Archive for the ‘ Inquirer Articles ’ Category

Merilyn Jackson
For The Inquirer
Posted: Saturday, June 15, 2013, 3:01 AM

ALEXANDER IZILIAEV

Pennsylvania Ballet dancers in company premiere of William Forsythe’s “Artifact Suite.”

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The Pennsylvania Ballet closes its 2013 spring season with an artistically varied program that is emotionally and intellectually satisfying. At the Academy of Music on Thursday night, the curtain rose on 12 dancers, backs to the audience, walking forward, taking steps back, making half-turns, adding more dance moves until they broke rank. The women in long-sleeved gowns, the men in blouses and straight trousers (by John Macfarlane, who also designed the moody set based on a Munch painting) were dancing Jirí Kylián’s 1981 Forgotten Land.

In this company premiere, Gabriella Yudenich and partner James Ihde were passionately dramatic in black, while Lillian Di Piazza and Lorin Mathis were exquisitely romantic in white. Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem gave the work gravitas, but the women’s hunched backs and crooked arms with fingers seeming to drip from their hands gave it a macabre, Munch-ian look.

The ballet’s resident choreographer, Matthew Neenan, set his poetic At Various Points to Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words. A world premiere, this quartet is his 14th commission for the company. There is always something ludic about Neenan’s work. Here, it’s finger-wagging, putting the finger on the nose or chin, or pointing straight at the audience as if to say, “We see you seeing us.”

I wish I could have seen Rebecca Kanach’s raggedy costumes better, but lighting designer John Hoey shaded them too darkly and the particolored spotlights didn’t reach the dancers. If they had too little light, Martha Koeneman’s piano playing in the pit sparked them through the lighter parts of the score.

With the company and East Coast premiere of William Forsythe’s Artifact Suite, the Ballet adds to the two Forsythes in its repertoire. Condensed from his full evening-length 1984 ballet (the first he made for the Frankfurt Ballet when he became its director) and staged by choreographer Jodie Gates to the chaconne from Bach’s Solo Violin Partita No. 2, it looked very masculine: muscular, combative, cerebral, philosophical, and breathtakingly unsentimental.

The firewall falls repeatedly with unapologetic thuds to rise again on the 38 dancers now regrouped. Barefooted Caralin Curcio is “The Other,” who conducted arm signals throughout, echoing the mass motion in sync with Eurythmics exercises and Laban movement choirs. She was commanding, but sometimes got lost in the overly crowded field.

When these forces walked off in soft goose step at the end of the first half, it looked very like Forsythe was referencing Germany’s past while ushering in its artistic future. The pointe-slippered women performed a torrent of tendus to the late Eva Crossman-Hecht’s pianisms in the second half, as if in ballet barre class. Later, “The Other” leads the men, ribboning them through the women in this blitzkrieg of pure classicism sans embellishment.

