Category Archives: Dance Reviews 2017

Cuba’s Malpaso Dances Its Way Into Cleveland Audiences’ Hearts Again


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Malpaso in Aszure Barton’s “Indomitable Waltz.” Photo by Judy Ondrey.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

While Cuba may only be 103 miles from the United States at its closest point, for many it is worlds away in its mystery as a land seemingly caught in time. So when Cuban contemporary dance company Malpaso returned to Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre (they previously performed there in 2016) for two free performances, that immense curiosity once again translated into packed houses to see them.

Sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation as part of their Creative Fusion: Cuba Edition, and presented by DANCECleveland as a launch to their 2017-18 season, Malpaso proved once again they are more than mere curiosity, they are a world-class dance troupe with a unique fusion of influences and styles.

Their program on June 3, began as their previous Cleveland one did with company artistic director Osnel Delgado’s 13-minute duet “Ocaso” (Sunset), set to music by Kronos Quartet, Max Richter and English electronic music duo Autechre.

As the stage lights came up on dancers Daile Carrazana and Abel Rojo they had their backs to the audience. Side-by-side, arms wrapped around each other they then walked toward the back of the stage like lovers out on a stroll.  At times, each dropped and dipped their body at the other’s side; perhaps a metaphor for the ups and downs common in a romantic relationship. This vision of a couple’s intimate bond played out throughout the duet manifesting itself in changes in the mood of the work, and in the emotions conveyed by the two dancers who were intently expressive in their happiness as well as in their strife in Delgado’s illustrative choreography.

Never straying far from each other’s touch, the dancers swirled around each other like milkweed seeds floating on a breeze. They embraced, leaned on each other and occasionally pushed themselves apart from the other at an energetic pace. From time-to-time that pace was broken by a dancer reclining on the stage floor such as when the tall, but surprisingly nimble Rojo, tenderly lowered mighty mite Carrazana to floor as if she had fallen into slumber.

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Malpaso dancers in Osnel Delgado’s “Ocaso.” Photo by Robert Torres.

Of the handful of works Delgado has choreographed for the troupe he co-founded in 2012, “Ocaso” is perhaps his most complete. With its engaging choreography, compelling narrative of a couple’s life together and adroit dancing, it was a wonderful lead in to the brilliance that was to follow.

Inspired by a transitional moment in choreographer/filmmaker Trey McIntyre’s life when he was burning stacks of old papers from his recently defunct Trey McIntyre Project, “Under Fire” created on Malpaso in 2015, had a cathartic feel to it to go along with McIntyre’s signature ease of movement.  A somewhat folksy mood pervaded the piece and like in choreographer Nacho Duato’s works, McIntyre’s innovative, contemporary dance-styled choreography seemed to glide atop a cultural foundation that felt much older in spirit.

The 22-minute work for 8-dancers, set to five songs by Boise, Idaho-based singer/songwriter Kelsey Swope (a.k.a. Grandma Kelsey) had Malpaso’s dancers moving about the stage interweaving with one another in patterns a la country-western dance.

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Malpaso dancers in Trey McIntyre’s “Under Fire.” Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.

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Malpaso dancers in Trey McIntyre’s “Under Fire.” Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.

In the opening section of the work, all eight of its dancers clustered into a group only to have several of them suddenly dart off the stage, leaving behind a smaller group of dancers to carry out a finely-crafted movement phrase. This pattern continued on with delightful invention several more times before a song change sent the dancers off in another equally delightful direction.  Most memorable were an athletic solo by Rojo and a powerfully moving duet performed by Delgado and dancer Dunia Acosta to an emotionally searing cover of Dolly Parton’s 1973 ballad “Jolene.”

The program closed with choreographer Aszure Barton’s “Indomitable Waltz” (2016), an exploration of the soul under extreme emotional circumstances. Set to an eclectic mix of music from composers Alexander Balanescu, Michael Nyman and Nils Frahm, the 26-minute gem was co-commissioned by DANCECleveland and the Cleveland Foundation.

Enchanted by what she saw as the beauty in the decay of Havana’s architecture, Barton created choreography for the dancers to reflect that. Broken ankle-like steps revealed a kind of ugly beauty.  Arms wriggled about, dancers hunched like apes traversed the stage in unison, rocking back and forth to the music in a dreamlike waltz and partnered group dances ended with half the dancers being caught in backward falls by their partners who cradled the back of their necks.

