Serenades, plainspoken and otherwise, from Balanchine & Millepied

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New York City Ballet’s Ask la Cour with, left to right, Rebecca Krohn, Jenifer Ringer, and Ashley Bouder in George Balanchine’s “Serenade.” Photo ©Paul Kolnik and courtesy NYCB.

Copyright 2010, 2017 Harris Green

NEW YORK — City Ballet broke with several traditions by beginning its new season with four weeks of early fall performances (September 14 – October 10). The traditional opening-night gala was delayed until the middle of the fourth week so seats that first evening could go for the special introductory prices of $50 and $25. Repertory included such novelties as the New York premiere of Benjamin Millepied’s recent “Plainspoken” on October 7 and revivals of Peter Martins’s rarely performed “Grazioso” (2007) and “The Magic Flute” (1982). Also out of the ordinary was an aggressive merchandising campaign built around a posh 9-by-12-inch booklet filled with studio portraits of principal dancers which was available for the taking in the theater lobby. Photographer Henry Leutwyler filmed everyone in casual poses and garb a la People Magazine. Most of the men are sporting the scraggly beards the guys insist upon growing between seasons. Daniel Ulbricht, however, is not only clean shaven, but the one dancer whom Leutwyler captured performing an actual step: a soaring 180-degree split leap, with ballerinas Teresa Reichlen, Sterling Hyltin and Sara Mearns seated on the floor behind him. (Yes, seated.) Letters to the editor and postings online promptly deplored the devastation such informality wreaked upon the dancers’ images as golden, gifted beings, so unlike us folks out front. Frankly the only dancers’ images that matter to me are those they create onstage.

To receive the rest of the article, first published on November 3, 2010, including lots more photos, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider  and receive full access to our Dance Insider Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading dance critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. Just designate your PayPal payment to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to find out about payment by check or in Euros. Through June 30 it’s pay as much as you can subscriptions. (Minimum $12.)

The Buzz: Philistines at the temple — The unbearable lightness of Alastair Macaulay

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2010, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

First published on December 6, 2010. For nearly 20 years, these are the kinds of stories the Dance Insider has been covering. If you value this kind of unique coverage, please support the DI today by becoming a yearly subscriber. Your sub gets you access to more than 2,000 Flash Reviews of 20 years of performances on five continents by 150+ writers, plus five years of the Jill Johnston Letter, syndicated exclusively on the DI. You can subscribe or donate through PayPal by designating your payment to paulbenitzak@gmail.com , or write us at that address if you prefer to pay by check. Through June 30, it’s pay as much as you can subscriptions. (Minimum $12.)

In a feeble attempt to counter his being called out by myself and others over his latest cat-calling masquerading as criticism, in which he snipped that New York City Ballet’s Jenifer Ringer and Jared Angle, seen in “The Nutcracker,” must be eating too many sugar-plums, Alastair Macaulay has now made it clearer than ever how unqualified he is to be a critic. How long is his shameless employer the New York Times going to continue embarrassing itself and denigrating the high arts of dance and criticism by setting loose this unqualified intellectual feather-weight on a major high art?

In a response to my and others’ criticism published in Saturday’s Times, Macaulay’s attempt to justify his picking on performers for what he considers to be their excess pounds actually backfires, instead revealing his own lack of substance as a critic and total lack of understanding of what art is all about.

“Go to any gallery and you see how painters and sculptors for centuries have made fat an issue,” Macaulay writes. “The nudes of Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Renoir show women with curves that are no longer part of any fashionable idea of beauty. Venus or Diana had a belly like that? I love most of them myself, but I have friends who object. Either way, all of us acknowledge that weight plays a part in our response.” What you mean ‘Us,’ white man?

Not content to confine his philistine perspective to one art, Macaulay is now angling to become the Times’s resident village idiot on the visual arts (which is not to insult the village idiot, who would be expected to be less judgmental). This statement has got to be the most idiotic I’ve ever read from the mouth of an alleged critic. It’s almost hard to know which idiocy to start with.

The ‘issue’ for Renoir was not ‘fat,’ but how to use nature (chiefly light), matter (his painting tools), his own technical prowess and aesthetic perspective, and his human subjects to make a work of art. And a critic is not “all of us.” His or her role is to evaluate the work of art — how, and how well, the artist uses the tools of his trade to capture the subject, be it on a canvas or on a stage, how effective the work is as art – and to respond to it, tapping on a range of his own individual intellectual, aesthetic, poetic, and sensory resources.

