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Articles by Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (180 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.

The Deborah Zall Project: “In the Company of Women” 2017

May 21, 2017

All but one of Zall’s works were solos and all were based on famous literary figures: “George Sand” (ruminating on her lost love, Chopin), “Mary Tyrone” (from "Long Day’s Journey Into Night" fighting her addiction while remembering her childhood), “Sonnet” (to an Edna St. Vincent Millay sonnet about obsessing over a lost love), “Amanda” (the mother in "A Glass Menagerie" sadly musing over her ball gown) and “Shadow of Her Sister” (two sisters from "The House of Bernarda Alba" battle to the death with dark Catholic imagery overlaying the internecine war). [more]

Battery Dance – Spring 2017 Season

May 17, 2017

The final work, “On Foot” was choreographed by Hollander and seven company members. It featured a Middle East-tinged score by Kinan Azmeh and Anouar Brahem and sensational visual art, mostly created on the spot, by Kevork Mourad whose ancestors fled the Armenian genocide. Mourad created both beautiful and horrifying projections on the back screen of the stage and also sat at a computer projector producing fluidly morphing images on a scrim: people floated about; ancient buildings melted; and complex landscapes passed by capturing the mood of the choreography. [more]

Limón Dance Company: Spring 2017 Season

May 16, 2017

“Corvidae,” Colin Connor’s contribution to the program, was staged to the relentless first movement of a Philip Glass Violin Concerto. The title refers to the scientific name of the family of crows and ravens. The six dancers, stylishly dressed in all black outfits by Connor and Keiko Voltaire and moodily lit by DK Kroth, wandered about stylishly, but aimlessly, suddenly bursting into movement, softly leaping, arms held in wing-like positions. The heads of stationary dancers were held high in ornithological awareness as the rest of the cast softly cut through the air in balletic, sweeping steps. The overall mood was dark and sexy. [more]

Happy Days

May 13, 2017

At the end of this "Happy Days," it’s difficult not to be heartbroken by Ms. Wiest’s Winnie, particularly when she gets a rare glance at her significant other, Willie, who manages to crawl over the sand to serenade her with the “Merry Widow Waltz.” Jarlath Conroy playing Willie makes the most of his few scenes both behind and on top of the sandy mound. Somehow he even makes something of his slow crawl towards Winnie at the end. Seeing Ms. Wiest’s face at that moment is worth sitting through Beckett’s theatrical obfuscations. [more]

Bandstand

May 11, 2017

All the actors in the band play their instruments with panache and perfect period style, including Cott whose piano doodling is terrific. James Nathan Hopkins plays the cute, upbeat saxophonist, Jimmy Campbell; Brandon J. Ellis, the joking teddy bear of a guy, Davy Zlatic, the bassist; Alex Bender, the intensely dramatic trumpeter, Wayne Wright; Geoff Packard, the germ phobic trombonist, Wayne Wright; and Joe Carroll as Johnny Simpson, the percussionist who survived a scary accident during the War. [more]

Six Degrees of Separation

May 9, 2017

All the acting is sharp, from the upper-crusters taken in by Paul (Lisa Emery, Michael Countryman and Ned Eisenberg) to their kids (Colby Minifie, Keenan Jolliff, Ned Riseley, and Cody Kostro), Chris Perfetti as Trent who, sexually intoxicated by Paul, fills him in on the ways and means of all the people he will eventually swindle, and finally, to the young lovers (Peter Mark Kendall and Sarah Mezzanotte) whose fate reveals just how psychologically damaging Paul can be. [more]

Titicut Follies

May 3, 2017

The original film is brazen in its guerilla-style filmmaking, a good deal of which was surreptitiously produced right under the noses of the Institution’s officials.  To anyone who knows or watched the original 1967 film, James Sewell’s choreographic rendition would seem tame, certainly lacking the shocking visions of naked men abused and humiliated by sadistic guards, ridiculously backward psychologists and a nutritional staff intent on starving the patients.  (Images abound of skeletal men wandering aimlessly.)  The film begins with the eponymous follies, the men singing and dancing to a bizarre version of “Strike Up the Band” and showing off their other talents, only to quickly descend into a vision of hell on earth. [more]

