Tag Archives: Ella Fitzgerald

Ailey Magic Returns to Playhouse Square [REVIEW]


AAADT in Jessica Langs EN. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jessica Lang’s “EN”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Playhouse Square’s KeyBank State Theatre
Cleveland, Ohio
April 27, 2019
 

By Steve Sucato

The return of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to Northeast, Ohio is always a hotly anticipated event. The company’s 60th anniversary tour performances this past weekend (April 26-28) at Playhouse Square’s KeyBank State Theatre in Cleveland rewarded that anticipation with memorable works and dancing.

Presented by Playhouse Square in partnership with DANCECleveland to close out its 2018-19 dance season, Ailey’s program on Saturday, April 27 featured the Cleveland premieres of works by choreographer Jessica Lang, company artistic director Robert Battle, Ailey dancer Jamar Roberts and Alvin Ailey’s iconic “Revelations”.

The program opened with Lang’s dreamy ballet “EN” (2018) to an original score by NYC-based Polish composer Jakub Ciupinski. The ballet’s title is taken from a Japanese word with multiple meanings including circle, destiny, fate or karma. Lang says of the 21-minute piece, it “reflects on the universal experience of coming full circle and, as time passes, we recognize the people we meet along life’s journey who play a part in the fate and destiny of our lives.”

Those sentiments were driven home in Lang’s varied paced choreography that played into those notions of time passing and the circularity of life, offering up moments of motion with the feel of drifting sand and those tinged with idealism. Adding to that, the minimalist stage setting by Lang and lighting designer Nicole Pearce of a color-changing circular disc at the rear of the stage representing the sun and an overhead illuminated globe representing the moon (that was raised and lowered) both symbolized the passage of time from day to night and back.

AAADT in Jessica Langs EN. Photo by Paul Kolnik2

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jessica Lang’s “EN”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

AAADT in Jessica Langs EN. Photo by Paul Kolnik3

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jessica Lang’s “EN”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

An ensemble of 13 dancers led by Roberts costumed all in white moved through athletic choreography that melded together ballet, modern and jazz movements. The dancers came together in various groupings, formed circles and rendered a sequence of thematic poses and tableaus across the stage. At one point a group of dancers lifted and repeatedly tossed a female dancer in the air like a cheerleader.

Well-known to Northeast, Ohio-area audiences for her works performed by her now defunct company Jessica Lang Dance on DANCECleveland’s 2014 and 2017 seasons, “EN,” her debut ballet for the company, further stretched Ailey’s repertory range along with audience expectations of the types of works the company presents.

Next, Roberts’ “Members Don’t Get Weary” (2017) proved an impressive debut work for the company by the fledgling choreographer.  Danced to jazz music by John Coltrane, the 24-minute contemporary/modern work for 10 dancers was inspired by his watching disturbing world events on CNN that conjured the feelings of “having the blues”.  Titled after a 1968 Max Roach album and a Negro spiritual of the same name, the work says Roberts uses “the dancing body to inspire the audience, allowing them to transcend their own personal blues momentarily.”

AAADT in Jamar Roberts' Members Don't Get Weary Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jamar Roberts’ “Members Don’t Get Weary”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

AAADT in Jamar Roberts Members Dont Get Weary. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jamar Roberts’ “Members Don’t Get Weary”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Roberts’ idiosyncratic movement language was bold, fresh and inspiring to watch. The work began with the dancers in large-brimmed, disc-shaped straw hats that seemed to suggest the toiling of field hands. The dancers’ faces often obscured by the hats, moved through illustrative choreography and some imagery a la “Revelations” that spoke of a harsh existence.  As the work progressed the dancers removed the hats and the mood of the piece, along with Coltrane’s expansive music, began to spark optimism.  Danced beautifully from beginning to end, the piece was highlighted by a lively male quartet in which dancer Jacqueline Green chimed in with a marvelous solo full of abandon and grace.

