New York Theater Workshop, like the Keen Company mentioned a couple of times in my blog posts recently, has really stepped up its game. This is from today’s email to me: “HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING IN OUR VIRTUAL THEATRE this week, including ourMONDAYS @3 andWORKSHOP WEDNESDAYS series!” And which goes on to say: “Our programming is free and open to the public, just make sure to register in advance! All artists who contribute to these important online gatherings are compensated.
If you’re in the position to make a gift to support our work, we hope you’ll consider doing so—even $5, $10, $25 makes a big difference.”
Since the connection the theaters are providing us is so invaluable, we all should consider donating if we can. Even for free programming. Like NYTW, Keen is asking for financial assistance with a campaign and a matching funds donor. Other companies, from DTH which is offering dance fitness classes to the above cited JLC, to the New York City Ballet (with a digital Spring Season,) all need support and friendship from us.
In the meantime, they are all contributing what they do best to each of us.
We have given up a lot to the coronavirus. For our own safety and that of those around us, we voluntarily restricted our freedom of movement (#Stay_Home) and our love of congeniality (#SocialDistancing). We traded our daily routines of work and cocktail hour for being at home and meeting via Zoom. We have become shutins and anti-social. We don’t go out except to walk six feet apart from others, just for the sake of getting some air.
What we give up when we indulge in at-home theater viewing is
1. the live-actors-in-real-time theater experience
2. the 4th wall
2a. “great seats”
3. the chance to go out, dress up and make a night of it
4. the spontaneity of a flubbed line and a good save
1. The action is pre-recorded, or, if contemporaneous, involves only one actor
2. The distance between you and the stage is filtered through a screen.
2a. You still have the best seats in the house.
3. You may well be in your pjs, as so many of us are these days, or workout clothes.
3a. Your dinner may have been oreos or a box of mini-wheats.
4. If there is a flub or a falter, it ceases to be spontaneous once taped.
5.. You are likely watching alone on a laptop or tablet.
5a. At most, you are likely part of an audience of 2.
The privacy of your home is a sanctuary into which you are bringing a sacred event. Cool. But not the same as experiencing theatrical expressions in a theater space.
As I said in a recent post, theater artists also yearn to stay active, contribute and engage in what they love. Audiences are part and parcel of what they love to do. Broadway World is sharing updates about shutdowns and “Living Room Concerts” with me as well as “Songs from the Vault” and “157 Musicals and Shows You Can Watch Online.” Their “Broadway Rewind” took me down memory lane to some productions I really enjoyed over the years.
Roundabout Theatre Company sent an email with encouraging tidbits, including this montage from last season’s Kiss Me Kate:
Dance Theater of Harlem reached out with a newsletter on their 50 Forward which includes a video of a signature dance by Louis Johnson, who died in March, created by him for the company in 1972. Forces of Rhythm remained in the DTH repertory alongside works by Arthur Mitchell and George Balanchine.
New York Theatre Workshop’s email announced Virtual Programming; it is no great wonder that these companies are also looking for donations to help them tide over in these tough “shutdown” days. It is remarkable how much creativity is being put to alternative use!
New Yorker’s Goings On About Town** led me to check out this troupe. Their style is a mucho macho tango and completely mesmerizing. Watching their performance led directly to another interesting find, Malevo Malambo, and from there onto Picahueso Malambo and then an all women’s troupe called Revolution Queens. Like the men from Che Malambo, Malevo Malambo are energetic, aggressive and graceful. The women of Revolution Queens exhibit similarly fierce showmanship.
Malambo, as it turns out, is an Argentine folk style that features footwork called zapeteo. The Malevo group has gone on America’s Got Talent (NBC) in an attempt to popularize this dance form which at home is seen in competitions, and not in theaters. The ladies of Revolution Queens have also been on the TV show. They came out brandishing drums and banging their feet with all the force of the all-male proponents of this genre.
Like the Irish percussive stomp dancers, these Malamboistas present more spectacle than dance performance. Can the French choreographer Gilles Brinas turn his Che Malambo company into a destination for dance fans? Malevo was created by choreographer and dancer Matías Jaime, a native Argentine, in 2015. His troupe appeared at last season’s Fall For Dance at New York City Center. Che Malambo performed at the Joyce this past February.
Seems like mainstream dance fandom, along with the folkloric crowd, is not far behind. Especially if the women of malambo continue to sing to the tune of “Anything you can do….”
**Note, I am always several weeks behind in my New Yorker reading, which is devoted and involves going cover to cover.
April 15th is not just the day your taxes are due. It’s also opening night for Dance Theatre of Harlem’s City Center programming and for its 2020 VISION GALA. Your opportunity to celebrate 50 years of the legacy of Dance Theatre of Harlem is now,
It is sometimes harder to put a concept better expressed in the physical, into words.
