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Articles by Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (309 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.

Angel Reapers

March 6, 2016

The audience for "Angel Reapers" is immediately immersed in the Shaker world, forced to cross the set—simple board floors, ladder-back chairs, a couple of windows and doors—en route to the seats. Several cast members are already in place. As more characters saunter on and take their seats, men and women on opposite sides, an infectious laughter spreads improbably through the cast before hymns are sung and a long list of proscribed activities is chanted. They also express delight in the “gifts” they contribute: “I have the gift of gathering eggs;” “I have the gift of reaping hay;” etc. [more]

New York Theatre Ballet: Legends & Visionaries 2016

March 5, 2016

“Song Before Spring,” to a vibrant and pulsating steel band score by Philip Glass is an exciting addition to the NYTB repertory. Choreographed by Zhong-Jing Fang and Steven Melendez, “Song” caught the rambunctiousness of the score while telling many poignant and funny stories about the characters’—the entire company—lives. Dressed in Ms. Nolan’s incredibly witty street clothes, these young dancers became a community, a microcosm of urban life as they interacted. There were a sullen youth (Mr. Melendez), three flirty young ladies (Alexis Branagan, Carmella Lauer, Mayu Oguri), two aggressive young men (Joshua Andino-Nieto and Michael Wells) and a panorama of telling activities that combined ballet, modern dance, mime and very fine acting. “Song Before Spring” is a real forward leap for Ms. Byer’s troupe of dedicated dancers. [more]

Pacific Northwest Ballet

February 29, 2016

The second Balanchine masterpiece was “Prodigal Son,” the final work that the great impresario Serge Diaghilev commissioned. Prokofiev’s moody, rough-hewn score and colorful, scenery and costumes by Georges Rouault which evoke a fanciful, ancient biblical era give Balanchine’s story heft. The clever scenery includes wildly colorful backdrops and features a large wooden structure that ingeniously becomes a pathway away from the Prodigal’s home, a dining table, a stage and even a poignant place of crucifixion as the Prodigal writhes against it. [more]

The Cherry Orchard

February 25, 2016

The focus too often strays from Chekhov and his darkly comic portrait of a Russia to a piece of silly business or a maladroit placement of rows of audience members, breaking the fourth wall. He has the working class upstart Lopakhin sing “My Way,” the Frank Sinatra classic, to celebrate his buying the cherry orchard—a jarringly farcical bit. [more]

Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s Cinderella

February 25, 2016

Maillot decided, however, to set his version in a distorted fantasy realm, with no identifiable time period or place, distancing the story’s emotional impact. It is difficult to identify with the group of highly stylized, caricatured characters he presents and the tortured, though imaginative, path he takes them on. [more]

Alwin Nikolais Celebration

February 16, 2016

A constant criticism of Nikolais’ work is that he “de-humanized” his dancers by putting them into odd, sculptural costume constructions and giving them “mechanical” movements. This program of four major works disproves this, hopefully once and for all. All the choreography, music, lighting and costumes were by Mr. Nikolais—with Frank Garcia assisting on the costumes—and, yes, at times the dancers were hidden under masks and props, but always—always—they were clearly humans expressing human emotions and relationships. [more]

Soaking WET 2016

February 11, 2016

There are relatively few venues, even in dance crazy NYC, where fledgling choreographers can work on their craft in a totally professional environment.  Soaking WET at the West End Theater is one of them.   Curator David Parker and producer Jeffrey Kazin run a tight, but open-minded, ship.  The dances I saw, flawed as they were, had inklings of wit and inspiration. [more]

Dada Masilo’s Swan Lake

February 4, 2016

In the course of a single hour, Ms. Masilo managed to tell the basic story of Swan Lake—albeit a reconfigured version in which the Prince, Siegfried (a wiry, stalwart Songezo Mcilizeli) wants to run off with a male Odile, the black swan (Thamsanqa Tshabalala, tall, languid and quite agile in his pointe shoes) rather than marry the female Odette (Ms. Masilo, combining strength and fragility in equal measure). [more]

Our Mother’s Brief Affair

January 25, 2016

Linda Lavin wears Anna in Richard Greenberg’s "Our Mother’s Brief Affair" like a chic couture outfit with many layers each of which reveals layers of colorful, woven cloth. There is a constant glow about her as she relates, mostly in flashbacks, the story of an illicit, but exciting affair with a stranger she met many years ago while waiting for her son, Seth (a bemused, but effective Greg Keller) to emerge from his Juilliard viola lessons. [more]

Alison Chase/Performance

January 22, 2016

Chase put extreme physical demands on her dancers in some works, relied on their acting ability in others, most often combining these elements. She also—as the Pilobolus creators did—collaborated with her dancers on virtually all the choreography, so where she leaves off and they begin is difficult to ascertain. [more]

Newsteps: a choreographers series

January 19, 2016

Question: Why are these five young choreographers so unhappy, so full of angst and disquietude? There’s nothing wrong with exploring the darker side of life, but virtually all of the works presented in the 22nd anniversary chapter of Chen Dance Center’s Newsteps were either dreary or darkly agitated which probably should be taken as a sign of the psychological state of today’s younger artists. Even the one piece that seemed to have a dreamy quality quickly turned sour. [more]

American Dance Platform: Fist and Heel Performance Group & Martha Graham Dance Company

January 16, 2016

Reggie Wilson has been combining dance and cultural anthropology for many years. His troupe, Fist & Heel Performance Group, is a living testament to his passion with “Moses(es), Moses(es),” his full-company work, a living and breathing example of his philosophy. In his program notes, Mr. Wilson explained that this work was based on “the many iterations of Moses in religious texts, and in mythical, canonical and ethnographic imaginations,” a big subject that, unfortunately, doesn’t lend itself to a dance interpretation. In fact, Mr. Wilson’s description, not withstanding, it would be difficult to find any reference to that Jewish Biblical giant in “Moses(es), Moses(es),” except when the entire company sang a song whose only word was “Moses.” [more]

Maurice Hines: Tappin’ Thru Life

January 12, 2016

"Maurice Hines: Tappin’ Thru Life" is a pleasantly entertaining look at the personal and professional life of Maurice Hines. Of course, his life and career were closely intertwined with his late brother Gregory’s, his dance partner for many years. The story of how their parents, Maurice and Alma, pushed them—willingly, it seems—into show business and their almost immediate success is the gist of this smooth, occasionally exciting show. Two boys from D.C. made good. [more]

These Paper Bullets!

December 27, 2015

In Rolin Jones’ re-do of "Much Ado," the soldier buddies have become a Beatles-like rock band called The Quartos, the first of many Shakespearean references. Continuing the parallels: Leonato (the always terrific Stephen DeRosa) has become Leo Messina whose Hotel Messina takes the place of the Italian town, Messina; his daughters, Bea (Nicole Parker) and Higgy (Ariana Venturi) are the Beatrice and Hero characters, whose romantic adventures with Ben (Justin Kirk) and Claude (Bryan Fenkart) (stand-ins for Benedick and Claudio), are the strength-testing plot-churners here as in the original. [more]

The Algonquin Kid

December 27, 2015

Colby’s fascinatingly entertaining autobiography, "The Algonquin Kid," was turned into a one-time theatrical event as part of the Urban Stages’ Winter Rhythms series, hosted by Mr. Colby, produced and directed by Peter Napolitano, with Bill Zeffiro at the piano playing a rich list of songs associated with the many famously creative hotel guests and a few written by Mr. Colby himself. As a real-life Eloise, Mr. Colby was witness to much history and this show, barely scratching the surface, was witness to his good fortune. [more]

Once Upon a Mattress

December 22, 2015

Jackie Hoffman is famous for her combination of sarcasm and wit in a small, rubber-faced package and John “Lypsinka” Epperson, for his uncanny way of taking lip-synching to the heights of great art. Hoffman imbues the character of Princess Winnifred with New York street smarts, despite coming from a Swamp. (Well, maybe NYC is a swamp!) Lypsinka’s Queen Aggravain is, amazingly, the most possessive mother ever and at the same time the most self-involved human in the kingdom. She does not want her simpering son, Prince Dauntless (the sweetly shlumpy Jason Sweet Tooth Williams), to marry—ever!—but if he doesn’t marry, no one else in the kingdom can, either. [more]

