Saturday, December 8, 2012
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Thursday, October 18, 2012
The evening overall was a pleasant surprise. The Leonora was probably the chief reason for the evening's relative success. Guanqun Yu has a lovely, well-produced, fairly large lyric soprano voice that she uses with taste and refinement. I could quibble that she doesn't have much of a trill, the coloratura is gingerly attacked, and her low notes are kind of inaudible, but they are outweighed by the positives. All she's lacking is that bit of individuality in both singing style and acting -- right now she is in both demeanor and voice sort of a conservatory singer. Very clean, very pretty, a little dull. But with time and experience I'm sure she'll develop more of a presence. But it's just a pleasure to hear such a sweet voice. She also has fairly good dramatic instincts -- she eschewed some of the more frantic stage business in the original production for a more dignified, aristocratic take on Leonora. This is a promising debut.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Yesterday's programs showed the NYCB doing what they do best -- presenting a variety of both modern and classic ballets that showed off the depth of the company's talent.
Sunday, October 7, 2012
My last memory of La Sylphide was the Royal Danish Ballet's transcendent performance during their tour to NYC last year. I thought nothing could erase those memories, but this morning the Bolshoi Ballet proved once again that they are the ballet company that can indeed dance everything. Thirty years ago, they probably would have looked completely lost in the Bournonville style, but today they were absolutely wonderful.
The production is by Johan Kobborg, himself trained at the Royal Danish Ballet. He's now a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet but he's staged his very orthodox La Sylphide for several companies. He deserves credit for obviously coaching the Bolshoi dancers to drop their "Russian-isms" and adapt to the more modest, low-key Bournonville style. Gone for the most part were the darting diagonal grande jetes -- they were replaced with the Bournonville style jumps which tend to travel in an arc around, rather than across the stage. The arms were kept low except for those thrilling moments when they are raised triumphantly in tight fifth position. Even the mime (a traditional Bolshoi weakness) was clearly articulated.
The principal dancers were on the whole excellent. Ekaterina Krysanova was on the serious side for a Sylph in Act One, but her light airy jumps and beats were a delight to watch. You could understand why James was so entranced with this spirit. Vyacheslav Lopatin as James was technically faultless, but dramatically I found him to be sort of wrong. James is supposed to be much moodier and introspective than Lopatin made him -- Lopatin seemed to have walked in from Coppelia. There was none of the visible restlessness and dissatisfaction that the Danes so clearly spelled out last year in their performances.
Denis Savin as Gurn in contrast actually projected more romantic angst. Anna Rebetskaya was a lovely Effie, and played exactly right -- pretty but a bit shallow, and a great foil for the ethereal, alluring Sylph. I also liked Irina Zibrova's Madge. Zibrova is a beautiful lady and she introduced an element of frustrated sexuality in her portrayal. This Madge acts like a jealous, jilted lover towards James. In the final moments of the ballet, as James is lying prostrate on the floor, Zibrova lifted up her skirts to reveal just enough thigh, and walked off in triumph. Hell hath no fury ...
The Bolshoi corps as usual were remarkable -- they excelled both in the Scottish character dancing in Act One and the great ballet blanc of Act Two. I thought they'd have trouble with Bournonville's lightning fast petit batterie but they didn't. They really are a company in amazing shape currently.
It seems like this ballet is never done enough, even though it's never been out of the repertoire. Every time I watch it I marvel at the beauty of Lovenskiold's score, and the richness of Bournonville's choreography.
Saturday, September 29, 2012
Scherzo a la Russe is a kind of throwaway charmer, it was made in 1972 for the Stravinsky Festival and it was danced by the SAB students. It's really sort of a folk dance in pointe shoes. Short, sweet, to the point, and perfect to showcase the SAB students. The real revelations of the night, however, were Divertimento from "Le Baiser de la Fee" and Danses Concertantes.
Friday, September 28, 2012
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Flash forward a few months. It's the summer. I'm bored. The Game of Thrones books are so heavy. One click later at the Amazon Kindle store, and 50 Shades is on my iPad. And let it never be said that E.L. James is a heavy, dense writer. I finished 50 Shades in a day. I'm slogging through the next two books of the trilogy though.
So is the book really worth all the fuss? Libraries are pulling it from their shelves. There's a debate about whether it glorifies an abusive relationship. Hotels replaced Bibles with 50 Shades copies. And everywhere, in the subways, on the beach, I see women reading it.
