Tuesday, April 21st, 2015 12:00 PM
Toward the end of her 30-year tenure with the New York City Ballet, Wendy Whelan confronted the obvious: At age 47, she saw younger stars in the company flourishing and felt like she was aging, losing her creativity and seeing her repertoire of having choreographers set new dances on her dwindling.
"Being a mid-40 ballerina in a ballet company known for its very speedy and athletic choreography such as Balanchine, it's more › very rare for them to keep giving you new work," she said.
Whelan, well known for her sinewy physique and strikingly modern style as a ballerina, knew that most ballerinas retired by age 40. She had started with the NYCB as an apprentice at age 17 in 1984 and quickly become a member of the corps, then a soloist and finally a principal dancer in 1991.
The ballerina, who retired from the NYCB in October, knew she still had a lot to say through dance but wanted to strike out in vastly different directions. In 2013, she premiered her program Restless Creature, a suite of duets that she commissioned from four of America's top contemporary male choreographers - Kyle Abraham, Josh Beamish, Brian Brooks and Alejandro Cerrudo.
The key was to collaborate with choreographers who were still dancing, so they could perform their own duets with her in Restless Creature. The show made its world premiere at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Mass., in August 2013, followed by a tour that began in March 2014. The most recent leg of the tour, which comes to the Ohio Theater at PlayhouseSquare through DanceCleveland April 25, began in January and has played to packed houses throughout the country.
Whelan has originated roles in ballets by everyone from William Forsythe to Twyla Tharp to Christopher Wheeldon. But for Restless Creature, she wanted to dance with choreographers who were as different from her as possible.
Her decision to leave NYCB was precipitated by hip surgery in 2013.
"It was quite a bit more serious than I imagined it would be,'' she said by phone in late March from New York. "I was about .3 millimeters away from needing a hip replacement. It was ridiculous. It was like hanging by a thread."
Whelan knew if she tried to push through and perform as she used to, her career would be over. She decided she wanted to be in charge of her dance career and work with people whom she liked as both choreographers and people.
She had run into Abraham and Brooks before, and saw Cerrudo perform with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at a Dancers Respond to AIDS event in New York.
"I was just drawn to them by sharing the same bill with them on certain programs,'' she said.
She remembers seeing Abraham performing bare-chested in a long, romantic tutu to crazy music from a boom box, and being blown away by his solo at Fall for Dance at City Center in New York. His style was very urban, "hip-hoppy" and riveting.
"It's cool as s---. He's just fierce,'' Whelan said. "I was just really drawn and really curious about trying to find what he had, just a taste of it, in my own body."
Abraham, a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, was labeled in 2011 by OUT Magazine as the "best and brightest creative talent to emerge in New York City in the age of Obama."
Whelan also was drawn to Brooks' architectural style, which features repetitive movement and studies of weight and gravity. He has been hailed as a "choreographic genius" by Dance Enthusiast and was the recipient of the New York City Center Fellowship in 2012-13.
"His work is somewhat masculine in a way, which I thought was very cool and very New York,'' Whelan said of Brooks, whom she described as the most free-form modern choreographer of the four. "I was always floating around and being ethereal and I needed to find the ground" in her dance.
She met Beamish, the youngest of the group, at a contemporary dance class: "I'd never seen someone so articulate and able to sort of break down their bodies and their joints'' the way he does, Whelan said.
Cerrudo, resident choreographer at Hubbard Street since 2009, is very tall and lanky. He had worked with ballerinas before but his choreography is not ballet-based. Whelan's producer recommended she work with him.
"He just seemed a different kind of animal than the others,'' Whelan said.
The dancer, who has been described as a chameleon in Restless Creature as she adapts her body to each choreographer's style, said she didn't want to carry herself like a ballerina. She did not want to be predictable or even recognizable.
"I absolutely love it; it's a thrill,'' she said of the program. "I'm finding a really new, authentic side of myself that I hadn't really tapped into before in that way."
For more information on Whelan or Restless Creature, see www.wendywhelan.org.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com.
Kerry Clawson, The Akron Beacon Journal
RELATED COMPANY: Wendy Whelan- Restless Creature
Tuesday, April 21st, 2015 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio - Any other dancer would have retired, gone into teaching.
Not Wendy Whelan. Sidelined by age and injury, the former star of New York City Ballet chose rather to transform than throw in the towel, to submit herself to cutting-edge dance makers and emerge a new kind of performer.
The product of that experience, "Restless Creature," is coming to Playhouse Square. In one hour, with four choreographers, Whelan Saturday will more › relive her metamorphosis and prove to the world that she, like many older ballerinas, still has a great deal to give.
"It's one evolution after another," said Whelan, by phone from New York. "We're making something that's very intimate, and we're letting you watch it. It's an unraveling of the stage, the choreography, and the dancer herself."
Ageism, to put it plainly, is alive and well in dance. Especially in ballet. After serving two decades and gaining global renown as a principal at NYCB, Whelan said many began to view her as naturally on the way down or out.
Then, in 2012, as if to prove them right, came an another injury, a potentially career-ending fall on her hip. Even as she recovered and continued dancing, Whelan began to wonder whether ballet was still her proper sphere.
"The power of both things at the same time forced me to rethink what I wanted to do," Whelan said. "It was kind of a good thing, even as it was painful and confusing. It was liberating."
Just how liberating, DanceCleveland patrons are about to discover. After resolving to branch out and stepping down from NYCB, Whelan did the extraordinary: She gave herself over to four choreographers, allowing each to create a duet with her employing whatever dance language they wished.
While her body regained strength and mobility, her partners - Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Brian Brooks and Alejandro Cerrudo - challenged her to use it in new ways. Put together in a series, the pieces reflect not only the chemistry of four unique pairs but also her solo journey from a straitlaced world to a place with few boundaries.
"It was a very big bite to take off and chew," Whelan recalled. "They didn't want me to hold my body like a ballet dancer. They had to kind of break me into that and trust that I could get there. I found a new side of myself."
The challenges didn't stop there. Once "Restless Creature" was at last ready for the road in spring 2014, the nagging effects of injury obligated Whelan to postpone a U.S. tour several months.
These days, too, even as she's in full swing and developing a new project, she's still encountering and overcoming the original obstacle: the quiet belief that her career should be ending rather than entering new phases.
"There's a lot of surprise that I'm still doing this," Whelan said. "Some people say you shouldn't do this professionally after a certain age. But I don't think you can put those kinds of limits on people."
The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis
RELATED COMPANY: Wendy Whelan- Restless Creature
Friday, April 10th, 2015 12:00 PM
DANCECleveland Announces Ambitious 60th Anniversary Season Featuring Eight Dance Companies in Seven Theaters
DANCECleveland Announces Ambitious 60th Anniversary Season
Featuring Eight Dance Companies in Seven Theaters
2015-16 programs include renowned dance makers and
emerging talents poised for national prominence
CLEVELAND (April 6, 2015) When DANCECleveland opens its 60th anniversary season in July, it will launch the most ambitious season in the venerable organization's history bringing eight dance companies to northeast Ohio to celebrate its history and embrace its future.
In addition to DANCECleveland's traditional Mainstage more › or Connoisseur series, ticket buyers can also purchase additional tickets for two Celebration performances and two New Moves performances.
Connoisseur companies will include Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, which opens the season with a Sunday matinee at 3 p.m. on October 4 at E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron. On Saturday, November 7 at 8 p.m., San Francisco-based Oberlin Dance Company, founded in 1972 in Oberlin, OH, will come to the Ohio Theatre in Playhouse Square. Perennial crowd favorite MOMIX will return to the Connor Palace Theatre at 8 p.m. on January 23, and MalPaso: A Cuban Dance Project will make its Ohio debut at 8 p.m. on February 27 at the Ohio Theatre.
The Celebration performances, which subscribers can add to their season ticket packages, will open and close the season. Parsons Dance will perform at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights at 8 p.m. on July 25, and the beloved Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will give three performances at the State Theatre April 29 and 30 at 8 p.m. and May 1 at 3 p.m.
Finally, DANCECleveland will introduce two New York City-based newcomers to the national scene in its New Moves series featuring Camille A. Brown & Dancers at 8 p.m. November 14 at the Hanna Theatre and Dorrance Dance at 8 p.m. at Cleveland Public Theater on April 7, 8 and 9. Performances in the New Moves series can be added on to season ticket purchases.
Pam Young, Executive Director of DANCECleveland, says that for the 60th anniversary season they wanted to do something special for the city that has been such a loyal supporter of the organization over the decades.
"It's extraordinary that Cleveland embraced modern dance at a time when it was considered radical by many in the dance world, and over the years we've continued to have the loyal support of a broad base of dance lovers and audiences willing to take a chance on something new. This season is very reflective of the type of programming that we're committed to, from audience favorites to seasoned choreographers who continue to delight us with their extraordinary talents, to the next generation of dance makers who are just beginning to make their mark on national stages."