AAADTs Jacqueline Green in Jamar Roberts Members Dont Get Weary Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Jacqueline Green in Jamar Roberts’ “Members Don’t Get Weary”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

AAADTs Ghrai DeVore _ Jeroboam Bozeman in Jamar Roberts Members Dont Get Weary Photo by Paul KolnikCrop

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Ghrai DeVore (front) and Jeroboam Bozeman in Jamar Roberts’ “Members Don’t Get Weary”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Also of note was a lover’s duet by dancers Jeroboam Bozeman and Ghrai DeVore in which the pair exchanged desperate embraces, one in which DeVore pulled down the top of Bozeman’s blue jumpsuit to reveal his bare chest. The duet ended with a downtrodden DeVore slumped on the stage floor with her back to the audience as the rest of the cast returned to the stage. DeVore’s brilliance in the role left a lasting impression.

Battle’s 2016 work “Ella” was then performed in its original form as a solo instead of the now more commonly seen male/female duet. The comedic piece was danced by Chalvar Monteiro to a live recording of Fitzgerald’s song “Airmail Special.” In it, Fitzgerald’s nonsensical jazz scatting that included lines from the songs the “Ballad of Davy Crockett” and “That’s Amore,” was matched in quirky, fun-loving playfulness by Monteiro who mugged and hammed it up for the appreciative audience.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Aileys Revelations. Photo by Paul Kolnik 13

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations”. Photo by James R. Brantley.

“Ella” proved a delectable appetizer for the closing meal that was Ailey’s “Revelations.” THE signature work of the company performed on almost all of their programs, “Revelations” is one of dance’s most beloved masterpieces. Volumes have been written on it leaving critics like myself with nothing more to say than perhaps comparing casts who have performed it since its debut in 1960.  Suffice it to say of the dozen times I have seen the work over the past few decades, this current cast acquitted themselves very nicely to the delight of all present.

Alvin Ailey Spring Gala 2018

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations”. Photo by Donna Ward.

Check out DANCECleveland’s 2019-2020 season offerings at dancecleveland.org  And if you unfortunately missed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s performances this weekend or would like to see them again, the company will be performing in nearby Pittsburgh on Tuesday, May 5, 2020 at the Benedum Center.

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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Caleb Teicher & Company program perfect summer fare to close out ‘ADF in CLE’ dance festival


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(L-R) Brittany DeStefano, Caleb Teicher and Gabriel Winns Ortiz in “Variations”. Photo by Em Watson.

Caleb Teicher & Company
Cain Park’s Evans Amphitheater
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
August 4, 2018

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Playful, may be the best way to describe New York-based Caleb Teicher & Company’s program, August 4 at Cain Park’s Evans Amphitheater in Cleveland Heights. The trio of dance works choreographed by two and a half year old dance company’s namesake artistic director Caleb Teicher, mixed tap, jazz and swing dance styles and were all about having fun, showing out and entertaining the hell out of the assembled audience in the process.

Teicher, 24, hails from Mahopac, New York and made a name for himself right out of high school. Only 17 he garnered a 2011 Bessie Award for Outstanding Individual Performance while dancing with Dorrance Dance (who appeared as part of DANCECleveland’s 2015-16 season). He was also chosen for Dance Magazine’s prestigious “25 to Watch” list in 2012 and was the winner of Dance Magazine’s “Best Emerging Choreographer” Reader’s Choice Award in 2016.

For Teicher & Company’s program, which closed out the second annual ADF in CLE summer dance festival presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with the American Dance Festival, the comedic work “Small & Tall” led things off.

The vaudevillian duet, performed by Lindsey Jones (the tall one) and Macy Sullivan (the small one), pitted the two vertically opposed dancers in stereotypical, but humorous, dance banter centered on the disparity in their heights.

