Posted in Alexei Ratmansky, American Ballet Theatre, Balanchine, ballet

The Provinces

Bukovina and Odessa seem like such exotic locales. Actually, I think you would call them provincial.

Alexei Ratmansky has set dances at both places, to the music of his fellow Russian and frequent collaborator, Leonid Disyatnikov. The simply named Odessa is on the NYCB repertory this year.

Songs of Bukovina was introduced by ABT (@ABTballet) in a world premiere on October 18th as part of their short fall season at the David H. Koch Theater.

The steps in Ratmansky’s choreography for Songs of Bukovina are delightfully complex (à la Balanchine) and inventive. The costume design by Moritz Junge is as beautiful as anything else in this ballet. The muted costumes of the eight corps members are as soothing as the score with the principals’ outfits offering pops of bright color. The dancing is spectacular.

I consider NYCB to be our home-grown company, and ABT to be a much more Russian inflected troupe. The choreographer Ratmansky is their Artist in Residence. Many of their dancers have hailed from the Bolshoi and other such dance companies. In truth, their current crop of Principal Dancers is a diverse crew, mostly of American origins.
The ABT troupe all have a solid and gorgeous attack in their way of dancing. Precision, beauty, lyricism are their stock in trade.

As if to prove my point, Gillian Murphy and Cory Stearns delivered an intensely Russian style in Other Dances, a piece Jerome Robbins made especially for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova for a 1976 gala. These two ABT dancers were superb.

The ABT specializes in the full-length story ballet, a genre that just is not a favorite with me. For this 2-week fall Lincoln Center season, this year from October 18-29, they showcase the short-form dances which I find more enjoyable.

For more information and tickets, please visit ABT’s website.

Posted in Balanchine, Baldwin, based on a true story or event, based on an actual life, performance piece

“Stranger on Earth” at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse

Harlem Stage has a post-Valentine’s treat for us. Not the hearts and flowers kind of gift but a bouquet that honors the important American heritage of James Baldwin and Dinah Washington.

Marcelle Davies Lashley  interpreting the vocals of Dinah Washington in Carl Hancock Rux's "Stranger on Earth" at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse, Feb 19-20.
Marcelle Davies Lashley interpreting the vocals of Dinah Washington in Carl Hancock Rux’s “Stranger on Earth” at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse, Feb 19-20.

On February 19th and 20th at 7:30pm at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse, they present Stranger on Earth written and performed by Obie winning playwright Carl Hancock Rux. The production, commissioned by the company, is in celebration of Year of James Baldwin Centenary.

Stranger on Earth imagines a chance encounter at a Harlem jazz lounge between Dinah Washington and James Baldwin. The singer and the writer/philosopher/social commentator were the eras two most iconic African Americans. In this performance piece, Rux uses Baldwin’s landmark essays to create a work that addresses race, identity, and the future of a world which both Baldwin and Washington struggled to comprehend and inhabit. ASccompanying Rux is vocalist Marcelle Davies Lashley who interprets Washington’s songs. Rux draws from Baldwin’s “Notes of A Native Son,” “Nobody Knows My Name,” and “The Fire Next Time” for his original text, and from Washington’s final album (1964) for the title.

Carl Hancock Rux, performance artist, OBIE-winning playwright envisions a meeting between singer Dinah Washington and writer James Baldwin in "Stranger on Earth."
Carl Hancock Rux, performance artist, OBIE-winning playwright envisions a meeting between singer Dinah Washington and writer James Baldwin in “Stranger on Earth.”

Ted Cruz, composer and producer, is on piano, with Jason DiMatteo on bass. DiMatteo, who works internationally with hundreds of musicians, is a frequent collaborator on Rux performances. Lashley has also worked with Rux on the Rux Revue, and was the mistress of ceremonies at the Jazz Foundation of America’s Gala at the Apollo in 2012.

Stranger on Earth plays out under a video montage by conceptual artist Onome Ekeh. The video sets the historic background for the piece in the violent and socially disruptive year of 1963. Yen Moon directs. Another of Rux’s collaborators, Hamilton “Fitz” Kirby provides the sound design for Stranger on Earth.

Harlem Stage kicked off the Year of James Baldwin on April 26, 2014 with a workshop of Stranger on Earth. The Baldwin initiative is envisioned as a 14-month, city-wide celebration of one of America’s most important and trenchant thinkers. The Year will culminate in the world premiere presentation at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse on June 3rd through 7th with Stew’s Notes of a Native Son. In this new work, Stew, the Tony-winning composer, singer and storyteller, is inspired by Baldwin’s visionary way of airing uncomfortable truths and finding in them both beauty and poetry.

To learn more about Stranger on Earth, please visit

Posted in Balanchine, ballet, Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth

Our home-grown ballet troupe

By ( [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By ( [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
The New York City Ballet to me is uniquely our home-grown ballet company. I grew up with George Balanchine’s troupe, enjoying the dancing of Jacques d’Amboise and Suzanne Farrell from the cheap seats at City Center.

I always imagined d’Amboise, a son of Dedham, MA, to be a cosmopolitan Parisian until I saw him showcase his young students from the National Dance Institute he founded in a ceremony in Central Park a few years back. Wherever he came from, d’Amboise was a polished and elegant presence on stage. Balanchine created many works especially for him to dance.

Years later, the graceful and athletic Damien Woetzel came to represent for me the best male dancing of the NYCB. He had the power and fluidity of Baryshnikov (who also danced with the company) or Nureyev, but he was from around here. (Like Jacques d”Amboise, Woetzel hails from Massachusetts.)

I have witnessed too many grand performers and performances at NYCB, now at home at Lincoln Center, to even try to enumerate them. I missed a lot of them, too; for instance I never saw the Jerome Robbins-Mihail Baryshnikov “partnership” when Robbins created Opus 19: The Dreamer (1979) for him.

