Mind Blown at NW Dance Project’s Bolero +! Ps, I’m Baaaaaack!

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

Hello, people, did you miss me?  I know its been a long time since I posted a review of anything, but that’s because things like day jobs and bill paying took over all my time I had allocated for seeing shows and writing about them.  So, I retired in the spring, thinking my writing days were behind me.  But after what I experienced on Saturday night, there was absolutely no way I could refrain from putting fingers on keys and sharing it with all of you.

So where was I, might you ask?  Well, I was in Portland, OR, seeing the fall show at NW Dance Project titled Bolero +.  And while that + might seem like a tiny little symbol, trust me, there is sooooooo very much involved in that +.  And it all began with the amazing movement of Felix Landerer.

You may remember my review of Mr. Landerer’s work at last year’s fall show at NW Dance Project, New Now Wow,  where in addition for professing my love for Mr. Landerer’s exquisite choreography, I may or may not have mentioned how much I wanted to be a purple shirt (that piece was so fantastically powerful!), in this show, Mr. Landerer brought us another powerful piece, this one entitled: Post-Traumatic Monster which followed a dark and twisty journey of two people fighting their way to each other.

NW Dance Project,dress rehearsal,"Post-Traumatic-Monster",Felix Landerer

Cody Jauron (in gray) and Franco Nieto, with Ching Ching Wong in background, in “Post-Traumatic-Monster” by Felix Landerer Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The monster, or obstacle was anchored by the beautiful and talented Ching Ching Wong who gave one of the most mind-blowing performances I have ever seen!  Ms. Wong, often positioned on top of her fellow dancers, shifting positions in the dark, twisting and contorting, holding intricate positions for beat after delicious beat, managed to transition from phrase to phrase with the most effortless grace I have ever seen!  She was so aware of her surroundings, of her fellow dancers, of her light, that I swear the woman has eyes in the back of her head!  Every time she placed a foot, a hand, a hip, or anything that another dancer needed to grab on to in order to hoist her into the air was perfectly placed!  She was magnificent, and haunting, and delicately stunning all at the same time.

And her protagonist to antagonize in this piece was expertly danced by Franco Nieto, who moved me to tears with this performance!  He literally took my breath away with the level of emotion he put into this performance.  Mr. Nieto’s lines are so stunning, the fluidity of his movement so superb, and his acting so on point that watching him go on this journey in this piece is something that I will never forget.  Mr. Nieto danced every count, every moment in this piece with everything he had, so much so that his gorgeous gold shirt was drenched with sweat and the willowy, lithe bow of his body at the end of the piece as the audience thunderously applauded for him showed that he left everything on that floor, and we were blessed to have been witness to it.

The rest of the dancers also played their parts well, creating the foundation for Ms. Wong, pushing Mr. Nieto around the stage, rippling and cannoning through Mr. Landerer’s gorgeous choreography, filling the stage with unique, compelling and dynamic pictures, so expertly performed, that at times I forgot they weren’t one being.  They filled every space between Mr. Nieto and Ms. Wong until they all faded into the wings leaving Ms. Wong and Mr. Nieto to finally have nothing between them except the space of their own making.  I yearned for them to find peace at finally being together, and Mr. Landerer tormented me by creating so much angst through his phrases, and the dancers embraced every nuance with almost obsessive emotion, that my heart broke as they never fully embraced each other in the way I wanted them to, but I’ve no doubt that is part of what Mr. Landerer wanted me to experience, and it was fantastic, albeit painful.  I’m such a fan of Mr. Landerer, and this piece just reinforced all the reasons why.  Bravo to the dancers for bringing this piece so hauntingly to life, and to Mr. Landerer for the magic he makes.

The second part of the + was a piece by a new choreographer to me, Lucas Crandall, which featured three dancers, and was titled Salt.  Oh, people, this piece spoke to me!  A trio danced by Samantha Campbell, Lindsey McGill, and Elijah Labay took me on an emotional rollercoaster that left my heart fluttering and my mind blown.

Salt opens with the three dancers, dressed in white from neck to ankle moving in slow motion towards the audience in front of a bright blue-white backdrop.  The movement was uncomfortable on Mr. Labay, yet Ms. Campbell and Ms. McGill seemed to frolic with abandon so slowly towards the audience, even sharing a blissful smile, when I suddenly realized, Mr. Labay did not share their bliss.  From moment one, there was a pull towards sad that Mr. Labay subtly conveyed, and as the piece sped up to tempo, and then stopped at a screeching halt, I knew what we were in for next was going to be intense.

What was last year’s purple shirt was this year’s white long sleeve shirt. (And, Mr. Crandall, I almost died when you teased us with the potential of the shirtless Mr. Labay, only to bring him back on fully clothed!  Such torment!) But then all that torment made sense as Mr. Labay did not discard the shirt, but instead kept the weight of it on him as he glided all around the stage back and forth from one woman to the next, and the shirt became part of the journey he was on.  He was the pillar and safeguard of this piece while at the same time being caught up in the storm that surrounded him, and the costume, so clingy and yet flowy, stretched around him in an intoxicating way that made my heart break for his struggle. (and also had me thinking this year that I’d never wanted to be a white long sleeve shirt so badly in my life! Wow!)

But back to Salt, I interpreted this as a story of a man stuck between two amazing women, where at the start they both seemed equally alluring, yet, as the piece went on, Mr. Labay gravitated towards Ms. McGill, and yet Ms. Campbell was still a driving force, constantly involved, now starting to appear to be in the way of the other two being together.  Mr. Crandall’s brilliant way to keep the women coming and going around Mr. Labay, who was forced to slide them and shift them to keep them away from each other, just made me ache for them all.  For anyone who has experienced unrequited love, longed for someone who belonged to another, found themselves in love with two people at once or desperately worked to hold on to someone they feel slipping away would relate to the journey of one of these dancers.  I just love pieces that tap into primal human emotion, and this is what the piece did for me.

I had friends with me at this performance, and they all had different interpretations of the story, but it was fascinating to see how much they were all impacted.  While we all had different experiences watching, we all had the exact same reaction to the ending.  Twice during the piece, gorgeous footage of ocean waves crashing down onto white sand created a wild juxtaposition to the storm raging amongst the three dancers.  And for me specifically, the ocean is where I go to relax, where I go to reclaim my center, where I go to breathe, so having that sound be the piece of music this journey was created upon rocked me to my core.  And in the end, when Mr. Labay and Ms. McGill found their way fully to each other, and hand in hand walked towards the crashing waves, leaving Ms. McGill behind in their wake, I held my breath to see how she would react.  And the ridiculously brave Mr. Crandall chose to not have her drown in that wake, but instead let her just lay on the sand, and peacefully watch them go.

NW Dance Project,dress rehearsal,"Salt",Lucas Crandall

Lindsey McGill, Elijah Labay, and Samantha Campbell in “Salt” by Lucas Crandall Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

 

Mr. Crandall has a way of driving this audience member to the edge of a storm, and then gently laying me down with a soft landing and a peaceful ending that brought tears to my eyes.  He put a quote in the program from Karen Blixen that said “The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the salt sea.”  And Mr. Crandall gave us all three in this peace, and I am the better for having experienced it!  I’m an instant fan and can’t wait until I can see one of his creations again.  Thank for telling this story, Mr. Crandall, I thoroughly enjoyed it! Bravo!

The finale was where we finally get to the Bolero part of the program choreographed by my beloved Ihsan Rustem, and to say I was excited for this piece is the understatement of the year!  The promotion art showed the dancers painted, and I was just sure that was going to be the costume for Bolero, and oh was I right! From the first move to the final prop drop, Bolero entertained, excited and enthralled me in only the way Mr. Rustem’s wit and genius can do!

This piece to this amazingly challenging music was full of whimsical sensuality.  All of the dancers, clad in black pants and body paint and nothing else were provocative and sexy throughout this piece.  Shifting between duos, trios, and full company synchronicity, a signature of Mr. Rustem’s that I have come to adore, was so brilliantly done that I found myself on the edge of my seat to find out who was going to come out and dance next!

With a music so repetitive, the test comes in finding new, interesting phrases to fill an entire piece, and Mr. Rustem did this with epic creativity!  No two phrases the same, no two counts repetitive, I didn’t dare blink for fear of missing one delectable moment!  No one fills an 8 count like Mr. Rustem, and Bolero had so many for him to fill and he did each one more masterfully than the one before it!  Loved it!

Always a brilliant master of light and space, Mr. Rustem created a second plane of performance utilizing backlighting, raised raked platforms, and black curtains that gave the dancers the ability to tantalize and tittilate in silhouette and shadow!  And utilizing a rose in a deliciously phallic accoutrement/through-line to the entire piece showed off Mr. Rustem’s dazzling ability to play with an audience!

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“Boléro” by Ihsan Rustem Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The entire company was brilliant in Bolero, and the new faces in the company held their own with the veterans who already have my heart.  The women in this piece were a lovely combination of flirty and strong, enticing and teasing the men every chance they got!  The men, all of whom were a delicious mix of sexuality and humor took center stage in this piece for me!  Mr. Nieto and Mr. Labay, specifically, enflamed the stage, yet again, with their heavenly bodies contorting around Mr. Rustem’s movement, and man did the paint look fantastic on them!  You, two, I swear, I’d travel around the world to watch you dance!  You just simply take my breath away no matter what story you are telling!

