The iconic dance choreographer and Broadway veteran Twyla Tharp has earned her place among American dance makers with more than 150 works under her belt. Some pieces glisten with the excitement of innovation. Others have fallen flat in an attempt at pattern over plot, or a postmodernist deadpan style.
And yet personal style seems most important to Tharp. That’s evident in the title of her latest program, Twyla Tharp and Three Dances by Twyla Tharp Dance, at New York City’s The Joyce Theater, which runs through July 23, but can also be observed via the steps shared in each piece.
Her latest ballet, Beethoven Opus 130, is showing alongside two other pieces of hers, one dates back 40 years, Country Dances, and the third, Brahms Paganini from 1980, is considered a Tharpian classic.
All three pieces showcase her trademark arm swings, experimentation with the relationship between staccato and delayed movements and a lack of plot or realistic human expression. For those intrigued by Tharp’s style, and interested in studying her methods rather than getting swept away by the performances, this triple bill delivers.
“Country Dances” ; John Selya, Eva Trapp, Amy Ruggiero, Kaitlyn Gilliland/ Twyla Tharp and Three Dances
A member of academia herself, it is no wonder Tharp injects many thought provoking (and perhaps maddening) questions about cohesiveness, creativity and community into her work. The third “c” here is displayed in the tableaus dancers often form in a separate quadrant of the stage while a soloist spins and thrashes elsewhere. As in Country Dances, when all three girls dance with a single male, we are forced to reconcile thoughts about patriarchy, gender and modern relationships.
Beethoven Opus 130 had less to say about these topics, but instead mimicked the music with its polytonal, or multilayered, elements. Costumes by fashion designer Norma Kamali, who was big in the 1980s, with ballet warm-ups style for most of the women and eclectic billowing tunics for the men, the piece attempted to be balletic but held true to Tharp’s trademarks.
Lastly, Brahms Paganini began with a long male solo that, by the end, reminded one of a tarantella dance (where legend has it that one dances until tarantula poison is expelled out of the body). Soloist Reed Tankersley performed it gracefully and dutifully yet his possible instructions to remain emotionless may have been breached from time to time. But who can blame him when the music is so overpoweringly passionate?
Following Tankersley’s performance, two couples dressed in preppy costumes by designer Ralph Lauren danced playfully and teasingly. Slight competitions between the men and women were indicative of a carefree culture, with only the idea of keeping up with the Joneses to occupy their time. However, one struggles to find parallels between the jovial choreography and that of the romantic musical score known for its emotional outpouring. Given Tharps’ apparent penchant for thought provoking juxtaposition, her reasoning may be justified yet.
(Top photo:Kaitlyn Gilliland & Matthew Dibble in Beethoven Opus 130 by Twyla Tharp. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu)
Summertime in the dance world can only mean one thing, summer intensive programs. They’re called that for a reason. Typically, students, looking to advance their training over the summer break, sign up for courses (usually three, four or six-weeks) taught by some the industry’s leading pros. The training is concentrated and intensified, making the most out of the few weeks they have. Some programs culminate in a performance, showing what students learned during the summer course. It’s great for students, a chance to improve and advance their skills. It’s great for professionals, who are on hiatus over summer break and are not performing with companies or teaching at the schools they’re affiliated with.
We’ll be featuring the offerings of a few standout schools throughout the summer. This story was originally posted in June 2015. Click here to read.
(Top photo: Courtesy of the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School)
The national tour of Beautiful, the Carole King Musical just wrapped up a 13-day run in North Texas June 7-19 playing at AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House, presented by TITAS.
In the Dallas show on opening night, Abby Mueller, playing Carole, and Liam Tobin, as Gerry Goffin, were superb, just as good as the original cast on Broadway that I saw last summer.
See my review of the Broadway show here.
Audiences in North Texas have seen Israeli modern dance for years thanks to a few first-rate touring companies. But last Friday, Texas Ballet Theater became the first company in the Lone Star state to perform a beloved work by Israeli modern dance maker Ohad Naharin.
The piece, titled Minus 16, has been performed by major companies in Europe and the U.S., but when Texas Ballet Theater, a smaller regional company, tackled it, the reach of Israeli modern dance seemed to extend a little further.
