Tag Archives: Ohad Naharin

Cuba’s Malpaso Dance Company Returns to Cleveland with Program of Quiet Brilliance


Malpaso Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa”. Photo by Nir Arieli.

Malpaso Dance Company
Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre
Cleveland, Ohio
August 10, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

With previous performances in Cleveland in 2016 and 2017, Malpaso Dance Company’s return this past Saturday to Playhouse Square and the Allen Theatre felt like seeing a dear friend again.

Presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with American Dance Festival to close out the third annual American Dance Festival in Cleveland, the Cuban contemporary dance company this time offered up a triple bill of quiet yet emotionally riveting dance works.  

Their evening program began with choreographer Sonya Tayeh’s 2017 commissioned work, “Face The Torrent”.  Choreographed in part during a creative residency provided by DANCECleveland, the work , said Tayeh in a Facebook live interview, was inspired by her recent concerns over “the state of the world” and an urge to “unify, rally and gather.”

Best known for her choreography for Broadway’s Moulin Rouge! The Musical and her Emmy Award-nominated work on TV’s So You Think You Can Dance, Tayeh brought some of that same rich emotional content that made her a darling of SYTYCD fans to “Face The Torrent”.


Malpaso Dance Company in Sonya Tayeh’s “Face the Torrent”. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.

Danced to music by cellist/composer Colette Alexander with folk duo The Bengsons, the 20-minute piece for 8 dancers began with the cast in a horizontal line across the back of the stage moving in a slow cautious walk forward evoking a feeling of impending doom in their demeanor, one that Tayeh says she incorporated into the work after having intense dreams of a huge body of water coming at her.  

Led by dancer Abel Rojo who appeared particularly struck by whatever dark forces were descending on the dancers, Rojo often broke from the dancers’ unison walks in lines across the stage to sink into pained cowering with his arms shielding his face and head.

The dancers’ straight line walking then gave way to embracing and intertwining movement with the cast pairing off in male/female couples as Alexander’s haunting cello music became invaded by distorted whispers of a female voice saying “I wonder how to cope with this?” Tayeh’s velvety partnered movement in this section was the picture of beauty and melancholy and Malpaso’s dancers radiated both. Stark, dramatic and carefully-crafted, “Face The Torrent” left a lasting impression.

Next was company dancer Beatriz Garcia’s debut work for Malpaso, “Being (Ser)” (2018). The 12-minute trio set music by Italian composer Ezio Bosso was danced by Garcia, Dunia Acosta and Armando Gomez.

05_Malpaso_Being (Ser)_Photo by Nir Arieli

(L-R) Malpaso Dance Company’s Armando Gomez, Dunia Acosta and Beatriz Garcia in Beatriz Garcia’s “Being (Ser)”. Photo by Nir Arieli.

Costumed in all white and dancing in socks, the trio of performers spent the first part of the work repeatedly traversing the stage in idiosyncratic solo movement phrases that entered from one side of the stage and exited the other.  Those solo riffs then turned into duets and a trio as the work progressed. Garcia’s contemporary dance choreography favored movement that bent and twisted the dancers’ shoulders and torsos, and like “Face The Torrent”, had the trio bunching and intertwining their bodies in close-quartered movement phrases. The work was a fine effort for the promising choreographer that fit right in with the style and quality of the works in the company’s diverse repertory. One hopes to see more from Garcia as choreographer for the company in addition to her adroit dancing.

The program then closed with another thoughtful and atmospheric work, Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa”, set to music of the same name by composer Arvo Pärt.

Created on nearby Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 1986 (and who inexplicably haven’t performed it in over 20 years), the over 30-year-old, 30-minute modern dance piece whose title means “clean slate”, felt like a newly-minted work on Malpaso’s 10 dancers who appeared to own the former Batsheva Dance Company director’s “gaga” movement language as if it were a part of their upbringing.


Malpaso Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa”. Photo by Nir Arieli.

Naharin’s simply structured unison movement phrases for the work full of leans and sways was an adept counterpoint to Pärt’s passionate string music that tore at one’s soul with a desperate longing.  And while Naharin’s clever choreography did not parallel the music’s aching, the choreographer did incorporate into it a few heartbreaking moments. One such scene had the dancers pairing off with one dancer charging into the other’s arms in desperate embraces. Ms. Acosta made such a charge only to have her male partner turn his back on her at the last moment causing her to crash to the floor stunned and dejected.

