Tag Archives: Alejandro Cerrudo

Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Extremely Close’, Extremely Good [REVIEW]


Alexander Meister-Upleger in James Sofranko's The Sweet By and By. Photo by Scoot & Kate Rasmussen 500px

Alexandra Meister-Upleger (center) in James Sofranko’s “The Sweet By and By”. Photo by Damion Van Slyke.

Grand Rapids Ballet – Extremely Close
Peter Martin Wege Theatre
Grand Rapids, MI
April 12-14, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In the company’s first season under new artistic director James Sofranko, Grand Rapids Ballet appears to be continuing on the path of upward trajectory begun by former artistic director Patricia Barker now the director of The Royal New Zealand Ballet.

The company’s program Extremely Close, on Saturday, April 13 at their in-house Peter Martin Wege Theatre, was varied, well-balanced and top notch. GRB’s dancers never looked better with adroit performances rivaling some seen in the finest dance companies in North America.

The program opened with veteran dance maker Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House” created for San Francisco Ballet (where Sofranko was a soloist) in 2008.

Caniparoli, one of the most consistently brilliant dance-makers working today, created with “Ibsen’s House,” a choreographic jewel.  The ballet was inspired by five female characters taken from Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s plays; A Doll’s House (1879), Ghosts (1881), Rosmersholm (1886), The Lady from the Sea (1888), and Hedda Gabler (1890). Said Caniparoli, in an interview about the ballet, “Ibsen’s radical ideas about marriage, gender roles, and family relations shocked and outraged many of his contemporaries, and still hold resonance today.”

Cassidy Isaacson and Steven Houser in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House. Photo by Ray Nard 500px

Cassidy Isaacson and Steven Houser in Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House”. Photo by Ray Nard.

Danced to excerpts of Antonín Dvořák’s “Piano Quintet in A Major, Op 81” played live, the ballet had as a partial backdrop a large window frame with the dancers costumed in rich-looking, buttoned-up Victorian dresses for the cast’s five women and equally stiff suits for its five men by designer Sandra Woodall that suggested persons of privilege.

The ballet, an amalgamation of the aforementioned Ibsen plays’ themes and attitudes towards their heroines, unfolded as a series of vignettes expressing the emotions and attitudes each of the women with regard to the important personal relationships written about in the plays they appear in.

While it might be helpful in knowing these women’s stories in Ibsen’s plays, in some ways, it may also have been better not to as to not bring to the ballet expectations of the women’s character portrayals and those of others in the ballet.  Caniparoli’s choreography spoke volumes on its own.

Cassidy Issacson in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House. Photo by Ray Nard 500px

Cassidy Issacson in Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House”. Photo by Ray Nard.

“Ibsen’s House” began with a series of solos introducing each of the five women and laying out their particular demeanor starting with dancer Cassidy Isaacson as Hedda Gabler from Ibsen’s play of the same name.

Isaacson was riveting as the cold and callous Gabler who appeared determined to fight back the boredom and disappointments in her life. Costumed in a mauve and black dress, Isaacson performed Caniparoli’s sharp, illustrative ballet choreography with soul withering intensity. Her deliciously superior attitude then gave way to the worried nervousness of Yuka Oba as Nora Helmer from A Doll’s House.  Oba’s solo, like Isaacson’s, was expertly-crafted with a high level of technique and phrasing. Caniparoli, who choreographed GRB’s The Nutcracker, creates the types of ballets that GRB and its dancers can only benefit from in taking the company to the next level in its upward trajectory.

Alexander Meister-Upleger in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House. Photo by Ray Nard 500px

Alexandra Meister-Upleger in Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House”. Photo by Ray Nard.

Next, newcomer this season, Alexandra Meister-Upleger portrayed Helene Avling from Ibsen’s “Ghosts”.  The former Nashville Ballet dancer moved a bit like a prancing horse in a gesture-laden solo that the veteran dancer performed superbly. She was followed by Connie Flachs as the unfulfilled Ellida Wangel from “Lady of the Sea” in a swooping and swaying solo and GRB up and comer Madison Massera as the manipulative Rebecca West from “Rosemersholm”.

Yuka Oba and Nathan Young in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House. Photo by Ray Nard. 500px

Yuka Oba and Nathan Young in Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House”. Photo by Ray Nard.