The Pennsylvania Ballet closes its 2013 spring season with an artistically varied program that is emotionally and intellectually satisfying. At the Academy of Music on Thursday night, the curtain rose on 12 dancers, backs to the audience, walking forward, taking steps back, making half-turns, adding more dance moves until they broke rank. The women in long-sleeved gowns, the men in blouses and straight trousers (by John Macfarlane, who also designed the moody set based on a Munch painting) were dancing Jirí Kylián’s 1981 Forgotten Land. In this company premiere, Gabriella Yudenich and partner James Ihde were passionately dramatic in black, while Lillian Di Piazza and Lorin Mathis were exquisitely romantic in white. Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem gave the work gravitas, but the women’s hunched backs and crooked arms with fingers seeming to drip from their hands gave it a macabre, Munch-ian look. The ballet’s resident choreographer, Matthew Neenan, set his poetic At Various Points to Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words. A world premiere, this quartet is his 14th commission for the company. There is always something ludic about Neenan’s work. Here, it’s finger-wagging, putting the finger on the nose or chin, or pointing straight at the audience as if to say, “We see you seeing us.” I wish I could have seen Rebecca Kanach’s raggedy costumes better, but designer John Hoey shaded them too darkly and the particolored spotlights didn’t reach the dancers. If they had too little light, Martha Koeneman’s piano playing in the pit sparked them through the lighter parts of the score. With the company and East Coast premiere of William Forsythe’s Artifact Suite, the Ballet adds to the two Forsythes in its repertoire. Condensed from his full evening-length 1984 ballet (the first he made for the Frankfurt Ballet when he became its director) and staged by choreographer Jodie Gates to the chaconne from Bach’s Solo Violin Partita No. 2, it looked very masculine: muscular, combative, cerebral, philosophical, and breathtakingly unsentimental. The firewall falls repeatedly with unapologetic thuds to rise again on the 38 dancers now regrouped. Barefooted Caralin Curcio is “The Other,” who conducted arm signals throughout, echoing the mass motion in sync with Eurythmics exercises and Laban movement choirs. She was commanding, but sometimes got lost in the overly crowded field. When these forces walked off in soft goose step at the end of the first half, it looked very like Forsythe was referencing Germany’s past while ushering in its artistic future. The pointe-slippered women performed a torrent of tendus to the late Eva Crossman-Hecht’s pianisms in the second half, as if in ballet barre class. Later, “The Other” leads the men, ribboning them through the women in this blitzkrieg of pure classicism sans embellishment.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20130615_Pennsylvania_Ballet_in_a_satisfying_spring_finale.html#oDpAS18wjckMS2D7.99
The Pennsylvania Ballet closes its 2013 spring season with an artistically varied program that is emotionally and intellectually satisfying. At the Academy of Music on Thursday night, the curtain rose on 12 dancers, backs to the audience, walking forward, taking steps back, making half-turns, adding more dance moves until they broke rank. The women in long-sleeved gowns, the men in blouses and straight trousers (by John Macfarlane, who also designed the moody set based on a Munch painting) were dancing Jirí Kylián’s 1981 Forgotten Land. In this company premiere, Gabriella Yudenich and partner James Ihde were passionately dramatic in black, while Lillian Di Piazza and Lorin Mathis were exquisitely romantic in white. Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem gave the work gravitas, but the women’s hunched backs and crooked arms with fingers seeming to drip from their hands gave it a macabre, Munch-ian look. The ballet’s resident choreographer, Matthew Neenan, set his poetic At Various Points to Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words. A world premiere, this quartet is his 14th commission for the company. There is always something ludic about Neenan’s work. Here, it’s finger-wagging, putting the finger on the nose or chin, or pointing straight at the audience as if to say, “We see you seeing us.” I wish I could have seen Rebecca Kanach’s raggedy costumes better, but designer John Hoey shaded them too darkly and the particolored spotlights didn’t reach the dancers. If they had too little light, Martha Koeneman’s piano playing in the pit sparked them through the lighter parts of the score. With the company and East Coast premiere of William Forsythe’s Artifact Suite, the Ballet adds to the two Forsythes in its repertoire. Condensed from his full evening-length 1984 ballet (the first he made for the Frankfurt Ballet when he became its director) and staged by choreographer Jodie Gates to the chaconne from Bach’s Solo Violin Partita No. 2, it looked very masculine: muscular, combative, cerebral, philosophical, and breathtakingly unsentimental. The firewall falls repeatedly with unapologetic thuds to rise again on the 38 dancers now regrouped. Barefooted Caralin Curcio is “The Other,” who conducted arm signals throughout, echoing the mass motion in sync with Eurythmics exercises and Laban movement choirs. She was commanding, but sometimes got lost in the overly crowded field. When these forces walked off in soft goose step at the end of the first half, it looked very like Forsythe was referencing Germany’s past while ushering in its artistic future. The pointe-slippered women performed a torrent of tendus to the late Eva Crossman-Hecht’s pianisms in the second half, as if in ballet barre class. Later, “The Other” leads the men, ribboning them through the women in this blitzkrieg of pure classicism sans embellishment.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20130615_Pennsylvania_Ballet_in_a_satisfying_spring_finale.html#oDpAS18wjckMS2D7.99
Travel Deals $999 — Punta Cana: 4-Star ‘Dreams’ Weeklong Trip from Philly * See all travel deals » Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer Posted: Saturday, June 15, 2013, 3:01 AM
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20130615_Pennsylvania_Ballet_in_a_satisfying_spring_finale.html#oDpAS18wjckMS2D7.99

Revisiting a groundbreaking work

POSTED: Thursday, February 28, 2013, 8:32 PM

By Merilyn Jackson

Two duets dominate the three-piece Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane program that opened Thursday for a weekend run at the Painted Bride. Duet x 2 (1982) began the evening; Blauvelt Mountain closed it. Jones recently combined these works, along with a few others, under the title Body Against Body and presented them at the company’s home, New York Live Arts (formerly Dance Theater Workshop). They look as groundbreaking and timeless as they did at their world premieres three decades ago.

Jones’ huge following knows that his lover and choreographic partner, Arnie Zane, died of AIDS in 1988. The two co-choreographed the two other pieces, but Duet x 2 is solely Jones’ work. In it, after rocketing out of a set of swinging doors, Antonio Brown and LaMichael Leonard Jr. abruptly halt and pace about. Soon they shuffle, soft-shoe, and spar with each other until they slam back out through the doors. Leonard returns, this time with the buttery-limbed Talli Jackson; they repeat many of the bruisingly strenuous phrases, but it seems more and more manipulative – as it goes with relationships.

Repetition and relationship mark Blauvelt Mountain too, with seriously playful skipping and prancing by Erick Montes Chavero. He is adorably deadpan as he walks over Jackson’s chest and belly-bumps off the taller man’s shoulder, Jackson putting enough spring into it to send Chavero bouncing like a rejected cat. Jackson directs a teasing ronde de jambe at the audience, ends with a daring leap into Chavero’s arms – and then, darkness.

The stunner of the evening was the 1977 Continuous Replay, by Jones and Zane and revised in 1991 by Jones. It begins with a few quick-tempo, almost cartoonish bars of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring by Plunderphonics composer John Oswald. Jenna Riegel, “the clock,” comes out naked and tight-fisted, elbows bent for work, lunging mechanically in profile across a band of light upstage. One by one, the others streak by her and join her machinations – mostly Nijinsky-like geometric phrases with the same driving intensity as Rite. Eventually they go haywire, donning bits and pieces of clothing, but Riegel keeps the time until she’s made her way around the stage, ending abruptly in freeze frame.