Sunday, July 22, 2012
Sunday, July 15, 2012
Sunday, July 1, 2012
Friday, June 29, 2012
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Saturday, June 9, 2012
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Today, the ballets haven't aged very well. The repetitiveness of the choreography (swoony lift after swoony lift after swoony lift), the derivative nature of the stories (Cranko's Onegin is predictably, not as deep and rich of a work as Tchaikovsky's opera on which the ballet is based), and the piecemeal scores (Onegin's score is taken from various Tchaikovsky music pieces) make the ballets heavily reliant on the charisma of the performers. Great dancers with strong personalities can make a ballet like Onegin work, but I can also see how with lesser dancers it can be one very boring evening.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
|Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes, photo @ Richard Termine|
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Yesterday I saw possibly the most disturbing, creepy dance I have ever seen in my life. It was Paul Taylor's Big Bertha. I can't really describe it except to say it starts as an amusement park spectacle, with this tinkly amusement park music and a seemingly normal family dancing onstage. There is a mechanical doll named Big Bertha and the family innocently stops at the doll. But soon the doll (played by Amy Young) starts commanding them to darker and darker actions, and it climaxes in the father (Michael Trusnovec) raping the daughter (Eran Bugge). The mother (Michelle Fleet) starts doing a frantic striptease for Big Bertha, who still is not satisfied. Big Bertha is not satisfied, in fact, until the whole family is sprawled onstage, lifeless.
At the end of the performance, a slight, unassuming man came onstage to take a curtain call with the dancers. Paul Taylor still looks handsome, and one could hardly believe the guy with the shy smile is capable of such a sick, twisted dance. But earlier, his House of Joy was equally dark -- it's hardly a dance since there's no dancing to speak of. Just a parade of whores and johns outside a seedy whorehouse. There was no lightening of prostitution, as there often is in entertainment -- the usually beautiful dancers were dressed in full hooker gear, with the awful stiletto shoes and cheap lingerie. I didn't know what to make of the "dance" at all -- it couldn't have lasted for more than 8 minutes and as I said, contained no dancing whatsoever.
Thankfully these dances were sandwiched by more "crowdpleasing" fare. Cloven Kingdom is a Paul Taylor classic and it's a fun battle-of-the-sexes piece. The most amazing moment of Cloven Kingdom is an extended sequence in which the four men are decked out in formal suits but asked to perform a series of almost acrobatic stunts over each others' bodies. The women are decked out in long formal looking dresses too but they too are tough and acrobatic. It's not the innocent world of Esplanade, where the men cradle the women like children. And the program ended with Piazzolla Caldera, which takes place in a seedy nightclub. It's set to tango music, and the men and women, and, in one case, two men, partner up and start to dance. Even though there are few actual tango moves, Taylor has the sexual tension, competition, and melancholy of the tango down pat. The dancers again looked like natural ballroom dancers. It's certainly better than anything they put on Dancing With the Stars.
Sunday, April 1, 2012
Sunday, March 25, 2012
I made a return trip to see Paul Taylor Dance Company tonight. As usual, it was an oddly assorted triple bill that showed off the choreographer's incredible, if quirky range. Although I'm not nearly as familiar with Paul Taylor's output as I am with ballet, everyone can be a quick study with him. It doesn't take a dance expert to love the joy of Esplanade. The audience for these performances I've noticed is surprisingly diverse, a mix of young and old, male and female, very different from, say, Nutcracker performances. It's not good or bad, it's just different.
The program started with Roses, which I saw last week. I don't have to be very familiar with this piece to know that tonight's performance was much stronger. The movements had much more snap and flow, especially the series of cartwheels that the couples do over each others' bodies. The couples were much more coordinated and the cartwheels seemed an expression of joy. At first, it seems an odd dance movement to put into a piece set to Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, but then lovers will often resort to simple, even childish physical movements to express joy. It's a beautiful and too-little-seen Taylor work.
The program ended with the company's signature piece Esplanade. It's based entirely on non-dance movements like walking, running, skipping, sliding, falling. The piece is very "70's" -- there's something vaguely free-love-ish about the dancers onstage as they seem to be enjoying a picnic/romp outside. My dad, who was a conservative immigrant, told me that when he first arrived in the United States groups of young people would often pack themselves into a car and go by a lake for a "picnic." One day a rather wild picnic ended with a frantic phone call to my dad -- would he PLEASE drive down to the lake ASAP? A car had gotten stalled on an incline to the lake and everyone was too drunk to try to drive the car out of that incline. My dad was known as the good driver among the bunch. Anyway, Esplanade reminds me of that -- maybe the best sequence of the dance is when one couple after another throws himself onstage in a belly fall. It looks like effortless fun. Beautiful, fun, timeless dance masterpiece.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
I went back to catch a second performance of the Met's revival of L'elisir d'amore tonight, and found it even more wonderful than opening night. It's really a great revival and I recommend that people catch the remaining performances -- you won't be disappointed.
