An American in Paris on Broadway

Leanne Cope and Robert Fairchild in

Leanne Cope and Robert Fairchild in “An American in Paris” on Broadway, photo by Sara Krulwich

Music and dance gorgeously come together in An American in Paris, which opened at the Palace Theatre last month. Set in the postwar city of light and based on the 1951 film starring Gene Kelly, this production is not a stage version but rather a brilliant re-invention that takes inspiration from George Gershwin’s colorful and very dance-able music and lyrics.

Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon (making his Broadway directorial debut), the show is filled with pieces that are beautiful and beautifully danced. A few have the pizzazz typically scene in Broadway crowd pleasers, but all are graceful and captivating. Wheeldon took a risk by casting two dancers, Robert Fairchild of New York City Ballet and Leanne Cope of the Royal Ballet, in the lead roles, as opposed to actors with decent dancing chops. They are not only dynamite dancers, but also have lovely singing voices and convincingly deliver their lines.

An American in Paris, photo by Angela Sterling

An American in Paris, photo by Angela Sterling

As the ex-G.I. Jerry Mulligan, Fairchild is charming and irresistible. When he soars across the stage, your eyes are unquestionably following him. And as the aspiring dancer Lise Dassin, Cope brings out the character’s youthfulness and anguish. Together, they are a breathtaking duo, particularly in the final ballet within the production, danced to Gershwin’s titular song.

Just as significant as Wheeldon’s choreography are the costumes and sophisticated set designs by Bob Crowley. From boats on the Seine to a vivid sunset to the stunning projections in the climactic ballet, Crowley has created a visually striking post-war Paris.

While dance and Gershwin’s music carry the production, the story line is boosted by Craig Lucas’s book, which is plenty witty, especially for Jerry’s pals (Brandon Uranowitz and Max von Essen, both excellent) along with the supporting characters performed by Veanne Cox and Jill Paice.

An American in Paris is an enchanting feast for the eyes. You’ll be swept up in the music and dancing until the very end, when the dancers stroll gracefully under a Parisian sunset.

Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope in

Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope in “An American in Paris”, photo by Matthew Murphy

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The Mariinsky Ballet’s Cinderella

The Mariinsky Ballet in Alexei Ratmansky’s “Cinderella” at BAM. Photo credit: Jack Vartoogian.

This past weekend at BAM, Russia’s Mariinsky Ballet presented the New York premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s 2002 production of Cinderella. While Ratmansky is known for storytelling – often times to humorous effect – and whimsy, this piece predates some of his more recent, masterful works. The weaknesses show. There are some questionable choreographic and storytelling choices, and perhaps most frustratingly, he didn’t tap into the romance and sweeping qualities of Prokofiev’s score. Curiously dull ensembles that left much to be desired replaced opportunities for more expansive and rhythmic dancing.

Set sometime in the late 20th century, this production opens with three male hairdressers primping Cinderella’s stepmother and her two stepsisters, Khudishka and Kubishka. The trio is not evil so much as annoying and ridiculous. The stepmother, performed by Anastasia Petushkova on Sunday afternoon, has bright orange hair and two left feet, as illustrated by her inability to keep up when dance instructors arrive at her home to provide dance lessons prior to the Prince’s ball.

The stepsisters and stepmother in Alexei Ratmansky's "Cinderella" for the Mariinsky Ballet. Photo credit: Jack Vartoogian.

The stepsisters and stepmother in Alexei Ratmansky’s “Cinderella” for the Mariinsky Ballet. Photo credit: Jack Vartoogian.

Cinderella, portrayed by Anastasia Matvienko, is not the most likeable character in this version. She spends a lot of time moping and reflecting on her childhood (her father is now a pitiful drunk), and collapses to the floor in a fit of tears no fewer than four times throughout the ballet. Her fairy godmother and the four seasons (performed by men) hardly exude any magical powers. When it’s time to send Cinderella to the ball at the end of Act I – at which point the audience hears Prokofiev’s dark, powerful waltz – the stage feels lifeless, with the exception of the magnificent rotating clock.

In Act II, the clock rotates and serves as a chandelier for the ball. Cinderella’s naivety is endearing as the prince pursues her, and their pas de deux is the most choreographically engaging part of the ballet. Yet her hysterical dashing around the ballroom as the clock strikes midnight is comical, with a line of guests frantically running after her. It is no match for the intensity of Prokofiev’s strings and percussion.

The prince’s search for the owner of the glass slipper includes encounters with male and female groups that try to take him off course by seducing him. But he perseveres, and is reunited with the sulking Cinderella at her stepmother’s house. While there are interesting moments here and there, Ratmansky’s production includes confusing storytelling and little real dancing aside from the central pas de deux. And where Prokofiev’s score brilliantly expands, the dancing seems to meekly retreat.

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Preview of Miami City Ballet in Justin Peck’s “Heatscape”

Miami City Ballet dancers took to the streets to preview Heatscape, an upcoming premiere for the company by choreographer Justin Peck. Co-directed by Ezra Hurwitz, the video features the murals of Shepard Fairey (who created new designs for the ballet) and music by Bohuslav Martinu. Read more about the video in Vogue.

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tears become…streams become

photo by Evan Namerow

photo by Evan Namerow

Head on over to Park Avenue Armory before January 4th to take in tears become…streams become in the cavernous Drill Hall — especially if you’re looking for some end-of-year quiet reflection. Photos don’t do it justice. When bare, the Drill Hall is a remarkable space. Transformed by this exhibit, it’s truly awe-inspiring. You’ll want at least an hour — but probably longer — to take in this powerful installation while you sit, walk, and meditate. Enjoy.

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Batsheva’s “Sadeh21” at BAM

Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin's "Sadeh21" at BAM, photo by Stephanie Berger

Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s “Sadeh21” at BAM, photo by Stephanie Berger

Last week, Batsheva Dance Company brought artistic director Ohad Naharin’s Sadeh21 to BAM as part of its 50th anniversary celebration. The 75-minute work, whose title means “Field 21” as in “field of study”, consists of 21 segments that emphasize the individuality of each dancer. Although all 18 dancers train in “Gaga”, Naharin’s movement language and training method, Batsheva is not a cookie cutter dance company. There is a unique, explosive energy unlocked within each performer at different moments throughout the work.

On a stage split horizontally by a white wall, bodies curl, twist, and bend in every direction. Rubbery spines and light footedness allow for abrupt shifts. The whirling limbs of one dancer are mesmerizing, but are suddenly replaced by another. Naharin’s pacing choices are noticeable; you can’t settle into any particular section for too long before the dancers, costumes (neutral or brightly colored shorts and tops), and sounds all change.

The mood is melancholy, with hints of humor and absurdity. A woman walks rhythmically with a pronounced lift of her hips with each step she takes. A man’s gibberish seems filled with a desire to be understood, but also with fits of giggles. Men in flowing, black gowns leap elegantly as a line of women do a groovy sequence of moves. Tender moments shared between two dancers seem less about plot and more about the combination of external forces pushing them together and emotional quivering from deep within.

Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin's "Sadeh21" at BAM, photo by Stephanie Berger

Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s “Sadeh21” at BAM, photo by Stephanie Berger

Projections on a screen mark the start of each “sadeh”, but after the first six segments take up nearly an hour, the audience chuckles (and perhaps is relieved) when the screen shows that the seventh through eighteenth segments have been combined into one.

There are no formal bows in Sadeh21. The dancers aren’t performing for our entertainment, but rather for each other. And the ending is strikingly serene and powerful. Each dancer climbs atop the white divider and leaps gracefully to a fall that we don’t see, continuing the climb-and-fall pattern as the credits role on the screen below. This is their world – filled with beauty, joy, sorrow, and humor. We’re allowed to have a look, but it’s their playground.

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