Pennsylvania Ballet’s recent World Premieres program at the Merriam Theater featured danceworks created for the company by three contemporary choreographers- Yin Yue, Garrett Smith and Juliano Nunes. The concerts proved a substantive modern ballet sampler bursting with choreographic muscle and thrilling artistry by the dancers.
The curtain came up on Chinese choreographer Yin Yue’s ‘A Trace of Inevitability’ scored to original music by Michel Banabila for the cast of nine dancers. Yue is director of her own internationally acclaimed company and was BalletX’s first choreographic fellow in 2015 and has created what could be a signature piece on PAB.
Yue’s ballet idioms fused with grounded modern movement and cultural classicism is vital choreographic ground. As danced in the November 9 evening performance, it flows with urgency and liberated technical precision.
Yue‘s opening duets stating some of the intricate choreographic themes, and vividly danced by partners Aleksey Babayev-Kathryn Manger, and Alexandra Hughes-Albert Gordonas, and soon other partners sweep onstage in distinctly different movement scenarios, some more abstract that others, and not hinting at any gender character roles.
Banabila’s score ‘Dragonfly II’ progresses from lyrical themes to a more industrial rhythmic drive, as the full ensemble gathers in cryptic unison configurations that seems cut loose from what came before. Though the final partnering with one of the dancers slumped in another’s arm adds another layer of mystery.
The propulsive drive of ‘Inevitability’ is matched by the dramatic images of the next ballet, Connection by Brazilian choreographer Juliano Nunes. Scored to haunting orchestral music by Enzio Bosso, the curtain comes up on 10 dancers in fleshtone micro-corsets in sculptural ensemble circles with bodies seeming to bloom out in communal ritual.
But at the end of one of those configurations Zecheng Liang is shoved away and it becomes a different narrative.
Lyrical classicism is laced with explosive solos and duets. Liang is a consummate technical dancer and dancer-actor in both story ballets and abstract works. Also in top form, a dramatic duet by So Jung Shin and Russell Drucker who hypnotize with Nunes’ geometric interlocks.
There is a most riveting moment when Nayara Lopez flies in the air in an arc-back leap partnering Jack Thomas and an electrifying trio danced by Oksana Maslova, Jermel Johnson and Arian Molina Soca.
American choreographer Garret Smith’s Reverberance is scored to Bach Cello suites ‘recomposed’ by virtuoso Peter Gregson who plays the live accompaniment with passages also supplemented with electronica.
Even though the cellos are danced in and out against the cobalt blue light and visually has playful charm, enhanced by bluenoir atmospherics by lighting designer Michael Mazzola. Garrett’s uncluttered choreography has such a naturalness of ballet classicism, but the hook of the cello props, however playfully the partnering, runs out of steam.
But Reverberance has many entrancing pure dance elements and admirably Smith keeps Gregson’s musical variations of Bach the equal partner onstage.
Smith’s concept is the varying responses to the music, perhaps in moments, ala Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, where the dancers embodying the string lines, but also idiosyncratic reactions of the music, that are abstract and not meant to be symbolic and unforgettable moments like Yuka Iseda and Sophie Savas-Carstens darting through the air in a gravity defying straight line. Wonderful silky blue ensembles designed by Monica Guerra also give a dreamlike quality.
Since becoming artistic director Angel Corella has been upping Pennsylvania Ballet’s expansive artistic goals, with productions both on conventional tracks with revivals of story ballets, as well as a re-alignment of a neoclassical aesthetic of George Balanchine. This program definitely one of the most dynamic for PABallet dancers making the most of in ballet fusion styles and Corella continuing to strengthen a new generation of stars.
Jonathan Spector’s ‘Eureka Day’ is InterAct Theatre’s strong season opener, directed by Seth Rozin, a drama that addresses the serious issues surround child vaccinations and a biting satire about our increasing inability to communicate with each other.
The school board members of the Eureka Elementary School meet in the library surrounded by artwork and messages about inclusion and respect for differing points of view, they routinely make school policy by consensus. But they can’t agree on anything is when they are faced with the crisis of a mumps outbreak that threatens to close the school.
They try to approach the mumps crisis rationally, but when it becomes apparent that there are pro-vaccine vs. anti-vaxxers and that applied policy needs to be established as they continue to wade into the sandbox of loaded semantics and ‘framing’ the dialogue. The white American members of the group who are ostensibly most concerned with minority views.
Don the board chair, recites meditative runes to get the positive energy flowing, and everyone is encouraged to weigh in. Suzanne is all about inclusion and hearing other points of view, but is so busy talking about her progressive views that others have trouble getting their views heard. Eli is the endlessly articulate academic, who also happens to be a chief financial patron of the school.
