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Best and Worst of 2019

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I thought Ratmansky's The Seasons was the best new ballet of the year. 

I thought Bartok Ballet by Tanowitz at NYCB was the worst of the year.

It was a year of exciting  young dancers taking on new roles, most especially Joseph Gordon and Aran Bell.

The single performance that lingers most in my memory is Herman Cornejo in the final act of Sleeping Beauty.  His footwork and elevation of the allegro solo was breathtaking.

Although Paquita isn't a great ballet, it was certainly a great pleasure to see the depth of talent of the Mariinsky in Washington, DC.

Special mention also to Kimin Kim at the YAGP gala in April.  What a spectacular dancer.

As for theater, I thought Moulin Rouge on Broadway was a big, splashy, spectacularly fun night.  I thought the best play was Lehman Trilogy, which I saw at the Armory.  It's coming to Broadway this spring.

 

Edited by abatt

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Bests (there was a lot!):

  • Manon with Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo 
  • The four excellent Auroras I saw... Ashley Bouder and Indiana Woodward at NYCB, Lane and Cassandra Trenary at ABT (and shoutouts to Anthony Huxley's and Cornejo's Desirés)
  • Christine Shevchenko's Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, and also her Medora in Le Corsaire (ABT)
  • Sterling Hyltin in Rubies, Sara Mearns in Diamonds (NYCB)
  • Bouder and Harrison Ball in Stars and Stripes (NYCB)
  • Everything about a Midsummer Night's Dream at NYCB (I saw the cast with Miriam Miller/Joseph Gordon/Harrison Ball)
  • Ratmansky's the Seasons (ABT)
  • Union Jack at NYCB
  • Not ballet, but the Batsheva Dance Company put on a hell of a contemporary show at BAM in the spring
  • The very unique Broadway revival of "Oklahoma!"

Worsts:

  • Twyla Tharp's "Gathering of Ghosts"
  • The return of Jessica Lang's "Garden Blue"
  • Maria Kochetkova's program at the Joyce

 

Edited by JuliaJ

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Best:
 
  • Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo in Manon
  • Sarah Lane as Columbine and Aurora
  • Thomas Forster as Sergei and, in his first long-overdue leading role, as Mr. Rochester
  • Catherine Hurlin and Aran Bell in everything I saw them in
  • Brooklyn Mack as Conrad
  • Keith Roberts as Monsieur G.M. and Carabosse
  • Ratmansky's The Seasons
  • ABT in In the Upper Room
  • NYCB in Serenade
  • Joseph Gordon in Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 2
  • NY Philharmonic's performance of Mozart's Requiem
  • Met Museum's new Native American Exhibit
  • Slave Play
 
Worst:
 
  • Calvin Royal as Pierrot
  • James Whiteside's New American Romance
  • Tharp's A Gathering of Ghosts
  • The mishmosh of costumes in The Seasons
  • MoMa's redesign (the art layout, not the architecture)

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Best:

  • Lane and Cornejo in Manon at ABT
  • Cojocaru and Cornejo at Vail in Ashton's Rhapsody and MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet
  • Lovett and Gordon at Vail in Giselle
  • Lovett and Whiteside at Vail in Duo Concertante
  • Tharp's In the Upper Room at ABT
  • Whiteside in Deuce Coupe at ABT

Worst:

  • Tharp's Gathering of Ghosts
  • Lang's Garden Blue

Most Painful:

  • Royal Ballet's Mayerling at the Chandler

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51 minutes ago, ABT Fan said:
Best:
 
  • Slave Play
 

 

Very interesting.  I've been debating whether to see this play.  Some people I know have hated this play, and yet it has also ended up on a lot of Top 10 critic lists. 

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Forgot to add - Best - the arbitration decision that NYCB wrongfully terminated Ramasar and Catazaro, and required the company to offer them their jobs back.  The union did the right thing in backing Ramasar and Catazaro's claims.  

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13 hours ago, sappho said:

Worst: Peter Gelb.

He is the worst, but what has he done to ballet?

Edit: just saw that this about all arts, not just dance, sorry.

Edited by Leah

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On 12/13/2019 at 11:58 PM, sappho said:

Worst: Peter Gelb.

