Archive for the ‘ Music ’ Category

Thirdbird soars with music, dance

Posted: Mon, Jan. 23, 2012, 3:01 AM

By Merilyn Jackson
For The Inquirer

Thirdbird bills itself as the new “wing” of Ladybird and Bowerbird, the organizations directed by Anna Drozdowski and Dustin Hurt. As scouts and presenters, Drozdowski and Hurt bring together movers and music makers from near and far, producing concerts in various and sometimes out-of-the-way venues.

Thirdbird’s second flight landed at Christ Church over the weekend with Voransicht, pairing soprano, pianist, and composer Judith Berkson in the first half with dancer, choreographer, and performance artist Eleanor Bauer in the second. Both gave soaring performances that left the packed audience floored.

Voransicht, in German, means preview, and that is what Berkson delivered: an hour-long glimpse at a much larger opera to be performed with chorus and other musicians next fall. As a soloist on piano, drums, and keyboard and as a singer, she made this Voransicht as lush as a Babylonian garden in moonlight. The music, which also used electronic score, was mostly microtonal and chromatically rich.

Her vocal output, inflected with idiosyncratic tics, ranged from soprano down to a very low register that was powerful and weighty for a person of slight stature. She startled with articulations of unexpected vowels exploding on top of other sounds.

Voice output and stature figured in Bauer’s Big Girls Do Big Things as well, and in a big way. Bauer is tall and as ravishingly curvy as her concepts. She slips into a polar bear suit lying on the floor and creates the most mysteriously interesting or hilarious collages of movement. This beauty is not afraid to sweat or be ludicrous, but her humor drips with irony, intelligence and, perhaps, some tamped down rage.

Who could sustain such a high-pitched hour of switching between drollery and swanning her arms exquisitely without a simmering undercurrent of a passion, such as rage? Once the polar bear fur comes off, she is back down to her sexy black teddy, feet in high, white pumps that intensify not only her gorgeous legs, but also her vulnerability and danger as she climbs a ladder in them. Slowly, she sings Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” taking her pitch up an octave for each rung. It’s excruciatingly funny at first but gets devastating the higher she goes and the song and she begin to disintegrate.

As a woman of substance, Bauer went far beyond what she has to work with to become a dance artist of the highest state. Kudos to Thirdbird for bringing Bauer and Berkson to Philadelphia. Wow!

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.

By Merilyn Jackson
For The Inquirer

BalletX opened its fifth season at the Wilma Theater on Wednesday with a triple bill sparkling with surprising and lovely performances by company newcomers and more-senior members. A new initiative backed by the Knight Foundation and Wells Fargo included intermission entertainment that kept the excitement going. During the first, the Conestoga Angels Precision Marching Drum Corps shook things up by marching down and taking the Wilma stage with stomping, rib-pumping drills and bold-as-brass drumming.

It was like taking an expansive breath between the show’s two dark opening numbers. The first, Two Ears, One Mouth, a world premiere by up-and-coming choreographer Loni Landon, evoked a steamy after-hours street scene, with clubgoers in confrontations that spun out in backbends. In one beautiful phrase, new member Barry Kerollis gorgeously curled his fingers into a fist, then bobbed his head three times as he ducked under Anitra N. Keegan’s waiting upraised leg. Kerollis knew where to go but the work didn’t always.

Alex Ketley’s Silt (2009) looked more solid on second viewing than the title implied. Keegan and Kerollis started with exaggerated studio poses, while the other dancers sat around, observing. Veteran X-er Tara Keating and newcomer William Cannon clipped their movements short to metronomic music. In the second section the movement became more attenuated, the women’s arms went ribbony. Keating’s solo opened the final section to a plinking piano piece by Arvo Pärt, soon stomping to it with Cannon and the others. Colby Damon and Laura Feig ended it with a duet of compressed passion.

The entr’acte here was First Person Arts winner R. Eric Thomas, talking about moving to Philly because “everybody here has it in them, and that’s freedom!”

Matthew Neenan went to the Andrew Jackson School in South Philly for inspiration for the first installment of an education venture funded by the Philadelphia chapter of the American Composers Forum. For it, he and his musical collaborator, Robert Maggio, created a charming and strong work called Jackson Sounds. A little video of the kids they worked with set the stage, including a song an Asian student sang that later became Maggio’s theme and variations for two live cellists, Jie Jin and Thomas Kraines, upstage center.

The five women en pointe and in Martha Chamberlain’s adorable flirty skirts toyed with the company’s five men, including marvelous Jesse Sani and Adam Hundt. Their interplay shows that BalletX, even when fooling around with its schoolyard playmates, is quite grown up.


Posted on Sat, Oct. 29, 2011

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer

Carbon Dance Theatre made its Philadelphia debut Thursday evening at the Performance Garage with Swan Songs, a serious contemporary ballet program that uses the final songs written by classical and contemporary artists just before their deaths.

Carbon’s founding artistic director, Meredith Rainey, invited Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, a master character developer and choreographer, “to take the edge off” in the pauses between the four works. In this program, he is Jeremiah, a seriously funny MC who reads poems (some his) and drolly recounts his time spent on safari or in Peru.

Rainey is a former Pennsylvania Ballet soloist and this year’s A.W.A.R.D. show winner for a duet he choreographed and danced with Sun-Mi Cho, Carbon’s artistic associate. He created two works for the program and invited works in the last-song theme from 2007 Pew Fellow Kate Watson-Wallace and Matthew Neenan, choreographer in residence at the Pennsylvania Ballet and a founding director of BalletX.

Rainey’s Through the Wake centers on Cho, whose beautiful, classical ballet training holds it together. Felicia Cruz and Anna Noble, both fine dancers, seemed ill at ease in Rainey’s ballet choreography, at least on opening night. Rainey has Daniel Moore and DuJuan Smart Jr. twisting the women between them like drenched sheets in two pas de trois. To Richard Strauss’ last lieder, sung by Jessye Norman, the dance longs for the peace that comes with death.

Neenan’s Tell Me What’s Next is danced in a dark and intimate style, to songs by Nick Drake, the young English singer-songwriter who died in 1974. In jeans and cutoffs, four dancers make beautiful, slithering arm exchanges, shifting their weight low to the ground.

I Spiral Into Water is Watson-Wallace’s first work on a stage after years of site-specific work, most famously Car. What a lovely thing it was to watch her work with four ballet-trained dancers. The men’s personalities came out in a spiraling, athletic duet and her choreography to Jeff Buckley’s “Everybody Here Wants You” and Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” entranced me with its tiptoe dancing, slouches, spasmodic embraces, and free falls.

The strongest work, Rainey’s Waiting Room, featured Alex Ratcliffe-Lee, an exceptional young danseur seen last weekend in the Pennsylvania Ballet’s Jeu de Cartes. Although Moore executes a perfect six o’clock extension while prone, Ratcliffe-Lee’s elegant port-de-bras and elasticity and Cho’s intense focus are what’s needed to carry Rainey’s choreography.

With a little more polish, Carbon should become the new jewel in Philadelphia’s dance diadem.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

By Merilyn Jackson

Aw, come on. Fess up. You know you’ve done it when nobody’s looking — stood in front of a mirror and conducted your favorite Mahler or, at least, played air guitar.

In 2007, Xavier Le Roy turned his “conducting” of a recording of Le Sacre du Printemps into a marvelous dance performance. He’s taken this concept to another level with More Mouvements, not so much choreographing on the musicians in the piece, but allowing the music (or the score) to impel the movement, which looks more like pantomime than dance, especially when the instruments have gone missing and/or are hidden with musical doubles playing them behind screens.

Local new music group Bowerbird has pulled off the coup of bringing this piece to the Live Arts Festival this year, performed by eight musicians who include members of the Klangforum Wien. Helmut Lachenmann’s musique concrète pulls sound from each instrument’s entire body; conversely, the musicians’ movements are mostly upper body.

Posted on Sat, May. 7, 2011

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer

Artistic director/choreographer Roni Koresh sometimes cherry-picks the best-received sections from his earlier dances, gathers them into a sequence, then gives the whole a title and a vague raison d’etre, as he has with his new Through the Skin.”Don’t intellectualize this dance, feel it viscerally,” he said before Thursday’s performance at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, which launched Koresh Dance Company’s 20th year.

Like Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin (with whom he worked last year), Koresh in recent seasons has found this formula – linking choreographic nuggets that otherwise wouldn’t make a golden coronet on their own – to be a good way to showcase minor work among the company’s showpieces.

His Sense of Human and Somewhere in Between, both from 2010, had 14 sections each, and he said Through the Skin grew out of his plundering of those two works. Showman though he is, however, he might have found a better way of setting it.

Why not program the full-company, two-part chair dance “Alarm” and “Ease” sections from Somewhere in Between as an excerpt in the first half of the show? The company of 10 dances the first section with stunning precision to Hugues Le Bars’ pulsing music, then repeats similar choreography at a slower pace to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 4. It’s long enough and strong enough to be a stand-alone piece. But as one of the 16 sections of Through the Skin it broke the momentum Koresh had going with much of the newer work.

Nonetheless, there were moments aplenty to savor, and the best of it was the overall change from Koresh’s signature quicksilver tempo to one slow enough to see his movement phrases more clearly. The whole was loosely laced together by Karl Mullen’s hypnotically voiced-over poem that states “We let the world in, through the skin.”

Koresh now has four virile men in the company, but some of the women’s sections stood out. In “Clash of the Humdrum,” Shannon Bramham, Jessica Daley, and the company’s sole remaining original member, Melissa Rector, all but spike the stage with triangled bends. In “Bang, Bang and Banging,” Leo Abraham’s music has Alexis Viator and Asya Zlatina aggressively jumping, skipping, and hopping around each other as if they were in a boxing ring.

Rector’s brief solo with Micah Geyer had the push- and-pull that something titled “Sin and Forgive Me” should. And when Joe Cotler shoved Fang-Ju Chou Gant’s leg down from arabesque like a lever, it soon flew up into one of those 6 o’clock extensions for which Koresh women are justly famous.

Posted on Fri, Apr. 29, 2011

By Merilyn Jackson


The backbone of the month-long Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts has been more local than international, with collaborations among many Philadelphia arts groups.

Some were unlikely matches and few will live on memorably as great works of art, yet many have resulted in surprisingly high-quality works that made for pleasurable evenings in the theater.

One of those occured Thursday evening in the Kimmel’s Perelman space, with the Philadelphia premier of Igor Stravinsky’s Renard, his Ragtime, and Terry Teachout and Paul Moravec’s Danse Russe.

In Renard, a collaboration among the Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers, Orchestra 2001, and Center City Opera Theater, the orchestra, singers and dancers gave us a sparkling reinterpretation of the 1916 work that Stravinsky called a burlesque for the stage with singing and music.

Was the original just too flimsy to bother remounting as a concert work without set? From my elevated view in the first balcony, I could better see the dance’s choreographic patterns than those on the unraked orchestra section, which had been emptied of seats and filled with cabaret tables and chairs.

The six dancers in masks by Hua Hua Zhang all wore black formal suits by Amy Chmielewski. They danced within a wedge of stage left after the orchestra and male quartet filled the other side – a stage divided, with little interaction between the forces. Dancers fell to their sides on one knee, springing into cartwheels, their arms and hands signaling a strategy to rescue the Hen (played by Olive Prince) that was captured by Scott McPheeters, as Renard. The other creatures formed a militaristic marching line and retreated to their chairs, each with its own American flag. McPheeters pulleds wads of money from a suitcase as if to bribe the other animals.

With these objects, Lin sought, perhaps semiotically, to inject a political nod to contemporary issues of war and economy, but the choreography in this work did not spring from his usual deep well of meaning and, unlike much of his other work, was difficult to read. The dance seemed to still be in sketch stage, and that may be where it should remain.

Lin’s joyful opening bibelot with McPheeters and Prince dancing to Stravinsky’s Ragtime, did have glimmers of moves – a preparatory step that suggested a fox trot, for instance – that he’d do well to elaborate on.

Posted on Tue, Apr. 19, 2011

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer

Heaven, Rennie Harris Puremovement’s new hip-hop work for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts at the Perelman Friday night, premiered hellishly late when the stagehand could not work the fog machine that was to have put us all on cloud nine.

Long white panels hung from fluorescent rods (James Clotfelter was lighting and scenic designer) and eventually were raised above the dancers’ heads to act as projection screens. After the show, Clotfelter lamented that his lighting on the fog would have made it look so cloudlike.

This kind of mishap can throw a show off, and it did just a tad, with a fitful start and such faint animation by Spencer Sheridan that I later wondered if there had also been a problem with the projections. Nonetheless, Harris’ company, four men and 10 women, built itself up to a forceful performance, heralded by a wobbly arrangement of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, one of the festival’s touchstones.

Posted on Fri, Apr. 15, 2011

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer

Alexander Iziliaev

Tara Keating and Matthew Prescott

Weather-wise, spring is returning to Philadelphia in fits and starts. But inside the Wilma Theater Wednesday night the stage bloomed with potted flowers, campy song, loopy dance, and ballooning boobies. In Proliferation of the Imagination, a featured event of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, those balloons actually popped – because the production is, after all, based on Guillaume Apollinaire’s 1917 play The Mammaries of Tirésias. And this first-ever collaboration between the Wilma Theater and BalletX, its resident dance company, milks the show to a mirthful froth.

Walter Bilderback, the Wilma’s dramaturg and literary director, and choreographer Matthew Neenan, who codirects BalletX with Christine Cox, pulled together a crack team of actors, dancers, musicians, stage and costume designers to pull off this contemporary version of Apollinaire’s gender-bending, proto-feminist, antiwar play after which he coined the term surréalisme.

Mary McCool plays Therese/Tirésias, who refuses to bear children and grows a beard, while Luigi Sottile plays The Husband, in black-and-white-striped bustle skirt and heels. BalletX member Tara Keating, looking oh-so-sexy in a bowler hat and pinstriped leggings, shadows him. And dancer Matthew Prescott, in curls, ruffles, and bustier to match The Husband’s, shadows Therese as she becomes more and more masculine.

All of this seems to be taking place in Zanzibar.



By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer


Megan Bridge in “F(Dot)GOS (or) Friendly Dancer of the Giant Outer Space.”

Lately we’ve seen a lot of small salon-style dances – often in people’s living rooms – that take place so close to the audience that it’s difficult to tell the difference between performer and viewer. But the loft residence of dancer/choreographer Megan Bridge and composer Peter Price occupies the whole top floor of the building housing Mascher Space Co-op (of which Bridge and Price are members) on the first floor of 155 Cecil B. Moore Ave.

During the weekend, they presented three “choreographies” in the performance space across from their living room, which they had just retrofitted with nifty interior storm windows, rendering the space (and concept) – which they call “fidget” – less frigid. The couple hosted Washington-based dancer/choreographer Kelly Bond and dancers Lillian Cho and Melissa Krodman in their performance work Elephant, seen at the 2010 Philly Fringe festival.


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