Evolution of a Dancer – Summer Favorites

The recital theme of the studio where I teach, Holly Springs School of Dance, from this past June was Evolution of Dancer. This is a fitting theme for my summer of photos, as well. They include everything from a little dancer’s first time on the stage to professional ballet dancers honing their skills in class.

Here are a few from the Holly Springs School of Dance recital at AJ Fletcher Opera Theater in Raleigh.

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Dancing with friends
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Clara exits stage right
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Morgan waits backstage for her cue to enter
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Spencer is killin’ it

I also had the pleasure of shooting from backstage at my friend April’s studio recital.

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The final curtsy
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Gracious performers
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Little eyes are watching

And finally, I visited Carolina Ballet’s summer intensive several times and got to see all levels of committed dancers.

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Epaulement
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No caption needed
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Carolina Ballet company dancer, Amanda Babayan, demonstrates where art and grace meet athleticism in ballet. 
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Grande port de bras
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Center work
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An effortless line by Carolina Ballet soloist, Alyssa Pllger

Portraits of a ballet teacher…

Principal Carolina Ballet dancer, Pablo Perez, is both instructive and demanding and patient and encouraging as a teacher.

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Principal Carolina Ballet dancer, Margaret Severin-Hansen, is animated, energetic and engaging.

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How’s that for evolution?

Support art and be smart!

Here’s an idea akin to the book club but much more fun!

1 – Get together with friends (bring wine) and read Shakespeare‘s play Macbeth aloud. If you’ve never read aloud with others, I highly recommend you give it a try! Here’s a link to the play: http://shakespeare.mit.edu/macbeth/full.html

2 – Take your friends to the reception and advance screening of the new movie Macbeth on November 15 at the Rialto Theater. (There will be wine.) It’s an old-fashioned Hollywood feeling theater that on this day will be filled with art, film, literature and ballet enthusiasts. Here’s a link to the details: http://myemail.constantcontact.com/ADVANCE-SCREENING-OPPORTUNITY.html?soid=1106449307140&aid=dPs8bKOltNQ

3 – Take your friends to see the world premiere of the highly anticipated new ballet Macbeth by Carolina Ballet director Dr. Robert Weiss in April 2016. (Meet early for wine.) Here’s a link to Carolina Ballet’s Macbeth: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/macbeth

4 – Get together with your friends (bring wine) to discuss the original play, the film, and the ballet adaptions.

If you love literature or film but have little or no experience with ballet, this is a great way to step into a new world of beautiful art, athleticism and storytelling!

Do it!

Heidi Latsky Dance at the American Dance Festival

Heidi Latsky Dance opened their “Triptych” Sunday with “Somewhere,” dressed in all white, under hanging lights that lit the stage like stars, some dangling lower and some shining brighter, standing on a surface of wide black and white stripes. They started moving without music, holding stillness then springing into motion simultaneously. Atonal music created by Xi.me.na Borges began and the activity on stage accelerated.

The second panel of the “Triptych” was the beautiful film “Soliloquoy.” An out of focus hand fills the screen, then necks, shoulders, torsos, bodies move alone or entertwined with others in a setting that seems to be nowhere. We only see parts of bodies until the powerful end when each unique individual stands center screen.

In the third panel the dancers returned, this time dressed in all black on the black and white striped floor in “Solo Countersolo.” The original music by Chris Brierly was more melodic than the mostly atonal music for “Somewhere.”

In the two live pieces, choreographer Heidi Latsky created exquisite scenes from the contrasting colors and interesting lighting to the balance of dancers on the stage. What I loved most about the dancers was their beautiful port de bras. Their fast flinging control while using their fully range of motion was hypnotic.

“Solilioquoy,” with film and sound editing by Marilys Ernst and photography by Zac Halberd, is a beautiful and moving work of film. From the first blurred hand to the final full body, the film grows through a climax and resolution. Extreme closeups allow a hand or a neck to completely fill the area of the stage, making the bodies that move them seem larger than life. You want to know more about these people who seem isolated or suspended in time.  Unique and anonymous, the individuals are easily relatable, so that by the end of the film there’s a warm and intimate acceptance of humanness.

