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Articles by Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (363 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

Tiffany Mills Company: “Not then, not yet”

November 16, 2019

Tiffany Mills’ "Not then, not yet," a world premiere dance/theater work at The Flea proposed a dark, slightly chaotic view of relationships and alienation choreographed on her own troupe, the Tiffany Mills Company. Only 45 minutes long, Not then, not yet was dense with activity and glum interactions among the six dancers (including Mills) and singer Muriel Louveau who composed the erratically performed score, co-written with Angélica Negrón. [more]

BrandoCapote

November 13, 2019

In 1957 Truman Capote disingenuously misled the legendary actor Marlon Brando into opening up to him under the guise of helping to publicize the soppy melodrama, Sayonara which Brando was then making in Kyoto. This now infamous interview caused quite a stir for its snarky tone and caustic observations about Asian women.  In their "BrandoCapote," Sara & Reid Farrington have sliced and diced this article, added music, fanciful Japanese costumes and rather severely stylized choreography and come up with a fascinating theater piece. [more]

Little Shop of Horrors

November 5, 2019

In a counterintuitive casting coup, handsome Jonathan Groff stars as the nebbish Seymour Krelborn who works at Mushnik’s (a funny, kvetchy Tom Alan Robbins) failing flower shop on Skid Row.  Seymour discovers an odd potted plant in Chinatown after an eclipse, a plant that leads to great success for both Mushnik and Seymour. Although it is difficult to forget Groff’s physical attributes (well-hidden under Tom Broecker’s costumes), he delivers a brilliantly realized sad sack Seymour. Poor Seymour is in love with the much put upon Audrey played with ditzy perfection by Tammy Blanchard.  Two-time Tony Award winner Christian Borle chews the scenery as Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend, Orin Scrivello plus several other characters such as a William Morris agent and an NBC TV executive. [more]

The Sound Inside

October 30, 2019

On Broadway every once in a while writing, acting, directing and the technical production come together to profound, memorable effect.  Adam Rapp’s "The Sound Inside" at Studio 54 is a superb example of this phenomenon.  Originally staged at the Williamstown Theater Festival, the move to Broadway, and a much larger theater, works incredibly well. [more]

Mette Ingvartsen: “to come (extended)”

October 27, 2019

Last seen in New York in 2017, Danish choreographer Mette Ingvartsen has brought a newish work, "to come (extended)" to NYU Skirball Center.  To come (extended) is actually a reworking and expansion of an earlier work. Unfortunately, Ms. Ingvartsen appears to be in a rut, a deep, monotonous sexual rut. She considers herself the one-woman expert analyzer of all things sexual via her repetitive choreography.  Indeed, her work includes nudity and explicit sexuality (all forms of intercourse between every combination of genders, oral sex, group sex, etc.) all extremely unexciting, in fact, quite boring. [more]

Games

October 21, 2019

"Games" shines a light on the long forgotten stories of two Jewish athletes in post-World War I Germany, a Germany that slid into National Socialism by the 1930’s, effecting the lives of Helene Mayer, a world-class fencer, and Gretel Bergmann, a record-setting high jumper.  The play, directed with attention to pacing and unadorned expressiveness by Darren Lee Cole (assisted by Hayley Procacci) takes the protagonists through the world-changing 1936 Berlin (aka the “Nazi”) Olympics. [more]

Fall for Dance 2019: Program 5

October 16, 2019

Monica Bill Barnes totally changed the mood with her thoroughly delightful “The Running Show” which used physical contests as a metaphor for dance.  Barnes stood in the midst of sixteen students from Hunter College as her creative partner, Robbie Saenz de Viteri acted as a sports announcer, egging the large group on as they performed complicated patterns of finger snapping. Saenz de Viteri was the backbone of “The Running Show,” his narration, in turn witty, humorous and deeply thoughtful, drove the action which included more competitions; Barnes trying to beat her turning record; and an appearance of a young ballet dancer, Charlotte Anub.  She was clearly too young to dance on point, but she had a natural stage presence as she turned and performed basic pointe work, charming the audience.  “The Running Show” left a positive buzz in the audience, casting a quiet spell. [more]

Fall for Dance 2019: Program 4

October 14, 2019

The final work, “Unveiling” by Sonya Tayeh, director of Tayeh Dance, known now as the choreographer of the Broadway hit 'Moulin Rouge!," used a trio which appeared to be about a female (the American Ballet Theatre star, Stella Abrera) an interloper interfering with a gay relationship between Robbie Fairchild (formerly of the New York City Ballet and the star of An American in Paris on Broadway and the West End in London) and Gabe Stone Shayer. What made “Unveiling” the hit that it proved to be was the music performed live by the super-humanly talented Moses Sumney who stood on a small platform singing, wailing, thumping, rattling and otherwise issuing a spectrum of gorgeous sounds that supported Tayeh’s complicated portrait. [more]

The Glass Menagerie

October 10, 2019

It is Ginger Grace as Amanda that is the crowning glory of this production.  Though slender and frail looking, she is still a powerful, if bothersome figure, memories of a golden southern belle past clashing with her poverty-stricken present.  Grace lives Amanda on the tiny Wild Project stage, making it seem large and teeming with life, although nothing really happens in "The Glass Menagerie," nothing that is except the dissolution of a family. [more]

BalletX: The Little Prince

October 3, 2019

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s "The Little Prince" (1943) has been studied, analyzed, and staged as any number of plays, ballets, musicals and an unsuccessful film.  So, it was with great interest that I went to BalletX’s The Little Prince choreographed by fast-rising choreographer Anabelle Lopez Ochoa to a brilliant score composed and miraculously played by Peter Salem. BalletX, directed by the forward looking Christine Cox, is a modern ballet troupe stationed 90 minutes south of New York in Philadelphia.  The troupe combines classical ballet with modern dance and, in the case of the Little Prince, mime, singing, speaking and twisty modern dance. [more]

The Green Room

October 3, 2019

These four characters are, unfortunately, not interesting enough to fill a 90-minute musical, especially one that covers territory better served by other shows like "A Chorus Line," "Fame" and "Merrily We Roll Along," all superior to the earnest, but predictable "Green Room." Even the crisis that drives the play—will Anna wear a revealing costume in Cliff’s play?—is laughable nowadays when nudity is common.  Cliff’s play is backed by his—and Anna’s—Dad with the proviso that all four pass their courses. They all depend upon each other to study, but leave everything to the last minute.  Even when it’s likely that they will pass, Anna’s refusal to wear a skimpy costume, one it turns out that even a high school participant in the Jimmy Awards would find modest, is a red herring that is soon resolved. [more]

Rubberband: “Ever So Slightly”

September 22, 2019

Quite simply, Rubberband, the Montreal-based dance troupe’s season at The Joyce Theater was a spectacular success.  Directed by Victor Quijada, Rubberband performed his "Ever So Slightly," a 75-minute investigation of contemporary angst staged to original music by Jasper Gahunia and William Lamoureux, played live. "Ever So Slightly" came at the audience in waves, starting with calm, gentle waves and ending in a tsunami of roughness and near anarchy. [more]

I Never Sang for My Father

September 14, 2019

The trouble is Lee’s almost catatonic approach to Gene.  He speaks in a toneless monotone and adapts a monolithic physical approach, his hands constantly held stiffly at his sides.  When he does erupt in anger it registers as bizarre overacting rather than the culmination of a life of living under his father’s thumb.  This leaves an emotional vacuum in the center of the play.  Even when he delivers the poignant punch line—“Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship”—what should have been an emotional wallop becomes a whimper. [more]

The Ringdove

September 11, 2019

What raised "The Ringdove" above mere creative story-time theater was the exquisite artwork and detailed performances.  The perfect, colorful costumes (by Casey Compton) that evoked everything from Greek myths to desert Bedouins were topped by Lee’s brilliant mask heads.  Lee also supplied the scenery which included ephemerally leaved trees and a turtle pond that was a witty work of high art, a microcosmic version of a tiny ecosystem.  Lee and his colleagues created an oasis pleasant to the eyes and ears, all the while teaching a moral about the interconnectedness of all living things. [more]

Guangzhou Ballet of China: “Carmina Burana” & “Goddess of the Luo River”

August 23, 2019

Presented at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater by the China Arts and Entertainment Group Ltd., the company used its impressive resource of dancers in two large-scale ballets:  "Goddess of the Luo River" choreographed by the Canadian, Peter Quanz to a Western-sounding violin concerto by the Chinese composer Du Mingxin and "Carmina Burana" choreographed by the Chinese national, Jiang Qi to the famous (infamous?) score by Carl Orff.The former was a run-of-the-mill ballet weighed down by fuzzily pretentious program notes.  Three characters—Yi Ren (Fang Afang), Lian Jun (Huang Baimao) and Ruo Shui (Ma Minghao)—led the corps de ballet in several merry chases that involved processions, movements rolling down lines of dancers, non-romantic encounters and show-off solos by the male contingent, all ending in a pretty arrangement of the dancers across the Koch stage with one of the characters held imposingly high as if overlooking her kingdom. [more]

