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Articles by Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (220 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.

Fall for Dance 2017

October 10, 2017

Michelle Dorrance, this troupe’s director, has become a force in tap dance because she understands both its legacy and its future. She played Pied Piper to a large troupe of very talented dancers who were all given opportunities to shine and create moods that varied from sexy to flirtatious to hilarious and sad. With additional choreographic contributions by Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie and Matthew “Megawatt” West—fine soloists—“Myelination” ebbed and flowed as soloists floated out of groupings of the twelve dancers to express themselves in brilliant bits that combined tap with modern dance, jazz, break dancing and even a touch of ballet. [more]

Cool! The 60th Anniversary and Reunion Event: West Side Story

October 7, 2017

Each was asked about their first audition. Marilyn D’Honau couldn’t remember, although she clearly made an impression on Robbins who subsequently used her in "Gypsy." Tony Mordente, just an acting hopeful, was working in a Times Square Howard Johnson’s when he heard that WSS was being assembled and he showed up with no professional experience and managed to impress the powers-that-be. Some flew in from the Coast or Las Vegas or were known by Robbins before hand, like Ronnie Lee who was in "Peter Pan." All were reminded by Robbins before the opening night that they were “handpicked.” [more]

Mette Ingvartsen: 7 Pleasures

October 7, 2017

Ingvartsen has a record of intellectualizing her work taking all the juice out of them in the process. "7 Pleasures"—a misnomer if there ever was one—takes her dry, over thinking to the extreme in a work that somehow made the nudity and sexual activities of her twenty-something cast members boring and ugly. (There’s something unappealing about a stage-full of performers jingling all their various body parts as they did in one extended section of 7 Pleasures, no matter how it related to “that other crucial element [of dance], the body,” or “political, sexual, desiring, linguistic, historical, racialized, gendered, and agential flesh matter.”) [more]

The Red Letter Plays: Fucking A & In the Blood

October 2, 2017

Having spent nearly five hours in the company of Ms. Parks’ parade of these beautifully written characters I find myself conflicted about these plays. She is brilliant at generating fire with the source of the heat difficult to pinpoint.  It’s her talent to write dramas which sizzle, constructed in her strange vernacular, yet somehow leave too many questions unanswered, the better to prove her one-sided stories. [more]

Faustin Linyekula: In Search of Dinozord

September 29, 2017

"In Search of Dinozord" is Linyekula’s futile, naive attempt to turn the devastating history of his homeland into art. There was choreography—simple, spasmodic, realistic, but ultimately falling short of expressing anything but physical tension. There was a wonderfully minimal stage setting—by Studios Kabako/Virginie Dupray—that turned the well-equipped NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts stage into a sleek black box, with colored lines intersecting, a large red vertical structure and a back wall consisting of joined sheets of wood that served as a screen. Costumes—not specifically credited—were worn-looking casual street wear in faded colors. Lighting was exquisitely expressive. [more]

Stairway to Stardom

September 19, 2017

Disguised as a snazzy cabaret act, set against constantly projected images from a sleazy Eighties public access talent show—from which the show’s title is derived—the short, intense performance is delivered without a single intake of breath it seems, an energy level that makes it difficult to actually hear—rather than merely listen to—the women’s histories of how they were forced into jobs and professions they found irritating or shallow by pressures applied by loved ones and even themselves. [more]

Dietrich Rides Again

September 12, 2017

On a multi-tiered set that takes advantage of every square inch of the tiny Medicine Show Theatre—designed by the authors—Ms. Kostek narrated Dietrich’s life story, from middle class childhood in Berlin to theater and cabaret actress to Hollywood star and on to her virulent anti-Nazi activities and beyond, clearly telescoping some of the events for convenience. (Did Dietrich’s audition for the great director Max Reinhardt really lead to performing at his cabaret the very next day?) [more]

Ariel Rivka Dance: 10th Anniversary Season

September 12, 2017

Ms. Grossman tended toward overuse repetition of movements and arm gestures. Emotional states were supported by little else than the titles and her husband’s gemlike scores. “No Words,” to a score composed and played by Mr. Homan, opened the program. His music sounded like an anguished string quartet to which she made an honest stab at using gesture and arrangement of the eight dancers to express the anger and loss in a poem, “Fury: In Praise of Stone,” by Janet R. Kirchheimer and Jaclyn Piudik, which was printed in the program. [more]

Works & Process Rotunda Project: “Falls the Shadow”

September 7, 2017

The title comes from T.S. Eliot’s "The Hollow Men," the one that famously includes the line: “This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper” - which is exactly how Falls the Shadow ended, the dancers swirling off to the borders of the Rotunda performing space after a series of meetings and partings that too often found them lying in geometric patterns on the floor, their arms spread out in cross forms or moving their limbs in unison to produce a Busby Berkeley effect. (The audience stood above the action on the ramps, looking down.)  The two couples rarely mixed and matched, but did occasionally form lineups that wound up dragging the unlucky fourth dancer who was face down on the stage.  The actual movement palette was limited to walking, soft arabesques, rolling on the floor and some hip-level lifts, all repeated too many times.  [more]

