BalletX Review

Check Out On-line performances by BalletX at Guggenheim Works and Process

On June 14, 2020, BalletX partnered with Works and Process at the Guggenheim to co-present four world premieres on-line by choreographers Hope Boykin, Caili Quan, Penny Saunders, and Rena Butler. The presentation was featured on Zoom as well as YouTube.

Each work was short, lasting only about five minutes for each, some were shot in black and white, while others were shot in color. Three of the works were indoors, while one had outdoor episodes. Two (perhaps three) of the works dealt with Covid-19 self-isolation. One dealt with a couple’s interaction, while one dealt with topics that appeared to be related to Black Lives Matter. In all, all four were in no way similar to each other or were in any way run-of-the-mill

.…it’s okay too. Feel by Hope Boykin opens with two dancers, Savannah Green and Ashley Simpson, awakening to self-isolation during this pandemic. A woman’s voice recites a poem (written by the choreographer) in a confessional, conversational style. She talks about fear, isolation, touch, her audiences, and feeling more alone now than ever before. A piano is plaintively accompanying her reciting. Music is credited to Bill Laurance. She dances in a large and spacious room, alone. Meanwhile, the other woman dances alone in what seems to be a cramped apartment, with glimpses of masks poignantly hanging on the wall by the front door. We are told that it’s okay to feel fear, to feel grateful for not being dead, for living through this to the end. In Hope Boykin’s words, “Forgiveness begins in our own hearts, but it’s okay to feel.”

100 Days by Caili Quan is performed by Chloe Perkes and Ammon Perkes. We see the young duo awakening to a new day while “The Longest Time,” music and lyrics by Billy Joel, performed and arranged by Micah Manaitai blares. Ms. Peakes dreamily partners her coffee mug, coffee pot, and kitchen island, as well as her companion, undoubtedly to conquer the ennui of self-isolation brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the choreographer’s own words as she shared them on the video,

“I wanted to create a work that captured not only the angst and sadness that we all experienced, but also the simple joys in love, companionship, and family during the “100 Days” of dancing at home.

”Although addressing serious topics of confinement, survival, and patience, 100 Days is at many times funny, and cheerily shot in color. It’s something we really need to see right now.

Brown Eyes by Penny Saunders is yet another, totally different piece. Shot in black and white, it appears to be an abstract ballet, a feeling heightened by angular lighting with half of the background a wall and the other half mirror. The music by Michael Wall has an odd atmospheric effect in it which sounds like horses’ hooves. Brown Eyes is magnificently danced by BalletX dancers Andrea Yorita and Zachary Kapeluk. Both dancers are committed and perform admirably. By all appearances, it appears to be a rather traditional vocabulary of a man and a woman grappling with a relationship. Reading the choreographer’s notes, we learn that this piece explores physical abuse between partners in lockdown. In the choreographer’s words, “Brown Eyes attempts to go beyond closed doors to give us a glimpse of an intimate relationship with an ever shifting and unfair balance of power.” Without this information, one may miss the choreographer’s point entirely. We also learn that the sound which may or not be horses’ hooves may be just that. Ms. Saunders states this work will be part of a larger work exploring the American cowboy.

The Under Way (working title) by Rena Butler is shot in color featuring two African-American men, excellently danced here by BalletX dancers Stanley Glover and Roderick Phifer, in extreme action, whether they are attempting escape, holding their hands up in surrender, running in place, undergoing metamorphosis from a chrysalis attached to a tree, or being consumed by ghost demons. These latter transformations are accomplished by having one dancer capture the other within his t-shirt. According to the choreographer, “My intent is to find parallels with defining moments in U.S. history, such as The Underground Railroad, and pair these particular events to where we are currently.”

The backdrops vary from a staircase to a scene under a tree, to the front of a building. One assumes that the prominently-placed statue both artists perform before in many scenes is one of controversial mayor Frank Rizzo. Those who have lived in Philadelphia for many years no doubt have specific feelings about the late mayor. Without specific knowledge of the man and his legacy, the scene strikes the spectator as preposterous. The statue is placed on the steps of a formal building, supposedly to be close to and accessible to the public, yet there is a tiny fence all around it to keep people at arm’s length, causing a sinister, and darkly amusing, sight by itself.

Kudos to BalletX and to Works and Process at the Guggenheim for bringing these works to the public. At this time, we need art now more than ever before.