I admit that it can be difficult for a critic to articulate what s/he sees presented on the stage. Some things are visceral. This is particularly true of dance where emotion and meaning are conveyed in gestures, movement and context. It also often applies to experimental theatre which tends towards the cerebral.
Katie Workum and her collaborators want to communicate about their work, The Door’s Unlockedin exclusionary descriptives. This is how the work is described: “Let’s be clear: This is not a dance piece. This is a conjuring inside a temporariness. This is connecting the dancers with the dance. This is a negotiation of our togetherness. This is entering the unknown without demanding to know. “
She and her collective, the eponymously named Katie Workum Dance, will perform the multi-platformed piece at Foley Gallery at 59 Orchard Street; they expect that it will change with each iteration and audience to which it is presented, from February 3 through 9.
In speaking of the experimental in theater, I am always referencing LaMaMa as a touchstone. So, I am glad to be able to include in this posting a little something of what they will be up to in the new year.
La MaMa, in association with Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre and NODA・MAP, presents the U.S. Premiere of One Green Bottle from February 29 through March 8, 2020 at The Ellen Stewart Theatre, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. One Green Bottle is an absurdist work in which gender is bent, and our societal foibles, from consumerism to selfie-addiction, is explored.
LaMaMa may have been at the forefront of theatrical happenings, of course, but all theatre is about performance, sentiment and interaction. What is on stage is always a happening.
The 1st Origin Irish Festival is in its 12th season of competition., beginning on January 7th and running through February 3rd. The festival is a highly curated event, devoted to producing the plays of contemporary Irish playwrights from around the world with a total of 15 productions being presented in venues all over NYC. During the Closing Night Ceremony on Monday, February 3rd, the Best of Festival Awards will be handed out.
A multi-generational drama, Echoes in the Garden, is on offer at The Chain Theatre this March 11th through 29th. The world premiere of Ross G. Hewitt’s new play about family, grief and obligation is producted by American Bard Theater Company and directed by Aimee Todoroff.
Also at The Chain, beginning on February 7th and running through the 22nd is another premiere, Chasing the River. Written by Jean Dobie Giebel and directed by Ella Jane New, Chasing the River depends on memory and its intersection with PTSD to tell its tale of second chances, survival and the healing power of love.
There was a time when ballet fans (who probably preferred being called afficianados) thought of ballerinas as novitiates of the stage.
Like Mary Magadalene, mother to the nuns that followed, we see our novice sometimes succumbing to the siren call of the ballet master. His charisma and artistic prowess were irresistible draws, as were his faith in her abilities. He may see himself as a Svengali, but in truth he only teases out her innate talent; his actions do not endow her with her natural gifts.
The dancer and the dance-maker are colleagues, co-equal partners in the dance we are fortunate to witness. Ballerinas have an ethereal quality that makes them shine more brilliantly, if also more distantly. They are our stars, revealing through movement the stories of our lives..
Modern dance, like modern painting, or architecture or any of the other arts afflicted with the prefacing descriptive, is only as modern as its times.
History places the origin of this genre of choreography at the turn of the last century. Those origins were reactive in nature, as an antidote as it were to “classical ballet.” The style is meant to be expressive of the inner feelings of the dancer; the expressions are free from the restrictions of structured steps. The modern dancer uses movement to reveal his/her inner soul. Today, modern dance is some 100 years old, and yet it is still expected to emote and move with all the flexibility of a youngster.
The style represented by the pioneers of the form has come to be codified. Its spontaneity is no longer its main vision or purpose. Dance may be a step in time, a fleeting movement, quick and quickly forgotten, but we keep records of its progress nonetheless.
Many of those pioneers are no longer with us; some have left behind active companies to carry on their legacy. Their companies carry their name as a banner; it is a reminder that the master who founded the troupe set the style for it. Just as we recall the steps of the waltz or the cha cha or the fox trot, the choreography that underpins Martha Graham‘s or Merce Cunningham‘s endowment can be notated and remembered. Dancers who know the steps pass on this knowledge f or future generations; there are videotapes of works by Paul Taylor, Jose Limon. even Isadora Duncan extant. The Balanchine style of ballet is preserved and inherited in much the same way.
Then what happens to the dancers who worked under the founding modern dance choreographer after s/he is gone? Their careers will change. Some will be absorbed into other groups. Others will band together to form new dance ensembles. They will turn to choreography themselves, or find star turns in other modern companies.
Paul Taylor foresaw a succession for his company, as Alvin Ailey had before him. He started presenting the works of emerging artists alongside his own several years before his death last August. He had gone so far as to rename his company Paul Taylor American Modern Dance to allow for the collaborations he incorporated into the troupe. Like Ailey, he appointed a successor, Michael Novak, from within the ranks of the company. For 3 weeks this fall, October 17 through November 20, the company will honor Taylor in its Lincoln Center Season; the dancers, who can’t seem to settle on PTDC or the more inclusive moniker of PTAMD, will present 10 of Taylor’s masterpieces alongside commissioned works by Kyle Abraham and L.C. premieres by guest resident choreographers Pam Tanowitz and Margie Gillis.
