breathtaking and inspirational stroll toward an offstage sunset…”

5662-mms-1486155745000-attachment1-20170203_142105

Verb Ballets dancers rehearsing Michael Hinton’s “Broken Bridges.” Photo by Jocelyn Magons.

The lone new work on the program “Broken Bridges,” comes from Verb company member Michael Hinton. Set to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony in C minor Op. 110A, it is the third work Hinton (who is on a leave of absence) has created for Verb.

Inspired by Poll’s ballet “Elegiac Song” (1968) also set to music by Shostakovich, the 22-minute ballet for 8 dancers says Hinton, is a tribute to his grandmother (Bridgett Escovedo) who passed away recently.

“I wanted to honor her memory while still staying true to the person she was,” says Hinton.

According to Hinton, his grandmother suffered from mental illness which left relationships in the family strained, especially with his mother Shawna Hinton who became her caregiver after she developed Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

“Bridgette grew up in a time where these [mental] illnesses weren’t considered valid,” says Hinton. “Eventually these suppressed illnesses came out in fits of emotions and general psychotic behavior.”

“Broken Bridges” explores this family dynamic with a nod to the turbulent emotions found in Poll’s “Elegiac Song.”

Rounding out the program will be a reprise of Poll’s 1996 masterwork “Bolero.” Set to Maurice Ravel’s iconic score of the same name, the ballet combines the best of Poll’s integration of ballet and modern dance technique into a seemingly timeless display of choreographic beauty that sweeps one up in its relentless drive and carries you along to an exhilaratingly satisfying end.

Verb Ballets Continues the Legacy of Heinz Poll will be performed at 8 p.m., Friday, February 17, Akron Civic Theatre, 182 South Main Street Akron, Ohio. Single tickets are $32/Preferred, $27/Center, $22/Side or $12/ Student. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Akron Civic Box Office at 330-253-2488 or online at akroncivic.com. For more information visit verbballets.org.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Airings

Documentary ‘Mr. Gaga’ a Brilliant Portrait of Ohad Naharin


mr-gaga-1-photo-by-gadi-dagon-anaphaza

Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Calling over a young female dancer choreographer Ohad Naharin asks her to give him her weight as she, back to him with his arms under hers, gives into gravity and drops to the floor in the knowledge he will catch her. Naharin asks her to repeat this exercise twice more but on the third time, to her surprise, he lets her fall to the floor.  The scene from Israeli filmmakers Tomer and Barak Heymann’s award-winning documentary Mr. Gaga (2015) hints at the complex and contradictory nature of Naharin as a person and an artist; one whose strong beliefs ask himself and others to circumvent their internal safety nets for the sake of great art.

Mr. Gaga is an insightful, engaging and at times moving portrait of the Israeli dancer/choreographer exposing his flaws, his genius and humanizing his persona as one of world’s leading contemporary choreographers and dance practitioners.

Eight years in the making, Mr. Gaga traces Naharin’s artistic roots and sheds light on his dance career and personal life, using family films, rehearsal footage and unseen archive material along with clips from his dance works.

mr-gaga-6-ohad-naharin-photo-by-gadi-dagon

Ohad Naharin. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Born in 1952 on Kibbutz Mizra, the documentary begins with Naharin lamenting his family’s move from the Kibbutz when he was 5 ½ and professing his love for that time in his life. The documentary continues with Naharin’s mandatory military service in which without formal dance training, he is accepted into the Israeli army’s performance troupe as a dancer, singer and choreographer. Writer/director Tomer Heymann intercuts these scenes with archive military footage of Naharin performing, war footage and excerpts of Batsheva Dance Company performing Naharin’s 2003 dance work “Mamootot,” inspired by his experiences during 1973’s Yom Kippur War.  Using mood music by Ishai Adar and voiceovers from Naharin such as his reflecting on “singing bad songs to traumatized soldiers” as his army friends were dying each day, Heymann creates a sense of drama, tension and a connection with Naharin as a man. It’s a formula Heymann uses effectively throughout the film.

