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Articles by Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (194 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 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]

A Hunger Artist

June 16, 2017

"A Hunger Artist" takes morbid subject matter and turns it into a metaphorical look at obsession and human suffering.  By focusing on one hunger artist, Luxenberg and Levin manage to make a universal statement that leaves the audience bereft, images of unbelievable suffering lingering long after leaving the theater. [more]

Jody Sperling/Time Lapse Dance: “Book of Clouds”

June 14, 2017

The ostensible theme of Sperling’s series of performances at the Baryshnikov Arts Center was climate change.  Had spectators not read that in the program they would have come away from Sperling’s performance thinking it was an ode to spring with some cosmic overtones in Huestis’ colorful slide projections of circular forms that evoked the earth, the moon, Mars, stars, subtle earth formations and, of course, clouds. [more]

Janis Brenner & Dancers: Spring 2017 Season

June 9, 2017

Wearing pale, simple but elegant costumes with small colorful patches around the hips (designed by Sue Julien and Brenner) the dancers in “Soul River/Blues” entered singly at first up a diagonal, almost as if sneaking on. As the dance unfolded they rolled and paused, looking over their shoulders to a score by Ry Cooder and V.M. Bhatt which was a hybrid of Indian classical and bluesy American guitar styles. One man (Aaron Selissen) and four women (Kara Chan, Ruth Howard, Sumaya Jackson and Kristi Ann Schopfer) interacted in slow lifts and groupings that became ever more complex in their angles and internal relationships. [more]

Parsons Dance – Spring Season 2017

June 2, 2017

Company member, Omar Román De Jesús choreographed the third world premiere, “Daniel,” to a multiple-sourced score. He took his eight dancers through a dramatic visit to those on the autism behavior spectrum, finding beauty, sadness and even some humor. The emphasis was definitely on the darker elements with angular knee and elbow jutting movements repeated over and over again. Unlike his mentor, David Parsons, De Jesús dared to end his work with two sections that each used two dancers. [more]

Lou

May 30, 2017

The opening scenes augurs well, hinting at the deeper emotional motivation for Salome’s future behavior, her decision to avoid romantic involvement. As the lights gradually rise to reveal Salome, seated at her desk, her back to the audience, she is described by disembodied voices as a contradictory figure who is loved and respected in equal measure. Then Salome, the product of a respectable, well-to-do upbringing, tells a tale of being duped by the kitchen help when she was a child. The look on Mieko Gavia’s face as Lou Salome after revealing this traumatic event makes it clear that she will never be duped again. Ms. Gavia skillfully portrays Lou Salome as a stalwart anti-romantic who, nevertheless, knows that friendships with the influential males of her time were a necessary evil. [more]

Venus

May 26, 2017

The adept cast is led by Zainab Jah in the title role. In the one detail in which Parks’ play matches "The Elephant Man," Ms. Jah, a shapely, lovely actress, transforms herself into Venus right in front of the audience, painfully pulling on a padded costume that leaves nothing to the imagination. Ms. Jah’s Venus is a strong figure who rolls with the punches but is no match for the hypocrisy of the powers that be. She is a strong enough actor to keep her head above the fray. [more]

Ellen Cornfield/Cornfield Dance: “Close-Up” (2017)

May 23, 2017

There was a mysterious coolness about “Close-Up” which, according to a program note by Ms. Cornfield, was meant to delve into the personalities of her five dancers, doing this by assigning very particular gestures—touching the face with a finger, holding a palm to the forehead, quivering hands, mimed pouring, nods—and facial expressions like appearing to laugh or shout to each dancer. She called these intimate, non-dance details, “zoom close-ups.” These quirky bits were additions to sleek, catlike movements that included lunges, low leg circling and the kind of balletic movements that were the centerpiece of Cunningham’s choreographic output. [more]

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]
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