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Thursday, December 29, 2016

December Warhorses, part four: Cats, and Yet Another Nutcracker!

Cats! photo @ Richard Termine

Last year I took my mom to see The Lion King, which I decided would be the perfect momsical. This year I decided to extend the tradition. My mom will only see family friendly musicals. And so my mom, predictably, chose Cats (what else)? The reason: "I love cats." (She does.)

A picture of the junkyard set
So I took my mom to see Cats, and it was an even more perfect mom-sical. I never saw the original 1982 Broadway version but I've read that this revival (also directed by Trevor Nunn) hasn't changed much. The dancing and lighting effects do have a very 1970's disco jellicle ball feel to them. My mom has a hard time understanding dialogue in the theater. Cats is a pure song-and-dance extravaganza. There's almost no storyline or character development (even my mom said "I wish there was more of a story") but she loved the non-stop dancing numbers, the cool set (the stage and theater is decorated like an abandoned junkyard), and of course the big 11 o'clock number "Memory."

Saturday, December 24, 2016

December Warhorses, part three: MORE Nutcrackers!

Shelly Anderson as the hostess of Nutcracker Rouge
My December chestnut tour ended up with ... more Nutcrackers. Also, a visit to the Trocks. I didn't really enjoy the Trocks as much as I thought I would (despite their very funny Passages in Space, a parody of Merce Cunningham). The Dying Swan number was cute, I guess. But it really wasn't my kind of thing.

So let's talk about those Nutcrackers. On December 22, I went to see Company XIV's wonderful Nutcracker Rouge. It's now in the Irondale Theater in Brooklyn (tucked away by a church) but it's still the same great show it was last year, with a few changes here and there. Austin McCormick's skill at putting together a cohesive entertainment from a company of such eclectic talents is amazing. There's been some turnover (Laura Careless is no longer with the company -- Allison Ulrich danced Marie Claire this year) but the mainstays are still there -- Shelly Watson as the hostest/cabaret singer, Marcy Richardson singing Sia's "Chandelier" while doing some jaw-dropping Pink-like trapeze artist moves. As usual, the Nutcracker score is mixed with Madonna, baroque music, even hip hop, and whatever else strikes Austin McCormick's fancy. The result: by far my favorite alternative Nutcracker, ever. Go see them. You'll have fun and become an instant fan of this quirky, wildly talented company.

Here are some videos I took of the evening.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Warhorse Diaries, part 2: More Nutcrackers!!!

Abi Stafford in Yorkville Nutcracker

My tour of December warhorses has predictably resulted in more Nutcracker-ing. I did another round at NYCB with a different cast, and then headed over to the Yorkville Nutcracker.

Yorkville Nutcracker first: Francis Petrelle's Nutcracker is one of those "locally-based" versions. In this case, it's set in 1895 in Gracie Mansion and all the characters are historical people. The heroine is "Mary Strong," daughter of NYC mayor William L. Strong. The dancers are culled from a variety of sources but the kids are mainly of Ballet Academy East. If you're expecting a super-professional high-calibre Nutcracker you're likely to walk away from Yorkville Nutcracker disappointed -- the students and professional dancers are at varying degrees of ability, the production values consist of three different painted backdrops, and the music is recorded.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Warhorse Diaries 2016, part one: Aida and Nutcracker

Latonia Moore as Aida, photo by Cory Weaver
It's Nutcracker season again! Actually to be more precise it's warhorse season in NYC. Thanksgiving-Christmas is not the month for artistic institutions to take risks. It's tourist season, and so this means lots of Messiah's, Revelations, Rockettes, and Snowflakes. This is cash-cow time.

With that being said the quality that companies maintain these warhorses can be a good measure of the overall health of that company.  I hope to catch Alvin Ailey's Revelations and a Messiah before the season is done. And maybe another Nutcracker. Thanksgiving week I kicked off my tour of the warhoses at the Met for their reliable warhorse Aida and at NYCB for their money-tree, Nutcracker.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Anna Netrebko's Manon Lescaut Provides Huge Waves of Sound ... And Little More

Anna Netrebko, photo @ Ken Howard
Anna Netrebko's much-anticipated Met debut of Manon Lescaut was a dream if you're the type of opera lover who craves huge, unstinting waves of sound to flood the auditorium all evening. During "Sola, perduta abbandonata" she walked downstage, and simply released the flood-gates of her voice to the 4,000 person auditorium. It was glorious surround-sound. It was the high point of her portrayal. You just bathed in the aural experience. Netrebko is one of the few singers who can do this.  Her voice has even acquired a degree of flexibility it didn't have when she was younger -- she turned out a beautiful trill in "L'ora, o Tirsi." Netrebko has maybe THE finest vocal endowment on the opera scene, period. There's not much her voice can't do. The lushness of her voice, her effectiveness in projecting her instrument, along with her security at the very upper and lower ranges of her voice, are all amazing.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Company XIV's Paris