After his army service in 1974, Naharin starts his formal dance training joining Batsheva at age 22.  One of his dance teachers there Judith Brin Ingler describes the young Naharin as being like Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat, green eyed, aloof and with a unique way of moving.  Then following a visit by Martha Graham to set a work on Batsheva (a company she helped foster in 1964), Naharin moved to New York to join the Graham Company. Says Naharin of the experience: “I came to New York full of hopes and fantasies. Dancing with Martha Graham did not fulfill those hopes and fantasies and after 10 months I had to leave.” Similarly, Naharin also describes in the film his disappointment in joining Maurice Bejart’s Ballet du XXe Siecle in Brussels, calling it “the worst year of his life” and saying “I learned about what I don’t want to do.”

89c_0166-mr-gaga-photo-by-gadi-dagon-copy

Photo by Gadi Dagon.

mr-gaga-photo-by-gadi-dagon

Photo by Gadi Dagon.

In watching Mr. Gaga, parallels to Matthew Diamond’s 1998 award-winning documentary Paul Taylor Dancemaker begin to emerge both in the way the two films brilliantly reveal their subjects, and in the sometimes eerie similarities between Naharin and Taylor as individuals and artists. Both are tall, imposing dancers, both caught the eye of Graham and joined her company and both at times had tumultuous relationships with their dancers ─ Taylor playing mind games with his dancers and once firing the entire company, and Naharin, recounted by former dancers in the film, having stood in the wings during his New York company’s performances yelling to the dancers onstage that they were boring him and chewing out one of them for “performing” his work. Naharin even admitting to telling his dancers before they went onstage: “Don’t fuck with me my life depends on you.” Perhaps the most telling similarity is in how the two men in each of the respective documentaries, talk about lying to the press. In Dancemaker, Taylor tells of making up a tale about garbage picking an album by The Andrews Sisters as being his inspiration for his work “Company B” while Naharin in Mr. Gaga, tells of inventing a twin autistic brother and how he used dance to communicate with him as his reasoning for taking up dance.

While there may be similarities between the two films and men, Heymann’s film shows there are many more differences. Mr. Gaga touches on Naharin’s New York companies of the 1980s, his first professional choreographic work, a solo using empty pop bottles and a shopping cart entitled “Pas de Pepsi” (1980), his appointment as artistic director of Batsheva in 1990, and his developing his Gaga movement language after back surgery sidelined his performance career. Some of the most revealing and poignant scenes in the film however, involve his relationship with his first wife, former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater star Mari Kajiwara, there meeting, life together and her eventual death at age fifty in 2001 of cervical cancer. The film also briefly touches on his relationship with second wife, and current Batsheva company member, Eri Nakamura with which he has a child.

Throughout Mr. Gaga, Heymann pieces together Naharin’s philosophy on dance, dancers, Gaga, and life in general delivered via several Naharin voiceovers.  One particularly timely passage in response to the title of his 2015 piece “Last Work” has Naharin speaking about Israeli society but could have easily been about how many artists feel nowadays in the United States. He says:  “When I am asked why did I call my last creation ‘Last Work,’ one of the answers that I give is maybe it is my last work since we live in a country that is infested with racists, bullies, lots of ignorance, lots of abuse of power, fanatics… and it reflects on how people choose our government. This government puts in danger not just my work as a creator, it puts in danger the existence all of us here in this country that I love so much. Are we going to be here?”

director-tomer-heymann-photo-by-tamar-tal

Director Tomer Heymann. Photo by Tamar Tal.

Throughout the film we hear the phrase “piece of cake,” which Naharin uses as a mind over matter mantra in overcoming life’s obstacles for him and for others.  In Mr. Gaga, we see very little about Naharin’s life and career was in fact a “piece of cake,” nonetheless unwrapping Naharin, the man and the artist, makes for great theater and one remarkable film.

Abramorama, East Village Entertainment, and Heymann Brothers Films present Mr. Gaga – A True Story of Love and Dance
North American Release Date: February 1, 2017
Run Time: 101:40 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Language: English
Official Website: www.mrgagathefilm.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/MrGagaTheFilm
Twitter: www.twitter.com/mrgagathefilm

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance Film Reviews