martha graham dance company

static1.squarespace

Martha Graham Dance Company in Pontus Lidberg’s “Woodland.” Photo by Brigid Pierce. Courtesy of Martha Graham Dance Company.

Even in its focus on the future, the Vail Dance Festival is not without a warm respect for the past. The Martha Graham Dance Company embodies this notion so eloquently, it seems pretty perfect to dedicate an evening of the festival entirely to this historic company.

The evening opens with Dark Meadow Suite, a meditation on Graham’s fascination with the American Southwest. An abridged arrangement of Graham’s Dark Meadows, this iconic piece reflects the eternal venture of seeking and exploring both the land around us and the urges within us. It is at once both organic and erotic. One particularly moving section features 4 couples creating scenes in unison, balancing body weights to express the changing dynamics of their relationships. At one point, they appear to be rowing a boat, the women tipped forward into masts, the men grounded paddles against the current. A few times I let my focus soften, allowing the company to bleed together into one congruent picture. Everything they do comes with significant weight, like gravity pulling paint down a canvas.

I was especially excited to see the famous Lamentation, in equal parts for its fame and for the dancer who performed it last night, the beautiful Carla Körbes. The solo is strange and angular, full of oppressed shapes and fidgety movements. Graham’s choreography and staging convey the anxiousness of true lamentation, that feeling of wanting to crawl out of one’s own skin when in mourning. Körbes is deliciously restless.

Always looking ahead, the program continues with a series of new interpretations of Lamentation. Lil Buck presents his first commission for a major company, paying tribute to Graham’s distinct bladed hands in the context of his signature smooth style. Bravo to the festival for branching out; I would love to see where Lil Buck’s choreography can take him. The next variation is an eerie duet by Aszure Barton, danced with haunting subtlety by Anne Souder and Xin Ying. My favorite of the three, this variation includes startling moments of stillness, the girls expressing exquisite distress, screaming without sound. The final variation features the entire company in a composition by Larry Keigwin. This is perhaps the closest interpretation, cupped hands caging in faces like mourning clothes, nervous energy expressed in tilting and twitching. The piece ends with the fragmented falling of the cast in an effectively grim requiem.

Act II opens with a sumptuous study of shapes. Ekstasis, danced with poise by Anne Souder, explores Graham’s discovery of the elongated hip thrust. The solo feels like its dancer is inside a cave, the hollow sound of rattling xylophone bones and mist falling around Souder.

Next up is Michelle Dorrance‘s take on the famous Satyric Festival Song, a parody piece made by  Graham in reaction to criticism of the seriousness of her work. Graham’s solo makes fun of itself, a skill Dorrance seems to have in spades. Her tap-ified version of Satyric Festival Song– which she learned in the official Martha Graham style before adapting- is upbeat, playful, and funny.

The final piece is a excellent presentation of the full company, Pontus Lidberg‘s  Woodland. A bit more contemporary, Woodland showcases Graham Dance Company’s strengths both in movement and in acting. It paints a beautifully theatrical picture, the classy neutral-toned costumes keeping masked dancers from creating a forest scene that is anything but cliché. A stunning solo from Xin Ying blends into a full company creation. After a long festival featuring exciting pairings of dancers who may be unfamiliar with each other’s dancing styles, it is actually a bit refreshing to see the well-oiled machine that is the Martha Graham Dance Company. The familiarity of these dancers can be sensed from the back form of the amphitheater and it is a quite welcomed kinship.

DANCE for $20.17

_mg_9054dance2017_36327869931_o.jpg

Lil Buck, Tiler Peck, Johnny Gandelsman, and Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles in Vail Dance Jame 2.0, photo by Erin Baiano.

Vail Dance Festival‘s mixed bill “evening of dance for everyone” is nothing if not inclusive, and despite the rain, crowds flock to feel that inclusion. The evening begins with an extended version of the Vail Dance Jam presented on the first International Evening. This revamped edition shines even brighter than the first, featuring emotive vocals from Kate Davis and an ambitious blend of dance styles. Resident Jookin expert, Lil Buck, is especially enjoyable to watch, gliding through a sentimental solo with more vulnerability than we’ve seen from him so far in the festival.