I loved the pictures created by movement in all three sections, and through most of the program I felt only enthusiasm, awe or affection for the art in front of me. But somewhere in the middle of “Solo Countersolo,” which was last on opening night (they may change the order), I felt a panic that the dance would never end. The music, which was monotonous but not unpleasant, would quiet to an end but then start again. It occurred to me that, unlike the film, this piece had no path, climax, or destination. The effect was that the dance seemed eternal, so I couldn’t help but identify the exit locations and plan a discreet escape. It wasn’t even a long program at just over an hour, and the dance, while monotonous like the music, was not boring. Despite the panic, it is cool to watch something that eternal. I could see the dancers as tiny humans enclosed in a glass case at a gallery, always in motion. You stop to watch them as you pass, and you walk away you can see that they are still dancing.
Watch this excerpt of Heidi Latsky Dance performing “Solo Countersolo.” Check out the fast, sharp and long port de bras!

The liquid art of Shen Wei

The week before the American Dance Festival opened I had a dream that Shen Wei Dance Arts performed inside a fish tank. I thought it was a strange and funny dream until from the audience at the season opening performance I was reminded of their fluid movement. The dancers move as easily and dreamily as fish through water. What I would say about this two hour drink of art is what I would say about Shen Wei’s body of work.

The subtle work of artistic director and choreographer Shen Wei is less like a show than a study in aesthetics.* And his eye for beauty misses no detail. The dancers are perfect strong and supple mediums, often, and in this case, in shades of black, white and gray, that blend with the lights and backdrop as if a two dimensional painting is coming to life. Shen Wei has been known to turn turn an art gallery into a theater, but he also turns a theater into an art gallery. Untitled No. 12-2 is an ADF commissioned work featuring the paintings from Shen Wei’s Black, White, and Gray series. The words from ADF’s program note about the paintings also describe what Shen brings to life on stage: “… abstract, shapes and forms suggestive of a sublime landscape seem to appear from the thick layering of oil and acrylic on canvas.”
Shen Wei Dane Arts Untitled no 12 -2 at the American Dance Festival, photo by Grant Halverson
Shen Wei Dane Arts Untitled no 12 -2 at the American Dance Festival, photo by Grant Halverson

The visual depth of a moving painting is always present in Shen Wei’s work. His ADF commissioned world premiere in 2000, Near the Terrace was inspired by paintings of Paul Delvaux and in his 2011 creation Undivided Divided dancers painted with their bodies. But that smooth visual aesthetic of lines that appear like a brush stroke is also present in work not directly associated with painting, like in the 2013 ADF commissioned work, Collective Measures.

Shen Wei Dance Arts in Near the Terrace at the American Dance Festival in 2013, photo by Denise Cerniglia
Shen Wei Dance Arts in Near the Terrace at the American Dance Festival in 2013, photo by Denise Cerniglia
Shen Wei Dance Arts in Collective Measures at the American Dance Festival in 2013, photo by Denise Cerniglia
Shen Wei Dance Arts in Collective Measures at the American Dance Festival in 2013, photo by Denise Cerniglia

The second half of the program was another thoughtful invitation to a study in aesthetics, Map (2005). This “exploration of movement concepts” developed by Shen Wei appears to be born as it’s performed. Dancers roll, jump, flow and swoop. The movement appears to have been conceived within the mover, yet they dance in perfectly timed unison. This creates a sense of warmth and connectedness between the dancers that is compelling as an audience member.

 

I would be happy to remain in the dreamy beautiful world created by Shen Wei.

*as opposed to a work created to entertain audiences, we are invited to witness exploration and expression.

Carolina Ballet’s Cinderella Program: from A to Zali

What a great show! The first thing I want to say in case you don’t usually stay until the end of a thing, is stay to the end! Cinderella is just the first half. The traditional fairy tale is followed after intermission by two world premiers. This program contains a sampling of all the best things about Carolina Ballet: A straightforward, classical story ballet choreographed by director Dr. Robert Weiss; a passionate and lyrical pas de deux also choreographed by Dr. Weiss; and a fast-paced and edgy contemporary piece choreographed by Zalman Raffael.

Carolina Ballet’s Cinderella is filled with beauty and humor. The stepsisters, Alicia Fabry and Randi Osetek, were hilariously spoiled brats! The slapstick choreography as the two fight for the Prince’s attention in the Palace scene is genius and makes me want to see more of Dr. Weiss’s (and the dancers’) funny side on stage.

Alicia Fabry, Randi Osetek and Margaret Severin-Hansen as the stepsisters and Cinderella, choreography by Robert Weiss
Alicia Fabry, Randi Osetek and Margaret Severin-Hansen as the stepsisters and Cinderella, choreography by Robert Weiss
Alicia Fabry, Randi Osetek and Margaret Severin-Hansen as the stepsisters and Cinderella, choreography by Robert Weiss
Alicia Fabry, Randi Osetek and Margaret Severin-Hansen as the stepsisters and Cinderella, choreography by Robert Weiss
Randi Osetek as a stepsister in
Randi Osetek as a stepsister vying for the prince’s attention in “Cinderella” choreographed by Robert Weiss
Alicia Fabry, Randi Osetek and Sokvanarra Sar as Cinderella's stepsisters and the Prince's brother the Grand Duke, choreography by Robert Weiss
Alicia Fabry, Randi Osetek and Sokvanarra Sar as Cinderella’s stepsisters and the Prince’s brother the Grand Duke, choreography by Robert Weiss

Cinderella’s transformation from heartbroken and abused orphan to beautiful princess takes place in about 45 minutes. In this short time, Margaret Severin-Hansen dancing the title role perfectly expressed the full range of feelings from the sadness and hope of the cinder girl to elation and love with her prince; as humble as nobility as when she was covered in soot.

Maragaret Severin Hansen as Cinderella, choreography by Robert Weiss
Maragaret Severin Hansen as Cinderella, choreography by Robert Weiss
Margaret Severin-Hansen and Richard Krusch as Cinderella and Prince Charming, choreography by Robert Weiss
Margaret Severin-Hansen and Richard Krusch as Cinderella and Prince Charming, choreography by Robert Weiss

Richard Krusch was a regal prince and seemed to leave the ground with no effort.

Richard Krusch as Prince Charming in
Richard Krusch as Prince Charming in “Cinderella” choreographed by Robert Weiss

One of my favorite parts was in the Godmother’s Realm when the eight Fairies introduce themselves with a waltz. They danced easily, weaving patterns between each other with beautiful port de bras (arm movement).

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Fairies in the Godmother’s Realm in “Cinderella” choreographed by Robert Weiss
Fairies in the Godmother's Realm in
Fairies in the Godmother’s Realm in “Cinderella” choreographed by Robert Weiss

The ticking clock music signals the entrance the Fairy Godmother, danced by Lindsay Turkel, and twelve young dancers whose sweet faces and fancy footwork made me smile every time.

Karl Moraski’s original score and live performance of Cinderella is such a treat! During the ballroom scene as it nears midnight, the ticking clock begins to ominously interject itself into the ballroom waltz. This perfectly conveys that although the party is still going strong, Cinderella has a problem that no one else there knows anything about. These are the little things make it possible to effectively tell a story in a short time with no words.

There is one intermission, followed immediately by Dr. Weiss’s new pas de deux, Spartacus & Phrygia. Set to the beautiful music from the ballet Spartacus composed by Aram Kachaturain, this ballet is romantic and as beautiful as the music. It feels like a conversation between two people who love and trust each other, at times tender and at times explosive. Marcelo Martinez performed leaping turns that brought audible gasps and Lilyan Vigo was equal to him in power. Their performance gave me goosebumps with it’s multiple crescendos ending in sensual and daring lifts.

