Contra-Tiempo out of step with confusing show

Deconstruction of a dramatic narrative can be a wonderful artistic device. Taking the elements of a story and presenting them in a different way can lead to new and exciting ways to see that story. Contra-Tiempo’s 2016 work Agua Furiosa does not do that.

This 90-minute work by founding director Ana Maria Alvarez was presented as part of the Kravis Center’s PEAK series. It bounces from one poorly developed idea to the next, while sandwiching in equally underdeveloped mish-mashes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. If that sounds confusing, well, that’s because it is.

The dancers are clean, clear and mature performers that almost seduce you in to believing that Agua Furiosa has more depth and clarity than it has. (Makeshift choreography danced and validated by wonderful dancers seems to be a somewhat disturbing trend in contemporary dance.)

The ensemble rips through the highly eclectic movement phrases, sharp, detailed and specific only to have the choreographic bottom drop out and send them off to rearrange some mop buckets. The saving grace of the work, if there is one, is the stunning Pyeng Threadgill, who weaves her way through the entire work as narrator, vocalist and general overseeing goddess. Her spoken word and sung vocal delivery are world class.

Agua Furiosa can never seem to make up its mind as to what it is about. Water? Human suffering? Shakespeare? Violence? The environment? All these topics are addressed in the most obvious and half-baked manner imaginable. What could have been a profound statement concerning all the above topics comes off as preachy, sophomoric and very long-winded.

What the performers are given to do simply doesn’t actually add up to anything. While the world certainly needs more art and dances with messages and meaning, we also need to be able to understand them.

Got to hand it to them: 10 Hairy Legs show what modern dance should be

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The American male modern dancer is a unique entity. He is bigger or wider, shorter or more athletic and rougher than his classical ballet counterparts. He lifts, flies and rolls like a wrestler, yet at times carries himself with a grace and delicacy that can only be downright feminine.

The all-New Jersey based, all-male dance company 10 Hairy Legs showcases, by far, the best American male modern dancers one could have the good fortune of seeing these days. Palm Beach audiences were indeed fortunate to have that opportunity this weekend at the Kravis Center Rinker Playhouse.

One does not go to see 10 Hairy Legs to see the dances. One goes to see the dancers. None of the five repertory works presented is ever going to be remembered as a masterwork. The dances — created by world-class dance makers David Parker, Megan Williams, Hedi Lansky, Stephen Petronio and Doug Elkins — are at best journeyman works.

What makes up for this is the fact that every one of these dances is performed by a five-man company (10 Hairy Legs… get it?) of fantastic dancers. The company is technically even, well-rehearsed and qualitatively crystal clear. In short, these men dance on a level that simply must be seen to be believed.

Leading the ensemble (as far as time on stage) is Derek Crescenti, who is in four of the five dances. Crescenti is a brilliant technician who can make the most difficult passage come across as legible and wonderfully defined. He brings a delightful humanity to the stage that balances his prodigious technique.

Alex Biegelson is a beautiful giant of a dancer, super clean and astonishingly fast and slippery. He has the most mature command of movement qualities and dynamics. Robert Mark Burke reminds one of a young Arnie Zane, ambiguous and beautifully propellant as he devours the physical space before him.

Alexander Olivieri is a quicksilver dynamo, fluid, grounded and sensual. William Tomaskovics’ dancing is best defined by the simple joy it radiates to the audience. While far from a technical lightweight, what you see first and foremost is his great love of being on the stage and in the moment.

If you missed this fantastic company, by all means make it a point to see them as soon as you can.

Review: Miami City Ballet ‘Nutcracker’ reboot hits all the right notes

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It’s hard to imagine a time when one couldn’t see multiple versions of The Nutcracker during the holidays.

Master dance-maker George Balanchine first presented his version of the E.T.A. Hoffman tale in 1954. While not the first production made and performed in America, it is indeed the version that launched 10,000 other versions.

It is amazing that the Balanchine chestnut presented this season by the Miami City Ballet looks as fresh as if it were made yesterday. It doesn’t hurt that new sets and costumes by the husband-and-wife design dream team Isabel and Ruben Toledo are absolutely beautiful.

Many design teams have tried to update or “deconceptualize” The Nutcrackeronly to wind up hiding the true essence of the ballet and wrecking a great fairy tale. The Toledos come through with a visual chop suey of colors, projections and backdrops of the most original execution.

See the new sets, costumes

The first act of the Miami City Ballet production is a model of narrative efficacy. Most Nutcracker first acts drag, but not this one. All of the dancing is sharp and clear. More importantly, the narrative action, largely pushed forward by Didier Bramaz’s Herr Drosselmeier, is fast-paced and right to the point. Bramaz has thankfully made his character mysterious without being the least bit creepy. It also helps that Marie and the Nutcracker prince are wonderfully played by Renata Adarvez and Erick Rojas, respectively.

The only problem in the first act is the famous tree-growing scene. In this case, instead of having the tree grow in real time and dimension, we see it morph into a video projection and then finally into a two-dimensional backdrop. This falls a bit flat and is more than a little anticlimactic.