The adorable front-drop to Company XIV's Paris

This isn't a political blog, so I won't talk about the single most depressing night in American politics that I've ever experienced. Instead I'll just talk about Company XIV and their wildly entertaining Paris that I saw last night. Again, they take a familiar myth (in this case, the Judgement of Paris) and give it a burlesque twist that combines a little bit of everything -- ballet, ballroom dancing, pole dancing, classical music, pop music, cabaret-style comedy and the rest of the kitchen sink. Director Austin McCormick has a knack for: 1) finding talented singers and dancers; and 2) harnessing those eclectic talents into a coherent, focused, appealing show. They don't take themselves too seriously but they're always professional. The show is naughty but never for a moment trashy. These are extremely talented classically trained dancers and singers who are just putting on a fun show. I highly recommend seeing their upcoming Nutcracker Rouge.

The show was anchored by "Zeus/Fifi" (Charlotte Bydwell) who wore a clever costume that was half silk tails, half mermaid costume. She twisted her body both ways to show off her alter egos. Throughout the night she told cabaret-style jokes while loosely narrating the story. The show started with a drag can-can (of course!) then got to the heart of the story, which is the shepherd Paris and his apple. Paris was danced by the talented, handsome Jakob Karr.

The whole evening had so many memorable moments. I'm glad I was able to capture a few on camera (they encourage photography and videotaping).

Here are some videos I took of this evening:

The Paris-Mercury matador-style pas de deux performed by Jakob Karr and Todd Hanenbrink:


The core of the show was the display by Paris's three choices: Athena, Juno, and Venus. Each of the three goddesses put out their best moves in hopes of winning that apple from Paris.

"Athena" Marcy Richardson performs Adele's Skyfall while dancing on a pole. Marcy Richardson's acrobatics/singing has become a beloved staple of these Company XIV shows:


The amazing countertenor Randall Scotting as Juno. Scotting was hilarious as the goddess of home and hearth. He was outwardly masculine with a lovely pure countertenor voice.



Venus was the curvaceous Storm Marrero who sang up a storm and finally won Paris's apple.


Of course at the end Helen of Troy walks off with Paris and the rest is history.

This show is wonderful. This company is wonderful. Please support them in their future ventures -- you won't be disappointed! Company XIV is currently playing at the Irondale Theater in Brooklyn. It's about a five minute walk from BAM.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Mattila Returns to Met, Richard Tucker Gala

Mattila and Dyka, photo @ Ken Howard
Karita Mattila's return to the Met after a five year absence was basically everything a beloved diva (and the audience) could hope for -- a great role (Kostelnicka in Janácek's Jenufa), an adoring audience, and a voice that is intact and needs no apologies. No it's not a young voice and Kostelnicka is a role often associated with sopranos of a certain age but Mattila's voice actually seems to be undergoing an Indian summer. It's remarkably warm, steady, and full of volume and richness. There was no veristic screeching. And no one decided to sprinkle ashes during her curtain calls.

Mattila is one of those rare complete artists. Her voice was just a bigger part of her detailed, charismatic portrayal of this tormented woman. First of all, Mattila is still beautiful, so when Kostelnicka sang about how she was once the most desired woman in the village but frittered away her youth, you believed her. Second of all, the energy she put into her performance lifted the entire evening. She deserved her ovations, and I hope she returns to New York for many more evenings. She's wonderful.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

ABT Fall Season

Blaine Hoven, Calvin Royal, Gabe Stone Shayer in Serenade After Plato's Symposium, @Andrea Mohin

The ABT's fall season is  so different from their overstuffed, predictable spring season. Their brief, eclectic fall season is always interesting, often amazing, sometimes frustrating. You can admire the diversity of their fall repertoire compared to their spring season and still wish that they mastered one style instead of tackling so many. I caught two performances this season. Wanted to catch more, but oh well.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Tell That Doesn't Tell the Tale

Tell's final tableau, photo @Marty Sohl

So last night I went to the Met's new production of Guillaume Tell and it was glorious, fantastic, everything I'd ever want in a staging of Rossini's masterpiece ... eh, who am I kidding? It sucked. Rossini's opera has some of the greatest (if vocally demanding) music ever written, but it needs a production that respects and advocates for the opera as a viable stage vehicle. Pierre Audi's production is terrible in every way. It's a total disaster.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

NYCB's Fall Season Wrap Up

Veyette and Bouder in Stars and Stripes
And so it's a wrap: NYCB ended their fall season with a dispiriting amount of collateral damage: Adrian Danchig-Waring, Tyler Angle, Taylor Stanley, Lauren Lovette, and Brittany Pollack are all out with injuries. In a company with less depth these injuries would be devastating --however, NYCB currently has such talent in all levels of its roster that the flow of the season and the quality of the performances continued uninterrupted.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Tristan Hits the Right Chords

Stemme and Skelton, photo @ Ken Howard

There is nothing, I repeat, NOTHING, that compares to the feeling that washes over the audience when the famous Tristan chord from the very first note five hours ago (!!!) finds its harmonic resolution. For me it's a mixture of relief that it's finally over with euphoria at the beauty of the moment. This is what they mean when they talk about Wagner being a musical genius.