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(L-R) Lindsey Jones and Macy Sullivan in “Small & Tall”. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Set to songs from the 1920s and 30s including Fats Waller’s “We The People” recorded by former Squirrel Nut Zippers vocalist Tamar Korn and pianist Peter Mintun, Teicher brought a freshness to the age-old bit with some novel choreographic moments that were executed wonderfully by Jones and Sullivan.

The work began with the pair barrel-rolling inward from opposite sides of the stage which initially disguised the dancers’ heights and set up the inevitable laugh-getting reveal when Jones stood up to tower over Sullivan. The two then began a series of visual gags with the shorter Sullivan peeking out from under and around Jones, attempting to lift and move Jones about, and the pair competitively messing with one another such as tossing the other’s costume pieces into the Amphitheater’s empty orchestra pit.  “Small & Tall’s” finest dancing came when the pair began to one-up each other in physical choreography that included several acrobatic lifts and jumps as well as some tap dancing sans the tap shoes.  The work set the tone for the carefree and competitive dancing that would permeate the rest of the enjoyable program.

Next came Teicher’s group work “Variations,” danced to Bach’s “Goldberg Variations BWV 988” and “Fugue in E, BWV 878”.  It was the audience’s first look at the talented Teicher as dancer. In a tap solo to begin the work, he started slowly and then in time with the music, gradually built up the solo’s pace and technical difficulty. Soon he was joined by dancers Brittany DeStefano and Gabriel Winns Ortiz and as in “Small & Tall,” the three of them engaged in playful dance banter teasing one another, trying to outdo the other, and revealing that their goofing was actually some quality dancing by some really talented dancers.

Fast footwork, dazzling tricks and solid comedic timing enriched each series of dance phrases and vignette in the work. In one such moment, the dancers along a horizontal line appeared to chase one another as a unit back and forth in rapid-fire tapping and sliding steps. In other phrases, the trio appeared to move side-to-side like slalom skiers and chugged along making the sound of a passing train.

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(L-R) Brittany DeStefano, Caleb Teicher and Gabriel Winns Ortiz in “Variations”. Photo by Em Watson.

Joining the work halfway in was dancer Byron Tittle who performed a measured tap solo with his back to the audience for most of it.  Then, in perhaps the work’s best comedic moment, one by one DeStefano, Ortiz and Tittle with balletic grace swooned to the floor as if passing out while Teicher continued to dance. Unable to rouse them, Teicher, as if in an episode of sitcom “I Love Lucy,” decided to join them.  Moments later, to the giggles of audience members, he popped his head up to see if the others were awake and returned to fake slumber. Finally giving up on his ruse, Teicher began another adroit solo which by its end saw the others suddenly awaken to applaud him.

The program then concluded with the dynamic “Meet Ella”.  Performed to classic tunes by Ella Fitzgerald from a 1958 live concert in Rome and a 1960 concert in Berlin, the piece was a tour de force of jazz, silent tap and swing dancing delivered by Teicher and co-choreographer Nathan Bugh.  With the grace and moxie of Gene Kelly and the zinger attitude of a Bing Crosby, Bob Hope “Road” movie, Teicher and Bugh were at times best buddies and friendly adversaries in the finely-crafted duet born out of improvisation.

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Nathan Bugh and Caleb Teicher in “Meet Ella”. Photo by Em Watson.

Dancing to Fitzgerald singing “That Old Black Magic,” the pair hit the ground running in the work with a zippy swing duet that saw Teicher get flipped around. Then, taking their cue from Fitzgerald singing “Love is Here to Stay,” the pair held hands and refused to let go.

The duet was a lark wrapped up in clever choreography that validated the recent acclaim that Teicher & Company have been receiving.

Most memorable was a section to the song “Midnight Sun” in which the pair spun dreamily in circles as if the two were on an invisible turntable.