“Tabula Rasa” is prime example of Naharin’s early genius as a choreographer. A precursor to his often performed masterwork “Minus 16” (1999), it is itself masterful and was a fitting closer to Malpaso’s program that wowed the Allen Theatre audience with its emotion and exquisite music and thoughtful dancing. A standing ovation was given from the appreciative audience signaling a hope that Malpaso will continue to make Cleveland a regular stop on future U.S. tours.

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance Reviews 2019, DANCECleveland

New Direction Charlotte Ballet Delights in Chautauqua Season Opener



Charlotte Ballet dancers Alessandra Ball James, left, and Drew Grant perform in Filipe Portugal’s “Stepping Over”. Photo by HALDEN KIRSCH/THE CHAUTAUQUAN DAILY.

Charlotte Ballet – International Series
Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater
Chautauqua, NY
June 27, 2018

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

For the first program in Charlotte Ballet’s annual summer residency at the Chautauqua Institution under new artistic director Hope Muir, the Canadian-born, European trained, former dancer with Rambert Dance Company and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, gave audiences a taste of the new direction she is taking the company in.  One focusing more on contemporary works from a global perspective. Unlike past summer residencies dominated by hastily created — albeit often marvelous — new works by Chautauqua mainstays, Charlotte Ballet  resident choreographer Sasha Janes and Charlotte Ballet II director Mark Diamond, the company will now be bringing much more of the world-class repertory presented during their home season in Charlotte.

For their Wednesday, June 27 International Series program, the Amphitheater audience got a taste of that new approach with three stylistically diverse works including a reprise from last summer of the Ohad Naharin masterwork “Minus 16”.

The stylistically diverse program began with the dancer duo of Elizabeth Truell and Drew Grant in former Ballet Frankfurt dancer Helen Pickett’s “Tsukiyo” (Moonlit Night). Premiered in 2009 and set to Arvo Pärt’s often used sonata for piano and violin “Spiegel im Spiegel,” the duet was Pickett’s third commission for Boston Ballet and a piece indicative of Muir’s embracing of the works of in-demand contemporary choreographers.

As if spying the awakening of some ethereal, bird-like and extremely fragile creature to the world around them, Pickett packed into her twisty, sharp-edged movement for the duet, a range of expression and emotion Truell reveled in. A breakout performance for her, she was masterful in her ability to convey, love, fear, desire, trepidation with a vulnerability that captured hearts including that of dance partner Grant whose character wonderfully fed off Truell’s character’s emotional outpourings.  Viewed as a fleeting encounter of discovery in Truell’s character’s almost blink-of-an-eye-existence, Pickett’s duet was a heartbreaking and poignant reminder of our own emotion-filled, all-too-brief existences.


Charlotte Ballet’s Juwan Alston, rear, and Sarah Lapointe perform in Filipe Portugal’s “Stepping Over”. Photo by HALDEN KIRSCH/THE CHAUTAUQUAN DAILY.

Next, Ballett Zürich principal dancer turned choreographer, Filipe Portugal’s debut North American ballet “Stepping Over” (2018) took the stage.  Set to a minimalist score by Philip Glass, Portugal’s ballet featured the full complement of Charlotte Ballet’s dancers in a ballet with a decidedly 1990s European contemporary ballet feel to its delivery a la the works by William Forsythe and Jiří Kylián.

In it, emotionally detached-looking dancers casually strode onto the stage in lines or in male/female pairs and then lit into carefully-crafted, technique-heavy contemporary ballet movement phrases. The couples’ women rocketed legs skyward in off-kilter twisting and turning movement steered by their male partners. While Portugal is a promising choreographic talent, it is clear he has yet to find his own voice. Apart from a few creative dancer formations and tableaus, “Stepping Over,” was less about him stepping over into new choreographic realms than him stepping over the same ground covered by choreographers he most likely had experience with as a dancer. Despite Portugal’s ballet not having much new to offer, it was an eye-catching display of bodies in space made even more captivating by Charlotte Ballet’s technically proficient and uber fit bodies, most notably dancers Alessandra Ball James and Peter Mazurowski.

It may be sacrilege to say, but Naharin’s nearly two-decade old “Minus 16” is beginning to shows signs of being dated. The legendary Batsheva Dance Company artistic director/choreographer’s most famous dance work, and the only one his works regularly performed by seemingly every ballet company in the world, is still widely entertaining with its mix of theatricality, humor and audience engagement but Naharin’s dance choreography in parts smacks of the era it was created in.