The entirety of the second act moves at a great pace as well. The divertissement are all clear and quick, with Sugar Plum doing her variation as the opening of the dances, not toward the end with the grand pas de deux. All of the variations are wonderfully danced with exquisite musicality and technique to spare.

The highlight of act two was clearly Nathalia Arja as the Dew Drop Fairy. Arja’s dancing is Balanchine of the highest order: extreme motion, extreme speed and not a moment of misplaced effort. She lights up the stage every time she enters and propels the Waltz of the Flowers to delightful heights.

The only misstep in act two was the decision to have Mother Ginger wear a headpiece. Instead of the usual dizzy aunt danced in the most wonderfully obvious manner by a man, we get a creepy muppet.

It is important to mention that Miami City Ballet performs with a live orchestra — a rare treat for dance-going audiences these days. The Opus One Orchestra, under the direction of Gary Sheldon, handles the score with clarity and delicacy. The music is truly wonderful in the Snow and The Waltz of the Flowers; Balanchine’s notoriously fast tempi didn’t phase the players a bit.

This was indeed a beautifully executed performance on all counts.

Review: Dancers brilliantly explore extremes in Wilson’s ‘Citizen’

Posted: 6:16 p.m. Saturday, May 06, 2017

Brooklyn-based choreographer Reggie Wilson is brilliant. The Fist and Heel Performance Group dancers who perform and collaborate in his work are brilliant, and the work he creates is wonderfully, difficultly, brilliant.

His newest creation, Citizen, presented Friday at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse, is a 70-minute exploration of singular and intimate perspective. Citizen is a big work about extreme choices: Time, space and energy are all taken to the most extreme places, usually with beautifully poetic and visual results.

The cast is small, with most of Citizen performed by four dancers: Hadar Ahuvia, Yeman Brown, Raja Feather Kelly and Clement Mensah. Dancer Annie Wang appears only in the last portion of the work.

After a brief opening tableau, each of the dancers presented a wildly eccentric solo of great length and detail. These solos — part and whole — were repeated over and over during Citizen. At times, viewers saw one of the solos performed for a very short duration.  Mensah seemed to come in and comment on events in a speedy, eloquent manner. At other times, the dancing was drawn out to take what seemed an eternity.

Kelly performed his material as if he was trying to get someone to hear him, saying the same thing over and over desperately, to the point where he became almost exhausted and seemed to be questioning his statement, his search for a sensitive ear to hear his story, taking him deeper and deeper into himself.

Citizen was presented with the stage dressed in an asymmetrical manner. All of the wings were gone and replaced by large canvas borders of varying sizes. Video projections were flashed throughout the dance, suggesting travel, journey and place. This layer of visual lacquer added to the denseness of the work, but also the ambiguity of its focus. At times, it provided context into what is happening live on stage; at other times it was merely a kind of wallpaper. And, at still other times, it obscured the action totally. The video element also used extreme repetition of the same material to achieve its ends.

Citizen is the type of work not usually seen at conventional performance venues, so viewers were fortunate to have this level of cutting-edge work presented as part of the Kravis Center’s Peak series.

The series has consistently brought superb non-mainstream work to the Palm Beaches. Wilson’s Citizen is a welcome addition to that canon.

Stuart Pimsler troupe delivers divinely curious works

Posted: 1:26 p.m. Saturday, April 08, 2017

Minneapolis-based choreographer Stuart Pimsler has been creating unique dance-theater works for nearly 40 years, and it shows. In an age when many movement-based artists are struggling for relevance and authenticity, he presents masterfully crafted works of the most personal and humane kind.

His company, Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater, presented three such works Friday at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse.

Tales from the Book of Longing, At It Again and Bohemian Grove made for a divinely curious evening.

The Book of Longing, which premiered in 2009, is a rich essay on, well, longing. The piece begins with a dancer singing on a perch high above the audience in the theater’s catwalk. The dance develops into duets and ensemble vignettes of sometimes witty, sometimes wrenching, details all centered around wanting love, but never actually quite touching it.

When we do finally see love achieved, it is in the form of a beautifully tender and supportive male duet, accompanied by the same singer singing plaintively on the stage at the dancers’ feet. This work asks the tender questions about why we want what it is that we want.

At It Again is a tour de force dance monologue in which Pimsler himself dances and reads aloud a personal letter written to author Phillip Roth. While not intended to be knee-slappingly funny, Pimsler’s physical and vocal delivery takes the work to a special place of high political and cultural commentary mixed with a generous side of belly-laughs. Deftly executed and intellectually spot-on, this solo practically sums up and defines an entire sub-genre of post-modern dance in 10 minutes.

Bohemian Grove derives its title and premise from a campground in Northern California used by the uber-rich and famous. Never one to shy away from the political, Pimsler lets the 1 percent have it with both barrels.

The primary narrator is co-artistic director Suzanne Costello, who slithers through the piece with delightfully reptilian splendor. The rather cryptic and morose stories deal with the upper class’s desire and delight in keeping all others in their place by any means necessary.

This visually stunning and emotional dance was performed by Costello, Brian Evans, Katherine Griffis, Jesse Neumann-Peterson and Scott Stafford. Each of the performers was rich and mature in their roles, bringing even more depth to an evening of masterful work.

Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater goes on stage at 7:30 tonight in the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse.