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Articles by Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (301 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.

Nederlands Dans Theater 2

January 21, 2019

All four works—particularly the first three—had a certain offhanded similarity, a lack of formal movement ideas and construction, but all four choreographers are clearly students of the school of Jiři Kylián, the most famous director of the NDT whose incredibly musical, minutely detailed choreography has influenced many both in Europe and here in the United States.  Kylián’s works have a touching humanity to them, while these four works tended more to movement for its own sake and arbitrary expression of emotions. [more]

Aileen Passloff, Stepping Forward: One Foot (in front of the other)

January 16, 2019

Of Passloff’s eight works, the newest, “Frolic,” (2018) to music by Erik Satlie (“Trois morceau en la forme de poire”) came closest in spirit to her classical ballet origins, utilizing whimsical characters to tell a gentle daydream.  To the calm music played live by pianists Michael Cherry and Douglas Schultz, a gentle Ballerina (Esmé Boyce), a boisterous, muscular Joker (Aviles), a sassy Horse Trainer (Pam Wess), two cavorting Horses (S. Asher Gelman and Mati Gelman) and a caring Mother (Charlotte Hendrickson)—all costumed in appropriate, colorful outfits—danced solos and duets, finally uniting for what—in minimalist terms—was a grand finale complete with cartwheels, simple ballet steps, horsey prancing, and the entire cast competing for attention from the rapt audience. [more]

Contemporary Dance Festival: Japan + East Asia 2019

January 10, 2019

The four choreographers whose three works were represented at the Japan Society’s Contemporary Dance Festival: Japan + East Asia flung themselves headlong into the modern world of dance with only occasional glances over their shoulders at their ancestors-in-art, preferring what often appeared to be an arbitrary approach to choreography uneasily alternating between coy, fey bits of choreographic fluff and sudden primal screams. Only the final work on this occasionally interesting, but flawed program displayed some understanding of this concept of the inexorable march of time and its effects. [more]

Waiting for Godot (New Yiddish Rep)

January 7, 2019

Translator Shane Baker has found excellent Yiddish equivalents for Beckett’s language.  He understands that Yiddish is a minor key tongue full of sadness, quicksilver tone changes, perfect for expressing the constant complaints that fill the libretto of Godot.  Of course, it is Beckett’s language that passes the time with its casually tossed off deep observations of the human condition in the guise of flippant or quasi-philosophical comments. [more]

The Chase Brock Experience: The Girl with the Alkaline Eyes

December 31, 2018

Brock’s work once prized effect over substance, but years of choreographing situation and character-based musicals ("Be More Chill," "Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark") have sharpened his artistic vision; or, perhaps, he has matured as he’s gained experience—and years. [more]

ZviDance: Bear’s Ears & Detour

December 28, 2018

A five-day journey to Bear’s Ears National Monument in Utah in the company of other dancers, choreographers and Native Americans turned Gotheiner’s mind to more serious pursuits resulting in “Bear’s Ears” and “Detour,” two of his best works. Both display some influence of Native American dance forms, but only to focus Gotheiner’s creative energies on the emotional journeys of his dancers. Bear’s Ears is a national monument under attack by this government’s forces which want to open this area to mining and natural gas exploration, completely ignoring the deep spiritual associations with the Native Americans. [more]

Nut/Cracked

December 22, 2018

The troupe attracted a wide-ranging audience to The Sam space at The Flea, even a few youngsters there to see their first live dance performance, and, with the exception of one section, “Thumbs,” performed by Nic Petry and Kazin, which might been perceived as naughtily sexual, they were in for many treats:  jaunty barefoot tapping (“Top Hats”); a male Sugar Plum Fairy, Dylan Baker, who was so proud of his toe shoe technique that he shined a flashlight on his every foot jiggle (“Flashlight”); and “A Chorus Line” of young dancers from the Dalton School getting their first taste of professional dancing under the lights in front of an audience. [more]

The Baby Monitor

December 19, 2018

That it involves the relatively new phenomenon of gay parenthood gives it an added impact.  That it is written with a thorough understanding of the complexities of gay parenthood vs. conservatives-in-liberal-clothing keeps it constantly edgy.  And, that it has a relatively positive ending makes it a valuable addition to this literature in a season when Michael McKeever’s popular "Daniel’s Husband" excited interest in a storyline also involving gay marriage, one with a decidedly dire conclusion. [more]