The second half of the ballet paired the women with their male counterparts and sources of consternation in Ibsen’s plays. A series of dark and troubled pas de deuxs then further fleshed out the relationships between these characters. Most memorable was that of Oba and Nathan Young as the stern Torvald Helmer, her character’s husband in “A Doll’s House” who has found out she has been secretly stealing from him. The perfectly danced pas de deux filled with tension and peril left one  gripping at their seat watching it unfold.

Switching stylistic and emotional gears, the world-premiere of Sofranko’s “The Sweet By And By,” danced to lively jazz music by New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band, was a charming spirit-lifter.

Levi Teachout, Nathan Young, and Adriana Wagenveld in James Sofranko's The Sweet By and By. Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen 500px

Levi Teachout, Nathan Young, and Adriana Wagenveld in James Sofranko’s “The Sweet By and By”. Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen.

The ballet followed main character Steven Houser as a carefree, life-of-the-party gent in a parade of bubbly dances with his large group of friends to the songs “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “Down by the Riverside,” “By and By” and others.

Looking like frolicking characters from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Sofranko infused the ballet’s choreography with an energy and bravura that was pleasing.

Interjected into this world of glee were moments of melancholy. Houser’s flirty and infectiously positive character was, underneath that exterior, quite lonely for companionship and a meaningful romantic relationship. After several tries in the ballet, he found that companionship in a female friend portrayed by dancer Gretchen Steimle.

Steven Houser and Gretchen Steimle in James Sofranko's The Sweet By and By. Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen 500px

Steven Houser and Gretchen Steimle in James Sofranko’s “The Sweet By and By.” Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen.

Truly a vehicle for Houser’s wide-ranging talents as a dancer, he simply killed it and received a rousing ovation at ballet’s end.

The program concluded with its namesake work “Extremely Close” by former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer and resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo.

Choreographed in 2008 (and making the rounds to several regional ballet companies next season), the contemporary dance work was Cerrudo’s second-ever and smacked of a young dance-maker looking to make a big impression — He did.

Emily Reed and Isaac Aoki in Alejandro Cerrudo's Extremely Close. Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen 500px

Emily Reed and Isaac Aoki in Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Extremely Close.” Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen.

Set to music by Philip Glass and Dustin O’Halloran, the work began in silence with white feathers slowly drifting down from the rafters and piling up on the stage floor like fluffy snow. A cast of 8 dancers in socks cut paths in the feathers with their dancing, launching into prolonged slides across the floor as if ice lay below the surface of feathers. Into this scenic dreamland, Cerrudo also added door-sized moving walls that the dancers then appeared and disappeared from behind as they glided in lines across the stage. GRB’s dancers were brilliant in their timing pulling off these visual effects.

Yuka Oba and Matthew Wenckowski in Alejandro Cerrudo's Extremely Close. Photo by Damion Van Slyke 500px

Yuka Oba and Matthew Wenckowski in Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Extremely Close”. Photo by Damion Van Slyke.

Led by dancers Yuka Oba and Matthew Wenckowski, GRB’s dancers performed Cerrudo’s grounded movement language that is so associated with his works and that of Hubbard Street, marvalously. The breathtaking work ended with Wenckowski at the front of the stage pulling up the stage floor over his head and running toward the rear of the stage a la the billowing fabric effect used in choreographer Jiri Kylian’s masterwork Petite Mort.

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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Hubbard Street Masterful in National Dance Day Performance at ADF in CLE


 

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “The 40s” by Lou Conte. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s hotly anticipated performance at the second annual ADF in CLE summer dance festival in Cleveland was a family affair of sorts. All five of the works on the program, Saturday, July 28, at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Theatre, were by choreographers from within the Hubbard Street family including three by former company dancer and current resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo.

The program, presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with the American Dance Festival, led off with Cerrudo’s latest work and perhaps his best to date, “Out of Your Mind” (2018). Created for the company’s 40th anniversary season, the “sock” work was inspired by and titled after, a lecture by 20th century British philosopher Alan Watts. A recording of Watts reading excerpts from his thought-provoking lecture about the nature of the self, was incorporated into the work’s soundtrack that also included music by Canadian DJ duo Blond:ish, American composer Keith Kenniff (a.k.a Goldmund), and English composer Greg Haines. It is the first time Cerrudo has used text in one of his creations.

While the work’s title can imply a loss of one’s sanity, Cerrudo says he sees the title as meaning “thinking outside of your mind.” It was apparent from watching it that his thought process was without restraint and truly inspired.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dancers Michael Gross and Connie Shiau in “Out of Your Mind” by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “Out of Your Mind” by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Abstract and darkly atmospheric, the contemporary dance work for fifteen dancers began with group unison dancing in a series of ever-changing body positions with shifting hand and arm movements; some having the dancers’ arms swarm about their heads. Watching the precision dancing was spellbinding and Hubbard Street’s adroit dancers were exquisite in it.

