Basil Twist’s Enchanted Air Ballet Premieres at CPA, program repeats 4/13

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The end of Twist’s CPA-commissioned THE RITE OF SPRING, in development at the Basil Twist Residency, March 2013; Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, NC. KPO Photo.

“This is the program I’ve been most nervous about in the last three years, and it means the most to me,” said Emil Kang in his slightly giddy introduction to the world premiere performance in Memorial Hall April 12.

Basil Twist. Photo courtesy CPA.

Basil Twist. Photo courtesy CPA.

Coming up was the final of the artist projects that Carolina Performing Arts commissioned as part of its season and year-long “The Rite of Spring at One Hundred” series. Basil Twist, the renowned puppeteer (for lack of a better word), was about to present his puppet ballet set to Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The Orchestra of St. Luke’s was already in the pit; the house was packed and buzzing with anticipation. Kang was nervous–but he would have already known how completely marvelous the work is.

Creating the work during the Basil Twist Residency, March 2013; Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, NC. KPO Photo.

Creating the work during the Basil Twist Residency, March 2013; Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, NC. KPO Photo.

Basil Twist’s The Rite of Spring is a total work of art, an enchanted place/time of power and mystery, and it fills the viewer with amazed delight, foreboding, tenderness and a host of other responses. The experience of the stage action is not separable from the music rising from the orchestra, made by people you can’t see but whose warm humanity you feel acutely in contrast to the abstract dance of forces and objects on the cooly lit stage. (There are people–the puppeteers carrying out the magic–but they are dressed and shrouded in black, and barely register in the image.) When a live human dancer appears to dance the Chosen One’s “dance to the death” section, it tears at your heart. He’s so alive. You feel a huge rush of awe at the human body, how beautiful it is, how marvelous in all its joint and muscle. It is impossible to make this sacrifice abstract. A human will die. And, Twist has come up with a brilliant solution to express that moment–and, I think, to say something about how it is not only social ritual that snares us, but larger, ineluctable, forces.

Animated curtains at the Basil Twist Residency, March 2013; Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, NC. KPO Photo.

Animated curtains at the Basil Twist Residency, March 2013; Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, NC. KPO Photo.

This Rite goes so far beyond object theater that I don’t know what better to call it than ballet. But it is also painting and sculpture and architecture and projected image in addition to puppetry and dance. Twist’s definition of puppetry is completely open-ended: a puppet can be anything that can be animated, that is, given the life through movement. For The Rite, he animates the atmosphere, giving appearance to the motion of the air with smoke and billowing silk. I may be a little biased about how fantastic this was, because I love cloth so much, but to see so much glowing silken cloth hanging from the flies to the floor was wonderful. The curtain rises on–another curtain, this one hanging straight and flat. Suddenly brought to life with light and released, it falls in sensuous motion with a slight hiss. Behind is another…and another…I lost track–there are several. I couldn’t count and look at the same time–I went into pure sensory mode. I’m going to try to write on this again, when the verbal part of my brain returns from this image land.

The show opens with two enjoyable and rather different works, to Stravinsky’s Fireworks, Op. 4, and the Pulchinella Suite. They are charming in themselves, but also lead the viewer down the road toward the new world to be encountered in The Rite. The Orchestra of St. Luke’s sounded wonderful; a small part of my brain was available to note how different they sounded from the Mariinsky, and that warm, softer-edged sound suited Twist’s dance very well.

The program repeats tonight, Saturday, April 13. If you are in the area, I suggest going. This chance won’t come again. Tickets at http://www.carolinaperformingarts.org

Sarah Howe, puppeteer, potter and ELF driver.

Sarah Howe, puppeteer, potter and ELF driver.

On a local note: Quite a few local puppeteers, object theatre artists and suchlike are involved in this production. To my surprise when I read the program, I saw the name Sarah Howe–who I know slightly because she sells her pottery at the Durham Farmers Market each Saturday. She was there today, looking electrified. Not only had she worked the performance, she had gone to Chapel Hill and back in her beta-test model ELF–a bicycle vehicle made in Durham.

Aren’t people wonderful?

The ELF is made in Durham by Organic Transit. The 3-wheeler has solar power assist and LED headlights.

The ELF is made in Durham by Organic Transit. The 3-wheeler has solar power assist and LED headlights. Howe hauls pottery in the rear cargo area, and goes about 20 mph.

