Charlotte Ballet Opens New Season in Devastating Style
By Perry Tannenbaum
October 9, 2014 - Charlotte, NC:
In the dance world, companies like Miami City Ballet impress us with their precision and synchronicity, others like the Ailey Dance Theater wow us with the charismatic individualism of their principals, and still others – myriad companies large and small – astonish us with the daring of their choreography. With their first program of the 2014-15 season, Dangerous Liaisons, Charlotte Ballet has authoritatively stamped themselves as all of the above: precise, dynamic, and breathtakingly audacious. Their revival of Sasha Janes' Liaisons, cunningly adapted from the notorious epistolary novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, was every bit as impactful as it was in its 2012 premiere. Preceding that sensual steam-bath was the return of George Balanchine's The Four Temperaments, last done by Charlotte Ballet at Belk Theater in 2008, when the company was still known as North Carolina Dance Theatre.
Earlier this year, Walker emphatically reestablished his pre-eminence alongside Manzano at the male forefront of Charlotte Ballet with his stunning portrayal of the mighty Othello and his harrowing disintegration. But his work as the Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons may strike subscribers as even more arresting, partly because his evil is so much more purposeful, arrogant, and calculated – and partly because Janes sticks to the original storyline rather than blurring the familiar De Laclos characters with omissions and modernizations. We lose much of the contretemps between Valmont and the devilish Marquise de Merteuil as well as the complexities of his overtures to the spiritual Madame de Tourvel, but Janes is resourceful in retaining the essentials of the plot. At key moments, the video design by John P. Woodey – executed by Chuck Bludsworth, Rick Fitts, and Civilized Films across a dozen screens perpetually hovering over the action – zeroes in on the essence of things with pertinent photos, drawings, and text.
But Janes also insinuates new themes and motifs effectively to replace some of the nuances he has had to sacrifice. When we first see the wicked Merteuil, she is straitjacketed in a long, lurid red ribbon that is unspooled by two hospital orderlies as her flashbacks begin. The red color is repeated in Merteuil's long stockings and in her fan, which she ominously taps on her thigh, stewing with jealousy and rage when her new lover, the Comte de Gercount, has the effrontery to propose marriage to the sweet virginal Cécile de Volanges. That same tapping to the beat of the music is repeated when Merteuil deploys fencing master Chevalier Danceny to deflower Cécile – in a sensational series of sexy sword dances performed by a vast ensemble – and when Danceny duels with Valmont. It may seem outrageous and excessive when a long red ribbon sprouts from the chest of the nobleman who is vanquished in that duel – until it becomes the belt that straitjackets Merteuil in her madness.
Composer Ben Sollee has once again become involved in the visual and sensual splendor of Liaisons. Sollee performs his original score live on cello perched on a platform that mostly floats above the banks of video screens but occasionally dips down among the oversexed mortals. Janes’ casting seems to fly in the face of the obvious, with Gerberich as the chaste matron Tourvel and Harkins as the youthful and naïve Cécile. Yet Gerberich is able to pour so much supple anguish into Tourvel's subjugation that her fresh youthfulness ceases to be a barrier while Harkins is able simulate a demure delicacy that is perfect for the lamblike Cécile. Of course, I'm still curious to see what the effect would be if Gerberich and Harkins swapped roles.
For the second time, the choreographer's wife, Rebecca Carmazzi Janes, plays the most intriguing role in Liaisons. Two years ago, she replaced Kara Wilkes as Merteuil late enough in the production process to create a contradiction between the person – and the costume – of the woman on the cover of the program booklet and the woman onstage. In the revival, Carmazzi Janes has come out of retirement as a guest artist for her second pass at the manipulative villain. Either because the choreography has been more fully tailored to conform with her personality and assets or because she he been able to gain a greater sense of ownership, she seems far more confident and commanding as the Marquise. She and Walker make for quite a study as Valmont and Merteuil vie for the upper hand. Both are wily, wicked, alluring, and arrogant, yet the reason for Merteuil's horrid triumph lies in the extra dimension she brings to all her sophisticated ploys, the element of calculated revenge. What we see in her timekeeping when she taps her fan on her thigh turns out to be the outward manifestation of the time bomb ticking inside.
