Category Archives: reviews

Motion without Emotion at Boston Ballet’s All Kylián

bsn-bllt-kylian

I’m backed up on all fronts, so this will be relatively short, but I was compelled to write some comments on Boston Ballet’s All Kylián which I caught last Sunday. By now Kylián’s genius is so apparent that it hardly needs to be even mentioned, and so the attention shifts to Boston Ballet’s execution. I’ve purposely avoided seeing some of their recent Kylián performances due to my palpable disappointment in their lack of understanding when I saw them perform his work a few seasons ago, but I thought I would give them another try since by now they’ve had a few more Kylián programmes under their belt.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Boston Ballet’s mastery of Kylián has grown at all. The most egregious illustration of this was in the first work on the programme, Wings of Wax (1997). The work is perhaps more virtuosic than usual, and is full of grand jetés, arabesques, and rapid synchronized turns with the arms in the fourth position. It’s also quintessentially Kylián, and the quote from the reviewer at the Netherlands newspaper NRC Handelsblad that is included in the documentary on the choreographer is particularly apt: “Kylian creates magic through movement – it is never predictable, never forced and yet it is almost impossible keep track of what is going on”. Kylián’s ability to pack a single work full of surprises yet still be completely cohesive continues to astonish (this is a work that I would be happy to watch on repeat for months on end), and his well of creativity seems limitless. Perhaps this density causes difficulty for the dancers, because although I don’t doubt that the choreography was executed accurately, there was a distinct lack of emotion throughout. The performance was hampered by a hyper-emphasis on athleticism, and although movements were executed with aplomb, they lacked the attention to detail Kylián’s works demand: each movement must have a trajectory, with a distinct beginning (origin), continuation (progression), and ending (conclusion). I would argue that the main emotions behind virtually all of Kylián’s works are those of melancholy and longing, none of which were apparent in this performance. I rarely felt any intention behind any of the dancers’ movements: is that rapid leg movement meant to be a flutter, a shimmer, a quiver, a spasm? This constant lack of communication gave an overall effect like that of So You Think You Can Dance? and other TV dance competitions, as incongruous as a Broadway singer belting out a Schubert lied, and equally unsatisfying. Of the dancers Whitney Jensen’s cool and controlled performance was the most in-line with Kylián’s aesthetic, although Lia Cirio’s intensity was an almost-acceptable substitute.

The second work Tar and Feathers (2006) is also quintessentially Kylián, although more recent, more contemplative, and more experimental. The work features samples of a dog snarling (at times synchronized with a dancer miming the sound), improvised piano, and bubble wrap. The work is much more foolproof than Wings of Wax in that much of it consists of slow transitions from one pose to another, so worked better for the Ballet overall. Despite inventive movement and some interesting trio choreography (such as a male lifting up a female who simultaneously lifts up another female), the work feels less cohesive than Kylián’s other works: the bubble wrap isn’t explored enough to become fully integrated into the work, (cf. the green apples in Sweet Dreams from 1990), and the staging of the Beckett poem, which has five dancers with bright red lips and tutus made of bubble wrap miming in a pseudo-sign language, was rather too obvious (much like the Lightfoot/León’s “Shutters Shut”, set to the Gertrude Stein poem “If I told him” from the NDT2 performance from a few years ago), as was the ending, in which a dancer tiptoes off stage to the amplified sounds of bubble wrap popping underneath her feet.

The final work, Symphony of Psalms, dates from 1978 and is one of Kylián’s earlier works, and one of the first he created after becoming Artistic Director of Nederlands Dans Theater. From his note on the work from his official site (which incidentally was unveiled at the very end of last year and which is a treasure trove for any Kylián fan) it seems he has a personal affection for the piece, but as a work it does feel more like a preview of the greatness that is to come as opposed to being fully satisfying in its own right. No doubt the work was included because it plays to the company’s core strengths (i.e. classical ballet) more than the other, more-modern works, but the work has a formalism that toes the line between “classical elegance” and stiffness, most apparent in the handling of the eight couples as they move across the stage. Symphony of Psalms is interesting as an early work and in the hands of a truly capable group could prove to be more worthwhile, but the Ballet’s combination of soloists, principals, and corps de ballet members felt incohesive and even core movements, such as when the women move forward with knees bent, heads down, and palms stretched forward, felt mechanical and disengaged.