A witty, enjoyable Albert Herring from Curtis Opera Theatre

A witty, enjoyable Albert Herring from Curtis Opera Theatre

Benjamin Britten’s chamber opera Albert Herring was given a fine production by Curtis Opera Theatre on March 5, 2020, at the lovely, intimate Perelman Theater

Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten (1913-1976), was an English composer, conductor, and musician who dominated classical music for most of the 20th century. Among his many famous works are Peter Grimes (1945), Albert Herring (1947), The Beggar’s Opera (1948), Billy Budd (1951), Gloriana (1953), The Turn of the Screw (1954), Owen Wingrave(1971/1973), and Death in Venice(1973). Benjamin Britten enjoyed a long and loving relationship with his life partner, the esteemed tenor Sir Peter Pears (1910-1986).

With World War II coming to an end, Britten thought it might be a good idea, and profitable, to create a comic opera which had a chamber-sized orchestra which would allow it to travel around Great Britain. Eric Crozier suggested a reworking of an 1887 story by Guy de Maupassant relocated to rural England. Albert Herring had its premiere at Glyndebourne. America first heard the opera in 1949, when Britten and his troupe brought it to the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts.

George Manahan, a veteran opera conductor, led a chamber group from the Curtis Opera Orchestra in a vivid, fresh performance which bristled with kinetic energy. It is hard to imagine how the performance could have been improved. It was sensational. The production values were high, with scenery, costumes, movement, and lighting all working together to create a marvelous effect. The creative team included Benjamin Pilat, Whitney Locher, Julia Noulin-Merat, and Eve Summer. The large cast of Albert Herring included students from the Curtis School of Music, and very fine voices they were. One guest artist was Jeremy Allen, who played the boy Harry.

Albert Herring is a chamber comedy in three acts. Act I introduced nearly all the cast as they met in the mansion of the local despot Lady Billows. Lady Billows had the money and the influence to control the entire town, setting impossibly high moral standards on ordinary townsfolk. Aiding her in this foolishness of choosing a virginal May Queen was her servant Florence Pike, who seemed to have information and informants watching everyone in town. When no girl was deemed innocent and pure enough, they chose Albert Herring, a drudge controlled by his mother who never enjoyed being young. All agreed he was the only virgin in town. And there began the tale which was to have a curious conclusion.

All the men were fine indeed, with Andrew Moore, Colin Aikins, and Thomas Petrushka singing their roles with distinction. Ethan Burck had the unenviable role of Albert Herring, who many pitied or considered mentally slow-witted. Burck sang with clarity, clear diction, and affecting pathos when needed. Outstanding also were the young lovers, Sid, played by Ben Schaefer, and Nancy, played by Sophia Maekawa. Both sang and acted well together. Their attraction was obvious, since Sid often couldn’t keep his hands off Nancy. Both young artists sang with ease and finesse.

Marissa Beddows (Lady Billows), Anastasiia Sidorova (Florence Pike) and Lindsey Reynolds (Miss Wordsworth) had their moments. However, all could have had better diction, and were occasionally shrill. This was especially the case with Lindsey Reynolds, who as a school teacher chided the children to be less shrill when singing. Ms. Reynolds occasionally mistook loud for ear-piercing. With a bit of finesse, she could be a fine singer with decades ahead of her in leading roles, and not just forest birds, heavenly voices, and an occasional Valkyrie.

Bravos should go to Curtis, George Manahan, the design team, the use of excellent supertitles, and to all the young artists who made this Albert Herring a rare treat.

Albert Herring will be given with alternating casts on March 5, 6, 7, and the 8th as a matinee. Later on, drop into student recitals at Curtis every Monday at 6pm and Wednesdays and Fridays at 8pm. For information visit www.curtis.edu , or www.curtis.edu/recitals .

This Hello Dolly is exciting, beautiful, and not to be missed

This Hello Dolly is exciting, beautiful, and not to be missed

Do you love musicals, great dancing, a compelling story, and happy endings? Then get yourself and a few friends, neighbors, and polyamorous lovers to Philadelphia’s Academy of Music to see this award-winning Broadway hit, the amazing Hello Dolly!

Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to have seen The Matchmaker, a 1958 film with screenplay by Thornton Wilder (based upon his 1938 farce The Merchant of Yonkers), starring the luminous Shirley Booth as Dolly Gallagher Levi, with a stellar supporting cast which included Paul Ford, Shirley MacLaine, Robert Morse, and an incandescent performance by Anthony Perkins as Cornelius Hackl. Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman created Hello Dolly! in 1964. The rest is history. Hello Dolly! Is one of the best-known, best loved musicals, with leading ladies from Carol Channing, Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Pearl Bailey, and Ethel Merman, to more recent Dolly Levis Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Betty Buckley, and now, Broadway veteran Carolee Carmello. If you’ve never heard of her, then you are in for a happy surprise. Carolee Carmello is a belter who is more than able to take on the myriad challenges posed by the role. Beloved standards such as “I Put My Hand In,” or the iconic “Before the Parade Passes By” are thrillingly sung with style, panache, and character.