But in between those five hours is an opera that can be challenging to even the most loyal Wagnerian acolyte. The action-packed, fairly condense first act and romantic glow of the second act turn into a long, repetitive dirge in the final act. I'm sick blahblahblah I'm dying blahblahblah loyalty blahblahblah for at least an hour. I don't know how long Tristan actually blathers on about his anguish before he finally expires, but to me it's always an endless wait for Marke and Isolde to arrive and wrap up the show. (In the bad old days, they used to snip large portions of the third act. Legendary heldentenor Lauritz Melchior reportedly never sang an uncut Tristan.)

Tristan und Isolde needs excellent singers who can carry the opera through both its climaxes and frustrating longueurs. The Met's new production of this opera had the singers and musicians to do this opera justice. Nina Stemme, Stuart Skelton, René Pape, Ekaterina Gubanova, and Evgeny Nikitin and conductor Simon Rattle were not perfect, but they all had strong voices that could really sing their roles. There was no shrieking for the moon.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fall NYCB: New Works, Old Classics

Sterling Hyltin and Adrian Danchig-Waring in Lopez-Ochoa's Unframed
Fall Season for the NYCB has coincided with one of the busiest, most frantic times I've ever experienced professionally. Too bad, because the fall season has by far the strongest programs compared to the somewhat repetitive Winter Season and the Spring Season which has the potential to be a lot of misses. I did make it to three programs -- two all-Balanchine, and the evening of new works that premiered at the fall gala.

Lauren Lovette and Peter Walker are both dancers within the company making their choreographic debuts. Peck and Lopez-Ochoa are more well-known quantities. I saw the program on 9/27. My impressions: The four new works mixed the forgettable (Lauren Lovette's For Clara), with the mediocre (Justin Peck's The Dreamers) with the excellent (Peter Walker's ten in seven and Annabel Lopez-Ochoa's Unframed).

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Color Purple

The radiant Cynthia Erivo as Celie, photo @ Matthew Murphy

I saw The Color Purple last night on a total whim. I had heard wonderful things about this revival but I had been resistant because as a rule I dislike musicals that are based on beloved novels. Alice Walker's novel was/is so perfect that I thought any musical adaptation would seem shallow by comparison. I also didn't have any points of comparison -- I hadn't seen the original Broadway production.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Sarasota Ballet's Sir Fred Steps

Facade from Sarasota Ballet
Sarasota Ballet made their debut at the Joyce Theater on August 8 with an All-Ashton program that was given an extremely twee name: A Knight at the British Ballet. Artistic Director Iain Webb was a former dancer with the Royal Ballet and has decided to take Sarasota Ballet down a different path than the usual one for regional ballet companies. Instead of the mix of contemporary ballet mixed with some Balanchine (with an annual Nutcracker thrown in) Sarasota Ballet has made a commitment to presenting the works of Sir Frederick Ashton, and not just his warhorses like La Fille mal Gardee or Monotones or The Dream but the lesser-known works in his canon.The performance I caught at the Joyce seemed like this endeavor has yielded admirable but mixed results.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Winter's Tale in a Summer Festival

Dronina and McKie in A Winter's Tale, photo @ Karolina Kuras

The dog days of summer are often the worst time for balletomanes. The home companies' seasons are over, and the days of huge summer-long tours by the Bolshoi/Mariinsky/Royal Ballet are increasingly rare. It was thus that I found myself plunked down for a ballet (Christopher Wheeldon's A Winter's Tale as part of the Lincoln Center Festival) that I really had no desire to see. Hey, as I said, slim pickings.

I was already familiar with A Winter's Tale from the Royal Ballet video. I found the ballet slickly produced but unmoving, like so much of Wheeldon's work. But in that video I admired the demented, intense performance of Edward Watson as Leontes (sort of doing a Prince-Rudolf-in-Mayerling-lite) and also the matriarchal, authoritative Paulina of Yenaida Zenowsky. The National Ballet of Canada's 7/29 performance (it runs from 7/28-7/31 with multiple casts) had none of the excesses of the Royal Ballet performance. The performance suffered from a surfeit of good manners. Not necessarily a bad thing.


Friday, July 1, 2016

Stella's 20th Anniversary at ABT; Peter Wright Autobiography

Stella celebrates 20 years with company, photo @ Kent G. Becker

Last night Stella Abrera celebrated her 20 years with ABT with her company debut as Aurora in Ratmansky's Sleeping Beauty. She wasn't technically perfect, but she was exemplary, as she is in anything she dances. Abrera is one of the rare Auroras who grows in each act. In her birthday party she's bubbly and excited, in the Vision Scene seemed ethereal and elusive, and finally in the Wedding Scene she was regal and even a bit aloof.