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Malpaso in Aszure Barton’s “Indomitable Waltz.” Photo by Judy Ondrey.

Throughout the work you got the sense of seeing images related to the dancers’ personal lives and of life in Cuba. Childlike playfulness, solemnness, and an overcoming of obstacles were all filtered through Barton’s quirky movement lens.

In the end, as with many of her works, one is left to marvel at Barton’s choreographic peculiarities. With “Indomitable Waltz” that sensation also came with a poignancy that touched the soul as well.

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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Leaving Neverland – Film Review of ‘Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan’


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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 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 which includes works by choreographers William Forsythe, Alexei Ratmansky, Twyla Tharp, Christopher Wheeldon and 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 stardom, 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 by many as 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 recurring male dance partners she has had in her career (Jock Soto, Craig Hall, Tyler Angle), shows her discussing and rehearsing a new ballet with Ratmansky and Wheeldon 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 during it.

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 audio from a backstage hallway monitor and from the performance hall. Cameras  from seemingly every angle capture Whelan’s movements. Especially poignant are the silent, reflective and distant stares of Whelan feeling what that ending 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.

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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Antaeus Dance Gifts Fans with One Last Gem in Joint Production with Travesty Dance Group


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Travesty Dance Group in “we all had flowers.” Photo by Dana Rogers Photography.

Cleveland Public Theatre 2017 DanceWorks Series
Antaeus Dance & Travesty Dance Group – Taking the Fall
Cleveland Public Theatre – James Levin Theatre
May 4-6, 2017

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

For area dance fans and the Northeast Ohio dance community the opening weekend of Cleveland Public Theatre’s DanceWorks series is always a cause for excitement. But tempering that excitement this past weekend was the knowledge that it would be the last time longtime fixtures on the DanceWorks series and in the local dance community, Joan Meggitt’s Antaeus Dance would be seen.  Founded in 2000, the company took its final bows in Taking the Fall, a joint production with like-minded movers Travesty Dance Group (TDG) at CPT’s James Levin Theatre.

Taking the Fall’s final showing this past Saturday, May 6, proved a showcase of the choreographic aesthetics of each of the company’s respective directors, Meggitt, and TDG’s Kimberly Karpanty, both faculty members in the School of Theatre and Dance at Kent State University.

The program, whose overarching theme “pays homage to those who keep us safe, demand our honesty and serve as models for integrity and right action,” says Karpanty, began with two works by her and performed by TDG.

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Travesty Dance Group in “we all had flowers.” Photo by Dana Rogers Photography.

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Travesty Dance Group in “we all had flowers.” Photo by Dana Rogers Photography.

In “we all had flowers” (2016), five women stood along a diagonal line with their hands shielding their faces.  Like a calculated game of peek-a-boo, the women took turns sliding one hand slowly down from over an eye and then back into place again. The dancers then one at a time engaged in little snippets of movement that took out from their place in line and back in again.

Set to an excerpt from Julia Wolfe’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio for choir and chamber ensemble “Anthracite Fields,” the moody, post-modern-styled work, mixed spurts of little hops, kicks and runs with hand and arm gestures and body positioning that at times suggested the blooming of flowers.

Next came, Karpanty’s trio “irreverence” (2016) that stylistically could have been mistaken for another section of “we all had flowers.” Danced to music by Dutch classical pianist and composer Jeroen van Veen, the work, apart from a more aggressive tone, used variations on movements seen in “we all had flowers.” In it, a dancer again shielded her face with her hands, only this time with splayed fingers to reveal her intense stare underneath.

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Shannon Sefcik and Ashley Lain in Kimberly Karpanty’s “irreverence.” Photo by Dana Rogers Photography.

Quiet gestures such as one dancer rapidly rubbing together the two middle fingers of one hand to draw another dancer’s attention were juxtaposed with several dancers’ loud slapping of hands on thighs. More a work revealing emotionality than any particular narrative, “irreverence,” ended powerfully with one dancer suddenly dropping to the floor in a heap as the other two turned their backs to her and to the audience.

The first of two works by Antaeus Dance, the premiere of Meggitt’s “UpShift” was a brief and lively solo created for longtime company member Heather Koniz Young as a parting gift to her.

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Antaeus Dance’s Heather Koniz Young in Joan Meggitt’s “UpShift.” Photo by Brad Petot.