Up next, an old piece with fresh faces: Unity Phelan and Cameron Dieck take on White Swan Pas de Deux with notable success. Phelan is so well-suited to Odette’s fickle, floating style, and Dieck makes a worthy prince. With her luscious epaulement, easy extensions, and apt emotion, Phelan is a true ballerina in the making. It’s exciting to see this star on the rise so featured here in Vail.

_mg_9153dance2017_36297012572_o.jpg

Unity Phelan and Cameron Dieck in White Swan Pas de Deux, photo by Erin Baiano.

A revival of the 2015 Tiler Peck/Bill Irwin collaboration, Time It Was/116 follows, offering comedic relief and paired down interaction that seems to really please the couple sitting beside me. They are new to dance, and their audible reaction to this upbeat piece is an intangible certificate of success for the festival. I’m just sitting here wondering how Tiler Peck is able to chaine traveling upstage while spotting front. Sorcery. Bill Irwin is so talented and endearing as ever in this cheeky bit.

_mg_9459dance2017_36327868681_o.jpg

Bill Irwin and Tiler Peck in Time it Was/116, photo by Erin Baiano.

George Balanchine’s Chaconne Pas de Deux, danced by Carla Körbes and Jared Angle, paints the stage next. The two inhabit the bodies of ancient Greek divinity in simple, fluttering white costumes. The rain has picked up significantly by this point, and the amphitheater’s funneled roof spouts water like a fountain behind the stage. Backdropped lights illuminate the water ad vivid flowers- the effect is ethereal. For a moment we are in a peaceful garden, watching young lovers swirl.

_mg_9754dance2017_36327868551_o.jpg

Jared Angle and Carla Körbes in George Balanchine’s Chaconne Pas de Deux, photo by Erin Baiano.

The first act closes with two repeat performances, the first is my favorite fierce Agon Pas de Deux danced by Unity Phelan and Calvin Royal III. The two balance each other so well, it makes me wish they were in the same company so they could be paired together more regularly. Perhaps this is a good excuse to return to the festival next year! Another Balanchine piece, Tarantella, returns to the stage next. Lauren Lovette and Roman Mejia take full advantage of the opportunity to really let go this time, amping up the “friendly competition vibes”, sassy banter, and risk-taking. I enjoy it more and more every time.

_mg_0019dance2017_36297017452_o.jpg

Calvin Royal III and Unity Phelan in George Balanchine’s Agon Pas de Deux, photo by Erin Baiano.

Act II presents Denver-based dance company, Wonderbound in Excerpts from Divisions, a collaborative piece featuring live music by Flobots. The performance reminds me of an extended dance sequence from an energetic musical, integrating a full band, quite a few vocalists, and theatrical choreography. The dancing style is sort of a jazz-contemporary fusion, with attention to big lifts and lyric-specific miming. It’s a bit of a flashmob-esque performance, and at the end of a long day, when the sun has gone down and the amphitheater has chilled down, it’s all a bit much for me. It does, however, delight the new dance fans to my left so, Vail Dance Festival Dance for $20.17- mission accomplished.

_mg_0733dance2017_36465155105_o.jpg

Wonderbound Artists in Garrett Ammon’s Excerpts from Divisions, photo by Erin Baiano.

now premieres: celebrating women choreographers

_MG_8834NowPrem

Cameron Dieck, Unity Phelan, Da’von Doane, Jared Angle and Liz Walker in Claudia Schreier’s Tranquil Night, Bright and Infinite, photo by Erin Baiano.

Though Damian Woetzel has presented female choreographers steadily throughout his ten years with the Vail Dance Festival (VDF), he decided it was high time he, in his words, “put a button on it.” Last night marked the first ever complete evening featuring premiering choreography exclusively by women.

The evening quite literally opened with a cubed puzzle of dancers unfolding like a kaleidoscope to begin Claudia Schreier‘s Tranquil Night, Bright and Infinite. Schreier’s relationship with the festival goes way back; After studying George Balanchine under Heather Watts at Harvard University, she became one of the inaugural members of the festival’s internship program in 2007. Ten years later, Schreier celebrates the centennial of the great Leonard Bernstein a year early, creating joyful, musically connected movement to his Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. This piece is pleasing to the symmetry obsessed, the long lines of Unity Phelan and Liz Walker creating mesmerizing Rorschach stains. The two seep from the center outward, supported by Cameron Dieck and Jared Angle. Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Da’von Doane shines, his bliss ever obvious from the amphitheater’s last row.