A new full-length Rite of Spring by Jones and Anne Bogart premiered last month in Chapel Hill, N.C., and goes to BAM in September. Won’t someone bring it here?

Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer
Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013, 3:01 AM

 

Robert Battle programmed Paul Taylor’s 1981 masterpiece Arden Court as the opening note on Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s three-night run at the Merriam Theater, which began Wednesday. Even with the antique beauty of William Boyce’s baroque music, the company breathed new life into Taylor’s work, and into the closer, Ailey’s 1960 classic Revelations.

The six men in Revelations danced like tightly coiled springs rapidly released, or, in static moments, X’d their bodies stiffly to be turned hands-over-heels by one another; one man rolled across the floor as the curtain dropped.

Linda Celeste Sims, Rachael McLaren, and Alicia Graf Mack were ethereal ballerinas wafting over the men’s shoulders, but, as with most Taylor works, the men had the edge.

In Battle’s 1999 Takademe, Jamar Roberts charmed in red ruched pants by Missoni, wriggling his way through multiple personality changes to fit Sheila Chandra’s vocalizations.

The most sensational piece was the local premiere of Philadelphia’s own Rennie Harris’ Home, to a terrific musical arrangement by Raphael Xavier, another homie and a former dancer with Harris’ Puremovement.

Philadanco alumna Hope Boykin stood out in this hot number, which featured sizzling performances by the 14-member cast, led by the matchless Matthew Rushing. Xavier used New York house DJ Dennis Ferrer’s “Deep, Deep Where the Sun Don’t Shine” as an anthem, and its techno beat gave Harris a multiplicity of choreographic possibilities. With the cast huddled together as if for protection, Rushing broke out and began the fast, fancy footwork and flying fingers that mark this dance throughout. Ultimately, all broke into house dancing, each sometimes in his or her own cloud of energy.

But underlying the sensational torso bending and hip rocking were the B-boy moves Harris grew up with and is justly famous for having morphed into a new genre for the stage. Here, the moves were softer, as if seen through fog – so swift the hops, sideways skips, leg crossovers; so elegant the interactions. At this soulful work’s end, Rushing gathers everyone back into the hushed huddle.

Of course, any Ailey audience would stay all night to see Revelations over and over. The praise dance never loses its punch, its beauty, its sass. It’s a classic that will last forever.

Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20130201_Ailey_invigorates_1981_masterpiece__classic_dance.html#ixzz2NSC9j0CI

A Tale of Lost Luggage

by Merilyn Jackson

This story first appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer
Sunday, August 12, 2001

Krakow, Poland. The indomitable Joan Myers Brown and her dance troupe, Philadanco, are no strangers to travel. In the 90s, they collected baggage claim checks from Turkey, Italy, Germany, Canada, and the U.K. Last year took them to a dance festival in Korea, which Brown allowed “had its difficulties but was one of the best tours ever. Travel has two objectives: to introduce the company to new audiences and allow the dancers to experience different cultures.”

In July, Philadanco found a lot more about how the new world is ordered after spending ten challenging days in post-communist Poland. The company was invited to perform at the Eighth Annual International Contemporary Dance Conference and Festival in Warsaw and two outpost cities, Poznan and the host city, Bytom, located in the economically depressed coal-mining region of Silesia.

For many Poles this was a new exposure to a high-profile Afro-American troupe whose repertoire ranges from vernacular dance to stylized modern ballet. Responses ranged from multiple curtain calls to remarks from arts cognoscenti with expectations of more edgy choreography from an American company.

But choreographer and director of the Silesian Dance Theater, Jacek Luminski, was not necessarily looking for edge when he visited Philadanco and Baryshnikov’s White Oak Project (administratively based on Rittenhouse Square) in Philadelphia last October to engage them for his two-week event. White Oak was to open the festival and Philadanco to close it, with companies from around the world in between. “I wanted Polish audiences to see these two very different streams of American dance,” Luminski said. “Philadanco is an extreme contrast to American post-modern dance, dancing with such joy. Just right for our gala finale.”

For the 16-member Philadanco troupe, the road to the finale near Bytom ultimately proved more frustrating than joyous. Just getting to Poland was a tricky dance. LOT Polish Airlines, which flies direct from Newark to Warsaw, refused to discount tickets for their party of 16. They had to take a more circuitous route.

At De Gaulle airport, a baggage handler’s strike snarled every process from baggage transfer to passport control. When French officials required an unanticipated visa from dancer Francisco Gella, who holds a Phillipino passport, company manager, Vanessa Thomas, refused to leave without him. Suddenly, Cisco saw their bus, flew down the steps and boarded before anyone could stop him. The troupe followed, arriving in Warsaw just a couple of days late.

Unfortunately, costumes for three of the four works on their program didn’t make it. On the six-hour drive to Poznan, they discussed how to deal with the missing gear.

“OK,” said Joan, tackling the program in order. “The women have their dresses for Echoes (an Alvin Ailey tribute). The men will have to dance in T-shirts and jeans.” Warren B. Griffin III, the tallest of the troupe, and some of the other men protested. “J.B. (the dancers call Ms. Brown, JB or Aunt Joan), how are we gonna dance in jeans?”

“You dance in jeans at the clubs,” she said firmly, “you can find a way to dance in them on stage.”

