Category Archives: Dance and Dancers

Pride and Prejudice review, illustrated

Here is my review of Douglas Martin’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 26, but with the addition of the excellent photos by Leighton Chen.  

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From left: Bingley, Elizabeth, Darcy, Collins, Lady Catherine, Caroline

Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice” is set in 1813 Regency England, where passions smolder under the veneer of a determinedly genteel society. As choreographer/librettist Douglas Martin and his team translate that novel, they hit ballet’s sweet spot. Gentility is, after all, basic to classical ballet.

This ground-breaking American Repertory Ballet production, premiered to a packed McCarter Theater on April 21, is a Douglas Martin triumph. No longer do I want to see the movie. Each character portrayed by the dancers is etched in my mind.

Every element of dance theater — character-based movement, mime, juxtapositions, props, exquisitely beautiful designs by A. Christina Gianinni, music played by the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, even a surround-sound score of horses’ hooves and birds singing — helps to tell the story.

With no program synopsis, it helps to know the novel that chronicles the unfolding romance involving the witty and judgmental Elizabeth Bennet and the rich and aloof Fitzwilliam Darcy, though some characters are easy to pick out on stage.

Ballet mistress Mary Barton, wonderful as Elizabeth’s mother, Mrs. Bennet, points to the ring finger of any single man in sight and inserts her dithery head-shaking everywhere she shouldn’t.angry mrs b

Kathleen Moore Tovar, formerly a principal with American Ballet Theater, also shows the young’uns how. As Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine, she cuts a skirt-swishing officious swathe, punctuating her snobbish opinions by up-jerking her knee.

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Aldeir Montero, new to the company, is obviously Bingley, Darcy’s genial friend. With his every lunge and leap, opening himself to the audience, he exudes friendliness, in contrast to Mattia Pallozzi, who plays Darcy.

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from left: Bingham, Elizabeth, Darcy, Collins, Lady Catherine, Caroline 

At the ball, contemptuously looking over his shoulder, Darcy clings to himself, with one Napoleonic arm in front, the other in back.

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Darcy stands at the side. Center: Jane and Bingham. 

 

Austap Kymko, as the black-clad unctuous clergyman Collins, oozes himself from one hilarious misstep to another

e and collins but smooths out some of the clumsiness after he marries Elizabeth’s dear friend Charlotte (Shaye Firer).

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Austap Kymko with, from left, Charlotte (Shaye Firer) and Elizabeth (Monica Giragosian)

Gentility does not always prevail. When giddy youngest sister Lydia Bennet (Nanako Yamamoto) runs off with handsome seducer Wickham (Jacopo Jannelli) their bawdy sex scene rips off the veil of decorum and suddenly we seem to be looking at contemporary dance.

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Wickham (Jacopo Jannelli) and Lydia Bennet (Nanako Yamamoto)

When Elizabeth (evocatively danced by Monica Giragosian) refuses Collins, the pragmatic Charlotte literally jumps on his back to claim him.

Mime? Throughout, and often extended into dance. When Elizabeth questions Charlotte about marrying Collins, the friends circle and touch their hands to the brows, then extend their arms out straight, question, answer, question, answer.

Juxtapositions enable insights.

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A vision juxtaposition: Elizabeth reads a letter from Darcy about how he paid off Wickham before, and this scene is visioned in the background.

Charlotte, in a not-so-good marriage, parallels the movement of the eldest Bennet sister, Jane (Lily Saito), who has been moping in a house on the other side of the stage, waiting for a suitor who does not arrive.

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Kathleen Moore Tovar, as Lady Catherine, attempts to kick away any attempts to pour her tea.

And an incident with a prop, a teapot, shrinks a storyline when Elizabeth outwits Lady Catherine, who has determined that Elizabeth will not be the one to pour her tea.

Scenic projections and costumes were beyond splendid. One that helped the story line was the headpiece of Caroline Bingley, which made a tall dancer (newcomer Erikka Reenstierna-Cates) an even taller and more formidable opponent to the success of the Bennet women.

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Erikka Reenstierna-Cates as Caroline Bingley, has designs on Darcy (Mattia Pallozzi).

There is much excellent dancing in this 140-minute ballet — lots of women on stage at one time, and many chances for men to do double turns and land on one knee.

Music was by composers that were Austen’s favorites (U.S. 1, April 19). Each worked well for that particular dance and was vibrantly played by the PSO, directed by John Devlin. They did not build to the kind of climax that comes with Tchaikovsky ballets, but at moments of high emotion Martin inserted duets by Schubert or Mendelssohn, played by pianist Jonathan Benjamin with either cellist Michael Katz or violinist Grace Park.

