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Articles by Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (274 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 Gin Game

October 20, 2015

Now the frail-seeming, but elegant Cicely Tyson and imposing, stout-voiced James Earl Jones have taken on "The Gin Game" and make it totally their own, finding nuances in every line, filling in the silences with the kinds of reactions that make live theater an electric experience. [more]

General Mischief Dance Theatre: Up and Away

October 20, 2015

The choreography, mostly by Emily Smyth Vartanian, tends toward the musically unsophisticated, combining ballet (piqué turns, little jumps, attitude and arabesque poses), jazz (sassy turned in knees and jazz hands) and Latin American influences (hip waggles and shimmying shoulders) all punctuated with giant smiles and an appealing air of merriment. The dancers are steady and personable and jolly performing the steps joyfully. They all relate to each other—and the audience—beautifully. Costumes are colorful versions of dancewear and street clothes. [more]

Hard Love

October 12, 2015

The revelation of the play is Mr. Lerner’s detailed knowledge of both the orthodox sect and its place in modern Israeli society. He manages to make the age-old arguments of secular versus religious fresh and human scaled, not judging either of the characters, but observing them. [more]

“Les Misérables” Revisited

October 6, 2015

Two starry new cast members add luster to the show: English musical and opera star Alfie Boe as the tragic Jean Valjean and Tony Award nominee Montego Glover as the ill-fated Fantine. Their fresh takes on these characters—their often surprising choices—are in synch with the directors’ emphasis on the inner lives of this colorful panoply of Victor Hugo’s mid-nineteenth century French characters. [more]

Career Transition for Dancers: 30th Anniversary Pearl Jubilee

October 1, 2015

Ann Marie DeAngelo, the longtime producer and director of the Career Transition for Dancers: 30th Anniversary Pearl Jubilee, has outdone herself this year with a smooth and satisfying program, balancing entertaining dance numbers with just the right amount of speechifying. Adding appearances by Broadway and TV star Bebe Neuwirth, prima ballerina Cynthia Gregory and Hollywood royalty, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas and (Rolex honoree) Shirley MacLaine to the mix, resulted in a gala that out-gala-ed the previous ones. [more]

The Legend of Georgia McBride

September 29, 2015

Lopez knows these characters and how they speak. He is helped immensely by his director Mike Donahue who allows just enough comic exaggeration without ever letting the show become a cartoon. Paul McGill’s hilarious choreography for the drag acts is right on target. Donyale Werle’s single set is wonderfully adaptable, changing from the grungy dressing room at Cleo’s to its stage to Casey and Jo’s apartment with just the shifting of a wardrobe rack and a couch. Anita Yavich’s costumes are a show in themselves, maybe a bit too posh for the Panama City venue but a hoot nonetheless. [more]

Balanchine’s Harlequinade: Commedia dell’arte Explored

September 27, 2015

Dance historian Doug Fullington of the Pacific Northwest Ballet was the expert who, using slides and excerpts from both the Balanchine and Petipa versions, showed how each choreographer envisioned the interactions of such Commedia stalwart characters as Harlequin, Colombine, Pierrot, Pierrette, the Doctor and Pantalone, each with their own idiosyncratic personality quirks and historically recognizable costumes. Commedia dell’Arte has had enormous influence on painters (Watteau, Picasso), theater and even films (Chaplin, the Marx Brothers) with its pratfalls and slapstick and colorful personalities. [more]

Fulfillment

September 24, 2015

"Fulfillment" by the always surprising Thomas Bradshaw is about anything but the contentment and success implied by its ironic title. The Flea Theater’s production, directed to emphasize its undercurrents of eroticism and anger by Ethan McSweeny, is both shocking and sad. The audience witnesses the almost classically Greek downfall of a man done in by his own weaknesses. Anger, lust, pride and greed does in the central character. [more]

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan: Rice

September 22, 2015

Opening this year’s Next Wave series at the Brooklyn Academy of Music was the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan’s "Rice," a ritualistic ballet conceived and choreographed by Lin Hwai-min. Though not the usual cutting edge, avant-garde event that the words “Next Wave” imply, Cloud Gate did provide an excuse for a gala opening. [more]

Whistleblower

September 18, 2015

Dendy uses his fertile imagination to tell Manning’s story beginning with his repressed childhood, on through enlisting in the Army where he was trained in computer technology. He brings in homophobia, prejudice of the transgendered, legal bureaucracy, the propaganda machinery, etc., with a wit and a cartoony, over-the-top sensibility, all with a core of sadness and anger, particularly at the absurdly long sentence that Chelsea received. [more]

A Delicate Ship

September 7, 2015

Anna Ziegler’s "A Delicate Ship" is an intelligent, intensely absorbing play that treats its three thirty-something characters like chess pieces moving warily about Reid Thompson’s raised platform apartment set, floating amidst a rock garden which becomes a life-sized game board. [more]

Love & Money

September 4, 2015

"Love & Money" is light, literate entertainment, impeccably acted by its small cast led by the charismatic Ms. Anderman. Mr. Paulik amusingly projects his lack of experience while putting up a gruff front. Ms. Dunlap’s Agnes is priceless. Mr. Brown is a tad too much of a whirlwind as Walker, but as his façade cracks, he warms up nicely. Ms. Kim is onstage for less than four minutes, but made a good impression. [more]

