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.

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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.

Better late than never? Betrayal

Catching up on a few events that have come and gone, but that are still worth mentioning in retrospect.

First up, Another Country Productions presentation of Pinter’s Betrayal. I’m not a huge Pinter fan, but he doesn’t seem to be done that much in the States so I thought I’d check out this production despite it being of one of his less-idiosyncratic works. The play itself does turn out to be a fairly standard account of marital infidelity, despite its reverse chronological presentation.

As for the production itself, the group emphasizes its use of the Meisner Technique, a form of method acting that apparently focuses on actors being attuned to and thus responding more “naturally” to the others on stage in order to give the work a more spontaneous, real-life quality. I’m not sure how much the production suffers as a result, but there were several elements that stuck out a bit and could be due to the less-scripted approach. One is that the staging was largely static and repetitive, and often a couple would begin a scene on opposite sides of the room, then one would cross over and they would sit, then the other would get up and move to the other side and sit, and then the first would follow the second and sit. Appropriate to the scene and perhaps marginally more “realistic”, but more traditionally planned staging would avoid such repetition and consequently keep the audience more engaged. A more specific questionable moment that can perhaps be attributed to the company’s approach is the kiss at the end of the play marking the beginning of the affair, which was not in the original script and seems out of place. Given the inherent artificialities of a play’s script in and of itself, and Pinter plays in particular, it seems that striving for a more realistic approach seems a bit nonsensical.

More generally the production had other drawbacks as well. The contemporary music played between interludes did little to mark the rewinding of time and sounded like the director had just plugged in someone’s iPod. The actors were perfectly serviceable, although as with many “chamber” plays this one really requires actors of the highest caliber, particularly because it is full of typically Pinter-esque long pauses that at the worst in the hands of lesser actors just bring the play to a screeching halt. Lyralen Kaye as Emma proved to be the weakest link, partly perhaps because she affected a British-esque accent that, as many Americans will do, flattened out the intonation and made every sentence sound monochromatically earnest. All in all still worth seeing, but not the most successful production of a difficult play.

As for reviews, The Hub Review also laments the production’s lack of subtext, although I disagree with his assement that “Wayne Fritsche is far too meek and arch as cuckolded husband Robert”. He comments that “there’s a cruel, even nasty streak in this character that Fritsche seems unable to convey” that I thought Fritsche brought out quite well when I saw him, although at times it bordered on mere whingeing. Boston Lowbrow provides another look also. And here’s the Wikipedia article on the play.

Boston Ballet’s Ultimate Balanchine

[Yes, it’s been awhile, mea culpa, mea culpa. Work has kept me burnt out for the most part, but warmer weather has brought renewed energy, and now a backlog of posts.]

Just got back from the Boston Ballet’s Ultimate Balanchine. I had recently realized I hadn’t seen them all season, and after reading Alastair Macauley’s warm review in the New York Times my interest was piqued.

The evening started off a bit slowly. The young women who introduced the first piece, “The Four Temperaments”, set to music by Hindemith, executed the steps with precision but little understanding: high kicks lacked style or personality, pelvic-leading steps forward were pointless, and the beautifully geometric shapes Balanchine’s choreography sculpts out of the dancers’ legs, arms, and body were lifeless. The notable exception was Tiffany Hedman, who, for lack of a more-appropriate word, is a simply lovely dancer whose limitless grace combined wonderfully with the intentionally awkward positions. The piece is full of memorable choreography, and although Yury Yanowsky seemed unfocused, particularly at the beginning of “Sanguinic”, Isaac Akiba was simply fantastic both technically and emotionally in “Melancholic”, and Jaime Diaz also provided a strong performance in “Phlegmatic”.

“Apollo” doesn’t seem to be high among anyone’s favorites, and the piece does depend a fair amount on the the eponymous male role. Carlos Molina’s performance lacked character, too often slipping into generic classic ballet “hero” mode, but his muses (which included Rie Ishikawa and Whitney Jensen) were all memorable and their looks formed a nicely contrasting trio. It seems Kathleen Breen Combes was replaced at the last minute, I think by Lia Cirio, although I didn’t catch the announcement at the beginning and I forgot to check for postings in the lobby. But whoever it was who danced Terpsichore brought an athleticism to the role that was refreshing, so much so that it would just be curmudgeonly to complain of the slight lack of subtlety.

In “Apollo” the orchestra’s string section had similar problems as I’ve heard in the past, namely a stringy quality and lack of ensemble, partly due no doubt to the difficulties of amplification. This, unfortunately, was carried into the final piece, although to a lesser degree, “Theme and Variations” to music by Tchaikovsky. The piece is a quick ‘n easy crowd-pleaser, full of eye-catching classical ballet moments. As the male soloist Nelson Madrigal was a bit glossy, but his performance was assured and wholly enjoyable, as was that of his partner, Erica Cornejo, as the female soloist. The corps de ballet, both male and female, provided a steady wave of energy that culminated in a rousing finale and much applause.

The Boston Ballet has put together an evening that’s notably well paced, and the programme was so consistently engaging that I’m sorely tempted to catch one more performance, particularly since some dancers that I was interested in seeing weren’t on tonight. Stay tuned …

In addition to the previously mentioned review, here are links to reviews from The Phoenix, The Boston Globe, and The Boston Herald.

Tati films at the Brattle

Just a quick post. I’m planning on catching some of the Tati films the Brattle is showing next week. For Tati fans the occasion is notable for several reasons. For one, they’ll be showing Parade, a film that has never been released in the U.S. Also, they’re showing many of the films in various new versions, and some of his films have so much activity crammed into every part of the screen that they really require a theater-sized screen to get the full effect. For those who don’t know, Tati is a fantastic French director whose antics are often compared to Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, although his works are much more gentle than manic. His films often have minimal amounts of dialog and feature a combination of sight gags, physical comedy, quirky character idiosyncracies, and mild commentary, with a pervasive affectionate feeling of general amusement at humans and all of their many foibles. Here’s a link to the Wikipedia article. Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953), a.k.a. M. Hulot’s Holiday is a great place to start, although I like its follow-up Mon Oncle (1958) (My Uncle) even better.

Sleep No More, a dreamy Macbeth

A week later, somehow I still find the eeriness of A.R.T.’s presentation of Sleep No More, by British theater company Punchdrunk, to be palpably lingering in my mind. [My preview of the event is here.] I was and somewhat still am extremely skeptical of the premise, which combines the Bard’s immortal play with a haunted house atmosphere. On this blog I can feel somewhat freer to catalog my personal tastes, and the production inspires me to do so. For one I’m really not a fan of haunted houses, and high among my theater dislikes is anything even vaguely resembling performance art, which is almost always more useless masturbatory self-importance than illuminating experience. I also find nudity in theater to be unnecessary more often than not, too often used merely to shock and distract than add anything substantial. I also have a strong dislike for audience participation, but on that front I was reassured by my friend who had seen it once before and was going back for a second look (although she underplayed it a bit, as one of the first things that happened when I went was that an actress accosted me, which led to much internal grimacing on my part).

A quick browse of reviews will give you the basic information about the production and a sample of the high praise it has elicited. Time Out NY’s and The Boston Globe’s are worth reading, and The Globe also ran a preview of the show in October. You can also find audience comments on the production’s site, and there’s also an article on Wikipedia.

Free from the constraints of having to say something objective about it, I’ll just briefly go over my personal experience. It’s easy to see why each person’s experience will be different: 44 rooms on 4 floors of the abandoned school are used and with a cast of 18 you could spend a fair amount of time just wandering through empty rooms. But the sets of the rooms are so lavishly and oddly dressed that they encourage study as much as they inspire wonder at how much money, let alone time and effort, went into them.