Audiences, as did those in attendance June 27, still get a kick out of a lone dancer unassumingly wandering out onto the stage to perform a preamble solo while the house lights are up and fellow audience members are talking and milling about. One by one audience members discover the dancer and are drawn into the quirky, fitful intermission-length solo this time performed by dancer James Kopecky who elicited plenty of audience reactions especially during some risqué moments in his solo.


Charlotte Ballet dancers in Ohad Naharin’s “Minus 16”.

While there are several memorable moments in “Minus 16,” the most impactful and stirring has to be the beginning group section when 16 dancers of both genders (sometimes more, sometimes less) costumed in black men’s 3-piece suits and wide-brimmed black hats, begin filtering onto the stage and placing chairs in half-circle around the perimeter of the stage to surf music king Dick Dale’s 1963 guitar classic “Misirlou” made famous in the 1994 Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction. Once seated and bent over with elbows on their knees, Israeli rock band Tractor’s Revenge’s updated version of the traditional Israeli song “Echad Mi Yodea” sent the assembled  group of dancers into perhaps the most famous “crowd wave” in dance history as they rapidly  rose one after the other from their seats thrusting their bodies backwards as if being shot and in the process tossing off their hats. The dancer wave ended with the last of them instead falling forward flat to the floor.  This spirited sequence repeats several times with the dancers in-between waves, chant-shouting lyrics to the song, then frantically stripping off a layer of clothing and hurling it into a pile center stage — all that is except the last dancer Juwan Alston who remains fully dressed. This goes on until all are in their tighty whities. Being an outdoor venue, the impact of scene and the volume of the dancers’ chanting could have been further heightened by miking the stage. Nonetheless, Charlotte Ballet’s dancers acquitted themselves nicely in piece especially in the popular closing audience participation section.

Once again the house lights came up and the cast left the stage to carefully select unsuspecting audience members and pull them up onstage to dance with, and be danced at, by them. The mix of dance professionals and novices and the minimal direction given to the latter by the former made for some humorous klutzy moments and a whole lot of fun.

On the whole Charlotte Ballet’s International Series proved a fabulous introduction for  Chautauqua patrons to the new look company and a solid program in line with the quality productions curated over the years by former Charlotte Ballet artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux that also featured ballets from the company’s Charlotte repertory.

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance Reviews 2018

Documentary ‘Bobbi Jene’ Chronicles a Life in Transition

Bobbi Jene 2017 Still 01_cropped

Bobbi Jene performs her solo piece at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In the opening scene of Elvira Lind’s documentary Bobbi Jene (2017), American dancer Bobbi Jene Smith is nude on all fours looking like a Michelangelo sculpture come to life. As she twists and contorts her muscular frame, her long raven hair sweeps back and forth across her body. This powerful and jolting imagery from Smith’s solo work “A Study on Effort,” not only reveals her natural beauty as a woman, it  hints at the powerful artistry that made her a star dancer for world-renowned Israeli dance company Batsheva. For the remainder of the 95-minute documentary, the 35-year-old director and girlfriend of Star Wars actor Oscar Isaac, sought to reveal the person beneath the skin during a life-altering transition in Smith’s young adult life.

The documentary takes a fly-on-the-wall approach to chronicling events in Smith’s life just as she has decided to leave contemporary dance company Batsheva after a decade (2005-2014) and move back to the United States to pursue a solo career as a dancer/choreographer.

Bobbi Jene 2017 Still 04

Bobbi Jene rehearsing with Batsheva Dance company in Tel Aviv.

Bobbi Jene 2017 Still 06

Bobbi Jene talking with mentor and artistic director of Batsheva Dance company, Ohad Naharin.

A Centerville, Iowa-native and alumnus of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and the North Carolina School of the Arts, Smith, barely out of her teens, left New York’s prestigious Juilliard School early to join Batsheva. Other than a few sentences spouted by an Israeli TV host during an interview with Smith, the film offers little biographical information on Smith, choosing instead to focus on the here and now of her life. That approach early on gives the documentary the feel of watching an episode of reality TV series MTV’s The Real World or Ballet West’s soap-operatic Breaking Pointe. Scenes of Smith with Batsheva company founder and artistic director Ohad Naharin where it is revealed the two were former lovers foster that perception. In one such scene at a restaurant where the two are discussing Smith’s leaving the company, an overtly flirtatious Naharin seemed to try to use their former romantic relationship as a way to convince her to stay. Also playing into that reality TV feel was 30-year-old Smith’s current romantic relationship with fellow Batsheva dancer, Israeli Or Schraiber who is ten years her junior.  Much of the documentary is devoted to the emotional rollercoaster the pair are on trying to navigate Smith’s leaving and the effect that will have on their relationship and careers.