Love him or hate him or anything in between,

I'm combining my bests in this thread:

Best in Ballet:

  • Ballet Arizona's "Napoli".  I did the double/double weekend: what a privilege to be able to be immersed in this ballet.  In addition to the whole production and company -- two casts worth --:
    • Jillian Barrell's Teresina.  I've loved Barrell's dancing from the first time I saw her in the 00's, and she's one of my favorite dancers among all companies.
    • One dancer who embodied the style and whom I couldn't keep my eyes off of, whether she was doing the Act III ribbon/sash dance in the afternoon shows, or was in the back row, stage left in the Act III Tarantella in the evening performances.  The dancers are listed as "Pas de Six"and "Tarantella," and I cannot figure out who she is from the pictures in the program.  So she's either Ana Maria Spear, Alison Remmers, Kaelyn Magee, or Colleen Buckley.  Whoever she is, :bow:.
  • PNB's character dancers.  There isn't a separate category: company members, former company members, ballet masters, and sometimes Peter Boal do the honors, but giving stellar, detailed performances in 2019 were:
    • Ryan Cardea as Drosselmeier ("Nutcracker") and Catalabutte ("Sleeping Beauty")
    • Jonathan Porretta as Carabosse -- iconic! -- followed by an equally fine, very different, performance by Steven Loch.  Seeing both alternately was more than 2x great.
  • Leta Biasucci finding the internal rhythms of "Theme & Variations" and giving an exquisite performance in the lead.
  • Margaret Mullin's stylistically wonderful and musical "Fairy of Purity" in last winter's "Sleeping Beauty."
  • Jonathan Porretta's Puck in his final season with the company.  (Sniff)
  • Works new to PNB:
    • "In the Countenance of Kings," in which the company shone, with shoutouts to Biasucci and Loch, a dynamic pair together, and Laura Tisserand: as I posted at the time, they danced as if these parts were made for them.
    • Donald Byrd's "Love and Loss," a gorgeous work of maturity, made for PNB this Fall.
  • Nancy Casciano's "Coffee."
  • From PNB's NEXT STEP-OUTSIDE/IN program, where works are made on students and performed throughout the Seattle Center grounds, bringing in the community:
    • Mark Haim's delightful "projections", performed on one of the outside lawns by Noelani Pantastico and Level III students.
    • Steven Loch finding the biggest strengths of Professional Division students Hayley Majernik and Mackenna Pieper and showcasing them in "Duality."
    • Amanda Morgan's original voice in "The Argument" Aside from the angsty parts, she really has a sharp and incisive grasp of social dynamics and how to physicalize them.
      • She also did a piece for SIDF for which I cannot find the program.  Her dancers included Abby Jane D'Angelo and Christopher D'Ariano, and I think Yuki Takahashi and Clara Ruf Maldonado.  Her work for the women was spectacular; her work for D'Ariano was from the angsty end and less interesting for me.  But what a voice, and I hope she gets plenty more opportunities to choreograph.
        • Also SIDF did a reprise of Guillaume Basso's "Looking through Wonderland," originally done on the main stage for last year's NEXT STEP, and it was really nice to see it on a smaller stage in an more intimate space.
  • Lindsi Dec's and Cecilia Iliesiu's Emilias in Jose Limon's "The Moor's Pavane."
  • Illiesiu in "In Taberna" from Kent Stowell's "Carmina Burana."

More Dance:

  • Lauren Grant as Marie in "The Hard Nut."  I ❤️ Lauren Grant, and I never thought I'd ever get to see this live, let alone with her in the lead.  What a happy.
  • ilvs strauss' "I don't wanna lose this feeling" in Ten Tiny Dances.  It was fascinating, exquisitely paced and detailed, musical, and her internal editor was dead on.
  • Crystal Pite's "Revisor" for Kidd Pivot.  She's created an amazing physical vocabulary for dialogue (English translation) from Gogol's "Revizor" ("The Government Inspector") in the first part., and it even kept my interest in the dancy second part.
  • Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater," choreographed by Olivier Wevers for Whim W'him and performed by the Seattle Baroque Orchestra with amazing soloists Yulia van Doren (soprano) and Krisztina Szabo (mezzo).  Disclaimer;  no bathtub was harmed in this production.
  • Showing Out: Contemporary Black Choreographers, a show with a broad range of work in different stages of creation, curated by Dani Tirrell.  So much range and talent.  My favorites were Brian J. Evan's "Crazy" and Keelan Johnson's "Octavia" with them, Nikiya Dunmore, and Randy Ford.  After the performances, the dancers rotated in groups to the audience, which was split in three for those who wanted to remain, to get feedback, and it was clear that it was the type of program where different performers, styles, music, and choreographers hit deep nerves equally with different members of the audience.

Mixed Genres:

  • What a wonder to see Tiler Peck dance in "Marie: Dancing Still" and to see Terrence Mann's Degas.  From descriptions/reviews of "LIttle Dancer" here and elsewhere, they revised the show to give an additional number to Degas, to balance out the work.  Even so, Peck could have stolen the show, and she didn't: she preserved the dramatic integrity by making it a true trio, with Mann and Louise Pitre's Adult Marie, but also in her scenes with Christian, her family, and other actors.  She wasn't a dancer playing a part: she was an actor, with fully trained speech.  She was a real pro.
  • Tchaikovsky's "Queen of Spades," now playing at the Met Opera through this afternoon.  Not only because of the glorious singing of debutante Lise Davidsen and Yusif Eyvazov -- I liked him as much as Jonas Kauffmann in last year's "Girl of the Golden West" -- but because so much of Tchaikovsky's score has so  many links to his ballet music, and because I miss Kent Stowell's "Nutracker," in which he used the "Pastorale" as a Masque in his Act I party scene.
  • "Children of G-d", a musical by Corey Payette about the residential schools in Canada.
  • "Akhnaten" at the Met, for the pure physicalizations by the cast, especially Zachary James, Disella Larusdottir, and Anthony Roth Costanza plus the jugglers.