However, Kody Jauron, who I fell in love with during Mr. Rustem’s piece from last spring’s show, Le Fil Rouge, was the one my eye went to most often, enticing little sprite that he is!  Mr. Jauron danced with so much abandon, so much flair, so much fierce energy that he pulled my focus whenever he was on stage, entertaining me all the way through! (although there was one phrase where the full company was to be dancing in unison, and Mr. Jauron was doing juuuuuuust a bit more than the rest, and I became Zach from a Chorus Line in my head for a moment, where I silently shouted to myself, “Cassie, there’s no head release with that kick!” but when a dancer is dancing with such joy, it’s easy to overlook.)  Mr. Jauron kicked off the show with his Puck-like mischief, and carried that level of fun all the way to the final bow.  Bravo, Sir!  I simply adore you!

Bolero is now in the books for me as one of my all time favorite performances I’ve seen.  I love wit, I love sensuality, I love innuendo, I love confidence, and I absolutely love brave, creative movement, and Mr. Rustem just gave me everything I loved, complete with a troupe of painted, gorgeous dancers bringing his imaginations to life!  It’s this level of passion that makes it so easy to drive the three hours to see a NW Dance Project show.  And should you be anywhere near there where you can get to Portland to see one of their shows, you absolutely should!  Guaranteed your mind will be blown!  Come with me to the next one, won’t you?

I’m so sorry that there aren’t more performances of this wonderful program for you to go see, but sadly it closed on Saturday night.  But please believe me when I say the best gift you can give yourself, if you love dance even a little bit, is to go see a NW Dance Project production.  Not only did Bolero + give me an epic experience, but it inspired me to get my ass back to writing this blog, because I really have missed it.  Thank you, NWDP for that gift!

I give this entire show a thunderous applause and a Bravo +!559112_332957660122406_1191550343_n

Ciao for now,

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Le Sigh – Romeo et Juliette at Pacific Northwest Ballet

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

Ok, so I went to the ballet on Friday night.  The classical ballet company here in Seattle, Pacific Northwest Ballet, to see the ballet version of one of my favorite stories of all time: Romeo and Juliet.  Although, when purchasing tickets, I was quite surprised to see the title written in a French version of Romeo et Juliette, and that should have been my first clue that this would not be the story I know and love.  But my dumbass ignored that sign, and went to McCaw Hall expecting to be taken on an emotion filled journey of love and tragedy as only the two young lovers conjured out of Shakespeare’s imagination could take me.  And oh, how disappointed I was.

This piece takes place in two acts, with one intermission and a pause halfway through the second act.  FYI, there will be spoiler alerts to both story and design, so if you plan to go see this monstrosity to form your own opinion and want to be surprised, then stop reading now.

Anyway, back to this show, so the first act started out all kinds of weird.  Friar Laurence, danced by Miles Pertl starts the show with two acolytes dancing with him and starts the show as if remembering the story of Romeo et Juliette, with odd, jarring choreography that didn’t sit well on Mr. Pertl’s body.  One of the acolytes danced much stronger than him, so the casting seemed off right out the gate.

Then we move in to the street scene to introduce our hero, his two buddies Mercutio and Benvolio, as well as the antagonist, Tybalt.  This scene followed the standard story with the Capulets and Montagues picking at each other and provoking each other.  Although, in the dance world this was shown mostly through sad, pathetic shoving of each other.  Whether it was women shoving women, or men shoving men, the force of the shoves was laughable, the overacting of the ones being shoved made my eyes roll every time they ‘fell’ or ‘stumbled’, and yes I’m using quotes because it was that poorly acted.  There were no weapons to be seen on any of the men, no daggers or swords, which given the amount of falling down from everyone, I get that choice, but definitely foreshadowed problems to come within the story.

Romeo, danced by James Moore is introduced straight away, and while a beautiful man and a stunning dancer, I didn’t really feel a connection between him and his mates, although he did a nice job fawning over Rosaline, danced by Kylee Kitchens.  Although, Mercutio also seemed besotted with her, which isn’t part of the story, so that was odd to see. There was lots of shoving to get her attention, including from Tybalt who also seemed to be both protective of Rosaline as well as wanting her.  The choreography was uninteresting, repeats of steps over and over, and the energy seemed low for an opening night.  Ugh, just boring.

Eventually all the girl slapping and play fighting in the street ends, and we land in Juliette’s bedchamber where the Nurse, delightfully danced by Margaret Mullin was draped in the ugliest costume I’ve ever seen!  Ms. Mullin had wonderful acting chops, so she was somehow able to tell the story through this mammoth dress she was wearing, so good on her for that!  Couldn’t have been easy.

Here we meet the one who is supposed to be the leading lady of this show, Juliette, danced by the lovely Noelani Pantastico, and the actual leading lady of this show, Lady Capulet, danced by Laura Tisserand.  Seriously, Ms. Pantastico danced mere minutes in this entire scene compared to Lady Capulet, who had solo after solo in the opening scene.  Mama C slinked and slithered her sexy self around the stage, and I’m telling you, girlfriend didn’t know this show ain’t about her!