The Cher Show

December 17, 2018

Elice is no stranger to biographical musicals.  His "Jersey Boys" is still running off-Broadway.  Here he was inspired to divide the eponymous character into three personalities:  the Star (the sensational, charismatic Stephanie J. Block), the current, living legend; the Lady (Teal Wicks, fascinating in this bridge role), the mid-career Cher; and the Babe (Micaela Diamond in a gutsy, eager performance) the young Cher just discovering herself guided by her Svengali, Sonny Bono (Jarrod Spector, not a physical match to Bono, but a fine singer and actor). [more]

Shadows: A Dance Musical

December 4, 2018

The flier for "Shadows," subtitled "A Dance Musical," calls it “a Gothic ghost love story,” adding, “It’s Twyla Tharp meets Stephen King.”  If only. "Shadows," written by Randall David Cook (book) and Edison Woods, Maxim Moston and Karen Biskho (music and lyrics) and choreographed and directed by Joey McKneely, does tell a love story and does have a good deal of dancing, but the eerie romance doesn’t rise to the complex Gothic levels of Stephen King and the choreography is far less creative than Twyla Tharp’s. [more]

Twyla Tharp: Minamalism and Me

December 3, 2018

Her quietly wry, gently self-deprecating autobiographical lecture demonstration, “Minimalism and Me,” was the first half of a program devoted to her early works. These works more often than not caused more chin scratching than accolades.  From the virtually motionless “Tank Dive” to the giddy, if slight, “Eight Jelly Rolls,” her intellectual processes—including stacks of graph paper jottings that guided her and her dancers on stage (or on gymnasium floors, museum exhibition rooms and outdoor spaces)—were sensible yet challenging to the status quo of the 1960’s when she did her first choreographic experiments with her all-female quintet. [more]

Life x 3

November 28, 2018

"Life X 3" was first seen in 2003 at the Circle in the Square.  This revival is tauter and funnier.  Perhaps this smaller venue refracts the play in a different way, but these four actors are more convincingly real, not to mention greater pains in the butt.  As the title implies, they get three chances to reveal—and revel in—their egos and idiosyncrasies, each succeeding part bringing out both nuances and bombshells. [more]

Tom Pain (based on nothing)

November 23, 2018

Hall is not helped by an over-zealous production that, for some reason, turns the Signature’s Irene Diamond Stage into a construction site, complete with drop cloths, ceiling netting and lots of ladders ringing the stage—an odd, misleading choice by set designer Amy Rubin. Jen Schriever’s lighting manages to make this set mysterious. Schriever is also tasked with following Hall/Pain in his travels into the auditorium, using houselights along with stage lights with great skill. [more]

The New York Pops – Song and Dance:  The Best of Broadway

November 22, 2018

The New York Theatre Ballet performed the lovely, all-female, “Come to Me, Bend to Me” from that musical, a sweet look at pre-wedding preparations in the ancient village of Brigadoon.  That troupe began with two excerpts from de Mille’s groundbreaking “Dream Ballet” from "Oklahoma!" and her “Hornpipe” from another Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, "Carousel" (1945), its fishermen bouncing about while on the hunt for female companionship. [more]

King Kong

November 20, 2018

Designed by Johnny Tilders, the puppet Kong is phenomenal, a 20-foot tall, 2,000 pound marionette operated by the ten-person King’s Company, members of the cast assigned to operating the arms, legs and body of Kong, with the facial expressions controlled by exacting machinery that endows this artificial creation with real emotions.  The roaring and other vocalizations are amplifications of the offstage voice of Jon Hoche.  The results are not just fascinating, but eminently entertaining and even moving. [more]

The Little Prince

November 14, 2018

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s wondrous fairytale, "The Little Prince" ("Le petit prince"), has been filmed as a musical, a cartoon, and a musical cartoon and even occasionally staged live, but rarely as energetically and lovably as the EPIC Players Inclusion Company’s production at the Flea Theatre.  The EPIC Players is “a neuro-inclusive theatre company that uses the performing art to empower artists with developmental disabilities.” [more]