Abrera is now 38 -- one wishes ABT would have allowed her to dance Aurora years earlier. As it is there were some concessions to age and time -- her Rose Adagio balances were not the longest and most secure (although she didn't really wobble noticeably) , and she seemed to have a few issues negotiating the petit batterie right before the start of the Rose Adagio. What sets Abrera apart from the rest of the ABT ballerinas is her almost Russian carriage in her upper body -- her soft arms, supple back, beautiful neck and shoulders. When she balanced on the clam shell in the Vision Scene her upper body had a freedom and elegance that made her look almost lithographic. Her other special quality is her unaffected acting. Abrera is never acting the part of the Prima Ballerina. There's a modesty, humility and charm to all her performances that shines across the footlights. People used to say the same thing about Margot Fonteyn -- that part of her charm was that she never took on any grand diva mannerisms.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Ferri's Juliet Proves You Can't Go Home Again; Fun Home

Ferri and Cornejo, photo @ Andrea Mohin
On Thursday June 23 the Met was packed to the rafters with balletomanes for an Event of the Season: beloved ABT ballerina Alessandra Ferri's return to the stage in her signature role of Juliet in MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet. Ferri retired in 2007 but sort of unretired and this was the sort of splashy I'm Back moment that draws out every hardcore balletomane in the city.

Ferri's entrance as Juliet was electric -- when she emerged from behind the curtain and jumped in the Nurse's lap the audience cheers were so loud the music was completely drowned out. At the end of the evening Ferri and Herman Cornejo (the Romeo) were called out again and again for thunderous ovations. The audience totally lapped up everything about the evening.

Me personally? I hated it. I hate myself for hating it and thought throughout the evening -- why am I being grouchy? What's wrong with me that I can't appreciate such a touching return to the stage? And Alessandra was still Alessandra right? Her feet were still had those beautiful arches, her arms the same limpid softness, right? RIGHT? Why am I not crying and weeping for joy?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The King and I PSA: Mazzie and Kim are Something Wonderful

Mazzie and Kim
Lincoln Center Theater's production of The King and I is will close on June 26. Sales slumped after the original leading lady Kelli O'Hara departed the show. However good word of mouth convinced me to see the second cast last night -- Marin Mazzie as Anna and Daniel Dae Kim as the King of Siam. My reaction: this is a PSA. If you love this musical, if you love Broadway classics, if you love theater, PLEASE snatch up tickets to the remaining shows. I doubt I'll ever see such a dynamic TKAI pairing as Mazzie/Kim in my lifetime. They were simply magical.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Spring Season Diaries: Ratmansky's Golden Cockerel, SAB Workshops

Front drop for Golden Cockerel, taken by moi

Ratmansky's Golden Cockerel opened at ABT last night. Ratmansky's ballet is "inspired" by Mikhail Fokine's ballet for the Ballet Russes which starred Tamara Karsavina and Fokine himself (pictured below). Ratmansky first staged Cockerel in 2012 for the Royal Danish Ballet but supposedly added more dance for the ABT version. Richard Hudson's colorful sets and costumes are loosely based on the original designs by Natalia Goncharova. The auditorium was fairly full but I think audience reaction was mixed at best and muted at worst. There was an angry heckler at the end of the ballet, who kept shouting "EVIL," seemingly impervious to the fact that the whole ballet was, in fact, a satire of Russian rulers.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Magical Fille mal gardée; a not-so-Wilde biography

Marcelo Gomes, photo @ Kent G. Becker
I caught a second performance of La fille mal gardée and it was basically the greatest thing ever. I had seen a previous performance in the run and thought it was very cute and charming. But tonight's performance is one of those joyous experiences that reaffirms your whole love for the art form. From the very first steps the performance was just on. There was an energy onstage that transmitted across the footlights. By the end of the evening I was limp from happiness. This hasn't happened for me for a long time at ABT performances. I've often felt that they had great dancers, but the level of artistry and care in their performances was not high. At this performance of Fille, everything was on an elevated plane.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Spring Season Diaries, part 5: Classic Comedies at ABT and NYCB

Mearns and Veyette in MSND, photo @ Andrea Mohin

NYCB ended its spring season with its traditional run of A Midsummer's Night Dream. This is a timeless comedy that almost always sells out no matter who's cast. It's the spring Nutcracker. In recent years Peter Martins has mixed seasoned principals with debuting corps members, and so it was here.

The May 26th performance had only three principal dancers in the cast: Anthony Huxley (Oberon), and the divertissement dancers (Abi Stafford and Adrian Danchig-Waring). There's no need to talk about Huxley -- he's the finest technical male dancer of the company, period. His scherzo was a master class of soft landings, deep plies, beautiful soaring jumps, clean lines, pointed toes. He could be more extroverted in his presentation but the beauty of his dancing speaks for itself. Nor is there much need to talk about Abi Stafford in the divertissement pas de deux. She gave the same efficient, uninteresting performance she always gives.