“Some… have argued that the body in ballet is ‘irrelevant,’ Macaulay goes on. “Sorry, but the opposite is true. If you want to make your appearance irrelevant to criticism, do not choose ballet as a career…. I am severe — but ballet, as dancers know, is more so.” No Alastair: If you can’t tell the difference between appearance and art, between surface sheen and technical virtuosity, do not choose criticism as a career. And the problem with you is not that you are too severe, but that you are so superficial. The only legitimate weight problem here is the featherweight quality of your pen and your intelligence.

 

All that Jazz — and all that Kowroski

nycb-jazzNew York City Ballet’s Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar, with the David Berger Jazz Orchestra in the background, in Susan Stroman’s “For the Love of Duke.” Photo ©Paul Kolnik and courtesy NYCB.

nycb-jazz-kowroskiNew York City Ballet’s Maria Kowroski, Joaquin De Luz, and friends in Balanchine and Kochno’s “Prodigal Son.” Photo by and ©Paul Kolnik and courtesy NYCB.

Copyright 2011, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

(Editor’s Note: Later the same year as that in which this review was first published, and after 16 years of dedicated coverage by more than a dozen critics of international renown and our championing the company and its dancers in the face of a strike by its orchestra that threatened to shut down the “Nutcracker” season and against fatuous criticism by the New York Times, the DI’s press ticket access to New York City Ballet performances was revoked by the director of its press department, after we criticized the press department for alerting the New York Times to important company news before notifying other media. A recent appeal to the same director, which included an apology, went unanswered. If you’d like to read about current performances of  City Ballet on the DI, as you continue to read about American Ballet Theatre and other companies, contact press director Rob Daniels at RDaniels@nycballet.com . (Be nice.) If we persist, it’s because no one person – be he a hard-working respected veteran press officer or a precipitous editor – has the right to deprive these dancers and this jewel of a company of the type of informed coverage the DI has always provided.)

NEW YORK — Forget what you may have read elsewhere: With Susan Stroman’s semi-new “For the Love of Duke,” New York City Ballet has a run-away hit, that rare jazz ballet which makes ballet dancers look great even as the ballet dancers enhance the phenomenal music, in this case by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Those who complain about clichés in the work, as some critics have done, miss the point, and probably missed Stroman’s transformational Broadway hit “Contact”: The woman knows how to make choreography that connects to this quintessentially American musical form and that, putting it simply, dances jazz — and, in this piece, shows that she knows how to bring out the jazz dancer in classically trained performers, who add a rare quickness, deftness, and dexterity to the mix that jazz dancers don’t always have. Add a textbook lesson in how to interpret an archetypal contemporary ballet role — that of the Siren in Balanchine’s transformational 1929 “Prodigal Son” — such as Maria Kowroski delivered in the ballet which followed the Stroman at City Ballet’s matinee Saturday, and a flawless delivery of the Robbins-Glass urban ballet “Glass Pieces,” and you have stunning proof of a new versatility in this troupe, which well-serves the choreography, when they’re well-served by the choreographers (which was not entirely the case in the Saturday evening performance).

To receive the rest of the article, first published February 8, 2011, subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) and receive full access to our Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check or in Euros. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Purchase before February 14, 2017 and receive a second, free copy for the recipient of your choice. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .

Deaths and resurrections

jilly-dancesNew York City Ballet in Jerome Robbins’s “Dances at a Gathering.” Photo ©Paul Kolnik and courtesy NYCB.
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Girl with a Black Mask in a Red Room,” 2005. Acrylic on canvas in handmade metal frame. By and ©Jo Ellen Van Ouwerkerk, courtesy Woodward Gallery, New York.

Copyright 2011, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

NEW YORK — After a temporary blip in my bludgeoning, er, burgeoning French theatrical career Friday night — Sam Bernhardt, c’est moi — I was glad to be back in the cultural thick of things Saturday, finding myself sitting next to Meredith Monk at Judson Church on Washington Square for the afternoon’s Gathering in Tribute to (late DI contributor) Jill Johnston, a genuine gathering of the tribes, and School of American Ballet legend Suki Schorer Saturday night for an impeccable “Dances at a Gathering.” Add a Lower East Side interlude at the Woodward Gallery on Eldridge Street, where painter Jo Ellen Van Ouwerkerk not only made the scene but made her own frames, and there was once more reason to believe that New York is still a many-splendored helluva town and art capital, with a rich past and cause to be confident in its future.

To receive the rest of the article, first published February 1, 2011, including more images, subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) and receive full access to our Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check or in Euros. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Purchase before February 14, 2017 and receive a second, free copy for the recipient of your choice. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .

Welcome to America, Mr. Trump

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Maria Kowroski in Balanchine’s “Mozartiana.” Photo copyright Erin Baiano and courtesy Dances Against Cancer.

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Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasa in Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” Photo copyright Erin Baiano and courtesy Dances Against Cancer.

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Alex Wong in Rachael Poirier’s “747.” Photo copyright Erin Baiano and courtesy Dances Against Cancer.

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Juilliard Dance students in Nijinska’s “Les Noces.” Photo copyright Rosalie O’Connor and courtesy Juilliard.

Story Copyright 2011, 2017 Harris Green
New Editor’s Note by & copyright Paul Ben-Itzak

(Editor’s Note, 1-31-2017: This piece, comprising reviews of performances by and of the Juilliard School, the School of American Ballet, American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, Venti Petrov’s “El Cid” — an epic tale which in part concerns Spain’s Christians *and* Muslims banding together to repel foreign *military* invaders — and a star-studded Dancers Against Cancer benefit with performances by Maria Kowroski, Daniel Ulbricht, Matthew Rushing, Alex Wong, Sterling Hytlin, Amar Ramasa, and others in work by Balanchine and others, was first published on June 24, 2011. Serendipitously re-viewing it this morning for inclusion in the DI Archives, I was struck by how both Harris’s text and the accompanying photographs, while neither written nor shot with this intent, formulate an eloquent aesthetic response to Donald Trump’s attempts to exclude from the United States a myriad of immigrants and refugees, beginning with an executive order last Friday. ((Among many other pictorial and textual elements in this story, following Mr. Trump’s logic, neither Stravinsky nor Balanchine, as citizens of a country besieged by Bolshevik terrorism, would ever have been admitted to France, let alone the United States.)) The new headline above, thus, as this note, are my entire responsibility and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of either the critic or the photographers. For continuing coverage of the national and international political, legal, and community response to Mr. Trump’s efforts, check out the daily broadcasts of Democracy Now.  — PBI)

NEW YORK — Because off-Broadway theater has long proved essential to this city’s artistic life, “off-Broadway dance” should not be considered a patronizing term for what is offered away from City Center and the gilded confines of Lincoln Center when major companies are between seasons. One reason I would hesitate to apply the term to recent spring offerings of the Juilliard School’s Dance Division, however, is that this institution’s renovated home, the Irene Diamond Building, is not only on Broadway but a stunning steel and glass addition to the neighborhood. Another is that the program “Juilliard Dances Repertory” (March 23-27), by including Bronislava Nijinska’s rarely seen but historically essential 1923 setting of the Stravinsky powerhouse “Les Noces,” made a stunning contribution to our artistic life out of all proportion to its occasionally raw, unflaggingly dedicated performance by 34 students. (For more on this ballet as interpreted by the Paris Opera Ballet, see Paul Ben-Itzak’s Flash, elsewhere in these DI Archives.)

To receive the rest of the article, subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) and receive full access to our Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check or in Euros. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Purchase before February 14, 2017 and receive a second, free copy for the recipient of your choice. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .

Ballet showdown: Peter Martins versus Paul Mejia

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martytexas4Metropolitan Classical Ballet guest artists Vilia Putruis and Mindaugas Bauzys in Paul Mejia’s “Cafe Victoria.” Photography by, copyright, and courtesy Marty Sohl.

Text copyright 2010, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak
Photography copyright Marty Sohl

(The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the photographer’s views. In 2011, New York City Ballet’s press office revoked the Dance Insider’s press ticket privileges, a policy it continues to maintain.)

ARLINGTON, Texas — Three ballets into the one-night only season of Metropolitan Classical Ballet July 17 at Texas Hall, I approached Paul Mejia, the company’s co-director and the author of all three dances, and posed the rhetorical question: “What I don’t understand, purely from an artistic standpoint, is what Peter Martins is doing in New York and you’re doing here.” “Well, my family’s here,” Mejia answered, but the question persists: After seeing Mejia succeed brilliantly in three different formats — a group piece and a duet to classical music, then a spicey contemporary work to Astor Piazzolla — in which New York City Ballet chief Martins has consistently failed, one has to ask: How has it come to pass that the house that Balanchine built continues to be maintained by an incompetent architect when there is clearly other Balanchine-bred talent out there that actually understands and is able to perpetuate the Balanchine aesthetic in a way that lives up to his legacy?

To receive the rest of the article, including more photos, subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) and receive full access to our Dance Insider Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading dance critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. Just designate your PayPal payment  in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check or in Euros. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Purchase before January 31, 2017 and receive a second, free copy for the recipient of your choice. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .