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Articles by Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (264 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.

Batsheva – The Young Ensemble: “Naharin’s Virus”

July 16, 2018

Naharin is known for having “invented” a movement language called Gaga.  Frankly, I’ve never been able to distinguish Gaga from any other movement palette.  If Gaga means disconnected bits of movement utilizing hints of modern, ballet, hip-hop, mime and even ethnic movements, then it’s not particularly original.  All these movement vocabularies were on display in “Naharin’s Virus” whose sixteen-member cast was put through their paces for an overlong hour.  (The work could easily have been edited down by at least twenty minutes and been more effective, particularly by eliminating a long monologue about a self-abusing young lady.) [more]

Sean Dorsey Dance 2018

June 26, 2018

Sean Dorsey is a transgender and queer choreographer whose movement palette in “The Missing Generation” is a gentle, swirling combination of twisty, floor-bound, organic movements with a rich gesture vocabulary.  Where the revealing series of speeches about gay life previous to, during and after the Epidemic provided the facts, Dorsey’s movements provided the emotions that even the depressing stories couldn’t.  A look, a touch, a quick lift, all turned this cast of mature dancers—Dorsey, Brian Fisher, ArVejon Jones and Will Woodward—into a fount of emotion, sometimes too intense to take in. [more]

Women/Create! A Festival of Dance 2018

June 24, 2018

Jennifer Muller, of Jennifer Muller/The Works, whose artistic history includes a long association with José Limon, provided “Shock Wave,” a world premiere to a cello-heavy score by Gordon Withers.  “Shock Wave,” with its suggestive title, showed how darkness and loneliness can pervade a microcosmic set of people—The Works’ members—as they are stopped in their paths by a loud explosion and have to cooperate to re-group and go on. [more]

Philadanco! (The Philadelphia Dance Company)

June 21, 2018

The theme running through the four works presented, three of them New York premieres, was of sadness and anger.  Even “Folded Prism” by Thang Dao, an abstract dance work, had an unsettled ambiance.  The cast of nine, dressed in Natasha Guruleva’s pale, form-fitting costumes, were initially found in a tight group, occasionally breaking up into quick solos and duets, but always returning to the cluster of performers.  The work ended when one recalcitrant young lady is carried back into the fold.  The ever-changing, but quiet score of John Levis and the somber lighting of Nick Kolin helped sustain the mood. [more]

Manufacturing Mischief

June 18, 2018

Noam Chomsky, Karl Marx, Ayn Rand, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and a “Tiny” Trump all on stage at the same time, verbally jousting with each other?  Pedro Reyes’ "Manufacturing Mischief" at the Tank does, indeed, throw these historic figures together in a play that is intellectually stimulating and quite witty as these giants tear each other apart. [more]

All I Want Is One Night

June 16, 2018

Part of 59E59’s Brits Off-Broadway 2018 festival, Jessica Walker’s "All I Want is One Night" takes place in an odd combination of cabaret and antique shop.  Theater B in the 59E59 Theaters complex has been done over as an intimate café with moody lighting by Kate Ashton and extraordinary period perfect costumes (uncredited).  It is 1980 in Haut de Cagnes and Suzy Solidor (Walker) in her dotage is about to be painted by Lindstrom (Alexandra Mathie who plays multiple characters in Solidor’s life quite convincingly) and is being cared for by a much younger lady, Giselle (Rachel Austin who also plays Daisy, later in the play). [more]

Our Lady of 121st Street

June 3, 2018

The current staging of "Our Lady" at The Pershing Square Signature Center, directed by Phylicia Rashad, magically now comes across as an addled, profane sitcom.  It’s entertaining and at times moving, but the real magic is that the very same words can be tended by a solid director—this one obviously experienced in sitcoms—and refresh a theatrical experience so completely.  Rashad has shown that scathing can be scathingly funny.  This time I left laughing. [more]

There’s Blood at the Wedding

May 29, 2018

Packed into Theodora Skipitares’ "There’s Blood at the Wedding" are multiple takes on how authorities have abused their powers, too often killing innocent people.  By theatricalizing and stylizing their stories, Skipitares zooms past the political and digs deeply into the emotional debris left over after a series of brilliantly staged traumatic scenes. [more]

Paradise Blue

May 25, 2018

In many ways Dominique Morisseau’s "Paradise Blue" shares similarities with August Wilson’s brilliant, if long-winded, Pittsburgh based plays.  "Blue" is part of Morisseau’s Detroit Project, a three-play cycle that takes place in three different eras.  Blue, developed with the aid of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Public Theater and the McCarter Theatre is a snapshot of desperate people occupying a part of Detroit on the verge of vast changes—read gentrification. [more]

Parsons Dance Company 2018

May 22, 2018

The new work, “Microburst,” was a quartet performed to classical Indian music composed and played live by Avirodh Sharma.  Brilliant and audacious, “Microburst” took the four dancers, all wearing black, fringed outfits—by Barbara Erin Delo— through complex rhythmic patterns that magically fit together as if the four were having a hyperkinetic conversation with their feet.  The agility of the four dancers—Geena Pacareu, Eoghan Dillon, Zoey Anderson and Justus Whitfield—was breathtaking and entertaining. [more]

Alternating Currents

May 15, 2018

Despite the complexity of the interactions of the people of Electchester and the poor folk at Pomonok, Kraar manages to end on a promising note.  "Alternating Currents," produced under the auspices of the Working Theater, is a diverting look what happens to an idyllic place after decades of reality intrude. [more]

The Iceman Cometh

May 7, 2018

Denzel Washington, the raison d’être of this production (coming way too soon after several recent stagings), gives a boisterous, almost pleasant performance as Theodore Hickman, aka Hickey, who is the “Godot” of "Iceman," in whom the godforsaken characters put too much faith, a faith that, by the end of the play, is shown to be clearly misplaced. There is absolutely no foreboding in his interpretation.  He takes the glad-handing aspect of Hickey too literally so it is difficult to understand his sway over the denizens of Harry Hope’s saloon.  True, these depressives look forward to his regular visits, but Washington’s Hickey simply doesn’t fit in. He’s more worshiped than embraced. [more]

The Alice-in-Wonderland Follies

May 3, 2018

Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books and cleverly choreographed by Keith Michael, the "Follies" was preceded by Byer’s usual pre-show, uplifting audience-participation talk on the wonderful world of movement.  She got the many kids in the audience—well over half the attendees were seven and under—to get up and copy the postures and movements of some of the talented students from the New York Theatre Ballet School, all of whom had impeccable stage deportment. [more]

Mlima’s Tale

April 26, 2018

Structured like Arthur Schnitzler’s wicked "La Ronde," "Mlima" begins with a harrowing hunting scene.  Mlima, the giant elephant, is portrayed with dignity and astonishing physical vitality by Sahr Ngaujah ("Fela!," "Master Harold…and the boys"), in traditional African garb (character-perfect costumes by Jennifer Moeller) and colorful stripes of makeup. His opening moments involve an internal dialogue describing his dire situation chased by hunters.  He speaks of his tight family connections and his regrets just before he is slaughtered. [more]

Martha Graham Dance Company: Spring Season 2018

April 23, 2018

"Ekstasis,” danced by PeiJu Chien-Pott, her hair loose, her costume a tight tube of form-fitting jersey (designed by Graham, herself), stood still as eerie clacking percussion and quiet woodwind music passed through her body, eventually causing her hips to jut from side to side and her bent arms to move in increasingly large circles.  “Ekstasis” is clearly a remnant from Graham’s days with the Denishawn company which specialized in soft-focused versions of ethnic dance forms from all over the world, using them for their decorative effect rather than expression of deep emotions.  Ms. Chien-Pott was terrific, unabashedly decorative, yet adding emotional depth through her personal style and commitment. [more]

Ballet Hispánico: Spring Season 2018

April 19, 2018

The dancers displayed a new depth of expression, particularly in the world premiere “Espiritus Gemelos,” a sensitive, beautifully acted duet about a brief same sex encounter performed by Chris Bloom and Omar Román De Jesús.  Choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano was inspired by the real-life relationship between the doomed writer, Federico García Lorca and the surrealist painter, Salvador Dalí, two famous Spaniards.   He used dim, but colorful music by Manuel de Falla and Jacinto Guerrero to accompany his movements and tell his emotionally rich story. [more]

Symphonie Fantastique

April 8, 2018

Twist’s “Creator’s Note” in the program alludes to Wassily Kandinsky’s musical metaphorical paintings and Twist’s youthful attraction to the possibility of using abstract puppetry in combination with music.  The five-part Symphonie, subtitled “Episode in the life of an Artist,” called to him for its color and storyline which vaguely guide his creation although only the changing moods, rhythms and colors of the score seem be the inspiration for the series of moving abstract images that were mostly treats for the eyes, if not the mind—seductive, clever, dreamy, sensually involving, but more a vacation for conscious thought than an intellectual challenge. [more]

A Walk in the Woods

March 30, 2018

The two talented, delightfully understated actors have taken on these roles with energy and sincerity.  Manning makes Honeyman both simple and complex at the same time while Van Treuren mines Botvinnik’s uncanny ability to charm and frighten at the same time.  You root for them from beginning to end and hope against hope for them to actually produce a treaty. [more]

Escape to Margaritaville

March 29, 2018

The ups and downs of the road to true romance provide the show with its ties to the Buffett songs.  Tully opens the show with “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Boat,” to show his romantic nature and “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” to reveal his easygoing philosophy of life.  Similarly, Rachel offers her story in “It’s My Job,” and romance blossoms when she sings “Three Chords” (the new Jimmy Buffet song) with Tully as he teaches her to play the guitar. Tammy begins to fall for Brick with their sardonic “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About” and cements their love with “Come Monday.” Of course, there is the title song “Margaritaville,” Buffett’s biggest hit.  The songs are written in various styles ranging from pop to calypso to reggae and are meant to incite the audience to sing along which they are sometimes actually prompted to do. [more]

Hal & Bee

March 23, 2018

Baker’s lines are spiky and colorful, often dark, sometimes banal, but his portrait of these two and the two lesser characters is always illuminating and full of real emotion.  The fade-out, a quiet revelatory moment, is simply lovely—and sad. [more]

An Ordinary Muslim

March 14, 2018

The trouble is that there is nothing new or daring or particularly interesting about the play despite its intriguing subject matter.  It is an old-fashioned play—think warmed over Clifford Odets with a touch of Chekhov and more than a few hints of Greek hubris—that deals with the treatment of Pakistani-British Muslims in Great Britain, specifically West London, 2011.  It is full of clichéd writing including having characters appear just as their name is brought up. [more]

Locked Up Bitches

March 6, 2018

All the good jokes get lost in the onslaught of cast members vying for their moments and looking for the audience’s approval, which admittedly was offered freely.   "Bitches" becomes chaotic, crude and in your face, not to mention clichéd, the clichés hiding behind dirty jokes and blatant shtick.  Raine clearly can’t rein in the cast’s enthusiasm even though they are portraying animals with animal passions. [more]

Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo: Homelife & The Zoo Story

February 28, 2018

Lila Neugebauer has directed these two one-acts to bring out their naturalism. In the past, "The Zoo Story" was usually performed with an odd, surreal quality.  Neugebauer has given the conversations a flow that reveals this play to be about people, not walking symbols, a lesson Albee had thoroughly absorbed by the time he wrote "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"   [more]

Katie Goodman’s Broad Comedy

February 21, 2018

Songs jostle with playlets, usually with topical references.   This is a good lineage to be part of and "Broad Comedy," the bumpy new show at the SoHo Playhouse, succeeds mostly due to the ebullient cast which includes Goodman, Danielle Cohn, Molly Kelleher, Tana Sirois and Carlita Victoria, all sassy and at ease with their bodies, which are sometimes covered with costumes that make them into battling genitalia.  (Watching a giant penis deflate is one of the best visual jokes of the evening.) [more]

In the Body of the World

February 20, 2018

"Body" dovetails Ensler’s personal agonizing battle with cancer and her involvement with a feminist group in the Democratic Republic of Congo where women have faced violence, rape and almost unending disruption of their lives.  Ensler’s input was requested by Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist whose ministrations to the female victims of the sadism of soldiers and government officials paints a litany of one tragic event after another. [more]

Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill

February 8, 2018

Produced as part of the Flea’s Season of Women, Del Rosso’s freshman effort shows great promise.  Under Marina McClure’s insightfully freewheeling direction the members of The Flea’s resident acting troupe, The Bats, takes the play and exuberantly runs with it with their usual unabashed energy and courage to expose themselves—right down to their underwear! [more]

Malpaso Dance Company: 2018 Season

January 29, 2018

The first work on the program was “Indomitable Waltz” (2016) choreographed by Aszure Barton to dark hued music by the Balanescu Quartet and Nils Frahm.  Barton achieved a graceful, yet dramatic flow for these dancers dressed in Fritz Masten’s black and grey costumes.  Barton knows how to spread her dancers about the stage like a single organism continually splitting apart and coming together again. They danced warily about each other, performed leans and sensual embraces that faded as the dancers melted to the floor.  The work ended on a contemplative note as Dunia Acosta moved with careful steps and twisting hips, in a journey across the stage.  Although the emotions of “Indomitable Waltz” ranged from dark to sensual to giddily physical, it ended up as a head scratcher, beautifully performed by the Malpaso dancers.  The intriguingly moody lighting was by Nicole Pearce. [more]

Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play

January 23, 2018

The main event, however, is the performance of Harris who doesn’t just imitate Baker but uses her own gifts to illuminate the multitalented cult figure.  It’s as if Baker has brought out the best in Harris and she returns the favor with her vivid singing, unabashed dancing and direct connection with the audience. The songs include well-known ditties like “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Blue Skies,” a particularly moving “And Then I’ll Be Happy,” “Minnie, the Moocher,” the Civil Rights anthem “Strange Fruit,” “The Times They Are A-changing,” and a heartbreaking “La Vie en Rose.” [more]

Works & Process at the Guggenheim: “One of Sixty-Five Thousand Gestures”/”NEW BODIES”

January 22, 2018

“NEW BODIES” (2016) choreographed by Melnick was initiated by Sara Mearns in a summer workshop at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Skilled classical ballet dancers who were interested in expanding their understanding of movement beyond the strict formalities of ballet choreography joined Mearns and Melnick to experiment with just how movements emerge into choreography.  The result is not an earth-shattering rethinking of the art of dance, but a loose web of crossing paths where touching and light partnering follow from soft collisions. [more]

Pillowtalk

January 21, 2018

Kyoung H. Park's "Pillowtalk" mixes the mysteries of passionate, but flawed, love with the realities of racism in today’s society, specifically, Brooklyn, New York, where Sam (Basit Shittu), a hunky African American and former Olympic swimmer is married to Buck (JP Moraga), a sleek Asian American journalist.  Both are in a constant battle with the White-dominated society which constantly undermines the lives of people of color.  Park’s direction of his play is straightforward and “in your face” giving this rarely seen corner of society some needed exposure. [more]

The Band’s Visit

January 13, 2018

Yazbek’s songs—ranging from the darkly comic “Welcome to Nowhere” (sung by the town folk) to Dina’s romantically tinged “Omar Sharif” and ending with the upbeat, danceable “Concert” played as a finale by the Band—rise magically from the dialogue, just as Patrick McCollum’s choreography emerges naturally from walking, singing and thinking. [more]

Soaring Wings

January 8, 2018

The famous Chinese ability to subsume themselves in crowds was evident in the flowing choreography for the mass “flight” of the Ibis across the stage.  The precision of the corps de ballet did not, however, lessen regarding each dancer as an individual as they flew past in ever-changing patterns. The creators of "Ibis" also gave life to the inhabitants of the small town and the young modern urbanites who show up at a museum to learn about the birds with which they had peacefully co-existed. [more]

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

December 28, 2017

Fairchild speaks well and communicates much with his physique, but his choreography is repetitive and uninventive.  Here was a chance to breathe new life into a too familiar character.  All Fairchild could come up with is lurching movements and awkward falls to the floor.  He takes the obvious path to create his character with movement when he had a chance to illuminate the Monster’s inner emotions. [more]
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