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Clearly the choreographer didn’t either, because the phrases created by Jean-Christophe Maillot let Ms. Tisserand dance foreeeeever throughout this scene, so I think he thinks this show is about Lady C as well.  Ugh.  Perhaps if they called it Lady Capulet, instead of Romeo et Juliette, I’d have liked it more!

Moving on, we get to the ball, the young lovers see each other, fall instantly in love, and try to continue to spend time together while party goers twist and turn about the stage getting in their way.  Tybalt, danced by Seth Orza, constantly interrupting, Mercutio, danced by Jonathan Porretta, constantly interrupting, and Rosaline just always kind of there creates the tension.  And how do they interrupt?  More shoving of course.  Bored!  So friggin bored!  And it went on forever!

And just when you think ok, we’re about to move on, nope Mama C is back on stage working her program with another solo.

Additionally, there were a lot of comedic moments in the whole first act, and it’s like, um, this is not a comedy.  It’s a tragic love story.  But there was a lot of sexual humor, the Nurse got it the worst.  A lot of groping of her breasts by Mercutio and Benvolio that made absolutely no sense whatsoever.  There was similar behavior towards the women in the street scenes.  I didn’t get it, it just didn’t fit.

So enter the famous balcony scene, and by balcony I mean ramp.  There was a ramp that they elevated one end to create the ‘balcony’.  I didn’t hate this choice, but Romeo could actually reach Juliette, so it definitely didn’t create the feel that moment is supposed to have.  And finally the tragedy of the show reveals itself in the chemistry between Mr. Moore and Ms. Pantastico.  They had none.  Zero. Zilch.  I mean, both danced the show beautifully but I didn’t buy the relationship at all and could not connect to their journey at all.  Juliette had more chemistry with the Friar during their pas de deux than she did with Romeo.  Also, there was a lot more push and pull with these two, and in order for them to even get to the first kiss Juliette had to grab Romeo’s face and plant one on him, and even then he pulls away at first.  It was just weird all around.

We need to get to the wedding, and I can’t remember if this next part happened before or after the wedding, but I think before, but anyway, some genius decided to toss a puppet show in the middle of the ballet.  So, all the dancers in the street take a seat and watch a puppet show that literally tells the entire story of Romeo and Juliette all the way to everyone being dead.  Why?  Why was this necessary?  Why take up about 10mins or more on this stupid puppet show.  By this point, I’m so irritated, I can’t even tell you.

We eventually get to the wedding, and the Friar and acolytes are back, and the lack of chemistry still abounds between the young lovers.  They marry secretly, end up in the finally going to have some sex scene, and again, rather than let the audience into an honest, innocent moment of passion and connection, right as the young lovers sit on the triangular platform this is to be their marriage bed, they both sit up straight stare out at the audience, gasp as if they can see us, and quickly pull the covers up over their heads like a pair of 6 year olds at a slumber party.  Kill me now.

So the wedding has happened, and the dance goes on, blah blah blah, and we come to the scene where Mercutio and Tybalt die.  I’m thinking, how is this going to happen because again, there are no weapons anywhere in sight. Is Tybalt going to shove Mercutio to death?  The puppet show had a blunt bat like object, but that has yet to appear.  And just like that, the cast starts moving slow motion.  A random Capulet tosses Tybalt a blunt bat like object, and he hits Mercutio on the side of the head, killing him instantly.  Mmmmmkay, yeah, tough to suspend my disbelief on that one.  We continue in slow motion.  Romeo collapses onto Mercutio, giving silent scream after silent scream.  Seriously, there’s more passion in those screams from Romeo as he cradles Mercutio in his arms than any kiss he gave Juliette, just sayin’.

Eventually the silent screaming stops, and Romeo rushes for Tybalt.  And by rushes I mean moves in slow motion to chase him across the stage and up the ramp that used to be Juliette’s balcony.  He catches him mid-ramp, and gets him on his back and as his hands wrap around Tybalt’s neck, everything speeds up to normal speed and Romeo chokes the life out of Tybalt.  This is the most brutal, violent slaying of Tybalt I’ve ever seen in any production of R&J I’ve ever seen either as a play or as a ballet.  It was raw and gruesome, and given how boring the rest of the show was up to this point, I was ecstatic!  I truly believed Mr. Moore in that moment of passionate rage.  It was well staged and beautifully acted by both men, and it was great.  It is also the last of my compliments.

Guess who arrives on the scene to have her own set of silent screams?  Yep, Mama C is back, stealing any spotlight possible, and she was so in her moment, that when the music stopped, and she’s being dragged away from Tybalt’s body, you could hear her wailing.  And people, I was in the first balcony and could hear her.  It’s a ballet, girl, everything is supposed to be silent.  I applaud being in the moment, but get it together!

Let’s fast forward through a bit: Juliet finds out about Tybalt’s death, she’s mad at Romeo, he gets banished blah blah blah, she goes to the Friar for help, yadda yadda yadda, Friar has a plan, should include poison, it doesn’t, just some magic flick of his wrist or something, I don’t know, and poof! Juliette is ‘dead’ in the tomb.  And by tomb I mean another triangle shaped platform that is black, and she’s lying on it with her feet towards the bottom point.

Funeral processions starts, and Mama C arrives for another friggin solo.  Whipping her hair back and forth, milking the beautiful choreography, kicking her long stunning legs all over the place, without much acknowledgement of her daughter until the end.  She finally exits, and Romeo enters thinking Juliette’s dead.

Now, what should happen next , if they followed the story, is that Juliette appears dead, Romeo drinks potion to join her in death not knowing she’s only faking.  She wakes up, finds his ass dead, takes his dagger and stabs herself to join him in death.  That. Is. Not. What. Happened. Next.

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Instead, after more silent screaming by Romeo (Mr. Moore is quite good at these by the way), he eventually slowly backs away from Juliette all the way to the very corner of the downstage right side of the stage.  He’s so far down, he’s standing in the dark.  The music stops, and I’m thinking, “What the fuck is he doing?”  And suddenly the timpani drums begin to beat and this boy, with all the grace of a gazelle takes off running towards Juliette’s platform grave and friggin slides, penguin style sliding into the point of the triangle of the platform and impales himself and dies instantly on impact.

Yep, you read that right, I’ll give you a second to reread it to make sure you weren’t hallucinating.  The boy impaled himself on the set, people!!  Penguin style slide suicide! On the corner of that triangle in the pic above!  It happened!  And it was so stupid!  WTF?!?!?

And when that happened I though to myself, “Self…if he died by triangle platform set piece, how the hell is she going to die?  Cuz boyfriend does not have a dagger for her to have her ‘oh, happy dagger’ moment.”  Careful what you ask.

This chick wakes up, sees Romeo there on his face, impaled on the platform, rolls him off of it, pulls a piece of red fabric from what i can only guess is his dance belt, and pulls it up and away from him only to go upstage of him on the triangle platform, and strangle herself with the red fabric that, where it’s strategically placed looks like she’s choking herself out with Romeo’s lower intestine.  And the curtain drops.

I can’t.

I don’t know what I saw, but it was not good.  I was not entertained.  I was confused most of the time.  I was irritated by the costumes, the hideous, god awful costumes.  The set was creative and I didn’t mind the simplicity of it, but when Romeo impaled himself, penguin style, on to it, I just lost all respect for the creative team with the liberties they took with a pretty straight forward, hauntingly beautiful story.

My +1 for the night, not my beloved Random, but another friend said “I thought Romeo and Juliet was supposed to be sad.  That was trying to be funny, and instead was just laughably bad.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Shakespeare’s masterpiece ends with this line:  Never was there a tale of more woe than that of Juliet and her Romeo.  Well, for this ballet, I rewrite to say: Never was there a bigger miss and lie than PNB’s Romeo et Juliette…Le Sigh.

I give this a don’t even bother unless you want to see the story of Lady Capulet’s fantastic kicks, and laugh at the ridiculousness of Romeo impaling himself on a set piece and Juliette strangling herself with his lower intestine.  Other than those three moments, it was a waste of my time.

Ciao for now,

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Olivier Wevers’ Midsummer: A Magical Combination of Wit, Whimsy and Wonder

Dance Review

When art transcends one medium into another, it’s always a wonder to behold.  Tonight, one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was reinvented as a contemporary ballet choreographed by the incomparable Olivier Wevers on the Grand Rapids Ballet Company, and it truly was a vision to behold.

Olivier Wevers, Choreographer and Artistic Director of Whim W'Him Dance Company

Olivier Wevers, Choreographer and Artistic Director of Whim W’Him Dance Company

The Bard’s complex comedy has been done in dance form before, but never like this.  Never with the wit and whimsy that Mr. Wevers brought to this story, taking, as he said in the post-show talk-back panel, a very personal approach to the concept.  As a boy, Mr. Wevers was a dreamer, a lover of books, and would escape into his imagination.  He parlayed that youth, that innocence, into this story through the eyes of the little changeling boy who the Fairy King and Queen fight over in the story.

“Olivier is classically trained, but he has his eye on the future of dance.”