Naharin, as artistic director of the Tel Aviv-based Batsheva Dance Company, is Israel’s leading dance maker. He has earned a stellar international reputation for creating original, vibrant, and intriguing modern dances for his company, which has toured worldwide. At 63, Naharin is among the world’s most respected choreographers, and there are only a handful of these people working today.
I attended Texas Ballet Theater’s First Looks show May 6 at the Dallas City Performance Hall just to see the Naharin piece, Minus 16, included on the bill. After all, this is Texas dance history in the making. Here’s why I think Israeli dance should make the list of top exports.
TBT in Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. Photo courtesy of Texas Ballet Theater.
- What makes Naharin so unique is the Gaga movement dance language he created (before there was a Lady Gaga). It’s “an experience of freedom and pleasure,” according to Batsheva’s website. Gaga is moving your body any way that feels good. Naharin’s Gaga came ashore in the U.S. roughly a decade ago and really took off on the East Coast after the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York, at the invitation of the Russian dance legend Mikhail Baryshnikov, introduced gaga to dancers and non-dancers alike. Like many things, what starts on either coast eventually moves inland.
2. By exporting his brand of innovative Israeli modern dance, Naharin has placed it on the worldwide map. Of course, there are many other Israeli choreographers and companies sending their work abroad, contributing to this growing trend. And next season, Texas Ballet Theater will perform a new work by Israeli-American dance maker Avi Scher. At this point, Israeli modern dance should be added to the list of Israeli exports in my view.
3. What makes Naharin’s Minus 16, a collection of excerpts from his previous works, so enticing is the unexpected nature of it all. Even before the intermission ends and the dance begins, he plays with the audience. As people chat while the house lights are still on, a single male dancer dressed in a dark suit appears in front of the curtain, causing patrons to wonder if they’ve missed something. The dancer is still at first, then begins several minutes of impromptu dancing, moving, gyrating and comically entertaining the crowd. He’s then joined by several other dancers moving in a freestyle type of groove, signature Gaga movement. The music is a captivating and rollicking mix including cha-cha, the traditional Passover music Echad Mi Yodea set to a lively rock score, Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater and a techno mix of Over the Rainbow.
The first vignette was Echad Mi Yodea, which I’d seen many times on YouTube (click here) and has been part of Alvin Ailey Dance Company’s repertoire for years. But the live version is far more startling and powerful. The dancers are sitting on chairs arranged in a semi-circle, dressed in dark suits, hunched forward and looking serious. As the Echad Mi Yodea music plays, the dancers slam their bodies back on the chairs with arms and heads looking skyward one by one, until the last one, dressed with an Orthodox rabbi hat, falls to the floor. The motion repeats itself throughout the song and gets strong, with the dancers shouting out the chorus in Hebrew, ending with the dancers throwing off their outward clothing (underneath they had on t-shirts and shorts) into a communal pile in the middle of the floor. Left open to interpretation, some feel like the piles loosely represented the Holocaust, others see it as freedom.
A riveting pas de deux, a dance for two, set to Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater, danced by TBT’s Paige Nyman and Jiyan Dai, was a gorgeous and technically challenging number that was over too soon.
In the final section, the dancers come down from the stage and choose audience members to bring onstage and dance with them. This was thoroughly engaging. When one of the dancers extended his arm to me, seated on the aisle, I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. (This was not planned, and he didn’t know I was there to write about the show.) Seconds later, after kicking off my three-inch wedges, I joined a dozen or so other unsuspecting women also brought onstage. He gave me very little direction except to follow and kind of mimic him. The stage lights were bright and oh so hot and all I kept thinking was, ‘These people didn’t pay to see people like me dance, let alone Gaga.’ Ah, but that’s exactly what Naharin was after. What better way to show Gaga than to have talented young and svelte dancers partner with self-conscious older non-dancers who looked ridiculous. I don’t remember too much from those few minutes, which seemed much longer. My cha cha was pretty slow and at one point, when my partner went to lift me, I cautioned, ‘You’re going to throw your back out.’ The result was hilarious and thoroughly captivating for the audience.
The company also performed Voluntaries by Glen Tetley and Without Borders by Val Caniparoli.