While I applaud any efforts to bring Kylián to a larger audience, when the end result is as mixed as Boston Ballet’s it becomes impossible to support them without deep reservations. I’m happy at the thought of audiences becoming introduced to Kylián for the first time. However, for myself, although I’ve been content to rely on videos of Kylián’s works as opposed to seeing performances live locally, I think I’m going to have to make more of an effort to plan my vacations around seeing his works done further afield by groups with a deeper understanding than Boston Ballet’s.

Crisply Curated Dance in This That Show No. 4

My local dance experience has been fairly peripheral, so I was looking forward to seeing Daniel McCusker’s This That Show No. 4 at the relatively new Central Square Theater. The show, which highlights the works of local choreographers, should be regarded as a template for an ideal evening dance programme: intermissionless with a running time under an hour and a half and a nice amount of variety but with some interesting connections among the pieces.

The majority of the evening focused on exploring the relationships between women, and included two pieces (one by Brian Crabtree and the other a work-in-progress collaboration between Lara Binder and Sheriden Thomas) pairing an older and younger woman and both featuring repeated alternating acts of the older pushing the younger away and then pulling her close. These themes climaxed in the larger ensemble piece “Roots” by Audra Carabetta, which examined the evolution of friendships between women over time that lacked any leavening sharpness or conflict, although the inclusion of two young dancers brought a freshness to the proceedings that was compelling. “Rewind”, presented earlier in the evening and also by Carabetta with memorable music by Nick Zamutto of The Books, was more interesting due to its more abstract nature and the interlocking movements of the three dancers, and the odd veneer of detachment, perhaps unintentional, from the constantly smiling trio.

The evening was rounded out by two overly repetitive works by Adriane Brayton — “Here”, a light, comic duet between two young lovers, and the confusingly titled “in-progress” (is it a premiere or not?), a kinetic male solo — and Nell Breyer’s “From the Floor: 5 Studies”, a theme and variations with each movement presented singly and that formed a framework for the show as a whole. The latter proved to be the most ambitious, if not wholly satisfying, of the evening’s works, and not just due to its multiple parts and use of video. The first “study” was the video “Perspectives on a Dance in Sol LeWitt’s ‘Bars of Color Within Squares (MIT)'”, a brilliant Escher-like play with perspective in which three dancers seem to climb, crawl, and hang down from three squares of the completely two-dimensional Sol LeWitt work “Bars of Color within Squares” installed at MIT in 2007. The remaining four studies provided increasingly diminishing returns as the variations of the central conceit became less and less novel (none of which matched the surprise of the first study), despite an assured solo by Sarah Baumert in mustard (“Study #2”), a gradual increase in the number of dancers, and some fancy but hollow technological special effects in which ghostly shadows of the dancers appear on the stage’s backdrop in real time (“Study #3”). The works have a general aesthetic that would not be out of place in an Ok Go video, with its assortment of dancers garbed in a crayon box range of colors, Capoeira-like movement, and bodies sliding and undulating flat against the floor. Although that work doesn’t succeed as a whole, it ended an evening that did leave me feeling that I should be making more of an effort to catch local dance.

Semi-recent restaurants around Central Square

Ugh. I’ve been having a hard time getting out of the house, but now that the weather is warmer hopefully I’ll be able to post more regularly. In the meantime, we’ll just have to make do with some quick reviews of places around Central Square (and its environs), in particular, places that have opened relatively recently. It’s surprising but, of course, gratifying that there have been quite a few new, and more importantly, worthwhile places. Here’s a quick rundown:

Leapfrogging its way to the top of my list is actually the most recent opening, Thelonious Monkfish on Mass Ave. Being Asian, Asian eateries are always more than welcome. Despite a somewhat silly name, it’s a pretty solid pan-Asian place (although it seems to be trying to bill itself as an “Asian fusion” restaurant), offering renditions of Chinese, Thai, and Japanese food. I’ve gone twice so far. The first time the pad thai I ordered was completely mediocre. However, the second time I had a tofu katsu with curry that, despite the curry being way more soup-like than any I’ve ever encountered, was quite tasty, and a red curry that, although Americanized, still had a hearty flavor. A friend says that one of their specials was a quite good pad thai with bacon (I suppose this is where the “fusion” side comes in), but their regular menu should keep me occupied for quite some time. [Quick edit: Have been back several times since, and their menu has been a bit hit or miss. In particular the bf tried the sushi and the fish was far from fresh, so you might want to avoid that part of their menu or try it at your own risk.]