_MG_8930NowPrem.jpg

Patricia Delgado in Pam Tanowitz’s Solo for Patricia, photo by Erin Baiano.

The next offering is perhaps the purest definition of inspiration: as choreographer Pam Tanowitz and dancer Patricia Delgado shared a ride from the airport to the festival last week, Tanowitz was moved to create a solo for Delgado. The resulting Solo for Patricia is an upbeat, staccato conversation with music.

I attended the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island just before heading to Vail, and a few of my friends asked what my favorite new music discoveries were. If I were to name one dancer as my favorite new discovery here at the Vail Dance Festival, it would be Delgado. Of course, having a best friend who trained at Miami City Ballet (Delgado’s former company) I was aware of her talent, but seeing Delgado blossom in this intimate space has made me most excited to follow her evolving career.

_MG_9062NowPrem

Jared Angle, Jeffrey Cirio, and Calvin Royal III in Pam Tanowitz’s Entr’acte, photo by Erin Baiano.

The Tanowitz choreography continues, with her offbeat Entr’acte. Named for a German term meaning “between the acts”, this piece shouts from the stage with brightly colored costumes by famed costume designers Reid & Harriet and unapologetic classically modern choreography. The steps are both irregular and casual, expressing a Jerome Robbins’ sort of vibe with dancers dancing for each other, not the audience. The music is a piece by Caroline Shaw, the festival’s first Leonard Bernstein Composer-in-Residence, played live on stage by Brooklyn Rider. Shaw takes the stage pre-show to describe this piece of music as a classic minuet taken along with Alice through her distorting Looking Glass, and Tanowitz’s choreography seems to mirror that. The relaxed quality of Melissa Toogood‘s movement transcends in Entr’acte; she and Tanowitz are a perfect match.

_MG_9924NowPrem.jpg

Devon Teuscher, Patricia Delgado, Andrea Gibson, Lauren Lovette, and Miriam Miller in Lauren Lovette’s Angels of the Get-Through, photo by Erin Baiano.

Closing Act I is Lauren Lovette‘s Angels of the Get-Through. The collaborative work features another Caroline Shaw piece, described by the composer as a 16th century hymnal swirling around the top of a cathedral and falling in fragments back down. Something about this introduction really excites me. It seems so perfectly coordinated with the echoed nature of Andrea Gibson‘s poetry, which is performed live by the poet herself, as she weaves in and out of Lovette’s detailed scenes. The first lines:

when two violins

are placed in a room

if a chord on one violin is truck

The other violin

will sound that same note.

…describe this idea of our reflection on those around us. Perhaps it was my hour-long conversation with the choreographer right before the show (details coming soon!), but I could not help but feel connected to this ballet. I confess I am not usually one for spoken word poetry as accompaniment (I prefer “getting lost” in a classical arrangement) but Gibson’s words- and Lovette’s interpretation of them- are affecting. It’s no surprise at this point that I am enraptured by the first movement featuring an emotional Patricia Delgado, and equally captivated by the following section, where Delgado is joined by Lovette. In a segment of Gibson’s poem designed as a series of commands, calling her love to ultimately “come become beside me,” Lovette and Delgado are immersed in each other. They do not acknowledge us, but somehow we cannot look away.

Lovette departs from her first commissioned work for the New York City Ballet by exploring an entirely contemporary vocabulary. The next section muses on the frailty of human connection and our overriding aversion of interaction with strangers. Miriam Miller and Devon Teuscher are beautifully paired in this exploration of contact. All four ladies come together for a final movement. The girls lift up a wistful Teuscher together, Gibson’s words and their expressions begging her to express herself, to “be the Milky Way”. The entire cast strides forward one at a time to sit side by side on the edge of the stage. For this setting, in this show- in which it seems Lovette has taken to celebrating female relationships- this maneuver is wholly effective.

_MG_1494NowPrem

Vai Dance Festival Artists in Michelle Dorrance’s we seem to be more than one, photo by Erin Baiano.