The dramatic climax comes, of course, when Jane and Elizabeth get their men. Jane’s longed-for pas de deux with Bingley is simple joy — quick quivering beats with gentle lifts and expansive arabesques.jane dance caption

Elizabeth, in contrast, has spent most of the evening rejecting Darcy. Conflicted, he rarely offers open gestures and his first proposal is, literally, backhanded. With his back to the audience he twists himself into saying, in tightly gripped movement, that he loves her in spite of himself. She flounces off. Then, when she is devastated by the Wickham scandal, Darcy signals his desire to help with an expressive leg movement — an open rond de jambe — and sets out to fix the situation.

e and himUpon his return, as she stretches arms-wide in longing, he catches her in mid air, and she curls her head on his shoulder in delight. Again, she stretches to the nth, and curls around him. best end.jpg

The once haughty Darcy lies down behind her, his head by her knee, in an act of obeisance, and the audience erupts in applause.

(Addendum: In this video of a rehearsal, the first bit is Elizabeth dancing with the dastardly but charming Wickham. In the second, she dances with Darcy after she loves him. In the fourth scene Caroline obnoxiously separates Elizabeth from Darcy.)

 

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Momentary Quartet October 29

jane-buttars-quartetExperience the excitement of music created live! The Momentary Quartet plays Saturday, October 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 50 Cherry Hill Road,  in Princeton. Tickets at the door, $15.   Experience the excitement of music created live! Jane Buttars, piano, Harold McKinney, trombone, Patrick Whitehead, trumpet, and Lin Foulk, horn, improvise in styles from classical to blues to world music. With Daniel Harris, poet, and Aurelle Sprout, dancer. 

To continue in this vein, Buttars offers a workshop on Sunday, October 30, 1-3pm.   Enjoy inventing music with others in a fun, supportive atmosphere. Beginners to professionals welcome. $10 donation suggested. 

www.MomentaryQuartet.wordpress.com, 609-683-1269, janepiano2@comcast.net

 

 

Leaning in for Slaughter and Morris

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“The” by Mark Morris, on the McCarter program on April 12

I just registered for the WIBA program featuring Anne Marie Slaughter for (as I write on Monday) for Tuesday, April 12, 5 p.m.. Finally broke down and did it, wasn’t going to (my favorite choreographer Mark Morris is at McCarter that night) but I will just have to leave Greenacres Country Club early. Wasn’t going to go because I have mixed feelings about Slaughter’s opinions on why women can’t have it all as blurted out in the notorious article in The Atlantic. 

Of course women can’t have it all. We pre-Gloria Steinem brides knew that all along.

But I got so confused by the discourse (she said/ She said/ she said/ She said) that I gave up and went on doing what I was doing before, which was trying to have it all and not succeeding.

photo anne-marie-slaughter

So I’m hoping this former Princeton professor turned media guru will enlighten me on her current views about women. (Will she also weigh in, as a former Woodrow Wilson School dean, on the Wilson/name controversy?) . I will have to  leave early to see Mark Morris Dance, but at least I’ll take home a copy of Unfinished Business,  her new book based on the article that caused so much commotion.

As for Morris — Virtually all of Morris’s choreography is to live music, including Whelm to Debussy and The,  a four-hand arrangement of Bach’s first Brandenburg concerto. (There will be one piece to recorded music; the songs of Ivor Cutler. Complete program here.)   I firmly believe the commotion surrounding the excellence about Mark Morris is well deserved.

 

 

Deep Listening: Alicia Diaz

Alicia Diaz_Deep Listening_Pregones_2015_Photo Credit Hiroyuki Ito
Agua Dulce Dance Theater presents “Deep Listening” at Pregones Theater in Bronx, New York on Saturday night, October 10, 2015. Credit: Hiroyuki Ito

Alicia will be improvising in a Movement Research night at the Judson Church in New York City with percussionist Hector “Coco” Barez. Enjoy this video of their previous collaboration! It’s called “Deep Listening.

Where & When

Monday February 8 at 8pm
Free, doors open at 7:45pm

Location: Judson Memorial Church
55 Washington Square South

Diaz grew up in Princeton and is assistant professor of dance at the University of Richmond. 

Children’s giggles like sparrows in a tree

All over McCarter Theatre tonight, little children were giggling and erupting with laughter at the antics of the Mummenschanz troupe. It took me back to 1981, when I brought my middle school daughter and her friends to see these Swiss masquers/mimes, and that performance set them on a path to using fabric to create imaginative dance.

Immediately, right away, the smallest kids “got it” as abstract shapes played a giant game of peekaboo, or sparred, or nuzzled each other. That the troupe performs in silence, improvising their timing to the moment of the mood, seemed to inspire vocal contributions from adults and children alike. With the possible exception of Sweet Honey and the Rock, I have never heard a more responsive McCarter audience. Their laughter bubbled up all over the theater, like a host of sparrows in a tree.