Meiko is a young Asian-American mother whose child is down with the mumps but is recovering as just runs a non-threatening course and is suspicious of western medicines. Carina is an African American mother and the newest member and is knows early on that as ‘inclusive’ as this group is, she has her doubts.
There is a brilliantly written scene when Don decides to moderate a discussion on Skype As the members start to discuss the issues, and people start weighing in and the discussion starts to devolve into inane text spats, slurs and personal attacks between the pro-vaxxers & anti-vaxxers. Then everyone starts to turn on the panel and gets very personal.
Belief systems collide and the moral high ground is up for grabs- the issue is not the issue, but thew fight about the issue. Sound familiar.
At two hours, the theatrical arc of this play is impressive. Spector has a fine ear for the rhythms of natural dialogue that gives the actors a lot to work individually and as an ensemble. InterAct director Seth Rozin’s precision direction, particularly orchestrating the riotous Skype scene, is masterful throughout.
Catherine K. Slusar is the longtime board member who has a personal tragedy that causes her to take a position that is at odds with Carina. with who has started to push back against her manipulative banter.
Alexandra Espinoza projects a lot between the lines about what she is feelings about the dysfunction of the group. Bi Jean Ngo’s Meiko, like Carina, remains mostly silently through the meetings, but her expressions and body language speak volumes.
Inclusiveness is an all things are relative concept in this ‘progressive’ wealthy community. Lucas Haas as the ineffectual peacemaker whose good will is only aggravating the crisis. Dan Hodge is terrific as the articulate Eli who can barely speak contemplating the fate of his critically ill son.
This is a talky play and Spector has a great ear for naturalizing dialogue that sound authentic out of these characters. InterAct director Seth Rozin directs this strong cast and balances Spector’s careening serio-comic elements. Terrific production design by Janie E. Howland at The Drake’s Proscenium Theater,
Classic Theater explores the fertile theatrical ground of Sam Shepard this
season in revivals of ‘Curse of the
Starving Class’ ‘Fool for Love’ and his Pulitzer Prize winning stunner ‘Buried Child’ currently on stage at the
Latvian Society Theater in Philadelphia.
is one of Shepard’s most scabrous works. A true tagi-comedy about myths of the
American Dream. it is set on the fallow Illinois farm of Dodge and Halie, an
elderly couple whose marriage has descended into a constant argument, often centered
by the wayward paths of their two sons.
preparing to go out from her upstairs bedroom and hectoring Dodge about
stopping smoking and taking his pills, her voice booming down the
stairwell. She laments over her sons,
Bradley and Tilden, once having promising futures, now aimless and underfoot.
Dodge, meanwhile, is camped out downstairs on the couch coughing his head off,
as he swills bourbon, pops pills and chain smokes.
been profoundly affected by their disappointments. Once was star football
player, ‘All-American,’ Hallie is fond of reminding him, he has just returned
to live back on the farm from New Mexico, perhaps on the lam and trying to get
his bearings by clinging to familial relationships and remnants of his former life.
ostensibly tries to keep things in order, or so he thinks. He cuts his hair
when he is passed out, confiscates his booze and cleans up around him. Dodge fights off Bradley’s fussing and theirs
is a mutually bullying relationship.
Halie, meanwhile, has moved on in a fashion to cope with all of this
dysfunction carrying on a fantasy relationship with a church pastor.
and the comedy heats up when Tilden’s son, Vince, turns up after a six-year
disappearance with his girlfriend Shelly and all hell breaks loose when no one
seems to know him, except for Halie. Secrets,
lies, resentments, jealousies and betrayals flare up through this strange
reunion. Halie returns from church to discover all of the mayhem unfolding in
her house and then all hell breaks loose.
Dane Eissler turns up the volume of Shepard’s more surreal plot twists in this
family drama. There are increasingly puzzle and chunks of exposition are just
more pieces to the puzzle. It is American gothic portrait at its most poignant
and corroded. A satiric character study,
with echoes of No Exit with a Twilight Zone twist or three.
Even with some bumpy transitional scenes as
the scenario get more absurd, Eissler and a strong ensemble cast deliver Shepard’s
electrifying dialogue cycles that resonate more than ever 40 years later.
and Wallace give great performances, and their dramatic gravitas and well as
their adversarial comedic chemistry is riveting. Walter De Shields is haunting
as Tilden, who zones out and becomes a silent child at any given time, giving
up trying to communicate with Halie and Dodge, instead receding into an almost
catatonic state. Carlo Campbell’s Bradley is alternately aggressive, perhaps
compensating for any feelings of physical vulnerability because he has a
Lyons Cox and Mark Christie have a lot of heavy lifting as Shelly and Vince, as
the outliers who turn the linear narrative inside out. Shelly wants to get out of there, but finds
herself thrust in the middle of the ugly family meltdown. Cox and Christie’s millennial naturism to
these roles gives this couple, and the play, a more contemporary feel.
production design by Colin McIlvaine is vintage 70s Americana down to the earth
tone furniture, wood vaulted windows and creepy stairwell. The symbolism is
rich, especially in tandem with Molly Jo’s slashing filmic lighting design and
Chris Saninno design of meditative music that flames out ominously.
died in 2017 from complications of ALS and there has never been a more
appropriate time for EgoPo to remind us what an adroit and passionate observer
of the delusions of the American psyche he was, now when we need it most.