After wandering through several such rooms near the beginning, when I came across a person I later realized was King Duncan getting shaved and dressed I followed him to a ballroom scene that I presume featured the entire cast. There were some baffling interactions, including a homosexual couple (one of whom I later learned was Banquo) that could be interpreted as either (or perhaps simultaneously) sensationalistic or contemporary, and an allusion involving a glass of milk that I later learned is from Rebecca, a Hitchcock film I and probably many of the audience hadn’t seen. After that scene I happened to follow Duncan back to his room where in a liberal dose of surreality (which I quickly found is the norm in this production) he went and gardened for a while. Somehow despite the odds the scene felt successfully bizarre and sinister though. I then followed some actors around and caught some of the central Macbeth scenes, including another obtuse scene in which a woman and naked man with an animal head (yawn) danced with our eponymous anti-hero and rubbed what looked like a bloody fetus that had been sitting in a birdbath over each other. Later I learned that the pair were supposed to be representing the three witches but that the third witch was out that particular night. Hmm. All in keeping with the dream-like, nothing-makes-too-much-sense-or-has-much-connection-to-Shakespeare atmosphere I suppose. A bit later I also caught a peculiar pseudo-dance scene involving a lamp dangling from the ceiling and two men playing an odd sort of tetherball with it.

It wasn’t too long later that I felt I had had enough and wandered my way towards the exit. Despite my criticisms, of which there are many, in the end I have to say I left more convinced than not. Any complaints, ranging from lack of cohesiveness in narrative, questionable use of the word “Hitchcockian” in its marketing, oftentimes extremely tenuous connections to its hallowed source with scenes appearing out of order, and overuse of fog machines (haha), are easily counterbalanced by the sheer abundance of atmosphere: everything seems calculated to leave you disoriented and the production perfectly succeeds in that regard. The wordless presentation and the masked audience’s silence and the constant feeling of stumbling through half-darkness adds to the eeriness. The huge scale and the ability to choose how you want to progress (by following the main actors around the whole time, for example, or just coming across characters and scenes as you find them) certainly inspires a second visit, and discussing the production afterwards with others and comparing notes on what you’ve seen and missed is almost more entertaining than your own experience.

Although the run has been extended, it’s sold out and closes February 7. Punchdrunk has done several other productions which I’m definitely interested in hearing more about, and I’m guessing they were similarly successful, but it would be a no-brainer to just buy the whole building and keep this production running permanently. The audience seemed to be a mix of RPG fans who probably have little interest in theater, theater fans, and people who had heard the hype, and adding tourists to the mix seems like it would enable a very long, very healthy run. Reading audience comments it seems like the production fosters conversation and speculation the same way shows like Lost do, and that at the very least people appreciate the evening as an “interesting” and memorable, if baffling, experience. A permanent production isn’t likely to happen, but if it somehow makes it back something tells me that I’ll be compelled to be back for more of this unique experience.

Incidentally, if you’re looking for a pre-dinner option my group happened to end up at Tashi Delek, a nearby Tibetan restaurant that offers 10% off with a Sleep No More ticket. Good food, and a good deal. Sweet.

Sleep No More presented by A.R.T.

Yikes. Apologies for the lull, but yes, I’m still here. I’ve been busy with life, but I’ve got a few things lined up that should keep me entertained for the next couple of months. To start with, A.R.T.’s presentation of Sleep No More has been extended to February 7. Here’s how their website describes it:

    An abandoned school. Shakespeare’s fallen hero. Hitchcock’s shadow of suspense.

    Award-winning British theater company Punchdrunk makes its U.S. debut with Sleep No More, an immersive production inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, told through the lens of a Hitchcock thriller.

My friend D saw it and had this to say: “It was certainly one of the most interesting things I have ever seen/done; this abandoned school in Brookline has been done up as a set to a Macbeth/Hitchcock-like film, and you are asked to wander and explore the different rooms (which themselves are all intricately designed and fascinating to explore even without any actors) and occasionally follow around actors involved in this replaying of Macbeth. The acting is extremely physical (the actors are actually dancers I think) and almost wordless. It’s totally baffling until you get into it (btw, you don’t have to engage with the performers, they mostly act as if you aren’t there, so you start to feel like a fly on the wall or a ghost after a while). I would say it’s a visual feast.”

I have to admit that I’m leery; I’m getting a bit bored with the glut of Shakespeare-inspired works, although I’m glad to see that audience participation is certainly not required. D also points out that A.R.T. has various passes you can get to save some shmackeroos.