~Patricia Barker, Artistic Director, Grand Rapids Ballet

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

As I stated in my promotional piece on Grand Rapids Ballet’s arrival in Seattle under the direction of Artistic Director, Patricia Barker, this changeling boy is often lost in the stage productions of this show, as he has no lines and minimal presence, other than as a possession the King and Queen of the Fairies want for themselves.  It would be very difficult to give him any more depth, let alone a voice, without rewriting the Bard, and who would dare to do such a thing?  However, with dance, you could give him an identity, a name, and most importantly, a perspective on this lovable, fun-filled story, and it’s that creative vision that Mr. Wevers used to take the audience on a mischievous journey through a dream on a midsummer’s night told through the eyes of an eight year old boy.

These characters are all exquisitely brought to life by the amazing talent of the Grand Rapids Ballet dancers, all equally brilliant in the way they interpret Mr. Wevers’ choreography.  In a style I’ve come to love from watching Mr. Wevers’ Seattle based dance company Whim W’Him perform his work, there is a lot of movement filling each count, combining to make dynamic and fluid phrases that are simply breathtaking in their complexity and beauty.  These dancers made each movement from the flick of a wrist, to a complicated lift look effortless, and embraced the choreography as if they were born to dance it.

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Mr. Wevers played with shapes, specifically lines and circles, both in his formations as well as specific movement with the fairies, and it was a whirling dervish regale that left my mind spun in the most delicious way. His partner work created on the four lovers was like watching a kaleidoscope of colors, weaving and twisting, challenging the dancers with a mosaic of direction changes, which all four danced with expert grace.  The corps of fairies and the lovers were
absolutely stunning to watch, and did a beautiful job creating, shifting, and changing this dream land of the young boy.  I was awed and impressed.

The lead roles of Fairy King Oberon and Fairy Queen Titania were danced beautifully by Nicholas Schultz and Yuka Oba, respectively.  Not only are these two impeccably gorgeous dancers with a skill and precision that are the perfect canvas for Mr. Wevers’ choreography, but they are fantastic actors as well!  Mr. Schultz, so laser focused on Oberon’s goal of getting what he wants, unwavering in his mission to take the boy from Titania, was a superb mix of control freak and master manipulator.  He truly ruled the stage, and every time he hit, what I will forever call the Oberon Vogue Pose, I got goosebumps from the power he threw out over the footlights.

Titania, performed by Yuka Oba and Oberon, performed by Nicholas Schultz

Titania, performed by Yuka Oba and Oberon, performed by Nicholas Schultz                                    Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

And for all of Oberon’s power, Titania’s fire and sass are the perfect match for him.  Ms. Oba is one of the most beautiful dancers I’ve seen dance in years!  She’s so committed to her character, so natural in her movement, and her ability to shift from doting mother to aroused lover was done seamlessly and yet with a quiet power all her own.  She’s one fierce dancer who went step for step with Mr. Schultz, and I can’t imagine how wonderful it was for Mr. Wevers to have these two anchor his story in such a magnificent way!

“I love Nicholas and Yuka, I would choreograph them all the time if I could!”

~Olivier Wevers, Choreographer and Artistic Director, Whim W’Him Dance Company

1293_7718These two phenomenal dancers do a pas de deux towards the end of the ballet, and people, it took my breath away, it was so stunning.  The push and pull that Mr. Wevers created between these two was art in its purest form.  There was grace, there was beauty, there was power, and there was discovery.  It was as if this royal couple were dancing this dance for the first time, reminding each other what they loved about each other, even reminding each other what frustrates them about the other, and yet refusing to give up.  They fight through the moments, that I’m guessing any set of soul mates face in a complicated relationship.  All of that raw emotional discovery was rolled into this dance.  Thank you, Mr. Wevers, for being brave enough to create this moment, and thank you Mr. Schultz and Ms. Oba for bringing this exquisitely real moment to life.  It was absolutely beautiful.

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Lastly, I must mention the mischief-making comic apex of this story that everyone knows: Puck.  The curious, ornery fairy who rarely follows direction correctly, and whose playfulness drives the play along, was delightfully played by Matt Wenckowski.  He fully committed to the character, jumped and hopped all over the set, slipping and sliding through the world leaving chaotic humor in his wake.  Dancing along the veil between the fairy world and the human world, Mr. Wenckowski was a delightful sprite who had me giggling at his merriment throughout the show.  And what this boy can do with a fog gun, I’m just saying, that alone should make you go see this!  Hysterical!

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Mr. Wevers’ full concept, including the design elements, created a beautiful white world for which the fairies and humans could play upon, giving me the feel of being inside the pages of one of the boy’s books.  Ingenious set pieces that move and slide around the stage, morphing and changing like a live game of Tetris, stunning costumes designed by Patricia Barker, Artistic Director of Grand Rapids Ballet, and the brilliant lighting of Michael Mazzola (Seriously, his lighting is some of the best I’ve ever seen, and I hope he continues to light Mr. Wevers dances for years to come!) came together as the perfect trifecta of creative genius.

Although, my favorite design element was the variety of footwear on the entire company for this piece.  The Fairies, all dancing in socks, the human lovers in ballet shoes (the girls in toe shoes), and the silly characters in street shoes (adult Nick Bottom and his political entourage in dress shoes and Puck in white Keds looking tennis shoes).  This variety added a depth and complexity that heightened the hilarious pandemonium going on in this world, and I found the choices absolutely inspired.

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Visually stunning, brilliantly choreographed, and beautifully danced, this Midsummer is a witty, whimsical, and wonderful contemporary twist on a beloved tale.  Please give yourself the gift of seeing this show.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays for two more nights at the Cornish Playhouse in Seattle Center.  Tickets and show information can be found here.

I give this a thunderous applause, and a resounding Bravo!

Congratulations to Mr. Wevers on his first full length, story-driven ballet created on Grand Rapids Ballet.  I have a feeling we’ll see this pairing again in the future, and I for one, can’t wait to see what they do next!

Ciao for now,

M lg

Photos by Bamberg Fine Art Photography, Courtesy of Olivier Wevers

Seattle Ballet Legend, Patricia Barker, Is Back!

Dance Show Promotional
Patricia Barker, Artistic Director, Grand Rapids Ballet

Patricia Barker, Artistic Director, Grand Rapids Ballet

When you think of ballet in Seattle, one name is sure to immediately jump into your mind: Patricia Barker.  Seattleites were blessed with the gift of having Ms. Barker on the stage at the Pacific Northwest Ballet for 27 glorious years, reveling in her journey as a fast rising star from her early days with the company to growing into an iconic ballet goddess. I’m sure I speak for all of her fans when I say our hearts broke a bit when we had to say goodbye to her in 2007 when she hung up her toe shoes and retired from performing.  Well, let the healing begin, because the legend is back, people! Patricia Barker is coming back to Seattle next week with Grand Rapids Ballet in a role we’ve never seen from her before in the Northwest: Artistic Director!

At Grand Rapids Ballet, Ms. Barker found a new home, and a new stage to wow audiences on, only this time from the director’s chair where, for the past five years, she has brought together dancers and choreographers to create mesmerizing movement out of innovative concepts.  Any ballet company would have been lucky to have Ms. Barker at the helm, so when asked what it was about Grand Rapids Ballet that made her want to call it home for this next chapter of her career she said, “There is a hunger here for new and innovative art.  Because of the support from our audience and the community, I have been able to push my own boundaries as an Artistic Director by continually challenging myself to find and bring in the best talent that there is out there.”

APB-GRB2She not only found amazing talent within her company (I’m speaking of course, of the exquisite dancers she works with every season), but she also shares her stage with choreographers from all over the world. These brilliantly creative people come to Michigan to collaborate with her dancers to, in her own words,“…build a breathtaking repertory full of innovation, passion and humor that is both bold and daring.”

Collaboration was always evident with Ms. Barker as a performer, bringing to life one captivating role after another, so I’m not surprised at all that she continues this tradition of bar raising excellence as an Artistic Director. You would see Ms. Barker dance iconic roles like Odette or Titania, and know that you’d never see it quite like that on any other dancer. There was a consistent strength, connection, and unique sense of style in her movement that could never be replicated. Patricia Barker had a resounding voice as a performer, and I’ve no doubt she’s instructing and inspiring the Grand Rapids Ballet dancers to find their own voices within their movement and to, if you’ll indulge the metaphor, harmonize beautifully with all the choreographers who show up to create new works with them.

“The success of these choreographers is largely due to the dedication and passion and talents of my dancers, who work with them to bring inspiration and ideas to life on stage.”

~Patricia Barker, Artistic Director, Grand Rapids Ballet

It’s those collaborations that Seattle audiences are finally going to get to see when Grand Rapids Ballet arrives next week to perform works by five internationally renowned choreographers, in two parts, over a five-day extravaganza of creativity and passion.

11866340_10207918983959393_9221530741689023822_nFirst up will be A Midsummer Night’s Dream, choreographed by Olivier Wevers, Artistic Director of my favorite Seattle-based Dance Company, Whim W’Him. It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Mr. Wevers, and a proud ‘Whimmer’ (which is the name they have adorably given us supporters of their company), but I have been a fan since I saw him dance, alongside Ms. Barker, in many ballets at the Pacific Northwest Ballet.  Knowing that he is a part of Ms. Barker’s return to Seattle just makes me all the more excited for her production to arrive!

This is not the first time Mr. Wevers and Ms. Barker have collaborated on this story as they danced it many times together at Pacific Northwest Ballet.  So, for Ms. Barker to commission Mr. Wevers to choreograph a completely new version on her company seems like a match made in heaven.  Mr. Wevers and Ms. Barker have collaborated during her time at Grand Rapids Ballet twice before Midsummer, but this is the first full length piece Mr. Wevers has done for her.