(Top photo: TBT in Ohad Saharan’s Minus 16. Photo courtesy of Texas Ballet Theater)
The Sao Paulo Dance Company, led by Ines Bogea, made its debut May 3 at New York City’s The Joyce Theater with four thought-provoking pieces: Gen by Cassi Abranches, Ceu Cinzento by Clebio Oliveira, Mamihlapinatapai by Jomar Mesquita (with collaboration from Rodrigo de Castro) and Gnawa by the internationally-acclaimed choreographer Nacho Duato.
With 23 talented dancers in their arsenal, this acclaimed Brazilian company impressed with their paradoxically strong and fluid movements and confident stage presence. Aside from Gnawa, which stood alone in its choreographic maturity, Gen was the piece to look out for. With an electronic rock vibe to the music, the piece was edgy and entertaining. The dancers alternated between synchronized, staccato movements and body-rolls in all directions. While the piece lacked a cohesive structure in the ordering of each section, the dancers’ technical and artistic abilities were showcased. It was clear that Gen was a crowd favorite.
Ceu Cinzento was meant to ask a rather strange artistic question: What if the lovers in Romeo and Juliet went blind instead of dying? The choreography tackled this question by having the two dancers reach out unsteadily, trying to move through the piece by their senses alone. After much isolated struggling to find their way, the lovers come together only to become uncomfortable in their attempts at dancing together. Many times, the woman falls backwards and is caught by the man in a test of trust. In the end, their struggle prevails and he physically rolls her off the stage, which left much room for interpretation and certainly didn’t give the audience the closure they anticipated.
Mamihlapinatapai left much to be desired, which seemed to be the theme of the piece within the context of relationships. It explores its indigenous title’s meaning: two people sharing a glance, both wishing for the other to take action, and neither having the courage. The choreography itself featured endless webs of what looked like contact improv, but was really the abstracted view of the couples’ courting. The most impressive moment in the piece occurred at the very start: the cast was dimly lit and lined up in sensual poses. The recording gradually increased at an extremely low rate from silence to full volume. Simultaneously, the cast began to shift positions at this same speed, moving so slowly that the inattentive eye could miss their transformation.
Lastly, Gnawa by Nacho Duato was performed with great precision and emotion. The piece grapples with man’s interaction with nature and was inspired by the beauty of Valencia, Spain. It takes an extremely talented and well-rehearsed company to perform a piece by Duato and Sao Paulo Dance Company proved themselves worthy.
Overall, they are a vibrant, classically trained group of dancers. As they took their first bow in The Joyce Theater, a certain sparkle of pride in Sao Paulo glimmered in each eye.
(Top photo: São Paulo Dance Company in Nacho Duarte’s Gnawa. Photo by Alceu Bett)
For several years, Youth America Grand Prix’s Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala in New York City has showcased emerging artists of its competition alongside A-list dancers from around the world. For one night, the two generations share the stage to perform beloved classics and exciting world premieres.
This year, YAGP’s gala will be held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House, April 28. And, for the first time, there will be a second performance on April 29 only for participants, their parents and instructors. The program will be identical to the previous night and allow more competitors to attend than before. The drive behind this addition is simply to give these young dancers an opportunity to learn as much as they can from experienced performers representing the world’s best ballet companies.
The program for this year’s Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala will once again feature some of the most rare pairings of dancers, but will also limit the time allotted to stars of today, as the organization felt the need to give more stage time to the competitors, or tomorrow’s future stars. The cast includes: Stella Abrera of American Ballet Theater; Daniel Camargo of Stuttgart Ballet with Gillian Murphy of American Ballet Theater, Michaela DePrince and Edo Wijnen of Dutch National Ballet, Xander Parish of The Mariinsky Ballet, Melissa Hamilton of Dresden Ballet and The Royal Ballet, Artem Ovcharenko of the Bolshoi Ballet, Ekaterina Krysanova of the Bolshoi Ballet and Hannah O’Neill and Hugo Marchand of the Paris Opera Ballet.
