North Carolina Dance Theater has made a rare switch to change its name to Charlotte Ballet, the largest city in the state of North Carolina. Right now the name may not be familiar to resident Chautauquans. But artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, the staff and the dancers by and large remain the same. They were on view recently at the grand old Amphitheater. Click on Charlotte for the article and photos in The Chautauquan Daily.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre added an outdoor performance at Chautauqua Institution to its annual opener at Hartwood Acres, which you can read about in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The dancers looked happy to be back and the four new ones (adding two artists to the roster total) looked happy to be there.
So was I, as well as friend and colleague, ©Martha Rial, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, who also happens to love dance. Enjoy her unique perspective on the Chautauquan experience at a new Pittsburgh entertainment site called Entertainment Central Pittsburgh by clicking on the link.
Chautauqua Institution finished off its dance season with North Carolina Dance Theatre’s finale, which included the last in an impressive series of premieres by Sasha Janes, along with pieces by Mark Diamond and George Balanchine’s semi-wild Western Symphony.
So the professionals finished up on Saturday night, but the students still had to strut their stuff for parents and friends at the Amphitheater on Sunday afternoon. Maris Battaglia, director of the School of Dance, always comes up with some delicious nuggets. In addition to her Dance For Six, which meant lovely preteen ballerinas with a poise beyond their years, she brought an equally lovely variation on Swan Lake and restaged Michael Vernon’s Susan B. Anthony.
Yes, you read it right, a feminist ballet for 20 young and impressionable ballerinas. The taller girls were the men, dressed in suits and fedoras, accompanied by shorter “spouses,” in long beige dresses with slumped shoulders. They were met by a confident young young woman in bright yellow (Celeste Borman) who inspired them to follow a similar path of independence.
It was met with rousing applause, probably led by their mothers.
Also on the program were Mark’s Water Music, Sasha Janes’ Tango Forte, some modern dance (Jon Lehrer), hip hop (Rachael Humphrey) and the ballet of the summer, the first movement of George Balanchine’s Western Symphony.
It was staged with the passion and verve that Patricia McBride always brought to her roles at New York City Ballet and the students, as always, greatly benefitted from it.
North Carolina Dance Theatre is creating its own signature with an array of in-house choreographers — Mark Diamond, Sasha Janes and Dwight Rhoden. Read about the Dance Innovations program by clicking on NCDT.
It’s a small world. While at Chautauqua to view North Carolina Dance Theatre, I met renowned Canadian author, the marvelous Margaret Atwood. Topped by a halo of gray curls, she is blessed with a radiant skin and a knowing clarity in her eyes.
No wonder she has won so many awards — the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the Prince of Asurias award for Literature and the Arthur C. Clarke Award for The Handmaid’s Tale, among them. And the last turned out to be a new discovery.
Her book, written in 1985, is a futuristic novel that has been called both science fiction and speculative fiction, where a totalitarian Christian theocracy overthrows the United States government and subjugates women.
Just a little research peaked my interest. The result: it seemed that Handmaid’s Tale still retains its relevance today. So, despite being a latecomer, I bought her book. As it turns out, Handmaid’s Tale is being made into a ballet. Canadian, of course. But former Paul Taylor dancer Lila York, considered one of the most successful choreographic alumnae of the company, has pursued this ballet for eight years.
It will finally be completed Oct. 16-20 at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Manitoba. And if that is ringing a bell, consider that Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has produced two ballets by Jordan Morris, yes, of RWB (Peter Pan and Moulin Rouge – The Ballet).
It certainly is a small world and one that I will embrace. More on Margaret (and Handmaid’s Tale) later.
North Carolina Dance Theatre presented its annual Evening of Pas de Deux at Chautauqua Institution, with some excitement. Click on Chautauqua Daily to read the article. CI is trying something new — a Romeo & Juliet Project, which will involve the symphony, opera program and theater in a full-length program that explores various interpretations of Shakespeare’s classic story. NCDT principals Anna Gerberich and Pete Walker will be among 150 artists in this first-ever Chautauqua collaboration. Click on the link below to see a sneak preview of their duet.
Another season at Chautauqua began anew this week as the North Carolina Dance Theater paired with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra for a program that began with a homespun Appalachian Suite and ended on the classical stages of Russian ballet in Paquita. Read my views in the Chautauquan Daily.