The Hard Nut

December 22, 2015

"The Hard Nut" is certainly beautiful to behold, its production design based on the work of Charles Burns whose graphic novels feature vividly surreal and haunting images. But, it’s also frustratingly erratic—slow at some points, confusing in others—and shtick-laden, with silliness too often overriding beauty and romance. The brilliantly witty sets and inventive costumes by Adrianne Lobel and the late Martin Pakledinaz, respectively, are totally in synch with Morris’ wickedly camp mentality. Indeed, they are a show in themselves, beautiful and witty in equal measures. [more]

Plaid Tidings

December 17, 2015

The tale of their demise in 1964 en route to a show in their native Pennsylvania and their temporary 2015 resurrection still works brilliantly. Even though "Tidings" cover a good deal of the "Forever Plaid" musical territory, the holiday songs they’ve added give this show seasonal warmth. [more]

Steve

December 14, 2015

Malcolm Gets, Jerry Dixon, Mario Cantone and Matt McGrath in as scene from “Steve” (Photo [more]

The Golden Bride

December 13, 2015

It has taken years and many people, to restore the book and score of the 1923 "The Golden Bride" which was last performed in 1948. A concert performance by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene in May 2014 laid the groundwork for the current full-blown staging with its large cast, orchestra, sets and costumes, zestfully co-directed by Bryna Wasserman and Motl Didner with not so great, but energetic, choreography by Merete Muenter. [more]

A Wilder Christmas

December 13, 2015

The Peccadillo Theater Company’s "A Wilder Christmas" is a gentle and genteel evening of theater:  two early Thornton Wilder one-act plays, directed with an attention to detail and a leisurely sense of timing by Dan Wackerman, the company’s artistic director.  "The Long Christmas Dinner" (1931) and "Pullman Car Hiawatha" (1930) together make for a rich sampling of Wilder’s familiar themes of family and the unavoidable specter of death (which, in Wilder, is only the beginning of another journey).  These themes were perfected in his 1938 masterpiece, "Our Town," including the conceit of a godlike Greek chorus in the form of a Stage Manager who explains and even supervises the action. [more]

Allegiance

December 4, 2015

Inspired by George Takei’s experiences in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, "Allegiance" is a sometimes moving, sometimes stodgy musical about this terrible injustice perpetrated against Japanese-Americans. One hundred and twenty thousand Japanese-American men, women and children, classified as “enemy aliens,” were forcibly removed from their homes and businesses and incarcerated under terrible, inhumane conditions, far from their West Coast homes. [more]

Night Is a Room

December 2, 2015

The pleasure of" Night Is a Room" is watching these three expert actors speak Wallace’s rich, insightful language which veers from wittily highfalutin to excitingly vulgar. Charting their emotional reactions which teem with hyperbolic outbursts, she has her finger on the pulse of these three self-deluders. Bill Rauch directed with total comprehension, walking a fine line between permitting the audience to observe the drama and also be mystified and appalled by these awful people. [more]

Incident at Vichy

November 28, 2015

Arthur Miller is having a great posthumous 100th birthday! "A View from a Bridge" opened on Broadway to sensational reviews to be followed soon by "The Crucible." Now a revival of "Incident at Vichy," his frightening, microcosmic examination of Nazi-occupied France during the height of World War II, is enjoying a fine revival at the Signature Theatre. While the first two plays are each experiencing radical re-assessments, the director of Vichy, Michael Wilson has opted for a straight-forward, naturalistic interpretation in which each character exists as a finely etched portrait and the set (by Jeff Cowie) is a real, frightening place down to the period French newspapers plastering the holes in the windows. [more]

Pilobolus’ Shadowland

November 26, 2015

"Shadowland" follows the young girl, played to perfection by Heather Jeane Favretto, on a surreal journey, exposing her fears and pleasures, leaving her forever changed. A true collaborative adventure, the show is the product of the inventive minds of Steven Banks, Robby Barnett, Renée Jaworski, Matt Kent, Itamar Kubovy and Michael Tracy along with input from the original cast members. This resulted in some inevitable unevenness of style and a few too sudden changes in mood, but the mind-boggling complexity of the choreography and stagecraft (including superb lighting by Neil Peter Jampolis, constantly morphing sets by Neil Patel and very sexy costumes by Liz Prince) plus the witty presentation of the wandering storyline, makes for an overwhelming theatrical experience. [more]

Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour

November 24, 2015

Twyla Tharp is a choreographer who can infuriate and charm audiences in equal measure. (Paul Taylor also comes to mind.) Her choreography is clearly the result of an intensely fertile mind, but her very personal, quirky movement style often seems arbitrary and unmusical. Her program at the David H. Koch Theater, marking the end of her 50th Anniversary Tour, was filled with her quirky idiosyncratic, non-stop movements, beautifully danced, but finally becoming an onslaught of just too many ideas—some corny, some brilliant—flung at the music and the audience. [more]

Dada Woof Papa Hot

November 20, 2015

It was inevitable that legalized gay marriage would lead to plays about gay parenthood. "Dada Woof Papa Hot," Peter Parnell’s sweet-natured, but frustratingly narrow-focused, new play at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater explores the kind of child rearing issues formerly supposedly experienced only by straight couples, at least straight couples with large bank accounts. To bring the theme of gay marriage further into the mainstream, divorce also rears its ugly head. [more]

Sylvie Guillem: Life in Progress

November 18, 2015

On a portal shaped screen, films of Ms. Guillem (by the very clever Elias Benxon) are soon substituted by Ms. Guillem in the flesh. She disappeared behind this doorway, only to reappear in the video. When she got away from the screen, rolling and tilting, raising her great legs with soft expressiveness, the projected images changed to a group of people and a dog. She slowly danced her way back to the doorway, joining the filmed community and wandering off into a bare, white space. What a transcendent way to say good-bye. For once, all the technical, choreographic and story elements gelled into a lovely whole. [more]

Circa: Opus

November 12, 2015

The sobriquet “tricks” is probably not a fair or adequate description of the acrobatic feats these fourteen gymnasts displayed. Their tours de force included: balancing upon each others’ shoulders like giant totem poles; forming arches in backbends upon which others balanced; hanging precariously from ropes and stretches of cloth; and forming impossibly balanced sculptures. They hung off each other. They rolled on the floor and on each other. They formed lines and circles that communicated a certain sense of communal camaraderie, but little else. Gender didn’t seem to matter: women did as much lifting as the men. [more]

Sylvia

November 9, 2015

Directed with comfortable assurance and a leisurely sense of timing, this "Sylvia" benefits from a (mostly) strong cast, including three Tony Award winners: Matthew Broderick (whose wife Sarah Jessica Parker played the title role in the original off-Broadway production), Julie White and Annaleigh Ashford. The brilliant, versatile Robert Sella who expertly and drolly plays three diverse roles, rounds out the cast. [more]

Ripcord

November 3, 2015

Holland Taylor and Marylouise Burke in a scene from “Ripcord” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus) Joel [more]

Broadway Close Up: William Finn

October 29, 2015

Two veterans of the most recent revival of On the Town were splendid interpreters of Finn’s songs. First, Stephen DeRosa conjured a second-rate out-of-town production of "March of the Falsettos" populated by egos and amateurs. He sang “The Baseball Game” brilliantly-and schizophrenically—taking on each character of this bitingly satirical song. Later he sang the scathing, sexually explicit “Republicans” in which a liberal gets even with a Republican in an unprintable way. Then his colleague Alysha Umphress sang a rousing “Set Those Sails” ("In Trousers") and “Change” ("A New Brain"), both songs dealing differently with moving on. Ms. Umphress’s “Song of the Full Refrigerator,” about the temptations of food—“eat first and get depressed later”—was scarily right on the money. [more]

José Limón International Dance Festival

October 29, 2015

The Limón Dance Company celebrated its 70th Anniversary by presenting the José Limón International Dance Festival at the Joyce Theater. The Limón dancers joined forces with several other companies in six programs of works by this master modern dance choreographer who died in 1972. His legacy has been tended to by subsequent generations of dancers, directed since 1978 by the indefatigable Carla Maxwell who was herself a pre-eminent Limón interpreter. [more]
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