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.
Certainly, the ceaseless energetic intertwinements of the Escher section could allude to his eye-popping, busy canvases and the large rectangles of white light just might allude to Rothko’s famous wide bands of impeccably applied colors. In the Bacon section, dancers kept distorting their faces and bodies in modest approximations of the bizarre images in Bacon’s portraits: unsymmetrical, shockingly colored and ugly. [more]
Joshua Harmon, the author of the bitingly engaging "Bad Jews," is back on the boards with "Significant Other," another modern morality tale. Again he displays his incredible ear and eye for the behavior of modern twenty and thirty-somethings. Love, its frustrations and great rewards, is the subject. The pangs of loneliness, self-imposed or otherwise come in for a good going over, too. [more]
The Joyce Theater Foundation is presenting a short season of the Royal Ballet at the David H. Koch Theater in Lincoln Center, the Royal’s first visit to New York in 11 years. After a gala opening night, the Royal showed its regal stuff in a program consisting of Frederick Ashton’s The Dream and Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of the Earth, two works which couldn’t be less alike. In fact, the only thing they had in common was excellent, stylish dancing. [more]
Judging from this program only, the PNB is firmly in the mainstream of the world’s modern ballet troupes, almost indistinguishable one from the other (viz. Netherlands Dance Theater, Sydney Dance Theater, National Ballet of Spain, Houston Ballet, etc.) Mr. Pastor’s ballets are part and parcel of the international ballet style which I like to call “fun house ballet,” in which classical ballet steps and poses melt into twisty, angular shapes only to coalesce into and be punctuated by recognizable classical vocabulary. William Forsythe, a real iconoclast, began this in his purposely ugly “in the middle somewhat elevated.” The watered-down copies permeate the repertories of many dance companies. [more]
Swedish modern dance choreographer, Pontus Lidberg is a master of the quietly eerie. His works invade your brain slowly with their deliberate pacing and strange imagery. Mr. Lidberg showed his mastery of mood and the nuances of relationships in his recent program at the Joyce Theater. [more]
The Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet has had the good fortune to have had financial security during its twelve-year existence; that is, until this year when its patron withdrew her support. The troupe’s short season at the Brooklyn Academy of Music was its swan song, but a spectacular one. Alexandra Damiani, CLCB’s artistic director, assembled two programs, the first of which I attended. It was typical of the work identified with the company: slick, technically demanding and impeccably danced. [more]
The annual School of American Ballet Workshop performances are more than occasions for fundraising. They are a chance to see the next generation of classical ballet dancers in what we hope will soon be their native habitat, the stage. The programs are optimism incarnate, an opportunity to believe in the future of dance. [more]
Deborah Zall has been a presence in the modern dance scene, specifically in the Martha Graham orbit, for decades. Recently, after years of relative obscurity, she has emerged as an important choreographer, the keeper of the dramatic Graham tradition. Several current and former Graham dancers, wanting new experiences and challenges, asked Ms. Zall to stage some of her dramatic solos for them. The result was an evening of intriguing small-scale works by Ms. Zall with the addition of a solo created by Graham veteran Kenneth Topping which provided a bit of comic relief, albeit sardonic comic relief. [more]
George S. Kaufman’s only solo effort, the 1925 satire, "The Butter and Egg Man" is a colorfully exaggerated snapshot of the nitty-gritty, seat-of-your-pants theater of a prolific decade when two men could do it all: casting, hiring designers, booking theaters and, of course, raising the dough. How things have changed! It’s the money, and the chicanery involved in raising it, that animates the plot of The Butter and Egg Man. The title, in fact, refers to the rich dilettante who can be duped into investing in a clunker, here played by a wide-eyed Ben Schnickel who makes Peter Jones a sweet guy from the sticks who finally finds a backbone and love. [more]
Mr. Rioult, a French native, has Piaf’s music in his bloodstream. His "Street Singer" also using RIOULT Dance NY started and ended with the song most identified with her, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” (Charles Dumont/Michel Vaucaire). The first time, as Piaf relates her poverty-stricken, backstreet upbringing, the Rioult dancers, did sexually suggestive apache dances (costumed by Pilar Limosner whose other outfits economically suggested the period). By the time the song is repeated at the very end, a worn-out Piaf can barely get out the words and these same dancers, in the same costumes, seem to be haunting her. [more]
The Steps Repertory Ensemble is full of beautiful dancers, refreshingly, of all physical types. Yet, they move like a company all on the same beam, which is to Mr. Shelver’s credit. But, for goodness sake, lighten up, guys. You’re young, beautiful and talented, why not enjoy it? [more]