TO THE LAKE. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will make its debut at Chautauqua Institution this summer (Wed., Aug. 21 at 8:15 p.m.), a bit of a surprise since the historic Amphitheater, outdoor performing space, has been the turf of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Patricia McBride and North Carolina Dance Theatre for over 25 years. It’s a company with a decided Balanchine look, a given since the two artistic directors once starred with George Balanchine’s officially “starless” New York City Ballet. So it should provide a tangible style comparison for residents there. If you’re interested in making the drive (a little over two hours from Pittsburgh) up to the picturesque Victorian community and surrounding attractions, check the website for more information.
BACK TO THE MOULIN ROUGE. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s production of Moulin Rouge translated well for all three casts over a weekend of performances (click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for an article on opening night). Because the movement phrases often were plucked from familiar classroom exercises, tombe pas de bouree glissade (and substitute your favorite jump) – the dancers could relax and exchange choreographic pleasantries all night long.
That also meant that each audience could peruse different (although never bawdy) takes on the world’s most famous (and infamous) cabaret. Let’s take the Nathalie/Matthew combination first, where there were varying flavors, enough to keep things interesting.
Opening night cast Christine Schwaner and Luca Sbrizzi had an independent clarity and freshness, more in a classical vein, while Friday night’s Alexandra Kochis and Christopher Budzynski, always on top of the technical elements, also connected on an intimate level that helped to sustain the dramatic line.
The Saturday matinee featured a pair of corps members who jumped at the opportunity and did surprisingly well. Caitlin Peabody had plenty of spunk and determination in her first starring role. While hers was a cozy technique, it had a thoughtful, yet piquant quality that suited this role. Her partner, Nicholas Coppula, was detailed in drawing his character as both an art student and a fine romantic lead.
It was hard to pick a favorite between the two Zidlers, Robert Moore’s brooding owner or Nurlan Abougaliev’s more flamboyant villain. Joseph Parr posed no such problem , however — he was cast as Toulouse-Lautrec for all five performances. In fact, choreographer Jorden Morris singled him out at a post-performance soiree downstairs at the Benedum Center, calling him one of the best among 14 casts that he has worked with on the ballet.
Among the women, La Goulue, the iconic redhead from the famed Toulouse-Lautrec poster, was a juicy role. Elysa Hotchkiss had the snap of a whiplash in her deep backbends, while Julia Erickson brought the requisite star quality to dominate the Can-can. Eva Trapp could use her sensuality at full force, something that also played exceptionally well as the tango lead dancer with Alexandre Silva. Elysa showed off her flickering footwork with partner Alejandro Diaz.
Historically speaking, Moulin Rouge was marvelously detailed, including the Top Hats, perhaps a reference to Valentin the Boneless (also partner of La Goulue), but here a chance to give the men a chance to show off their ballet technique.
I am still puzzled, though, by the woman in green, not to be confused with the Green Fairies, although they appeared all together in Matthew’s absinthe-driven hallucination scene. There was a woman who appeared in Toulouse-Lautrec’s art work, but she had only a green cast, most likely from the eerie lighting inside the club. In this production, she seemed to serve as some sort of muse, but the color coordination with Green Fairies, might have indicated something else. To confuse things more, she was played by the dancers (Amanda Cochrane and Garielle Thurlow) who also appeared as Mome Fromage, without any distinction in the program.
By the way, kudos to this increasingly versatile company, who sometimes played three roles or more.
ISRAEL WRAP-UP. Artists from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre paid a breakfast visit to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh to wrap up the details of the company’s recent visit to Israel. Bolstered by a slide show, some of the dancers shared their experiences along with marketing director Aimee Waeltz. After JFGP director of operations Sue Linzer talked about Pittsburgh’s sister city, Karmiel, where the dance festival was held, Cooper Verona described how there was folk dancing everywhere, even on a nearby basketball court. They tried to participate, but “it’s more complicated than you think.”Julia Erickson focused on the Karmiel performance, where the “energy from the audience was unprecedented,” while Gabrielle Thurlow was impressed by the similarities between the two cities in size and development. She and the others got to meet the mayor (like our Mayor Ravenstahl?) and received a book about Karmiel. Alejandro Diaz mentioned their tour of Nazareth and how a volunteer tour helped them out. In Haifa, Caitlin Peabody went gaga over tons of vegetables, hummus and herbs at dinner meals, while Eva Trapp commented on “the most incredible salad ever!” The presentation ended with a video by PBT’s versatile Nicholas Coppula.