The evening closes with a 30-minute manifestation of the 2017 Vail Dance Festival. VDF Artist-in-Residence, Michelle Dorrance, is the choreographer/genius if not slightly loony conductor of her we seem to be more than one, the colossal tap-based work featuring a star-studded cast of festival artists. Dorrance reminds me of Jiminy Cricket, whispering into the ears of her dancers. They are her unstring-ed puppets, hypnotized by the percussive movements Dorrance seems to involuntarily produce. This sort of radical presentation is exactly what I hoped to see in Vail: James Whiteside revisiting his roots, Tiler Peck on stage in tap shoes for the first time ever, jookin and flamenco swirled into Dorrance’s style. Damian Woetzel charming Ms. Dorrance, Bill Irwin stealing the show. ABT heartthrob Herman Cornejo just tapping away! It is this sort of nakedness, challenging established dancers with a foreign genre, an exposed style, and an entirely original cast, that makes this piece exclusively “Vail”.

american classics

_mg_6472fancyfree_36168684302_o

Daniel Ulbritch, Cory Stearns, and Marcelo Gomes in Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, photo by Erin Baiano.

The cartoon-like set of Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free fills the stage, the sun’s natural rhythm further illuminating its animated appearance. Cameron Dieck, this evening’s Bartender lights a cigarette and the orchestra warms. The audience, now aware of its spectator status, plays the part well. We are engaged, peering through the window and back in time, into the off duty antics of three sailors during World War II.

Made on American Ballet Theatre in 1944, the theatrical piece is a banter between musicians and dancers, a reflection of the ballet’s creation: Leonard Bernstein composed Fancy Free bit by bit, sending portions of the work to Robbins on records. The cheeky conversation continues within the work itself, featuring seemingly endless supply of funny quips, cleverly timed to a staccato flute here, a drawn out bassoon there. It’s hard to tell whether the music or the dancer is speaking first; Their conversation appears completely concurrent, as if conceived from one mind. Clucky clarinets voice the chatter of our bystanding ladies as they duck the advances of the overeager gentlemen. An extended snare drumroll draws everyone’s breath in, anticipating a particularly tricky sailor’s “big finish”.

_mg_6800fancyfree_35940627170_o

Cory Stearns, Marcelo Gomes, Tiler Peck, Daniel Ulbricht, and Angelica Generosa in Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, photo by Erin Baiano.

Tiler Peck and her adorable dimples enter stage left, each sweeping battement more captivating than the next. The diverse personalities are evident, from the bold Daniel Ulbricht, to the sassy Angelica Generosa, the dashing Cory Stearns and the cheeky Marcelo Gomes. A truly theatrical work, Fancy Free is a delicious little slice of happy.

_mg_7315serenade_36337189505_o

Artists of The Colorado Ballet in George Balanchine’s Serenade. photo by Erin Baiano.

Up next, an all-star cast of George Balanchine’s Serenade. Speckled with premiers and a collection of companies, this performance fully epitomized the collaborative and fresh nature of this festival. Balanchine’s first work in America, Serenade is a manifestation of the choreographer’s greatest strengths. Indulgent tulle skirts illustrate the breadth of each chord, violins dancing, bodies singing. Colorado Ballet provides a worthy corps de ballet, giving pulse to the true heart of this work. The tall pines backdropping the amphitheater give breath. Balanchine’s expert designs offer structure and formation within a whirl of periwinkle blue.

From the moment NYCB’s Lauren Lovette takes the stage, her joy is infectious. Dancing this ballet for the first time since her School of American Ballet workshop, Lovette transitions from delighted to dramatic as precisely as the orchestra does, embodying the essence of Balanchine’s genius musicality.

_mg_7602serenade_36337186825_o

Lauren Lovette and Jared Angle in George Balanchine’s Serenade. photo by Erin Baiano.

Vail Dance Festival celebrates the collaboration of artists from all over the world, not only throughout the festival, but within each piece. Representing Beantown, Boston Ballet’s Misa Kuranaga makes me so proud to be from Massachusetts. I know, I know, she’s originally from Japan, but Misa’s ability to absolutely shine in a Balanchine classic alongside so many gorgeous NYCB dancers is a testament to her world-class ballerina status. Even more reason to be Boston Strong! Her technique is precise, every turn and jump somehow both wild and intentional, an impossible cocktail that left me stunned.

_mg_7460serenade_36337187945_o

Misa Kuranaga in George Balanchine’s Serenade, photo by Erin Baiano.