Patricia and I constantly exchange ideas with each other.  She is willing to take risks, and I love working with her because she truly sees the future of dance.

~Olivier Wevers, Choreographer and Artistic Director, Whim W’Him Dance Company

Two of my favorite PNB dancers of all time joining forces again, this time as the creative genius team reinventing one of my favorite stories makes me so happy, I can’t even tell you! Barker meets Wevers meets Shakespeare?  A holy trinity of creativity, if ever there was one, and my jubilation level of anticipation is through the roof!  So, what can we expect with this modern Midsummer? From Ms. Barker herself, we can expect mesmerizing movement and sophisticated humor.

APB-GRB3“Olivier and I have a special relationship that stretches back to our days of dancing together at PNB. Creating a contemporary twist on something as classic as Shakespeare with my close friend has been exhilarating. Olivier’s choreography is truly mesmerizing and his ability to tell a story with sophisticated humor is exceptional. My dancers have unique perspective now on this story which I know will carry over the footlights into the audience.”

I had the pleasure of discussing this piece with Mr. Wevers tonight, and the concept and design are so fascinating, so intriguing and new, I cannot wait to see his vision come to life! I don’t want to say too much, because spoiler alerts are never fun, but one view of the teaser video, reinforces that this ain’t your grandmother’s Midsummer! No, this is, in fact, a modern, whimsical spin told from the perspective of the young changeling boy Oberon and Titania fight over throughout the story.  A character, if you have never seen the play staged, that often gets overlooked and ignored based on the way Shakespeare wrote it.  Mr. Wevers, however, has merged the changeling boy with the character of Nick Bottom giving this character a new voice and a unique journey from inside the imagination of a young child as his dreams of his adult self come to life.  Mind already blown, and I havne’t even seen it yet!

Set on the backdrop of America politics with lighting by the brilliant Michael Mazzola (Wevers and Mazzola are a dream team as you’ll recall from my review of Whim W’him’s 2015 Choreographic Shindig), this is going to be an extraordinary piece you will not want to miss! This audience member cannot wait to have the energy and creativity spill over the footlights into the Cornish Theatre, and you should all join me!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays Oct 7-9, 2015 at the Cornish Playhouse, and you can get tickets on Brownpaper Tickets.

Movemedia-smallAnd if that is not enough to have you heading over to Brownpaper Tickets to get your seats, then how about part two of Ms. Barker’s triumphant return to Seattle? It comes in the form of a mixed rep production called MOVEMEDIA | Seattle, and it features works by four internationally renowned choreographers. To tantalize your dance loving taste buds, here is how Ms. Barker describes each work and why she chose this show as the first one to bring to the Pacific Northwest:

“It was important to me to not only pick ballets that Seattle will enjoy but also ballets that represent our inventiveness as a company.

Slight-242x300The first ballet in the program is Slight by Penny Saunders. Coming from Hubbard Street, Penny had a lot of fun experimenting with light and shadows, creating a fully immersive experience.

Beethoven-Web-242x300Our next ballet, Mario Radacovsky’s Beethoven, premiered on our stage last season to audience acclaim. In the middle of the ballet, there is a powerful orchestra section, interpreted through dance, which speaks volumes to the genius of Beethoven.

Written-Forgotten-Web-242x300Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is a star in the dance world. When WRITTEN & FORGOTTEN premiered in Grand Rapids, audience members left the theatre dancing down the aisles. Her ability to discuss the human journey through dance is something I feel privileged to share with audiences in Seattle.

APB-GRB5Lastly, David Parsons’ The Envelope is a modern masterpiece that has been performed by ballet companies all over the world… but never in Seattle. I feel honored to bring this humorous and creative work to the West Coast.”

This will be my first exposure to these four choreographers, but based on the delicious way Ms. Barker described these pieces, I think my fellow Seattle dance enthusiasts and I are in for quite a treat!

MOVEMEDIA | Seattle plays Oct 10-11, also at the Cornish Playhouse, and tickets can be purchased at Brownpaper Tickets. Take a look at the teaser video of this amazing body of work!

Born and raised in Washington State, Seattle was Ms. Barker’s home for a long time and it holds a special place in her heart. She returns to Seattle to share with us the work she’s done with Grand Rapids Ballet, and also seems quite excited to share Seattle with her company of dancers. I have absolutely no doubt that this will not only be a successful introduction, but will be the start of a beautiful, life-long friendship between our great city and the exquisite ballet company of Grand Rapids, all thanks to the legendary creativity and vision of Ms. Patricia Barker who so graciously and enthusiastically is bringing her passion to share with us. And I, for one, am humbled and honored to be a part of it.

APB-GRB6Please don’t miss this incredible opportunity to watch Grand Rapids Ballet perform in Seattle for the very first time.  Welcome home, Ms. Barker. We’ve missed you!

Ciao for now,

M lg

Photos courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet and grballet.com