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Bodiography’s ‘Unveiled’ Revealed Caruso’s Entertaining Forward Vision


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Bodiography in Virginie Mécène’s “Curse Upon Iron”. Photo by Eric Rose.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet Company – Unveiled
Byham Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
February 7, 2020

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

A greater diversity in its repertoire and a showcasing of the organization’s many performance troupes is what Bodiography Contemporary Ballet Company founding artistic director Maria Caruso says is driving the current direction of the organization. That path forward was on display for all to see in Bodiography’s latest home season production Unveiled.

The 90-minute program was highlighted by another of Caruso and company’s collaborations with artists who have ties to the Martha Graham Dance Company — Graham 2 director Virginie Mécène and former Graham Company star Jacqulyn Buglisi and her Buglisi Dance Theatre.

The stylistically varied program began however not with the work of a former Graham disciple, but with a reprise of former Anna Sokolow Dance Company dancer and professor of dance emerita at Princeton University, Ze’eva Cohen’s 20-minute “Meditation on a Square,” commissioned by Bodiography in 2006.

The pseudo-classical modern dance work set to ambient music by Scottish multi-percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, appeared to reflect on the secular and the sacred in our everyday lives. For the work, the Israeli-born Cohen used a mix of music including traditional Sephardic song that helped conjure up an idealized image of a decades-old Israeli village where young men gathered to play basketball and young women to folk dance.  Ironically, the scene depicting youth life felt a bit juvenile itself in its choreographic approach. Cohen made up for it in sections that followed with spiritual themes to them including a dramatic male duet performed with feeling by BCB’s Derrick Izumi and guest artist Ty Graynor of the Limon Dance Company. The duet was one of struggle both physically and of faith.

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(l-r) Ty Graynor and Derrick Izumi in Ze’eva Cohen’s “Meditation on a Square.” Photo by Eric Rose.

The remainder of “Meditation on a Square” followed a similar pattern with the secular life sections somewhat lacking (apart from an entertaining women’s folk dance trio) compared to those with more sacred intent.

Following a reprise of Caruso’s 2012 ballet Fractured and Rebuilt, performed by Bodiography’s student troupe BCB2, the main company premiered Caruso’s “No Strings Attached.”

The ballet was set to music by Ludovico Einaudi, Marbeya Sound and the Nelue song “No strings Attached” (feat. Kayele) and was inspired by Caruso’s “recent nights in the Al Wadi desert looking at the stars while being serenaded by a world class DJ,” says the program notes. That inspiration manifested itself onstage as a fast-paced and free-spirited ballet. In it were plenty of movement fireworks for Bodiography’s dancers including lifts, leaps and dizzyingly quick turns across the stage. It also contained some real head-scratching moments such as when the stylishly-costumed women in the ballet suddenly stopped in their tracks to execute awkward headstands in the middle of the stage.

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Virginie Mécène and Kevin Predmore in Jacqulyn Buglisi’s “Threshold”. Photo by Eric Rose.

The meat of the program and its most engaging works came after intermission beginning with Buglisi’s signature duet “Threshold” (1991). Danced to Estonian composer Arvo Pӓrt’s haunting Fratres, the 18-minute piece performed by Mécène and husband Kevin Predmore, opened on Mécène under an oval layer of fabric that covered center stage. Mécène writhed and contorted her body as if escaping a birthing sac.  Limbs jutted and stretched at the fabric membrane with an inherent grace.  The dramatic duet had a Graham-like quality in its approach. Then free of her bonds, Mécène crawled onto the back of Predmore who marched her around the stage on all fours. Said to be the embodiment of the angel of death, Predmore’s character appeared determined yet caring in ushering Mécène’s character across the threshold between life and what comes after.  The work’s stunning and powerful imagery came to a climax with Mécène rising to stand atop Predmore’s back and him rearing up like a stallion before he returned her to the fabric tomb she emerged from and then exited the stage on all fours.

Both mature dancers exuded an undeniable stage presence honed over decades in the work and their performances were passionately brilliant.

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Bodiography in Virginie Mécène’s “Curse Upon Iron”. Photo by Eric Rose.

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Blakeley White-McGuire in Jacqulyn Buglisi’s “In the name of the fire, and the flame, and grace”. Photo Eric Rose.

Next, came the premiere of Mécène’s commissioned work for Bodiography, “Curse Upon Iron”.  The 7-minute work for 9 dancers took its title from another Estonian composer Veljo Tormis’ uber dramatic music the work is set to. Mécène’s choreography was big and bold and along with Tormis’ music evoked a sense of menace and intrigue.  Also a nod to Graham in its look, the work was anything but a curse for Bodiography’s dancers who were spectacular in it.

Switching gears from the fullness of “Curse Upon Iron,” Buglisi’s new solo “In the name of the fire, and the flame, and grace” (2019), performed by former Graham Company principal dancer Blakeley White-McGuire, was a reaction to the current world refugee crisis and spoke to a feeling of being invisible in the world. Danced to music by Max Richter, White-McGuire dipped, lunged and let out silent screams along a thoughtfully-crafted path of movement. Her vivid facial expressions and depth of feeling gave voice to a work whose sentiments carried beyond the moment.

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Ty Graynor and Bethany Schimonsky in Maria Caruso’s “Light by Love 2”. Photo by Eric Rose.

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Maria Caruso in her solo “Unveiled”. Photo by Eric Rose.

A sequel to one of Caruso’s best and most celebrated ballet works, the critically-acclaimed romantic pas de deux “Light by Love” (2015), the premiere of “Light by Love 2” picked up where the original left off with its two lovers taking the next step in their relationship. Performed by Graynor and Bodiography’s Bethany Schimonsky, “Light by Love 2”captured the tenderness of the original in close-quartered and embracing choreography but it lacked a bit of the original’s genuineness. Nonetheless, the pas de deux was a lovely next scene in what Caruso hopes will blossom into an evening-length ballet.

The premiere of Carsuo’s latest solo work for herself “Unveiled” followed. A nod to several past solos involving sensual movement and costume changes during it. Caruso at her most Fosse-like jazz sultriness began the slinky solo costumed in a black men’s suit and hat then danced her way out of them and into a choreographic display of her feminine wiles that concluded with her back in the men’s suit by solo’s end.

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Bodiography in Maria Caruso’s “Psalm 23”. Photo by Eric Rose.

Rounding out the diversely entertaining program was Caruso’s latest group work “Psalm 23” danced to music by Bobby McFerrin. The spirited and spiritual work served as a sort of thank you note to the audience for being a part of Unveiled and those in the audience responded in kind with robust applause at program’s end.

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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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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