Category Archives: Airings

Leaving Neverland


9_WFarewell2_Courtesy of Paul Kolnick

A scene from Got The Shot Films Production “Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan.” Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnick.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

A single file line of female corps de ballet dancers in silhouette shuffles across the back of the stage at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater. Accompanied by the haunting string music of composer Philip Glass and looking like some cliché of automaton factory workers, the line of dancers is suddenly juxtaposed by New York City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan lifted by partner Tyler Angle soaring across the stage like some goddess exalted.  The scene out of Jerome Robbins’ Glass Pieces played out like a metaphor for the charmed career Whelan, and few others have attained, basking in the spotlight of stardom for decades while the all but anonymous line of corps dancers trudge along in the background, for most, their careers never to see such heights.

But Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger’s 90-minute documentary Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan (2016) isn’t about the fickle nature of stardom nor so much about Whelan’s ascent to it, but rather what she feels is her impending descent from it and the loss of her identity. It’s a very personal, somewhat inner circle, glimpse into her coming to grips with aging, injury and what happens next.

Filmed beginning in 2013 when she was 46, the documentary takes us through her battle with a painful hip injury, her inner battles over her career and through her final performance with NYCB and the beginnings of a new chapter in her life.

Like any great athlete that has self-realized or been told that they have lost a step and subsequently see the finish line to their careers is in sight, early on in the film Whelan is knowingly rather fatalistic about her future.

“’If I don’t dance, I’d rather die’—I’ve actually said that,” recalls Whelan in the film. “I feel the ticking clock.”

Shattered and heartbroken at times in the film, Whelan’s penetrating and sometimes mournful expressions in the film, harken back to anguished images of runner Mary Decker after falling in the women’s 3,000m final at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, watching in tears as her dreams of Olympic gold ran away from her.

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A scene from Got The Shot Films Production “Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan.”

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A scene from Got The Shot Films Production “Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan.”

Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Whelan’s early training at the Louisville Ballet Academy led her to New York and the School of American Ballet. In 1984, she was named an apprentice with NYCB and in 1986 she joined its corps de ballet. One of the first post-Balanchine stars of the company, Whelan went on to spend a record-setting 30-years at NYCB, 23 of them as a principal dancer.

Says current NYCB Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins about his hiring of Whelan, “It’s not rocket science, when somebody pops up with that gift it’s very easy to identify, you just grab it.”

Unlike other dance documentaries about a single artist, Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan isn’t filled with film/video clips of her dance oeuvre that includes works by choreographers William Forsythe, Alexei Ratmansky, Twyla Tharp, Christopher Wheeldon her performing most every major Balanchine role. Instead the focus is on getting to know the affable waif during a most crucial intersection in her life ─ career reinvention or permanent retirement from the stage.

Cognizant of her gifts as a dancer and her place on the dance landscape, Whelan says in the film, “I had the world in my hands. I was getting every part under the sun…it was like gold streaming into my world.”

Having worked closely with Jerome Robbins twelve years, originated more roles at NYCB than any other dancer in its history, guested with the Kirov Ballet and The Royal Ballet’s, received numerous awards including the Dance Magazine Award (2007), the Jerome Robbins Award (2011) and a 2011 Bessie Award, Whelan is considered one of the modern era’s most important ballerinas.

It is perhaps that fear of falling from such great heights that seems to haunt Whelan most in the film ─ adulation and stardom are but holes in your parachute once they disappear.

Unusual in its approach to revealing Whelan as a person and an artist during a time of personal crisis, Saffire and Schlesinger’s documentary is a powerfully engaging, wonderfully choreographed and edited film that like any great dance work or film, speaks passionately to the human condition.

The documentary moves through scenes of Whelan reminiscing with the constant male dance partners she has had in her career (Jock Soto, Craig Hall, Tyler Angle), shows her discussing and rehearsing with choreographers’ Ratmansky and Wheeldon a new ballet for her final performance at NYCB, and details a few somewhat uncomfortable encounters with boss Martins.

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A scene from Got The Shot Films Production “Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan.” Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnick.

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A scene from Got The Shot Films Production “Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan.” Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnick.