Gene Hill Sagan’s glamorous La Valse could not have been danced in casual jeans. Fortunately, the waltz-length gowns and the jumpsuits for Cisco Gella and Antonio Sisk made it. At the first performance in Poznan, three petite dancers, Tracy Vogt, Allyson Tripplett, and Willa-Noel Montague, entered swirling in black chiffon, and when Cisco and Warren leaped out, a rustle went through the sedate audience which applauded in Soviet-style unison.  Dr. Grazyna Czarnecka sat next to me and it seemed her favorite, “Very romantic ballet,” she said, “but dark and thrilling too.”

David Brown’s marvelous fluted tunics for Labess II accent the dancer’s flow, but only their briefs were on hand. Unflappably, Brown and the piece’s dancers, Odara Jabali-Nash, Hollie Wright, Tracy Vogt, and lead dancer, Dawn-Marie Watson, raided an open-air market before the first show. “We found four little dresses similar to the wine-colored briefs and took scissors to them,” Brown said. The men danced bare-chested, only in their briefs.

Each of the tour’s three performances closed with Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s 1998 celebration of the Black Power Movement, Hand Singing Song. Program notes described it as “Afro-Amerikanow-style Solidarity.” All the costumes but the black hats for this dance were lost too.  “Everybody just go to your luggage and pull out anything black,” Brown commanded.

Michael Wimberly’s jazz-based music underscored the ‘60s-period themes, but the dancers worried that Polish audiences wouldn’t get the text and gestures. Ahmad Lemons, the troupe’s powerhouse dancer, had just heard rap sung by a Polish group, and quipped, “It’s the first time I understood the words!” Jazz, gospel, and rap are very popular here.

In Warsaw, Philadanco drew four curtain calls, jeans and all in Stalin’s gift to Poland, a hideous building called the Palace of Culture. The audience responded enthusiastically to the dancer’s exaggerated street walking and upraised fists. Warszovians joke that the Palace is Warsaw’s best address, because from there you can’t see it. An intimidating Communist-era staff still runs it; its priority is to maintain order, not to be helpful or hand out programs. In other festival venues, staff wasn’t able to prevent theft in the dressing rooms – dancers from Israel were robbed backstage in Krakow.

Philadanco’s last concert was in a theater in a small town near Bytom. Like a frontier town, the host city, Bytom, has public drunkenness, a sizeable red light district, few restaurants, and only one grimy hotel – ill-equipped for the likes of Brown, her mostly African American troupe, and Baryshnikov. (A van whisked Baryshnikov and company to an elegant Krakow hotel an hour away.)

Walking through Bytom’s main square, some of the Philadanco dancers were called monkeys and animals in English by people who also threw things at them from a window above. New York’s famed LaMama Theater founder, Ellen Stewart, visiting a concurrent theater festival in Poznan, was similarly insulted while being refused service in the Sphinx restaurant there.  (Stewart is also black.)

“Without me,” the unescorted and shaken Stewart said just after fighting off pickpockets on the train down to Katowice and the dance festival, “Polish dramatists like Grotowski and Kantor would not be known in the United States. I was the one who brought them there.”

Poland’s high-culture is stuck in the 19th century, but with a technological foothold in the 21st century, the country has had to make whimsical compromises, “to touch down in the 20th century in only ten years time,” as some here say. The nation teeters between old-time socialist rules and new world service economy in sometimes charming, sometimes discomfiting ways.

The dancers’ initial conceptions of Poland ranged from informed to impressionistic. Kristen Irby, a soft-eyed young man, attended Pulaski High School in hometown Chicago. Lighting designer, Melody Beal lives near a major Polish neighborhood, Greenpoint, New York, so both were familiar with the most ubiquitous Polish foods like sauerkraut and pierogi[cq] and the sound, if not the meaning, of the language. But most of the group, who range in age from 18 to 32, had a spotty knowledge of Poland. Willa Noel-Montague holds a B.S. in psychology from Temple University and just returned to the troupe after a six-month scholarship at Columbia University. “I imagined it was all countryside,” she said, “like the Poland Springs water label.”

Romnee Marisa Hayes, at 18 the wide-eyed freshman of the troupe, said that she liked, “how open Warsaw is, with the tall buildings spread apart by parks and wide streets.” She didn’t know the streets were widened after the Nazis destroyed it, block-by-block.

This tender, but very mature group decided early on to visit the concentration camp at Auschwitz, a short drive from Bytom. “We were all divided at first,” said Odara, “but then we decided we might never get back here and that we should go.” Tracy Vogt, from Erie, PA, had Polish grandparents and learned for the first time, that besides the Jews, many Poles, gypsies and homosexuals were also murdered there.

Throughout the trip, Brown mentioned her own German-Jewish grandmother. When the guide told them that you’d have been taken here for having a Jewish grandparent, she said, “My God, I’d have been killed on two counts.”

Asked how she’d evaluate the trip, Brown said, “In Poland, we saw how they still live with their terrible war experiences and economy, but also their centuries old architecture and churches, their foods, their great shopping. The racial slurs are to me universal prejudices, often fueled by film and television. It is never an expected overt action, but it happens all over the world. We just live it. Despite this and the travel problems, we took back important and good memories of Poland.”

