the next generation of Dance as Art

Hot Town! Summer in the City: New York Dance Scene Update, June & July 2012

The perennially pulsating dance world of NYC has racked up a plethora of newsworthy items in June and July. Here's a sampling:


June 12th: Kevin McKenzie's 20th Anniversary Salute

At the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center, the American Ballet Theatre presented a one-time-only mixed bill in honor of Kevin McKenzie's 20th anniversary as Artistic Director of "America's National Ballet Company." The celebration began with an utterly engaging retrospective film of McKenzie's life and career. Halfway through the evening, we were treated to another film called "Heartfelt Wishes." This one was a series of clips showing ballet greats from around the world offering congratulations and reminiscences. Particularly charming were Frederick Franklin who is as wry and spry as ever at 98, Jiri Killian who gave his whole monologue during a bike ride that ended in a staged crash, and Natalia Makarova who elicited gales of laughter from the audience when she recounted how she had never understood Kevin's endless jokes during their years of dancing together but laughed politely anyway.


The ballets were an eclectic mix: the world premiere of Marcelo Gomes' "Triptych," a pas de deux from Kudelka's "Cruel World," Christopher Wheeldon's "Thirteen Diversions," and Alexei Ratmansky's new "Firebird." The latter was, for me, a gimmicky joke that robbed the iconic Russian fairy tale of all its magic. Most pointedly, Prince Ivan encounters an entire flock of Firebirds rather than one supernatural creature who possesses unique powers. The birds were costumed in red turtleneck unitards, huge feather bustles, and outsized headdresses that recalled showgirls at the Moulin Rouge. Misty Copeland in the title role of the Firebird was all but lost in the crowd, the more so because she sported the same bizarre get-up as the others. Stripping the actual Firebird of her singular status reminded me of the myth-busting effect of seeing one bell-ringing Salvation Army Santa Claus after another.


Worse yet, the Princesses were replaced by dippy "Maidens" in shamrock green dresses who were literally lorded over by the sorcerer Koschei, portrayed with technical prowess and very little artistic conviction by David Hallberg. Adding insult to injury, Ratmansky chose to deal with the challenging Stravinsky score by largely ignoring it. The dances were made mostly of predictable classroom steps that paid no mind to the compelling narrative drive of the music. The opening scene, to the darkly evocative strains meant to transport us to a forest of evil, was the most egregious of all. On a bare stage with a "wall" as the backdrop, Herman Cornejo's Ivan cavorted boyishly as though he were dancing to a rollicking tune. Then he peeked through an open doorframe in the wall and decided to slip through it. The wall became a scrim and as it rose, the real stars of the show were revealed: ingenious moving trees with branches tipped by what appeared to be glowing embers. Kudos to scenery designer Simon Pastukh for those remarkable creations and for other excellent scenic effects as well.


In any case, the misbegotten "Firebird" ended eventually and the curtain calls were all that could be desired on an occasion such as this one. Mackenzie got a well-earned standing ovation while he was showered by confetti and presented with flowers by his wife, the ballerina Martine Van Hamel. Congratulations, Kevin!


June 14th: David Howard's 75th Birthday

The master teacher who still draws record numbers of students to his classes at Steps and the Broadway Dance Center has been teaching in America for over 40 years. Here's what I wrote about David's class in January of 2009 – and it's all still true: "David gives a thorough, eminently musical barre that warms up the whole body. Some time ago, he added a brief but useful set of floor exercises between barre and center. Best of all, though, are his center combinations -- majestic adagios, razzle dazzle allegros, waltzes that often have a character flavor, turns that flow out of the choreography, and soaring big jumps. He sets his combinations clearly but quickly so that the pace of his class is perfect. Also, he has superb accompanists. No matter what mood I'm in when I go to David's class, I always leave feeling exhilarated."  


June 21st-24th: Dance Critics Association Conference

The Dance Critics Association returned to New York City for its 2012 annual conference from June 22 to June 24. Entitled “21st Century Dance Writing: Multimedia, Multiarts, Multitasking,” the three-day summit took place at Alvin Ailey's Joan Weill Center for Dance. On the evening of Thursday June 21st, Jennifer Muller hosted a Meet & Greet Wine & Cheese Reception at her Jennifer Muller/The Works studio on West 24th Street. Robert Abrams, president of the association, co-hosted the event. I had a fine time mingling with the guests and I particularly enjoyed chatting with Jennifer herself, who has been an esteemed fixture in the NYC dance world since the 1960s.


June 28th and July 7th: Angel Corella's and Ethan Steifel's Farewell Performances

Two of the cadre of male dancers who helped to elevate the level of technique and artistry for the men of ABT bowed out just eight days apart this season. Corella, now 36, will focus his attention on his work as artistic director of the Barcelona Ballet but he plans to continue performing with his troupe. He established it in 2008, the first classical ballet company in Spain in 20 years. Steifel, 39, is the Artistic Director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. He proposed to long-time girlfriend Gillian Murphy on stage during her curtain call after the opening night gala of ABT's spring season on May 15th. Click here for an endearing "Aww!" photo of that moment: Murphy is now a member of the New Zealand company.


July 11th-22nd: Paris Opera Ballet at the Koch Theater in Lincoln Center

On the heels of the New York City Opera's departure from the David H. Koch Theatre, we have been fortunate enough to witness some remarkable dancing in between the seasons of the New York City Ballet. This July as part of the Lincoln Center Festival, the Paris Opera Ballet graced that legendary stage during the company's first visit to New York in 16 years. Three separate programs showcased the versatility of the Gallic dancers. One was was Pina Bausch's "Orpehus and Eurydice," another was a trio of ballets by influential 20th century French choreographers, and a third was "Giselle." On the evening that I saw this well-loved classic, the corps de ballet as the Wilis stood out as the true "etoile." Rarely have I witnessed such perfection. The precision was all the more remarkable given the fact that far from simply making patterns, the dancers were believable ghosts to the point of evoking chills during the climactic scenes.  


July 22nd: America’s Irreplaceable Dance Treasures: Dance Heritage Coalition’s Online Exhibition Unveiled

This is not a strictly New York event. In fact in the age of the Internet, it is a global event. But I wanted to share it with you. Click here for a dance history lesson like none other:


That's all for now. I had planned to strike back at New York Times dance critic Alistair Macaulay for his review of ABT's "Le Corsaire" in which he tarred the entire art form of ballet with one brush by writing: "Is any art more shamelessly absurd, flimsy and frivolous than ballet?" I've decided instead to save my venom for a subsequent post and end this one on the high note it richly deserves.


Enjoy the rest of the summer and keep dancing!




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