Dance is the most
ephemeral of the performing arts and writing about dance, as a reporter or a
critic in meaningful ways is a precarious journalist venture. If a picture is worth a thousand words, how
does a dance writer report two hours of living, breathing moving pictures in a
dance concert with three choreographers presenting different concepts in
The challenge brings to mind Hans Christian Anderson’s observation “Where words fail, music begins” which definitely applies to dance, since both art forms are languages unto themselves. For dance writers, translating movement into concrete and hopefully interesting text is often insurmountable.
Consider Martha Graham sage words “The body doesn’t lie.” Not to mention her metaphysical pronouncement that “Dance is the hidden language of the soul,” so perhaps beyond the realm of what can be articulated in words. But that doesn’t stop journalists who write about dance from trying to decode what they see and hear. A dancewriter’s checklist would include things like aesthetic intent of the choreographer, the music, the production values, the performances of the dancers- and substantiate the critical points that brings it all together or make it deflate. And usually in under 700 words.
In the 20th century during the heyday of daily American newspapers, dance writers dealt with editors (still) routinely considered the dance a merely decorative art at best and many clueless about the genuine artistic or physical components. Music critics were often dispatched to cover dance, sometimes a sportswriter would have been better suited. Now, with few exception dance as a subject worthy of consistent coverage in any newspapers ‘Arts’ section is to be consistently on the chopping block.
news is that there are more outlets online that provide comprehensive coverage,
and it’s not a stretch to think that it will ever get better for print
publications, including dance niche magazines, which continue to shrink. The
bad news is that fees for all arts writers continue to be reduced almost all
across the board. Meanwhile, dance writers, cultural archivists and arts
journalists continuing to document the art form in all of its manifestations continues
no matter how meager the pay.
Feature stories about dance usually interface with broader cultural resonance and that is fine, but often to the exclusion of other areas of dance, which remains as important from a technical understanding alone, but as an ephemeral art form, a vital record of dance expression over millennia, as important as any of the allied arts. Outside of popular tv dance contests, dance-theater and the world’s most influential choreographers and dancers are virtually invisible to the popular media culture.
Also he movie reviewing with its thumbs up, thumps down mindset has had a dumb-down effect on live performance in general and sad to say that dance magazines in their physical form continue to shrink.
To write about dance with authority one must have a working knowledge of a schools of dance, both cultural and formal dance disciplines. A partial list would include- the various schools of ballet technique, and no less important, neoclassicism, folkloric, acrobatic, sacred, |social, baroque, ritual, mystical, abstract, classical, postmodern, tribal, fusion, ceremonial, showdance, psychological, comedic, erotic- and any combination of those categories including of course the physics of dance that evokes pure movement of bodies in space without any literal or defining an inherently enigmatic context- (see Cage & Cunningham as a starting point).
For a business that continues to be in freefall, one positive trend, for the moment at least, is that there are more dance books being published and here is a preview of three this year’s notable titles, starting appropriately enough, with a compendium of the good, the bad and the ugly of more than a century of indigenous dance writing.
With commentary by editor Mindy Aloff and a foreword by Robert Gottlieb | Library of America
America’s ‘Dance In America’ is a fascinating, and an often frustrating
anthology of articles, reviews, essays, poems, and bio-history of dance in
Editor Mindy Aloff contextualizes each entry with bio-history of the writer and subject of the piece. Aloff teaches dance history and criticism at Barnard College, how difficult it was to chose the pieces to include in the book and admits to giving in to subjectivity. In his forward to the book, Robert Gottlieb also explains in some cases there also may be difficulty in getting author, publisher, or in the case of deceased authors, estate permissions. Also costs also might be a factor that would prohibit re-publication.
But even with these disclaimers, this volume covers a lot of ground and many of the entries belong in everyone’s permanent dance–theater-music library. If just for the words of American dance legends Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis & Ted Shawn, Martha Graham, Katherine Dunham, Paul Taylor, Jerome Robbins, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, Agnes de Mille, and Russian ex-pat George Balanchine and Ballets Russes/Red Shoes star choreographer Leonide Massine, among many others lesser-known, but equally important dance artists.
Then there are the literary figures who are inspired by the dance- from poet Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harte Crane, Charles Dickens, and 20th century dance enthusiasts from American balladeer/songwriter Johnny Mercer to writers Susan Sontag and John Updike.
Thumbing through the book, here are a few indelible passages: Stuart Hodes’ essay ‘Onstage with Martha Graham’ takes us through Martha’s rigorous technique class with always started with which always began with Martha cueing the dancers with “And” to execute the rigors of her meticulous methods. Hodes writes “Working with Martha was like going into battle. Physically demanding, emotionally charged and fraught with danger…an adventure of a lifetime.”
Choreographer Katherine Dunham who was also a ethnologist, anthropologist
applied to her choreography and ‘physical anthropology’ of dances of Africa, Caribbean
and island culture. Dunham was also an international stage star of the American
musical theater and social activist who knocked down racial barriers on stage
and screen. In her essay “Thesis turned Broadway” she writes of her growing
interest “to know not only how people dance but, even more importantly, why
they dance as they do.”
Isadora Duncan was the earth mother of dance, embracing classicism as a new form of modernism as the anti-ballet creating modernist movement template by reclaiming pagan classicism and putting it all in perspective by writing “I am asked to speak upon the “Dance of the Future” – yet how is it possible?In fifty years I may have something to say.”
Meanwhile, the clarion voice of Mark Morris has a lot to say in his essay on the relationship of music and dance as vital human ‘ritual’ in a reprint of his commencement speech at the Longy School of Music.
Aloff’s collection is both a survey of dance literature side-by-side with dozens of samples of critical writing over the last century from the leading dance critics including Anna Kisselgoff, Jennifer Dunning, Joan Acocella, Deborah Jowitt, Alastair McCauley. Et, al. and genre defining writers like critic and poet Edwin Denby.
One of the most interesting, and instructive aspects in this collection is how the same critic, can completely hit a home run in describing a performance but also, completely strike out, by being overly descriptive or not descriptive enough. The challenge remains, if every picture tells a story, then movement onstage can tell a thousand in one night. We can all take a lesson from their journalistic hits and misses.
Dance in America is slight on a lot of important aspects of contemporary dance history. Just glancing reference to Lucinda Childs, Anna Sokolow, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, for instance, so one can only hope that there is a follow-up more inclusive volume, to make up for this edition’s slights to giants in the field and a new gen of dance artists that have emerged in this century.
There are three articles by Arlene Croce, but missing is any commentary about Croce not attending choreographer Jones’ 1994 docudance ‘Still/Here’ in The New Yorker but still reviewing it, because she argued that it was outside her critical reach because Jones cast with people living and dancing with terminal illness, insisting it was “victim art.” Putting that aside, does include Croce’s seminal piece ‘Dance in Film‘ that is not only engrossing dance history but a masterclass essay in critical analysis.
And there is a huge chunk of missing history with little reference about a generation of gay dancers and choreographers lost during the 80s & 90s to AIDS, many of the artists creating dance while battling the disease. The impact of their work and deaths and the impact on the entire dance world is inestimable and should never be forgotten.
look for part 2 of this essay later this month- Dancemakers finally explain it all for you – Three upcoming titles of indelible note are autobiographical books by Jerome Robbins, Mark Morris, and Twyla Tharp.
On July 26 about a thousand people in West Philadelphia gathered in the natural amphitheater dubbed “the bowl” Shakespeare in Clark Park’s production of King Lear. Director Kittson O’Neill orchestrated a spirited ensemble cast of veteran and new-gen Shakespeareans, as well as a Community ensemble of actors, is supporting players that including military Veterans as King Lear’s loyal Knights.
The costume design by
Sebastienne Mundheim an inspired mix of period Globe theater rustic tunics for
the noble underlings- belts, silk doublets and battlement couture- contrasted
by stunning court Japanese Kabuki Theater designs for Lear and his daughters.
Mundheim also used fabrics and simple block set pieces,
staging tents and modular scrims that worked the sloping main staging area of
Clark Park’s panoramic environs.
Visually it worked perfectly.
“King Lear” has so
many crisscrossing plot lines and court intrigue in Lear that the plot points
can be hard to follow. O’Neill and
dramaturg Meghan Winch streamlining the play with surgical cuts and sharp scene
focus, all the while eliciting some of the most exciting performances of the
Dan Kern is both entirely
regal Lear and completely fragile father. His interpretive skill lets both the
dialogue true breathe and the soliloquies resonate to every dramatic and poetic
dimension. Brian Anthony Wilson equally moving as loyal, blinded Gloucester. His
physical performance after he is blinded just riveting artistry and command is
unforgettable. Another protean classical
actor Dan Hodge as Kent, impeccable naturalizing of the dialogue cycles, but
losing none of the dramatic intensity.
masterful portrayal of Goneril can cast more Bardian shade than the majestic
trees in Clark Park. Northeast is the
lusty and conniving Goneril, who betrays her husband the Duke of Albany. Kimie
Muroya’s Regan proves she can be just as calculating to get what she wants as
they divide up the spoils after Lear’s abdication. And Jessica Money’s Cordelia has all of the
deportment to make Cordelia earthy and heroic.