This story ends with a Philly twist. At press time the costume trunk was still missing. “Last time we heard from Air France, it was back in Paris,” said company manager Thomas. “To be sure it got here, we thought of asking them to put it on the same plane with Ira Einhorn.”

Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer
Posted: Friday, November 9, 2012, 3:01 AM

Wednesday night’s BalletX season opener at the Wilma Theater began as dark and stormy onstage as it was outside. But the program grew progressively lighter and more serene, and ended with its loveliest and most upbeat work, the Philadelphia premiere of Switch Phase, by BalletX co-artistic director Matthew Neenan.

The evening also featured world premieres by two guest choreographers. Mauro Astolfi’s Instant God, for the full company, posits that people would like to have a personal “god” to fix everything in life – in a snap. He expressed this through confrontation, tensions, movement phrases frustrated by awkward endings, all underpinned by Notfromearth’s soundscape of rain and dissonant noise.

The women were all in Martha Chamberlain’s little dark sheaths, the men in street clothes, and all wore socks, the better to slide when pushed along by another dancer. Struggling entanglements of small to large groups and oppositional moves filled much of the dance. Astolfi’s sensuous, offbeat use of musicality and William Cannon’s solo – all about off-center backward falls and lunges – were the spine of this dance.

Philadelphian Kate Watson-Wallace, known for small site-specific works, made I Was at a Party and My Mind Wandered Off. . . . In the second work of hers for the stage I’ve reviewed in two years, she once again created a scene, this one a party winding down. Colby Damon and Jared Brunson lean into each other like boxers in the ring in the 10th round. Three women in white, their hair hanging over their eyes, rotate their shoulders. And all harmonize a song as they circle into and out of the larger group, ending with a wild last dance.

Neenan’s Switch Phase was the most accomplished piece on the program, but the company had had time to absorb it fully since premiering it last summer in Vail. To music recorded by the string quartet Brooklyn Rider, the dancers oscillate around each other like celestial bodies moving through space. Allison Walsh straddles Cannon’s prone body as he snaps his torso up to her. When Walsh later slices her arm up the side of Cannon’s neck, he grasps her hand before she can pull it away.

The most poignant section was a tango with newcomer Richard Villaverde and retiring Tara Keating. If you’ve loved watching this adorable vamp-next-door dancer over the last 15 years, first at Pennsylvania Ballet and then with BalletX, you’ll be as sad to see her leave the stage as I am.

http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20121109_BalletX_at_Wilma__all_darkness_and_light.html

Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer
Posted: Saturday, December 15, 2012, 3:01 AM
20121215_inq_dm1troc15z-bb
Ovations, spiked with wolf whistles, erupted throughout much of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo’s Thursday night opening Dance Celebration program at the Annenberg Center.

And the Trocks, as they affectionately call themselves, shamelessly cadged for more. Even during the final poignant moments of his solo – Mikhail Fokine’s Dying Swan, to the famous Saint-Saëns music – Roberto Forleo, as Marina Plezegetovstageskaya, lifted his false eyelashes and furled his manicured fingertips, hustling for applause. But with his feathers flying, his chicken-walk deserved kudos.

His? But you knew the Trocks were an all-male ballet troupe, didn’t you? And they dance en pointe, which can’t be easy for some of the more jock-like body types. But the nearly 40-year-old company, with its ever-evolving corps, makes it seem so. With perfect port de bras and willowy arms, not only do they bourrée on tippy-toe to and fro and turn multiple fouettés, they leap like frolicking lords.

They began with their (in)famous Swan Lake, Act II. Paolo Cervellera, as Viacheslav Legupski, is Von Rothbart, running in circles, cape unfurled and with short dreads bouncing behind his bandanna-covered head. Was it he who kicked one of the cygnets over? No matter, these dancers recover from pratfalls and sideswipes with professional poise. In the famous synchronized quartet with arms en chaine, three cygnets carry on while one on the end does her own thing.

Raffaele Morra (Lariska Dumbchenko) as the Swan Queen Odette, falls (literally) for Prince Siegfried (Trystan Merrick as Mischa Youloustski) giving the coup disgrace to Rothbart.
But later, in the Black Swan Pas de Deux, Rothbart (now Giovanni Ravelo as Marat Legupski) wins out by confusing the Prince with Odile, danced uncannily by Chase Johnsey as Yakatarina Verbosovich. Here, Carlos Hopuy (Innokenti Smoktumuchsky) takes over as the Prince and gives astonishing ballon with his jetés.

In Go for Barroco, a quartet in simple black frocks take on Balanchine (Ballandchain – appellation mine) variations – speedwalking and circling in wide third position demi-pliés.
Laurencia had a Spanish theme, all triple-tiered skirts, mantilla combs, and toreador pants.
The robust Robert Carter (Olga Supphozova) danced Laurencia with countless fouettés, and Paolo Cervellera (Tino Xirau Lopez) wowed with his long series of barrel turns.

By opening with Swan Lake, the Trocks gave away too much, too early. But they make you laugh with them, not at them, and are truly a holiday hoot.

Can you say Wigilia?