Lured

November 13, 2018

Frank J. Avella’s "Lured" at the Theater for the New City practices a bit of theatrical legerdemain.  Ostensibly about the perils of being gay in today’s Russia, Avella takes an unexpected turn into revenge melodrama that almost defeats his main political/social theme.  Considering that Lured is based on real events, at the very least he dulls the important political and social points he is making by having the victims and perpetrators behave equally abhorrently. [more]

The Tenant

November 12, 2018

Whiteside isn’t exactly misused, but rather underused and under coached.  No one should have laughed when he began his transformation into his female alterego.  Whiteside, used to the broader acting style of ballets on huge stages, can’t seem to find the telling details of his drastic, paranoid morphing into Simone of the death wish, not helped by the steps nor the direction he has (or has not) been given.  Whiteside appeared practically emotionless as he stared into a mirror—actually the audience—as he adjusted his very bad wig, applied more lipstick, stripped naked, tucked and put on a Whiteside-sized version of the dress that Simone wore when she flew off the top of Pita’s well-designed, complex set. [more]

Prinze: The One-Man Show

November 5, 2018

Sonera opens the show with Prinze doing one of his sets at the Improv Club in New York City, 1976, beginning with one of his famous lines, “Looking good!” and continuing with his sardonic comments about Puerto Ricans (“A lot of people think Puerto Ricans are responsible for cockroaches.”) and civil rights.  He speaks of touring to Florida and the frustration of having to perform in front of old people and then goes on to disparage blacks and gays, all material that would be PI today, but delivered as a “nice guy” who’s just observing the world. [more]

The Ferryman

October 31, 2018

Imported from London, with a number of the original cast members, "The Ferryman" takes place in rural County Armagh, in Northern Ireland in 1981, during a rise of violence of the IRA, right in the middle of The Troubles, the decades-long fight for Irish independence from Great Britain.  Butterworth (represented previously in New York by "The River" and "Jerusalem") brilliantly relates the tension, violence and dread that rocked Ireland by focusing on a single, extended family, incisively using this domestic microcosm to illuminate the complexities of a society at war with itself. [more]

Love, Linda

October 29, 2018

Elegantly inhabiting the small Triad stage, Holland’s Linda is clearly a class act, with a smooth, rich, dark voice.  Hearing her tale of their days in the twenties cruising the high points of Europe, the culturally historical figures they carouse with—including Diaghilev, Chanel and Stravinsky—and Cole’s early successes are fascinating:  cue “Ours,” “I Love Paris,” “Miss Otis Regrets” (written for the legendary Bricktop in whose boîte the Porters hangs out with their fun-loving, rich friends) and the adorable “Scampi,” the triumphant tale of a mischievous shrimp. [more]

Song of the Mermaid

October 24, 2018

The K-Arts Dance Company from Korea presented two performances of "Song of the Mermaid," an entertaining full-length ballet choreographed by its artistic director, Sunhee Kim.  Song of the Mermaid was an extravagant ode to old-style ballet, a tribute to Petipa, if you will, based on the well-known tragic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of love gone wrong. [more]

Salome

October 15, 2018

This M-34 production, under Rutherford’s direction, doesn’t rise to stratospheric heights.  Quite the opposite:  Rutherford’s direction and writing turns Salome into a fascinating domestic comedy/drama, an interesting interpretation, even a witty interpretation, but one that avoids piercing the audience’s minds.  He keeps the actors watchable with an in-your-face directing style.  Earnest and energetic as it is, he never squeezes fresh revelations from the text. [more]

The Evolution of Mann

October 10, 2018

Henry’s roommate and confidante, Gwen (a solid, appealing Leslie Hiatt) has her own heartache to deal with:  Her wife, Diana, has left her, accusing Gwen of infidelity.  Gwen and Henry support each other with wisecracks, gentle prodding and pleasant songs provided by Douglas J. Cohen (music and lyrics) and Dan Elish (book and lyrics, based on Elish’s novel, "Nine Wives"). [more]

Experimenting with Katz

October 3, 2018

Gill expertly writes each character as three dimensional, giving each complex backgrounds, making it clear that each benefits from knowing the others.  A mundane Scrabble game is as revealing as Truth or Dare.  Phone calls uncover the wonderful interdependencies of this group. [more]