Carolee Carmello has a great supporting cast with co-star John Bolton, who gives a compelling performance as Horace Vandergelder, the richest man in Yonkers, New York, Daniel Beeman as the earnest and charming Cornelius Hackl, and Analisa Leaming as a spunky, pert Irene Molloy. Outstanding contributions are also enjoyed from Colin LeMoine, Laura Sky Herman, Sean Burns, and the entire cast.

The late, great Gower Champion created the original choreography. For this production, Choreographer Warren Carlyle has done the impossible. He has reworked an established classic, making it so fresh and spontaneous that the dancing takes your breath away. The dancing is absolutely first-rate. Other great productions like Newsiesor work by Tommy Tune may come to mind. The dancers are acting in character all the while that they are giving their all on stage. To cap it all off, Broadway theatre legend Jerry Zaks directs.
For one of the best musical experiences to be had in Philadelphia this season, you owe it to yourself to see this splendid Hello Dolly!

Hello Dolly! Is part of the Kimmel’s Broadway Philadelphia season. It is now at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music until March 1. For information about Hello Dolly! and to buy tickets, visit www.kimmelcenter.org , or call (215) 790-5883. Other shows in the Broadway Philadelphia season include Les Miserables, Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles, Jesus Christ Superstar, the return of Waitress, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, and Escape to Margaritaville.

Effervescent Beethoven piano trios sparkled on a dark and stormy evening in Princeton

Effervescent Beethoven piano trios sparkled on a dark and stormy evening in Princeton

Princeton University Concerts presented a stellar trio of performers in a Beethoven Program on February 6. Isabelle Faust, Jean-Guihen Queyras, and Alexander Melnikov undertook the “Kakadu” Variations, Op. 121a in G Major, the Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 70, No.2, and the Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97, the “Archduke.”

At 7:00PM, a Warm Up discussion was held before the 8:00PM recital featuring Professors Scott Burnham (Emeritus, Music) and Elaine Pagels (Religion) (Happy Birthday, EP, February 13!). They spoke about the music of Beethoven. Professor Burnham spoke at length, dominating the conversation, occasionally allowing Professor Pagels to deliver delightfully self-contained stories about her life amidst Beethoven’s influences. This MacArthur fellow spoke engagingly about practicing piano while a bust of Beethoven glowered over her when she was a child, as well as Beethoven’s music and its effects upon her as an adult. Professor Burnham spoke at length about his fascination with a photo of Beethoven’s death mask featured on an album cover. And so it went. Women of a certain age appeared to swoon over Scott Burnham’s repartee, and by his Lisztian locks. Soon enough, the chat was over.

Scott Burnham delivered the often perfunctory caution to turn off devices during performance. He added that Beethoven was in the Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall. He persuaded Beethoven that we loved him because we turned off our cell phones and unwrapped our candy in his honor. We were celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday this year, after all.

Every peyote dream soon vanished. The stellar trio walked onto the stage. The “Kakadu” variations were clearly delivered and passionately realized. The Trio in E-flat Major was sparkling and gay. One might have been mesmerized by Mr. Melnikov’s pianism, as it shone, blazed, soothed, and excited by startling turns. Unalloyed beauty poured from his piano. His face may resemble in a certain light Gautama Buddha, as it casts a serene aura which calms as it caresses. The “Archduke” Trio followed after intermission. So expertly and deftly played, it bedazzled the audience into acquiescent submission. The notes became tattooed into our flesh. All the while, Mr. Melnikov’s body barely moved. It appeared that only his wrists flew about while leaving his body relaxed and limber. Ms. Faust and Mr. Queyras appeared to seduce each other with their playing. And in so doing, seduced us all under their spell.

As the audience reeled to the frankincense of immortality perceivable throughout the hall, the famed trio came to a delightful and splendid close. Isabelle Faust, Jean-Guihen Queyras, and Alexander Melnikovtook a few bows, left, then returned to more discreet bows, then quietly left in earnest.

Isabelle Faust, Jean-Guihen Queyras, and Alexander Melnikov in recital is only one of many offerings by Princeton University Concerts. Future presentations include The Calidore String Quartet, on February 20, The Dover String Quartet on April 16, and many others. For information, phone 609-258-2800, or visit www.princetonuniversityconcerts.org.