But let's talk about the rest of the cast, since everyone else was a soloist or corps member. How did they do? We'll start with the great. Harrison Ball made a smashing debut as Puck. He might be the best Puck I've ever seen -- funny, engaging, beautiful jump, but with an elegant body line that suggests a little fairy. His mime was clear and well-articulated. The other Harrison in the company, Harrison Coll, was also absolutely adorable as Bottom. His duet with Titania was funny, but also a little sad, as we in the audience know that their love isn't here to stay. These two wonderful dancers deserve more opportunities, and I'm glad Peter Martins is giving it to them.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Spring Season Diaries, part 4: DSCH Debuts

Now iconic final pose of Concerto DSCH
This week was all about Ratmansky. At ABT, the entire week was devoted to Ratmansky: a new work entitled Serenade After Plato's Symposium, revivals of his Shostakovich Trilogy, plus his Firebird (which, if Misty Copeland was cast, was sold out) and Seven Sonatas. I must be a very bad balletomane because I didn't manage to catch any of these works. I did, however, manage to catch two NYCB performances that ranged from the classics (Serenade) to modern classics (Ratmansky's Concerto DSCH) to the awful (Wheeldon's American Rhapsody).

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Spring Season Diaries, Part 3: Sylvia, and more NYCB Classics

Murphy and Gomes in Sylvia, photo @ Andrea Mohin
It's that time of spring dance season when ABT and NYCB go head-to-head almost every night and balletomanes often have to make agonizing (not a hyperbole) choices about what to see. This week I saw one performance of Sir Frederick Ashton's Sylvia at ABT (May 9), and three performances at the NYCB (May 10, 14th matinee and evening).

Sylvia at its best is a perfect little concoction -- the combination of the beautiful Delibes score, Ashton's sensitive choreography, and a great bravura part for the title character (originally choreographed on Margot Fonteyn) give this ballet is continued appeal. Unfortunately, the performance I saw on Monday was sluggish, poorly attended (entire swaths of the orchestra, grand tier and dress circle were empty), and simply reinforces the feeling that right now ABT is going through an ebbing of talent and morale.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Spring Season Diaries Part 2: Listless Rhapsody

Wheeldon's American Rhapsody, photo @ Paul Kolnk

I attended three performances of week 3 of Spring Season of the NYCB. It chugged along with the usual amount of welcome returns to the repertoire (the ever-lovely Vienna Waltzes that made its usual impact despite some apparent pre-performance chaos), standout performances (Tiler Peck in Ballo della Regina, Sterling Hyltin and Joseph Gordon in Symphony in 3 Movements, Adrian Danchig-Waring and Amar Ramasar in Kammermusik No. 2), disheartening injuries (Ana Sophia Scheller seems to be out again just after returning from a long injury), corps de ballet members who have leaped above the pack (Unity Phelan, Indiana Woodward, Sara Adams), and I also unknowingly witnessed Sara Mearns' "farewell" to the Flower Festivals of Genzano.

But the big "event" of the spring season was the world premiere of two ballets: Nicholas Blanc's Mothership and Christopher Wheeldon's American Rhapsody. I missed the splashy spring gala but did catch the 5/7 performance which featured both new works, Justin Peck's Belles Lettres, and Ratmansky's Concerto DSCH.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Spring Season Diaries, part one: shiny Jewelry

The incomparable Tall Girl of Teresa Reichlen, photo @Andrea Mohin

Spring Season is so hectic that it's easier simply to keep shorter diaries of things you saw. So the first two weeks of spring season I saw three ballets at NYCB. Here are my brief thoughts:

April 19, 2016 - New York City Ballet's Spring Season kicked off on April 19 with a performance of Jewels that was packed to the rafters even in the fourth ring (unusual on a weeknight). It was not the best NYCB could offer as Jewels.

Emeralds was the biggest mess -- Amar Ramasar is completely miscast in the lead cavalier role and this ballet brings out the least in Tiler Peck. She's good, but you can always see her working too hard to achieve a resemblance of a dreamy reverie. Rebecca Krohn in the second solo part gave one of her usual low impact, bland performances. Rubies was much better. Megan Fairchild and Gonzalo Garcia didn't have the spiky edge that this ballet calls for but they did have the flirtatiousness and playfulness down pat. Teresa Reichlen reprised her unparalleled Tall Girl portrayal in Rubies. The cool, remote authority she exudes (as well as the mile-long legs and nonchalance) make this a modern day classic portrayal. She has so much strength -- she did all those unsupported developées and penchées without any strain. When she exited the stage with one last unsupported arabesque penchée the audience clapped loudly. Then Diamonds. I've now seen Sara Mearns in Diamonds several times and she looks more miscast each time. At this point in her career she's simply not classical enough to pull this off. Her arms get sloppier every day. She has a habit of pushing through the music and punching out the steps that takes away from the reverie of the pas de deux. In the Scherzo section she failed to play with the music, but again muscled gracelessly through the steps. Tyler Angle was her attentive partner.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Miami City Ballet Paints the Town Red

Serenade by the MCB, photo @ Andrea Mohin

When out of town ballet companies that are not The Royal Ballet/Mariinsky/Bolshoi/Paris Opera Ballet tour NYC, the formula is often depressingly predictable. They book for a few performances at the Joyce/City Center/Theatre Formerly Known as State Theatre, they bring some modern works along with some Balanchine, they try their best, and the reaction of the NY audience is polite but distant. This makes the Miami City Ballet's tour to NYC this week all the more remarkable. They got the snotty "I saw SUZANNE do this" audience to stand up, scream, cheer. They not only exceeded expectations, they smashed them into smithereens. Miami City Ballet came to the Big Apple and painted the town red.