John

August 31, 2015

Baker fills "John" with telling details, from the food (ever hear of Sailor’s Duff?) to hidden rooms to specifics of Gettysburg, that keep the play from floating away into total surrealism. She is helped by Mimi Lien’s extraordinarily detailed set which evokes worlds within worlds with its amazing array of tchotchkes, perfectly chosen furniture, a player piano that erupts at odd moments, ceiling fans lazily, but ineffectively whirring, and a multitude of doors. Mark Barton’s atmospheric lighting is perfection. Ásta Bennie Hostetter’s costumes are well thought-out and Bray Poor’s sound design gives eerie life to the show. [more]

“On the Town” Revisited with Misty Copeland

August 29, 2015

Then, there’s the new cast member, Misty Copeland, the newly minted American Ballet Theater principal ballerina, who has taken over the role of Ivy Smith, the catalyst for the daffy, warm-hearted plot of the show. Formerly inhabited with sweetness and steely technique by another ballet star, Megan Fairchild, the role of Ivy Smith fits Ms. Copeland perfectly. She makes it her own the moment she’s murmurs “Who, me?” in “Presentation of Miss Turnstiles,” the witty send-up of beauty competitions. [more]

Solo For Two

August 11, 2015

Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, two brilliant Russian ballet stars, have assemble an ad hoc mini-ballet troupe of like-minded dance artists who are unafraid to face the challenges of new work, eschewing the classics that made them famous. Although the three new ballets weren’t all successful—and were a bit overlong—the dancing throughout was superb. [more]

Amazing Grace

July 27, 2015

Famously, it was an 18th century slave trader who redeemed himself, after many gruesome twists and turns in his life, by writing this song. Told with something approaching accuracy, "Amazing Grace" nevertheless is less than compelling as both history and theater. What might have been a fascinating tale has been reduced to a melodrama complete with a villain who all but twirls his mustache, a hard-to-win love interest, an African princess who provides an excuse for some passionate dancing and many examples of physical and emotional torture of slaves, all accompanied by a series of soaring contemporary ballads. [more]

Broadway Unplugged 2015

July 26, 2015

An astounding array of Broadway singers triumphantly performed without any electronic assistance at Scott Siegel’s Broadway Unplugged 2015 at The Town Hall. All were terrific. Several were magical. Most pre-1960’s shows were unamplified. The act of listening was different then. Technology has changed all that. Some believe performances are more nuanced today. Others miss the excitement of hearing “real” voices. Whatever one’s opinion, Scott Siegel assembled a program that clearly showed what we’ve been missing lately. [more]

BalaSole Dance Company: Salmagundi

July 21, 2015

Roberto Villanueva describes BalaSole as “a diverse dance company,” and it is just that. He provides opportunities for dance artists who would otherwise find it difficult to find artistic homes. Villanueva, himself, is a short bundle of energy, hard to place in most companies. Certainly, his "Salmagundi" at the Ailey Citigroup Theater exemplified his philosophy with a series of solos choreographed by ballet, tap, jazz and modern dancers. The word “salmagundi” means a mixed salad, clearly a metaphor for his talented dancer/choreographers. [more]

Momix: Alchemia 

July 21, 2015

The suite of discrete scenes, distinguished by quasi-poetic lines in the program notes and a series of obvious theatrical gimmicks—tall columns that become ancient weapons; ultra-violet light revealing intricate patterns of blood vessels; women gliding about in floor-length gowns that later cocoon them; young lovers floating about each other; mirrored booths that confuse who is where; etc.—paints a vivid portrait of a constantly shifting land populated by gorgeous creatures dressed in astounding costumes by Phoebe Katzin. [more]

Awake and Sing! 

July 16, 2015

"Awake and Sing!" seems at first an odd choice for NAATCO, the acting company dedicated to the advancement of Asian actors, but after an initial wary uneasiness, the cast, under the direction of Stephen Brown-Fried, soon takes command of Odets’ dated language, a mixture of poetic metaphor and heightened colloquialisms which was difficult to speak even in the 1930’s. [more]

Shows for Days

July 13, 2015

The production, directed with oddly erratic pacing by the experienced Jerry Zaks, stars the imperious Patti LuPone as the acidly ambitious Irene, the doyenne of a theatrical troupe in Reading, Pennsylvania, in the early Seventies. Wide-eyed, always ebullient Michael Urie, as Car, Beane’s stand-in, becomes her acolyte/scene painter/receptionist/new playwright in the process of discovering a world his suburban existence never hinted at. He is the author’s glib stand-in who keeps the audience in the loop with apt descriptions, editorial comments and sexual confessions. [more]

The Royal Ballet 2015: Program B

July 3, 2015

he Royal Ballet’s second program of its ridiculously short season at the David H. Koch Theater was disappointing as much for what was on it as for what wasn’t. What wasn’t there were any classical works. Among divertissement-type short works making up the second part of the show, there was not one classical Pas de Deux. Instead, the program opened with an abstruse modern ballet and ended with an equally abstruse new version of an old one with six very short works of varying quality and appropriateness sandwiched in between. [more]

ZviDance: Escher/Bacon/Rothko

July 1, 2015

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]

Significant Other

June 30, 2015

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 Royal Ballet: “The Dream” and “Song of the Earth” 

June 26, 2015

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]

Polish National Ballet 2015

June 20, 2015

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]

Pontus Lidberg Dance 2015

June 11, 2015

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]

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet: Program A 

June 9, 2015

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 School of American Ballet 2015 Workshop Performances

June 4, 2015

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]

The Deborah Zall Project: “In the Company of Women”

May 26, 2015

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]

The Butter and Egg Man

May 22, 2015

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]

Street Singer – Celebrating the Life of Edith Piaf

May 17, 2015

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]

Steps Repertory Ensemble 2015

May 8, 2015

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]
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