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Lilyan Vigo in “Spartacus and Phrygia” choreographed by Robert Weiss
Lilyan Vigo and Marcelo Martinez in
Lilyan Vigo and Marcelo Martinez in “Spartacus and Phrygia” choreographed by Robert Weiss
Lilyan Vigo and Marcelo Martinez in
Lilyan Vigo and Marcelo Martinez in “Spartacus and Phrygia” choreographed by Robert Weiss
Lilyan Vigo and Marcelo Martinez in
Lilyan Vigo and Marcelo Martinez in “Spartacus and Phrygia” choreographed by Robert Weiss
Lilyan Vigo and Marcelo Martinez in
Lilyan Vigo and Marcelo Martinez in “Spartacus and Phrygia” choreographed by Robert Weiss

After a short pause there’s a new piece by resident choreographer Zalman Raffael, In the Gray, set to Violin Concerto No. 1 by Philip Glass. In the Gray is an exciting and original work reminiscent of Christopher Stowell’s Rite of Spring in intensity.

The choreography is fast, challenging and exhilarating to watch. It seemed that soloist Jan Burkhard was the antagonist to soloists Cecilia Iliesiu and Adam Crawford Chavis. Burkhard’s movements were unusual and staccato. I would think there’s an extra challenge to performing strange steps and positions at such a fast tempo, yet Burkhard moved through them as naturally as if they were everyday ballet steps. Her movements are contrasted with the long connected movements of Iliesiu’s role.

Iliesiu’s performance was nothing short of kick-ass. And the more I see Chavis dance, the more I love to watch him dance.

It is impressive how fast the corps of 4 women and 5 men could move while keeping together. They moved toward and then past each other with small fast turns. They danced in straight lines so that some dancers were not quite obscured, creating layers of color moving in unison. Ashley Hathaway stood out in the corps and, like Chavis, is continually surpassing herself. I always look forward to seeing her dance.

The performance is made great, not only by the interesting and fast movement and the dancers’ skill, but also the simple costumes of leotards and tights in a different solid pale earthy/pastel color for each dancer, designed by Kerri Martinsen. There is also the lighting by Ross Kolman that intensifies a focal point on the stage. There’s a corridor in front of a partially opened upstage curtain brightly lit from above, and no light to allow visibility outside of that corridor. There are lights streaming in from the wings, making the side curtains become part of the set. A simple stage with nothing but curtains is made to look foreign and unfamiliar with just the use of lighting techniques.

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Jan Burkhard, Manual Barriga, Reigner Bethune, Ike Hawkersmith, Maximilian Isaacson, and Miles Sollars-White in “In the Gray” choreographed by Zalman Raffael

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Cecilia Iliesiu in
Cecilia Iliesiu in “In the Gray” choreographed by Zalman Raffael
Manual Barriga, Reigner Bethune, Ike Hawkersmith, Maximilian Isaacson, and Miles Sollars-White in
Manual Barriga, Reigner Bethune, Ike Hawkersmith, Maximilian Isaacson, and Miles Sollars-White in “In the Gray” choreographed by Zalman Raffael
Cecilia Iliesiu in
Cecilia Iliesiu in “In the Gray” choreographed by Zalman Raffael
Cecilia Iliesiu, Manual Barriga, Reigner Bethune, Ike Hawkersmith, Maximilian Isaacson, and Miles Sollars-White in
Cecilia Iliesiu, Manual Barriga, Reigner Bethune, Ike Hawkersmith, Maximilian Isaacson, and Miles Sollars-White in “In the Gray” choreographed by Zalman Raffael
Cecilia Iliesiu, Manual Barriga, Reigner Bethune, Ike Hawkersmith, Maximilian Isaacson, and Miles Sollars-White in
Cecilia Iliesiu, Manual Barriga, Reigner Bethune, Ike Hawkersmith, Maximilian Isaacson, and Miles Sollars-White in “In the Gray” choreographed by Zalman Raffael
Cecilia Iliesiu and Adam Crawford Chavis in
Cecilia Iliesiu and Adam Crawford Chavis in “In the Gray” choreographed by Zalman Raffael
Jan Burkhard in
Jan Burkhard in “In the Gray” choreographed by Zalman Raffael
Adam Crawford Chavis in
Adam Crawford Chavis in “In the Gray” choreographed by Zalman Raffael
Cecilia Iliesiu in
Cecilia Iliesiu in “In the Gray” choreographed by Zalman Raffael
“In the Gray” choreographed by Zalman Raffael

You can only see these three ballets through May 17th at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. Visit https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/cinderella for tickets and performance information.