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company: Analogy Trilogy

September 29, 2018

Jones has become known for applying his wide-ranging choreography and sharp mind to storylines that take on chunks of history—including some shockingly modern history.  He displays his sharp observational abilities in Analogy Trilogy, each part luxuriating in the slow, detailed unraveling of the stories of three interesting people:  Dora Amelan, a Belgian Holocaust survivor; Lance, a seventies’ drug, sex and phony fame survivor; and the surreal Ambrose, the Emigrant who accompanies a rich, detached Jew on his odd journeys through America and Europe in the early twentieth century. [more]

Hurricane Party

September 21, 2018

The intellectual level of "Hurricane"’s characters may not be as high as George, Martha, Nick and Honey’s.  Nevertheless they reveal their inner psychological turmoil, secret fears, secret yearnings and sense of isolation with equal intensity.  Thigpen’s astutely observed dialogue and Maria Dizzia’s vivid whirlwind direction lift "Hurricane" from foul-mouthed melodrama to passionate character study. [more]

James & Jamesy in the Dark

September 17, 2018

"James & Jamesy in the Dark" is apparently the product of a long trial and error rehearsal process according to the aforementioned program notes.  The self-involving process, unfortunately, seems to have insulated them from unintentionally synthesizing themes from the works of Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco (isolation, repetition, existential angst).  Their endless wanderings about the stage mirror Waiting for Godot and their nonsensical dialogue could easily have come directly from" The Bald Soprano." [more]

Me the People: Fire and Fury Edition

September 16, 2018

You’d need a ten ton truck to haul away all the slings and arrows slung and shot at Donald Trump in "Me the People: Fire & Fury Edition," the red-hot political revue currently on stage at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Written by the sharp-witted Nancy Holson whose hilarious lyrics repurpose many well-known songs for her nefarious criticisms of our misbegotten president, the show is an update of an earlier version. [more]

beep boop

September 11, 2018

"beep boop," Richard Saudek’s hour-long sad-sack romp through modern man’s constant love/hate bout with technology, is at HERE, the avant-garde arts center in SoHo. Its deft combination of mime, music, audio-visual effects and—yes—modern technology is worth a visit to this very active performance space, if for nothing else than to see Saudek disappear into his laptop. [more]

The Gospel at Colonus

September 8, 2018

The complexities of this Greek tragedy are shoe-horned into a Gospel service with songs ranging from the thoughtful (“The Invocation”) to the formal (“Creon Comes to Colonus”) to the awe-inspiring (“The Descent of Oedipus”) and finally to the heartbreaking (“The Sermon” and “Closing Hymn”), all variations on the well-known Gospel/Blues/Christian Hymn musical repertory. [more]

The Sarasota Ballet: Summer 2018

August 17, 2018

The Sarasota Ballet, under the direction of Iain Webb, a former leading dancer with the Royal Ballet, has, to the benefit of the dance world, been collecting works by the British master choreographer, Sir Frederick Ashton.  Even Ashton’s artistic home base rarely performs his work, despite the fact that that troupe’s elevation from Sadler Wells Ballet to Royal Ballet was largely due to Ashton’s efforts.  (The troupe’s repertory also includes works by Ashton’s contemporaries, such as Antony Tudor, Dame Ninette de Valois, Agnes de Mille and Michel Fokine.) [more]

This Ain’t No Disco

August 7, 2018

"This Ain’t No Disco" is a compressed, zany look at the years in the 1970s that Studio 54 ruled the social whirl of New York City, complete with debauchery, drugs, loud music, semi-nudity and dancing (brilliantly evocative choreography by Camille A. Brown—herself no slouch with "Once on This Island" under her belt.) The libretto hews closely to the facts about the rise and fall of this mecca of A-list celebrities, including real people—Steve Rubell, Andy Warhol (here called The Artist)—and a host of fictional characters who represent a cross-section of the clientele, from pretty boy bartenders/drug dealers to undercover government agents looking for a chink in Rubell’s armor.  The Mudd Club also makes a guest appearance as well as the homes of several of the characters whose mixing and matching drive the play. [more]
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