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Joint Bodiography and Graham 2 Program a Triumph


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Bodiography’s Bethany Schimonsky and Josef Hartman in Maria Caruso’s “Light By Love II”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Bodiography and Graham 2 – Horizons
Byham Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
April 26-27, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

For the first-ever collaboration of its kind for both Pittsburgh-based Bodiography Contemporary Ballet and New York’s Graham 2, the joint program Horizons, on April 26 at Pittsburgh’s Byham Theater, offered up a unique look at what each company does best; the ballets of their respective company founders, Maria Caruso and Martha Graham.

Graham 2 dancer Androniki Vasili from Athens, Greece led off the mixed repertory program in Ted Shawn’s 1916 solo “Serenata Morsica”. Originally performed by Martha Graham, the solo, dubbed a sensual “serenade,” was in Shawn’s orientalist style of early American modern dance and evoked the feel of a harem girl performing for the ruler of some unknown tribe or land. Set to a lively piano score by Mario Tarenghi, the choreography was playful and alluring. Vasili was a delightful as the smiling, somewhat innocent seductress who spun, jumped and gyrated her hips about the stage.

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Graham 2 dancer Androniki Vasili in Ted Shawn’s 1916 solo “Serenata Morsica”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

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Bodiography in Martha Graham’s “Steps in the Street”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Next, Bodiography’s dancers led by Caruso performed Graham’s “Steps in the Street,” an excerpt from her 1936 anti-fascism ballet Chronicle.

Staged by Graham 2 director Virginie Mecéné, the work began with Caruso and the rest of the all-female cast on a darkened stage stiffly stutter-step walking backwards in silence across the stage with one arm held to their chins and the other, tight to their waists. Costumed in black floor-length dresses, the look was of an eerie stylized funeral march.

When Wallingford Reigger’s military march-like music kicked in, the stage lights brightened to reveal Caruso in a clench-fisted and determined march across the stage followed by the rest of the cast who came back onstage and hopped repeatedly in place, legs flared to the side. The atmosphere evoked a frenetic military campaign played out in Graham’s signature movement style. Bodiography’s dancers were sharply focused in the powerful work’s jumps, marches and formations. They never looked better as a unit.

Caruso as the group’s general was rock solid in her technique and in relaying the turbulent emotions of Graham’s masterwork. The ballet was a milestone in Bodiography’s ongoing development as a company and an important piece in their repertory.

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Graham 2 dancer Aoi Soto in Martha Graham’s “Satyric Festival Song”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Continuing the succession of Graham works in first half of the 90-minute program, Graham 2 dancer Aoi Soto in a bumble bee–striped floor-length dress began 1932’s solo work “Satyric Festival Song” with her back to the audience, jumping wildly side-to-side with a child’s excitement. Danced to a spritely flute score by Imre Weisshaus, Soto flitted about the stage like the American Indian Pueblo clowns that from which the solo was inspired by. Her mischievous demeanor and humorous facial expressions brought life to the quirky solo filled with wiggles, wriggles and the whipping of her long black hair in circles and side to side.

Comprised of leftover material from a 2018 commission for a full-length ballet themed around the 1980s, “Billboards” (2019), was the first of several new Caruso ballets performed by Bodiography on the program. That leftover material looked as if it could have come from any number of her past slinky, music video-esque contemporary ballets. Danced to lively electronic music by Kansas City’s Quixotic, the ballet for three women and two men had some interesting movement phrases and formations but along with them came some uncomfortable choreographic moments that appeared forced into the work. While the cast, especially soloist Nicole Jamison, performed “Billboards” solidly, owing to the ballet’s title, the dancing it advertised was unremarkable.

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Bodiography in Maria Caruso’s “Billboards”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

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Bodiography’s Kaylin Treese, Melissa Tyler, and Amanda Fisher in Maria Caruso’s “Mother’s Prism”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

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Bodiography’s Bethany Schimonsky and Josef Hartman in Maria Caruso’s “Light By Love II”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

After the tender “Mother’s Prism” (2019), another new Caruso ballet themed around the facets of motherhood, came perhaps the best ballet Caruso has created in her career and one of the finest this dance season, “Light By Love II” (2019). Originally created in 2015, the reconstructed duet was deftly and passionately performed by Bodiography’s Bethany Schimonsky and Josef Hartman.

An idyllic embodiment of two lovers becoming one, the sensual duet began with the pair lying on the stage floor, the petite Schimonsky draped over the taller Hartman in a slumber embrace. Slowly and delicately Hartman caressed Schimonsky shoulders and back with the fingers and palm of one hand while his other arm cradled her embrace.

Performed to zen string music by Garth Stevenson, the carefully crafted and subtle movements of the dancers in relation to one another had you believing in a Romeo and Juliet level love and appetite for one another. Spine tingling touches, breath-catching clenches and some of Carsuo’s finest partnered choreography, created a magic that one wishes could be bottled for future enjoyment. Both dancers showed a star quality beyond previously displayed with Schimonsky’s performance on pointe proving utterly mesmerizing. This masterful duet needs to be shown again and again.

After an intermission, special guest and former Martha Graham Dance Company star, Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch performed the first of two Caruso works that brought her movement style to Graham’s dancers.

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Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch in Maria Caruso’s “Roots to Earth”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Set to music by Portland band East Forest, the 10-minute solo “Roots to Earth” (2019) reflected on Caruso and Ellmore-Tallitsch’s interest in nature. Slow to develop, the introspective solo never quite blossomed in its intent and watchable interest. For her part Ellmore-Tallitsch, still a lovely dancer, showed signs of performance rust and nervousness in Caruso’s sedate choreography.

Graham 2’s dancers then returned in an excerpt from Graham’s Canticle for Innocent Comedians entitled “Duet From A Dancer’s World” (1957). Set to music by Cameron McCosh, the”Moon” duet, performed by Vasili and dancer Harold Trent Butler, was again Graham at her Grahamiest in style. Both dancers were radiant in the choreography’s twists, bends and curves of the body. The partnering and posed positions were spot on and it would be easy to believe you could be watching future dancers of the main company perform.

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Graham 2 dancers Androniki Vasili and Harold Trent Butler in Martha Graham’s “Duet From A Dancer’s World”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

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Bodiography’s Derrick Izumi and Maria Caruso in Caruso’s “Vespers”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

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Graham 2 dancers Aoi Sato and Ty Graynor in Martha Graham’s “Conversation of Lovers”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

The marathon program of shorter works continued with two more Caruso works for Bodiography’s dancers; the uplifting group piece “Midnight Air” (2019) and the quiet “Vespers” (2019). Then Graham 2 dancers Ty Graynor and Soto took the stage to perform another of Graham’s works, 1981’s “Conversation of Lovers” from her ballet Acts of Light. Perhaps not indicative of the full ballet, the duet felt influenced by Graham’s Greek and other mythology-related ballets in style. It had the look of a god and goddess in a reserved lover’s dance played out in images found on ancient antiquities.  Both dancers acquitted themselves nicely in the duet.

After an older Caruso work from Bodiography’s repertory, 2015’s “Parabola,” Horizons concluded with the premiere of “Inside OUT (The Call of Passion)” that Caruso created on the four Graham 2 dancers on the program.

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Graham 2 dancers in Maria Caruso’s “Inside OUT (The Call of Passion)”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Danced to a yearning score by English composer Clint Mansell, the work was derived from the personal experiences of the dancers that Caruso used to craft a contemporary dance work that was heartfelt and wonderfully danced. The dancers, although out of their stylistic element when it comes to the type of works they usually perform, looked at home in the choreography that had them dipping and darting through brief interpersonal connections with one another.  The movement mixed frenetic bursts of emotion revealed in rapid twists and turns of the head and body with slow, tender touches and gazes into one another’s eyes. In one such exchange, the two women paired off with the two men in a dance phrase that had the men briefly frozen in place while the women continued on, seeming to combatively challenge one another in a fitful exchange that saw Vasili take a swing at a ducking Soto as the two traded places to be paired off with different male partners as the work continued.

A marvelous closer to a historic evening of dance, Bodiography and Graham 2’s collaborative Horizons program was a triumph.

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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CorningWorks’ ‘with a shadow of…’ a Muddling of Liminal Space


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Catherine Meredith in CorningWorks’ “with a shadow of…” Photo by Frank Walsh.

