The renowned dancer and ballet master Frederic Franklin died on May 4 at age 98.
Mr. Franklin made his Boston debut in November 1938 with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo during the first season of the Celebrity Series of Boston. In addition to multiple Celebrity Series performances in Boston with Ballet Russe, his work was also seen by Bostonian's in Celebrity Series presentations of Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Spellbound Dance Company dancers Maria Cosso (center) and Giacomo Todeschi (left) lead a masterclass at Rindge & Latin High School in Cambridge on April 4, 2013. The class was part of Celebrity Series' Arts for All! program.
Complete 2013-14 season is now on sale at www.celebrityseries.org - take a look!
“… one of the ten best choreographers in the world.”
North Star (1978)
Choreography: Lar Lubovitch
Music: Philip Glass, “North Star”
Little Rhapsodies (2007)
Choreography: Lar Lubovitch
Music: Robert Schumann, “Symphonic Etudes,” Opus 13
Crisis Variations (2011)
Choreography: Lar Lubovitch
Music: Yevgeniy Sharlat (“Crisis Variations” is a suite for five players based on Franz Liszt’s “Transcendental Etudes” for piano)
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater begins its 5 performance run at Citi Performing Arts Center tonight at 7:30pm. Media coverage of the company's 42nd Celebrity Series appearance has been copious. Here are a few samples:
Robert Battle looks within to lead Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (Boston Globe)
Alvin Ailey troupe wants to bring everyone to their feet (Boston Herald)
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Leaping to an opportunity (Metro Boston)
Tickets are available at www.celebrityseries.org.
Welcome back Ailey!
Ailey Artistic Director Robert Battle
Debra Cash has written a brief overview of Robert Battle and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in advance of their April 26-29 engagement at Citi Wang Theatre.
Read: New Shoes: Robert Battle at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
A scene from Aszurer Barton's Blue Soup
Welcoming Blue Skies: Introducing Choreographer Aszure Barton
By Debra Cash
What kind of courage does it take to put your imagination into the world and ask people to pay attention? There may seem to be an insurmountable gulf between the street musician with his open instrument case staking out a busy intersection, and the celebrated artist who can take advantage of all the accoutrements of a professional engagement and expect to go home with a paycheck. But are the two really so very different?
This 2011 Celebrity Series engagement marks the much-anticipated Boston debut of Aszure Barton & Artists. The journey that brings her company here has been a whirlwind, from Barton’s first “professional” dance pieces—including a solo she performed at a 42nd Street deli in New York City—to her recent “keys to the city” moment when she was proclaimed the honorary Ambassador of Contemporary Choreography in her native Alberta, Canada.
Barton was three years old, the youngest of three dancing sisters, when she started learning to tap dance in Edmonton. Quickly, she added just about every other kind of dance activity you can name: ballet, of course, and jazz and modern, but also synchronized swimming and Scottish highland dance. She was a track and field star— the top high jumper in the Catholic school circuit in Alberta—but dancing took precedence.
When she was 14, her parents agreed to let her move to Toronto to study at the National Ballet of Canada. She was a nascent choreographer even then: the student choreographic workshop she and friend started there—now named the Stephen Godfrey Choreographic Workshop—continues to allow students to learn to choreograph by choreographing. She went on to perform with that company and with Montreal’s Ballets Jazz de Montréal (now called bjm_danse).
Barton set out on a few years as a freelance dancer in Europe and in New York. Her big break, though, happened far from geographical centers of high culture. In 2003 she was in Nebraska working on a pick-up project with former Mark Morris company dancer Ruth Davidson Hahn. There was a reception, and as she tells the story, Mikhail Baryshnikov was there to perform a solo Hahn had created for him a few seasons earlier. The two started talking shop.
Baryshnikov told Barton “I heard you’re good. I want to see your work.” And Barton remembers thinking “Yeah, right, I’ll never hear from him again.”
He did call, though, and liked what he saw. Barton’s career took off .When the Baryshnikov Arts Center opened in New York in 2005, she was tapped to be one of its first resident choreographers, an honor she repeated in 2006 and 2008. Her reputation solidified when her choreography garnered a Tony nomination for the 2006 Broadway revival of the Brecht-Weill Threepenny Opera featuring Jim Dale, Alan Cumming and Cyndi Lauper. In the past decade she has contributed dances for more than thirty companies, including American Ballet Theatre and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.
While Barton’s choreographic language sometimes seems like a mash-up of genres, it also reads as a healthy artistic agnosticism. Barton is an equal opportunity assimilator, filtering the ways people move through her own distinctive sensibility and her dancers’ robust talents.
Take Busk, the newest work on these Boston programs. Barton likes to say that it doesn’t take its name from buskers, but instead from the Spanish root word buscar, meaning “to seek.”
Created during a four-week residency in the vibrant Santa Barbara sunshine, Barton and her collaborators found themselves startled by the proximity of wealth and older veterans living on the street. “It made me wonder ‘where do we fit into this picture?” she says.
It was Baryshnikov who suggested the gypsy-inspired score by Ljova and the Kontraband that became Busk’s musical engine. Moscow-born Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin had moved to New York in 1990, and Barton found in him a kindred soul who, like her, was a playful experimenter who never hid from his classical roots. Kontraband’s recorded contribution is augmented by music played on conventional and invented instruments by the legendary blind New York street musician—a true busker—known as Moondog, who was famed for dressing in a horned cap in the persona of the Norse god Thor.
There’s more than a touch the Fellini classic La Strada in Busk: its performers are presented as ordinary
working people whose jobs are, paradoxically, to magic other people’s ordinary routines. Aszure Barton plays with the confidence—real or simulated—of the busker, while portraying the crowd’s longing to be enchanted and transported.
Azure (without the s) is, of course, a shade of blue, the color of lapis lazuli or of the sky on a bright fall day. Blue Soup made two years ago, stitches together—and by juxtaposition, rethinks—choreographic elements from three earlier repertory works, “Mai We,” “I” and “Over/Come,” the last created during her initial Baryshnikov Arts Center residency. The components show where she has come from; the current structure shows how far she has traveled.
Over the years, Barton explains, she has been most compelled by exploring the way interior states drive visible expression, “to see the shape and form of the release.” In Blue Soup Barton’s cinematic imagination is on full display. Scenes and vignettes are played out against the environment of African vocalizing, a Swedish choir, Japanese kodo drumming, and comic book exclamations from French musician Serge Gainsbourg. At times, gorgeous movement seems almost blurted out. She can dig into the hyperbole of corny 1950s love ballads or make an acerbic comment. Across her moods, rhythm can either root the dancers to the spaces they inhabit or knock them off their centers and onto their knees.
In Blue Soup everyone embraces their idiosyncracies. And it’s easy to see in this medley why the dance world has paid so much attention to the idiosyncratic Aszure Barton, this gifted protégée, this New York hipster, this all grown-up wild child of the Canadian plains.
© 2011 Debra Cash
Aszure Barton & Artists perform at the Tsai Performance center at Boston University November 4 & 5.
Jeffrey Gantz, formerly of the Boston Phoenix, reviewed this past weekend's Celebrity Series and World Music co-presentation of Complexions Contemporary Ballet. The Complexions run at the Cutler Majestic Theatre was the final performance in the Celebrity Series of Boston's 2010-11 season. Read Complexions dancers rise to the occasion.
Behind the scenes with Teatro di Piazza d'Occasione's stunningly beautiful Farfalle(Butterflies).
This incredible show comes to the Celebrity Series and The Black Box, Paramount Center May 10-15.
by Debra Cash
Willy Tsao is a phenomenon, the spark behind three distinct Chinese dance companies in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Beijing. None, he is quick to stress, are the Willy Tsao Dance Company; each is a platform for the emerging talents of contemporary Chinese choreographers. What connects them is Tsao's philosophy of individual expression, the new voice of Chinese freedom for a new century.
China came late to modern dance. Wu Xiaobang, who studied German expressionist technique in Japan in the early 1930s and used it to create patriotic dances to support the Chinese war effort against Japan, would later play an important role in documenting Chinese folk traditions. But after 1949, Wu's work was pushed aside by bombastic—and kitsch—Soviet-style ballet that put revolutionary heroines brandishing bayonets into toe shoes. American modern dance was considered just one more form of decadent western imperialism, described dismissively as "fierce floods and savage beasts."