As the piece progressed, group dancing gave way to various smaller dancer configurations. A duet between dancers Rena Butler and David Schultz fascinated as did a male trio in which two dancers held up and rotated in place a third in a headstand; the upside down dancer frozen in a pose looking as if he were trying to flee. The work’s many dazzling movement phrases came at you as if looking into a kaleidoscope.

The work’s final section then returned the full cast onstage, this time with the dancers entwined arm-in-arm in a line executing cascading and wave-like movements along that line that sometimes resembled a centipede in motion.

Sure to take its place as a signature work of Cerrudo’s, “Out of Your Mind” was far and away the best piece on a program filled with worthy runners-up.

Next, the curtain opened on a brief but visually startling ballooning of a large piece of parachute-like fabric that was quickly yanked into a stage wing revealing a dancer pair with a female dancer lifted over her male partner’s head and positioned in front of another large swath of similar fabric hung as a backdrop. The opening theatrics were part of former Hubbard Street dancer Robyn Mineko Williams’ 2017 dance work for the company, “Cloudline”.

Cloudline Run

(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “Cloudline” by Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Cloudline Run

(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dancers Jessica Tong and Jason Hortin in “Cloudline” by Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Set to a varied soundscape by Sufjan Stevens, Olafur Arnalds and others, the work, after its dramatic opening, slipped into a dreamlike haze conjuring up the hypnotic and surreal mood of the David Lynch TV series Twin Peaks.

Delivered in a series of delicious moving tableaux that drifted across the stage like a line of clouds, each tableau hinted at the joys and heartache associated with being in a romantic relationship or at the longing felt by one who is not. In one such tableau, a male dancer stood still staring into the wings at a back corner of the stage while dancers Alice Klock and Schultz engaged in sweeping and enveloping movement at its center, and a male/female couple sat pressed together at the front left of the stage watching them.

Over the course of “Cloudline” the fabric backdrop slowly sank to the floor like a setting sun and the dancers then used it to make it appear as if a few of them were dancing among the clouds. The piece then ended as dramatically as it began with a male/female couple in an embrace and tented by the billowing fabric, this time magically disappearing in the whoosh of fabric bring yanked off stage and replaced by a forlorn Jacqueline Burnett standing staring after them.

After a brief intermission, the other two Cerrudo’s works were shown beginning with his often performed, “Lickety-Split” (2006).  Danced to the folksy music of Venezuelan American singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart, “Lickety-Split” had a small town, back roads breeziness to it.  In it, you could see the early craft of a choreographic mind that would twelve years later be ready to birth a gem like “Out of Your Mind”.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dancers Alicia Delgadillo and Elliot Hammans in Alejandro Cerrudo’s Lickety-Split. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Sprinkled with carefree play and a touch of humor, the work’s bendy, elongated contemporary dance movement proved as delightfully quirky as the music it was danced to. In one section to Banhart’s tune “This Beard is for Siobhan” a dancer is seen banging their nose on another’s butt cheek while we hear Banhart sing “Because my teeth don’t bite I can take them out dancing and show them a real good time.”

A last minute replacement for choreographer Crystal Pite’s “Grace Engine” due to lighting requirements that couldn’t be met, Cerrudo’s “PACOPEPEPLUTO” (2011) was another piece of choreographic kitsch wrapped in some serious solo male dancing by Schultz and dancers Kevin J. Shannon and Michael Gross. Set to classic songs by Dean Martin including “Memories Are Made of This” and “That’s Amore,” the work, usually performed wearing nothing but a “dance belt” (jockstrap), had the performers here opting for a more full coverage bottoms. In those, keisters wiggled, hips gyrated and the men leaped and bounded about the stage to the approving shouts of audience members.

The 40's

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “The 40s” by Lou Conte. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The 40's

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (Florian Lochner, above) in “The 40s” by Lou Conte. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Hubbard’s program concluded with a signature work from its repertory Stone Age prior to the company becoming the global contemporary dance juggernaut audiences have come to know and love. Choreographed by company founder Lou Conte in 1978, “The 40s” was nonetheless a beauty of a jazz dance piece performed to big band music by Sy Oliver. Fast, light-footed and full of Broadway  “cool cat” spunk, the work unfolded like a grand Gene Kelly movie production number. It was a joyous end to a monster evening of dance capped by a rousing standing ovation from the audience.