A star-studded cast of artists hailing from around the globe in some of ballet’s most seminal works. The excited energy backstage post-show was contagious, the spirits of young dancers aware of their contribution to a legacy tangible. Broadway and ballet combine for an incredible first evening at the Vail Dance Festival, this certainly bodes well for the weekend!

moments.

unnamed (1)

I’ve been collecting moments throughout this dear little career of mine. Writing them down, sharing in this space, keeping them safe here where I can return to them when they are needed. Last Saturday night amidst multiple mediums of fire and water, I scooped up a pretty powerful one. It’s past my bedtime, but I’ve got to get this out, down, locked away here in my safe space…

At 8:14 I crouch behind the basin stage. In full red unitard and crimson pointe shoes, it would be tough to hide me even without the hundreds of fiery crystals and plumed feathers crowning my head. Our elliptical audience catches my heart beats then tosses them up like sparks spit from blaze, left to scatter down wildly into the water below.

At 8:20 the performance begins. At 8:24 the first torches are lit. At 8:27 it starts to rain.

Then comes my cue. Stravinsky’s Firebird is reaching its swell, behind thin black capes I make my way to center stage. I enter the huddle of students, worriedly whispering, The stage is so wet! Be careful Miss Kirsten! and as the horns exhaust I am hoisted up from the group.

The music takes a sharp breath in while the audience applauds. Slowly in cadence with the petering cheers, I feel wet ground replaced beneath me and I stare boldly into the crowd. A bassoon guides my sanguine step forward, carefully onto pointe and then downstage. Red feet are less timid than mine. Looking through the layer of thin black smoke and metallic raindrops between us, I finally break gaze with the crowd to twitch my chin down with the quick recoil of my wings.

Oboes lead me through my trance before the flames assemble and the horns creep up again. We board the boat and push into the river as the finale builds. I peak. On a platform in the center of this wobbling wooden vessel, I can feel the warmth of four huge torches surrounding me. I stand in a deep lunge, never feeling more balanced and unstable. Stravinsky’s creation lets out its largest blast. I peek. Up into the weeping night sky, bending back toward flapping wings. It’s then the crowd’s cheers fall silent and I’m wrapped up in my moment. Under water, over water, through fire and cloaked in it, I cry.

This perfect, strange, magical moment, between PVD and me.

 

photo by John A. Simonetti.

elements

IMG_5586.jpg

There are few more hallowed grounds in the great cavernous world of dance than those woodsy ones that comprise Jacob’s Pillow. Being relatively quaint in composition (that is, when compared to say, the gilded curtains at Palais Garnier or even our own fabergé egg in Providence), is no accidental affair; The space at Jacob’s Pillow invokes an unbridled celebration of marriage between movement and nature. I mean, the celestial “pillow” itself is an oversized rock, so, there you have it. Stages unencumbered by adornment, curtains, walls…

19197864_10211081034076362_1314157193_o

Could any such space appear more divinely designed for Louisa Chapman’s “The Elements”? On Saturday afternoon the sun was shining, the sky showing off a perfect milky blue, and the wind was so gracious as to help the trees do some dancing of their own. From between branches that same wind whirled down around our faces as we emulated flocking birds, an invisible current, congested leaves, and finally ourselves, gently blown aback by the sweet scent of summer. This feels like something I should further describe the feeling of, but I already have: simply the perfect marriage of movement and nature.

 

 

second photo by Michael Collins.

theatre week

Things have been BEYOND busy around here; Last week was our final in the studio before hitting the stage and closing the 39th season this week. So yeah. I’m not too proud to admit there were tears. There was blood. And oh, was there sweat. Buckets and buckets of sweet, salty, sweat (see post-run sweat-stained selfies above).

For me, the week culminated in my first Cinderella-as-Cinderella run on Friday night, 2 more runs as Fairy Godmother and Summer Fairy on Saturday, and a big long 40th Season photoshoot on Sunday. Today it’s Monday, and the week still seems to be ending, not beginning, with an extension of yesterday’s photoshoot this morning. The life of a ballet dancer!

It’s been hectic and exhausting and stressful and consuming, but I’m trying to let myself get swept up in the weight of it all knowing that one week from today, my carriage will turn into a pumpkin and my waltzing feet will wear sneakers instead of slippers.

for tickets.