Posted on Wed., Dec. 20 2000

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Daily News

 FullTabel2011

My Italian husband balks at food that isn’t red or green.  When I brought him to his first Polish Christmas Eve supper, he looked at our food, exclaiming, “Everything is brown!”  We surveyed the landscape of our table — a sable sea of black mushroom soup steaming in Grandmom’s tureen, an amber knoll of sizzling pierogi, a tawny marsh of kapusta, a russet hill of fried smelts and on the sideboard, golden pyramids and snowcapped mountains of cookies and said “So?”

Whether you’re Polish, Portuguese or Rumanian, if you are of European Catholic background, chances are you share the same custom of a meatless Christmas Eve dinner. Italians call it Night of the Seven Fishes or Vigilia.  Poles call it Wigilia (vee-ghee-LEE-a) for vigil.

Vigil has a history that predates Christmas by many centuries. Falling on winter solstice, it honored the Roman god of agriculture, Saturn, whose fairness inspired forgiveness and sharing.  The word “companion” is derived from the Latin — with bread — and illustrates a custom unique to Poles.

The hostess greets you on Wigilia with Oplatek, a flat bread wafer. You share it with other guests and family, signifying that none of you will let the others go hungry in the coming year. Whether Poles live in Bridesburg, Brisbane or Bialystock, they mail the wafer to each other to stay in communion with far away loved ones.

As if mindful of the snow that blanketed Bethlehem that first night of the Christian era, milky damask covers Polish Wigilia tables. Tucked beneath the cloth, strands of hay symbolize the manger. Icy silverware and crystal stemware spike each place setting. Your senses, rattled perhaps by last minute shopping and preparations, are assuaged as you run a fingernail across the crisp cloth to release the comforting aroma of boiled starch.

There is always a moment before the meal is lain as silent and thoughtful as the last swirls of a snowfall.

Supper begins when the youngest children, called the Starwatchers, sight the first star.  They begin yelling “Jest, jest,” (is, is) and the kitchen bustle goes from simmer to roiling boil.

Dried mushrooms gathered in Poland’s birch forests star in this meal.  The best, Borowiki Bialy (bore-owe-VEE-kee bee-AH-wee),are white-capped mushrooms far more pungent and meaty-tasting than morels.  And more dear too.  Running about $100 per pound in the states, it’s no wonder Polish travelers hazard smuggling them back with them.  Once, our aunt lined her girdle with plastic sheathing and stuffed two pounds of broken-up mushrooms into it.  She flew back to JFK with them poking her ribs.  They made the best soup we ever had.

In a train station in Poland’s Silesian Mountains this fall, I saw dozens of flannel-shirted, unshaven men disembarking with heavy baskets. They were filled with a treasure of fresh mushrooms to be dried and strung for export or sold by the roadside.  For $30, I successfully smuggled in about a $100 worth this year and we will make our soup and sauerkraut with them.  I don’t know how good they will be.  I just brought them over in my handbag.  I don’t wear a girdle.

November 08, 2012|By Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer

Three works by Italy’s Mauro Astolfi crown this fall’s dance season in Philadelphia, as a flurry of new pieces – from him and others – take to two local stages only a week apart.

Arriving in Philadelphia from Rome just before Sandy, Astolfi worked through storm-related delays to make Instant God for BalletX, which the company is premiering this week at the Wilma, along with new work by Matthew Neenan and Kate Watson-Wallace. And next week, Astolfi’s highly regarded Spellbound Contemporary Ballet debuts here with two Philadelphia premieres presented by Dance Celebration at the Annenberg Center.

Spellbound has been touring the United States on a subsidy from New England’s National Dance Project, the only European company to be chosen last year by the project. When BalletX cofounder Christine Cox saw them in New York in January, she sensed Astolfi’s sensual yet cerebral choreography would be a good fit for her company, and it wasn’t long before a BalletX commission was set.

“Working as a freelance choreographer in Europe,” Astolfi said, “I sometimes find the young dancers complain – about what time rehearsal is over, about traveling too much because they can’t recover. They want to be taken care of. For some, it’s just a job. But you can’t do this work just for money. It’s impossible.”

On the other hand, he said, after only three days of rehearsal, the BalletX dancers already were taking to the shape of Instant God.

“If I were here for a month,” he said, “they would look like my company. These dancers are hungry, and they can do anything. They are professional and don’t just work as a job.”

Dance companies in several countries have commissioned him in recent years, including Chicago’s River North Dance, which is coming next spring to the Annenberg.

He says he never comes to a company with preconceived ideas, “because when I meet the dancers, I just change everything. I need to feel their energy. So I’m trying to create an atmosphere and using an ambient soundscape created by Not From Earth for this piece.”

Neenan, BalletX’s co-artistic director, said, “In less than two weeks, Mauro and the dancers have created a dance that is sculptural, intimate, entangled, and precise.

Instant God is the darkest work on the program,” he said, “so we decided it should open, and my own work Switch Phase, which is more upbeat, closes it. We put Kate’s piece in the middle because it contrasts with both – it starts dark but gets funky, wild, and fun by the end.”

New York Times critic Alastair Macauley wrote warmly about Switch Phase after its world premiere over the summer at the Vail International Dance Festival and recently praised Neenan’s Party of the Year, saying the choreographer “is emerging as one of today’s foremost dance poets of American behavior and society.” Switch Phase was originally presented with the string quartet Brooklyn Rider performing onstage; here, the music will be recorded.

