Tag Archives: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

Squirt Guns, T.S. Eliot and Live Music are all part of Chamber Dance Project’s ‘New Works +’


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CDP dancers in Diane Coburn Bruning’s “Songs by Cole”. Photo by Eduardo Patino, NYC.

By Steve Sucato

Award-winning choreographer Diane Coburn Bruning’s Chamber Dance Project celebrates its sixth Washington season with New Works +, June 20-22 at D.C.’s Sidney Harmon Hall.

The summer-only, project-based company whose model is to bring together dancers when they are on layoff and pair them with musicians to create new work was founded in New York in 2000 and has continued its commitment to live music and dance performance in Washington since its 2014 debut season at The Kennedy Center.

An unabashed champion of live music in collaboration with dance, Coburn Bruning says “too often company directors hide behind the excuse that live music is expensive. Chamber music is a pretty versatile option. The history of the art form has been inextricably intertwined with live music. It has only been the last thirty to forty years that it has become expeditious to use recorded music.  There is nothing spontaneous about dancing to recorded music you have heard multiple times.”

Needless to say, all of the works on the program, including its two world-premieres, will feature live music of varying style. “We actually have more musicians on stage throughout the evening than dancers,” says Coburn Bruning. Those musicians have performed with the National Gallery Orchestra, the National Philharmonic Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and “The President’s Own” United States Marine Chamber Orchestra among others.

As for those dancers, many of the cast of seven from BalletMet, Milwaukee Ballet and Washington Ballet are familiar faces to CDP audiences. New this season will be former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal dancer Julia Erickson.

Says Erickson of her CDP experience thus far: “It is always a valuable experience to get to work with other seasoned dancers from different companies. We have diverse professional backgrounds, so we bring different bodies of experience to the table.”

Photo by Tanya Green Photography

CDP dancers rehearsing Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Rondo Ma Non Troppo”. Photo by Tanya Green Photography.

Photo by Emmanuel Williams

Francesca Dugarte and Julia Erickson rehearsing Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Rondo Ma Non Troppo”. Photo by Emmanuel Williams.

The first of the premiere works on the program comes from highly sought-after, award-winning Colombian-Belgian choreographer, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. This year’s Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award-winner, Lopez Ochoa has created over 60 dance works on companies across the globe including New York City Ballet, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Finnish National Ballet, English National Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and San Francisco Ballet.

Her 12-minute quartet, “Rondo Ma Non Troppo” to the first movement of Franz Schubert’s “String Quartet No. 14 in D minor” (Death and the Maiden), is titled after a musical form with a recurring leading theme along with a tempo mark directing that a passage is to be played a certain way, but not too much so.

“Normally, I have the idea for a piece then I look for the music. Here I chose the music first,” says Lopez Ochoa.

Lopez Ochoa says she came into the creative process with CDP’s dancers knowing that she wanted to create a quartet and that she wanted it to start with a circle. “As I arrived to the studio, I saw these round tables I thought we could use one to make circular movement around and then get rid of it,” she says. “But I loved the table so much I kept it in the work.”

Ochoa says she then began researching table dances and their symbolism. Coming upon King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table legend and its group equality in decision making, Lopez Ochoa says, “Intuitively, I now wanted to make a very democratic ballet, not about two men and two women, but four people.”

A frequent user of props in her works, Lopez Ochoa says, “In the beginning a prop is very much an enemy. I tell the dancers that the prop is a very bad dancer and that they need to treat it as if it is their partner. You have to guide it and be very precise with it and then it becomes a very good dancer.”

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Davit Hovhannisyan and Luz San Miguel in Diane Coburn Bruning’s “Journey”. Photo by Eduardo Patino, NYC.

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CDP dancers in Diane Coburn Bruning’s “Songs by Cole”. Photo by Eduardo Patino, NYC.

The program will also include reprises of two Coburn Bruning repertory favorites. The heartfelt, 8-minute “Journey” (2003) is a pas de deux to Samuel Barber’s familiar “Adagio for Strings” that was originally created on former New York City Ballet star Peter Boal (now artistic director of Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet) and dancer Lisa Tachick in memory of Coburn Bruning’s father.  While 2017’s “Songs by Cole” is a 25-minute crowd-pleaser for all seven dancers to seven songs by Cole Porter including “C’est Magnifique,” “You Got That Thing” and “Night and Day” played live by a jazz trio featuring vocalist Shacara Rogers.

Says Coburn Bruning of the ballet, “the difficulty in using such a famous song as “Night and Day” is how do you contend with such well-known, wonderful music?” Her solution for “Night and Day” was to make to make all about the costuming. “I wanted a dress with a long train and that emphasized the flow and sculpture of it and the woman in it.” In this case BalletMet’s Francesca Dugarte.  For her tongue-in-cheek interpretation of “Don’t Fence Me In,” Coburn Bruning created a cowboy dance take on Swan Lake’s “Dance of the Little Swans” complete with cowboy boots, hats and a squirt gun fight.

Opening New Works +’s second half and making its Washington debut, will be the duet from “Extremely Close” (2008), by former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer and resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo. The 7-minute piece danced to music by Philip Glass played live by pianist Sophia Kim Cook, begins in silence with white feathers slowly drifting from the rafters on to the stage floor and collecting like snow as the audience returns from intermission.

Says Coburn Bruning, “It’s the kind of work I look for. Something powerfully evocative that does not tell you how to think or tell you a story, but elicits something from each audience member that is unique to them.”

Also included on the program are two music only selections by CDP’s resident chamber orchestra; “Duo,” to Zoltán Kodály’s “Duo for Violin and Cello, op. 7: I. Allegro serioso, non troppo” and “Duel,” to Chris Rogerson’s “String Quartet No. 1: I. Duel”.

Rounding out the 95-minute program will be the premiere of “Prufrock,” co-conceived and directed by Coburn Bruning and theatre director Matt Torney.  Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s 1910 poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” the 13-minute avant-garde dance work for five dancers to a commissioned score by James Bigbee Garver (performed live on three computers), is a very different work for Coburn Bruning she says. “I wanted to create a piece where the audience had to assimilate it from different fragments presented on different parts of the stage.”

The work’s fifteen non-linear fragments appear as somewhat disjointed images from the poem but do not follow the progression of Eliot’s stream of consciousness composition delivered by narrator Torney. “It will be the most active engagement of the audience on the program,” says Coburn Bruning.

Chamber Dance Project performs New Works +, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, June 20, 8 p.m., Friday, June 21, and 2 p.m. & 8 p.m., June 22. Sidney Harmon Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington, D.C. Tickets are $35-52 and $125-175 for June 20’s Opening Night Performance and Summer Solstice Party at the Hotel Monaco. To purchase tickets, call (202) 547-1122 or visit chamberdance.org. In addition, Chamber Dance Project’s Bring a Child for Free program offers a Saturday, June 22 matinee ticket for young people up to age 18 accompanied by a paying adult. An all-ages onstage workshop with company dancers follows the performance. Call (202) 547-1122 for more information and tickets.

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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Ballet Hispánico’s All-Female Choreographers Program Struck All The Right Chords


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Ballet Hispánico in Tania Pérez-Salas’ “3. Catorce Dieciséis”. Photo by Paula Lobo.

Ballet Hispánico

Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre

Cleveland, OH

November 10-11, 2018

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Co-presented by DANCECleveland and Cuyahoga Community College, Ballet Hispánico’s triple-bill of works by Hispanic female choreographers struck all the right chords Saturday, November 10 at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre.

The New York-based company, last in Cleveland in 2009, showed its versatility and popular appeal beginning with Colombian-Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Sombrerísimo” (2013) performed for the first time by an all-female cast.

Set to a soundscape that included howling winds, creaking doors and dogs barking along with music by Italian folk group Banda Ionica, Ballet Hispánico’s sextet of women made the work, usually performed by an all-male cast, their own. In doing so however, they also made it a noticeably different work.

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René Magritte’s “Son of Man”.

Performed by Ballet Hispánico in nearby Akron at the 2014 Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival with an all-male cast, the women Saturday night essentially danced the same choreography as the men but gone was the machismo and swagger that defined that original version. That was replaced by an alternate beauty and fierceness that the women brought to the piece.

Sporting bowler hats they flipped and tossed about throughout the work, the women were energized and technically clean in performing Ochoa’s somewhat acrobatic choreography.  Evoking surrealist imagery from Belgian artist René Magritte’s bowler hat paintings, Ochoa also infused a bit of humor into the work. In one scene, all of the women’s hats were piled high onto the head of one of the dancers who comically collapsed under their weight while another struggled mightily to drag her prostrate body off stage.

