Category: Dance review

Dance review: Scottish Ballet makes its Music Center debut

October 15, 2011 |  2:45 pm

Sophie Martin and Erik Cavallari
Scottish Ballet, which appeared for the first time at the Los Angeles Music Center this weekend, has been remade since Ashley Page took over as artistic director in 2002.

Page is a product of the Royal Ballet School and Company, and he began choreographing in the 1980s while still a principal dancer. His Scottish Ballet has raised its reputation with a repertory mix of the classical and the new. On Friday, the unifying force was the dancing -- a warmly inviting, well-placed classicism. This base is intended to support a range of contemporary and modern masterworks. It did, but only to a point; the bold statement was missing.  

For this rare U.S. tour, Page left his own works back in Glasgow. The program instead offered a recently premiered piece by “It” dance-maker Jorma Elo, resident choreographer of Boston Ballet, and a classic by 20th century giant Sir Kenneth MacMillan, a Scotsman whose “Romeo and Juliet” is his most well-represented piece in America. 

PHOTOS: Scottish Ballet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

These two men have very different creative voices, though both find inspiration through music. (It was somewhat ironic, then, that dancers and audience had to make due with recorded music.)

For his “Kings 2 Ends,” Elo made a surprising musical pairing, Steve Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet (the first movement) and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 1. But then again, maybe not so unexpected: Elo’s balletic vision is all about linking movement that is unpredictable and fast, dissonant yet flowing. 

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Dance review: San Francisco's 'Romeo and Juliet' at Segerstrom

October 1, 2011 |  1:57 pm

Romeo and Juliet
Audiences flock to ballet versions of “Romeo and Juliet,” despite their inevitable flaws and the difficulties of translating Shakespeare’s words into danced poetry. 

To wring tears from the ending, this over-saturated ballet needs doomed lovers of new-found conviction. San Francisco Ballet’s Joan Boada and Maria Kochetkova were more than persuasive Friday night during the company’s concluding program at Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

Boada’s Romeo was a doe-eyed and insistent romantic, a nobleman of a different type than his more hedonistic pals Benvolio (the likable Jaime Garcia Castilla) and Mercutio (Gennadi Nedvigin). Boada’s steadfastness as a partner -– notice that splendid one-handed lift -- outweighed his qualities as a soloist. His passion, however, increased as the story progressed and watching this love bloom was its own reward.  His fiery duel with Tybalt felt improvised. 

Photos: 'Romeo and Juliet' at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Kochetkova’s Juliet developed from an antsy, romping child to a knowing woman. She is a strong actress without histrionics –- her face was one moment flooded with delight, as love dawned, and then crestfallen, as her duty to her family became inescapable. Her dancing was flawless, and always in service to being Juliet. A lovely performance. Together, this couple rocketed from their ballroom encounter to reckless destiny. The beautiful crypt scene was particularly potent.

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Dance review: San Francisco Ballet at Segerstrom Center

September 28, 2011 |  1:25 pm

Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz
Helgi Tomasson, San Francisco Ballet’s artistic director and principal choreographer since 1985, has excelled less obviously as a dance-maker than he has as a dancer-maker.

His legacy with San Francisco Ballet is secure for having molded the nation’s oldest classical company and its artists -– a mini-United Nations -- into an ensemble of the first order.

That said, among Tomasson’s 42 works for the troupe he has made some delightful ones, which spotlight the dancers’ specific gifts. His latest, “Trio,” is such a piece. 

Set to Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence,” “Trio” opened the company’s mixed repertory program Tuesday in Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Hall (repeated Wednesday, with “Romeo and Juliet” on the weekend).  “Trio” is elegant and engrossing. It astutely exploits the soaring ache of Tchaikovsky’s emotive strings (transcribed for orchestra, with music director Martin West conducting the Pacific Symphony).  Costume designer Mark Zappone’s well-cut, diaphanous gowns and Alexander Nichols’ backdrop of painted archways further telegraphed romanticism.

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Dance review: New World Flamenco Festival presents 'Semana Flamenka' at the Irvine Barclay Theatre

September 25, 2011 |  3:00 pm


How much sizzle is too much sizzle?  That was the question Friday night, when too many soloists spoiled the flamencan broth at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.  Cooked up by Yaelisa, co-founder and artistic director of the New World Flamenco Festival, this ninth edition, “Semana Flamenka,” offered three slightly different programs over the weekend, with performances by 14 local, national and international dancers and musicians ranging from simmering to scorching. 

Sure, there was plenty to savor in an evening of mini-volcanic eruptions, but at 2 1/2 hours, the show lacked balance (four female dancers; two males), pacing (solo upon solo upon solo), and, well, a bit of flamenco fashion cred.  Suits and ties for men are not uncommon, but Manuel de la Cruz, sporting a white button-down shirt and ill-fitting gray jacket and pants, looked weirdly Vegassy, accentuated by turquoise shoes and matching skinny tie. His whipping turns, angled jumps and blazing footwork, however, made up for the sartorial misstep.

Injecting high drama into a sublimely sculpted solo, Yaelisa, clad in a black satin gown (think gothic Gypsy), hasn’t lost any of her back-bending, wrist-flicking firepower. Responding to Jesús Montoya’s and José Cortés’ heart-wrenching vocals, Yaelisa created a kind of footwork fugue, her quicksilver rhythms overlapping their plaintive croonings in something Bach would have admired.

 Maria Bermudez also shredded the stage with her scherzo skitterings, quirky kicks and dipping turns, adding exotica with filigreed fingers and spidery arms. Enhanced by Kina Mendez’s and Antonio de Jerez’s raspy-throated singing, Bermudez exuded unadulterated joy in movement as she seized the space.

A much-needed testosterone quotient was amped up by Oscar Valero, who in full-throttle attack mode executed dazzling jumps one moment, Petrouchka-like hip-swiveling the next, throwing in a dollop of body quaking before making a spectacular machine gun heel-toe exit. In an extended solo that had more false endings than a Beethoven symphony, Leilah Broukhim appeared possessed, her wildly swinging arms and bobbing head akin to a pinball machine in full tilt. It would have been fascinating to see Valero and Broukhim face off; indeed, any duet would have been welcomed.

Completing the concert:  Nelida Tirado danced a bullish solo; and guitarists Jason McGuire, Pedro Cortés, Ricardo Marlow and Chuscales provided stellar accompaniment throughout.  And while there was no dearth of passion on the program, it was found, alas, only in spurts. In other words: duende (soul) interruptus.

— Victoria Looseleaf

"Semana Flamenka" repeats at Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine, 6 p.m. Sunday. $35-$100.

Photo: Maria Bermudez, left, Oscar Valero and Yaelisa in the Fin de Fiesta Semana Flamenka / New World Flamenco Festival. Credit: Jack Hartin.


Dance review: Eiko and Koma's 'Water' at Skirball Cultural Center

September 10, 2011 |  4:26 pm

Eiko and Koma
In “Water,” the avant-garde performance duo Eiko and Koma returned to the wet medium in which they have created some of their most celebrated dances, evoking an intense hour-long journey of life, death, peace, and sadness. For this viewer, humanity prevailed.

The piece had its West Coast premiere Friday night, the performers floating, crawling and walking in the outdoor reflecting pool at the Skirball Cultural Center. Inspired in part by universal mourning rituals, “Water” was a commemoration of the 10th anniversary if 9/11 and was co-commissioned with Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. It repeats Sunday.

But “Water” was not limited to, or by, that association. Its hypnotic, slowly changing tableaux inspired as many sensations and ideas as viewers’ imaginations allowed. In the 40 years that the Japanese-born couple have collaborated, they have distilled a distinctive style that is stark, but powerful. On Friday night, the audience’s distracting chatter as the piece got underway (“…like watching grass grow,” one man was overhead to remark) soon hushed to silence and expectation. 

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Dance review: American Ballet Theatre dances 'The Bright Stream' at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

July 15, 2011 |  1:00 pm


Part cartoon, part silent movie, part lyric, folk and heroic ballet, Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Bright Stream” is a dizzying romp. American Ballet Theatre opened a five-performance run of this attractive work Thursday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as part of the Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center series.

EntBlog_Photo330 Still, “Bright Stream” has a dark history. The ballet, given its premiere in 1935, and its creators fell victim to Stalin’s anger. Choreographer Fyodor Lopukhov saw his professional career suddenly stall. His co-librettist, Adrian Piotrovsky, was arrested and sent to one of the gulags, where he died. Composer Dmitri Shostakovich — who had been attacked in Pravda for his opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District” no less than 10 days earlier — felt terrorized and expected immediate arrest. But he and the score survived, although the ballet, like his opera, at once vanished from the stage.

When Ratmansky heard a recording of the music, he fell in love with its colorful, diverse, witty and fast-paced qualities. So he revived the work for the Bolshoi Ballet in 2003. A year later, the company danced it at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. ABT’s performances are the first in Los Angeles.

Ratmansky followed the original scenario but had to devise his own choreography. Perhaps remembering Shostakovich’s early days playing piano accompaniment for silent films, Ratmansky turned to that era’s many moments of madcap fun. Certainly, his characters are shallow, more types than individuals, but he tells the story clearly.

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Dispatch From Montpellier: Hits and misses at contemporary dance festival

June 27, 2011 | 12:30 pm

Centaure-et-animal-c-Nabil- While Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman will always have Paris, dance aficionados will eternally be in thrall to Montpellier, France, for its contemporary dance festival.  Now in its 31st year, the festival (running through July 7), has been directed since 1983 by Algerian-born Jean-Paul Montanari, whose passion for underdogs and the outré parallels his support of the brilliant and the bombastic.  

Montanari has put this charming town of 250,000 on the terpsichorean map, with this year’s offerings including eight world premieres and numerous works new to France, as well as an emphasis on Israeli choreographers.  And as I trot through Europe in search of culture -– literally on a horse in Zürich -- I continued my equine exploration at Wednesday's festival opener, “The Centaur and the Animal.”

Conceived and directed by Bartabas, whose famed horse troupe Theatre Zingaro conquered Southern California in 2002 with its dressage/dance spectacle set to Stravinsky’s  “The Rite of Spring,” this opus proved a misguided and pretentious collaboration between Bartabas and butoh artist Ko Murobushi.  With a voiceover of extracts from French poems by Lautreámont and set to Jean Schwarz’s ambient sound collage, the surreal work was painfully uneventful (Murobushi slowly banged on a piano -- with his feet), and failed to connect the riveting grotesquerie of butoh with the mystery of the horse (four steeds, all darkly lighted). 

There were, however, moments of fleeting beauty:  Bartabas, in hooded garb (shades of Peter O’Toole’s “Lawrence of Arabia”), sat atop his majestic charges, turning, prancing or walking backward; Murobushi was occasionally showered with sand. 

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Dance review: Final Ballet Nacional de Cuba 'Don Quixote' at the Chandler Pavilion

June 27, 2011 | 11:33 am

La magia de la danza DON QUIJOTE (Viengsay Valdés y Alenadro Virelles) 005 Foto Nancy Reyes For the final performance of its first North American tour since 2003, Ballet Nacional de Cuba danced a thrilling, go-for-broke “Don Quixote” on Sunday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Corps unanimity proved much stronger than at the Thursday opening, and nearly every soloist exemplified ideal Cuban incandescence. Highlights included Dani Hernández as a brilliantly sinewy yet aristocratic  Espada, Jessie Domínguez as a sparkling Mercedes and Osiel Gounod exploding into star-is-born virtuosity  as the Young Gypsy.

As Basilio, Alejandro Virelles contributed gorgeous floating jumps and a stylistic purity that would be welcome in any ballet of the repertory. And, as always, Viengsay Valdés as Kiri stopped time cold by coming out of supported turns into miraculously sustained balances on one pointe -- often with  changes of position midway through. There was one standing ovation before the solos in the grand pas de deux and another at the end. Unforgettable.


Dance review: Ballet Nacional de Cuba opens at the Pavilion in 'Don Quixote'

Dance review: Ballet Nacional de Cuba at Segerstrom Center

Alicia Alonso, Cuba's living legend of ballet

-- Lewis Segal

File photo: Viengsay Valdés and Alejandro Virelles in "Don Quixote." Credit: Nancy Reyes


Dance review: Ballet Nacional de Cuba opens at the Pavilion in 'Don Quixote'

June 24, 2011 | 12:26 pm

DelgadoHas Ballet Nacional de Cuba been on the road too long? Opening in the full-length “Don Quixote” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Thursday the company displayed the extraordinary depth of training, technical bravado and expressive warmth that make it unique -- indeed, a joy. However, unison execution proved problematic throughout the first half of the ballet -- especially among the men. Even in the generally sharp final divertissement, the pas de quatre found Roberto Vega and Osiel Gounod badly mismatched.

The group dancing ought to tighten up with repeat performances (through Sunday). But the rumpled cloth scenery by Salvador Fernández  also suggests a shabby touring compromise. Created in 1988, the production by Alicia Alonso, Marta Garcia and Maria Elena Llorente adopts much of the familiar Petipa/Gorsky choreography but sets the action during the French occupation of Spain. Thus, as always, Don Quixote seeks his vision of the perfect woman, but now also exemplifies native resistance to the invader.

BalletcubapromoThis social/political context conditions but never obstructs the celebratory nature of the work, 
or the star performances at its center. Indeed, for Latin fire, high-speed bravura and drop-dead exactitude, Anette Delgado's performance of Kitri owned the night. The balances, the extensions, the turns, the flying splits, the freedom in the lifts -- here was a virtuoso dancer in her element. Her only failing: a rather constricted, emotionally vacant lyricism in the dream scene.

As Basilio, Dani Hernández looked so young that he probably needed a note from his mother to stay up as late as Act 3. But he partnered Delgado strongly, danced every demanding solo faultlessly and exhibited exemplary classical line down to the tips of his long, long feet.        

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Dispatch From Zurich: celebrating opera, music, dance, drama and art

June 24, 2011 | 10:18 am

Known for its delectable chocolates and cheeses, exquisite watches –- there seems to be a Patek Phillippe on every wrist –- and private banks, this lakeside burg of fewer than 400,000 smells of money.  Or maybe that's the perfumed scent of Linden trees, which bloom only in June and create a kind of arboreal nirvana.

Yes, life is good in Switzerland, and whether you’re seeking haute cuisine, a refreshing dip in Lake Zürich or a stroll down the famed Bahnhofstrasse to ogle luxury goods, this picturesque town is the apotheosis of civilization. Oh, yes: Its cultural offerings aren’t too shabby, either.

Indeed, the Zürich Festspiele (through July 10), is a mix of opera, concerts, dance, drama and fine art, with the Kunsthaus (literally "house of art") featuring a quirky Joseph Beuys exhibition.  The festival kicked off last weekend with a party offering free horseback rides through the erstwhile stables/cum/Theaterhaus Gessnerallee and music by, among others, DeVotchKa, whose leader is theremin sensation Nick Urata.  Happily, I held my mount and lived to enjoy Sunday evening’s Zürich Ballet performance at its jewel box Opera House. 

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