Watson-Wallace has been the Philly dance scene’s It Girl for more than a decade and received a Pew Fellowship in 2007. She may be best known for her Live Arts Festival trilogy House, Car, and Store. ( Car was performed for an audience of three in the backseat, surrounded by spectators who might have been witnesses to an accident.)

Those were site-specific works for small spaces, but last year, she began choreographing again for the stage. For BalletX, she’s made I Was at a Party and My Mind Wandered Off, which she calls a “nonlinear work that functions like a dream, a lot of washes of imagery – some futuristic and some animalistic or from nature.”

Fans of the impishly sexy and versatile dancer Tara Keating will be sorry to hear that this run marks her final appearance with BalletX. Keating danced with Pennsylvania Ballet from 1998 to 2008 and, in her last three years there, was also a founding member of BalletX, in 2005. She will continue as artistic coordinator and become the company’s ballet mistress.

In Dance Celebration’s program next week at Annenberg, Spellbound, which Astolfi formed in 1994, performs Lost for Words and Downshifting. While Italy is not short of highly regarded contemporary-dance companies and choreographers, Astolfi and Mauro Bigonzetti among them, Astolfi said that politicians and funders have not fully embraced the genre and have given very little support. They back traditional art forms, “the classical,” he said.

“To us, they say, ‘Oh, you’re fantastic, you’re one of the best companies – we’ll help you,’ but they promise, and they don’t fulfill their promises. Their words are empty. This was the inspiration for Lost for Words.”

Downshifting “is like the person who is changing the quality of life, maybe changing his job or going in another environment,” he said. “And we were changing some of our dancers and moving away from Italy a bit, and so I found this word in English, and I thought it was the right title for a dance.”

Spellbound, Nov. 15-17 at the Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St. Tickets: $20-$55. 215-898- 3900 or annenbergcenter.org.

Fall Arts Preview: Dance

Merilyn Jackson for The Inquirer
Posted: Saturday, September 15, 2012, 8:00 AM

Seeking common ground for Philly’s dancing feet in the coming season, I found it in the city’s galleries and academic, scientific, and ethnic institutions. The exploratory and collaborative nature of the work that will take place in them could hold extraordinary surprises, given the people creating it. The dance-makers are Philadelphia artists, Nichole Canuso, Merian Soto, Kun-Yang Lin, and Meredith Rainey, who have proven themselves innovators and who bring personal charisma to their stage work.

All were born here, and stayed or returned because of the city’s supportive atmosphere and fondness for the arts. The institutions they’ll take over, from the American Philosophical Society to North Philly’s Taller Puertorriqueño, serve diverse communities, uniting them through the arts.

Other companies and presenters are institutions in themselves. Joan Myers Brown’s Philadanco has been breaking ground for 43 years. Pennsylvania Ballet is nearing its 50th anniversary with one of its most talented rosters ever. Now in its 30th year, Dance Celebration at Annenberg Center has always been the leader in importing dance. And there are always new venues – like Skybox 2424 Studios in a rehabbed factory in a flowering Fishtown neighborhood – that enrich their communities by making the arts more available to them.

Here are 10 events that promise to give you something new to think about, to make you laugh, or cry, or to just plain thrill you.

“Return Return Departure” (American Philosophical Society, Wednesday, Friday, Oct. 5 and 20, Nov. 17, Dec. 8, 215-413-9083 http://www.apsmuseum.org/nichole-canuso) What better place to set a duet reflecting on the love and study of knowledge and time than at the American Philosophical Society? At sunset, you follow choreographer Nichole Canuso and dancer John Luna as they dance from the gallery showing of Antonia Contro’s exhibition Tempus Fugit: Time Flies into the enclosed garden, where they film each other in an evolving video record of their inquiries that then can be seen back inside the gallery.

SoMoS (Taller Puertorriqueño, 2600-24 N. 5th Street, Oct. 12) Merián Soto’s work features three large geodesic tents and an outdoor performance area with simultaneous performances for audiences to move through at will. In this culmination of her seven-year Branch Dance Series, which included the One Year Wissahickon Park Project, she transforms the parking lot at Fifth and Huntingdon Streets into a quiet carnival of nature images, sounds, and movement invoking the seasons. It’s part of Taller Puertorriqueño’s free performance series, Café Under the Stars: Spotlighting the Arts in El Barrio, and takes place where Taller plans to build its next home.

Lar Lubovitch Dance Company (Annenberg Center, Oct. 11 to 13, 215-898-3900 or boxoffice@ac.upenn.edu) Dance Celebration opens its season with the Philadelphia premiere of Crisis Variations (2011) to Yevgeniy Sharlat’s commissioned score. The piece won Lubovitch the 2012 Benois Prize; he is the first American choreographer to receive it. The ethereal 1978 North Star to Philip Glass’ score, and The Legend of Ten, a 2010 work to Brahms choral music, fill out the program.