Parsons Dance will appear at Cain Park as part of the Celebration performances. Because the date coincides with the National Day of Dance, DANCECleveland is orchestrating festive activities surrounding the performance, including a wine tasting and an opportunity for attendees of all ages to learn choreography that will be video recorded and sent to the Dizzy Feet Foundation (which supports, improves, and increases access to dance education in the United States) and to So You Think You Can Dance, the popular televised dance competition. David Parsons, who was a principal dancer in the Paul Taylor Dance Co. from 1978 to 1987, founded his own company in 1987. DANCECleveland has presented the company in each decade since that time. Parsons is praised by The New York Times as "one of the great movers of modern dance," and The Toronto Star describes the company's style as "sexy athleticism [with] joyous movement." Parsons Dance has toured on six continents and has been seen on PBS, Bravo, A&E and the Discovery Channel.
"[Parsons is] one of modern dance's great living dance makers." (New York Magazine)
Since its founding in 1972 Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal (BJM), has been known for its energy and spirit of exploration. In tune with the times, the company works with some of the most prestigious figures in the world of dance and contemporary ballet. Under the direction of Artistic Director Louis Robitaille, BJM is committed to expressing each dancer's individual personality, giving the company a distinctive style that is accessible to audiences and speaks to both dance lovers and those who are new to the art form. Prior to the performance in Akron, the company will conduct a week-long residency at The University of Akron, teaching classes and sharing open rehearsals. This is the ninth year that DANCECleveland and The University of Akron have worked in partnership on this residency program.
"These exquisite dancers set the standard for contemporary ballet." (Backtrack)
San Francisco-based Oberlin Dance Company (ODC) will return to its roots when it performs in Cleveland in November. Founded in Oberlin, OH in 1971 as the Oberlin Dance Collective, the company moved to San Francisco in 1976 where it was the first modern dance company in America to build its own home facility which now is one of the most active centers for dance on the West Coast. In Cleveland, the troupe will perform "Boulders and Bones," accompanied by live music by cellist Zoë Keating and featuring video and multimedia elements. The evening-length piece took inspiration from the process of the Scottish land sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. Led by Brenda Way, who formed the Oberlin College group, ODC has a repertory of over 120 works including commissions for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and San Francisco and Oakland Ballets, Los Angeles and Santa Fe Operas, Walker Art Center and the Festival des Etolies, among others. The company's touring roster has included the Kennedy Center, Spoleto Festival, Jacob's Pillow and the Joyce Theater, as well as Europe, Australia, Southeast Asia and regions across the former Soviet Union.
"Each sequence is strong yet delicate, and everything feels, looks and sounds new." (Dance Magazine)
Camille A. Brown & Dancers, part of the New Moves series, will perform a new work "Black Girl: Linguistic Play" which focuses on the ideal of beauty and its impact on African American women of all generations. It was commissioned by DANCECleveland through a 2014 Joyce Award from The Joyce Foundation. Known for high theatricality and virtuosic musicality, the company's work explores real life situations. Brown leads her dancers through dazzling excavations of ancestral stories, both timeless and traditional, as well as contemporary issues. Theater, poetry, visual art and music of all genres merge to inject each performance with energy and urgency. A Bessie Award and Princess Grace Award winner, Brown is a prolific choreographer. A graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts, she was a member of Ronald K. Brown's Evidence, A Dance Company for seven years and was a guest artist with Rennie Harris' Pure Movement, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
"The exuberance on display (is) a joy to behold . . . incredibly inventive and energetic dancers." (Belfast Telegraph)
Audience favorite MOMIX is a company of dance-illusionists known for presenting work of exceptional inventiveness and physical beauty. With nothing more than light, shadow, props and the human body, MOMIX has wowed audiences worldwide for more than 30 years. For the Mainstage performance in Cleveland, MOMIX will present a new work, "Alchemia," an enchanting, phantasmagorical multimedia spectacle full of invention, beauty, sensuality and humor which explores the elements of earth, air, fire and water. With performances on PBS's "Dance in America" series, France's Antenne II, and Italian RAI television, the company's repertory has been broadcast to 55 countries. The company was featured on Canadian television with Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony in the Rhombus Media film of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition", winner of an International Emmy for Best Performing Arts Special. MOMIX was also featured in one of the first IMAX films in 3-D, "IMAGINE," which premiered at the Taejon Expo 93 and was subsequently released at IMAX theaters world-wide. In 2004, "White Widow", co-choreographed by Artistic Directors Moses Pendleton and Cynthia Quinn, was featured in Robert Altman's movie, "The Company."