Some special moments to look for during the gala performance involve a world premiere featuring Stella Abrera alongside six freestyle parkour artists, an appearance by the Blue Journey group with a mix of choreography and cutting edge screen projections (as seen on the TV show America’s Got Talent) and a heart-warming dedication to Shelley King, YAGP’s former director of operations, following her death last year. As the head of YAGP, Ms. King was an integral part of the organization and truly cared about the well-being and success of the competition’s participants. Her daughter, Rebecca King, a dancer with the Finnish National Ballet, is slated to perform in the tribute.
An unprecedented number of student dancers participated in YAGP this season, some 1300 competitors representing 36 countries. It is no wonder the organization holds their Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala as a celebration to cap off months of hard work leading up to the final round. Over the years, the organization’s mission has remained the same, to educate the next generation of dancers by offering scholarships to prestigious ballet schools around the world and by holding master classes with some of the best faculty in the industry. The result of this mission is clear, as many of the competition’s alumni are now dancing with top ballet companies. Through YAGP, they have truly become the stars of today.
(Top photo: Juliette Bosco, photo by VAM, courtesy of YAGP)
After 29 years, Houston Ballet is saying goodbye to their Ben Stevenson version of The Nutcracker after this season and will premiere in 2016 a new version by artistic director Stanton Welch featuring fresh sets and costumes.
The last chance to see Stevenson’s classic Nutcracker at the Houston Ballet is Nov. 27 – Dec. 27. Stevenson, the company’s former artistic director, premiered his ballet with designs by designer Desmond Heeley, in 1987. Since then, more than one million people have seen the production. The company will give 34 performances of the holiday classic to a live orchestra, in the Brown Theater at Wortham Theater Center in downtown Houston.
“Ben Stevenson’s production of The Nutcracker has been an incredible gift for Houston Ballet and the city of Houston,” said Houston Ballet Executive Director Jim Nelson. “We honor the ballet for its place in our company’s history and the profound impact it has had on generations of dancers and audience members.”
The story of The Nutcracker has a special place in Houston Ballet’s repertory as the first full-length work to enter the company’s repertoire in a staging by Frederic Franklin, featuring scenery and costumes by the English designer Peter Farmer. The company gave six performances of The Nutcracker in 1972 at Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, and has danced the work each December the following 44 years. In 1976, Houston Ballet presented the production with revised choreography by the company’s new artistic director Ben Stevenson. In 1987, the current production with lighting by Duane Schuler, and choreography by Stevenson was unveiled to glowing critical response.
(Top photo: Houston Ballet’s Allison Miller in Ben Stevenson’s The Nutcracker. Photo by Amitava Sarkar)
Southern Methodist University dance major Emily Bernet shares her experiences learning a José Limón work from répétiteur Sarah Stackhouse. Bernet is part of SMU’s Meadows Dance Ensemble, which recently performed Limón’s There is a Time at New York City’s The Joyce Theater during the José Limón International Dance Festival. The ensemble will also perform it along with other works at SMU’s Fall Dance Concert Nov. 11-15.
I stepped onstage at The Joyce Theater in New York City with nervous excitement. Standing on such a renowned stage to perform one of José Limón’s most notable works was a rush and an honor. Preparing for and performing There Is a Time with Southern Methodist University (SMU), one of nine schools invited to perform in the Limón Dance Company’s 70th Anniversary celebration, has been an incredible experience.
José Limón’s There Is a Time, which premiered in 1956, draws inspiration from chapter 3 of the Bible’s Ecclesiastes, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”
The piece explores aspects of the human experience and the circular nature of time. Sarah Stackhouse, a Limón Company dancer from 1958 to 1969 and a prominent reconstructor of Limón’s repertory, spent a month with us in the SMU studios teaching, rehearsing, and helping us perfect the work.
Learning from Stackhouse was a privilege. Her knowledge of and reverence for Limón’s work was evident in her bright personality. She encouraged us to be ourselves as we danced, and allow our voices to come through the movement. She inspired us each to shine as individuals even within the group structure of the work. We were all challenged to trust our own artistic voices, or as she called it, “you-ness.” She urged us to “never miss a chance to be what makes you special.”
Rehearsals with Stackhouse were always engaging. Before delving into the work, she taught us basic exercises and choreographic motifs. We worked extensively on finding weight and under-curve in our movement and incorporating the whole body as we danced. For the first week of rehearsals, we all learned many of the solos and small group sections of the piece, which gave us each a holistic understanding of the work and its vast emotional range.
