I was really excited about the pre-show for this program of the Fall for Dance Festival at New York City Center because it was going to be led by former Alvin Ailey company member Renee Robinson. I could finally check off ‘dancing with an Alvin Ailey dancer’ off my bucket list. Unfortunately, the subway did not care that I was excited about this evening and plotted against me. When I got to the Grand Tier lobby, the dance lesson was already underway. I quickly took off my sweater and jumped into line behind rtb and her sister and started following the group and Robinson. Robinson was another delightful teacher, always smiling and very encouraging. While we moved she frequently touched her sternum, which I didn’t understand but later rtb said, “Lead with your sternum,” which must have been said when I wasn’t there. rtb wasn’t sure what that meant and neither did I. After the lesson, Robinson gathered us all around her and spoke a bit about dancing but because the rest of audience was coming in and were noisy, I could not hear what she was saying. I got something about ‘having the feeling come from the ground up.’ I really wish I had heard her – I should have pushed my short self to the front. This was another dance that was relatively easy for a non-dancer. We shifted from side to side while reaching out to each side, reached up, and bent forward with arms extended and back leg extended. Except for the lifting of one leg straight out and up, it had a lot of what I’d expect from an Ailey dance. I just wish I could look as graceful as Robinson did. She separated us into two groups and had lines walking and switching sides and one group starting the routine and then the second group starting later and it was a lot of fun.
Opening the evening was Jessica Lang Dance (Jessica Lang, artistic director, director, and choreographer) performing the New York premiere of Tesseracts of Time, which “explores architect Steven Holl’s basic belief about the relationship of architecture to the ground.” The four movements were I. Under; II. In; III. On; and IV. Over. For “Under” the dancers were all in black and the dancers rolled on the floor and over and under each other. There was a screen mid-stage that was about halfway down that had a grayscale wooden sculpture on it. For “In” the screen came all the way down and one of the dancers remained on stage. The images of the 3-D Escher-like grayscale sculptures changed and suddenly a dancer appeared on the screen, seeming to lie on the ledge of the sculpture. As the sculptures changed different dancers appeared on the screen – all in color so they stood out from the grayscale and all ‘life size’ in comparison with the oversized sculptures. Real life dancers performed on stage also. This time the dancers were dressed either in black or in white. For “On” the screen lifted and there were three big sculptures – kind of like deconstructed gray/white tents. All the dancers were in white and they danced in, around, and underneath the sculptures. Finally for “Over” the sculptures were lifted off the ground and hung over the dancers, who did a lot of jumps and lifts. There were Hare Krishna orange cloths hanging from the chest or waist of their white outfits. It was really all beautifully done, especially the dancers in the film who appeared to be real instead of filmed. This piece premiered in Chicago in 2015 from a concept by Holt in collaboration with Lang. Architectural director was Dimitra Tsachrelia, music by David Lang (“The Anvil Chorus”), Morton Feldman (“Patterns in a Chromatic Field for Cello and Piano”), John Cage (“Perilous Night: No. 6”), Iannis Xenakis (“Metastaseis”), and Arvo Pärt (“Solfeggio”), lighting by Nicole Pearce, and costumes by Brad McDonald. The film was by Kanji Segawa (artistic associate), Milan Miska (technical associate for filming of dancers), and Ruoyu Wei (filming of architectural spaces and technical editor of film). Explorations of IN’SHA Project Team were Wei and Yuliva Savelyeva. Stage set construction was by Paper Mâché Monkey. The piece was stage managed by Dathan Manning and production manager was Matt Miller. The dancers were Patrick Coker, Julie Fiorenza, John Harnage, Eve Jacobs, Kana Kimura, Laura Mead, Milan Misko, Christopher Vo, and Jammie Walker.
The Royal Ballet Flanders was the first ballet company of the night. I can’t be sure because I don’t know the dancers well enough but I think this was also the first time that night that guest artists would perform more than the company. The New York premiere of Fall is an “ode to autumn in which the dancers let the piece carry them like vividly-colored leaves blown by the wind; in a playful duet, then solo, now all at once.” This premiered in Ghent in 2015. It opened with a woman on her toes, her back to the audience, and she turns very slowly. A man joins her for a pas de deux. He was taking her leg, which was up and bent forward and lifting it even further up while bent. The ensemble blows in and fly all over the stage. Three sets of three dancers (two men and one woman) performed the same steps but just slightly off so they were not in sync. Another man and woman performed a second pas de deux and in this one he spun her around and around while she was on one toes. All the dancers were in beige or tan street clothes. Choreography was by artistic director Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, music by Arvo Pärt (fragments from “Fratres, Spiegel im Spiegel” and “Orient & Occident”), scenery and lighting by Fabiana Piccioli, and costumes by Kimie Nakano. The dancers were (* means guest artist) Alexander Burton, Matt Foley, Virginia Hendricksen, Drew Jacoby, Kozuki Kazutomi*, Jason Kittelberger*, Yevgeniy Kolesnyk*, Philipe Lens, Fiona McGee, Nancy Osbaldeston, Raymond Pinto, Aki Saito, Acacia Schachte, and Wim Vanlessen.
There was a special insert in the Playbill with a full explanation of the fourth dance. This would be a full-length ballet. So this night was different than the other nights because the intermission would not come until after the third dance.
And this third dance was one I was very much looking forward to since it was the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Cry performed by Demetia Hopkins-Greene. The premiere was in 1971 at City Center. Hopkins-Greene had a big job to do because this dance was “for all Black women everywhere – especially our mothers.” Hopkins-Greene is in all white – a long-sleeved white body suit and a long white skirt. For the first song, Alice Coltrane’s “Something About John Coltrane,” she holds a long white scarf. The scarf is spread before her. The scarf becomes a rag to scrub the floor or material to wrap around her hair. Then for Laura Nyro’s “Been on a Train” you feel her pain as she watches another suffer and she screams out and her journey is stalled. At the end is “Right On, Be Free” by Chuck Griffin performed by The Voices of East Harlem (recorded) and the feeling that freedom is finally going to come while Hopkins-Greene grabs the sides of her skirt and waves them back and forth. Choreographed by Alvin Ailey and restaged by Masazumi Chaya (associate artistic director) with choreography coaching by Judith Jamison and Donna Wood Sanders, this dance has everything you want and expect from an Ailey performance. The strong body, legs, and arms stretched out as far as possible, and the mindfulness. Robert Battle is the company’s artistic director and the costume was by A. Christina Giannini, lighting by Chenault Spence, and stage managed by Jennifer McGrath.
Marguerite and Armand is Sir Frederick Ashton’s interpretation of La Dame aux camélias, which is a story that almost everyone is familiar. Ashton created the ballet for Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn, where it premiered in London in 1963. The novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, has been adapted for the opera (Guiseppe Verdi’s La Traviata) and numerous plays and movies – most called Camille. Moulin Rouge! and Love Story were loosely based on the story. And there have been several ballets. The basic story is that Marguerite is a courtesan, who lies dying of consumption. She is remembering her life. At a party, Marguerite is surrounded by admirers but when she meets the young nobleman, Armand, she has eyes for no one else. Armand and Marguerite escape to the countryside but Armand’s father convinces Marguerite that she will ruin his son’s life and Marguerite tearfully breaks up with Armand. At a party in Paris, Armand sees Marguerite and tears off the necklace that her wealthy benefactor has given her. All alone, she waits for death but Armand comes to her (after his father has told him why she ended the affair) and they are reunited just before she dies in his arms. What I found amusing about The Sarasota Ballet’s production is that the four major roles were played by guest artists – Alina Cojocaru (Marguerite), Friedemann Vogel (Armand), Johan Kobborg (Father) (Cojocaru’s real-life partner), and Calin Radulescu (Duke). Only Cojocaru and Vogel are dressed for dance – she in tights and toe shoes and he in tights and slippers. Everyone else is in 19th century costumes, which included regular shoes, that were designed by Cecil Beaton and principal costumes were courtesy of the Royal Ballet. Cojocaru’s dresses – a red frilly dress for the first party, a white dress for the countryside, and a black dress for the second party – were made by Lal D’Abo and Trisha Hopkins. All the other dancers except for a maid (Sarah Monkman) are men. So only Cojocaru and Vogel dance in this ballet. Everyone else stands or walks around.
Before the start there was a spotlight going down to the orchestra. I couldn’t see what it was illuminating (we were sitting in the lower mezzanine – decent seats but you can’t see the orchestra level at all) but suddenly the audience broke out in applause. I wondered why until the music started and I realized it was a live piano. Guest musician Matei Varga did a such a beautiful job with Franz Liszt’s “Piano Sonata in B minor.” I really do love dance better when it’s performed with live music. There were two billowy white curtains and two footmen pulled them apart. The stage is white (as it had been for the Ailey dance.) On stage was Marguerite lying on her death bed (a chaise or fainting couch) looking up at the white curtains where images of herself were projected onto a large white curtain hanging from the ceiling. (There is a credit for Samantha Benoit as Marguerite (double). I think it may have been Benoit’s image on the curtains. Otherwise I don’t know what part she played. In La Traviata, one of the partygoers pretends to be Marguerite (called Violetta in the opera) to tease Armand (Alfredo in the opera) after the break-up. But in the ballet, there are only gentlemen at the party.) The curtains are brought together by the footmen and then separated. The set is simple. The chandeliers and candelabras made of sticks – kind of a varnished driftwood quality. There are vertical sticks grouped in twos around the edge supporting two large horizontal sticks on top and curved around the edge of the stage. In between the vertical sticks are one horizontal stick and one or two vertical sticks. There’s a similar design in the center of the two long horizontal sticks. It’s now a party scene with Marguerite in a red dress and on the arm of the Duke and letting all her admirers kiss her hand. Let me note here that the gentlemen and the footmen were wearing the worst wigs ever. Only the four principals were spared from wearing the horrible wigs. Marguerite and Armand dance a romantic pas de deux and you watch the two discover each other while Marguerite powers through and tries to keep from collapsing. In the next scene in the country they dance again, Armand leaves, and his father enters. Marguerite pleads and you can feel her anguish. When Armand returns they dance a more passionate pas de deux and she leaves without explanation. Back in Paris is another party and Marguerite is in black and mourning. She goes to Armand, who is at first drawn to her but then rips off the expensive necklace and throws money at her. Marguerite collapses – from the grief or the TB or both? In the last scene, the father comes to see her and calls for Armand, who reunites with Marguerite and they dance again – with love and passion but he needs to hold her up for most of the dance. She collapses and dies in his arms. He allows her to fall to the floor but he doesn’t believe that she’s gone. He takes her hand and kisses it and when he lets go, it falls to the floor (here some of the audience laughed, which I thought was a little weird). Cojocaru and Vogel did a brilliant job and deserve the long applause they got.
Iain Webb is director of The Sarasota Ballet, Joseph Volpe is the executive director, and Margaret Barbieri is the assistant director. Staging for the ballet was by Grant Coyle, relighting by Aaron Muhl, production coordinator was Doug Nicholson (Birmingham Royal Ballet), stage manager was Mark Noble, and costume supervisor was Jerry Wolf. The gentlemen were Daniel Rodriguez, Jacob Hughes, Jamie Carter, Ben Kay, Daniel Pratt, Wilson Livingston, Sam O’Brien, and Ricki Bertoni. The footmen were Gabriele Pacca, Patrick Ward, Luis Mondragon, Michael Burfield, Kyle Hiyoshi, and Xavier Nunez.
By Carene Lydia Lopez