How did they do this? Simple. They picked ballets that highlighted their strengths and hid any weaknesses. The first thing you notice about the dancers is their incredible vigor. There are no "alabaster princesses" (as Mr. B called his muses) among the dancers -- almost all of them are like Energizer Bunny rabbits. The second thing you notice is that this is a company that embraces diversity. There aren't rows of corps girls who are alike in shape, build, and appearance. There is a great variety in height, body type, and yes, skin color. Rather than try to squeeze the dancers into a specific mold, it seems as if at MCB the differences are embraced. You have tiny little dynamo  Nathalia Artha burning up the stage side by side with stately veteran Jennifer Kronenberg. It's clear though that despite the diversity this company dances with a similar spirit and purpose, and sometimes that is just as effective as having a row of girls where every finger is held at the exact same angle.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Elektra - Game of Thrones

Meier and Stemme in Chereau's Elektra, photo @Marty Sohl

My favorite TV series now that Mad Men is over is Game of Thrones. I've followed the sex and gore in Westeros since the first season and have also read all of George R,R. Martin's books. One of the greatest things about Game of Thrones is the character of Cersei. Cersei is the series' great villainess. She's pure evil. It would take too long to list all of Cersei's depraved machinations and deeds. But one of the fascinating aspects of Cersei is that all of her actions are understandable, and even sympathetic. In her own mind, she's doing the right thing, and when we watch her, we find ourselves agreeing.

Last night the Met premiered Patrice Chéreau's intelligent and insightful production of Richard Strauss's Elektra and I thought about how everyone in Elektra (at least as directed by Chéreau) is like Cersei -- a monster who happens to be 100% right. Chéreau died before he could personally direct this production (it premiered in Aix in 2013) but Chéreau's DNA was all over the evening. This production took away the campy sensationalism that Elektra can sometimes become and really brought the Greek tragedy back into the opera.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Pennsylvania Ballet - Contemporary Ballet Done Right

Adrian Molina Soca and Lillain di Piazza in Grace Action
It was almost on a whim that I decided to check out Pennsylvania Ballet's program of contemporary pieces at the Joyce Theatre. PA Ballet has received a lot of buzz since the appointment of beloved ABT principal Angel Corella as Artistic Director. Corella immediately put his stamp on the company -- he fired longtime staff and has shuffled the roster. The Joyce Theatre brochure had a "letter" from Corella in which he tellingly talks about how the company just finished performing "my new Don Quixote." This is HIS company now.

The program he brought to NYC are all recent pieces -- the oldest (Matthew Neenan's Keep) premiered in 2009. And they're all what I would call pop ballet. They're not masterpieces, nor do they intend to be. And I must say, they chose three pop ballets that, unlike a lot of contemporary ballet pieces, were refreshingly watchable and fun. There was no screeching dissonant music, no agonizing ennui and angst, and best of all, the pieces were SHORT! The whole program was like eating a bag of potato chips and ice cream -- empty calories to be sure, but enjoyable.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Roberto Devereux - God Save (???) the Queen

Roberto Devereux, photo by Ken Howard

Last night I saw Sondra Radvanovsky complete her "Three Queens" trilogy with a performance of Roberto Devereux, commonly thought to be the most difficult role in the trilogy. Overall I thought it was the most impressive of her portrayals, although as with all things Sondra she was consistently inconsistent.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

She Loves Me

Zachary Levi and Laura Benanti in She Loves Me, photo by Joan Marcus

Right now two classic musicals by the team of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick are playing across the street from each other. Fiddler on the Roof and the Roundabout Theatre's She Loves Me are both playing by the corner of 53rd St./54th St. and Broadway, and you can't really go wrong with either musical. Both shows are over 50 years old, and the fact that they're still being revived is a testament to their continued appeal. But the approach Bartlett Sher took to Fiddler on the Roof and the approach Scott Ellis took to She Loves Me is a useful comparison of how to revive (or how not to revive) classic musicals.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Don Pasquale and L'elisir d'amore: A Tale of Two Tenors

Grigolo and Kurzak, photo @ Marty Sohl
On March 15 and 16th the Metropolitan Opera performed two beloved Donizetti comedies that starred tenors with remarkable vocal instruments. Both Vittorio Grigolo (Nemorino in L'elisir d'amore) and Javier Camarena (Ernesto in Don Pasquale) have the kind of voices most singers dream of: the warm, sunny, timbres with bright pinging upper registers. They open their mouths, and the audience loves the sound of their voices. However, the similarities between the two tenors begin and end there.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Javier Camarena - King of the High D's