Today’s crop of NYCB dancers is marvellous, with Sara Mearns a personal favorite on the women’s side; I love the extension and the energy in her moves. Although the perky and talented Megan Fairchild is also wonderful to watch. Over time, more stars will emerge.

Balanchine’s dream company, started with Lincoln Kirstein, and aided by the choreographer Jerome Robbins, will evolve. Peter Martins is only the third Ballet Master In Chief at NYCB since its initial founding. New dancemakers, like young Justin Peck to name just one, will create more lovely steps for the company to dance.

The dance goes on, moving forward, and eliciting ever more enthusiastic “Bravos” from its enthralled audience.

“You were never lovelier”

Over coffee with my friend Carlos, I mentioned that Rita Hayworth was paired with Fred Astaire in a film (the name of which escaped me at the time) to which the New York City Ballet pays tribute. The dance, by Jerome Robbins, is “I’m Old-Fashioned” to a Morton Gould adaptation of Jerome Kern’s song.

The movie goes by the non-mnemonic You Were Never Lovelier.

If you’ve never seen Hayworth dance, you might wonder if she has the chops. Consult the men in Gilda, where the siren call of her curvy figure comes with lithe and dangerous moves. In You Were Never Lovelier, she is both funny and well-matched with Astaire.

Despite its sometimes forgettable title, it is a very effective and in, its own right, like most Fred Astaire vehicles, well-choreographed piece, highlights of which are incorporated into Robbins’ breathtaking ballet.

“I’m Old-Fashioned” is in the NYCB repertoire, just not this season. Keep an eye out for it, Carlos; it’s worth seeing whenever it comes up on the bill of fare.

Bookmark the NYCB and check it for a chance to see them in action,

Posted in Angelina Vorontsova and Victor Lebedev, Balanchine, Dimitry Shostakovich, Ivan Vasiliev, Mikhail Messerer, Oksana Bondareva.Natalia Osipova, Petipa, Russian Ballet, The Mikhailovsky Theatre Ballet

The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!

The Flames of Paris.
Photo by Stas Levshin
The Flames of Paris. 
Photo by Stas Levshin

Not just any Russians, of course, but the Mikhailovsky Ballet Company is visiting us from St. Petersburg.

There was a time when a visit from a Russian ballet company and the subsequent defections of its dancers to the West was viewed as a Cold War triumph. These days a touring Russian troupe simply offers the chance to witness part of a grand tradition of superlative dance.

Don Quixote. Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev. Photo by Stas Levshin

The 80 year old Mikhailovsky Ballet Company has never been state-side before. When it aarives on November 11th for its stay at the David H. Koch Theater on Lincoln Center’s campus through November 23rd,   consider this your  opportunity to enjoy great dance programs from its varied repertoire.

Don Quixote. Photo by Nikolay Krusser

The Company will play to a live orchestra for its 15 performances in New York. From there it goes to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in California from November 28th through the 30th.

The Mikhailovsky Theatre, where Fyodor Lopukhov founded the Ballet Company in 1933, had hosted many an opera and ballet in the 100 years it had already been in existence.  Its long and storied history included the  George Balanchine choreography of a Rimsky-Korsikov opera in 1923.  Since its official founding as a Ballet Company at the Mikhailovsky Theatre by Lopukhov, the Company has had an outstanding number of top Ballet Masters at its helm.  The Ballet Company staged the premiere of  Lopukhov’s production of Dmitry Shostakovich’s The Bright Stream in 1935

Today, the Ballet Company is home to world class Principal Dancers and is headed by Ballet Master in Chief Mikhail Messerer. It blends tradition with modernity in its productions and will bring a sampling to its US tour, including “Three Centuries of Russian Ballet” which will feature choreography from Petipa, Asaf Messerer, and Nacho Duato among others.

November 15th matinee commentary: at Tand B On The Aisle on wordpress

For more information about The Mikhailovsky Theatre and its  Ballet Company, visit The Mikhailovsky Theatre Ballet
For tickets and programs, please visit

Posted in Balanchine, ballet, Boston Ballet is 50 years old, Jorma Elo

Thank you, Boston Ballet for Visiting

The Boston Ballet brought their 50th year party to Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater with two alternating programs of varied masterworks. The oldest choreography was from the Vaslav Nijinsky oeuvre, and the newest from José Martinez which had its world premiere at their home in February of this year.

The Boston Ballet’s rendering of George Balanchine’s “Symphony in Three Movements” is as perky and fresh of face as the expert youngsters in the company. The dancers are skilled; their presentation is precise and fluid. In a beautifully executed version of the Balanchine classic, John Lam is a standout.
Also commendable are the orchestra, under the leadership of conductor Jonathan McPhee, whose vigorous performance of the Igor Stravinsky score contributed to a magnificent production.

The wildly theatrical Nijinsky “Afternoon of a Faun” is brought to life by Altan Dugaraa’s marvellous titular beast. The costumes and sets by Leon Bakst hearken to the lavish original. 

Resident choreographer, Jorma Elo fashioned “Plan to B” for the Boston Ballet in 2004 (a year before he took up his residency.) It is a powerful and exciting work set to the music of Heinrich von Biber.

“The Second Detail,” set to the electronic pulses of Thom Willems, has a rehearsal atmosphere at once casual and formalistic. The troupe, as always, gives a superb performance of the complicated movements.

José Martinez contributes a very classic and classy piece, set to Liszt and played by solo pianos (Alex Foaksman and Frieda Locker) with the music coming from both sides of the stage. “Resonance” is simply gorgeous to hear and watch.

In Boston? Visit the Boston Ballet website,  for tickets. For more about the history of the company, see their Wikipedia listing.