Ballet Hispanico – Spring 2017

April 27, 2017

The company is in great shape. It’s a difficult task to combine ethnic themes with ballet and modern dance, but somehow Eduardo Vilaro has been succeeding terrifically. His troupe entertains, titillates and even educates (if that isn’t a dirty word). [more]

Indecent

April 25, 2017

"Indecent" is, on the surface, the history of Yiddish writer Sholem Asch’s brave Yiddish play "God of Vengeance" which was—incredibly, considering its wise understanding of the Jewish demimonde—written in 1906 during the height of anti-Jewish pogroms. (Asch actually witnessed a pogrom and its ugliness tainted his life thereafter.) It is far more, though. The play is a look at the sweep of Jewish life in the twentieth century using Asch’s creation as the hook. [more]

Luft Gangster

April 13, 2017

It is fascinating to watch Lowell Byers face his unfounded, country boy optimism as he is confronted with the brutal realities of his situation. That Byers’ Lou never completely succumbs, despite having to perform several vile acts, makes him the moral center of the play that pushes the idea of morality to the extremes. In addition, his exacting research, based on his cousin’s travails, pays off in the complexity of his writing. [more]

Amélie

April 10, 2017

"Amélie" is frustrating. The characters exist as two-dimensional cartoons that a talented cast almost brings to life. The uneven rhythms and poor timing of the show bog it down. An inability to find stage equivalents for the film’s gimmickry also hurts. It does have a game cast who vie with undistinguished songs, choreography and staging. Finally, there is Phillipa Soo who radiates warmth amidst the disarray. [more]

La Campana Sommersa (New York City Opera)

April 8, 2017

This production was a co-effort with Fondazione Teatro Lirico di Cagliari whose orchestra joined forces with the New York City Opera Orchestra under the baton of Ira Levin who brought out every bit of color in the music. Maestro Levin was sensitive to the needs of the singers, knowing just how to mold the orchestra’s sounds so that their voices soared over the often over-orchestrated score (not helped by the wrong-headed scrim used in the forest scenes). [more]

Diva: Live From Hell

April 4, 2017

"Diva: Live From Hell," an energetic, campy variation on the “All About Eve” theme, is performed with manic glee by Sean Patrick Monahan who also wrote the book and created all the colorful characters. His partner in crime is Alexander Sage Oyen who provided the music and lyrics. Sex (requited and unrequited), ugly violence and dark humor are all thrown into the story which is told by Desmond Channing (Monahan, who also plays virtually a high school’s worth of characters). [more]

Doug Varone and Dancers: Spring 2017 Season

April 2, 2017

Varone employs movements loosely flung out from the body’s core; sudden, inexplicable pauses; (painful looking) drops to the floor (usually onto a knee!); contrasting chaotic activities with stillness, high with low and slow with fast. There is a sense—clearly mistaken—that the choreography is improvised which makes for unfocused and nervous stage pictures. The fact that his dancers, a diverse bunch, wear his movement style like a second skin adds an excitement to his ballets. They seem born to his particular style and give it an offhanded grace, looking more like people moving rather than dancers. [more]

Paul Taylor American Modern Dance: Spring Season 2017

March 31, 2017

Now named Paul Taylor American Modern Dance, Taylor has included ballets by other choreographers which allows for some healthy comparisons and a hope for the future of this legendary company. The four non-Taylor works, all but one danced by the Taylor dancers, made fascinating comparison with his work: particularly Martha Graham’s “Diversion of Angels,” her ode to romantic and sexual love, choreographed in 1948 to music by Norman Dello Joio, one of the few works in which Graham, herself, did not appear. [more]

The Emperor Jones

March 28, 2017

Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly as a feverish nightmare, this "Emperor," in just over an hour, exposes the inner reaches of the mind of the title character, Brutus Jones (played with a booming voice and a larger-than-life charisma by Obi Abili) leaving tedious reality behind. [more]