Four intensively self-involved, but personable, performers meandered on and off the stage which was glaringly lit by the geometrically arranged fluorescent bulbs designed by Barbara Samuels, their paths only occasionally crossing. Each was given or created a simple movement theme: one a stomping walk, another a finger snapping hip sway and a third some steamy hip-hop movement, complete with the usual badly rhymed “poetry” and a plethora of N- and F-words. [more]
"Something Rotten!" isn’t just for insiders, though. Its pleasures are multiple: a divinely hyper cast led by Mr. d’Arcy James, John Cariani (sweet and lovable as Nick Bottom’s feckless younger brother, Nigel) and Christian Borle (manically over the top as a rock star Shakespeare); a fabulously tongue-in-cheek Tudor-ish set and costumes (Scott Pask and Gregg Barnes); a bouncy, funny score (Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick); and the wittiest, non-stop choreography on Broadway (Casey Nicholaw who also directed). Mr. Nicholaw’s pacing is breathtaking. It’s almost too exhausting to keep up with the unstoppable cast. [more]
"It Shoulda Been You" is the new musical by Brian Hargrove (book and lyrics) and Barbara Anselmi (music) and marks the Broadway directing debut of Broadway veteran David Hyde Pierce. The theme is a wedding. Nothing new about that. The two families are of two religions. Nothing new about that, either. What sets "Shoulda" apart are its hilariously surprising twists and the perfectly hewn comic turns by a cast headed by three brilliant ladies: Lisa Howard, Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris, each adroit comic actors. [more]
Where is John Doyle when we really need him to whip new life into a musical? [Answer: he’s directing another Broadway musical, "The Visit."] There’s a moving chamber musical hidden amidst all the incessantly dashing chorus kids, shifting scenery, smoke effects, loud explosions and eerily surreal video projections that are the raison d’être of this production from the Nobel Prize winning novel by Boris Pasternak. This more-is-more approach to the new musical "Doctor Zhivago"—written by Michael Weller (libretto), Michael Korie & Amy Powers (lyrics) and Lucy Simon (music), choreographed by Kelly Devine and directed by Des McAnuff—dulls any emotional impact the story and the characters might have evoked. [more]
The Ballet Hispanico has long been revered as a beacon of dance art in the Latino community. Its school and repertory have helped illuminate the Latino experience while instilling the discipline and joy of dance, particularly under the direction of its founder, Tina Ramírez. Eduardo Vilaro, the troupe’s artistic director, seems to be slowly turning the company away from ethnic exploration towards the generic modern dance aesthetic of companies like Complexions and the soon-to-be-defunct Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. Although the three works on this program were choreographed by Hispanic artists to music by Spanish-influenced composers with themes seemingly concerning the nature of Latino behavior, the impression was of a company working hard to find a choreographic aesthetic that can satisfy its identifying with both the Latino community and the newer ideals of modern dance, only partly succeeding. He may eventually find this balance between the two ideals. Certainly he has an absolutely brilliant company of good-looking, talented dancers to work with. [more]
The director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has re-envisioned this icon with a panache that borders on the genius, fulfilling the promise he showed with his extraordinary choreography for the 2002 "Sweet Smell of Success." This time around, from the windswept opening sequence, with its thumbnail sketch of W.W. II history to the breathlessly simple fade-out, it was clear that Wheeldon was in total command of his material, illuminating all of "An American in Paris"’ emotional twists and turns.
There is audience participation; a huge orchestra—conducted by Patrick Vaccariello—that keeps rising from the depths, acrobatic choreography, and, most of all the mesmerizing Rockettes who look ravishing in their many costumes (designed by ESOSA) and routines.
As my grandmother used to say, “What’s not to like?” I agree wholeheartedly. [more]
What became clear over the course of the four performances under review attended were the subtle changes in Mr. Taylor’s work over the years, how his works have become less deep and more oddball. This was a terrific way to see everything from his delightfully lovely “white” ballet, “Aureole” (1962), to his most recent opus, “Death and the Damsel,” a dark, distorted—sadistic, even—view of female sexuality. No matter what period the works come from, and no matter what one thinks of them, they are always models of craftsmanship, design and musicality. [more]
In Doug Wright’s "Posterity" at the Atlantic Theater Company two monumental cultural figures of 19th century Norway lock horns in a battle of wits and sensibilities with tragic results. Wright, who seems to have a penchant for writing about real people (viz. "Quills," "I Am My Own Wife," and "Grey Gardens"), here, takes on Henrik Ibsen, monumental 19th century playwright, and sculptor Gustav Vigeland, forty years his junior. [more]
The maternal ending was considered problematical in 1988, but seems less of a copout in 2015. In fact, the feminist thrust of the play has also dulled in the ensuing decades, making Ms. Wasserstein’s play far less effective as an instructive tool. " The Heidi Chronicles" has always been weighed down by too much polemic passed off as drama. What keeps this production afloat now is the incredible filigreed and witty lines that so quickly delineate each character’s foibles and feelings. [more]