The Rightest RITE: Nederlands Dans Theater’s CHAMBER, and more, at CPA

Nederlands Dans Theater 1 is one of the most thrilling and powerful dance-theater companies anywhere, and this week they are performing in Chapel Hill, as part of Carolina Performing Arts‘ The Rite of Spring at One Hundred series. On April 3, NDT presented CHAMBER, NDT choreographer Medhi Walerski’s and composer Joby Talbot’s intense examination and remaking of The Rite of Spring. CPA was one of several co-commissioners of the work, which received its US premiere in Memorial Hall, where it was the centerpiece of a mind-blowing 3-dance program. NDT will return Friday, April 5, with a different program (see below).

An instant in CHAMBER, a CPA co-commission that received its US premiere April 3. Photo:

An instant in CHAMBER, a CPA co-commission that received its US premiere April 3. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

My review, excerpted below, of the April 3 program was published 4/4/13 on http://www.cvnc.org, with the title “Knockout Nederlands Dans at Carolina Performing Arts.”

Chamber is the freshest, least labored, reconsideration of the influential Rite that we have seen during this saturation season….

Although the score (30 minutes total) is marked Allegro insistente/Adagio minaccioso/Scherzando con malizia/Adagio risoluto—allegro brutale, the work as a whole feels less violent than Stravinsky’s Rite. Talbot’s Chamber Symphony is certainly explosive, and rises again and again to overwhelming pitches of sound and emotion, but it lacks the martial qualities that make The Rite so terrifying. The raw power of Chamber is more purely sexual. As in almost every dance version of The Rite, the stage is filled with a large number of dancers in continual intense motion, but in this dance, the interplay between individual and community makes this work distinctively 21st century. Walerski quotes Nijinsky at times, both directly and obliquely, but the balance of power between group and individual is quite different in Walerski’s choreography…This shift to the dancers choosing, rather than being chosen, is key to the music and the motion, and places Chamber squarely in the now. The dance contains many motions that I saw as growth, a bursting forth from the seed, and the sounds are sometimes like this, too—something regenerating, genetically altered but of recognizable parentage….

READ THE REST ON WWW.CVNC.ORG

CHAMBER-RR 3

The dancers entered CHAMBER through reversing panels. Jordan Tuinman’s lighting, switching between blue and gold, added to the rhythms. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

All three works performed on April 3 highlighted the NDT’s profound theatricality, and the brilliant simplicity of their visual designs. The side and back drops in Memoires d’Oubliettes, for instance, are made of tautly stretched elastic cord. What appeared at lights-up to be a curtain was in fact a series of lines, which the entering dancers parted with prayer-paired hands. Warm spots picked them out against the black, and there was something deeply moving about seeing those pairs of hands appear in the same plane but at differing heights, before the heads emerged above them. The piece opens with a flickering screen, like scratchy old movie credits. We see the title, then a series of type animations, where letters drop down to form other words giving clues to the remembered forgotten. When the hands emerge, the verbal, the safely mediated ideas, vanish into the compelling nonverbal world of the dance, in which “safety” does not exist.

One of the frightening, breathtaking, moments from MEMOIRES D'OUBLIETTES. Photo: Jason Akira Somma.

One of the frightening, breathtaking, moments from MEMOIRES D’OUBLIETTES. Here, the enclosing elastic “walls” give in response to the dancers’ weight.  Photo: Jason Akira Somma.

The dramatic beginning of SPEAK FOR YOURSELF. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

The dramatic beginning of Leon and Lighfoot’s SPEAK FOR YOURSELF. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

The evening’s final dance, Speak for Yourself, had even more expressive lighting than the earlier two, and also pointed up the rather fantastic technical capabilities of Memorial Hall. I mean, not only could they rain aluminum cans from above in Memoires, they rained actual rain onto the stage for Speak for Yourself. The rain blended with smoke rising from an unseen source, and the effect was extremely beautiful, somewhat like torn clouds in a storm over the ocean.

When I first saw the photos below, I thought they’d been doctored. But this is what it looked like–the magic of light on water. It looks so free and natural, but to dance in these conditions requires hyper control and balance. Not to mention trust.

Dancing in the rain in SPEAK FOR YOURSELF. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

Dancing in the rain in SPEAK FOR YOURSELF: no slipping, only sliding. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

Beautiful geometry in their forceful extensions

Such beautiful geometry in their forceful extensions and sinuous curves. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

NDT returns to Memorial Hall on Friday, April 5, with two dances by Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot, set to Beethoven. Sehnsucht (Yearning) and Schmetterling (Butterfly) examine love, with the help of lighting by Tom Bevoort, who lit Speak for Yourself. Sadly, the company will not reprise Chamber at this time.