"One cannot help but stare, eternally transfixed, while watching a performance by the dance-illusionist company MOMIX." (The Morning Call)
MalPaso: A Cuban Dance Project, a company founded in 2012 in Havana, collaborates with top international choreographers while nurturing new voices in Cuban choreography. The Joyce Theater in New York City has worked with the company to help it expand its repertory and some of that work will be performed in Cleveland. The program includes "24 Hours and a Dog" by resident choreographer Osnel Delgado with music performed live by Grammy Award- winning pianist and composer Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble; Ronald K. Brown's "Why You Follow"; and Trey McIntyre's "Under Fire." The young company, which is touring throughout the U.S., has 10 dancers including former members of DanzaContemporanea de Cuba.
"A strong performance and improving relations between the U.S. and Cuba bode well for the future of Malpaso." (Wall Street Journal)
Dorrance Dance, the second company in the New Moves series, honors tap dance's uniquely beautiful history in a new and dynamically compelling context pushing it rhythmically, aesthetically and conceptually. Founder/Artistic Director Michelle Dorrance has racked up impressive accolades for her work, including an Alpert Award, Jacob's Pillow Dance Award, the Princess Grace Award and a Bessie. Her choreography, which has been featured on stages throughout the world, uses street, club and experimental dance forms. With Dorrance Dance, tap dance, American's most long-standing indigenous jazz vernacular, is here to receive its due.
"Michell Dorrance is not only a dynamo in tap shoes but a compelling, imaginative choreographer as well. She and her company perform works that stretch the boundaries of tap." (The Boston Globe)
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presented by Playhouse Square in partnership with DANCECleveland, is the second in the Celebration series and available as an add-on to subscription packages. When Alvin Ailey founded his company two years after DANCECleveland came into being, this visionary choreographer sought to bring African American cultural expression and the American modern dance tradition to the world. From a now-fabled performance in March of 1958 at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was born. That performance changed perceptions about American dance. Throughout its history, the company has performed in 48 states and 71 countries on six continents. Ailey created 79 ballets over his lifetime but insisted the company was not exclusively for his choreography.
"The overwhelming feeling in the theater was one of gratitude for the dancers, for the faithful audiences and for Mr. Ailey's gift to New York City." (The Dance Enthusiast)
SUBSCRIPTIONS: Season subscriptions, starting at $116, are now on sale at www.dancecleveland.org. Call 216-991-9000 or visit www.dancecleveland.org to purchase season tickets or request a brochure. Single tickets will go on sale August 18.
Friday, April 10th, 2015 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Next to such milestones as 25 and 50, one's 60th anniversary often pales. Not so in the case of DanceCleveland.
On the occasion of its sixth decade next season, the distinguished presenter of dance has announced its most expansive and arguably brilliant lineup to date. At the same time, in a festive mood, the group also plans to reach out and take risks like never before.
"This is our more › chance to celebrate big," said Pamela Young, executive director, noting that some of the group's founders are still living. "We want to invite back companies people have loved for a long time, and reconnect with companies we've only presented once or twice, but that people enjoyed."
As Young suggests, it's the calendar that stands out. Larger than any season in DanceCleveland history, next year's slate contains no fewer than eight companies, organized into three smaller series labeled "Connoisseur," "Celebration," and "New Moves."
Beyond that, it's also heavily star-studded, and loaded with groups planning to perform with live music. Included in the lineup are such luminaries as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Momix, Parsons Dance, and Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal.
By way of the less familiar, the series also entails such up-and-comers as Camille A. Brown & Dancers, the tap team Dorrance Dance, and MalPaso, a newly founded troupe from Cuba. Longtime dance fans in Northeast Ohio also will be gratified to revisit Oberlin Dance Company, a San Francisco-based group founded here in 1972.
"We saw that if we were going to go big, we ought to go small, too," Young said.
They're also going out further into the community. Beyond its usual homes at Playhouse Square and the University of Akron, the presenter also will stage at Cain Park, Cleveland Public Theatre and the Hanna Theatre. The July show by Parsons Dance at Cain Park will even include audience participation, in honor of the National Day of Dance.
Check back here throughout the year for detailed coverage of DanceCleveland, including breaking news as well as features and reviews of each regularly scheduled program.
A variety of subscription packages go on sale Monday, April 13. Individual tickets go on sale Aug. 18. Go to dancecleveland.org or call 216-991-9000 for tickets and information.