Set to an original percussive score by Antaeus’ de facto resident composer, associate professor of music at Cleveland State University, Greg D’Alessio, Koniz Young was solid executing Meggitt’s stiff darting arm movements and Paul Taylor-like torso-twisting dance moves.  The upbeat solo was a tasty appetizer for Antaeus’ group work to come.

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A scene from “alter idem,” a dance film by Kimberly Karpanty (Director of Photography) and Joan Meggitt (Choreographer/Performer).

The Ohio premiere of Meggitt and Karpanty’s dance on film short, alter idem (second self) was another bite size morsel of goodness. Shot on location in rural Suffield, Ohio with music by D’Alessio played beautifully by violinist Sarah Blick, the 8-minute film featured Meggitt traversing an old wooden structure such as a barn or large chicken coop.  In the film we see her from many angles appearing and disappearing from sight, holding onto support posts, seated in a chair running through gestural hand movements and eerily staring off into the distance. In the film’s closing frames Meggitt is seen standing still, back to us, in a crop field as if she, and we, are looking down at her like an out-of-body experience.

After solo excerpts of Karpanty performed of her new work “Precipice,” the program concluded with its two finest offerings beginning with TDG’s “the tongue of the wise,” choreographed by Karpanty.

Set to music by Bang on a Can All-Stars along with excerpts from a sermon by Pastor Jim Cymbala of The Brooklyn Tabernacle recited live by Chuck Richie, the work pitted dancers Stephanie Harris and Tanya Mucci against one another as the embodiment of the wise man and the fool.

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(L to R) Travesty Dance Group’s Tanya Mucci and Stephanie Harris in Kimberly Karpanty’s “the tongue of the wise.” Photo by Dana Rogers Photography.

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(L to R) Travesty Dance Group’s Stephanie Harris and Chuck Richie in Kimberly Karpanty’s “the tongue of the wise.” Photo by Dana Rogers Photography.

During the cleverly-crafted work Richie, moving as an actor among the dancers, spoke of the differences between the fool and the wise man’s reactions to uncomfortable situations as the two dancers gave visual imagery to what Richie was saying, often aggressively tussling with one another.

Ultimately, a chastising of how one person’s thoughts spoken with malice can hurt another, Richie offered up this bit of wisdom, “Endurance is what God gives you to get through situations. Patience is what God gives you to get through people.”

In the conversation as being Meggitt’s magnum opus, the final work on the program, “Mercy” (2016), encapsulated those qualities that have come to define her work for Antaeus Dance over the past 16-years. Wonderfully crafted with a mix of quiet dignity, grace, and beauty, “Mercy” revisited a recurring theme in Meggitt’s works, the interplay between the individual and the collective.

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Antaeus Dance in Joan Meggitt’s “Mercy.” Photo by Dana Rogers Photography.

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Antaeus Dance’s Desmond L. Davis and Melissa Knestaut Ajayi in Joan Meggitt’s “Mercy.” Photo by Dana Rogers Photography.

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(L to R) Antaeus Dance’s Melissa Knestaut Ajayi and Shannon Sefcik in Joan Meggitt’s “Mercy.” Photo by Dana Rogers Photography.

In it, Antaeus’ full complement of 6-dancers including Meggitt, moved through deliberate and heartfelt choreography that bubbled up feelings between the dancers (and audience) of caring, hopefulness, melancholy and longing. Dancing to another of D’Alessio’s original scores, the veteran unit of dancers never looked better in Meggitt’s signature movement language. They flowed through interactions with each other that were tender and full of purpose.  In a nod to several past Antaeus works, the diminutive Desmond L. Davis at one point was carried offstage cradled in the arms of fellow dancer Melissa Knestaut Ajayi.

In her last performance with the company she founded, Meggitt captivated with her usual precision and determination. Pausing at times during the work to look back reflectively at the other dancers, one got the sense she was also wishing them farewell and thanking them for the years they spent together as a troupe.

A fitting end to Taking the Fall, “Mercy,” a culmination of all the Antaeus works that came before it, shone as a final gem in Antaeus Dance’s legacy.

Cleveland Public Theatre’s 2017 DanceWorks series continues 7:00 p.m., every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, through June 3 at CPT’s newly renovated James Levin Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., Cleveland. Tickets are $12/Thursdays and $30/Friday & Saturday. For more information and tickets call (216) 631.2727 x501 or visit cptonline.org.

 

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