Archive for December, 2011

My Wigilia Table 2011

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Montreal dance troupe lops off prelude, filmic imagery, cool costumes.

Posted: Sat, Dec. 10, 2011, 3:01 AM

By Merilyn Jackson
For The Inquirer

Courtesy Marie Chouinard
Sandrine Lafond (left), Carla Maruca, Isabelle Poirier of Compagnie Marie Chouinard in “24 Preludes” by Chopin. The troupe began its first visit to Philadelphia in 17 years Thursday night.

At opening night of Montreal’s Compagnie Marie Chouinard at Annenberg Center, their first Philadelphia appearance in 17 years, some in the audience said they were in shock and awe after her Rite of Spring.

But after seeing Chouinard’s Rite in Phoenix in 1996 and longing to see it again all these years, I was just in shock. It was so unlike the original, my favorite of many Rites I’ve seen around the world. Company agent Paul Tanguay said Shanghai audiences will see the original with the white and tan colored leotards and Rober Racine’s 12- minute prelude, Sound Signatures. But we get a bargain-basement version, without the Racine and the costumes.

In 24 Preludes by Chopin, which opened the program, the women wore sheer black leotards taped thong-like around the groin and across the nipples, much like a costume I saw on a pole dancer at Delilah’s when I was a judge in an exotic dancer of the year contest. For both topless genders in this Rite, Chouinard recycled the same briefs as worn by the men in 24 Preludes making for a confusing opening moment. Was this merely a continuation of the first piece?

The brilliant original use of Racine’s amplified pencil on paper score had evoked pre-human insectile life, repeated visually by the angular, torso-undulating choreography. Here, Dance Celebration’s program notes say his score would extend Stravinsky’s work to about 50 minutes. Asked why these changes were not mentioned, Tanguay said some audiences didn’t like the Racine and that it made it too long.

This, with a show ending at 9:15 and within a work that itself caused riots?

Also excised was the beautiful imagery of the early version, in which each dancer appears as a film projection in a pillar of light, a luxuriant illusion that falls away as when wind whips across a reflecting pool’s surface. Now lacking that sensuous prelude, the dancers squirmed into raw illusions that had their bodies seem to fracture into fractals or spiral into DNA. It was more big-bang than evolution.

Still there were many moments of awe: Leon Kupferschmid’s feral jetés and wounded rasps, Mariusz Ostrowski and the others using their hands like cleavers to sculpt the air around them. Lucy M. May in the opening solo was jaw dropping with her bent-knee, flexed-footed running in place.

Perhaps Chouinard took her cue for the osculating curvatures of the bodies which barely touch, much less kiss, from Stravinsky’s opening bassoon solo, “Kiss of the Earth.” It imparted a slimy fluidity as the dancers pecked and goose-necked at each other in this rite of annual renewal that occurs without thought or sentiment, only the primal urge to be.

24 Preludes by Chopin began with Megan Walbaum and Valeria Gallucio’s flamingo-like walking. To Chopin’s famous “Prelude in E-Minor” the full company in lineup passes one upright woman back and forth by her waist. As three women rotate their arms a flickering light makes them look like a silent film. Throughout, quivering, splayed hands conjured a Mayan look or brought comedic relief.

Overall the mohawks all the dancers wore, the undulating torsos in profile, the high-stepping, crooked-knee walking gave 24 Preludes movement birdlike qualities which I loved. Ostrowski, who I’ve followed over 15 years from Ballet Arizona, through Les Grands Ballet Canadiens, Rubberbandance and now Chouinard’s company is at the top of his form.

Monday, December 5, 2011

By Merilyn Jackson
“Ties that Bind,” seen at the Painted Bride over the weekend, exemplified, through the choreography of three Philadelphia dance makers, just how this  dance community creatively pools its resources.
The first two works, by Jennifer Morley and Olive Prince, employed rigging hanging from the fly and told stories, while Nora Gibson’s was strictly abstract floor work.

Morley presented Bearing Fruit, a poetic and mythic narrative. Ellie Goudie-Averil and another dancer, wrapped like chrysalises in hammocks, unwound themselves to join the others, including Beau Hancock, the man born of a peapod in this story. Though it works as dance theater, the choreography was so quietly basic it could not have held the attention without the storyline.

In Prince’s Under Desire, the choreography was often gratifyingly surprising, but I could not find a link between her intention to portray what people feel compelled to do before they turn 87 (as she stated in the program notes) and the actual dancing. Morley, Prince, Elizabeth Reynolds, Caitlin Hellerer and Jennifer Rose all looked Olympian in Heidi Barr’s creamy tunics and danced like goddesses too, especially Rose and Prince. I could not guess what the extended use of the fog machine could have meant, except perhaps as a dreamlike device.

If I had seen these two dances on a program by themselves, they might have compared more favorably, as they were good efforts. They were just not strong enough — choreographically in the first case,  and in the second, in achieving intention — when up against Gibson’s innovative choreography and vividly met intent.