CAN YOU HEAR/SEE IT? The Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, so bold in its artistic maneuvers this season, has concocted an intimate musical exploration called Hear/Now Music Series that explores the latest in jazz and contemporary sounds. A recent performance at the Dance Alloy studios featured quite a bit of dance. Husband-and-wife duo Jil Stifel and Blaine Segal returned with “Progenitor,” an environmental work that had good intentions as she, a gentle, living creature probed his raw, hand-made plastic biosphere made from found objects. Found objects and found sounds of another ilk penetrated David Bernabo’s cross-disciplinary work involved robust movement and musical input from all who participated, including a bassist, an artist/carpenter who literally put together a piece of furniture (which actually determined the 40-minute running time) and dancerTaylor Knight, who looks so different every time we see him. The Point Park University grad is charting his own diverse path, yet his compelling movement never changes. However that left little time for the stars of the evening who were at the end of an American tour and found themselves at the end of an already length evening. The Swiss-made NoReduce, a quartet who perpetuated a journey of their own through progressive jazz resonated better than expected despite the questionable acoustics at the Alloy.
ON THE MOVE. Jamie Murphy and Renee Smith of Murphy/Smith Collective need your help for their latest project. They are developing a piece under the working title I Am Woman, which will explore the historical and current aspects of womens’ rights. The 30-minute work will be presented Dec. 7 at Pittsburgh Dance Center as part of an Independent Artists Series. You can respond with your thoughts and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TALKING A GOOD GAME. Stephen Crosby has about as good a delivery as any speaker I have encountered. Not a dancer himself, but married to one, Bonnie, which sparked his interest, he has an insightful and entertaining way of delving into just about anything. His latest subject was Jerome Robbins: Demon Master of Ballet and Broadway, given this past summerat Chautauqua. In the audience were North Carolina Dance Theatre’s Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride (original cast of Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering and more), plus former Dance Alloy artistic director Mark Taylor, with Barbara. February finds him in Naples with From Bach to Rock: Inspiring Great Choreographers. Click on Stephen Crosby for more information.
GUY TALK. Directors Marjorie Grundvig and Dennis Marshall have hired former San Francisco Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Andre Reyes as the newest member of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School. Although he will teach a variety of classes in the pre-professional program, he will be the first designated instructor for Men’s Technique, which has caused a lot of excitement.
There’s always a powerhouse end to the Chautauqua dance season as Chautauqua’s School of Dance produces a student-driven Choreographic Workshop, often with live music from Chautauqua program participants, on Friday afternoon. Then North Carolina Dance Theatre joins with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night and Chautauqua’s School of Dance students strut their stuff on Sunday afternoon. It’s a win-win situation as parents not only get to see their own children, but the quality of the program and, with a weekend stay, the professional resources of NCDT. (You can read the NCDT review and see the accompanying photo slideshow by clicking on The Chautauquan Daily.)
Now for a few words about the students themselves. Five works came from the Choreographic Workshop and were repeated on the Sunday program. Ranging from the Gershwin-like Preludes to Tango Bramare with a live tango quartet, they were all remarkably astute. This appears to be a trend among various student programs in the area, hinting that dance will perhaps be producing a high level choreographer in the near future.
The School of Dance has been expanding its curriculum and the students performed some contemporary works, always clever, by Jon Lehrer, and modified hip hop for ballet students by Rachel Humphrey, a terrific addition, although Mark Diamond’s Foresight had heavy-handed subject matter that was above the teenagers’ life perceptions.
Some of the treasures of this performance always come from Maris Battaglia, who coaches the younger students, beginning at age 11. They promenade onto the stage like mini-Bolshoi Ballet members, so lifted and pleasant and so in sync as if they had trained together for years. There was an exquisite Pas de Trois for the talented Claire Georgiadis, Caitrin Murphy and Scotto Hamed-Ramos and a brilliant take-off on The Red Shoes, where 14 budding ballerinas, all in white leotards and tights with simple red skirts, carried shoe boxes onto the stage. Yes, they all contained red ballet shoes and followed with smart references to the classic movie.
And it all began so charmingly with Mozart and a bevy of little beauties in blue.
It also ended in a gossamer blue, as Patricia McBride staged George Balanchine’s Serenade, which has become a staple for advanced ballet programs in our area (and we are blessed!) and is obviously a transcendent experience for every young dancer who has had the pleasure of floating through this masterful piece of choreography. Maybe it wasn’t as moonlit as usual, being held in the open air during the afternoon, but the young cast made it feel that way, particularly Isabella LaFreniere, who was only 16, but was making artistic choices worthy of a dancer in her mid-20′s.
The following is a Youtube video featuring Isabella last year at age 15.