His alumni remain loyal to the company. Some also have seen fit to test their wings with other projects. Two PTDC alumni, Laura Halzack and Michael Trusnovec join current PTDC dancer Michelle Fleet and film exec VJ Carbone in bringing the Asbury Park Dance Festival to inaugurate on September 14th. Another Paul Taylor dancer’s Parisa Khobdeh Dance Company, for instance, has just completed its premiere outing with a piece called Nevertheless, which will also be at the Dumbo Dance Festival on the 12-13 of October. Khobdeh will be dancing in the upcomng PTAMD season, but she is forging a place for women-centric dance works with her own company.
In a way, we can consider this kind of after-life of dance company members to be part of the legacy of the masters who founded the great modern dance movement.
Is it true that youth is wasted on the young? Perhaps not, at least this group of youngsters is making the most of their time and talents. And yes, I am a little jealous.
There is a good deal to be said for getting an early start. Youth is lithe and agile. It is a great season for dancing, Movement can be the lingua franca for the young; it is their body language as it were.
Ellen Robbins’ Dances By Very Young Choreographers at Live Arts, on January 26th and 27th, will be showcasing works by children as young as 8. The dance-makers, ranging in age from 8 to 18, study modern dance and choreography with Ms. Robbins.
The program ranges across the many styles of dance performance, from the humorous, narrative, to the lyrical. The music selections, chosen by the choreographers, include folk, jazz, classical, contemporary.
Ellen Robbins has been teaching dance sine 1966 and has received honors for her work with children. She has taught dance education at Sarah Lawrence and been on the faculties of Bennington College, the 92nd Street Y, and other distinguished institutions. In 2001, Dances By Very Young Choreographers was on the program at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.
After the matinee on January 26th, there will be an evening concert by the Alumni of Dances by Very Young Choreographers, which presents work by dancers who studied with Robbins from 1982 to 2016.
Dance evolves with the times as do all things, artistic or run-of-the-mill. It is what we need to keep in perspective as we watch young choreographers take on the creation of the next new ballet. They will be influenced by what has been termed modern dance, a genre dating back to Isadora Duncan’s day and represented prominently today by, among others, Paul Taylor (and his) American Modern Dance.
Modern dance is meant to be less formal, to eschew the stodgy. Not that Jerome Robbins, or George Balanchine, for that matter, can be thought of as stodgy. The ballets that are stepping, best foot forward, these days, tend to –not exactly relax, since many are as frenetic as they are innovative– be freer in mixing the metaphors of dance forms.
Lauren Lovett and Peter Walker, two of the more recently minted NYCB dance-makers, have emerged as rising stars of ballet. Lovett tends towards a romantic view of the classical. Walker is a bit of a renegade, although his second work, the 2018 dance odyssey, moves to a more traditional line.
The older guard is equally willng to mix things up. At 40, and after many years dancing as a principal with New York City Ballet, and working with his own troupe and as head of the Paris Opera Ballet, Benjamin Millepied is an elder statesman in the world of choreography. Millepied, whose Neverwhere was a lovely revelation at a recent NYCB performance, is a case in point. His work uses classical style married to contemporary scores–Neverwhere is set to music by Nico Muhly– and refreshing ideas about movement. Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence at the American Ballet Theatre since 2008, has given NYCB some delightful novelties, as well. His Odessa and Songs of Bukovina are works that join diverse styles of folk and ballet in beautiful complexity.
Jerome Robbins was a man who knew how to put on a show. His ballets has as much pomp and circumstance, flair and flavor as any of his Broadway show.
At 30-40 minutes, they constitute something like a one-act on every program on which they are featured. Like many another dance-maker, Robbins covered a range of styles and subjects. There’sNY Export: Opus Jazz, the West Side Story Suite, and I’m Old Fashioned with their modern and pop culture motifs.
The Four Seasons, set to ballet interludes by Verdi from a number of his operas, is an exhilirating and very classical entertainment. In it he creates not just a mise en scène that takes us from winter through spring to summer and fall but also hearkens to Shakespeare. A Puck-like figure (puckishly danced by Preston Chamblee at the performance we attended) gambols through the final chapter of the ballet.
The Four Seasons with its processions representing the times and temperatures that progress through the year is at once majestic and light-hearted. Robbins, a much lauded stage choreographer contributed greatly to the NYCB repertoire in his long association with the company. He joined George Balanchine as Associate Artistic Director of the New York City Ballet in 1949.