While “Sombrerísimo” felt like a different work than the original, the all-female version proved a gratifying opener to a program that celebrated women as dancers and choreographers.

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Ballet Hispánico in Michelle Manzanales’ “Con Brazos Abiertos”. Photo by Paula Lobo.

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Ballet Hispánico in Michelle Manzanales’ “Con Brazos Abiertos”. Photo by Paula Lobo.

Next, Michelle Manzanales’ “Con Brazos Abiertos” (2017) also used humor but this time to disguise pain.  The Mexican-American choreographer created an entertaining and poignant work about multi-cultural acceptance that was inspired in-part by New York poet Maria Billini-Padilla’s heartfelt poem Con Brazos Abiertos.

Danced to an eclectic mix of music from Julio Iglesias and a rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep” to recorded film dialogue, the work for over a dozen dancers followed a central female figure danced by Melissa Fernandez who, while a part of both Mexican and American cultures, felt like, or was made to feel like an outsider.

Delivered in alternating dance sections that showcased Mexican folkloric themes and contemporary dancing, all was not as it seemed in many of them. For instance, in a festive section with all the dancers donning sombreros, Manzanales had the dancers angle their heads as to appear if the hats were atop headless bodies.  This perhaps speaking to a feeling of being anonymous or perhaps playing into the stereotypical insult of members of an ethnic group all looking the same. It was a powerful statement. So too was an audio clip from 1980’s Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie of Cheech Marin singing “Mexican Americans love education so they go to night school and take Spanish and get a B”.  A self-deprecating bit of humor many in the audience laughed at, but the reference was also twinged with sadness as was Edward James Olmos recorded dialogue from the 1997 movie Selena saying, “We have to be more Mexican than Mexicans and more American than Americans.”

With “Con Brazos Abiertos,” Manzanales walked that fine line between audience-pleasing entertainment and social commentary brilliantly, delivering on both counts.

The program closed with Mexican choreographer Tania Pérez-Salas’ gem “3. Catorce Dieciséis” (2017).  A reference to “Pi” (the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter), the work, in the program notes, is said to reflect on the “circularity of movement through life.”

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Ballet Hispánico in Tania Pérez-Salas’ “3. Catorce Dieciséis”. Photo by Paula Lobo.

Set to music by Vivaldi and other Baroque composers, “3. Catorce Dieciséis” opened on five men and two women in white dancing stylized contemporary dance movement to harpsichord music. With dark atmospheric lighting and an approach akin to a dance piece one might see by Dutch giants Nederlands Dans Theater, the work had a sophistication and quality to it quite unlike the others on the program.

The visually stunning work also contained more than a few surprises in it like a section where two women in long black dresses (one in front of the other) began a unison dance in which a hidden dancer behind each of them reached around women to instantly tear off their black dresses revealing a red one underneath. The gasp-worthy effect was one highlight in a work chock full of memorable moments including an angelic scene of a trio of women that appeared heaven sent.

Throughout, Pérez-Salas’ technically rich choreography big on line, had the dancers moving through a variety of turns, jumps and floor work that brought beauty and mystery to the piece that bordered on genius.

Next on DANCECleveland’s 63rd season is Beijing Dance Theater, Saturday, February 2 and Sunday, February 3 at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre. For information and tickets visit dancecleveland.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.

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From Pre-Columbian Statues to a Purple Velvet Sofa and Great Dancing, ‘Best of’ Program had the Goods


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Grand Rapids Ballet dancers in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Memorias Del Dorado.” Photo by Chris Clark.

Grand Rapids Ballet – Best of MOVEMEDIA
Peter Martin Wege Theatre
Grand Rapids, MI
March 19, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

To celebrate the fifth season of Grand Rapids Ballet’s successful MOVEMEDIA dance series – a showcase of new works from contemporary choreographers from around the world – artistic director Patricia Barker put together a best of program that included some of the series’ most popular works.

Opening the jam-packed program was an excerpt from sought-after choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Memorias Del Dorado” (2014).

A crack of thunder and the sound of a woman’s whispered voice ushered in a scene where nine female dancers stood posed like pre-Columbian statues. A lone male dancer moved about them marveling at their beauty as they came to life in front of him and engaged in unison choreography. Built into that choreography was a leaning move a la Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” music video where the dancers tilted to the side at an extreme angle while their feet remained stationary.