Buratto and Camarena in Don Pasquale, photo @ Marty Sohl

If there's type of opera fan that absolutely sets my teeth on edge, it's the high note freaks. The type that will dismiss an entire performance of Lucia because the soprano didn't sing two (unwritten) high E flats in the (transposed) Mad Scene, or will overlook hours of abysmal, unmusical singing just because a singer capped "Di quella pira" with a huge roaring high C. But occasionally there comes a singer whose upper register is so glorious, and who uses said register in such a musical way, that you can't help but scream and stomp when said singer brings the house down with a blazing high note. Javier Camarena is one of those singers.

Monday, February 29, 2016

A Very Mariinsky Weekend, Part Two

Uliana Lopatkina and Andrei Ermakov in La Rose Malade

The Mariinsky's stint at BAM ended tonight in a program that might have been called "Back to the USSR." The whole series of performances was billed a "Tribute to Maya Plisetskaya" but unlike the Ballet Russes gala Friday this performance consisted almost completely of excerpts from Soviet ballets. It was also more heavily centered on Uliana Lopatkina, who performed 6 out of the ten excerpts, and that's not even counting the inevitable Dying Swan encore.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Very Mariinsky Weekend, Part One

Kolegova as Raymonda
The Mariinsky Ballet is without doubt one of the greatest companies (if not the greatest) in the world, but it can sometimes display a maddening arrogance. You love them and hate them at the same time. A case in point was their tour to Washington, D.C. and New York this week.

Washington, D.C. got one of the Mariinsky's treasures -- their full-length Raymonda. Western companies have tried to stage this ballet without much success, although Balanchine poached some of Glazunov's best tunes and Petipa's choreography for some of his "based on Raymonda" ballets. But there really is nothing as majestic as watching the Mariinsky company dance the whole thing. So that's why on a cold Saturday morning I took the Amtrak down to D.C. to catch a matinee Raymonda performance.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Winter Season Diaries, continued

Hyltin and Veyette, photo by Andrea Mohin
There is something useful about seeing the exact same program done by three completely different casts. NYCB's frantic winter season usually doesn't allow such luxuries, but eight straight performances of La Sylphide/Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #2 (aka Ballet Imperial) allowed for this kind of microscopic comparisons.

The casts I saw:

2/13/16: La Sylphide: Woodward, Huxley, Gordon, LeCrone, Anderson/Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto #2: Reichlen, T. Angle, Scheller

2/14/16: La Sylphide: Hyltin, Veyette, Ulbricht, Pollack, Pazgocuin/Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto #2: Mearns, LaCour, Lowery

2/17/16: La Sylphide: M. Fairchild, Garcia, Schumacher, Pollack, Gretchen Smith/Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto #2: T. Peck, Ramasar, King

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Manon Lescaut

Kristine Opolais and Roberto Alagna, photo by Ken Howard

What's that phrase? "Eighty percent of success is showing up"? The Met put that idiom sorely to the test last night when Manon Lescaut had its premiere in a sexless, charmless performance.  The new production had been heavily hyped as a vehicle for Kristine Opolais and Jonas Kaufmann, the Manon Lescaut dream team who had already sung successful performances of this opera together in Munich and London. (The Met brochure for this production has no less than three articles exalting the "chemistry of Opolais and Kaufmann" with both of them talking about how "special" it is). But as everyone now knows, Jonas cancelled the entire run (as he is wont to do as of late) and Roberto Alagna jumped into the production with about two weeks to learn both the role and the directions. Last night's program had an insert that called Alagna a "savior" and thanked Alagna "for his ongoing heroics on behalf of the company."

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Most Incredible (???) Thing

Justin Peck's The Most Incredible Thing was by far the most hyped premiere for the New York City Ballet in recent memory. Peck is only 28, but he's already had a documentary made about him and critical consensus about his ballets has generally been very positive. The buildup to The Most Incredible Thing merited a huge NYTimes profile and endless mailings by the NYCB. NYCB obviously spent money on this project -- when I attended tonight's performance (the second -- premiere was on February 2) I was handed a beautifully illustrated book of Hans Cristian Andersen's fairy tale along with design and costume sketches from artist Marcel Dzarma. Inside the booklet was a large poster. In the age of Amazon kindles and digital photography this kind of old-school lavishness is almost unheard of.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof "To Life" photo by Joan Marcus
Last night while I was watching Bartlett Sher's revival of Fiddler on the Roof, I wondered if some shows are so strong that they simply do the work for the director, set designers, costume designers, actors, and dancers. I could name about 100 things I could have nit-picked about this particular production of Fiddler, but in the middle of the second act when Hodel said goodbye to Tevye at the train station I started crying, and I basically cried for the rest of the show. I can't remember the last time a Broadway show actually made me cry.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Maria Stuarda -- Sarah Palin vs. Hillary?

