Big Renata (Tebaldi)
Little Renata (Scotto)
Big Renata (Tebaldi)
Little Renata (Scotto)
March 31, 2016 | Permalink
Above, one of the best of the best: Robert Kleinendorst of PTAMD
Tuesday March 29th, 2016 - This evening's performance by Paul Taylor's American Modern Dance in the final week of their Lincoln Center season opened with a classic Taylor 'white' ballet, Equinox, set to music of Johannes Brahms which was performed (lovingly) live by a string quintet.
Two principal couples - Laura Halzack with Robert Kleinendorst and Paris Khobdeh with Michael Apuzzo - perform some of Paul Taylor's most inventive and pleasing partnering passages with a feeling of lyrical athleticism. A long solo by Ms. Halzack was enchanting to behold. A quartet of dancers - too stellar to be deemed "supporting" - moved with captivating urgency and grace: Michelle Fleet, Eran Bugge, Sean Mahoney, and James Samson. The white costumes evoke Summer, but the Brahms themes hint at the approach of Autumn. Heartfelt dancing and playing from everyone involved.
The Weight of Smoke (a new Doug Elkins work) was a hot mess. The choreography is loaded with gimmicks and clichés while the fusion of Baroque (here, Handel) with contemporary club beats and noisy effects has been done before and has lost its cleverness. The dancers may have enjoyed the opportunity to cut loose, not having to think too much about technique or precision, but to me (and my choreographer-companion) the work seemed endlessly aimless and mildly embarrassing. Laced with gender-bending elements, with two women in a sustained kiss, and sashaying gay-boy stereotypes, the work ambled on with lots of energy being expended on retro-provocations. In the end, I was thinking: "You have sixteen of the best dancers on the planet to work with, and this is what you came up with?"
The evening ended on the highest of possible high notes with Paul Taylor's Promethean Fire; the same sixteen dancers who slogged their way thru the tedious Elkins now appeared in Santo Loquasto's incredible black costumes and treated us to a feast of impeccable dancing in this darkly dazzling ballet.
Paul Taylor's choreography here gives Mr B a run for his money in terms of musicality and structure...and it looks gorgeous on Mr. B's own stage. The Leopold Stokowski orchestrations of music by J. S. Bach seem jarring at first but Mr. Taylor was right to choose them as they mesh well with the opulent energy of the dancing.
The live music (Orchestra of Saint Luke's under Donald York's baton) was a wonderful enhancement to the onstage splendour; it's a great piece for zeroing in on individual dancers as they move with such assurance and beauty of spirit thru choreography that must be a sheer delight to dance.
The central passage of Promethean Fire is a pas de deux which was danced tonight by Parisa Khobdeh and Michael Trusnovec (above). Their physical allure and their sense of the importance of the steps and port de bras made this such a richly rewarding experience, both visually and spiritually.
Production photo © 2015 Paul Taylor's American Modern Dance
March 30, 2016 | Permalink
Above: Martina Calcagno rehearsing at Ballet Hispanico today; photo by Nir Arieli
Monday March 28th, 2016 - In anticipation of Ballet Hispanico's upcoming season at The Joyce, photographer Nir Arieli and I stopped by the Company's home space on West 89th Street to watch a rehearsal.
The Hispanico dancers are among the most vivid in New York City's vibrant community of dance. Watching them in the up-close-and-personal studio setting, their power, unstinting energy, and sheer sexiness are a testament to their generosity and commitment.
For their impending Joyce performances, Ballet Hispanico will offer the New York premiere of Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s Flabbergast. The Company have previously performed Mr. Sansano's dramatic narrative ballet CARMEN.maquia and his charming El Beso.