Music:

  • The two magnificent Cenerentola's I heard live this year:  Simone McIntosh's with Vancouver Opera and Ginger Costa-Jackson's with Seattle Opera.
  • Live recitals:
    • Lawrence Brownlee and Eric Owens.  Brownlee opened with "A mes amis" as if he was mid-performance," but, even with that amazing start, the highlight was a sublime "Una furtiva lagrima."  There aren't the same greatest hit excerpts opportunities for bass-baritone as for tenor, and, not surprisingly, Eric Owens' hit his stride in the second half, which was broad selections that had meaning for each singer, including  a lovely song that Brownlee uses to soothe his son.
    • Joyce DiDonato, the next day, in her "SONGPLAY" program, with pianist Craig Terry, who played for both recitals.  It was a terrific mix: my favorite was her rendition of "La Vie en Rose."
    • Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason in Vancouver last weekend.  The highlight for me was Isata K-M's playing in the second and third movements of Rachmaninoff's Sonata for Piano and Cello Op.19.
  • I only get to hear the Met Opera over the airwaves and/or Live in HD, with the vicissitudes of the cinema sound systems and what might be booming from the next movie over, so I can't speak to what many of the voices sound like in the house.  My highlights have been:
    • "Dialogue of the Carmelites," all-around wonderful, but especially Karita Matilla and Erin Morley.
    • "Pelleas et Melisande"
    • "La Clemenza di Tito"
    • Latonia Moore's (Serena) "My Man's Gone Now" from "Porgy & Bess."

Other:

  • Gabrielle Papadakis' and Guillaume Cizeron's 2019-2020 competitive programs:  the Rhythm Dance to "Fame" and the Free Dance to slam poetry over music.  I love the latter despite the slam poetry.
  • The Romanian Film Festival, presented by ARCS (American Romanian Cultural Society). The theme this year was "Stories off the Wall," about the times just before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a combination of shorts, documentaries, and feature films, mostly from Romania, but also a feature film from Bulgaria ("The Father") and a mockumentary from Ukraine ("Donbass").  
  • The "In Her Words: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia" exhibit at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, BC.
  • The current cut of Margaret Mullin's "No Dominion," which includes rehearsal footage and full performance of Ian Horvath's "No Dominion."  (Trailer is available here.)  She is still working on interviews and fundraising for the rest of the film, which will include a performance of Horvath's "Laura's Women."

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Best:

Sarasota Ballet's recon of Ashton's "Apparitions" and the chance to enjoy the art of guest star Marcello Gomes

The Royal Ballet's gala in honor of Fonteyn's 100th birthday

NYCB's "Scotch Symphony" in the spring rep - a Balanchine ballet not seen often enough

Ratmansky's "The Seasons" at ABT, despite sparse and often-goofy designs

The Danes' rare visit to the USA, despite the program being too brief.

Ratmansky's "Valse Triste" for Osipova and Hallberg in her "pure Dance" program of mostly-modern works

Ratmansky's "Bayadere" in Berlin (premiered in 2018 but I caught in 2019)

Revival of a Joffrey treasure - the Pas des Deesees - in Oklahoma City

Worst:

Just two simple words:  JANE EYRE (ABT)

Not far behind, the Washington Ballet's celebration of bondage in its tasteless "Teeming Waltzes" by Trey McIntyre, as part of its spring 2019 mixed bill of new works. Johann Strauss Jr must still be turning over in his grave.

The first two acts of the Mariinsky's full-length "Paquita". Pass the No-Doze!

Edited by Roberta

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53 minutes ago, Roberta said:

Worst:

Not far behind, the Washington Ballet's celebration of bondage in its tasteless "Teeming Waltzes" by Trey McIntyre, as part of its spring 2019 mixed bill of new works. Johann Strauss Jr must still be turning over in his grave.

I totally forgot this one: I saw that program of three new works last spring. Not crazy about any of them, but this was by far the worst.

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I can't believe I forgot the Circumpolar Hip Hop Collab concert at the National Nordic Museum.  A handful of indigenous musicians from Nordic countries and a young woman from Nunuvat* gave one of the best concerts of any kind I've ever seen, mostly to a bunch of old people like me who were almost too tired to stand, let alone dance, on a Friday night in August.  My only regret is that we got energy from them, and not so much the other way around.

 

*Aqqalu Berthelsen—Greenland (lives in Finland)
Alexia Galloway-Alainga—Canada, Inuk
Aliu Valle—Finland, Sámi
Mikkal Morottaja—Finland, Sámi
Kim Jacobsen—Greenland, Inuk

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22 hours ago, California said:

I totally forgot this one: I saw that program of three new works last spring. Not crazy about any of them, but this was by far the worst.

Exactly. I felt embarrassed for kids sitting in front of me. They shouldn't go to a ballet matinee and see such costumes, themes, etc.

I did not even bother going to the Washington Ballet's "three new works" program this fall.

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I'll stick with ballet in my list. That said, I didn't see a lot of ballet this year and expect next year to be the same--that's my "worst"--

Best:

Claudia Schreier's premier with Atlanta Ballet, "First Impulse," choreographed to a wonderfully chosen score by Eino Tamburg. I suppose I'll have to see it again before I feel more confident of my "first judgement," but on one viewing I found this a terrific new neo-classical ballet and hope it's a harbinger of more to come from Schreier.

Mariinsky's visits to D.C. are always a delight to me when I'm able to see them; this year they came twice,  though not bringing quite such stunning fare as in some years. Still, they were wonderful and highlights included the flush of new talent the company put on display both in Corsaire and in Paquita. Among the performances by at least slightly more experienced dancers, "bests" included Shakirova as the villainess Carducha in Paquita and Kim's extraordinary Ali in Corsaire.

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Somewhat similarly to  @Helene I managed to list my "bests" above and then leave out THE best individual dancer performances I saw this year--perhaps evidence of my not-so-unconscious partisanship for the Mariinsky since what I left out were Bolshoi performances I saw in London.

Best: and probably the single most exciting male performance I saw all year (Kim notwithstanding) would be Belyakov's Crassus for the opening Spartacus of the Bolshoi's London season.

"Best" performance in the sense of most complete artistically of those I saw all year would be the Zakharova-Rodkin Swan Lake also in London. Their romantic chemistry and Zakharova's flowing, organic movement...actually made this the best overall Swan Lake performance I have seen since seeing Lopatkina with the Mariinsky in 2013. And this, despite the fact that I do not care for Grigorovich's production...at all.  (Unfortunately, I can't say youtube video of the broadcast performance Zakharova and Rodkin gave of Swan Lake ca 4 years ago, remotely captures what I saw--or felt I saw--this year.) I haven't seen a lot of Zakharova live in the theater, especially in the last decade, and this was the most memorable performance I have seen from her by some measure -- even if I managed to forget to include it in my earlier post 😳.

Edited by Drew

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The year was still young, and I have a few more:

I saw two PNB Nutcrackers over two days, and, just as 2019 comes to a close, more bests:

  • Steven Loch is among the best I've ever seen at presenting a partner: every gesture is perfectly timed, and his attention never wavers.  Like D'Amboise back-in-the-day, you see his partner through his eyes.
  • Ryan Cardea danced Candy Cane, and he pointed his toes when he jumped through the hoops, even the doubles.
  • Yuki Takahashi debuted as Marzipan, and it was technically brilliant and light.  
  • Kyra Nichols was my first Dewdrop, and while Lesley Rausch has said that Patricia Barker was her idol, watching her Dewdrop, you might have mistakenly thought Nichols was: Rausch brought me back decades.
  • Madison Taylor and Cecilia Iliesiu continued the winning streak of knock-out Coffee performances.  
  • Iliesiu followed by one of the finest performances of Sugar Plum Fairy I can remember.  Totally in control, she went for everything in a way that was Farrell-esque, and Dammiel Cruz was there to support her.  For the second year, she wins the Least Convincing Principal Dancer Attempting to Go Undercover as Corps Award.
  • Michael Jinsoo Lim's violin solo was heaven.

Major kudos to the PNB Orchestra, who sounded fresh in all of the performances I saw, in the beginning, middle, and post-Christmas parts of the run.  

And non-ballet shout-outs:

  • Verlaine and McCann's Burlesque Nutcracker.  McCann is the MC, and while his patter is racy, it's gender fluid.  Verlaine is such a great performer, and the reverse strip-tease at the end is brilliant.
  • I was going through some programs and realized Il Trovatore in January 2019, not 2018, and Michael Mayes, who sang Count di Luna, gets my vote for (live) vocal Performance of 2019.  (If Seattle Opera could just get him back for a production of Dead Man Walking, I would be a happy camper.)

 

 

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Bests

Ballet

1.NYCB with Teresa Reichlen and Lauren King leading Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 at SPAC in evening and matinee performances. This has never been a favorite Balanchine ballet for me, but their performances made me feel like I was seeing it for the first time.  

2. Megan Fairchild and Anthony Huxley in Coppelia at SPAC.  Great cast in a great ballet.

3. Boston Ballet at Jacob's Pillow, most notably in works by Leonid Jakobson and in Forsythe's Playlist EP.

Other Dance:

1. Ephrat Asherie's Odeon at the UAlbany Performing Arts Center. I think I was smiling the whole time. 

2. Sara Mearns with the Isadora Duncan Dance Company at Jacob's Pillow. 

3. Philadanco at SPAC with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Valse Triste/La Valse

Other

Theater: A Raisin in the Sun at WTF; Selected Shorts at the UAlbany Performing Arts Center

Music: Philadelphia Orchestra performance of Mason Bates' Anthology of Fantastic Zoology at SPAC

 

 

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Best: 

Ratmansky's Bayadere, Berlin Staatsoper. His last act Grand Pas and temple destruction is ballet history being brought back. Seeing Yolanda Correa as Gamzatti and Alejandro Virelles as Solor, two fellow countrymen as role originators was a moment of pride.

Mariinsky's "Paquita" in DC. Again...an ode to a Petipa's last act, in this case one being preserved from Imperial times. Even if this production doesn't follow the original libretto, knowing that the Grand Pas is there and intact for future references is memorable. Tereshkina, of course, as the current Petersburg diva, and she excelled in it.

NYCB' Nutcracker. You never go wrong with Mr B's Nut. It is a perfect happy place, and the best way to finish one's year. Manhattan's diva Tiler Peck on it was its crown jewel.

Kleber Rebello as Candy Cane, MCB. For years I have considered him the best on this role. If the Trust will film it, they should get him, and he learned the role from Villella himself. He's superb, and I have seen countless NY'rs on it. 

Lauren Fadeley in Green, Dances at a Gathering, MCB. Never cared for this ballet, which usually bores me to tears. But she did something with this role that  will always stay in my mind. She created a "story within the story" that truly captured my interest and made me go through this, to me, dull piece.

Worst.

There was really nothing I truly hated in ballet in 2019. I just stopped going to programs I knew I would hate, including those Lang's pieces at ABT. So my two picks for the worst of 2019 will be opera. 

1- Aribert Reimann's "Lear" at the Garnier, Paris .

2- Albany Berg's "Wozzeck" at the MET

I wanted to scream during both performances.

 

 

Edited by cubanmiamiboy

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My dance going was minimal this year but best was the Maryinsky's Bayadere at Cal Performances in Berkeley, namely the Kingdom of the Shades scene. How different it is to see it in the (ghostly) flesh as opposed to in videos which tend to flatten it into a kind of wallpaper. How nicely the Maryinsky dancers' solos and trios played against the shivery white corps-mass behind them, popping out in twitchy staccato steps, like figures half carved out of marble in a Rodin sculpture.

Disappointment: Shostakovich Trilogy this third time around at San Francisco Ballet. It wasn't the performances which didn't work (though Karapetyan as the poet, Quenedit & Van Patten as a couple, and Domitro in Cornejo's role were key for me the first time around). It was the fine clockwork that this time was off – the sharp sequences of moves, one escapement against the other. At the dress rehearsal it looked as though Trilogy had been directed in-house rather than with someone like Nancy Raffa around to set the beats and fine-tune the interactions, get the sourish idiomatic flavor just right. What was interesting though was Ulrik Birkkjaer's take on the poet in the second section (Chamber Symphony/Quartet #8), much lighter than Karapetyan's or Robison's, as if he were outside the role and curious about it, kicking the tires, seeing where it was deep and where it was shallow.

*

Other arts:

John Beasely Greene's beautifully printed mid-19th century photographs of Egypt and Algeria at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (recently reviewed in the Times). Like Atget's photographs of the empty streets of Paris but here of the empty deserts around a surviving pharaoh or sphinx sentry. Egypt of our most austere dreams.

Museum of Modern Art reopened, at least the online version. Reports are that the new bricks and mortar iteration is much less airporty than the last one of 15 years ago. Happy to see that so many artists are out of the storeroom and have taken their rightful places on the walls – Pat Passloff, Carmen Hernandez, Grace Hartigan (Shinnecock Canal), the great Brazilians Helio Oiticica, Wilys de Castro, Lygia Pape, etc.

Books:

good–

The new Susan Sontag biography follows the trend of calling the subject by first name (which gets confusing in Ninth Street Women: now which Joan is this? which Bob?). Doesn't really come to grips with Sontag's ideas but has lots of gossipy gossip. For example, of the difficulties of a particular relationship: Lucinda Childs articulating only one tenth of what she was thinking and Sontag articulating 10 times her thoughts. Not enough about Alfred Chester who was a big influence on Sontag (as well as on Cynthia Ozick). And not disclosed: Chester's abandoned memoir was to be titled "I, etcetera" which SS used later for her own book of stories.

