Basil Twist brought his much anticipated Rite of Spring to Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival this week, and I found it to be a refreshing and thrilling evening of theatre. Mr. Twists uses air, light, gravity, fabric, paper, and the music of Stravinsky to enchant and surprise the audience. It is an abstract puppetry that brings life to simple objects and the theatre itself.
Fireworks references the Italian Futurist Giacomo Balla’s design for the original production in 1910. The curtain reveals an abstract melange of grey and white figures that could be buildings or creatures or both. The shapes are all unsymmetrical and whimsical. They light up and move around and the result is quite charming and magical.
Pulcinella Suite employs long white cylinders that first appear as simple objects, but are then transformed into a school of fish, a large galloping qaudriped, a boy and a girl dancing, a gigantic tree, and a flock of birds. The transitions are delightful and surprisingly moving.
Rite of Spring concludes the evening with a barrage of visual effects that astound and shock the eyes. Mr. Twist and his team pull off an ambitious work of total theatre. Walls of fabric cascade from the sky, one after the other. Some ripple down quickly while others float languidly. Light and shadow sculpt the fabric beautifully. Large chunks of paper fall from the sky and are crunched up and torn apart after they mutate from white to black. Smoke billows behind a silk curtain. The walls of the theatre seem to move and reshape themselves. At the end a dancing figure appears surrounded by a flurry of fabric. This is a sensual feast set to Stravinsky’s audacious score.
Mr. Twist succeeds beautifully in this endeavor. I look forward to seeing the future of his work.
Beijing Dance Theater’s Wild Grass at the BAM Harvey Theater presented an evening of 3 movements inspired by the Chinese poet Lu Xun. The first movement, Dead Fire, finds the company in a mountainous landscape with white snowflake-like leaves on covering the floor. A figure in red dances among a group in beige. The second movement, Farewell, Shadows finds a spinning mobile that casts a fantastic moving shadow on the floor while dancers in black trunks and tanks dance in partners and groups below. The third movement, Dance of Extremity reveals a floor of dry yellow grass that rises up to a small hill upon which a rope hangs down from the sky. Dancers in black struggle in unison against a central authoritative figure.
Beijing Dance Theater is a young company (founded in 2008) with a company of talented and able dancers. I particularly enjoyed Gao Jing’s muscular attack, Wu Yan’s theatricality, and the subtleties of the gorgeous Wang Hao’s phrasing. However, a variety of performance styles occurs on the stage. Certain company members maintain a studied distance, while others display a passionate theatricality. In time, I would like to see BDT develop it’s own singular performance quality.
As Artistic Director, Wang Yuanyuan has built a beautiful young company that has exciting potential. I find her work as a choreographer to be skilled in composition and phrasing, but steeped in a tradition of recent contemporary ballet trends that seem familiar to my eye. Ms. Yuanyuan has moments of emotional resonance and surprise, particularly in sections of partnering, and trios. I would like to see her push further into this realm of the unexpected and dramatic. In general, there is a lot of movement going on in a short amount of time. Certain sections, such as 3 women walking slowly on the diagonal from USL to DSR in the Dance of Extremity seemed riveting when presented alongside the flurry of arms and lunges happening onstage.
I admire Ms. Yuanyuan’s penchant for devising a fully realized setting for each dance. Although the intermissions between each movement took some time, I appreciate her desire to fulfill a total vision. The contributions of Jan Jiang’s stage and lighting design added much to each movement. I feel Ms. Yuanyaun’s aesthetic veers toward the theatrical and total, and I would like to see her embrace and amplify this element in her work.
During a long weekend in LA, I caught playwright/performer Dael Orlandersmith’s new work, Forever at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. In forever, Ms. Orlandersmith hovers in and around the idea of family — “the ones we were born into, the ones we create for ourselves — and the legacies that shape us all.” Harlem, Père Lachaise Cemetery, rock ’n’ roll, Jim Morrison, Richard Wright, poetry and ghosts from the past surface and resurface throughout this autobiographical piece.
Ms. Orlandersmith maintains a casual, honest authority throughout the piece, which lays bare the frought relationship with her mother and veers frequently into the dark and lyrical world of her memory. Lit beautifully by Mary Louise Geiger, Ms. Orlandersmith’s face changes considerably over the course of the play. Takeshi Kata’s simple and elegant wooden set frames the stage with photographs from the past.
Forever makes its world premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre Oct 9 – 26, 2014. More info:http://www.centertheatregroup.org/tic…
Robert Wilson and Rufus Wainwright’s Shakespeare’s Sonnets was a visual and musical delight. Mr. Wilson’s expert sculpting of bodies, shadow, and light is some of the most skillful artistry I have seen. Mr. Wainwright’s music is diverse and melodically rich while also taking unexpected turns.
Mr. Wilson’s mise-en-scence is so starkly stylized by now, everything seems to have been exaggerated or stripped to the extreme. The actors faces almost resemble the painted masks of the Cirque du Soleil. The costumes and makeup are so severe, that gender is almost erased. There are men playing women and women playing men, but one can’t really tell who is who for certain.
I will always admire the theatrical signature of Robert Wilson. I love the attenuation of time, the pale blues and whites, and the use of silhouette. He is a rare artist that presents the audience with dream images, thematic symbols, and lets our imagination fill in all of the beautiful space he leaves us.
Bootycandy poster by Jeff Rogers
I’m so happy I caught Robert O’Hara’s Bootycandy at Playwright’s Horizons. It’s definitely”big, bold, searing, and sensationally funny” (NYTimes). The piece presents a series of short vignettes revolving around the central figure of Sutter, a young African American man coming of age in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Themes and characters resurface throughout the piece, but Sutter is the anchor to this barrage of hilarious, provocative, and at times unsettling material. Robert O’Hara writes and directs a fresh and innovative theatrical experience. The cast, listed below is outstanding.
More on ‘Bootycandy’: http://bit.ly/bo0tyc4ndy
Phillip James Brannon
Jessica Frances Dukes
Benja Kay Thomas
Lance Coadie Williams
Kicked off October with a trip down to BAM for Big Dance Theater’s Alan Smithee Directed This Play: Triple Feature. I enjoyed the weaving together of “Terms of Endearment”, “Le Cercle Rouge”, and “Doctor Zhivago” into a dreamy compilation of dancing, dialogue, singing, video, lawn chairs, and fur hats. I enjoyed the relaxed ease with which the performers approached the work, especially Tymberly Canale and Aaron Mattocks.
Alexis Soloski reviews for the NYTimes here: