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Yannick’s visit: Corrado’s Orfee

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Orfee et Eurydice
Opera Company of Philadelphia
/Curtis Opera collaboration
Corrado Rovaris, conducting
June 17-25, 2010
Perelman Theater

Good news energizes: Yannick Nezet -Seguin’s appointment as the Philadelphia Orchestra’s music director elect has put the city in a good mood. The French Canadian’s visit to the Kimmel and to Citizens Park on Friday brought in 200 hundred new subscribers according to a marketing rep for the orchestra. While Yannick was working the neighborhoods, Opera Company music director Corrado Rovaris was steering a fine Orfee et Eurydice at the Perelman. The Gluck is the Opera Company’s anticipated and usually sold out chamber opera collaboration with Curtis Opera Theater. This season’s production was changed from the planned three to five performances.

Designer Phillipe Amand strips the stage to sensuous color (teal/sky blue) and projected light. The underworld has a way of appearing and disappearing that is fabulous. There are only three principals: Mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Dunose as Orfee, soprano Elizabeth Reiter as Amor and Maureen Mckay as the doomed Eurydice. Dunose has a triple challenges in her first time out in the arduous role, she’s nearly always singing on an empty stage and the blocking doesn’t cut her any slack. One end of the stage to the other (or prone midcenter). the distinguished mezzo can’t always be heard. The grief and pain; the burnish of her art does comes through. Gluck’s timeless arias grow stronger, deeper as Orfee finally finds Eurydice and the lovers prepare to gain or lose each other – again. Mckay as the doomed wife shows many facets of Eurydice’s character in a soprano that is brilliant and can soar.

The austere staging clearly inspires director Bob Driver but perhaps to match the minimalism of the modernism, he keeps gestures at a minimum nor are there are any helpful props. Nary a flower for the grave, no instrument for the musician Orfee, any of which could have been projected but I am sure the idea was to avoid sentiment. (Instead the dancing veered toward sentiment.) Most confusing are Orfee’s trials: though we have the supertitles to remind that husband must not look at his wife as he takes her from the Underworld they are staged so near each other singing it feels ridiculous to have them pretending they do not see each other each other at all. Some productions use a blindfold which has its merits.

Reiter, a standout as Amina in Curtis Opera’s Sleepwalker not so long ago, is terrific in the feisty role of Love. Her costume makes her look like a punk hellion, the main wit in the opera. Richard St. Clair clearly had fun with the get up.

Amanda Miller’s choreography has a lot to recommend it particularly during the Elysian Fields panorama. Miller (of Miro Dance Theatre) ’s dances take up 50 of the opera’s entire 90 -minutes but there is some mannerism to the choreographic effort that detracts. Melding the chorus into the dance is a good idea that doesn’t quite work. Using an aerialist for Orfee’s descent is a brilliant stroke.

Maestro Rovaris, who has achieved so much for the professional company, doesn’t push too hard; his band usually aims for and achieves the subtle. It would have been nice to have a drier, more detached style of string playing to suit the period of Christoph Willibald Gluck instead of the fatter legato achieved. Still, such ardor to Orfee and Eurydice’s music – humanity here, real beauty. Rare opportunity to hear this version Berlioz arranged from Gluck’s two earlier French versions.

The poet Louise Glueck writes: “Everyone wants to be Orpheus.” True enough, since he gets the adulation and the best parts.But Eurydice’s part, though smaller, is pretty amazing too.

The last performance at the Perelman is June 25.


Written by Lesley Valdes

June 22, 2010 at 11:34 pm

New Romeo from the PA ranks

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Romeo and Juliet
Pa Ballet
Academy of Music
June 5 matinee
(June 4-12, 2010)

It’s heartening to watch a gifted company member step into a lead for the first time. PA Ballet’s Ian Hussey chance at Romeo turned out very well Saturday afternoon. Lucky fellow: his Juliet was Pa Ballet principal Arantxa Ochoa.

The late John Cranko’s choreography for Romeo and Juliet is strong on the solos and duos; the development of character. It bogs down in the work for the ensemble, too much unison, predictability. The company injects flair with interpretative gesture. The work dates from 1964.

With his pals, Benvolio (Andre Vytoptov) and Mercutio, Romeo danced a fine trio. Mercutio was the ever inscouciant Jonathan Stiles. Even near death, Mercutio won’t lose his sense of gallantry or humor. The death will stick in the memory.

Hussey’s dancing is lithe, centered. Excellent turns. A lift or two were awkward during the first pas de deux but then the signature overheard and backward lifts accomplished what they should. A sense of ectasy and yearning. Hussey showed many states. He was bashful, playful, longing. A young Romeo with promise upon whom Ochoa lavished her attentions. Her gifts.