Although Monkfish comes nowhere near the level of the king of the area, the Buddhist temple, which features a sublime lunch special consisting of rice and four vegetarian dishes that more than one of my Chinese friends has said “tastes just like my mom’s cooking”, it easily holds its own against the remainder of the area’s direct competition which includes, in rough order of preference: Mary Chung, a neighborhood institution and a much better than average Chinese place that includes dim sum; Beijing Tokyo, another relatively new pan-Asian place that is a decent option but with much more proletariat aspirations; Pepper Sky’s: A Thai Sensation, which has completely Americanized Thai food but still keeps some of the flavor intact; Thailand Cafe, closer to MIT and featuring bland Americanized Thai food and a much more authentic Chinese menu; and Pu Pu Hot Pot, which is good if you’re craving completely greasy and Americanized Chinese takeout.

Going back to semi-recent openings, Life Alive right across from City Hall, is a welcome newcomer, with its green and earthy dishes. Its San Francisco, west coast decor and vibe fit well with its central Central Square location. The originally South End bakery Flour has opened a new location close to MIT which I have yet to visit because I always found their food to be incredibly heavy, but apparently I’m not missing much because reports indicate that it’s pretty much exactly the same as it’s always been. If I’m jonesing for brunch around Central Square, S&S and Tosci’s are still my first picks (although the latter only offer it on Saturdays nowadays).

Another semi-recent opening is Viva Cafe, next to the decidedly mediocre Zoe’s and close to Harvard. Viva Cafe is a Middle Eastern place where the food in general borders on being too bland, but their red lentil soup is fantastic and there are highlights among the rest of the menu as well. A stone’s throw away is Harvest of India, which we tried for lunch buffet a couple of weeks ago and was left decidedly unimpressed. My pick for best Indian buffet remains Shalimar in Central Square, the most savory of the bunch and which has been including dosas for a while now and varies the rest of their dishes regularly. My second pick would be Tanjore in Harvard Square, although the flavors are less robust and it’s pricier and always feels somewhat cramped (although they have the added advantage of gulab jamuns, mmm). While on the subject of Indian food, I have to squeeze in a shout-out to Chutney’s in Harvard Square. They’ve taken an Anna’s-like approach to wraps, where you choose an Indian bread (paratha or various naans), an inside (e.g. saag paneer), and a chutney to go with it, and they combine it with fresh lettuce and tomatoes. It’s quick, easy, and absolutely bloody brilliant, and if there were one near my work I would seriously go there every day. I suppose it’s lucky for my waistline that there isn’t, but as it is I try to find excuses to be there around lunch time whenever possible, which unfortunately isn’t enough!

One more quick comment: Although it’s in Kendall, I also have to give one quick mention to Za, a great new pizza place that outshines Cambridge 1 and that I had a great meal at last week. I’d gotten completely bored with Cambridge 1’s static menu, so I’m really looking forward to checking out all the variety that Za offers.

Phew. I think that’s the news from around Central Square. Next up for food reviews, some more off-the-beaten track places hopefully. Eventually!

Lunchin’ around Fresh Pond

I’ve been meaning to post about food places in Cambridge for quite some time. I suppose I should do this in sections since there are so many distinct areas, so to start off with I thought I’d mention a few places near Fresh Pond, which is where I work.

At the top of my list is a place that I’m betting few people know about, which is the Cafe at 10 Fawcett St, run by AJ Culinary. On the surface this looks like a nondescript corporate cafe offering at best cold premade subs and salads, but in fact it’s a completely worthwhile locally owned and operated cafe. Most of its clientele come from the surrounding businesses, but if this were located just a few blocks away it would reach a much broader audience. Given their scope their selection isn’t extensive, but to supplement the daily soup and the daily hot entree (a vegetarian version is often available and all entrees can come in half sizes or with a salad) are a complete range of sandwiches and wraps created on the spot. Roasted vegetables are a common sight on the menu, whether it be with pasta or in a lasagna, but hot entrees also include such things as quesadillas, Asian noodles, and beef brisket. Soups are uniformly good, such as carrot ginger soup, as are the sandwiches. It can get a bit heavy at times, but given the other options in the area this is a clear winner.

A couple of blocks away are the Whole Foods on Alewife Brook Parkway, a Trader Joe’s, a relatively new Chipotle’s, and a second location of Genki Ya, a Japanese organic sushi place that I’ve tried once so far and was fine, although nothing special and quite pricey.

Down Fawcett St about a 10-minute walk from Concord Ave is another tucked-away spot, Iggy’s Bread. Boston shoppers are no doubt familiar with their breads from seeing them in local grocery stores, but their store also includes gourmet pizza by the slice, sandwiches, and of course a host of sweets to look forward to including some nice jam cookies and a memorable plum cake. Not necessarily worth a special trip, but if you’re in the area it definitely beats most of the other nearby offerings.

So that’s the news from Fresh Pond. Next up, Central Square. Eventually!

Subdued La Bayadère at the Boston Ballet

Just some quick notes on Boston Ballet’s La Bayadère which I saw last night. I was excited to see James Whiteside in the lead male role of Solor, having enjoyed him immensely the two other times I had seen him (in “Le Spectre de la Rose” and the Bluebird Pas de Deux), but I found that the fizzing energy and intensity he had brought to those shorter appearances was curiously missing from this longer work. Even his leaps which were usually so confident seemed restrained. Ah well. His all-American looks were also working against him a bit, although the design team’s choice of costume and lack of makeup didn’t help there either.

His Nikiya was Misa Kuranaga, another soloist at the Boston Ballet who I have enjoyed watching over the years, and she was one of the strongest performers of the evening. Her solo and death at the end of Act II were particularly affecting, and perhaps one of the only truly emotional moments of the night (although the staging for the adder bite moment could have had more of an impact). However, her duets with Whiteside, although technically precise, lacked fluidity and through line.

In this case their performance was hindered by a series of atrociously bad violin solos in Act III. I’ve complained about Boston Ballet’s violin section previously and lately they were doing much better, but this is the absolute worst I’ve heard them. The violins flubbed notes throughout the evening, made all the more obvious by the impeccable playing by the rest of the orchestra, but I’m astounded at the lack of quality control for the violin solos, such an obviously exposed part of the score. This was literally the worst violin playing I’ve heard in a professional setting in all my years in Boston, or most anywhere else for that matter. I really hope the Ballet recognizes this problem this time, because it seriously detracts from what is happening on stage.

One of the iconic sequences of the work is the Entrance of the Shades at the beginning of Act III, and the corps de ballet didn’t disappoint. Technically the dancers are proficient, but too often, particularly as the temple dancers in Act I, the corps feel like they’re performing drills in a ballet class. But although Thea Singer, in her review for the Globe, felt their performance in the Shades sequence failed to completely transport, I found it to be quite successful in its still, almost Zen-like (or should I say yoga-like?) concentration and focus.

The second act is the real crowd-pleaser, though, with its sequence of divertissements. The highlight here was easily newcomer Adiarys Almeida in the role of Manu, who dances with a water jug on her head while two young girls (the sweetly playful Saho Kumagai and Fiona Wado-Gill) tease her by pulling at her skirt. Almeida’s relieved pose and pleased smile as Manu whenever she manages to successfully balance the jug was utterly winning, and I’m looking forward to seeing more from her. And Jeffrey Cirio (literally) glowed in the virtuosic role of the Golden Idol. Special mention should also be made of the quartet of ballerinas in Act II and the Three Shades in Act III, particularly Kathleen Breen Combes (who I unfortunately always seem to manage to miss in meatier roles).

All in all an enjoyable evening, if not one for the ages. I don’t have much interest in the upcoming Elo evening, but will probably catch the Kylian work (despite being paired with a work by William Forsythe who I loathe) and the Balanchine/Robbins evening. So far along with the Globe’s review the only review of La Bayadère I’ve seen is wickedlocal.com. For background info on the ballet Wikipedia proves to be as indispensable as ever.

Dance Showcase 2010 at BU

Ech. Been neglecting the blog again, but had a pretty good excuse, namely some big life changes (good ones). Didn’t see much over the summer anyway, but have quite a few things lined up in the next few weeks, so expect more-regular blog postings, for the short term anyway. 😉

Just wanted to put up a quick post on BU’s Dance Showcase 2010 that I attended last night. This was one of those events that I was compelled to go to for personal reasons and wasn’t particularly looking forward to, but fortunately turned out to be wholly enjoyable. I knew nothing about BU’s dance program and too little about the local modern dance scene, but the performances left me much more interested in both.