Each distinct excerpt contributes to the overall themes of the work and influences the sections that come before and after it. She often taught us bits of contrasting excerpts in a single rehearsal to help us explore the vacillating emotions of the piece. After viciously thrashing our bodies in A Time for War, we would freely fly through the room in A Time to Laugh. Working on this piece gave me the opportunity to explore a wide dynamic and emotional range, and I have discovered ways to perform the same movement motif with different intention to affect its meaning.
Limón’s choreography uses many gestures, and she encouraged us to perform each gesture in a clear and humanistic way. She asked us not to add anything extra to the movement, but rather allow the movement to speak for itself so that the emotion the audience perceives is drawn directly from the dance. Studying Limón’s choreography has taught me to be more insightful, and to be true to the specifics and intentions given by a choreographer.
Often, she asked us to visualize the movement. She felt that by thinking through the music and envisioning ourselves performing the choreography we would be able to better execute our intentions in reality. I loved her use of vivid imagery, which gave me a deeper understanding of the character and sensibility I should embody as I dance. For A Time to Heal, she asked me to envision myself as an egret with expansive wings enveloping my partner. She also referenced Michelangelo’s sibyls painted in the Sistine Chapel to demonstrate the weight I should carry in the final gesture of the duet. She often asked us to imagine the environment in which we might be dancing – the feeling of the space and the angle of the light. Committing to a deep exploration of each section allowed me to find more specificity and depth in my performance.
To perform There is A Time is truly to experience its themes of community. We rely on each other, pump each other up, look out for one another, and feed off of each other’s energy. Performing at the Joyce was a whirlwind of joy, excitement, and love. It was an honor to be a part of the celebration of Limón’s work, learn from the company and its directors, and perform alongside inspirational young artists from across the country.
The SMU Meadows Dance Ensemble Fall Dance Concert is Nov. 11 – 15 at the Bob Hope Theater on campus. Performance times are 8 p.m. Wednesday – Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For more information, click here.
(Top photo: SMU Dance Ensemble’s Emily Bernet and Summer Myatt backstage at The Joyce Theater. Photo credit: SMU Dance Ensemble)
Batsheva-The Young Ensemble, part of Israel’s acclaimed Batsheva Dance Company, under the artistic direction of renowned choreographer Ohad Naharin, will debut at The Joyce Sept. 29 – Oct. 4. The company of young dancers will perform an all new version of the parent company’s 2000 work of repertory highlights, Decadance, marking the first time that it has been seen on The Joyce stage by either division of Batsheva.
Batsheva-The Young Ensemble will perform an all-new version of Decadance, originally created in 2000 by Batsheva Dance Company’s acclaimed artistic director Ohad Naharin. In it, Naharin combines excerpts from his dazzling works into a seventy-five minute “greatest hits” package set to music ranging from The Beach Boys to Vivaldi and pop to Arabic. Naharin is known for his infectious style of dance, based on Gaga, the revolutionary movement language he created in the 1990s, which explains why audience members can’t seem to resist joining the company on stage. This engagement marks the first time the internationally lauded Decadance will be performed by Batsheva – either division of the company –at The Joyce.
(Photo credit: Batsheva – The Young Ensemble. Photo by Gadi Dagon)
Houston Ballet launches its 46th season through Sept. 20 with a revival of the epic love story Manon, choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan and featuring scenery and costumes by British designer Peter Farmer. Houston Ballet will give six performances of Manon at Wortham Theater Center in downtown Houston.
Based on the famous eighteenth century French novel Manon Lescaut (1731) by Abbé Prévost, the ballet depicts the romantic adventures of the irresistibly beautiful Manon and her one true love, the impoverished student Des Grieux, from the demi monde of Paris to the bayous of Louisiana. Sir Kenneth has created a brilliant dance drama that explores the relationship between love, sex, and the corrupting power of money. The passion and danger of Manon’s central pas de deux have proven irresistible to audiences around the world and have made it one of the most popular full-length ballets of the second half of the twentieth century.
(Photo credit: Houston Ballet’s Amy Fote and Connor Walsh in Manon. Photo by Amitava Sarkar)