SCHMETTERLING. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

SCHMETTERLING. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

SEHNSUCHT. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

SEHNSUCHT. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

Finally, the Original RITE (sort of): The Joffrey Ballet performs two intense programs at Carolina

The Small Maidens in Red from The Joffrey Ballet's The Rite of Spring. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

The Small Maidens in Red from The Joffrey Ballet’s The Rite of Spring. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

Chicago’s sleek company, The Joffrey Ballet, made a two-night appearance in Chapel Hill March 23 and 24, as Carolina Performing Arts‘ super-season culminates with a string of powerful performers. The big draw was the reconstruction of Nijinsky’s 1913 choreography and Nicholas Roerich’s sets and costumes for Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, but the Joffrey also performed two other pieces each night. It was very satisfying to finally get to see this famous dance, even if perhaps 20% of the Hodson/Archer reconstruction is their work, and not the original artists’. The experience was made even richer by CPA’s free “Program Notes Live” talks by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer preceding each night’s concert. These scholars–the dance detectives–have spent years searching out and poring over every clue about the lost ballet, and even a thimbleful of their knowledge and insight into the work provoked a much greater understanding of its complexity and layers of symbol and meaning. This is exactly why I must live around universities–they give this great stuff away to any one who wants to soak it up!

I reviewed the first night for CVNC.org. Read  “The Shock of the Beautiful, The Thrill of the Old: The Joffrey Ballet at Carolina” here, but first look at these pictures. The first night’s two non-RITE pieces were fantastic. I love John Adams’ music, and Stanton Welch’s choreography, so Son of Chamber Symphony was right up my street, with its completely contemporary attitude. The dancing was glorious, but whatever they had danced, if they had been wearing these costumes by Travis Halsey, I would have been captivated. The men wore forest-green unitards, scooped below the nipples in front and “laced” in back like corsets.

Christine Rocas & Joanna Wozniak of the Joffrey in Son of Chamber Symphony. Photo by Christ.

Christine Rocas & Joanna Wozniak of the Joffrey in Son of Chamber Symphony. Photo by Christ.

The second dance, After the Rain, by Christopher Wheeldon, was just one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen lately. The music was Arvo Part, but I could hear Rickie Lee Jones singing in my head, “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” Here’s a glimpse.

One of a cascade of beautiful moments in The Joffrey's After the Rain. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

One of a cascade of beautiful moments in The Joffrey’s After the Rain. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

The second night, the company danced Edwaard Liang’s The Age of Innocence. I have a hard time with this piece, because it purports to be inspired by the novels of Jane Austen. I am an Austen fanatic, and I just can’t see it. Seems a lot more Gilded Age/Edith Wharton to me.  I saw The Joffrey perform in the Kennedy Center’s Ballet Across America series three years ago (see review here). It was much more splendid in Memorial Hall, with grand red drapes for the backdrop, and wonderful lighting. As you can see below, there are some very heated moments in the duets, which contrast deliciously with a stylized 19th century formality in the group dance–a formality that suits the Philip Glass music. Christine Rocas and Ogulcan Borova were devastating in the “Obey Thee” section, and the “First Dialogue,” with Jeraldine Mendoza and Mauro Villanueva were also very fine.

More Wharton than Austen: The Joffrey dancers in The Age of Innocence. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

More Wharton than Austen: The Joffrey dancers in The Age of Innocence. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

Oddly, the William Forsythe work, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, one of his better known pieces, was a bit lackluster. It was all very well done…but it just didn’t have the jolt it needed. Maybe the dancers were saving themselves a little for The Rite, still to come.

The Joffrey Ballet dancing In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

The Joffrey Ballet dancing In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

Seeing The Rite again so soon was revelatory. It is so dense that it just cannot be taken in all at once. Having just heard an hour’s slide-talk on the symbolism in the visual design, I could see much better how important it was to creating the sense of ritual, even though, from the audience, one cannot really make out all the detail. A lot of people scoffed at the idea of an entire performance season revolving around The Rite, but so far I’ve learned a lot–enough to know that I barely know anything. And I’m not tired of the music yet.

Still to come: Nederlands Dans, and Basil Twist’s puppet version.

The Joffrey Ballet, from the reconstructed ballet, The Rite of Spring. Note the way that even the underarm gussets contribute to the symbolic decorative scheme.  Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

The Joffrey Ballet, from the reconstructed ballet, The Rite of Spring. Note the way that even the underarm gussets contribute to the symbolic decorative scheme. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

 

 

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