Richard Serra interviewed by Hal Foster. Fascinating following Serra from UC Santa Barbara where his teachers were Diego Rivera and David Sequeiros influenced muralists to Yale where he ended up teaching just retired Joseph Albers' course on color. Serra says that Judson dancers influenced his placement of big metal plates in his sixties sculptures, that it was Tricia Brown's dancers leaning against each other shoulder to shoulder to hold each other up that gave him the idea for his House of Cards.

great–

All of Natalia Ginzburg's novels which are being republished. Early ones – Voices in the Evening and All our Yesterdays – are set in the small village where she and her husband were sequestered during the second world war and are constructed out of a kind of cubist dialogue of the familiar things people repeat to each other and then just as quickly contradict. The late stories – Happiness, as Such and The City and the House – take place in series of letters among family members drifting apart, each one of which has a tenacious grasp on only a bit of the whole.

Sonnallah Ibrahim's recently translated Notes from Prison and earlier Stealth, the novel of his 1950's Egyptian childhood, both in bare-boned but very evocative prose.

*

And thanks to Ballet Alerters for all the reviews this year of performances that I and many others here don't have the means to see, especially of New York City Ballet, Miami Ballet, and whatever Alexei Ratmansky is working on.

 

 

Edited by Quiggin

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My apologies for the length here -- I started out, and just kept going.

As a critic, I’m in the middle of shifting from working regularly for a couple of different outlets to pitching my work to new places, so I’ve been trying to see as much work in as many styles as possible. 

Seattle is lucky in its local flamenco community, so we get to see upcoming artists pretty regularly, and this year Melinda Hedgecorth really stood out.  She’s based in the mid-west, but studied for several years with Christina Hoyos, and brings some of that intensity with her.  She’s very clear and articulate – you can really see the step and gesture sequences develop, instead of a passionate flurry of action.  And like many skilled artists, she doesn’t back away from being simple.  Her performance earlier this year at the Royal Room was much like a Bach invention – she follows an idea through to its logical conclusion, but at the end, you realize how virtuosic that process was.

It’s been a good year for percussive dance altogether, and this autumn I saw a pair of wonderful tap performances just a couple of weeks apart.  I first saw Caleb Teicher’s work online, in a lighthearted jazz dance for the DRA fundraiser, and was impressed with his musicality and clarity, but then I found he was also a skilled tap dancer and I was obsessed with seeing/hearing him – lucky for me he toured with his company to Portland this autumn, and I headed down there to see the program.  He works in a variety of styles (swing and concert jazz as well as tap), and seems to bring skills from all those worlds to everything he does.  It’s all rhythmic, shaped, witty, and full of personal relationships.  Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” are a huge temptation for a choreographer but they are an incredible challenge – we’ve all seen people try to set them, and come away with limited success.  Teicher really nailed the rhythmic complexity and grace that are at the heart of the work, and brought a generous personal approach to his staging, giving the spotlight to other members of his small ensemble in some lovingly polished solos and duets.  And then he closed the evening with a beautiful set of swing dances – he and his partner just flew.

Almost before I came down from that show, Savion Glover came to town, playing at a supper club rather than a conventional theater.  Backed by a small ensemble , he danced in a space maybe twice the size of a door, and had room to spare – the audience was almost on top of him, and we were all thrilled to be there.  Glover has always been a powerful tapper – the floor is sometimes more of an opponent than a partner, but his ability to gradate the sound he makes has kept him from being a jackhammer.  This time around there was more stillness in the work, and more delicacy in his footwork.  I’m not sure if it was a result of the venue or just something he’s working on, but it was such a treat to see him in that context.

Ballet is in a transitional place in my town – we have examples of all kinds of work, much of it performed by Pacific Northwest Ballet, but sometimes it’s hard to see what it has in common.  We’ve been talking about “contemporary ballet” for years, and trying to identify the fundamental elements that unite something like “Coppelia” and “In the Middle”.   It’s one thing when a ballet company performs work from the modern dance canon, or works that are based in jazz or other dance forms, but what we used to call “crossover” or “hybrid” work (dances made by choreographers who come from one tradition to make work using the skills that ballet dancers bring to rehearsal) spread beyond ballet companies to groups that don’t really have ballet skills at the heart of their training.  This last season I’ve seen a number of works that were labeled “contemporary ballet” that really didn’t seem to reflect anything from that part of the dance world, either in its skill set, its aesthetic, or its content.  Some of it was wonderful work, but I’m wondering if I’m getting fussy in giving the term “ballet” a specific meaning.