David Raine plays Albany who has few lines in before the
denouement but weighs in mightily in the final scenes of the play. Dan Hodge pitch-perfect as in dual roles
Kent, and his alias as undercover rogue spying on Lear’s enemies.
Breakout performances by younger players Cameron Delgrosso as Edgar, who also dons another persona as the mad beggar to navigate the court intrigue and to save Gloucester from death. Ezra Ali-Dow as Edmund, Edgar’s lusty false friend who has an affair with Regan.
In the Arden over the staging area, the 19 musicians of the Youth Symphony presented by Play On! Philly musical education project. Andres Gonzalez, Musical Director, Play On! Philly, conducted The Youth Symphony, working in some Baroque interludes, as well as dramatic cinematic scoring, including some cracked note court heralds, that definitely would have sounded on involved period horns. The entire band performed appropriate percussive rain and wind score 20-minute scene during the storm. (& birds chirping & busses wheezing and whistles during some of the bawdier love scenes) the classical excerpts and F/X atmospherics performed by Youth Symphony from Play On!Philly
Another musical highlight came as Lear starts to go mad, musing on “this great stage of fools.” And we were all fools in love for Jenna Kuerzi’s starry night, performance as Lear’s court Fool keeping in straight with ironic wisdom about life’s inescapable paradoxes. We were all fools in love for Jenna Kuerzi’s starry night performance belting out the Animals classic House of the Rising Sun- Kuerzi a fine blues hollerer in Shakespeare in Clark Park’s holler.
O’Neill’s dynamic use of the natural environment while maintaining scene focus keeps the play’s theatrical arc at a thrilling clip with clarity. O’Neill orchestrating this ensemble lead cast and the Community Ensemble actors tackling more than a dozen small roles made for rich moments. Zounds! those Philly accents were as resonant as ever delivering Will’s timeless truths.
Patti LuPone & Brotherly Love sing out on Philly Pride Day
Verizon Hall, Philadelphia
June 9, 2019
Patti LuPone sauntered on the Verizon Hall stage on Philly Pride Day in strappy black heels and stylish cocktail dress circa 60s de La Renta and launched into Cole Porter’s “Please Don’t Monkey With Broadway” rarely sung anymore in anybody’s repertory, but this audience knew it and were already hooked. “I’ve seen theaters torn down… and sage old 42nd St. turned into the Disney walk of shame.” Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a full-throated diva shady night.
Accompanied on a Steinway is the gifted arranger and show tune piano virtuoso Joseph Thalken for close to 2 hours, LuPone still has a ball with her audience, just don’t get out a cellphone or a camera or there will be a theater rumble to this side of “West Side Story.” And speaking of that show, she told the audience that she always wanted to play either female lead in that show, so in her concert rep she sings both in ‘A Boy Like That’ a vocal switch-blade duel, with Patti the mezzo-lethal Anita and Patti the virginal soprano Maria. True theater high camp gold.
LuPone also sang her favorite songs from that early Bernstein/Sondheim score- Like many singers, struggled with those tricky time signatures and descending notes of “Something Coming” but made up for it with her sumptuous vocal power on “Somewhere” which she admitted is a song that is always emotional for her to get through. LuPone still has a dyed in the curtain call Broadway belter delivery, even if she now makes, at 70, some upper range adjustments.
Hilariously recreating her first singing role on as one of the hookers in Sweet Charity, singing ‘Big Spender” but, at saying that at 17, she didn’t realize what it was really about. LuPone recreates herself doing the number in hilarious deadpan, Fosse flexing her hand on the mic stand and slumping her torso, by the final notes though, she was blowing the hall away.
She sang many songs from shows she was in, especially in her pre-Evita days, but she didn’t get to sing until now. One that should have been a hit for her is “Meadowlark” by from Stephen Swartz’s show The Baker’s Wife, which closed in two days. But she sang a rousing version of “Lot of Livin’” from “Bye, Bye Birdie” and quiet drama to “Easy To Be Hard” from “Hair” ..(How can people have no feelings How can they ignore their friends Easy to be proud Easy to say no..)