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.

The ADF in CLE summer dance festival concludes with Caleb Teicher & Company (Tap), 8 p.m., Saturday, August 4 at Cain Park’s Evans Amphitheater. For information and tickets visit ADFinCLE.org

 

 

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Wendy Whelan’s ‘Restless Creature’ a sumptuous dance memory to cherish (review)


Wendy Whelan and Alejandro Cerrudo in Cerrudo's

Wendy Whelan and Alejandro Cerrudo in Cerrudo’s “Ego Et Tu.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

By Steve Sucato
Special to the Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Following in the footsteps of other ballet stars like Mikhail Baryshnikov that made late-career transitions from ballet to contemporary dance styles, former New York City Ballet star Wendy Whelan, seeing the writing on the wall after 30-years with NYCB, launched her Wendy Whelan New Works Initiative.

What has been remarkable about Whelan’s transition more so than most, is rather than easing into the change, she cliff-dived into it. In short order, even before her official retirement from NYCB last October, she began crash courses with four different dancer/choreographers in four movement languages foreign to the way her body was used to moving to create “Restless Creature,” the first production in her New Works Initiative.

The hourlong program co-presented by DANCECleveland and Playhouse Square at the Ohio Theatre Saturday night more than lived up to its pre-show hype giving the assembled audience a sumptuous dance memory to cherish for some time.

The critically-acclaimed suite of four duets danced by Whelan and her four male dancer/choreographer partners began with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago resident choreographer/dancer Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Ego Et Tu” (2013).

Danced to music by Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds and others, Cerrudo entered the stage first pouring forth contemporary dance movement in a solo that had his outstretched limbs leading his body into swooping dips and rises, careening turns and liquidly smooth sways. Whelan then joined him dancing with similar fluidity.

While not quite as silky smooth as Cerrudo, the waif-like and powerful Whelan’s carriage seemed to have shed a fair amount of its ballet rigidity since “Restless Creature” premiered in 2013. Both dancers were magical. Their partnering was elegant and effortless in Cerrudo’s divine choreography that even gave a nod to Balanchine’s iconic “Serenade,” a ballet Whelan must have danced countless times.

Wendy Whelan and Joshua Beamish in Beamish's

Wendy Whelan and Joshua Beamish in Beamish’s “Conditional Sentences.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Choreographer Joshua Beamish’s “Conditional Sentences” (2015) was perhaps the least stretch for Whelan in terms of movement language. The courtly duet was infused with ballet steps and poses along with some tricky off-count starts and stops. But while Beamish and Whelan performed the call and response choreography expertly, they seemed to lack onstage chemistry and the work seemed to drag out and repeat itself.

Kyle Abraham’s “The Serpent and The Smoke” (2013) proved the evening’s most dramatic and resplendent work. Set to music by Hauschka and Hildur Guanadottir, the piece began with Abraham, aflutter like a whirling dervish, launching himself into a sequence of rapid turns and arm movements.

Wendy Whelan and Kyle Abraham in Abraham's

Wendy Whelan and Kyle Abraham in Abraham’s “The Serpent and The Smoke.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

As a dancer, Abraham has a most distinctive way of moving that blends modern, contemporary and hip hop styles into seemingly steroid fueled movement riffs counterbalanced by tender moments of graceful serenity. Whelan bought into Abraham’s movement language wholeheartedly in her performance, circling him at the outset as if stalking him as he looked on captivated by her wispy movement around him. The two, simpatico in their dancing brilliance, exuded strength, sensuality and rare beauty in the riveting duet.

The program concluded with the Brian Brooks gem “First Fall.” To a score by Philip Glass, Brooks and Whelan melted into each other’s arms moving up and down across the stage like on a rapidly moving stream. Brooks’ modern dance choreography a la choreographer Doug Varone, was exceedingly pleasant to watch as were the two dancers in it.

Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks in Brooks'

Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks in Brooks’ “First Fall.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

In its latter stages, the pair engaged in a repeated sequence where Whelan fell trusting backwards onto a crouched Brooks’ back and then he slowly rose up carrying Whelan with him. The effect, and the work, was spellbinding.

With the diverse and immensely gratifying “Restless Creature,” Whelan showed she hasn’t lost any of her star quality. She and her partners danced brilliantly. Most impressive and promising for her future after ballet though was her deft choices of partners and the works they created for her.

This article first appeared in The Plain Dealer online on April 27, 2015. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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