Using quick cuts to piece together scenes of everyday life including Smith and Schraiber in intimate situations, the documentary is measured in revealing substantive details and motivations in Smith and Schraiber’s lives. It is after Smith returns to the United States and begins teaching at Stanford University and working on “A Study on Effort,” that we begin to see what earned the film Best Documentary Feature, Best Cinematography in a Documentary Feature and Best Editing in a Documentary Feature awards at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

With Smith’s realization that her life having been frontloaded with many dancers’ dream job was both a blessing and a curse we begin to get a real sense of Smith and her feeling of being unprepared for life after Batsheva.

“I never thought of the future ever,” says Smith.

Bobbi Jene 2017 still 02_cropped

Bobbi Jene develops her new performance in the streets of New York.

While Smith’s personal life in the film may at times appear rudderless and prone to emotional turmoil, the film does a wonderful job in driving home how she harnesses that turmoil in her choreography and dancing. In one such scene, Smith in a dinner party conversation with actress Laura Dern reveals how  what she calls the “mindfuck” of her learning and practicing Naharin’s Gaga movement technique helped conquer her eating disorder. But perhaps the most captivating scenes relating to this and in the film are of Smith working on “A Study on Effort.”  We see her unyielding commitment in developing her choreography for the contemporary dance work by relentlessly pushing with all her might against a handball court wall, jumping and reaching skyward at an increasing pace until she becomes exhausted, and in the film’s most provocative scene, rubbing her genitalia on a 50 pound bag of sand until she orgasms.

“Sometimes you need to find pleasure with what weighs you down,” says Smith.

Smith goes on to perform the solo at Stanford and at The Israel Museum to rave reviews including that of Naharin who she says tells her, if he had seen the solo when he was younger it would have changed his life. We get the sense in the film that it is Smith’s life that is perhaps most effected by the solo; artistically taking one step closer to coming out from under Naharin’s long shadow.

“I want to get to that place where I have no strength to hide anything,” says Smith.

00 Bobbi Jene BIG main still_cropped

Bobbi Jene and Or in Israeli desert. Two lovers getting ready to part ways.

Bobbi Jene 2017 Still 05

Bobbi Jene and Or reunites in New York after months apart.

The film concludes unremarkably with a hopeful scene of Smith teaching a Gaga class to a room full of multi-generational dance students. As for a resolution to Schraiber and Smith’s romantic relationship that dominates the film? The film only hints at it with Schraiber saying of their long distance relationship that he is not in the same place as Smith and Smith saying they dream too much and are “not good with the reality stuff.”

In the end, what works for Bobbi Jene as a film, not so much as a dance documentary  (there is very little dance in it), is the empathy created for the bright-eyed Smith who you cannot help but feel for and root for as she walks a tightrope between cultures, generational norms and what was and what will be. Unfiltered, undressed and unabashed, Smith is truly magnetic in the film that despite its soap-operatic beginning, if you stick with, has the power to stick with you.


Directed by Elvira Lind
Featuring – Bobbi Jene Smith, Or Schraiber, Ohad Naharin
Produced by Sonntag Pictures – Julie Leerskov & Sara Stockmann
Film Editor – Adam Nielsen
Cinematographer – Elvira Lind
Music composed & Performed by Uno Helmersson
Sound designer – Martin Sandström & Jacques Pedersen
Co-producer – Mathilde Dedye
Run Time: 95 minutes; Not Rated
Country:  Denmark | Sweden | Israel | USA
Language:  English
Release Date:  6 October 2017 (Sweden)


10/13/2017 – Irvine, CA, Edwards Westpark 8
10/13/2017 – San Diego, CA, Media Arts Center
10/13/2017 – Santa Fe, NM, Violet Crown Cinema
10/14/2017 – Houston, TX, 14 Pews
11/17/2017 – Seattle, WA, Grand Illusion Cinema
12/9/2017 – San Francisco, CA, The Roxie


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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movie Reviews