Injected with movements and poses reminiscent of ancient drawings and sculpture, “Memorias Del Dorado” had a wonderful primitive feel carried into the 21st century by Lopez Ochoa. Solid performances were given by the entire cast including dancer Ednis Gomez and mighty-mite Julia Turner, who in a section with eight males dancers, was tossed about like a piece of found treasure for all to see.

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Grand Rapids Ballet dancer Laura McQueen Schultz in Robyn Mineko Williams’ “One Take.” Photo by Chris Clark.

Next, the company reprised former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer Robin Mineko Williams’ touching “One Take” (2014). The cinematic contemporary dance work like that of an old family movie played back scenes recalling one man’s cherished memories of love and times gone by. Playing on the notion of our lives as being a one take movie, Williams created a world where dancer Nicholas Schutz and Steven Houser as his younger self, drifted between dreamlike vignettes of encounters with an effervescent 1920’s flapper portrayed by Cassidy Isaacson and with his apparent soulmate portrayed by Laura McQueen Schultz.

Full of charm, wit and poignancy, “One Take” is a gem in GRB’s ever-growing repertory that is worth seeing time and again especially its spellbinding closing duet danced brilliantly the two Schultz’s to Claude Debussy’s moving “Clair de Lune.”

A marathon in itself with several false endings, Kirk Peterson’s finale for his 2013 ballet, “Amazed in Burning Dreams,” was a real barnburner. The group ballet for 14-dancers which closed the program’s first act was danced to music by Philip Glass and was awash in fast, precision footwork, sharp turns and a whole lot of energy.

An excerpt from Olivier Wevers’ “The Sofa” (2012) then opened the program’s second act. Danced by Mr. Schultz and Yuka Oba, the wonderfully-crafted duet featured a purple velvet sofa as its focal point.  As if a symbol of the pair’s complicated relationship, the dancers struggled to sit together on it. The two perched, leaned and lay on it and pushed about in a tension-filled tango of sorts. The duet’s genius coming in the carefully cultivated realization that Oba’s character cared more about the sofa than Schultz’s character.

Another duet, Thom Dancy’s “You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me!” (2013) followed. Set to music by Beethoven, the humorous duet featured the short-in-stature Atilla Mosolygo and the much taller Darrell Haggard in a zany battle of wills.  In it, retired company star Mosolygo, who is now artistic director of GRB’s Junior Company, deliciously portrayed a mischievous soul trying everything to get noticed by Haggard. Mosolygo made faces at, climbed on, atop and hung from Haggard trying to get a rise and reaction from him. Nothing worked, even slap to his behind. Finally Mosolygo’s character fell before Haggard grabbing hold of his legs and audibly sobbing which elicited a sympathetic reaction from him. The clever duet was a joy to watch with both dancers displaying perfect comedic timing and restraint.

The lone new work on the program, “Joe & Ida,” came from choreographer Penny Saunders who previously created “base ∞” for MOVEMEDIA 2015. As with many of Saunders’ works “Joe & Ida” was danced to an eclectic soundtrack including music from composers Thomas Ades and Michael Nyman as well as former The Moldy Peaches singer/songwriter Kimya Dawson.

Six dancers (3 men, 3 women) essentially portrayed one romantic pairing in a series of engaging trios and duets that expressed a range of emotion. Saunders’ inventive contemporary movement sat well on the dancers including new arrival Matthew Wenckowski who impressed along with dancers Isaac Aoki and Caroline Wiley.

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Grand Rapids Ballet’s Steven Houser, Cassidy Isaacson and Mark Dave Naquin in Brian Enos’ “Nae Regrets.” Photo by Chris Clark.

Best of MOVEMEDIA concluded with Brian Enos’ “Nae Regrets” (2013). A Scottish-flavored travelogue set to updated traditional Scottish songs arranged by Martyn Bennett, the work was a series of vignettes that, like Williams’ “One Take,” reflected on one man’s (a kilt-wearing Thomas Seiff) exploits. Playful and spirited, the work had many delightful moments including Isaacson, like a leprechaun in hip-hugger pants, teasing a group of drunken men, and the statuesque Morgan Frasier acting as a siren luring men into misbehaving.

Not only a creative incubator for choreographers and a well-spring of new challenges for GRB’s dancers, MOVEMEDIA and the repertory generated from it, has helped build a reputation at home and nationally that Grand Rapids Ballet is now a place where exciting new works are taking place. For a regional company with bigger aspirations there can be no better calling card.

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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