Who Would Be King

March 25, 2017

Jason Slavick’s direction keeps the cast rollicking along, taking advantage of every inch of Ars Nova. He is helped by an energetic cast, all on the same wavelength, giving their physical and emotional all. Silly at times, yes; but ultimately dark and meaningful. [more]

Come From Away

March 16, 2017

The songs push the plot along, ranging from numbers about the locals’ dealing with valuable resources (“Blankets and Bedding”) to the quiet awe the visitors express at the local scenery (“Darkness and Trees”). “Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere” and “Something’s Missing,” eloquently deal with the short-term emotional turbulence that eventually steadied to mutual admiration and many long-term friendships. [more]

Wakey, Wakey

March 14, 2017

"Wakey, Wakey" is Will Eno at his surreal, troubling, beautiful best, a play both challenging and easily absorbed. He truly approaches the unapproachable: the meaning of life. [more]

Deconstruction

March 14, 2017

The acting isn’t detailed or expansive enough to make Leaf’s words come alive or give the slightest notion of the intelligence of these three. Ms. Dobbins’ McCarthy is far too girlish. Yes, the playwright’s point is to show how even an intellectual can be seduced by a good-looking person, but she never boils over. The closest to anger she achieves is petulance. [more]

Nihon Buyo Dance by Geimaruza

March 6, 2017

Three musical pieces displayed the instruments on which the music is made. “Nagare (Flow)” was played on two shamisen (stringed instruments) by Touon Minamidani Mai and Touon Sakata Maiko, completing in ever faster, improvised sounding, themes, all based on traditional melodies (kind of like a gentler version of “Dueling Banjos” from Deliverance). “Toki (Japanese Crested Ibis)” featured a long fue (flute) solo by Tosha Suiho, whose passionate musicianship was overwhelming. The third work, “Shishi (Lion)” combined all the different percussion instruments and the flute to great dramatic effect. [more]

Everybody

March 3, 2017

The original was aimed at an audience that most certainly was illiterate, so that the clever creators used cartoonish, unsubtle characters who spoke in popular jargon, even spouting profanity, which must have tickled the medieval audiences’ sensibilities and kept them following the actors in their juicy parts. Jacobs-Jenkins follows suit, but with his tongue firmly in his cheek, writing his characters, particularly Stuff (played with a no-nonsense, “from the block” insouciance by Lakisha Michelle May), as immediately recognizable twenty-first century caricatures. When cutie pie child Lilyana Tiare Cornell, playing the character Time, spouts the word “shitty,” the audience at the Diamond Stage giggles nervously. [more]

Ring Twice for Miranda

February 19, 2017

Although "Ring Twice" is filled to the brim with socio-political symbolism, it’s not likely that the author was trying for any direct reference to the current maddening political scene since gestation periods for plays are notoriously long. Clearly this play was written well before the 2016 election, so any vague commentary appears to be inadvertent. This is not to say that the metaphors and symbols Hruska uses aren’t intriguing in their own way. [more]

The Dressmaker’s Secret

February 19, 2017

The playwrights have a keen understanding of this place and time, helped by the simple, but telling scenery of Stephen C. Jones, who also lit the small performing space to give the illusion of multiple settings. Molly R. Seidel’s costumes also hit the nail on the head as far as period and character are concerned. The glamorous dress Mária creates for Irma is in direct contrast to her own dreary housedresses, and Robert’s fancy western style suit makes Robi even more eager to leave Romania. [more]

Complexions Contemporary Ballet 2017 at the Joyce

February 15, 2017

“Star Dust,” Rhoden’s tribute to rock original David Bowie forced Rhoden to study and use each of the nine chosen songs as vignettes to comment on Bowie’s magic, the superb quirkiness of his dancers and display subtlety in his use of steps sometimes missing from his wham-bang, jet engine choreography. Rotating lights and disco balls beamed mood-changing pools of light on the stage (designed by the hard-working Mr. Korsch with psychedelically colorful costumes and makeup by Ms. Darch which exposed a lot of skin.) [more]

Batsheva Dance Company: “Last Work”

