Wednesday November 28, 2012 - I stopped by at Steps on Broadway today where the Steps Repertory Ensemble were rehearsing a new work by Manuel Vignoulle. I got to know Manuel as a dancer through his performances with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. This was my first time meeting him, and his infectious energy and devilishly sexy accent made the studio hour fly by. It's always fun when a choreographer leaps in to demonstate during rehearsals, and Manuel was continually showing the dancers what he wanted. His choreography is athletic and risky; a passage of repose contrasts to the edgy, restless atmosphere that the work has built up.
Manuel's piece for the Steps Repertory Ensemble is entitled "Le Moi Sauvage" and it will be part of the Company's Celebrate Dance performances at Ailey Citigroup scheduled for April 19-21, 2013. Chances are it will be shown sooner than that in a studio setting.
Britney Tokumoto, Lane Halperin, Marielis Garcia and Katherine Spradzs
Discussing the mechanics of a lift
David Scarantino, Gabriel Malo
Now that I've had my introduction to the Steps Repertory Ensemble (thanks to Mindy Upin), I'm hoping to cover more of their work in the coming months, leading up to their April performances.
November 29, 2012 | Permalink
The contralto Ira Malaniuk (above) was an Austrian singer of Ukranian descent who had a major career in Europe from 1939 to 1976 yet is rarely mentioned today in discussions of great voices from the past. Yet surely she is one of their number.
Malaniuk appears on several commercial recordings, some of which I have heard, yet it is a 1953 live recording of GOTTERDAMMERUNG from the 1953 Bayreuth Festival in which she sings Waltraute that made me sit up and take notice of this wonderful singer.
Malaniuk came to international attention at the 1951 Bayreuth Festival when she stepped in at the last minute for an ailing colleague; here is the story:
"It was 1951. The Wagnerian Festival at Bayreuth, Germany was taking place for the first time since the end of World War II.
Herbert von Karajan was the conductor. The opera was Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold), the first of the four operas that comprise Wagner’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen. A complete Ring Cycle peformance was planned for this innaugural post-war season.
Elisabeth Höngen, a mezzo-soprano, was scheduled to sing. She had performed only a few days earlier. Suddenly on August 11, 1951, Höngen came down with an acute case of appendicitis and was hospitalized.
That fateful day, Ira Malaniuk, a young mezzo-soprano, came into the theatre not suspecting that she would be required to sing the part of Fricka that night. According to her own autobiography, not only had Malaniuk never sung the part, she hadn’t even heard it before.
And yet, with the assistance of the Bayreuth Festival staff, colleagues, prompters and conductor Karajan, Ira Malaniuk went on stage that night and sang. The critics raved. Bavarian Radio broadcast the production.
And, Ira Malaniuk went on to become a famous opera singer – a Kammersängerin – in both Germany and Austria."
Malaniuk had studied with the great basso Adamo Didur, and opera was always in her heart, as she relates in this charming story:
“I cannot say, where the beginnings of my love of opera were. Already in childhood, they shone for me like a guiding star. Although, in all truth, there was a female opera singer in our family, that reached world wide fame – Salomea Kruszelnicka. She was the daughter of my paternal grandmother’s brother, in short my father’s cousin. Our paths never crossed – I never met Kruszelnicka, never saw her peform on stage, but perhaps some drop of her artistic blood courses through my veins.”
Above, Ira Malaniuk with her soprano colleague, the radiant Lisa Della Casa.
Listen to Ira Malaniuk singing the Second Norn in this document from the Bayreuth Festival's 1953 GOTTERDAMMERUNG. Her sister-Norns are Maria von Ilosvay and Regina Resnik (in her soprano days); Clemens Krauss conducts.
November 26, 2012 | Permalink
Lauren Alpert created a new ballet for Columbia Ballet Collaborative's recent performances at MMAC. Above: dancer Gabriela Minden, photo by Jade Young.
I was unable to attend the CBC performances this Autumn, but I did stop by at one of Lauren's rehearsals of her new creation. Entitled signal:noise and set to a collage of contemporary music, this is probably one of the few danceworks ever to be inspired by working in a neuroscience lab. But it was there that Lauren developed the concept for her ballet.
Lauren Alpert and dancer Rebecca Walden
Audrey Crabtree-Hannigan and Rachel Silvern
signal:noise is an ensemble work for seven women; although there are unison passages, much of the work is devoted to indivdual expression, some of it with an improvisational quality. I hope there'll be a chance to see it again sometime.
Photos: Jade Young.
November 25, 2012 | Permalink
Tuesday November 20, 2012 - The Metropolitan Opera's current revival of their classic Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production of Mozart's LA CLEMENZA DI TITO is a joy both to the ear and the eye. Marty Sohl's production photo (above) illustrates the fantasy mixture of ancient Roman and baroque stylistic elements that give the sets and costumes their timeless visual appeal.
Tonight, Harry Bicket led a sterling performance, with excellent continuo playing from Bradley Brookshire (harpsichord) and David Heiss (cello) as well as spectacular woodwind solos in two of the opera's iconic arias: Andrew McGill (clarinet, in "Parto, parto") and James Ognibene (basset horn, in "Non piu di fiori"). Mr. Bicket's vivid pacing and his sense of the music's flow put the singers in high relief; there were three outstanding vocal performances and overall it was one of the most satisfying evenings at The Met in recent seasons.
To think that I almost skipped this revival! But a chance to hear Kate Lindsey as Annio was not to be missed, and the beauteous young mezzo (above) gave an immaculate performance, her lithe figure and ease of movement onstage enhancing her interpretation at every turn. Like many of her predecessors in this fach, Kate spends a lot of her onstage time in trousers (she'll debut at Glyndebourne as the Composer in ARIADNE AUF NAXOS in the coming year). Her singing tonight was pristine, with a particularly ravishing piano passage in "Tu fosti tradito" that would melt the coldest heart.
With his noble and expressive face, Giuseppe Filianoti (above) made a splendid impression as Tito. His singing was clear and mellifluous, the words poetically delivered. The tenor finely delineated the emperor's dilemma in dealing with his betrayal by his friend Sesto: should friendship trump justice? When I last heard Mr. Filianoti in the house, he was dealing with health issues, so it was really very pleasing to hear him on such beautiful vocal form tonight.
Somehow I've managed not to encounter a live performance by the Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca (bove) up til now. I first heard her voice on a recording my friend Mollie sent me from the 2001 Cardiff Competition. Garanca has since developed into a world-class artist and after hearing her as Sesto tonight, she's on my A-list of singers. Both in terms of vocal appeal and technical accomplishment, this was a stunning performance: Garanca's voice is all of a piece, and she moves it thru the registers seamlessly. After a profoundly expressive rendering of the openng passages of the great aria "Parto, parto" Ms. Garanca sailed through the whirlwind coloratura flourishes of the aria's later pages with nimble assurance. Later, as she knelt to invoke the strength to carry out her assassination of Tito, she summoned an amazing degree of projection, the voice sailing into the hall with startling force. In her second spectacular aria "Deh per questo istante solo", the mezzo soprano coloured the voice movingly, reflecting the character's anguish and also his stalwart refusal to implicate Vitellia in the crime. Ms. Garanca's entire performance was a revelation.
Barbara Frittoli, an unforgettable Desdemona at the Met in 1999, has more recently found considerable success in singing Mozart since she did her voice some damage during the first decade of the 21st century by singing music that was too heavy for her. Her canny manipulation of dynamics usually prevents her widening vibrato from becoming too prevelant. But for all her attractive qualities, Vitellia's great aria "Non piu di fiori" simply lies too low for Ms. Frittoli to make her finest effect in the music. Vitellia in fact can be sung by a mezzo, except for that thorny top-D that Mozart threw into the act I trio, a note that eluded Ms. Frittoli tonight. Nevertheless, the soprano kept up her side of things all evening and the audience enjoyed her sometimes over-the-top dramatic portrayal.
Lucy Crowe as Servilia is a pretty girl with luminous eyes and a pleasing lyric timbre. In his search for a wife, Tito's first choice - Servilia - might have made him quite happy, especially with Ms. Crowe's buxom grace and girlish smile.
A wonderful Met evening, then, and there was every reason to stay to the end and shout' bravi' as the singers took their bows to sustained applause.
Metropolitan Opera House
November 20, 2012
LA CLEMENZA DI TITO
Bradley Brookshire, Harpsichord Continuo
Anthony McGill, Clarinet Soloist
James Ognibene, Basset Horn Soloist
David Heiss, Cello Continuo
November 21, 2012 | Permalink
Westminster Choir - Joe Miller, director
The American Boychoir - Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, music director
Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen
Simon Keenlyside Wozzeck
Angela Denoke Marie
Hubert Francis Drum Major
Joshua Ellicott Andres
Peter Hoare Captain
Tijl Faveyts Doctor
Henry Waddington First Apprentice
Eddie Wade: Second Apprentice
Harry Nicoll Idiot
Anna Burford Margret
The performance was compelling both in the awe-inspiring magnificence of the orchestral playing and in the powerful simplicity of the semi-staging: the singers, clad in contemporary everyday chic, moved thru the drama in a narrow space at the lip of the stage. Direct and uncomplicated in its presentation. the drama was expressed with stripped-down clarity. Thanks to a cast of singing-actors each vividly inhabiting his or her character, this tale of madness, despair, bullying and betrayal cast its extraordinary spell.
The score unfolded under Maestro Salonen's baton like a vast dark tapestry; individual orchestral voices shoot thru the fabric of sound like shimmering threads. As in SALOME, the musical imagery often evokes moonlight seen thru sooty, scudding clouds...but here the moon is blood-red. The conductor struck an ideal balance of unleashing the insane power of the orchestra yet never overwhelming his singers. The cumulative effect was electrifying..
In the early scenes of the opera, dark comedy runs rampant: the Captain and the Doctor who hold Wozzeck their mental hostage are so deranged and their words so far-fetched as to evoke laughter. Brilliant characterzations from Peter Hoare and Tijl Faveyts respectively set their vignettes in high relief. Hubert Francis was the swaggering bully of a Drum Major and Joshua Ellicott as Andres - one of Wozzeck's few links to normalcy - sang with clarity. Anna Burford as Margret delivered her Swabia-lied with drunken blowsiness; Harry Nicoll was an eerily happy Idiot. I took special pleasure in the robustly earthy singing of Henry Waddlington and Eddie Ware as the two apprentices. Their scene simply crackled with verbal and vocal power and they steered clear of the comic cliches of acting out drunkiness, making their performances all the more impressive.
Angela Denoke, a soprano still talked-about in Gotham for her only Met performances (a series of Marschallins in 2005) was a wonderfully feminine and vunerable Marie. For all her toughness ("better a knife in my heart than lay a hand on me"), Marie is a marvelously human woman torn between desire and guilt, and Ms. Denoke's portrayal struck an ideal balance while providing vocalism of gleaming lyricism and intriguing colours. She now proudly joins my gallery of memorable portrayals of this character over the years: Janis Martin, Anja Silja, Hildegard Behrens, Katarina Dalayman and Waltraud Meier.
As Wozzeck, Simon Keenlyside enjoyed a great personal triumph. Hurling himself into the drama with a dazzling affiinity for the expressive physical manifestations of madness and with tortured facial responses to Wozzeck's downward spiral, the baritone sang with unfettered power and a full palette of vocal colours which he drew upon to project the character's ravaged humanity. Keenlyside's performance was nothing short of perfection.
And so, one of the most thrilling nights of opera in recent seasons...and the proof of it was in the utter silence of the audience in those unexpected stillnesses that Berg applies from time to time. They are as key to the dark glory of WOZZECK as the shocking power of the great post-murder crescendos. Salonen and his mighty forces gave us an exciting evening, reaffirming the still-powerful desire of the New York public for meaningful operatic experiences.
November 20, 2012 | Permalink
Above: Elizabeth Brown of New Chamber Ballet, photo by Kokyat. Click to enlarge.
Saturday November 17, 2012 - Performances at New Chamber Ballet always feature live music, and quite often it is music that has been written in the 20th or even the 21st century. Tonight's programme varied a bit from the New Chamber Ballet norm as three of the four works choreographed by the Company's director Miro Magloire were set to works of Old Masters: Bach, Handel and Tchaikovsky. In such company, the fourth work - by Karlheinz Stockhausen - gave the evening a nice tangy jolt.
Super-familiar melodies from THE NUTCRACKER were transcribed for solo violin and played with alternating currents of delicacy and gusto by Clara Lyon. There were no candy canes or snowflakes to be seen, however: instead, three women (Elizabeth Brown, Nora Brown and Holly Curran) became obsessed with a gift-wrapped silvery pendant that changed hands several times in the course of the ballet. Technically demanding solos were spun thru the musical fabric, and elements of chase and deceit played out as each girl tried to claim the bauble for her own.
Melody Fader attacked the hammering motif that opens Karlheinz Stockhausen's Klavierstuck IX with flair; Elizabeth Brown and Holly Curran sit on either side of the pianist as Miro's KLAVIERSTUCK commences: a ballet that became a memorial to the composer who passed away in 2007, shortly after having given Miro his blessing to choreograph the piece. The piano itself becomes the central element of the ballet, functioning as a barre and as an altar. Miro's affectionate gesture to the composer he so admired has become New Chamber Ballet's signature work.
After a short break, Melody Fader switched modes and played a transcription of a Handel violin sonata (arranged by Miro) as the Company's newest member Nora Brown gave lyric sweep to the pure classic vocabulary of the solo SPIEGELEIN. Wearing Candice Thompson's fetching pale rose and white tunic, Nora's graceful dancing had a lovely fresh quality.
Its premiere having been delayed a couple of months, Miro's new ballet THE OTHER WOMAN proved one of his finest works to date. Set to Bach's B-minor sonata (played by Clara Lyon and Melody Fader) this ballet about duplicity and its resulting emotional impact on the personalities involved struck close to home. Elizabeth Brown and Holly Curran are the two women - and who could choose between them? - while Sarah Atkins en travesti gives a wonderful performance as the object of their affections. Sarah, in a black suit and bowler hat, danced her jaunty solo with élan while the two girls vied for his attention in a situation where someone is bound to lose.
New Chamber Ballet's audience continues to grow, with new faces among the crowd of familiar long-time supporters. In their mixture of classic, on-pointe dancing and live music in an intimate setting, Miro's evenings hold a unique place in the Gotham dance scene. Their next performances are slated for February 15th and 16th, 2013.
November 18, 2012 | Permalink
Above: Fanny Ara
Friday November 16, 2012 - The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise this year honors foreign-born dance professionals working in the USA. The current winner is Michel Kouakou from the Ivory Coast; he will have his own evening at Joyce SoHo on November 17th, which unfortunately I cannot attend. Tonight the four "runners-up" presented their work at the Mercer Street venue.
Any day that we fall in love is a good day; it doesn't matter whether the object of our adoration is a boy from far away whose face we saw on a website or a dancer or singer who moves and touches us with their beauty and talent. My newest love is Fanny Ara, a gorgeous Flamenco artist who opened the evening with a pair of resplendant solos that literally made my heart race. Her first solo Romance was a slow and very personal contemporary 'echo' of the Flamenco style: I immediately fell under her spell - so alluring, so poised and self-confident, even in the dance's most reflective nuances. Then a vivid pure Flamenco solo, Soler, in which the captivating expressive qualities of Fanny's upper body, arms and hands - even her neck - mesmerized us while her footwork dazzled both the eye and the ear. Guitarist Jason MacGuire provided fabulously colorful playing in both works, joined in Soler by the vocalist Jose Cortes, whose slightly raspy quality had its own sexual edge. In the course of her 15-minute performance, Fanny Ara soared into the upper-most echelon of dance artists I have witnessed over the years.
My friend Tom and I enthused over Fanny's dancing while the stagehands took up the special flooring. Tom was just as thrilled by what we'd seen as I was.
Two works by the Vietnamese-born choreographer Thang Dao followed: a large ensemble piece called S.O.S. is danced to a dynamic pop/rock song (Life Is A Pigsty by Morrissey) and a more refined, narrative work LENORE inspired by Edgar Allen Poe. In both pieces, Thang Dao showed fine craftsmanship and musicality. In S.O.S. there was a restless energy and much fast-paced partnering, with solo passages woven in. The dancers - and I am always happy to find dancers I know on any stage (Chris Bloom, Aaron Atkins and Virgina Horne were among Thang Dao's ensemble) - kept the eye darting about the space, trying to take it all in. In the more aptly poetic LENORE, a mirage-like tracery of Bartok underpinned Basil Rathbone's reading of The Raven, the poet in his white nightshirt is haunted by a trio of ravens and the endless intoning of 'the word that was spoken': Nevermore.
From Scandanavia, the cool beauty of Pontus Lidberg (above, Nir Arieli photo) seemed the external masque of a man with a secret passion. From his WITHIN (Laybrinth Within) Pontus danced the opening solo which we'd just seen a few days ago when MORPHOSES premiered the dance/film masterpiece at the bigger Joyce. This visual poem evolves into a filmed passage of Pontus in a forest or standing on a lonely beach. The solo works well as a free-standing evocation of the longer work. And it's a tremendous pleasure to watch Pontus Lidberg dance.
Of the evening's final work, a deadly dull and painfully protracted food fight, I'm not naming names. It simply reminded me of a conversation that Woody Allen has with his wife in the film CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. Urged to abandon his pathetic aspirations as a documentary film-maker, Woody reminds his wife: "Hey, I won Honorable Mention at that film competition last year!" to which she coolly replies: "Everyone who entered won Honorable Mention!"
November 17, 2012 | Permalink
Above: Les Saltimbanques, the painting by Picasso that inspred Lar Lubovitch's newest creation, TRANSPARENT THINGS.
Thursday November 15, 2012 - Three recent works by Lar Lubovitch comprised the programme tonight at Florence Gould Hall where Lar's superb troupe of dancers held the stage to fine effect, abetted in the final work by excellent playing of the Debussy G-minor quartet by the Bryant Park Quartet.
Opening with the ravishingly dark and lyrical LEGEND OF TEN, set to the Brahms F-minor quintet, the Lubovitch dancers showed from the first moment both their collective technical expertise and their individuality as poets of movement. In this dance of swirling and evocative patterns, the heartfelt music buoys the dancers throughout; from time to time a dancer will step forward and briefly pay reverence to the audience before melding back into the flow of the dance. The gorgeous and distinctive Lubovitch women - Nicole Corea, Laura Rutledge and Kate Skarpetowska - are partnered in ever-shifting match-ups by the beautiful men of the Company: Attila Joey Csiki, Reed Luplau, Brian McGinns, George Smallwood and Anthony Bocconi. A central pair - Elisa Clark and Clifton Brown - weave their ongoing pas de deux into the ensemble; tall and radiant, the couple bring an unusual sense of dignity to what might otherwise simply be a romantic duet. Clifton's imperial wingspan and the hypnotic styling of his arms and hands are a blessing to behold, and Elisa matches him in expressive nuance. Compelling dance from all, and the work is surely one of Lar's greatest masterpieces.
Darkness of a more jagged and comtemporary feel marks CRISIS VARIATIONS, in which a smaller ensemble of dancers - Nicole Corea, Laura Rutledge, Attila Joey Csiki, Reed Luplau and Anthony Bocconi - writhe and struggle against unseen demons whilst yet another of Lar's imaginative duets - danced by the enigmatic Kate Skarpetowska and the dynamic Brian McGinnis - ebbs and flows among the struggling community. Kokyat's image of Kate and Brian, above, captures one of the pas de deux's most spine-tingling moments.
What gives CRISIS VARIATIONS its unique flavour in the Yevgeniy Sharlat score; in this turbulent and entrancingly crafted music, individual instruments - harpsichord, saxophone, organ - lend a nightmarish gleam to the tapestry of movement. The ballet, though steeped in deep despair, is not without subtle hints of tongue-in-cheek self-pity.
The newest of Lar's works, entitled TRANSPARENT THINGS, is a pure joy. Reid Bartelme's costumes translate from the Picasso painting with remarkable faithfulness, and the dancers take to the mirthful and sometimes self-mocking characters of this vagabond troupe of entertainers with flair.
Attila Joey Csiki (above, Steven Schreiber photo) is perfect as the mercurial Harlequin, his solo dancing marked by the pure grace of his pliant style. Kate Skarpetowska and Laura Rutledge seem literally to have stepped out of the painting; Brian McGinnis is a tower of strength in his billowy red suit and Clifton Brown in simply marvelous to watch. Boysihly beautiful Reed Luplau brings a touch of innocence and a creamy, chiseled chest to his velvet-clad Blue Boy.
Playing from memory, the musicans of the Bryant Park Quartet give a rendering of the Debussy score which ranges from sentimental to ebullient. Violinist Anna Elashvili seemed ready to spring from her chair and join the dance. At the close of the ballet's third section, the dancers invade the musician's space and are momentarily stilled; Attila lovingly rests his head against the cello. In this charming moment the marriage of music and dance are quietly celebrated. Brilliant!
November 16, 2012 | Permalink