Flabbergast is a complete joy to experience: lively, sexy, and playful, the choreography calls for non-stop action. And the dancers are even called upon to sing, which they do enthusiastically. Here are some of Nir's images from today's run-thru of this exciting dancework:
Eila Valls and Lyvan Verdecia
Mark (foreground) & Company
The Flabbergast ensemble
As an ideal contrast to the extroverted Flabbergast, choreographer's Ramón Oller’s darkly ritualistic Bury Me Standing will also be on the Joyce program. A section of this ballet, in which a cortege of mourners move slowly across the space while a male soloist performs an expressive dance of lamentation, was being rehearsed today with Hispanico's charismatic Mario Ismael Espinoza in the featured role.
Above, and in the following images: Mario Ismael Espinoza
During this run-thru from Bury Me Standing, I had one of those unusual experiences that you can only get at a rehearsal: while Mario was performing the solo and Nir was capturing it, I was at the other end of the studio where Mario's alternate, Christopher Hernandez, was also dancing the solo directly in front of me. Mario and Christopher have very different physiques and stage personalities; shifting my gaze between the two, I was able to experience their interpretations simultaneously; an exciting finale to our studio visit.
I want to thank publicist Michelle Tabnick for arranging everything, Mr. Sansano for his cordial greeting and very appealing choreography, Hispanico's Michelle Manzanales - ever the gracious hostess - and every single one of the Company's incredible dancers.
And I'm particularly grateful - as always - to photographer Nir Arieli.
I want to draw your attention to Nir's upcoming gallery show of Flocks at Daniel Cooney|Fine Art on West 26th Street, which will run from April 21st thru June 4th, 2016. Ballet Hispanico is among the companies featured in this series. More information below:
March 29, 2016 | Permalink
Jussi Björling's was the first tenor voice I fell in love with. After I had discovered opera in 1959, my parents gifted me with a two-LP set of excerpts from RCA's Verdi and Puccini catalog. The singers on those records - Licia Albanese, Roberta Peters, Zinka Milanov, Jan Peerce, Robert Merrill, Leonard Warren, and Giorgio Tozzi, in addition to Björling - assumed god-like status for me.
It was the plaintive sweetness of Björling's voice that really ignited my imagination; and thru the ensuing years, it has often been the tenors - Tucker, Bergonzi, Corelli, Vickers, Pavarotti, Domingo - who provided the greatest thrills and chills in the many performances I have seen and heard.
In the early 1930s, Björling made his first aria recordings, in Swedish. On a quiet afternoon yesterday, I was listening to - and savoring - the youthful lyricism of this remarkable voice; he had turned twenty in 1931:
By the end of that decade, Björling's career was well underway, his voice was in full bloom, and he was singing in Italian:
He made many recordings in the ensuing years, including the Verdi REQUIEM under Fritz Reiner, which was recorded in June 1960; three months later, Björling died.
The great tenor was buried at Stora Tuna in the Dalarna province of his native land.
Two decades before the Reiner recording of the REQUIEM was made, Björling recorded the Ingemisco from the Verdi masterpiece:
March 28, 2016 | Permalink
I've fallen in love with Suzanne Balguérie's voice.
For years I've had her ALCESTE aria on a cassette. After listening to it again, I went in search of more Balguérie and found this ravishing Liesbestod, in French. So atmospheric.
March 26, 2016 | Permalink
Born at Le Havre in 1872, Suzanne Balguérie was one of the great French sopranos of her day. After completing her vocal studies at Conservatoire National de Paris, Balguérie began to sing professionally; her interest in contemporary concert music led to some engagements at small venues with a limited audience. In the early 1920’s, the soprano finally appeared in opera, debuting at the Opéra-Comique as Ariane in Dukas’s Ariane et Barbe-bleu. She remained a member of the Comique for more than twenty years, also performing at L'Opéra, where she was greatly admired in the Wagner repertoire.
Balguérie rarely sang outside France, so she is not well-known internationally. She retired from the stage in 1950, and became a successful voice teacher. She died at Grenoble in 1973.
March 25, 2016 | Permalink
Wednesday March 23rd, 2016 - "Taylor Does Graham" was my alternate headline for this article. Martha Graham's Diversion of Angels has triumphantly entered the repertory of Paul Taylor's American Modern Dance Company. I've always loved seeing the Graham dancers in this work, and now I also love seeing the Taylors: between these two companies, some of the greatest movers and shapers of our day are to be found. In the photo at top: Michael Trusnovec.
Graham paragons Blakeley White-McGuire and Tadej Brdnik set Diversion on the Taylor company. The casting of the work's three main couples seemed spot-on, with the elegant, patrician Laura Halzack in White paired with Michael Trusnovec; restless, passionate Parisa Khobdeh (in Red) dancing with Sean Mahoney; and the sun-filled joy of Eran Bugge's Woman in Yellow handsomely partnered by Michael Novak. A women's quartet consisting of Michelle Fleet, Jamie Rae Walker, Heather McGinley, and Christina Lynch Markham comprised a marvelously high-end "supporting" cast, and George Smallwood's strong performance as the odd-man-in all made for a great deal of spacious, eye-catching dance.
Several passages linger in the memory: the long frozen, stylized pose sustained by Ms. Halczak and Mr. Trusnovec early in the piece, and the lovely floated quality of Laura's series of slow turns; Ms. Khobdeh's agitated solo amidst the four women, her great sense of urgency as she rushes across the stage on some unknown quest, and Mr. Mahoney's wonderful "catch" of her as she rushed to him; Ms. Bugge, who captivated me all evening, has a most congenial role; she brought Springtime freshness to her solo passages, and to her lyrically animated duet with Mr. Novak.
A sustained deep note in the Norman Dello Joio score signals the "White" pas de deux; it almost goes without saying that the Halzack/Trusnovec duo were truly inspired and inspiring here.
Paul Taylor's Three Dubious Memories is a gem of a ballet. When I first saw it a couple of years ago, it was mainly the witty elements that persuaded me of its stage-worthiness. Tonight somehow it seemed much deeper and more of a story-telling ritual than a mere series of relationship-vignettes.
In Three Dubious Memories, an incident from the evolving story of a romantic triangle is remembered differently by each of the three people involved. The competition between two men (Robert Kleinendorst and Sean Mahoney) for the affections of Eran Bugge brings the men to blows. But then, in a volte-face, the men are seen as a cozy pair and Ms. Bugge as the interloper. We'll never know the real story, but Mr. Taylor has left us to ponder the way in which we each remember things.
In addition to brilliant dancing and acting from the principal trio, Three Dubious Memories provides an intriguing role for James Samson: a silent narrator, a sort of master-of-ceremonies. James summons up each telling of the tale by the three protagonists; he also leads an ensemble of 'choristers' in stylized rituals. James did a beautiful job in this role which calls for both expressiveness and athleticism. In one memorable moment, Heather McGinley perches on James's shoulders like a looming icon. The ballet was beautifully lit by Jennifer Tipton.
In the evening's concluding work, Spindrift, dates from 1993 and is set to Arnold Schoenberg's String Quartet Concerto (after Handel), played live by the Orchestra of St Luke's. To the sound of wind and waves, Michael Trusnovec emerges from the midst of a communal group moving in stylized slowness. Michael's character displays the shifting nature of a romantic spirit with an affinity for the natural world; he's an outsider, cast upon a mystic shore among a rather suspicious tribe.
Certain movement motifs recall Nijinsky's Faun, and in fact the costuming also makes us think of the Debussy ballet. The Handel/Schoenberg music seems at once old and new as Mr. Trusnovec pursues Mr. Halzack and is occasionally distracted by the quirky presence of Ms. Bugge.
In the ballet's second movement, an adagio solo for Mr. Trusnovec is the heart of Spindrift; in subtle twists of his torso, the power and beauty of this magnificent dancer's physique given full rein, as is his indelible artistry: so compelling to behold. The movement becomes livelier and more off-kilter for a spell, then slows and - as Mr. Trusnovec melts into a reverential kneeling back-bend, the ballet seems about to end. But there's another movement, laced with solos and duets for all the participants.
As is all the great Taylor works, there are moments of seeming simplicity that make an unexpected impact; one such in Spindrift was a passage where four woman crossed on a diagonal, walking slowly. Other impressive passages were a duet for Ms. Bugge and Mr. Trusnovec and another one in which Michael was paired with Robert Kleinendost; Robert was on peak form all evening.
In fact, the entire Taylor company's looking pretty extraordinary these days. I was hoping to see more of Michelle Fleet (she only danced in the opening work, with Ms. Bugge replacing her in Spindrift); Francisco Graciano and Michael Apuzzo also appeared all-too-briefly, yet - as always - they each made their mark. Madelyn Ho, the newest dancer on the roster, appeared in the ensemble in Spindrift.
I had great seats (thank you, Lisa Labrado!) and was delighted to spend the evening with my ballet-loving friend Susan, who I rarely see these days. And it's always so nice to run into Janet Eilber, Blakeley White-McGuire, Take Ueyama and his wife Ana, and Richard Chen-See.
Onward now to more Taylor...and then, in April, Graham!
March 24, 2016 | Permalink
Above: violinist Leonidas Kavakos
Saturday March 19th, 2016 - Feeling under the weather today, I was nevertheless determined to hear Leonidas Kavakos play the Sibelius violin concerto with The New York Philharmonic. I'd looked forward to this red-letter evening since the season was announced, and even though I feel strongly that people who are sick are better off staying home, I was determined to go.
In an unusual programming move, the concerto was the opening work tonight.
Mr. Kavakos, very tall and with the air of a mythic sorcerer, launched his inspired rendering of the concerto with a magical glow: the spine-tingling opening passage - coolly sensual - immediately drew us in. Maestro Alan Gilbert and Mr. Kavakos have formed a rich rapport over time, and the conductor and his players were at their shining best as the violinist shaped the opening movement with alternating currents of broad-toned lyricism and spiky bravura. Few violinists today can match Kavakos for power - both sonic and emotional - and his playing as the concerto unfolded continually sent chills up and down my spine.
In the central Adagio, with its heart-fillingly gorgeous main theme, violinist and orchestra were in a particular state of grace. One of the most winning aspects of Mr. Kavakos' playing is his marvelously sustained phrasing; Maestro Gilbert and the orchestra provided the soloist with perfect support as passage after passage fell gratifyingly in the ear, everything lovingly dove-tailed and with an acute awareness of dynamic nuance. This performance of the Adagio was a high point in a season that has been rich in musical magic.
Mr. Kavakos then dug into the opening dance of the concluding Allegro with gusto, and the orchestra sounded simply magnificent in the big tutti passages. Give and take between soloist and ensemble produced some dazzling effects, and the lovely 'wandering' passage for violin when the music briefly slows down was particularly appealing. Following an energetic rush to the finish, Mr. Kavakos enjoyed a prolonged ovation, filled with shouts of joy from his listeners. The Philharmonic players seem clearly to revel in performing with this violin-magician, and his warm greeting of concert-master Frank Huang and a lovely embrace for Sheryl Staples indicated a deeper personal connection with his colleagues than we sometimes see between soloist and orchestra.
After several bows, Mr. Kavakos granted us a rather long solo encore which showed a more intimate side of his artistry. And now, here's some excellent news: Mr. Kavakos will be with us more frequently next season as he has been designated the Philharmonic's 2016-2017 Mary and James G Wallach Artist-in-Residence. In addition to programs featuring him as soloist, he will make his NY Phil conducting debut. Find out more about this residency here.
Much as I wanted to hear the Shostakovich's The Age of Gold Suite, I knew it was time to go home, take Advil, and rest. I now have some rare downtime: an opportunity to re-charge before this busy season continues. I have lots of wonderful music to listen to, including Mr. Kavakos's Sony double-disc of Mendelssohn's concerto and the piano trios, which I highly recommend; find it here.
March 20, 2016 | Permalink