The production’s unifying theme was a bit muddled: some of the performances were choreographed and performed by BU faculty or students, but others seemed to have little connection. The evening opened with BU instructors’ Ann Brown Allen and Micki Taylor-Pinney and colleague Lynn Modell‘s light-hearted “Why are you (still) dancing?”, a work that revelled in the pure pleasures of dance and performance, free from emotional angst, the obsessions of technical perfection, and self-consciousness. The spoken A Chorus Line moments proved to be rather extraneous, as the work itself, which included an entertaining section involving the three women cavorting over, on, and around a red sofa, was eloquent enough on its own.

DeAnna Pellecchia and Ingrid Schatz‘s explored the relationships between women in two works in progress intended to be part of a larger work, to moody music by “Janis Brenner and friends” and Sigur Ros. The two form a compelling team, and although the physical centerpieces of both (a pair of spotlights that were carried around in the first work and a blank upstage wall in the second) were hardly new, the images were often striking: the silhouette of one dancer towering high over the other, or the two flattened against the wall and madly squirming away from it, at once like babies being birthed or zombies rising from the grave. The second piece, “Glass Jaw”, was less successful when it came to the actual dancing, as it relied heavily on too-typical Martha Graham-esque use of the floor, but their no-holds-barred physicality was violently compelling. Definitely looking forward to seeing the completed versions.

Boston-based choreographer Margot Parsons premiered two works, the first, “Stirrings”, a memorable duet which Christine McDowell (I think that’s who it was; the Asian one) in particular gave a compelling intensity, alternately standing with back straight and eyes tilted upwards, and exaggeratedly marching with arms swinging, back bent, and eyes down, providing the work with the ecstasy and mystery of a religious rite. The second work “Journee” was a much less showy solo that, as solos often seem to do, meandered and bordered on being far too solipsistic. Another choreographer I’m looking forward to seeing more of.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Boston Ballet II were “guest artists”, but they contributed two crowd-pleasing moments. “From Zero 2 Five in 43”, choreographed by Boston Ballet member Jeffrey Cirio, was a rather exhausting but magnetic non-stop whirl of virtuosic leaps and turns. Lawrence Rines was the standout here, with his beautifully long lines. The excerpt from Peter Martins’ “The Waltz Project” was a fun piece of fluff, and Rebekah Hostetter made an engagingly ditzy dancer in white sneakers and purple leotard.

BU alum Stephanie Creary provided the trio “Timed Release”. The gesture-based choreography nicely combined straight lines, such as with the dancer standing and extending one leg to the front parallel to the floor or with body tilted and arm extending above the head, with softer movements, such as a patting, wave-like motion of the hands and arms. The work’s simple repetitions fit the abstract improvisatory score, by Ai Isshiki and Sakiko Mori, well.

A duo (by circumstance; the third was apparently unavoidably delayed) from the summer teen outreach program, Reach, ended the evening with a confection, a lively Krump work that fully demonstrated the liveliness and humor one associates with the genre.

Roni Horn at the ICA and Tomb 10a at the MFA

Two quick mini-posts to follow up on my last post. I’ve ended up seeing almost every new exhibit at the ICA, and the most recent was their survey of Roni Horn that I caught on the last day it was open two weeks ago. Enjoyable though it was, the works as a whole felt curiously uninvolving. Perhaps because Horn is a conceptual artist whose concepts feel “safe”, neither daring nor innovative nor electrically charged. There are some moments of surprise and reaction, but on the whole the exhibit felt rather too suburban and neat. Perhaps this is most epitomized by her treatment of Dickinson, in which she’s content to restrain the poet’s words in cold metal bars, acknowledging her quiet, solid strength but without allowing any of her passion to be felt. I agree with much of Sebastian Smee’s review for The Boston Globe, and I also wholeheartedly second his appeal for the ICA to give us a change of pace from these fairly benign exhibits and explore more visceral areas of the art world. The accompanying exhibit, of Mexican artist Dr. Lakra, proved to be the more interesting one overall, although certainly less easy to swallow.

I was also happy to see the MFA’s The Secrets of Tomb 10A: Egypt 2000 BC (today’s the last day). The exhibit is highly entertaining and at times moving, although it follows the same obvious path as most exhibits of ancient relics do, which is to emphasize the functional usage of the artifacts over their artistic value. Smee, again providing a cogent review in The Globe, particularly laments the exhibit’s presentation of a 4000-year-old mummy’s skull, which emphasizes the scientific anaylsis of it more than the skull itself.

On that visit I also checked out the museum’s Durer exhibit. The works are quite amazing, although some background on the various techniques used would have been helpful. And to round things off, here’s Smee’s review of the exhibit for The Globe.