Diana Damrau's was in much better shape than on opening night, where I found her voice surprisingly weak and thin. Tonight it was the familiar Damrau sound again -- bright, a bit brassy, but definitely a stellar, A-list lyric coloratura soprano. She also seemed to be more familiar with the production and cast, and added some funny acting bits that I don't remember on opening night.
Juan Diego Florez gave the same lovely, charming performance he gave opening night. I didn't think Nemorino would be the right role for him -- at times, he can seem aloof and stiff onstage. But he was an absolute delight as Nemorino. He showed his unsophisticated nature by some delightfully bad dancing, and with the classic unappealing "guy" habit of eating food with a knife. Although he did sound underpowered sometimes in the ensembles, in the duets and arias he sang with a beautiful sense of style. "Una furtiva lagrima" was taken at an unusually slow pace but Florez could handle it, and the fast vibrato of his voice worked to his advantage. It had the urgent throb of someone in love. The ovation he received at the end of the opera was just wonderful -- one had the feeling it wasn't just for his great performance tonight, it was also a gesture of gratitude to this tenor who since his Met debut 10 years ago has almost never cancelled, and in all the times I've seen him, never given a bad performance.
Mariusz Kweicien was hilarious as Belcore, and his baritone really is a very pleasant, smooth sound, really perfect for Mozart and bel canto operas. If there was one performer who seemed less impressive than on opening night, it was Alessandro Corbelli. He's kind of an old-school Italian character singer -- the type with almost no voice but plenty of comic timing and a mastery of patter. But tonight he seemed to have even less of a voice than usual, and seemed a bit disengaged from the whole performance as well. The schtick is only funny if performed with absolute conviction and unflagging energy. Corbelli had neither tonight.
John Copley's 1991 production washes the Met stage in a sea of pinks and pastels. I know many people find the pepto-bismol tones unbearable, but in its own way, the production works. It's traditional for Nemorino's to do their own schtick anyway, regardless of the production. But maybe it's just the eternal, ageless loveliness of Donizetti's opera that does the trick. This is an story about simple people in love, and it inspired Donizetti to write one of the most heartfelt valentines of all time. I like how both Adina and Nemorino grow up in this opera -- Adina starts out frivolous and a bit of a flirt. Nemorino is besotted and endearing but has no game. The "elixir of love" is really two people learning tricks from each other -- Nemorino learns how to play hard to get, and Adina learns to be sincere. The odd couple meet each other somewhere in the middle. Lovely opera, lovely performance.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
The Paul Taylor Dance Company is back in town, but this time they're using the Koch Theater due to NYCB's off-season and the NYC Opera's eviction from the theater last year. Their triple bills are always surprising, delightful, thought-provoking, and most of all, a reminder that Paul Taylor is maybe the last choreographic genius who is still alive, running his own company, choosing his own dancers, and supervising his dances. He's a national treasure and when he comes out for his curtain calls at the end of performances there's always a bittersweet feeling that it might all come to an end.
The triple bill this afternoon started with the stunningly beautiful Roses, set to Wagner's Siegfried's Idyll and Heinrich Baermann's Adagio for Clarinet and String. It starts off with four couples, the women dressed in black, the men in gray, as they move to the strains of Wagner's Siegfried's Idyll. At times Roses looks like something Balanchine could have choreographed, as the women swoon into the arms of the men. At other times, it incorporates some Taylor favorites, like cartwheels. A common theme is one partner cartwheeling over the body of his or her partner. The Idyll builds to a climax, and then, when one expects the dance to be over, a couple in white walk onstage to the considerably calmer, more serene Adagio. I could be wrong but I thought Roses perhaps depicted the natural progression of courtship. At first, the couples are full of passion. The final couple in white represents the more stable, mature phase of a romance that often marks a formal marriage.
The second dance on the program was Gossamer Gallants. This is one of the lighter Taylor pieces. It's set to the bouncy music of Smetana's Bartered Bride, and depicts the mating rituals between insects. The program includes this quote: “The nocturnal radiance of the fire-fly is purposely intended as an attraction to the opposite sex … some insect Hero may show a torch to her gossamer gallant”—Herman Melville. At first the male fireflies dance, and they are enthusiastic and preening, Then it's time for the female insects, whose flirty demeanor belies their fierceness. By the time the male insects and female insects dance, it's clear the males are no match for the females. The dance ends with the men exterminated, being dragged around onstage by the triumphant female insects. It's a delightful and disturbing dance, one that had the audience laughing and wincing at the same time.
The program ended with the well-known masterpiece Promethean Fire, an intense dance Taylor commissioned in honor of 9/11. Perhaps the most striking image of the dance was all sixteen bodies, piled on top of each other, as in a heap of ashes. That being said, I saw the company do this last year, and the central duet was much more strongly danced last year by Annmaria Mazzini and Michael Trusnovec. My friend Bill and I both remembered a moment when Mazzini literally threw herself backwards towards Trusnovec and the the audience gasped. The central couple this year were Robert Kleinendorst and Parisa Khobdeh. Khobdeh lacked the breakneck speed of Mazzini, and Kleindendorst lacked the incredible upper body strength of Trusnovec, and as a result, the same duet had a more muted effect. I saw the same backwards dive, but it looked careful and rehearsed and as a result, didn't have the same impact. The series turns the male does with the female wrapped around his neck and shoulders also didn't have the same speed. Still a great piece though, stunning to watch from beginning to end.
Sunday, March 11, 2012
I've never been able to make sense of the plot of Le Corsaire, and I have seen this ballet a surprising amount of times both live and on video. Something about pirates and slave girls and a pasha and his harem. The score is stitched together from six composers, and various choreographers. The current Bolshoi production is one of those reconstructions where some attempt has been made to restore long-lost music, mime, and old-fashioned Petipa-era costumes. The ballet certainly has a plethora of opportunities for dancers at every level of the company, and it's a lot of fun, but as I said, this production drags on for way too long and my interest totally sagged by Act III. I saw this production live when the Bolshoi toured to Washington D.C. a few years ago, and had the same reaction.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
For last night's premiere of L'elisir d'amore, I wrote for parterre, and my full review can be found here. Needless to say I enjoyed the performance very much, and recommend it highly.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Yesterday a young soprano named Latonia Moore made her debut at the Met, subbing for Violetta Urmana in Aida. It was the broadcast performance, heard around the world. Normally I'd write a wall of text, but in this case, I'll just let the singing speak for itself.
Hi world, meet Aida.
O patria mia:
Hi world, meet Aida.
O patria mia:
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Saturday, February 25, 2012
The evening started out with Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia in Donizetti Variations. I had seen this ballet earlier with Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz, two excellent technicians who for some reason never fail to bore me. Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia made me see the ballet in a whole new way -- it seemed more like a romantic pas de deux, rather than a typical Balanchine exercise in allegro dancing. I loved the series of supported pirouette followed by a supported air turn in their pas de deux. Peck has a way of simply floating across the stage that suggests the giddiness of someone in love. Particularly impressive were her circle of pique turns, which she slowly accelerated and also, as I said, pushed off with her legs in such a way that made it seem like her feet never touched the ground. Garcia was both an excellent partner and also excellent in his solo variations, with its series of fast pirouettes.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
RIP Whitney. It's always sad when childhood idols pass away. I'll never forget how when I was a little kid Whitney just seemed like the most beautiful woman with the most beautiful voice. Then when she kind of degenerated into tabloid "crack is whack" fodder it was always surreal. I believed it, but didn't want to believe it. Of course I watched Being Bobby Brown and laughed at her antics, but it was sad that she was apparently never able to get her life together. What a voice.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Newt Gingrich's youtube channel. In light of Gingrich's South Carolina primary win, I've been watching a few of these videos. I find them fascinating, and not really for the right reasons. Since these are videos uploaded by the Gingrich campaign, I suppose these are the videos he thinks best represent him.
The most striking thing about these videos is their consistent, unabashed, gleeful meanness. Most politicians when running for president affect a geniality that everyone knows is probably phony, but at the same time, totally necessary. You have to kiss those babies and praise those townhall moms whether it's at 5 in the morning or in a midnight rally. You have your wife or mom next to you on the campaign trail to show that you're really just a family man at heart. That's part of the American political process, the unrelieved peppiness that politicians have to fake on the campaign trail. This is reflected to an almost painful degree in the perma-grin/grimace Mitt Romney has pasted on his face at all times.
I know politicians are complex. I am sure there is more to Newt than the Angriest White Man to ever Angry White Man. What's scary isn't Gingrich's Uncle Scrooge personality and politics, it's the fact that so many Americans are eating it up. Is this really the person people want leading the nation for the next four years? If this is what America wants, well, God bless America.