Particularly engaging are scenes of Whelan discussing her hip surgery with Dr. Marc Philippon of Colorado’s Vail Valley Medical Center, who says to her “Ballerinas are probably God’s best athletes,” and operation room footage of  Whelan’s hip surgery, from prepping her to the first scalpel incision with Whelan awake.

The most thoughtful and riveting scenes of the film however are of Whelan’s final performance with NYCB on October 18, 2014. Saffire and Schlesinger masterfully intercut her backstage routine with Whelan dancing onstage for the final time. The soundtrack to these scenes bounces between a backstage hallway monitor and the performance hall with camera angles capturing Whelan’s movements from seemingly everywhere. Especially poignant are the silent, reflective and distant stares of Whelan feeling what that end is like; a different Wendy leaving Neverland knowing she has to grow up.

At films end, Whelan comes to realize that this is not the end for her and dance. That she can take her dancing, career, and stardom to new places and new heights, which we see she has already begun to do.

Abramorama presents a Got The Shot Films Production Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan, directed and produced by Adam Schlesinger and Linda Saffire, executive producer, Diana Dimenna, edited by Bob Eisenhardt, A.C.E., director of photography, Don Lenzer with original music composed by Philip Sheppard. Running time: 1h 30min, WW Dance, LLC © 2016. www.restlesscreaturefilm.com

Abramorama will release Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan in New York at the Elinor Bunin Theater and Film Forum today, May 24, 2017.

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Arch Contemporary Ballet Premieres A New Ballet using American Sign Language and Poem by Luis Pons


Arch Contemporary Ballet Sheena Annalise x Hues of Memory x Photo by Luis Pons x Dancer Katelyn Somers (3)

By Annie Yang

Arch Contemporary Ballet, in its mission to launch ballet and music to an inclusive 21st century audience, performs a world premiere by Artistic Director Sheena Annalise, presented by the Davenport Theatre354 W 45th St., New York, NY, with four performances Tuesday, May 30th  – Thursday, June 1st at 8:00 pm.

As a rising pioneer for ballet and music, Annalise’s choreography unveils unconventional lines of a dancer’s body in the world premiere ballet, ‘Hues of Memory’. American Sign Language is seamlessly integrated into the movement of two pas de deuxs, three-dimensionally revealing the poetic debut of world renowned photographer, Luis Pons. The bi-lingual interpretation of dance and ASL transports the audience to lush landscapes galvanized by romantic memory. Award winning composer Matthew AC Cohen sets the temperature of the work with a euphoric guitar and violin score performed by Arch Sound Ensemble, and displayed visually with synced lighting technology to the vibrations of the instruments. The theatre space is encapsulated with a greenery maze, setting the backdrop for this madly passionate work and an extension of the photo story series created by Annalise and Pons leading up to the performance.

“Arch Contemporary Ballet (ACB) challenges the past and launches into the future with new pointe work, new music, and new ideas about the potential of ballet,” remarks Annalise. “I’ve drawn inspiration about communicating our memories through different language forms and was inspired by ASL. Pons’s secret stashes of poems were the perfect backdrop for my vision. We continue to portray themes relevant to today, and create work to resonate with new audiences. We want ballet to be and continue to be relevant to the entire community.” Pons adds, “Poetry explains without having to explain, the depth and great heights of the human condition. Annalise’s work embodies how I would visually see my words into movement which made it a perfect fit – the innovation of integrating other art forms translated to this whirlwind of artistry around my poetic story.”

There will be an autism friendly modified performance on Wednesday, May 31st at 6:00 pm as part of ACB’s Arch for Autism Initiative.

PERFORMANCE INFORMATION

Tuesday, May 30th 8:00 pm
Wednesday, May 31st 6:00 pm (Autism Friendly performance)
Wednesday, May 31st 8:00 pm
Thursday, June 1st 8:00 pm
Running time 30 minutes

Advanced general admission tickets are $25, VIP tickets are $35.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.archballet.com.

DANCERS

Katelyn Somers, Andy Fernandez, Tori Hey, Henry Max McCall.

DIRECTIONS In New York

The Davenport Theatre is located at 354 W 45th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenue in Manhattan and is accessible by Subway A,C,E at 42 St Port Authority Bus Terminal and 1,2,3,N,Q,R,7,S at Times Sq 42 St.

Arch Contemporary Ballet Sheena Annalise x Hues of Memory x Photo by Luis Pons x Dancer Katelyn Somers (8)

Arch Contemporary Ballet’s Katelyn Somers. Photo by Luis Pons.

ABOUT ARCH CONTEMPORARY BALLET

Founded in 2013, New York City’s Arch Contemporary Ballet was established with a bold spirit and innovative vision to create an artistic process that enhances the connection between ballet and music. All of ACB’s works are choreographed without music. Commissioned composers then create an original music score for each repertoire program. In addition to her innovative way of joining movement and music, Artistic Director and choreographer, Sheena Annalise, challenges classicism with a cutting-edge approach to partnering, pairing women on pointe together as partners. ACB has performed across the country including the Paramount Theatre in Boston, Tempe Center for the Arts in Tempe, AZ, Marlene Boll Theatre in Detroit, New York City’s Sheen Center, and more. Learn more at www.ArchBallet.com.

SHEENA ANNALISE, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

Artistic Director and choreographer, Sheena Annalise, at age 14, was honored to work with Wayne McGregor | Random Dance in “Equator Project”, nurturing her choreographic talent. She quickly found a distinct voice by creating innovative body lines and exploring her fascination with the connection between movement and music. In her early work she began to play with creating her own tempos, accents, and pauses in her ballets without the limitations of existing music. Looking to accentuate her silent yet rhythmic choreography, she developed her artistic process of commissioning artists to create music specifically to each repertoire program. Annalise spent 2012 mentoring with the Mark Morris Dance Group, when she then founded Arch Contemporary Ballet the following year. Through ACB she has received residencies and space grants throughout NYC and has been named a “Prodigy” by The Women’s Project.

ARCH FOR AUTISM

Arch for Autism is an initiative for families and friends with children or adults who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or other sensitivity issues to come together and enjoy the benefits of dance and music. Our goal is to make ballet and music accessible to all by including Autism Friendly performances during our performance season. Adjustments to the production include reduction of obscure lighting, shorter running time, and reduction of any sudden sounds. Plus, there will be areas in the lobby for quiet time or activities staffed with autism specialists for those who need to leave their seats during the performance.

MATTHEW A.C. COHEN

Matthew A.C. Cohen has composed and performed around the globe and is a Remi Platinum Award winner for the short film”@Social #Connection”.  He attended Hofstra University, where he got a B.S. in Music Theory/Composition, with special interests in Film Scoring, Jazz Improvisation and arranging, and orchestration, and went on to get an MFA in Scoring for Media from Columbia College Chicago. He writes for network television shows, including “Reign” and “Vikings”, studio films including “Brick Mansions”, “The Funhouse Massacre”, and “Christmas Land”, and triple A video game titles including “Dragon Age: Inquisition”. He is a versatile and inventive musician and composer.

LUIS PONS
Luis Pons is a New York based world renowned dance photographer whose images are described as eternal, exquisite, and breathtakingly memorable. His photography envisions the pursuit of beauty, symmetry, color and contrasts and is noted for capturing fleeting moments in the human experience. The defining moments where all the energies in the human heart, body and spirit fuse together at 1/500th of a second, are captured eternally by his work. His motivation for photography is to remind himself of the potential in all of us to be beautiful, serene and at peace, and he shares this reminder to the world through his photographs. His work can be seen in publications across the world, such as Buzzfeed,  HuffPost Arts & Culture Feature, Elle, Epoch Times, Capezio’s world campaign, to name a few and he has captured the most distinguished ballet dancers from ballet companies throughout the world including New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, Arch Contemporary Ballet, and more.

Exclusive Photostory:

Hues of Memory Ballet Poem |’Memory’ by LUIS PONS | Choreography by Sheena Annalise

I have only seen you in these three years like sunlight through a white veil.

Ethereal and diffused, your silhouette like a curved black river through which time had frozen my heartbeat.

In the wind you sway gently, out of reach…
If any man has ever embraced memory, I have…
If any man has ever loved memory, I have…

I stood outside that great door to the ark that housed all our memories.
My broken fingernails like little steps embedded in your heart as you float away with everything that was mine.

This cleansing rain, who is it for?
Swept out to sea.
Unfathomable ocean roar
In the depths I swallow salt and remember your taste…
I remain stained with memory.

In your crucible of truth my hope died.
Left with vague pictures in my mind that I was loved by something grand, that I walked with her in the summer, somewhere green under a blue sky.

A vision of cathedral ceilings filled with golden stars.
A dead end road where a river appeared and kisses under a high moon.

This shell with a heartbeat wakes, walks and sleeps with memory.
So that any hand that touches feels cold and any words that might be said in love are ignored.

My heart beats wildly for you as If to implore you to hear that it has found the answer to the question it never asked.  I held your hand to the thundering of my heart. And you knew in that moment I was alive for you and only you.

My love for you dies in blinding hues of lilacs, reds and blues…

Like bones that have passed through great fires and glow in bright gold and white before turning to dust…
You tried to wake me from this sleep but I fell through too many layers of your silk.
Unlocked too many doors into the paradise that is you
You will never find me to push me out.

In your gardens, I am the lowly dandelion that you walk past to smell your roses.

In your forests, I am the moss that faces north on the old oaks that you dance under.

On your shores, I am the white foam at your feet….

Upcoming Events

May 30 – Jun 1 Spring Season II : World Premiere
May 31st – Autism Friendly Performance
June 1 Cocktails & Conversation for Patrons
Aug 7 – 13 Summer Ballet Intensive at NY City Center
Aug 7 – 13 Summer Composer’s Intensive at NY City Center
Aug 12 – Autism Friendly Performance
Aug 11 – 13 Summer Performance Season at Sheen Center
More information at: www.ArchBallet.com

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Fourth Annual ‘The Benefit’ Offers Up World-Class Music and Dance to Aid Hemophilia Foundation


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Carolina Ballet’s Marcelo Martinez and Lara O’Brien in Robert Weiss’ “Meditation from Täis.” Photo by Ira Graham.

By Steve Sucato

As humans we pride ourselves in turning negatives into positives. Following the proverbial phrase “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” we make lakes of the stuff in an effort to ease suffering and find cures for the countless ills life throws at us. So when former BalletMet star Jimmy Orrante’s son Isaac was born with hemophilia ─ a condition in which the ability of the blood to clot is severely reduced ─ Orrante began formulating how he could use his art to help others make lemonade out the lemons life dealt them.

In 2013, he and fellow former BalletMet dancer Attila Bongar organized The Benefit (formerly Dancing for the Cure), a charity event that featured music and dance performances from top flight dancers and musicians from the Columbus area and across the United States.

“The first year we did The Benefit it was to fight cancer and benefitted Nationwide Children’s Hospital of Columbus,” says Orrante. “Me being a part of the hemophilia family and knowing the people in that community, it made more sense for us to link up with The Central Ohio Chapter of the National Hemophilia Foundation.”

Now in its fourth year the all-volunteer event ─ which annually raises over $25,000 for the Hemophilia Foundation ─ will be even bigger and better. The event, Sunday, May 21, will be held for the first time at The Riffe Center’s newly renamed Davidson Theatre (formerly Capitol Theatre) offering attendees a more theatrical experience.

One of the premiere dance events in the region, this year’s production features dancers and choreographers from Miami City Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Rochester City Ballet, BalletMet, Columbus Dance Theatre and others, along with live music by Camarata (a multi-piece orchestra made up of musicians from the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and led by CSO principal cellist Luis Biava), Columbus ambient alternative band The Wind and the Sea, and North Carolina bluesman th’ Bullfrog Willard McGhee. In addition, following the performance there will be a meet and greet with the performers that includes food and a silent auction.

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From 2016’s ‘The Benefit’: BalletMet’s Adrienne Benz and Carolina Ballet’s Marcelo Martinez in Jimmy Orrante’s “Imperfections.” Photo by Ira Graham.

The 90-minute program will open with Milwaukee Ballet leading artists Patrick Howell and Nicole Teague-Howell in the Act 2 pas de deux from the ballet Swan Lake with choreography by Milwaukee Ballet artistic director Michael Pink. After a musical selection from baritone singer Robert Kerr, Miami City Ballet soloist Lauren Fadeley and BalletMet’s Jarrett Reimers will perform the first of two works by Orrante on the program; a brand new pas de deux danced to an excerpt from Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. Says Orrante of the pas de deux, it will be a reaction to the music and to the relationship Fadeley and Reimers develop dancing together.

In “A Caretaker’s Vow” (Excerpt) a solo by dancer/choreographer Marcus Jarrell Willis, the former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer explores his uncertainty about his future after leaving Ailey and how his friends encouraged and lifted him up. Set to music by British soul singer-songwriter Laura Mvula, the solo, says Willis, “takes you into my innermost thoughts.”

Next, COSI Science Center chief scientist Paul Sutter narrates “Voyager,” a new work in three stylistically diverse movement sections by three different choreographers inspired by and titled after music selections contained in NASA’s  messages from earth Golden Record included on Voyager 1 and 2’s interstellar missions.

The work opens with Orrante’s second piece on the program, a contemporary ballet for 6-women set to Blind Willie Johnson’s song “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” sung live by McGhee. “Voyager’s” second part is a new solo by kathak dancer/choreographer Mansee Singhi danced to “Jaat Kahan Ho,” a traditional Indian song sung by Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar that Singhi says is “related to Lord Krishna’s tales.”

Concluding the work is a new ballet for 12-dancers by Columbus Dance Theatre’s Christian Broomhall set to Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F.”  Says Broomhall, my piece is “wholly inspired by the images and feelings that the music evoked within me. It’s very quirky and whimsical.”

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From 2016’s ‘The Benefit’: BalletMet’s Caitlin Valentine-Ellis atop dancers in Atilla Bongar’s “Forced March: Second Eclogue.” Photo by Ira Graham.

Following a performance of Edvard Grieg’s “Holberg Suite, Op. 40,” performed by Camarata, will be the first of two ballets by Bongar. Yet to be titled, the ballet, set to Alexander Scriabin’s “Fantasie in B minor, Op. 28,” is a trio for Fadeley, BalletMet’s Michael Sayre and BalletMet Dance Academy student Isabelle LaPierre. Says Bongar, the ballet takes inspiration from Jacqueline Kennedy and her emotional state after husband, President John F. Kennedy died. “I saw a touching image of her and her daughter standing in front of JFK’s coffin and wondered what was going on inside her beneath her composed manner,” says Bongar.

Cincinnati Ballet soloist James Cunningham returns to The Benefit with his new ballet “Mordent.” Set to an excerpt from Beethoven’s “Piano Trio in C minor, Op.1 No.3” played live, the neo-classical ballet for two men and one woman says Cunningham, “connects heavily to the musicality of the trio.”

After a piano solo by BalletMet music director Tyrone Boyle, the program’s second-to-last offering comes from choreographer Kristopher Estes-Brown. Danced to live music by The Wind and the Sea, the new contemporary ballet for 6-dancers entitled “Somewhere, Something,” says Estes-Brown, is about “distance, time and human connection.”

Rounding out the program will be Bongar’s pas de deux “Spartacus,” set to Aram Khachaturian’s music from the ballet of the same name and will be danced by BalletMet’s Jessica Brown and Romel Frometa.

One of the easiest and best choices in helping make a difference in the lives of those with hemophilia, their families, and to help find a cure, The Benefit, is a win-win for anyone who enjoys world-class arts entertainment and making lemonade out of life’s lemons.

The fourth annual The Benefit takes place 5 p.m., Sunday, May 21, The Riffe Center’s Jo Ann Davidson Theatre, 77 S. High Street, Columbus, OH. Tickets: Adult – $30, VIP Priority Seating – $55, Student/Child – $15. (614) 902-3965, (614) 469-0939 or https://www1.ticketmaster.com/event/0500527BD2F4CC36#efeat4212

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.

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