Shakespeare’s death love, death and more death brought the best out of Prokofiev. Beatrice Jona Affron
led the band. Not her fault the horns could not overcome humidity. The production’s a beauty, autumn colors, twilight balconies.
The gypsy girls were worth remarking –Gabriella Yudenich, Laura Bowman, Hawley Rowe– so natural their gestures for the lovesick Romeo and the dying Mercutio.

This is an excellent time to support the ever struggling company. Until the end of July, all contributions no matter how small will be matched by a $200,00 grant from the board. Hurry.

Written by Lesley Valdes

June 7, 2010 at 1:10 pm

La Traviata a la Twenties

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Verdi’s La Traviata
Opera Company of Philadelphia
Academy of Music
May 7-16, 2010M
Airs May 10

A silver mirror dominates the Robert Driver, Paul Shortt staging of La Traviata being revived at the Academy of Music through Sunday (5/16). The Opera company of Philadelphia’s La Traviata has a twist: this season the Verdi is bumped up to the 1920s. Richard St. Clair’s costumes have more Deco than flapper glamour and the principals making their debut in this cast wear them very well. Leah Patridge is Violetta. Charles Castronovo, her Alfredo. (Baritone Mark Stone makes a superb Girgio Germont).

I prefer the tenor voice, which is warm and expressive to the soprano’s, which is cooler. Both singers act well. Patridge has the ringing top notes; the coloratura isn’t always secure of pitch as it consistently sturdy. Her stamina is remarkable. Violetta may be consumptive but those high notes are torpedos.

The good thing about this staging: La Traviata is concise, no clutter, a problem of Driver’s in the past. The men are directed with sensitivity. Alfredo’s interactions with Violetta early and late are beautiful; so are the interactions between the father and son Germonts. Alfredo’s first toast is handled like a real toast and the character also shows more remorse than we usually witness after the card scene. This is good direction.

Dancers from the Miro Company show their stuff at Flora’s too.

For the death scene, the mirror looks a loft out of Baz Luhrmann – have we’ve wandered into La Boheme ?– but not to quibble – the set works.

Nice change, no coughs from this Violetta, the audience supplied them.

Music Director Corrado Rovaris keeps the pit band flowing without intruding on the singers while allowing the mystique. La Traviata at the Academy of Music until May 16.

PA Ballet: Variety Pack

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Photo: Alexander Iziliev

Pa. Ballet Variety Pack
Four Works (Balanchine, Forsythe, Ochoa, Robbins)
May 5-9, 2010
Merriam Theater

Little girls in pretty dresses put you in a good mood before a Pennsylvania Ballet program begins. The ballet, which opened Wednesday night, offers a variety pack of old and new that was danced extremely well. Two company premieres are standouts: Jerome Robbins’ take on Njinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun, was danced to superbly by Tyler Galster taking the part of a young dancer’s awakening in the studio. Not a motion overdone, not a muscle wasted. Julie Diana was the human nymph. Their sensitivity was set against a bold, high-contrast staging.

William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, references classical pointe work with high contrast too. The company is coming and going at odd angles, using the space akilter. Hips, knees, elbows come at you, like mechanical gears. The sense is not mechanical but like a mad tango set to Thom Willems and Leslie Stucks percussive brilliant score. Born for this dance are principals Riolama Lorenzo and Arantxa Ochoa, with limbs as flexible as herons’. They alternated in sultry duets supported by Zachary Hench. Hench who had a featured role in the Balanchine’s unfolksy Square Dance (which the company also danced beautifully; Brava, Amy Aldridge) was less successful here. His solo work had a softness in contrast to the others’. In the Middle Somewhat Elevated is a blistering dance. The last vignette is magic.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Requiem for A Rose is heavy on the symbolism. A soloist in white bodysuit grips a rose in her teeth, to electronic thumping, leads the corps (men and women) wearing in red skirts. Chaotic, lifts and sculptural poses. When duos and solos arrive things lighten up but not much. The ominous figure arrives more than once accompanied by a throbbing beat. The main music helps but also hinders it is so loaded with profundity: Schubert: Adagio from the C minor Quintet.
A silver scrim falls down to make a scarlet path. Enough already. The dancing outshines the dance and staging. Pennsylvania Ballet’s variety program runs May 9, then Romeo &; Juliet!

Brava Joan, Bravo Danco

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40th Anniversary Concert II
April 15-18
Perelman Theater

Who isn’t happy Philadanco’s Joan Myers Brown just won the Philadelphia Award — this city’s Nobel Prize. The founder and artistic director of the Philadelphia Dance Company (PhilaDanco), Brown is the 89th recipient of the award that old patrician Edward Bok created for those who improve this town.
Brown’s Dance School celebrates 50 years in May; her company is in it’s 4th decade. She’s drained her savings, her checking, remortgaged homes, fought off lawyers, and always shone. She’s spoken up and out not just for her dancers but for the arts nationwide. The $25,000 honorarium she will receive (May 10) will be put to good use.
The recent programs the Kimmel Center sponsored to honor Danco’s 40th anniversary brought three works from the 1980s and a Philadelphia premiere from 2008. These dancers, extension, extension, technique, and passion, are so good, you hope every time you see them, that they won’t be lost to a New York company (as so often has happened, i.e. the Ailey Company, among others.)