Natasha Greenwalt, of Coriolis Dance, made a feminist take on “Swan Lake,” that explored the dynamics of the ensemble (the “swanniness” of the group), placing the men firmly outside that cohort.  Rather than grounding the work in the Romantic yearnings of the male protagonist, the focus was on the Odette character looking for her tribe.  There were some glitchy spots in the dance, and I felt it could have dealt with the Siegfried character more thoughtfully (he was cast as the aggressor in their relationship, so there was a Me Too aspect to the work).  But overall it made significant use of ballet vocabulary, and offered a viable alternative viewpoint on a foundational work – I’m hoping to see Greenwalt dig further into this topic.

Meredith Pellon is the choreographer that I find the most quizzical when it comes to contemporary ballet – she exhibits a sophisticated use of some fundamental elements of ballet (control and articulation) without seeming to use the specific vocabulary or deal with the structural elements that often come with the traditional territory.  She’s especially gifted in the use of sustainment and incremental changes – her work has been staged in several different contexts, and each time I thought it was the most powerful part of the evening.  I want to see more in 2020, in part so I can get a better sense of how she sees her own work fitting into the bigger dance world.

Nonetheless, I saw some great performances and spectacular choreography.  PNB brought out their production of “Sleeping Beauty” (for the last time, alas) and I wallowed in Petipa’s world.  And it was a wonderful moment to see Jonathan Porretta return to performing as Puck in the Balanchine “Midsummer.”  He had been off in recuperation mode for so long I was afraid he would just retire in frustration – seeing him jet across the stage with a giant grin on his face was one of the most gleeful moment I’ve ever had in the theater.  Retire he did, at the end of the season, but after a fantastic return.  The company opened their season with “Agon” and Kent Stowell’s “Carmina Burana.”  Leslie Rausch gave one of the best performances I’ve seen from her in the “Agon” pas de deux – she’s able to illuminate the structure of the work simply by dancing it fully at every moment.  “Carmina” doesn’t have the same intellectual rigor, but Stowell’s roiling movement matched the verve of the Orff score, and the chorus, which stands in a special loft upstage and above the dancers, just blasted that music out to the audience.

Like many communities, Cunningham’s contribution to the art form kept surfacing during his anniversary year.  “When the Dancer Dances” is a great film about a very tricky task – passing that choreographic legacy on to other dancers and other dance audiences – it was a pleasure to seen it.  And Spectrum Dance Theater, which mostly performs the work of director Donald Byrd, danced Cunningham’s “Crises” in their spring season, which gave us a chance to see performers who usually dance high-tension, dramatically evocative work in a more cool environment.

But really, the most wonderful work I saw this was Mark Haim’s solo for himself, “Parts to a Sum.”  Haim is a modern choreographer of the Judson School – he frequently makes work by first making a set of rules or a score that he then realizes through a wide variety of movement styles.  He also made a setting of the Goldbergs several years ago, which was full of charming non-sequiteur moments as well as serious invention.  But for “Parts,” Haim turned to his address book, asking more than 400 friends and colleagues to make him a 5-10 second phrase.  Around 370 people responded, and Haim took the better part of a year to learn this amazing collection of movement, performing it from oldest to youngest. What might have felt like a fascinating gimmick resulted in an exceptionally touching and human performance – a kind of tribute to all the people in Haim’s life.  It was an astonishing evening in the theater, and really, the best thing I saw all year.

(not sure why the type size is hopping around -- more apologies!)

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In chronological order

Best

Ruslan Skvortsov, Frantz in Coppélia
Ten years earlier, Skvortsov had been the first to dance Frantz in Sergei Vikharev’s production of Coppélia at the Bolshoi. When the ballet returned in 2018—sadly, without Vikharev—he was left out of the revival. Then emergency struck, and Skvortsov was summoned to perform with almost no rehearsal. By that point he hadn’t danced the part in five years, and his costumes looked conspicuously used in comparison with the others on stage. But the instant he ran out on it was obvious why Vikharev had chosen him. Charm, wit and great humor, with mime that was delightfully clear, natural, musical and beautiful. And when his solo variation finally came, it was glorious. The audience would not rest until he re-emerged from the wings for another bow, which doesn’t happen all that often at the Bolshoi. His triumph was total.

François Alu, “Les Bourgeois”
I almost groaned out loud when Ben Van Cauwenbergh’s piece was included on the program. I had zero interest in seeing a facile demonstration of circus tricks. But Alu is not like most performers of the piece. As a native speaker of French, his connection to the text is total. He paints a dramatic portrait in intense, minute detail. Alu doesn’t look like a ballet dancer. Bald, bearded and stocky, in a button-down shirt and pants he could almost pass for a regular Joe at a bar after work. And so there is no flippant nonchalance, it is more like the angst of being trapped in mundane middle age. And then the chorus begins, and Alu unleashes the most astonishing energy and feats of virtuosity. He is stupendous, and basically no one else should even bother doing the piece.