CorningWorks – with a shadow of…
New Hazlett Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
March 27-31, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In the lead up to her latest GLUE FACTORY PROJECT work with a shadow of…, dancer/choreographer Beth Corning said “I hope nobody makes any sense of this work; none.”

Mission accomplished.

Pittsburgh’s queen of metaphor outdid herself with the hourlong collection of mind minutia and movement that proved as baffling as it was visually breathtaking.

Thematically said to reflect “the moment before sleep and the moment before waking,” with a shadow of… did well in capturing the surrealness of such moments.  Where the dance-theater work fell short was in conveying purpose beyond that initial idea and in achieving the deep-reaching emotional connections with the viewer that have been a hallmark of Corning’s works. Having over the years taken in the breadth of Corning’s works created for her now 10-year-old organization CorningWorks, in some ways with a shadow of… may be the least impressive choreographically while also being a bold visual step forward for one of the region’s most intriguing dance artists.

The final performance of the work’s run on Sunday, March 31 at the New Hazlett Theater began with a prelude dance improvisation by cast member Janis Brenner.  On a darkened stage, Brenner, an award-winning choreographer herself and the artistic director of Janis Brenner & Dancers in New York, darted in and out of shadow performing an energetic modern dance solo as audience members filtered into the theater.  The sound effect of a cell phone ringing ended her solo and officially began the work.

Danced to a montage of atmospheric music with a shadow of… bounced between vignettes that bordered on genius and tedium.  The opening vignette had New York dance icon David Dorfman pulling a curled up and supposedly sleeping Brenner in a red wagon around the stage and continuing to act as if doing so after he had let go of the wagon’s handle.  It was followed by Corning and the work’s final cast member Catherine Meredith (choreographer and rehearsal director for Cleveland’s Dancing Wheels) in each other’s arms rolling on to the stage like human tumbleweed.

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Janis Brenner in CorningWorks’ “with a shadow of…” Photo by Frank Walsh.

That scene led into the work’s first bit of tedium, watching the cast members piled upon and rolling over one another for an extended period. A go to move for pop up improvisation sessions and student choreographers, “the moving pile of bodies” is one of dance’s most boring clichés. Undoubtedly a metaphor related to the partial inspiration for the work, Corning’s feelings that current U.S. political and social climates have created a reality in which little makes sense, the dance phrase perhaps intentionally played into that dulling of the senses.  Repeated later in the work, it was made more palatable when Brenner, standing and shadowing the pile of dancers as they rolled about, pulled from her pocket a clementine that she peeled and ate while waiting for something interesting to happen in the moving pile — nothing did and maybe that was the point.

While the work contained a few more mind-wandering-off-to-make-a-grocery-list-moments such as Brenner dragging around a potted tree on an upper side balcony, there were also delicious nuggets such as a sweeping and dreamy solo by Meredith in a long dress that she melted into after Corning carried her onstage on her shoulders, and a breathy and fun full cast unison dance that saw Dorfman become giddy with the joyful feeling of it.

The unequivocal star of the production however was Iain Court’s brilliant lighting and stage effects worthy of a Broadway production.  Bathed in an almost constant stage fog, the dancers moved through dazzling lighting patterns and spotlights that not only highlighted them but sometimes followed after them like a puppy dog.  Easily the most ambitious and successful of the Corning and Court collaborations to date, the visual theatrics culminated in a genius moment with Corning dancing a slow-moving, Isadora Duncan-like solo under a heavy waterfall of stage fog.  Partially obscured by the fog at all times, Corning’s graceful and fluid hand and arm movements appeared and disappeared from view like a siren call to the audience to come join her.

As with all of Corning’s works, they are essentially a response to the human condition. And like most choreographers she would like audiences to discover their own meanings, feelings and truths in her work. But with as celebrated a cast of performers as was assembled for with a shadow of…, one can’t help but wish the choreography and the driving purpose behind the work did more to let those talents shine.  As theatrical eye-candy however, with a shadow of… was a knockout.

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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‘Multiplicity’ Program brings together all of Bodiography’s Sister Companies


Christen Weimer’s “Mother’s Little Helper”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet – Multiplicity
Byham Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
November 17, 2018

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

After a 3-year hiatus Bodiography Contemporary Ballet’s longest running dance series Multiplicity returned to Pittsburgh’s Byham Theater on November 17 with its usual cavalcade of repertory works by current and former company members. What made this iteration of Multiplicity different from prior programs was that the works were for the first time performed by all three of the organization’s sister troupes: Bodiography Contemporary Ballet, BCB Charlotte and BCB3.

The program kicked off with Amanda Fisher’s re-envisioned “Pizzicato” (2018), a 7-minute work danced to upbeat music by The Piano Guys featuring eight of Bodiography Contemporary Ballet’s dancers in crimson dresses. A reaction to the mood of the music, Fisher’s choreography, while resembling stylized ballet classroom exercises, was slightly seductive and aesthetically pleasing.  Highlighting the piece, and Multiplicity overall, was standout dancer Nicole Jamison who has fast become a star for the company.


Amanda Fisher’s “Pizzicato”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Maria Caruso’s “Valley of Her”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Next, BCB3, a troupe of retired Bodiography dancers performed artistic director Maria Caruso’s latest effort “Valley of Her”. The 13 ½ minute piece in four sections was danced to music by Pittsburgh indie folk band Ryan Hoffman and the Pioneers that began with a brief solo sung by dancer Michaelina McGee before she joined her fellow BCB3 performers. Caruso’s choreography for the all-female cast of eight appeared measured and focused predominantly on shape and line. The women partnered each other in lifts and sculptural poses. Although choreographically simplistic looking, the work, thanks in large part to the band’s music, had a certain allure to it.

After choreographer Christen Weimer’s body image-themed “Mother’s Little Helper” (2018) for Bodiography Contemporary Ballet’s dancers, company trainees Josef Hartman and Renee Simeone shone  in a reprise of Andrea Levick’s powerful duet “Retorque” (2018). An emerging talent, Levick showed a level of maturity as a choreographer in her movement choices for the duet performed to music by Glass Animals. That was especially evident in sections of the work where the dancers engaged in expressive solo riffs and partnered dancing that mixed hip hop and contemporary dance styles.



Andrea Levick’s “Retorque”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

The program’s first half concluded with perhaps the best work of the evening, Caruso’s “Journey” (2008). Set to music by Philip Glass, the seasoned trio of Amanda Fisher, Melissa Tyler and Jamison were lovely in Caruso’s sharp and musical contemporary ballet choreography. The ballet was Caruso at her creative best.

The program’s second half opened with an homage to the struggles of young mothers, Caruso’s “Really?!” for BCB Charlotte dancers (plus Jamison). Set to music by Kansas City’s Quixotic, the 7-minute piece was a bit “Fosse” meets “frustrated mom” pantomime that offered little to be engaged with.

Maria Caruso’s “Really?!”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Next, Jamison took on the role of choreographer for her fellow Bodiography Contemporary Ballet dancers. Her piece “Curdle” (2018), danced to music by Ezio Bosso, Nils Frahm, and Yann Tiersen , portrayed “the dissolution of an ideal.” Lively and gestural with the dancers engaging in arm movements that landed behind their heads and them tapping their fingers on the stage floor, the work proved interesting in parts.

A vehicle for BCB Charlotte’s quartet of dancers to don sultry and sexy demeanors, Caruso’s “Runaway Runway” (2018) cast the group as runway models in a cat walk driven jaunt. Given BCB Charlotte dancers’ mature, engaging stage presence as skilled performers, it would have been great to see the group in a dance work with some real substance and meaty choreography. Both “Really?!” and “Runaway Runway” fell short in doing that.

Maria Caruso’s “Runaway Runway”. Photo by Eric Rosé.
Maria Caruso’s “Submerged”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Rounding out the program were Kristie Corso’s “Cliff’s Edge” (2018) for the main company about how life’s stresses and setbacks can adversely affect relationships with those we most care about, and a reprise Caruso’s “Submerged” (2018), a ballet inspired by 2018 Academy Award Best Picture-winner The Shape of Water, that had Bodiography’s dancers swimming through a mesmerizing succession of dance phrases that together were a solid closer to an up and down program.

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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