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Monday, January 11, 2021

87 Dance in Review

From the Terpsichorean Vault Dept.: Early in my arts-reviewing days, I covered a lot of dance, which was a joy. Then it became apparent to my editors that one person isn’t supposed to cover dance AND music AND theater AND food because ... well, you’re just not spozed to. But here’s a rundown of what I enjoyed in 1987.


WHEN THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF DANCE in Saratoga Springs inaugurated its Hall of Fame last summer, it affirmed the region’s claim on dance as a summer institution. Happily, this sort of thing continues all year, and 1987 gave us excellent examples of that great variety.

The idea of the dance museum itself makes a lot of sense when you consider the similarities between dance and professional athletics. Both require top-notch physical conditioning. Both create individual stars. Both have the cult followings necessary to make a museum work.

National Museum of Dance
And what would a museum be without a hail of fame? The roster ranged from the back rooms of vaudeville to the elegance of classic ballet, and comprised Fred Astaire, George Balanchine, Agnes De Mille, Isadora Duncan, Katherine Dunham, Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Lincoln Kirstein, Catherine Littlefield, Bill Robinson, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn and Charles Weidman.

The inductees were honored in a ceremony on July 11 by former New York City Ballet member Maria Tallchief, who made a presentation that formally opened the Hall of Fame.
The dance year actually began when the Alvin Ailey Repertory Company sold out the Egg Jan. 16 with a performance of the kind of dance Ailey is so well known for: thoughtful, fun celebrations of form and motion and music that included a new production of the Alley classic “Streams.”

Ballet Rambert, a 60-year old company from England that recently went from ballet to modern, appeared at Proctor’s Theatre in February with a dynamic look at what artistic director Richard Alston has been choreographically providing. Proctor’s also gave us the Ohio Ballet that month, with director Heinz Poll’s new Cascade” a featured offering that celebrated the Bach-Handel tercentenary.

Garth Fagan’s Bucket Dance Theatre, at the Egg Feb. 22, was as distinctive in its individual selections as it was in the choreographic voice that linked them. Artistic director/choreographer Fagan not only knows his dance, but also is sensitive to a variety of musical stylings.

To end the spring season with a bang, Twyla Tharp’s company brought a Proctor’s audience of 1,600 to its feet with cheers for “As Time Goes By” and “In the Upper Room.”

The big names for summer, Jacob’s Pillow and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, came through with some well-earned surprises. The Pillow kicked off with Pilobolus, Moses  Pendleton’s eccentric group that danced his “Bonsai” as part of an acclaimed program. Merce Cunningham gave the world premiere of his especially-commissioned “Carousal,” a work with a feel of warm-ups and circus and a nice duet by Catherine Kerr and Robert Swinston. The Hubbard Street Dance Company returned with its Broadwayesque style, while on the other end of the spectrum, the New York City Ballet’s Merrill Ashley performed with guest artist John Meehan and a flock of students almost as good as the pros.

The NYCB celebrated Peter Martins at SPAC, not forgetting good old Mr. Balanchine, of course. Three Martins pieces had Saratoga premieres, most notable of which was “Ecstatic Orange,” to music by American composer Michael Torke. Heather Watts and Jock Soto led a cast in black workout clothes, the only color suggested by music reminiscent of Stravinsky and Bernstein.

Martins’ “Les Gentilhommes” was an ensemble of nine men, with the all-white elegance of 17th-century cavaliers, while “Las Petits Riens” took a frothy piece by Mozart and had made some stylish fun, as four mannered couples went through classically-inspired paces.

Balanchine was honored with a dynamic “Agon,” reminding us that nothing is more authentic than a NYCB performance of that piece; while a new mounting of “Swan Lake” (a one-acter derived from the second act of the lengthy original) had new d├ęcor by Alain Vaes that included a bevy of black swans surrounding Merrill Ashley’s white Odette. “Coppelia” also returned this year, with Patricia McBride the stand-out lead.

In the Spa Little Theatre, Daniel Dell extended the NYCB stay into August as he masterminded and hosted the Choreography Project, a superb series that began with a lecture/demonstration of the basics of ballet and a group of accomplished students performing some Balanchine choreography, and went on to premiere new works by other NYCB dancers.

The Murray Louis Dance Company also was on hand with an amusing “The Station” depicting a turn-of-the-century waiting room, as well as “Revels” with the talented Rob McWilliams, alongside a handful of other works.

Local companies worth noticing are the Berkshire Ballet, whose recent “Nutcracker” at Proctor’s continued the fine progress of the Pittsfield-based group now in residence at Siena College. At a Proctor’s performance in March they performed four works including Anthony Tudor’s “Soiree Musicale” and Daryl Gary’s choreography to Scriabin’s “Poem of Ecstasy.” In July they presented an ambitious and well-done “Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Berkshire Community College that featured Jeremy Lemme as Puck and Deirdre Duffin as Titania.

Margaret Wagner and Dancers began their third season in Cambridge’s Hubbard Hall this summer, while a new company emerged at Skidmore: Heidi Knecht’s Moving Feet, with four dancers and lots of promise.

In Albany, Maude Baum & Company visited the Performing Arts Center at the State University of New York in Albany with James Cunningham’s “Aesop’s Fables” and Cliff Keuter’s charming “Summer Light.” Meanwhile, they continue their work at the eba Theatre on Hudson Avenue, where they just wrapped up their 15th season of Christmas performances.

– Schenectady Gazette, 1 January 1988

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