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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For Pittsburgh Debut, LA’s BODYTRAFFIC Presents a Program of Distinct Choreographic Voices


BODYTRAFFIC by Rory Doyle-8

BODYTRAFFIC dancer. Photo by Rory Doyle

By Steve Sucato

Now a decade in, Los Angeles-based BODYTRAFFIC continues to make in-roads to becoming one of nation’s premiere contemporary dance companies.  While still not a household name even among dance aficionados, the company’s growing success has company co-founder/artistic director Tina Finkelman Berkett feeling a bit more added pressure because of that success.

“You wish for success, then success comes and everyone has this idea that it comes easy,” says Finkelman Berkett. “But it just keeps getting harder and harder because you have to keep living up to new demands and expectations.”

A full-time company dancer, BODYTRAFFIC’s head of development as well as its co-artistic director, Finkelman Berkett wears a lot of hats which she says these days can be a bit daunting but stimulating. “I think part of why I love our company so much because it continues to be challenging for me and I get to rise to those occasions. The ups and downs “are like this sick beautiful cycle.”

As part of the company’s current busy tour schedule, BODYTRAFFIC will make is Pittsburgh debut to close out the Pittsburgh Dance Council‘s 2017-18 season this Saturday, April 14 at Downtown’s Byham Theater. The company will present four repertory works beginning with Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter’s “Dust”(2015).

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BODYTRAFFIC in Hofesh Shechter’s “Dust”. Photo by Sharen Bradford.

Described as “a dark look at the power and commercialism that steer today’s society,” the 22-minute multimedia work set to a subliminal-message-infused score by Shechter says Finkelman Berkett “Is built on a number of concepts that have to do with cult-like behavior. You see us doing sometimes ritualistic movements and standing in formations that convey that we are being driven by a force that is greater than our own minds.”

In choosing choreographers to work with the company such as Shechter, Finkelman Berkett’s counterpart Lillian Rose Barbeito said in an article in Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, “We scour the world, looking for distinct voices.”

Some of those other distinct choreographic voices that have made works for the company include Andrea Miller, Barak Marshall, Gustavo Ramírez Sansano and Pittsburgh-native Kyle Abraham.

“Lillian and I really didn’t know each other when we started BODYTRAFFIC,” Finkelman Berkett. “We basically were two dancers that wanted to present a certain kind of work in LA [Los Angeles].  We joke now that it is unbelievable how lucky we are that all these years later we pretty much have always agreed on dancers and choreographers; we have such similar tastes.”

Where the two differ however is Finkelman Berkett, a former competition dancer in Long Island, grew-up “really liking the light, comedic stuff” where Barbeito likes to “push audiences more” says Finkelman Berkett. “There is a certain part of me that just loves to offer the audience something that they can really walk out smiling with.” Choreographer Richard Siegal’s “o2Joy” (2012) is one of those works.  The 17-minute lighthearted and playful work is an expression of exuberance set to an American jazz score featuring music by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson.  Describing it as bordering on being cheesy, Finkelman Berkett says one can’t deny how physically challenging and interesting “o2Joy” is.

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Richard Siegal’s “o2Joy”. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Also on the program will be Joshua L. Peugh’s 15-minute “A Trick of the Light” (2015) inspired by the rare “green flash” phenomenon that occurs just before the sun disappears from view at sunset, and Victor Quijada’s 2014 work “Once Again Before You Go.”  (Side Note: Point Park’s Conservatory Dance Company will premiere Peugh’s new “Black Balloons,” April 19-22 at the University’s George Rowland White Performance Studio)

To teach BODYTRAFFIC’s dancers his very specific “RUBBERBAND Method” of moving which combines urban, contemporary and classical principles, Quijada came a month prior to creating the work. The resulting 20-minute piece set to original music by film composer Jasper Gahunia says Finkelman Berkett, is about a woman (danced by her) that is being pursued by several individuals and ends up connecting with one in a duet that ends the piece.

BODYTRAFFIC performs 8 p.m., Saturday, April 14 at the Byham Theater, 101 6th St., $10-60, (412) 456-6666 or trustarts.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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