Under Siege (Yang Liping Contemporary Dance Company of China)

August 11, 2019

Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival 2019 presented the lavish, yet somehow intimate, "Under Siege," a stunning production of the Yang Liping Contemporary Dance Company of China.Its chief choreographer and director Yang Liping had the audacity to put on stage an epic tale of an ancient war, the Chu-Han Conflict that pitted hundreds of thousands against each other.  Her brilliant idea was to concentrate on each of the leading characters in the conflict and, by telling their fascinating stories, thereby revealing the immensity of war and its ghastly consequences. [more]

Ballet Festival: Program A

August 10, 2019

Joseph Sissens in Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits,” in The Joyce Theater’s Ballet Festival (Program A) (Photo credit: Maria Baranova)The Joyce Theater is presenting a two-week Ballet Festival, four programs under the artistic direction of Kevin O’Hare, director of The Royal Ballet.  Each program is curated by a different dance expert, the first by O’Hare, himself.Program A was divided into two parts, the first the more sedately classical, the second showing newer, more contemporary fare.  It was a fascinating, focused study of the state of ballet today, featuring, appropriately, two works by the British master of classical ballet, Sir Frederick Ashton. [more]

Blak Whyte Gray (Boy Blue)

August 5, 2019

Co-conceived by Asante and Kenrik “H2O” Sandy who choreographed and directed the production, "Blak Whyte Gray" was constructed in two parts and three sections.  Part I began with “Whyte,” danced by Ricardo Da Silva, Gemma Kay Hoddy and Nicole McDowall dressed in variations on straitjackets.  (Sleek, pale, layered costumes by Ryan Dawson Laight.) All three were trapped in a rectangle of light which gradually shrunk making their already frantic movements even more so.  The music boomed as they vibrated, twisted, pulsated and stopped with dramatic suddenness.  This was desperation of the highest order. [more]

Monica: This Play is Not About Monica Lewinsky

July 30, 2019

The title of playwright Dianne Nora’s fascinating new work, "Monica: This Play is Not About Monica Lewinsky," is disingenuous.  Is it about you-know-who?  Well, yes and no.  There were passing references to the title character’s notoriety and enough images of and quotes from President Clinton, among others, to imply that the title is, at best, a white lie; at worst it is a tongue-in-cheek bait-and-switch.  But if that is a way of getting an audience to see this incisive and adult drama, then more power to Ms. Nora who knows how to write sharply focused dialogue. [more]

Freddie Falls in Love

July 26, 2019

How Freddie resolves his amorous adventures is cleverly handled by Blackstone using an imaginative combination of ballet, modern dance, mime and popular dance forms.  The score is made up of over twenty songs including:  “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?.” “Dream Lover,” “We Are In Love,” “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” “La Valse á Milles Temps,” “Makin’ Whoopee,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and a song written and performed live by Mike Brun. [more]

Maria Kochetkova: Catch Her If You Can

July 18, 2019

Russian-born Maria Kochetkova, the petite ballerina who spent the major portion of her career with the San Francisco Ballet, has turned herself into a small-scale Diaghilev.  Her Maria Kochetkova: Catch Her If You Can at The Joyce Theater is a gathering of five brilliant dancers (including herself) dancing the works of seven contemporary choreographers.Even with her name on the program, Catch Her If You Can was pleasantly un-self-aggrandizing, feeling more like a—very expensive—jam session.So ego-free was the evening that Ms. Kochetkova clearly felt no reluctance to pair herself with Drew Jacoby in Jacoby’s duet “Rachel, Nevada” choreographed to an eerie score by Sam Spiegel. [more]

Six Years Old

July 18, 2019

"Six Years Old" is a gem of a play, its facets polished by the director Helen Handelman.  Every emotional revelation, no matter how subtle is illuminated by the acting of its four-member cast:  Julia Weldon as the willful six-year-old Adelaide, just beginning to find her gender identity; Conor William Wright as her precocious four-year-old brother Dewey; Diane Chen as their put-upon, not very professional babysitter Kim; and Meghan E. Jones as their seemingly calm mother Rachel. [more]

Mark Morris Dance Group 2019: “Sport”

July 12, 2019

The world premiere “Sport,” choreographed to more than twenty bits and pieces by Erik Satie, appropriately named “Sports et divertissements” (played by the brilliant pianist Colin Fowler), was a not very exciting examination of every competitive sport from golf to sailing to swimming to running to tennis to etc. Dressed in Elizabeth Kurtzman’s colorful one-piece overalls, the cast of twelve imitated in both exaggerated and subtle ways these activities, sometimes in silence and sometimes to the Satie music. Morris is imaginative enough to turn athletics into dance, but the work was simply too episodic and disjointed even with his use of repeated motifs—like dancers being dragged across the stage on large swaths of cloth—to give the work some unity and form. The end result was more of beautifully crafted mime than a full-fledged ballet. [more]

The Bournonville Legacy

July 11, 2019

The second part of the program was a bonanza of Bournonville excerpts, danced to not particularly memorable scores, that worked well even without colorful scenery.  The beautiful, colorful costumes, arranged by Katharina Neergaard certainly helped, particularly in “The Jockey Dance” from From Siberia to Moscow danced exuberantly by Marcin Kupinski and Alexander Bozinoff dressed in brilliant red jockey duds.  The only criticism:  they might have looked less glum in their facial expressions. [more]

Masquerade

June 19, 2019

Ukrainian director Rimas Tuminas has led the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia in a massacre of Mikhail Lermontov’s 1845 play "Masquerade."  Presented by the Cherry Orchard Festival, the spectacle on stage at the New York City Center made a mockery of an intelligent verse play that beautifully reveals the passions underneath the elegant façade of early 19th century Russian high society. [more]

Three Musketeers: 1941

June 16, 2019

Megan Monaghan Rivas’ gender-bending take on the popular, much-adapted Alexandre Dumas 1844 novel, "The Three Musketeers," moves the action from the 17th century to Paris during World War II. A very dedicated group of brave women take part in the Underground fighting behind enemy lines to sabotage the Nazis who were occupying most of France.Written for the Women in Theatre Festival (WIT) and staged at the beautiful A.R.T./New York Theatres on the far West Side, an area which is filling up with fresh new theatrical venues, "Three Musketeers: 1941" is a brave expression of the power of women. [more]

The Pygmalion Effect

June 14, 2019

By placing his ballet in the realm of the high-strung ballroom world, Eifman supplied himself plenty of excuses to make dances that bounced about the stage to his score of a parade of waltzes, polkas, marches and bits and pieces of the output of some of the many “Waltz King” Strausses (Johann the Son, Josef and Eduard) with one interlude of Mozart tossed in at the end. [more]

Midnight Street

June 10, 2019

Cohen is clearly an intelligent, well-read man, familiar with the twists and turns of different periods and styles.  "Midnight Street" is chock full of ideas, poetic meanderings and some worthwhile melodies but just doesn’t add up.  His direction can’t overcome the pretentious language and heavy-handed symbolism.  Only a Lotte Lenya or, perhaps, a Patti LuPone might have given Mr. Cohen’s songs the right gravity, not to mention finding sense where none exists. [more]

Michael Mao Dance 2019

May 31, 2019

Michael Mao Dance is celebrating 26 years of presenting Mao’s work and if his recent program at the Ailey Citigroup Theater is any evidence, there is reason to believe he will continue for another 26 years.  His works are varied, yet clearly come from the mind of the same artist. [more]

Octet

May 29, 2019

Malloy, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, has taken a novel approach, staging Octet as if it were a 12-step program in which all the members of the group express their inner thoughts through a cappella singing all the while following the precepts of an AA or OA meeting.  Annie Tippe has taken this sophisticated mass of brilliance and shaped it around the sensational talents of a small cast which performs miracles of acting and singing. [more]

Broadway by the Year: The Broadway Musicals of 1965 & 1978

May 27, 2019

Several songs were from flop shows and given new life by Streisand:  “He Touched Me” from "Drat! The Cat!" sung with infectious flirtatiousness by Lianne Marie Dobbs; “Why Did I Choose You?” from "The Yearling," given a luscious rendition by Nicole Henry; and “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” benefiting from Ethan Slater’s enthusiasm and charm. [more]

Curse of the Starving Class

May 27, 2019

The original production of "Curse of the Starving Class" in 1977 was a shocker even for a time when permissiveness prevailed.  Kinney seems to have decided that the play Shepard wrote isn’t sufficiently meaningful or effective, so he decided to exaggerate everything, beginning with the scenery—a large, dumpy, shopworn kitchen—literally breaking apart accompanied by explosive noises before the play begins.  The set is left hanging in pieces as the characters go about their business. [more]

High Button Shoes

May 20, 2019

But, fear not!  The Encores! creative team—director John Rando, music director, Rob Berman and choreographer Sarah O’Gleby—found a terrific cast led by Michael Urie in the Phil Silvers’ role of Harrison Floy and Betsy Wolfe as (Mama) Sarah Longstreet, Nanette Fabray’s role (which featured the earworm ditty “Papa, Won’t You Dance With Me?”). [more]
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