As did her 2010 Vested Souls, Gibson’s Trinity — Phase II took my breath away, this time from its first step to its final genuflection. Gibson uses clean, sharp minimalist ballet positions in a pedestrian manner, that is, she and her dancers, Jessica Warchal-King and Eiren Shuman in soft ballet slippers, sharply walk us through them. The formal preparations for a movement phrase are often strictly reversed; there is very little bent-knee work, except as preparation. Front-dipping penché arabesques spin away in the opposite direction. Certain choreographies, for ineffable reasons, remind me of Lucinda Childs, in whose work Gibson was pinpoint perfect a month ago at the Performance Garage. Gibson achieves a severely focused intellectual beauty with her chest out-shoulders down-chin forward perfect form.

Mikronesia’s Michael Reiley McDermott played his often arpeggiated electronic score live onstage.

Review: Koresh Dance Company

Friday, December 2, 2011

By Merilyn Jackson
What a wonderful thing when a city’s audience base sustains an arts organization for two decades or more. Koresh Dance Company’s 20th anniversary year is upon us, and the company proved that it deserves this longevity with its fall season opener at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre Thursday evening. The program was simply a stunner with in-your-face, all-out dancing by  the 10-member troupe.

I have observed in the pastthat Koresh’s programs are not usually particularly  varied, but this pastiche of “agonizingly chosen” excerpts from his favorite works (as Roni Koresh expressed  it before the show) gave the lie to that.

With his Israeli and jazz-based background, Koresh (who just turned 50) often uses socio-historical, folk, and biblical motifs with wit and playfulness, sensuality and menace. His 1992 Facing the Sun opens with a steam engine’s glaring headlight bearing down on the audience and the chug of a train. In this epic work the full company faces the menace of the Holocaust while heroically striving to remain committed to their community until one by one they are shot dead

If I have not said enough about Melissa Rector’s dancing over the years, here’s this: After 20 years with Koresh, she is still just about the best-trained dancer in the city. I don’t know how it’s possible to keep improving while other dancers would be declining, but she does. Even though Asya Zlatina, Alexis Viator, Shannon Bramham and Jessica Daley (each with the company four or more years) and newcomer Krista Montrone are younger, and equally athletic and beautiful, they are  no match for Rector’s perfectly arched point and her ferocious fire to dance. Her demanding choreography for the Koresh Youth Ensemble, which opened the program with a work called Surge, shows that when, if ever, she slows down, we won’t see the last of her talent.
She soared, swooped, and scorched the stage in the 1992 Carousel, the first Koresh work she ever danced in. One gorgeous moment: The women sit open-legged astride the men’s thighs, facing them. Hands entwined, the men swirl them backward until their heads almost sweep the floor.

Another favorite of mine from 2005 was the excerpt from Standing in Tears, to Balkan Beat Box — wild and tribal. And Micah Geyer and Rector’s priceless send-up duet from 2009’s Evolution, to solemn  Schubert music, had us all entranced. Eric Bean and Bramham were also breathtaking in an excerpt from Sense of Human (2010), as was a ravishing trio with Geyer, Montrone and Joseph Cotler from the same dance. Newcomer DJ Smart made up the minyan in this dance ensemble and acquitted himself well. Could we please have another 20 years of this?


Posted on Tue, Jun. 03, 2003

By Merilyn Jackson
For The Philadelphia Inquirer

Tall and pliant, Megan Bridge is not only a compelling dancer.  Her choreography shows keen expressiveness that her body follows, giving Dance Magazine cause to list her as a critic’s pick in 2001.  A member of Group Motion Dance Company, she frequently dances in other’s shows.  Last weekend at Community Education Center, she gave her first full evening of her choreography with several of the area’s other fine dancers — all in collaboration with composer and video artist, Peter Price.

Bridge and Katie McNamara opened as, and in, Kevin and Victor Charming. In white ruffled shirts with overlong floppy sleeves, they took potshots at dance cliches and social affectations in a light, comedic manner. They begin by leaning, supporting, falling, whispering and grimacing. But once David Konyk walked across the stage in nothing but a grungy plaid shirt, the first two purposefully repeated a dance combination in ever-increasing tempos that left them spent on the floor.

Whither the Storm is an expansion of an older, more static dance called Obelisk. Its beautiful new dynamism and ominous music have five men rolling across the stage like tumbleweeds or bending like trees in a strong breeze, blending her original concept with input from the dancers.

Dancing delightfully in Kiss Off, Alison Ferris, Lorin Lyle and Lesya Popil at times became a kind of six-legged dance machine with two robotic dancers propelled and poked by the grinning Popil. In Teletime, one of two very strong dance and technology pieces, Popil walks up to Price’s psychedelic-looking and rapidly changing projected-video images. In white satin gown and gloves, the dancer interacts with them like a live component of a video game. Electronically altered voices repeatedly say “star struck” as the images obliterate her and the set goes dark.

Palate has Bridge dancing against her own black-and-white, preshot video image. In this, another solo called Situation, and in Slide Rule, a duet with Ferris, Bridge duck-walks, arcs her Swan Lake-like arms, or balances on one leg as delicately as a flamingo. She can stop a turn on a dime, but often her dancing is as attenuated and rarefied as a wisp of smoke.


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