Talley Beatty’s A Rag, A Bone, A Hank of Hair from 1984. The corps dressed in a riot of Crayola colors, their Hermes sandals as fleet as Mercury to Prince & Earth, Wind & Fire. TP. Joy in every angled extension, and the extensions here are limb defying. Beatty’s use of space and momentum is fine and Danco’s nails it.
All is gravity and tension in The Element in Which it Takes Place, Milton Myers setting of Koyanasquatsi by Phillip Glass and Meredith Monk. Egyptian and first the women then the men of the corps dance, when lifts are achieved, the women are often caught in flight, which is thrilling. The dance is full of arresting moments, only some of the unison motions look cliched. A final tableau with Jermaine Terry lifting Rosita Adamo is spellbinding.

Jeremiah Terry has the grace of a wild panther. The moves so natural from the hip socket from the shoulder. How can a man move so easily, so wildly with such control. The mystery of dance.

Elegies are hard. Too much emotion can creep in. That’s what happens in Gene Hill Sagan’s choreography for Elegy set to Ralph Vaughan Williams, a dance whose fine dancers could not elevate it. The starry night backdrop over- emotes too. The men are ill used in this one lots of flutter. Little substance.

By Way of The Funk. Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s 2008 work to Parliament Funkadelics featured Lamar Baylor (there were other standouts) in dancing deft and down and working. Makes you think this team’s been doing squats and lunges since the Millenium. Every muscle working from the hip, the shoulder. The quads, the gluts. Every funky thing imaginable from these beautiful, artful bodies of supreme control and quiver.

Now, the Philadelphia Dance Company goes on tour: first stop, Reston, VA.

Written by Lesley Valdes

April 19, 2010 at 12:15 am

Philadelphia Dance Project: “What We’re Made Of”

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Philadelphia Dance Projects: Series I
Performance Garage
1501 Brandywine
Feb. 26, 27, 2010

Look back to see where you’re going. Terry Fox’s idea to take thirty years of dance in this town and reconstruct on younger performers while some of the original makers are still around, is a good way to see which works do and don’t hold up. For the next three weeks, until March 20, we’ll have a chance to assess with live performances, films and talks in venues across town. The first program featured three works that might be called EIghties Redux. Otto Winshap Ranstand also performed the choreography for his 2009 solo; it reflected some of the anxious spirit of the 1980s zeitgeist: the body as quivering, questing machine of often unrelated parts. A good solo, well performed, but it felt longer than need be; Tim Glenn’s fascinating sound design mimicked radiators releasing steam and the occasional rumble of thunder. I would have liked this dance better had it been shorter, the pauses briefer, the episode with the pink T-shirt deleted.
Ishamel Houston-Jones’s Dead, from 1981 is a catalog aria performance piece. A series of rises and falls accompanys every man, woman, child and pet, the dancer has known who died. (A voiceover speaks the names.) It works. It is clever with wit and pathos. WIlliam Robinson performed Saturday. He used his own list.
It’s pretty hard to escape the Eighties – the Me Decade. Michael Biello’s He and He and What We’re Made Of both suffer from self-absorption and sentiment.
He and He celebrates gay marriage. A couple saying vows would have held my interest longer if their costumes hadn’t been so silly (children’s pjs with the flaps and feet); if their relationship had held some surprises, some swerve instead of becoming sticky- sweet. The props: blow-up Dalmations were not provocative; the AIDS epidemic was handled hysterically rather than tragically. The dance is a cuddle rather than a serious look at a relationship. The sorrow: John Luna and Scott McPheeters are fine, expressive dancers. Dan Martin at the piano also sang, which was more of a distraction than an enhancement: Martin’s projection was so emphatic. Anthony Pirollo played cello, nicely.
Biello’s “What We are Made of” promises more but it too takes a wrong turn into sentimentality. A quartet of men (in the buff) move slowly, the feeling is always stasis. They turn, they look at each other, they hold lighted boxes, which we ultimately learn are memorabilia from their childhood. Again, there is movement but insufficient dancing. Art is destroyed by cliche. If some of these works can be reconstructed, more power to them. This dance needs better. At least three more dance programs coming up from the Philadelphia Dance Project.

(To whom:I find the printed programs wordy and confusing…) Next up: Temple’s Conwell Dance Theater, but also events at SCUBA and International House. Check your listings.

Written by Lesley Valdes

March 1, 2010 at 3:15 am

Posted in 1, Dance