Week in Review: Performance Playbook

Going to performances should be exciting, not exhausting.  Well, it’s both.  This week took me to a bit of everything Uptown, Midtown, and Downtown.

Monday:  Guggenheim Works & Process featuring Russell Maliphant

  • There has been quite a bit of press (both+/-) about Maliphant (Associate Artist at Sadler’s Wells) and his project inspired by his own love of Rodin and sculpture.  Maliphant, a classically trained ballet dancer performed in an opening section before sitting with Roslyn Sulcas to share about his work.  Maliphant has a movement history of ballet, breaking, tai chi, and Rolfing which he languidly weaves together.  In response to Sulcas asking about his working relationship with Sylvie Guillem, Maliphant said, “Well, I love making work with her but its impossible to reproduce on anyone else.  She navigates highly technical challenges so gracefully you don’t realize what you’re asking of her (or future dancers).”

Thursday: Maliphant’s The Rodin Project at The Joyce Theater

  • After developing a little choreographer crush on Maliphant, I found myself hypnotized by his highly theatrical presentation of moving sculpture forms.  Maliphant takes on some big ideas in this work, but when I focused on his saying that his linkage between breaking/popping and Rodin’s sculptures was the extreme muscularity and inherent tension, I was able to let my self go with the work.
  • The opening section filled the stage with white material draped across platforms jutting in every direction, that the dancers stretched and pulled against, three women moving as The Shades.  The second act removed the white material, leaving an obstacle course of sorts for Maliphant’s dancers to roam over and around.  Having spent time on a few of Rodin’s pieces before viewing the piece, my subconscious jumped into the Gates of Hell and back with his dancers before I knew what was happening.  It was wondrous – the exactingly slow and precise deconstruction of break dancing performed with balletic ease and flow.

Friday: Doug Elkins’ Scott, Queen of Marys | Mo(or)town Redux at Baryshnikov Arts Center

  • I will preface this by saying that I love Doug Elkins.  A lot.
  • Mo(or)town Redux referenced Limon’s Moors Pavane and presented heartbreaking chain of events of a love triangle, or two.  Elkins dancers know how to work.  Elkins also works with a diverse set of movers, ranging in age, aesthetic, and technical prowess but unified in their ability to entertain.  Elkins eerily stages the final scene (a man suffocating his lover out of heartbroken rage) so softly, that the beginning of the end was such a loving caress I gasped in horror when I realized where it was going (which of course was when it was already over).  Elkins forces his dancers to constantly acknowledge each other and the audience, so that the audience/performer relationships leave little distance – the story is in your face, and for me, suddenly in my heart.  This work, keeps all the dancers in pairs, even if they periodically swap partners, so that relationship(s) are the forefront.  Elkins also frequently stages “backup dancers” during solos or expansive duets; although their choreography is much more complicated than a shimmying two-step.  With these “backup” scenes going, its as though Elkins acknowledges that life keeps going.  You can’t abstract a relationship or an event; they’re gonna keep on moving and you have to figure out how to go with the flow.  If you’re lucky you’ll be the impetus of the movement rather than washed aside by it.
  • In Scott, Queen of Marys, Elkins lets his dancers “werk.”  Guest artist Javier Ninja brings his vogueing in the style of the late Willie Ninja for a dose of diva.  Elkins’ dancers fully commit, each assuming an attitude so strongly that audience members began calling out in excitement and encouragement.
  • Other reviews: NYT & New Yorker

Saturday: Ellison Ballet’s Winter Showcase at Manhattan Movement Arts Center

  • A former student of mine sent me an invitation for her winter showcase and off I went.  It was listed as benefit gala for victims of Sandy, but as I learned upon arrival, Ellison Ballet adopted two Staten Island families, the Dresches & Cericolas.  The evening began with footage of Katie Couric visiting Staten Island and learning the heartbreaking story of a woman’s daughter being ripped from her arms, only for her husband’s body to wash ashore a few days later.  The Dresches older daughter, based in Nashville attended, along with two cousins and an uncle.  It was an emotional evening but necessary; the effects of Sandy are ongoing.  People’s lives have been torn apart and will never fit back together as before.  There is hope for healing; evidenced by the outpouring of love from communities all over.  After the sobering start to the evening, the dancing began.  Ellison Ballet students performed excerpts from classical repertoire with a high level of sophistication, with guest appearances by Michaela DePrince and Aran Bell.  It was a superb evening of dance.  Much fanfare has followed Ms. DePrince and after seeing her whip off fouettes as though she were sipping a latte, she more than validated the fanfare.  Mr. Bell’s solo, filled with longing and tenderness, thoughtfully indulged in patient pauses interspersed with Bell’s athletic bravura.  A silent auction took place throughout the evening, with the opportunity to simply donate to the cause.  These families need the support; financially and emotionally.  The air in the room felt somewhat sacred; the power of art to express what we can’t always say and unite strangers for a cause.
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