False Stars

August 23, 2017

Nora Sørena Casey’s "False Stars," part of this year’s Corkscrew Festival at the Paradise Factory, starts slowly but gradually grows more involving as all the interconnections between the characters slowly reveal themselves. [more]

Van Gogh’s Ear

August 21, 2017

Projected titles indicate place and year—beginning with Arles, 1888 and progressing until van Gogh’s suicide—which we hear as an offstage gunshot—in July of 1890. The audience is treated to Vincent’s thoughts on his painting technique, his poverty, his mental health, his fellow artists, stars, sunflowers, all interrupted by chamber music by Debussy, Fauré, Chausson and Franck played—in various combinations—by Henry Wang (violin), Yuval Herz (violin), Chich-Fan Yiu (viola), Timotheos Petrin (cello), Max Barros (piano) and Renana Gutman (piano). [more]

Lili Marlene

August 19, 2017

The songs never come up to the title song made famous by Marlene Dietrich who’s mentioned several times during the play. Antin’s attempt at playful seduction, “Take Me Home Tonight,” sung by the half-dressed cabaret girls and his German-style drinking song, “Fill My Stein with Beer” are pleasant pastiche, but “How Can Germany Survive?” (sung by the beleaguered Willi) and “Time to Stand Up” (sung by Josef) are heavy-handed and obvious. The lyrics throughout, even in the love songs are of the “moon-June” variety, but, as mentioned, are sung with great feeling. [more]

Lucky (Atlas Circus Company)

August 19, 2017

Watching Evans being bossed around by the tall beanpole Russel Norris, whether in an office job, cleaning a park or waiting on tables, was to watch classic comedy performed with brilliant, but invisible timing. (Credit choreographer Tyler Holobaski for his seamless contributions.) [more]

Trinkets

August 15, 2017

Antyon LeMonte, Honey Davenport, Jay Knowles and Kevin Aviance in a scene from “Trinkets” [more]

Virtual Memory

August 9, 2017

Mark Finley, the director, knew enough to keep the play charmingly low-key with just enough animated physicality to illustrate the story.  Finley clearly understood all of Strothmann’s best qualities as a storyteller and how to keep him on his toes as an actor and memoirist.  [more]

Jessica

July 27, 2017

Vermillion writes distinctive characters who each have their own language, but fails to make his story believable or emotionally gripping by turning it into something closer to the surreal, expecting the audience to accept the rationalizations rather than science fiction.  There are moments that communicate real emotion, particularly the low-key ending, but due to the nature of the story, Vermillion finds himself spending far too much time explicating the pseudoscience behind the title character. [more]

Jewels (Lincoln Center Festival)

July 25, 2017

The three-part ballet is considered Balanchine’s tribute to the three major artistic influences in his professional life:  the French school, the Russian school and, of course, his own American style of classical ballet as taught in his School of American Ballet in Lincoln Center.  Therefore, it was not just logical, but inspired, that the Paris Opera troupe would dance the dreamy “Emeralds” to Gabriel Fauré, the New York City Ballet, the fresh and jazzy “Rubies” to Igor Stravinsky, and the Russian troupe the very classical “Diamonds” to Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. [more]

Arcadia

July 23, 2017

The joy of Stoppard’s writing comes to the fore as the second act characters debate what happened in the first act, too often getting it all wrong, misinterpreting the evidence or jumping to too many conclusions that aren’t justified. These actors are so enjoyable to watch that we can only sit back and enjoy their self-delusions. [more]

Navigator in Love

July 18, 2017

Hapless Rostom (a perfectly cast Michael Propster who wears his emotions close to the surface) is low man on the totem pole in a nameless construction company and is removed from his comfortable office job to a position that forces him to travel about the country in a company car. He has the distasteful job of investigating corruption in the company’s many construction sites. He is aided in his travels by the Navigator (the voice of his GPS, Lauren Riddle who somehow finds a way to express emotions in her monotone voice). [more]

Trump Lear

July 16, 2017

"Trump Lear" turns out to be a gem, a brilliant gem with many facets that shine an intensely comic light on Trump. It’s a brutally honest x-ray as only a comedy can be, a sardonic, scary, funny take on Donald Trump as seen through the eyes of a victimized playwright/performer who is—shades of 1984!—kidnapped and imprisoned for making fun of the President! [more]

Custody

July 11, 2017

Shannon and Brendan are first seen in her simply decorated apartment in 1994 on her 41st birthday just before Brendan’s departure for Phoenix to join his significant other Ted (who doesn’t appear until the third scene).  They discuss the custody of their “children,” actually a ceramic bird called Henny and a cloth puppet of a little girl whose limbs are wooden dowels.  She has been dubbed Melly-Lou and she has been diagnosed with Dutch Elm disease—all part of the imaginative scenario assembled over the years by the two “parents.”  The title of the play refers to the quandary of where these kids will reside, a source of friction that is finally resolved. [more]

American Ballet Theatre: Whipped Cream

July 5, 2017

Richard Strauss’ surprisingly lighthearted score was first staged as a ballet in 1924 to a libretto he also wrote.  Strauss is, of course, best known for his serious, dark operas ("Salome," "Elektra," "Der Rosenkavalier," "Die Frau ohne Schatten").  This work, originally "Schlagobers" in German, appears to be a whimsical musical detour that, happily, has landed in the hands (feet?) of the very much in demand Ratmansky who, with the superior creative support of Mark Ryden (sets and costumes), Brad Fields (lighting) and, of course, the talented dancers of the American Ballet Theatre produced a candy-colored entertainment that might just serve as its new Nutcracker, a ballet that appeals to both children and adults. [more]

Momix: Opus Cactus

July 4, 2017

In eighteen short sections, Pendleton and his dancers evoke images of the western deserts of the U.S., using whatever means necessary, be it skateboards, puppetry, classical Indian dance, acrobatics, technological gimmickry or a truckload of imaginative costumes. [more]

Lydia Johnson Dance 2017 Season

July 2, 2017

Johnson’s choreographic ethic borders on the minimalistic, repeating some basic movements, particularly certain arm gestures, in all of the works.  In two of the three ballets, it works, in one it fails terribly, and in the fourth, it merely comes up short. [more]

The Reception

June 27, 2017

Soon little rends in the fabric of normalcy became apparent.   Bits of dialogue are repeated senselessly and the five revelers keep returning to the same positions (three on a couch, one alone at the border of the space and one behind the bar).  Attempts at dancing get more and more inelegant, even leading to a bit of physical sparring.  Even worse, there is an intermittent ominous, crackling sound emanating from deep in the floor, as if the house were about to collapse. [more]

Martita Goshen’s Earthworks: “Sanctuary”

June 27, 2017

Martita Goshen’s love of horses, one in particular, and nature in general, is a driving force in “Sanctuary,” her gentle and genteel dance recently performed by her troupe, Earthworks at the Paul Taylor Dance Studio.   “Sanctuary” is the final section of a three-part work dedicated to the memory of the famous equine, Barbaro, who died tragically after an injury. [more]

Terezin

June 26, 2017

Loaded with many characters and incidents, "Terezin" focuses on two sisters, Alexi (Natasa Petrovic) and Violet (Sasha K. Gordon) who, along with their father, Kurt (Sam Gibbs, playing his complex palette of emotions quite well) and mother, violinist Isabella (Sophia Davey, a calm presence who returns frequently as a spirit) are savagely grabbed by the SS for deportation to Terezin.  (One of the shocking first events is the rather realistic strangulation of one of the characters followed soon by the usual vile language—“Jewish swine,” etc.—used by the clichéd glowering Nazis.) [more]

Underground

June 25, 2017

Two likeable people, James (Michael Jinks) and Claire (Bebe Sanders) meet online, have dinner in a local pub owned by Steve (Andrew McDonald) and take the Underground home. That’s about it. Of course, that’s only the basic, very basic, outline. What makes "Underground" a quiet delight is the way van Tricht takes this trite situation and beefs it up with insightful conversation, intriguing situations that border on the fantastic and a clear empathy with her characters. [more]

Angels in America (New York City Opera)

June 23, 2017

By eliminating most of the extended fantasy elements of the play, they reduced the storyline to the domestic turbulence of two couples and a deservedly ugly portrait of Roy Cohn. Add in a visit by the iconic Bethesda Fountain Angel (here totally generic) and some very dramatic, brass-heavy music and you have this intriguing production by New York City Opera that succeeds as an opera as long as one is not familiar with the source material. What seemed heavy going and existential in the original comes across on a much more human level in the opera. [more]

Invincible

June 23, 2017

Betts' "Invincible" has been compared to Alan Ayckbourn’s work.  Although there are similarities, particularly in Betts’ ear for capturing the jargon of his characters and his feel for social class distinctions, Ayckbourn’s plays are more delicately constructed and make their points—whether social or emotional—more cleverly than Betts.   Even so, Invincible—the title a football reference—is satisfying as both a comedy and a drama, breaking more than a few hearts. [more]

Bella: An American Tall Tale

June 20, 2017

Featuring an energetic, game cast headed by bigger-than-life Ashley D. Kelley as the title character, "Bella" follows this “big booty Tupelo girl,” as she travels (under an assumed last name) to meet her staid fiancé, Buffalo Soldier Aloysius T. Honeycutt (handsome, sweet voiced Britton Smith) and to escape the law.  She meets a slew of fascinating characters—some who really existed and some fictitious—and finds her life taking a surprising turn in her bumpy road to marital bliss. [more]
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