LuPone soared on “Some People” from Gypsy, without over-singing, its already bombastic luster. And that was her warmup for the role that sealed her star in London and Broadway, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” Thalken’s stellar piano intro setting the scene and somehow sounding like a full orchestra, as LuPone gazed over the audience in character as Evita and proceeded to devastate the concert hall with her vocal command. She created the role of Eva Peron on Broadway in 1979 and she still owns it.
It was Pride Day in Philly and the 12- member Brotherly Love ensemble from The Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus joined her for the second set. She launched into ‘Trouble in River City’ from Music Man with the men exaggerating her call and response chorale reactions over the town delinquents who are not following the straighter straight narrow.
The finale of songs from Stephen Sondheim and it is impressive that she doesn’t sing them the same way twice is in the moment with the song, this pianist and this audience. A fast tempo ‘Another Hundred People’ from Company sung with the sharpest edge and “Not While I’m Around” from “Sweeney Todd” was sung as a resistance anthem to a troubled world. Gorgeous. “Being Alive” will always be a showstopper for LuPone, and it was in Verizon Hall too. What tops that, only one encore with Patti wielding a martini and toasting triumphantly “The Ladies Who Lunch.” But on this Philly Pride Day, another highlight was “Sleepy Man” a vintage chorale lullaby from a forgotten show called “The Robber Bridegroom.” Patti’s back to the audience as she sang lovingly to the PGMC choristers “Always love my dear…I’m right here.” The many theater queens in the audience were feeling the love righteously from one legendary Broadway Baby.
JOP brings it all Philly home with Joey DeFrancesco
Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia
Terell Stafford, musical director
Verizon Hall, Philadelphia
June 1, 2019
The Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia was back in Verizon Hall with
a concert built around an instrument not usually a part of the orchestration in
big band jazz repertory, namely, the pipe organ. But bandleader Terell Stafford
proved what the instrument could bring to big band jazz in one barnburner
concert June 1, with the thrilling virtuosity of soloist Joey DeFrancesco.
The concert kicked off with keyboardist Lucas Brown warming
up a solo organ improvisation on Verizon Hall’s famed Fred J. Memorial Organ that
cleaned out those 7,000 pipes. Then bandleader
Stafford strolled on and after a few warm words with the audience, the
orchestra launched into a high-octane orchestral ‘Passion Dance’ composed by
another Philadelphia giant McCoy Tyner. JOP pianist Josh Richman, dancing over
the keyboard, articulating Tyner’s propulsive rhythmic drive. JOP blasts off with its 13 horns, but the drive
of the rhythm section- Richman on piano, Steve Fidyk on drums, Greg Kettinger
on guitar and the great Lee Smith on bass- is equally impressive.
Among the many other
musical highlights of this 2 hours plus concert~
John Coltrane’s progressive
big band architecture of ‘Straight Street’, featuring sterling solos by Mark
Allen on baritone sax and Joe Magnerelli on trumpet. Coltrane showcases JOP’s horns
in their full depth of sound dimensions that spikes through Verizon Hall. JOP’s
sonics can sometimes be restrained in the smaller chamber orchestra size Kimmel’s
Perelman Theater, where they also perform.
Stafford continuing to mine the richest heritage of
Philadelphia jazz by paying tribute to another legend, organist Shirley Scott,
who Stafford reminded was a mentor to trumpeter Stafford and one of JOP’s
premier saxophonist, Tim Warfield. And
each took solo’s on Scott’s sumptuous composition “Basie in Mind” a tribute to the Count Basie’s signature sound,
that soulfully swings deep, even in its most orchestrally soft.
Kicking off the second half of the concert, DeFrancesco
unceremoniously ambled over to the Fred J. Cooper colossus console, literally pulling
out all the organ stops, then moved over to his own smaller but no less, in his
hands, an equally mighty instrument.
DeFrancesco played a set with the band that was so indelible to his artistry
and musical muscle. Every section of the band in top form and DeFrancesco’s
concerto jazz solos just bursting with organ invention. His riffs splitting
musical atoms at any moment.
His big-band arrangement of the lilting ‘Tennessee Waltz’
swung to the moon and back ala Ellington’s storied ‘Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.’ DeFrancesco’s own composition ‘The Tackle’ just grabbed you by the ears
and didn’t let go, its blazing horns and hard bop dynamic, with transcendent echoes
of 40s big-band sonics, was DeFrancesco surfing the jazz time-space continuum.
At one point Stafford feigned jealousy that DeFrancesco was
also an accomplished trumpet player, but another unexpected musical stunner was
DeFrancesco picking up a saxophone playing the lead on the torch song “I’m a
fool to want you.” A microphone problem
marred the opening bars, but DeFrancesco adjusted and conjured the song’s
Lucas Brown also entranced with Billy Strayhorn’s
arrangement of the David Raskin-Johnny Mercer classic ‘Laura’ in a JOP
transcription for its organ lead and sounding as blues noir as ever.
Stafford and JOP
basically play two fully curated concerts a year at the Kimmel, and in five years
have covered so much ground. Stafford
taking every opportunity to keep the music of Philadelphia composer alive with
pristine musicianship and freewheeling sessions. JOP’s 18-players again proves a tight
ensemble of virtuoso soloists, all of whom have their own bands and projects
outside the big-band orchestra. JOP performs in late fall and late spring at
the Kimmel Center and with each concert, new repertory for big- jazz band jazz,
and celebrating Philadelphia’s rich jazz history.
The theme of this concert was “Get Organized” with the
message of harmony in Shirley Scott’s tune ‘Blues
Everywhere’ as their stirring encore, with Stafford introducing its
interpretive message of peace and togetherness and the music was the message.
Choreographer Roni Koresh tripped the light fandango with his latest premiere La Danse, The Koresh Dance Company’s 2019 spring premiere at the Suzanne Roberts Theater. La Danse ostensibly inspired by the Henri Matisse’s ‘Five in the Nude’ impressionist painting, which Koresh discovered was part of the larger canvas of movement expressions.
La Danse’s 14 scenes are also more than the sum of its parts. The choreographer’s last long-form work ‘Inner Sun’ was more cohesive, but with La Danse, even with plenty of his Koresh signature, Roni was tapping some new choreographic streams.
The full company opening titled ‘Glow’ has the five men and five women of the company paired off. The music a simmering salon tango. The ensemble almost in classic tango salon tableau, first sharply silhouetted unison couples, with clean line, then sweeps over the stage, smoldering gazes between the couples in abrazzo variations.
The follow up is ‘Hold My Breath’ a stunning duet danced by Melissa Rector and Devon Larcher, this is one of Koresh’s most intimate and erotic duets. Larcher a newer dancer with performing with sharp technique and Rector simply hypnotic in sequences with steely lift patterns and solo moves expressing the emotional dynamic of this dance.
Other duets followed that showcased the strong partnering in various duets- Calie Hocter and Micah Geyer in ‘Put on the Red’, a very athletic Flashdance, with supple arc back positions and intricate lifts. And the very expressive and breathless paced ‘We Live and We Let’ danced by Kevan Sullivan and Sarah Shaulis. Joe Cotler’s dramatic solo ‘Without Thought’ has and improv energy with drama that let into his duet ‘Red Hand of Love’ with Paige Devitt.
Fang-ju Chu Gant commands also as she fandango’s through five potential male partners in ‘Dance Around the Sun’ and dances the guys around before choosing Joe Cotler.
‘Five in the Nude’ is the centerpiece on Act I. Koresh animates Matisse’s painting of the same name. Fang-Ju Chu Gant, Cali Hocter, Paige Devitt, Sarah Shaulis, and Melissa Rector in silky dresses, in fiery light, arms entwined, an earthbound, free dance ala Matisse. Koresh’s classicism and paganism set in motion, Koresh just letting the images flow with female mystique and powerful energy.
Nothing ponderous about ‘Sisters in the Trees’ which danced in Act two with the jazzy orchestral underscoring a trio Rector, Paige Devitt, and Hocter, in bright color 60s de la Renta-esque cocktail dresses, in a jaunty 60s dance camp ala Valley of the Dolls.
Later, ‘Fingernails Drop in the Universe’ another comic trio with Paige Devitt in a black sequin mini as the Vegas-y femme fatale flanked by show boys Robert Tyler and Geyer. It is pure tongue in cheeky Koresh as the men duke it out for her moves, but Devitt’s got them chasing their own tux tails. She also clocks them more than once, before they even have a loser’s chance in hell with her.
Choreographically Koresh is expansive, as is the original music by frequent collaborator John Levis. Levis careens from industrial sound blocks to mystical percussive to Latin-French fusion melodies that cleared the stage for Koresh’s variations of sensual male-female partnering, always fertile ground for the choreographer.
The ‘let’s dance’ lover theme though is disrupted at various times by allusions to a world in peril. The movement cued by Karl Mullen’s’ poetry as part of the soundtrack. Mullens’ beautifully narration though can cloy with sophomoric poetry. But his of Yeats’ ” center not hold” motif, lifted from ‘Yeats’ The Second Coming and a bit heavy handed on repeat, and especially in the same lines quoting Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance,’
Koresh is more ponderous in the full ensemble sections, as Levis’ score also has more darkly atmospheric implications during ‘The Hidden Room’ ‘Unrest’ and ‘American Dream.’ Movement canvases dancers emoting anger and angst. And give way to Koresh’s enduring motif of communal understanding and cathartic dance rituals.
The finale ‘La Danse’ with the ensemble back in couple formation, the elegant tango lines, but with a less dreamy certainty, that this won’t be the last La Danse.
Lighting designer Peter Jabubowski’s lighting design in La Danse was a dazzling partner for everyone onstage throughout the entire program-Sculpting dramatic crossbeams of light, creating enclaves of infinite perspective, bodies that are swallowed in darkness or smoldering fades that let the emotional truth of the dancer linger, This was a La Danse lightshow par excellance.
La Danse’s performances mark the end of a company era with veterans ( and much beloved) dancers Fang-ju Chu Gant and Joe Cotler retiring from the company after many years as premier Koresh dancers. Their artistry will indeed be missed.
PABallet dancers once again ShutUp &Dance for MANNA at the Forrest Theater
For the 27th time, the dancers of the Pennsylvania
Ballet will perform their annual Shut Up
and Dance benefit concert for MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood
Nutrition Alliance). The one-night-only dance event is staged at the Forrest
Theater in Philadelphia and directed for the second year by PABallet soloist
Two weeks before the event, Hughes was in rehearsal as
one of the muses in the company’s upcoming performances of Apollo, as well as orchestrating
all of the benefit performance details. Hughes has performed and worked behind
the scenes for the event since joining the Pennsylvania Ballet eight years ago.
Putting on the show is just one aspect of the dancers’
volunteer work with MANNA, “they are such an amazing organization,” Hughes said
in at a rehearsal at PABallet studios last week, “what they do for our
community is so vital and important. They are pro-active in their mission and
expanding their reach all the time.”
MANNA’s provides free nutritional meals to clients
with HIV-AIDS, cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases, 365 days a
year in the greater Philadelphia region.
“Just the cost of medical treatment sometimes prevents people from being
able to afford to buy proper food. I’m happy that for all these years they
allow us this opportunity and they can count on us to help them on their
mission. We don’t usually don’t get to use our art form to benefit the
community in this way.” Last year the
event raised upwards $125,000 for the
The event is a
showcase for the company dancers and guest from other dance troupes to choreograph
and perform in a broad range of dance styles.
One constant in the performance is a boffo opening number and closing
numbers, traditionally choreographed by the director in collaboration with the
dancers, “I’m going to keep the opening and closing a secret for now. No political themes, everybody is talking
about that stuff, but I’d rather keep the focus on MANNA and dance and this
wonderful organization.” The show
usually is a sell-out, and equally popular is the VIP cocktail reception before
the show that takes place in the Forrest Theater.
But Hughes did announce the soloist who will perform
Mikhail Fokine’s ‘Dying Swan’ an annual event in itself. it will be danced will be Ian Hussey, a
PABallet who is retiring from the company after this season. Hussey started
dancing with the company 25 years ago as a child in the Nutcracker and retires
as a =principal dancer and audience favorite.
“It’s going to be Ian Hussey. Ian and choreographer
Colby Damon are going to re-imagining ‘Dying Swan’” Ian is retiring at the end of this season
with the company. He’s been such an integral part of Shut Up & Dance. So
this seems a perfect way to honor him too,” Hughes said. The iconic solo was choreographed by Russian
master Mikhail Fokine, scored to music by Camille Saint-Saens and will be
performed live by cellist Jenny Lorenzo and pianist Patricia Wolfe.
Hughes said among that there will be much more live
music in this year’s show, always a different dance concert experience for both
the dancers and the audience. The benefit concert has been a showcase for the
dancers and guest dance artists to create their own choreography that shows not
only their contemporary ballet artistry but their range in other dance
idioms. Also performing in the opening
and closing numbers, are the house down divas Martha Graham Cracker and John
As is the
tradition, several choreographers are from the PABallet roster, including
choreography by PABallet dancers Aaron Anker, Adrianna de Svastich, Lillian
DiPiazza. And guest dancemakers include contemporary classicist choreographer
Durante Verzola; dancer-choreographer
and visual artist Gunnar Montana; Caili Quan and Richard Villaverde, both
soloists from the BalletX; dance
Acrobatic troupe Almanac. Also Hughes said that she was excited about a late
entry on the program by Emily Davis, a member of the PAB corps de ballet “There
will be Irish step dancing from Emily, who was a world class competitor at one
time in that field. I think she’s going to bring the house down.”
the always electrifying young dancers from the University of the Arts, who are
students of former Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Michael Sheridan, who
was one of the co-founders of the event in the early 90s, to raise money for
MANNA, at the height of the AIDS crisis, whose initial mission was to provide
meals for people battling the disease.
And Hughes hints at a few other surprises “The sense
of diversity and inclusion of the dance community and audience engagement
continues to be so powerful,” Hughes intimates, “yes, it’s my favorite dance