Yui Yonezawa, Ashton’s Cinderella
Yonezawa is a picture-perfect ballerina. Everything about her speaks of impeccable training, excellent taste and immaculate execution. Her Cinderella is exquisite and radiant, with lyricism, limpid clarity and sincere feeling. I don’t have many opportunities to see the National Ballet of Japan, but I seem to have the good fortune of seeing Yonezawa each time, for which I’m very grateful.

Alexandre Riabko, the Muzhik in Anna Karenina
When I had seen Neumeier’s Anna Karenina before, I found the ghost of the killed railway worker tiresome. To say the least. Yes, yes, foreshadowing. I get it. Enough already. He would appear again and again, and I would simply roll my eyes. But Riabko is completely engrossing, incredibly charismatic and magnetic. Here he wasn’t his usual lucent spirit, he was its opposite: dark, frightening but irresistible. It didn’t matter what Anna or Vronsky were doing. Riabko could be standing or lying perfectly still, while they danced up a storm, and I couldn’t tear my eyes off him for an instant. But then I am convinced that Riabko is the greatest dancer in the world. :flowers:

Ekaterine Surmava, Sagalobeli
I had seen the duet from Yuri Possokhov’s Sagalobeli in isolation, but in 2019 I finally saw the complete ballet. The men of the State Ballet of Georgia weren’t quite a match for its women, but the latter were very beautiful indeed, especially Surmava in that duet – tall, proud, strong and very striking, Not soft, but expressive, not mushy, but eloquent and entirely right.

Ruslan Skvortsov, Albrecht in Giselle
I spent more than 30 years looking for my Albrecht, the one the music conjured up in my imagination. No one fit the bill until Skvortsov, who met all my expectations and then opened my eyes. The gorgeous Romantic style, the dramatic verisimilitude of Act 1 and the sustained poetic atmosphere of Act 2, the leitmotifs he threads through the ballet, his miraculous musicality, the originality and insight of the final scene with Giselle. It was the eighth time I saw him as Albrecht and can still honestly say that he is The One.

Svetlana Lunkina, Giselle
Transcendent, despite the fact that she was dancing injured. I have seen many good Giselles. I reckon I have seen three truly great ones. For me, Lunkina ranks first among those performing the role today. Unearthly beauty.

Iana Salenko, Giselle
It’s rare these days to see traditional ballet values upheld – alignment without distortion, arabesques and attitudes at 90 degrees, immaculate footwork, beautiful, floating port de bras. Salenko’s performance is most remarkable for her mad scene, because unlike the verismo approach we usually see, hers unmistakably resembles a bel canto mad scene. The connection should be obvious, but it’s not something often seen. 

If I may be allowed an entry from ballet in cinema –

The Royal Ballet in Concerto, Enigma Variations and Raymonda Act 3
The comparison with Ashton didn’t do MacMillan or Nureyev any favors, but the Royal Ballet made a very strong argument for being the finest ballet company in the world right now. There were many admirable performances: Mayara Magri somehow combining speed, serenity and liquid smoothness in the third movement of Concerto, wonderful performances in Enigma Variations from Christopher Saunders, Laura Morera, Calvin Richardson, Romany Pajdak, Francesca Hayward and Luca Acri, and the unimpeachable professionalism of Beatriz Stix-Brunell, who danced in all three ballets. Unfortunately, there was a really big fly in the ointment.

Worst

Margarita Shrainer, Swanilda in Coppélia
Crass and obvious, with mugging, crotch-splitting extensions and iridescent blue nail polish 

The Bolshoi’s revival of Symphony in C
With few exceptions, slow, small and relentlessly upright. The principal women were the most problematic, with several getting their feet tangled up and most simplifying the choreography. The costumes are hideous, too.

Antonina Chapkina, Queen of the Dryads in Don Quixote
Arms and legs all over the place

Yulia Stepanova, Kitri in Don Quixote
Not because she fell over. That could happen to anyone. Not because her size made the one-handed lifts impossible. I can live without them. But because she was more bulldozer than ballerina and ran roughshod over the music when she couldn’t maintain a consistent tempo.

Islom Baimuradov, Birbanto in Le Corsaire
Grotesque overacting and out-of-control dancing. I wish I could unsee this.

Kristina Kretova, Chopiniana
In her defense, Kretova did face the daunting task of sharing the stage with Olesia Novikova and Ekaterina Osmolkina. But style is hard.

If I may be allowed an entry from ballet in cinema –

Natalia Osipova, Raymonda Act 3
No French noblewoman or “Hungarian princess” [?], Osipova danced with all the finesse of a market-stall seller from Ryazan. I could say a lot of things, but I’ll just ask: Why, why give this particular variation to a dancer who doesn’t have nice bourrées, but who does have a maddening tendency to lock her elbows straight?

Most unfortunate

The ongoing strike by the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet. I am on their side and hope they prevail. But it’s frustrating for everyone not to see them on stage.

Edited by volcanohunter

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