Symphony in D Minor Skybox 2424 Studios, Oct. 20, Nov. 2, Dec. 2, http://kunyanglin.org) New York artists Chris Klapper and Patrick Gallagher create an epic interactive sound and video installation, accompanied by Philadelphia-based Kun-Yang Lin at Fishtown’s 2424 Studios. They’ll “harness a thunderstorm” within a series of large hand-cast resin sculptures that will hang 40 feet below the ceiling, suspended within reach. Audience members set the symphony in motion by gently pushing the forms and triggering the sound elements – recordings of thunder, lightning, wind, and rain. Soloist Kun-Yang Lin can dance up storms of his own – he’ll be a match for whatever weather Klapper and Gallagher order up.

Giselle (Academy of Music, Oct. 18 to 28, 215-893-1999 http://www.paballet.org) Pennsylvania Ballet dances the traditional Maurice Petipa choreography, as it has since 1988, when it opens its season with Giselle. Sixteen-year veteran principal dancer Arantxa Ochoa retires after this Giselle, in which she once again dances the role of the peasant girl who falls in love with a prince. When he betrays her she dies, but then rises from her grave to protect him from being danced to death by the vengeful Wilis – young women who died before their wedding day, but whose love of dancing keeps them on their toes all night.

Science per Forms (Christ Church Neighborhood House Oct. 25, 27 and 28, www.carbondancetheatre.com) Meredith Rainey’s Carbon Dance Theatre initiates a collaborative series of dance and scholarship events that examine “the epistemology of technical, virtual, and robotic culture through the interface of balletic-based dance and interactive installations.” Sense a touch of academe? Rainey is working with the Hacktory, a digital technology lab and artists resource center, and with professors Simon Kim and Mark Yin (Penn) and Mariana Ibanez (Harvard) to create a robotics environment where audience members will interact with cyborgs, dancers, and robots. Former Merce Cunningham dancer and Bessie-winning choreographer Jonah Bokaer takes part in the heady high jinks.

BalletX (Wilma Theater, Nov. 7 to 11, 215-546-7824 balletx.org) At 7 you supposedly reach the age of reason; for BalletX its seventh year marks the age of recognition. The Xers are embarking on another ambitious program of two world premieres and a Philadelphia premiere. Philly’s wild-child dancer/choreographer Kate Watson-Wallace challenges the ballet-trained troupe to enter her playpen with an as-yet-untitled new work. Italy’s Mauro Astolfi is almost too hot to handle right now, and with this BalletX commission you may get a taste of what will be on stage the following week at the Annenberg Center, when Astolfi’s Spellbound Dance Company performs there. The finale has to be codirector Matthew Neenan’s Switch Phase, which premiered to acclaim at the 2012 Vail International Dance festival.

Spellbound Dance Company (Annenberg Center, Nov. 15 to 17, boxoffice@ac.upenn.edu) The Italian troupe makes its Dance Celebration/Philadelphia debut as part of its first North American tour. The program includes founder Mauro Astolfi’s Downshifting (2009) and Lost for Words (2011). Commenting on personal choice and will, “downshifters” imagine an alternative future in order to realize life more fully. Lost for Words mixes fluidity and virtuosity while reflecting on the role of language in human relations. These works feature music ranging from 17th-century virtuoso violin composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber to today’s electronica of Loscil.

Philadanco (Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater, Dec. 7 to 9, 215-893-1999 http://www.kimmelcenter.org) From triumphant appearances in world capitals during their rugged annual tours to sold-out houses at their Kimmel Center home base, Philadanco is both crowd-pleaser and artistic success. At 80, Joan Myers Brown still rules the roost, doing the programs herself. For this home season, she so far has scheduled Wiz choreographer George Faison’s Suite Otis (to music of Otis Redding), and the Philadelphia premiere of Matthew Rushing’s Moan (to Nina Simone).

Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/arts/preview/20120911_Seeking_common_ground_for_Philly_s_dancing_feet_in_the_NO_HEAD_SPECIFIED.html#ixzz2CEbba5XK

Monday, September 17, 2012

By Merilyn Jackson

A huge, hexagonal, cagelike structure that reached to the ceiling commanded the space inside Pier 9 on Friday night for the premiere of The Gate Reopened by choreographer Brian Sanders’ company, Junk. Surrounding it was a packed audience.

As Sanders’ eight muscular performers — six men and two women — emerged, fleetly circling the Gate’s base to the wild cheers of the crowd, I couldn’t help but see them as gladiators. Instead of fighting each other, they fought height and gravity, calculating risk as they swung on bungees or launched themselves like simians against the chain-link fencing, which they gripped only by their fingertips and the J-hooks on their boots.

Sanders’ work is always thrilling, inventive, daring, ingenious and very witty. It was gratifying to see him have a free hand with a good budget for the set and the Pedro Silva/Conrad Bender lighting design. The men — Connor Senning, Gunnar Clark, Teddy Fatscher, John Luna, Billy Robinson, and Tommy Schimmel — and the women, Jerrica Blankenship and Tamar Gutherz, were all topless, so the low lighting was perhaps to cast them in shadow.

Blankenship and Gutherz performed daredevil feats on a swinging ladder. Robinson took a big leap from the top into a watery canvas, only to be caught up in a sheet of plastic and then writhe his way out again. A mist sprayed them all in the final moments, catching the light magically and casting a mystical cloud over the scene. This was one of those performances where the line between dancer and athlete was blurred, if not obliterated. Indeed, the crowd strolled out into the fine evening in high spirits, as if we’d just been to a sporting event.

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