Hong Kong may have been spared the excesses of the Cultural Revolution but that didn't mean modern dance had a foothold there. Ten-year-old Willy Tsao happened to see touring American dancer Louis Falco—and says he instantly fell in love with the art form—but there was no venue where he could take
dance classes or see more contemporary choreography. Besides, Tsao had his future mapped out: he was expected to take over his wealthy family's Hong Kong business, a conglomerate that included textiles, a printing business, and property management.
In 1973, as an undergraduate at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, Tsao was delighted when he opened his course catalog and saw a modern dance class offered. He signed up for an introductory class taught by Kathy Iverson (now Mohn), who had trained in the styles of Doris Humphrey and Alwin Nikolais. Hooked, he studied in New York and London during summer breaks and was seriously considered for a role in The King and I in the West End. He even experimented with choreography, creating a few early pieces for Iverson's small touring group. But as he recently said "at most I thought it would be something I loved to do, a hobby."
Tsao graduated, returned to Hong Kong and, in 1979, earned his MBA. He did indeed start working with the family business, but carved out time to start Hong Kong's first professional modern dance company, City Contemporary Dance Company. "It‟s okay if you want to run a dance company but you need to run it as a business" he says today. "I think it‟s healthier to make the most of the resources available." Modern dance in mainland China took a bit longer. Tsao recalls when he was first invited to teach modern dance at the Beijing Dance Academy and for the Guangdong Dance School in Guangzhou in the late '80s and early '90s as part of Deng Xiaoping's Open Door policy initiatives. Government officials were skeptical and apprehensive. "They considered modern dance some sort of American capitalism or as if you were going to encourage the dancers to defect to the west [during] international tours. But the dancers saw that the door was wide open. Nobody wants to defect if you can come home."
Today, Tsao hosts a week-long summer festival in Guangzhou where these three Chinese modern dance companies appear alongside three invited international troupes. Days are open for master classes. Anyone who wants to show his or her work can present it to the more than 400 young dancers who arrive from all parts of China. Tsao has even managed to push the boundary of his audiences' expectations by staging projects like the gently absurd site specific work he produced in a Shanghai mall, where dancers waved their arms as they rode escalators and made puppet-like motions among the mannequins.
When Tsao founded BeijingDance/LDTX (Lei Dong Tian Xia) in September 2005, it became mainland China's first independent professional modern dance troupe.The program on this Boston debut engagement brings together two works by the company's deputy artistic director, Li Hanzhong, and his dancer-wife, Ma Bo. The Cold Dagger, originally an evening length work, is condensed into an intense game of weigi (Go) with fluent martial arts-inspired partnering shifting across a grid. The Cold Dagger sets the theme of disciplined and rhythmic ensemble dancing—a feature of both the ethnic dance forms and classical ballet that formed the training of most of BeijingDance/LDTX's 14 dancers—punctuated by free, challenging solos and duets. All River Red by the same couple has become something of a BeijingDance/LDTX signature. Set to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, it has more than a whiff of the reassessment of Maoist excesses and the blind sacrifice of the individual in the service of not nature but ideology. “When it was first created almost ten years ago a lot of people were scared of those images,” Tsao says, “but when we performed it in Beijing, the students went wild."
One Table N Chairs is in part Tsao's irreverent retort to the critics within and outside China who expect Chinese modern dance to be assembled from familiar cultural materials. "Everyone wants us to use Chinese handkerchiefs, ribbons, swords," he says. Instead, he spliced together elements from different
Chinese opera scores—in different modes, sung in different dialects—invented a schematic story line, and then instructed the dancers to perform only a single traditional Chinese opera pose and follow it with invented embellishments. The result, in its fixed form, shows an ambivalent relationship to tradition and a move towards the idiosyncrasy of contemporary self-expression.
Sky, to John Adams' minimalist Shaker Loops, is Liu Bin's exploration of China's—and the planetary— environmental crisis. It brings another celestial metaphor to the company whose name, Lei Dong Tian Xia, translates as Thunder Rumbles Under Heaven, a rough, if unintended gloss on the classical I Ching hexagram Wu Wang. That hexagram counsels Do not anticipate the future or hold on to the past at this point. Nip cynicism in the bud so intuition can flow. Willy Tsao chose the name because it sounds good in Chinese. And because it implies that the sky is the limit.
© 2011 Debra Cash
Celebrity Series of Boston presents the Boston debut of BeijingDance/LDTX, April 1 & 2 at the Tsai Performance Center at Boston University.