Elsa van den Heever and Sondra Radvanovsky, photo by Ken Howard

Sondra Radvanovsky's plans to tackle all three Tudor Queens in one season just got one more box checked: she's now sung both Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda and only has Roberto Devereux left. Roberto Devereux is the opera she's sung the most, and it's probably one of the most hotly anticipated events in the season. Her Anna Bolena earlier this season was ... well, I'd say it was an interesting failure. I attended the second performance of her Maria Stuarda last night.

Of all three queens, her portrayal of Mary Stuart probably got the least buzz -- the house was depressingly empty. And Sondra's large, occasionally unwieldy role on the surface seems an awkward fit for the most lyrical of Donizetti's three Queens. But oddly, while I thought her Bolena was an interesting failure, I thought her Maria Stuarda was a qualified success.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Winter Season Diaries

de Luz, Angle, Ramasar and Pazgocuin in Fancy Free, photo by Michael P. Farrell

The first two weeks of the NYCB's Winter Season are usually favorites for hardcore fans. After a month of Nutcrackers and Alvin Ailey's Revelations New Yorkers are eager for the "real ballet" to start again. I usually find myself snatching up tickets right and left in the first two weeks of the season. This year the blizzard on the annual "Saturdays at the Afternoon with George" canceled two planned shows. Even so, I attended four performances in their first two weeks.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Company XIV's Snow White - The Fairest Show of Them All

Who is the fairest of them all?

Warning: This review has spoiler alerts

The original Grimm fairy tales were as grim as their namesake. They featured a stern, unforgiving morality in which evil was mercilessly punished. For instance, in Snow White the Queen Mother as punishment is forced to dance in hot burning shoes until she dies. Over the years ballets, Disney movies, Broadway shows, have all shaved the edges off these stories. People only think of "happily ever after" now.

Well, one company has brought back the "Grimm"ness of these original Germanic tales. Company XIV's production of Snow White opened last night at Minetta Lane Theatre and it manages to be a great entertaining show AND a dark, perverse interpretation of this oft-told fairy tale. I already reviewed their wonderfully entertaining Nutcracker Rouge in this blog. I made a return trip to see their version of Snow White. As entertaining as Nutcracker Rouge was, Snow White is simply on another level artistically.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

NYCO Renaissance Tosca

Cast of Tosca takes a bow
The NYCO Renaissance kick-start got the most awful divine intervention: a 28" blizzard that cancelled two of its performances. But maybe it was a blessing it disguise,  because this afternoon's final matinee performance of Tosca found all the singers vocally fresh, and with a large enthusiastic audience (many of whom had switched their Saturday tickets).

There's been a healthy dose of skepticism of the NYCO Renaissance project, and certainly its inaugural project was the definition of "playing it safe" -- does NYC really need yet another Tosca? But you know what? This afternoon's performance had an energy and enthusiasm that many tired revivals of Tosca at the Met in recent years have sorely lacked. Was it a great production? No. Were the singers perfect? No. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable, well-sung performance, and many recent Met performances have failed to live up to even that low standard.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Lion King - Taking Mom to a Momsical

Photo by Joan Marcus
Recently my mom decided she wanted to see a Broadway musical. She hadn't seen one since Applause, which she says she saw with Anne Baxter*. (I googled -- Anne Baxter did indeed take over Lauren Bacall's part. Mom has a good memory.) I know my mom -- she only wants to go to "momsicals" -- classic tuneful scores with good singing and dancing. I knew anything raunchy or avante garde would be a no-no. I went over several options with her: Fiddler on the Roof, The King and I, Phantom of the Opera, and Lion King. My mom rejected Phantom: she had seen the movie and didn't like the "stalker" storyline. She rejected Fiddler as well: she didn't like the music. King and I she said "only should be done with Yul Brynner." But Lion King she was very interested in, so Lion King it was.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Pearlfishers - Too Many Fish, Not Enough Pearls

Pearlfishers, photo by Ken Howard

The last time the Metropolitan Opera performed Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles it was in 1916 and it had a cast of nonentities like Enrico Caruso, Frieda Hempel and Giuseppe de Luca. Audiences apparently loved the Oriental love triangle fantasy -- one review said that the famous duet "Au fond du temple saint" "brought down the house"and the often ornery W.H. Henderson reported that the equally renowned aria "Je crois entendre encore" "set the house wild with joy."

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Dames at Sea Sails Off

Dames at Sea cast, photo by Jeremy Daniel
From a financial standpoint the revival of Dames at Sea at the Helen Hayes Theater was an unmitigated disaster. The show opened in October to lukewarm reviews and sold poorly even in the 597-seat theater. This 1968 musical originally gained fame when a certain Bernadette Peters played Ruby and then shot to stardom herself, which echoed Ruby's storyline. But in the current revival it was unable to gain any traction, and today it played its final show, which I attended. At least the show got a good send-off -- the theater cheered loudly after every number.