Comment with your thoughts on these ballets!

ECU’s Teal Darkenwald

Teal Darkenwald, assistant professor at ECU ‘s School of Theatre and Dance, always creates imaginative pieces that are among my favorites at the department’s dance showcases.  I missed this year’s spring performance, but I got to enjoy Darkenwald’s piece, Quantum, while editing the video for the Greenville Guardian. With original music by Erich Keil, a lighting and sound technician in the Theatre and Dance department, and costumes by student designer Allyson Mojica, it’s a beautiful collaboration. I admire this all-around collaborative approach to creating new work.

Darkenwald was insistent that any good production should be a synthesis. “If all the components of costume, lighting, choreography, music etc. don’t come together,” she said, “then you’re not doing your job.”

Darkenwald extended this mentality to her audition and rehearsal process as well. “I didn’t have the dancers audition with a phrase from this piece because I wanted to give them the opportunity to shock me out of my own creative biases for what the dance should look like.” Similarly,Darkenwald describes how “when you’ve been choreographing for a while, it becomes more process oriented.”

She described how accidents and mistakes often help develop the dance from a concept to the final performance. “When you’re younger, you want to plan everything, but I do better work when I let the dancers inspire me.” (Spencer Bennington, Greeville Guardian)

Read Spencer Bennington‘s feature, Darkenwald’s Quantum: Dancing the Unseen, in the Greenville Guardian to learn more about Darkenwald’s Quantum as well as her approach to creating art.

Here’s the three minute sampling of highlights from the approximately nine minute dance. Enjoy!

There’s more to say about Carolina Ballet’s Master Composers

In a review, I try to not make a list of dances with ratings, which means I don’t mention every dance or every dancer, even if the choreography or performance were exceptional. In a dense program like Master Composers with two and half hours of new and exciting choreography, with a full-company cast bringing it brightly to life, something or someone amazing and noteworthy is bound to go unmentioned.

I went back to see the final performance of Master Composers on Sunday and felt so swept away by Dr. Robert Weiss’s choreography of the Epilogue to Waltz from Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, a truly grande finale, that I wanted to come back and give it the attention it deserves.

Dancers in elegant costumes fill the stage gradually, matching the suspense that builds in Tchaikovsky’s music, until they overwhelm the space with sweeping movement. It’s everything I love about a waltz. More than any other musical form, a waltz is the perfect conduit for emotion. A minor key waltz like this one (Valse Triste by Franz von Vecsey) can make sadness beautiful, and contrariwise, an upbeat waltz like this finale is exulting. Dr. Weiss took the joy inherent in the music and made it visible, creating a sense of warmth and connectedness, on which the dancers skillfully followed through. And how perfect that the program should open with Polonaise in F Sharp Minor, not quite somber, but quite orderly–an early evening sort of get together–and finish with a grand exuberant waltz. Listen to Tchaikovsky’s waltz here. Around two minutes suspense begins to build to the brassy climax when all the dancers have entered the stage and begun to move together. I found it difficult to stay seated through this grand entrance.

Another Act III dance that I failed to mention before was Lollapalooza, composed by John Adams and choreographed by Dr. Weiss. It was charming, but choppy; fun, but lacking depth. However, Elice McKinley‘s performance in this piece caught my eye. She seems to have moved to a new level. Having shed the self-consciousness that’s understandably seen in very young dancers, her performance has become larger than her person.

Speaking of transcending performances, Cecilia Iliesiu (again) did not so much “perform” her role in Hungarian Dances as she became it. She was powerful, steamy and real.

Zalman Raffael‘s Cello Suite in C Major by Johann Sebastian Bach from Act 1 and his Tango by Igor Stravinsky from Act III would be on the “Best of Master Composers” list. His linear and edgy style makes Bach modern. Randi Osetek (Tango) is the perfect medium for a choreographer to play with lines.

And I still haven’t said all there is to say about this program. But I’ve said all I’m going to say for now. I want to hear which dances are everyone’s favorites.

In the meantime, let’s listen to Danse Real by Anonymous Medieval Composer again.