February 11, 2017

The centerpiece of “Last Work” was the image of a single dancer, in a blue costume, jogging on a treadmill far upstage while the rest of the troupe, dressed in chic practice outfits by Eri Nakamura went through its paces in a performance area defined by two lines of upright panels lining each side of the stage (designed by Zohar Shoef). The dancers’ outfits changed later on which, for some reason, made it seem as if there were many more dancers on stage than there really were. [more]

Love for Sale

January 26, 2017

The concept of Love for Sale, though not particularly original, is not a bad one, except for one very important factor: Ms. Burke is not up to either the singing or acting demands of Love for Sale, a voyage from innocence to jaded sophistication as told in mostly dark, melodramatic songs, ironically influenced by the American films that flooded Europe in the twenties and thirties. It’s an extraordinarily difficult repertoire that constantly threatens to be silly expressions of impossibly colorful and desperate characters. [more]

Albatross

January 22, 2017

What Evett delivers—using ample quotes from the poem and robust contributions from himself and Spangler—is a terrifying inside look of the Mariner’s experiences, beginning with being hijacked by a friend at a pub. He breathlessly illuminates what the day-to-day life was like with lurid descriptions of illnesses and exciting second-by-second reports of battles with other ships. [more]

Candide (New York City Opera)

January 10, 2017

Linda Lavin, padded and badly bewigged, comes across more like a Jewish yenta than the victim of the vagaries of Eastern European warfare. She has only one song, “Easily Assimilated,” a silly attempt at seduction, which is a shame. This character had several numbers in the original, including one that actually referred to why she is “missing the half of my backside.” Lavin is a star, but is ill-used here. [more]

17th Contemporary Dance Showcase: Japan + East Asia

January 9, 2017

All the choreographers displayed over-intellectualization and overuse of gimmicks, avoiding dealing directly and honestly with their subjects. Homosexuality raised its head in two of the works but was handled superficially. Perhaps, there’s an “Asian sensibility” that eluded me, but the vocabulary used was decidedly Western and has to be assessed in those terms. [more]

Confucius

January 6, 2017

This dance/theater piece is subtitled “Teacher, philosopher, man who shaped a nation,” a rather big theme to dramatize effectively, especially when the mandate is spectacle. Mr. Liu’s barebones, chronological script (consisting of little more than narrative plot advancements and quotes from Confucius) first finds Confucius a defiled presence in the court of the Duke of State (Zhu Yin, zestfully portraying the enervation of over-indulgence) whose evil Minister (Guo Haifeng, zingingly evil) works overtime to frustrate Confucius’ effort. Confucius becomes the love object of and mentor to the Concubine (lovely, floating Tang Shiyi) and, finally becomes the beloved and respected sage. [more]

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (Fall 2016 Season)

December 26, 2016

“r-Evolution, Dream.” was a jaunty new ballet by Ailey member Hope Boykin to music by Ali Jackson plus narration spoken by Leslie Odom, Jr. which included a Shakespeare sonnet, “A Negro’s Complaint” by William Cowper, “If I Can Help Somebody as I Pass Along” by Alma Irene Bazel, etc. This delightful romp pitted four groups of dancers against each other, occasionally joining forces, particularly in a fleet finale in which the lines interwove and “interbred.” The dancers—including members of Ailey II—were defined by the color of their chic costumes (black, white, purple and green, designed by Ms. Boykin) all led by Ailey veteran, Matthew Rushing whose Pied-Piper performance gave a center of gravity to what might have been a pleasantly disorganized entertainment. Standing out was Megan Jakel whose whirling, undulating solo evoked spontaneous applause. [more]

The Babylon Line

December 19, 2016

Aaron Port (Josh Radnor), a down on his luck writer, is reduced to teaching Adult Ed classes in middle class/middle brow 1960’s Levittown, Long Island. Richard Greenberg ("Take Me Out," "Our Mother’s Brief Affair") in his new play, "The Babylon Line" at the Mitzi E. Newhouse, has Port frequently speak directly to the audience, doling out information and setting the scene, from the vantage point of 2015. Although it’s an awkward device it does come in handy, particularly at the end when a number of plot strands come together. Port’s frustration with his career is exacerbated by having a successful friend, Jay, confront him en route to his teaching assignment. [more]
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