It reminded me once again of how Jesus was quoted (Matthew 18:3) as saying that — to enter the kingdom of heaven, you have to become like a little child. These children were so privileged to have their imaginations set on fire, and it was my privilege to be in the audience to hear them.

Edgy (live) dance & film at the Garden Theatre

Something I did NOT expect: The Garden Theatre presents a LIVE dance-theater performance by DV8 Physical Theatre on Wednesday, January 14, at 7:30 p.m., repeating Sunday, January 25, 12:30 p.m. This National Theatre production is billed as for adults, read about it here.

Current films at the Garden are Selma, which I saw in company with some youthful demonstrators at another theater on Saturday . Loved the script and the acting, and (though I am squeamish about it) the onscreen violence was handled well.

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Also the movie about Alan Turing.  Thanks to Princeton University Press who sent the Very Big Book that inspires the film. Spouse is plowing through it, likes it, and promises to provide a mini-review. Turing was surely a hero to my late cousin Ann.

 

Each Moment New: Jane Buttars

tympanumMost musicians bring life to a page of musical notes and try to make it sound fresh and in the moment. Pianist Jane Buttars and cellist David Darling improvise their music — moment by moment. In their first album together, Tympanum, the listener gets to sit in on their exciting moments of creation. Each piece is a journey, imagined and created step by exciting step. Do not expect to listen to their improvisations while you are doing something else. Their focus is so intense that it snatches you and demands your full attention.

Each of the 14 selections takes a different mood journey. Sometimes persistent but unexpected rhythms bubble up to the surface and fairly bid the listener to get out of a chair and MOVE for heaven’s sake. Or gentle swaying lifts your spirits, like a high swing, and then subsides into still calm.

They are not limited to major, minor or modal; they can play for two minutes in the key of silence.

How to compare it? Maybe to say, think of combining the energy of jazz improv plus the adventuresomeness of Poulenc, plus the whimsy of e.e. cummings, But keep in mind that this is a duo of classical musicians.

Grammy Award-winner David Darling formerly played with the Paul Winter Consort and co-founded Music for People, which aims to encourage trained musicians to find joy in improvisation and ordinary people to find music in themselves. (This is my translation of MfPs mission statement.)

JB on CD better Buttars is a classically trained performer and teacher,  a Fulbright Scholar, and a dance and Dalcroze student, with a Doctor of Musical Arts in piano and harpsichord performance.  (Full disclosure: she is my workout partner at the Rabara Pilates studio.) Based in Princeton, she directs Music From the Inside, a program of group improvisation classes and workshops for all levels, beginners to professionals, and she leads Music for People sessions.

I can envision several important uses for Tympanum, beyond listening for delight. These improvisations fairly beg to be danced to — by those who do “contact improv” or those who choreograph. They could work wonderfully as part of a worship service, to introduce or follow a psalm or meditation that fits the particular mood. Creative dance teachers and nursery school teachers– here is a gold mine.  Listen at CDBaby.

Mostly, though, I just want to sit in my rocking chair, look out the window and be taken on one journey of imagination after another, each moment new.

random unisons

Best of all, I like the way he tells stories. In “Random Unisons,” the poems of Daniel Harris have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and I’m always eager to find out how they end.

For instance, Class Project,

Imagine their surprise, those four second-grade children grouped
at a classroom table. With a little hand each one grips
the single, fat, foot-long pencil the teacher’s brought today for a project — its yellow shaft almost hid under fists.

At the end —
. . . the kids (grown up), their hands and wrists maybe interlocked
for a fireman’s carry, or other random unison.

Harris puts his writerly technique to saying things that are worth saying, like chronicling the poignant arc of a life. Dancer opens with

His day job? “It’s just blech,” he natters, crap
to pay for his nightlife: work at the barre,
taking class, my lines.” But his feet can’t skip
past his plod on the cold concrete at the store;

The poem follows the man’s performing career, but then his physical powers dwindle so at the end he is a teacher of the next young dancers:

Inheritors, his; from counter or desk
they come, tingling to practice arts of risk.

He talks of death, and love, and common things, like bees, as in Driving Home from Stockton, New Jersey:

All summer we see them: honeybees
under brightest suns toiling, well into dusk;
they scout, tinker with blooms of lavenders,
sunflower, mint — then bear the rich daubs
of nectar back to the common hive.
So too,
these long black nights, workers fix roadways,
in heavy black jackets striped with yellow…

My favorites are the poems of love. They allow a place for imagining.

Though I have heard of Daniel Harris, and his passion for social justice, we have never actually met — except through these poems. I recommend it for bedside table contemplation.