DANCECLEVELAND'S 2015-16 SEASON
8 p.m. Saturday, July 25
3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4
E.J. Thomas Hall, Akron
Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal
8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7
Ohio Theatre, Playhouse Square
Oberlin Dance Company
8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14
Camille A. Brown & Dancers
8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23
Connor Palace Theatre
8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27
MalPaso: A Cuban Dance Project
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, April 7-9
Cleveland Public Theatre
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 29 and 30; 3 p.m. Sunday, May 1
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis
Monday, March 9th, 2015 12:00 PM
We've been waiting for a long time for hip-hop dancing - formerly known as break dance, b-boy, and street dance - to take the next step. "Why can't hip-hop dance mean more?" we asked ourselves. When we saw Compagnie Kafig last Saturday, we realized that we'd asked the wrong question.
Compagnie Kafig presents an unlikely international hybrid. Artistic Director Mourad Merzouki was born in Lyon, France of North African parents. He more › began studying circus arts and martial arts as a child. At the age of 15 he discovered hip-hop and soon began directing a number of artistic projects that blended hip-hop with other forms.
In 2006, age 33, he saw the all-male Brazilian group Companhia Urbana de Danca at a festival in Lyon and apparently recruited them on the spot. Since then, Compagnie Kafig has been touring internationally including a prestigious stop at Kennedy Center and many, many one night stands at colleges and universities in the US.
Compagnie Kafig's concert at the Ohio Theater was divided into two 30-minute works, Correria - Running - and Agwa - Water.
So, picture us as the stage lights slowly came up on Correria. Did we insert our earplugs against over-amplified percussion? Tense our muscles and curl our lips against vitriolic raps?
No, dear reader. As the stage lights slowly came up on Correria we gradually discerned two guys lying on their backs, bicycling their legs in the air. Soon they were joined by two more guys running around them in a circle. There was soft, rhythmic chanting, rhythmic percussion of hands slapping the floor, chimes and other recorded sounds. Soon we were watching two guys center stage performing some fairly conventional breaking and capoeira moves, slightly enlivened by the rhythmic counterpoint of two more guys running around them.
Subsequent scenes were characterized by alternating, contrasting tempos. Run fast / pause. Dance fast / run in slow motion. From time to time there's some fairly spectacular breaking or acrobatics but it's an accent or punctuation in contrast to a steady background hum of fast / slow. An eclectic musical play list, thankfully including little synthetic drum machine and no rap vocals, provided accompaniment. If you didn't like one musical accompaniment, a different one was just around the bend.
So as Correria ended we looked at each other and agreed that Compagnie Kafig was so much more inventive and good-humored than we expected; the dance plays with the announced theme, running, but it's not about "meaning" so much as it is an interesting and entertaining succession of scenes. Rather than try to tell a story, it is a thorough exploration of the theme in a variety of moods and paces. There's some break dancing but Compagnie Kafig wisely refrains from trying to be continuously spectacular.
Agwa takes a similar approach by mixing fairly spectacular stunts with whimsical interludes. A spectacular series of back handsprings and a finale including head spins is punctuated by interludes where the dancers pour water from plastic cup to plastic cup. One dancer pours water and we hear the sound of water amplified; he drinks, smacks his lips, and exits yammering happily in Portuguese. Various arrangements of the plastic cups are lit in surprising and beautiful ways achieving magical effects with such ingenious economy of means. Ordinary plastic cups transformed!
In Agwa the head spins were the first of many finales. "Bravo!" shouted the audience but there was more. Then "Yaay!" and another standing ovation but it still wasn't over. Finally, the dancers were all lying collected in a row downstage, light focused on their hands as they each danced with 2 fingers around their plastic glasses of water. They click their glasses together and drink ("Mmmm!") with a laugh.
So what's next in hip-hop? Hip-hop began as an urban, contemporary manifestation of African-American culture and struggled to make the transition from the street to the stage. Then, like jazz music in the 1920s, hip-hop became international and transcended its African-American origins. Now hip-hop can include virtually everything and everyone; a French citizen with North African roots, a bunch of Brazilians who've perhaps never been in an American ghetto.
Compagnie Kafig has its share of critics, purists who want their hip-hop to remain old school, but we're relieved to find a hip-hop show without male braggadocio, without misogyny, without ear-splitting volume levels, and without ill-considered resentment. Here's to hip-hop performed with great good-humored choreographic invention and fun. Bring back Compagnie Kafig, DanceCleveland! We'll bet they can rock Playhouse Square on an annual basis.
Compagnie Kafig was presented by DanceCleveland at the Ohio Theatre on Saturday, March 7, 2015 with support from Nordson, Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Ohio Arts Council.
Victor Lucas, Cool Cleveland
RELATED COMPANY: Compagnie Kafig- Correria Agwa