CityDance DREAMscape gala includes great dancers of every skin tone
By Rebecca Ritzel, Sunday, May 11
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about race and dance. The current issue of Pointe magazine has three black ballerinas on its cover. And while there were no black ballerinas at Saturday’s CityDance DREAMscape gala, there were dancers of color doing everything else, and what was so ratifying about the evening was that it never felt like “diversity night.” Rather, it seemed that co-producer Rasta Thomas had sought out the best guest artists he could in every genre, and by extension, dancers of every skin tone ended up onstage.
For the second year, CityDance rented out the Lincoln Theatre and put on the gala to support the free after-school classes it offers at six city schools. Virtuosic duets are a staple of dance galas, and of the eight on Saturday’s program, the best was easily Sasha Janes’s “Lascia,” performed by Pete Leo Walker and Anna Gerberich of the Charlotte Ballet. Granted, Walker is a beast and Gerberich is his offstage partner, but Janes creates lifts that you won’t see anywhere else. “Lascia” was his first ballet, made for himself and the woman who is now his wife. It’s set to a languid Handel aria, and at one point, both dancers loll on the floor. Walker slowly rises, and even though both dancers have their arms outstretched, he balances Gerberich across his back.
Carmen and Western Symphony Posted by Perry Tannenbaum
It couldn't have been very surprising that North Carolina Dance Theatre gave a rousing account of George Balanchine's Western Symphony last week at Knight Theater. They had the measure of the piece the last time they staged the high-energy staple from New York City Ballet's repertoire in 2001, flooding the Belk Theater stage with sharply tailored cowpokes and leggy Miss Kittys, and dazzling the house with joy, energy, and bravura.
Back then, Western upstaged the other two choreographies on the program with its American sunniness and sass. This time, you might call it anticlimactic in the wake of the world premiere of NCDT associate artistic director Sasha Janes' Carmen. Janes didn't merely take Bizet's catchy orchestral suites of Carmen hits and create new moves for a fatal love triangle.
No, he moved the story a century forward, transplanting the action from a Seville cigarette factory to a Charlotte textile mill during the millworkers' labor strike of 1934. He exited the comfort zone of the Bizet orchestrations at key moments and used newer, more percussive ones by 80-year-old Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin. For a little extra zest, he added some bluegrass songs by Dorsey Dixon, strummed and picked live by Josh Haddix and David Long.
Better than that, Janes attended to business, keeping Carmen flirty, dangerously sensuous, and proudly defiant as he transformed her from a cigarette slut to an agitating millworker. Perhaps best of all, he made the charismatic Miller's entrance absolutely spectacular, aptly updating the bullfighter Escamillo into a baseball all-star in the textile mill league. Melissa Anduiza smoldered and sizzled as the spitfire Carmen, repulsing Joe after seducing him, and attracting Miller's eye soon after he burst on the scene. Pete Leo Walker was sensationally athletic as Miller, flaring his white sport jacket as he flew through the air, leaving no doubt why Carmen would toss Joe aside for him.
Janes may actually have enhanced the differentiation between Don Jose and Escamillo that Prosper Mérimée embedded into the short novel that Bizet turned into his opera. Or he at least made it more contemporary and relevant. It's questionable that toreador Escamillo's valor or manhood were greatly superior to the soldier Don Jose's, but the sparkle of his uniform and the acclaim of the masses, based on valor and grace, gave him the edge - a pathway to reading Mérimée's message. With Miller now a ballplayer and Joe a National Guardsman, the macho balance shifts towards Joe, and Miller's true edge emerges more clearly: pure celebrity.
As danced by the wholesome Naseeb Culpepper, Joe pales next to Miller, but he is far from humdrum. Voltage definitely amps up in the "Habeñera" as Anduiza twines herself around Culpepper - unleashing a seductive range that eclipses even the physicality of mezzo- soprano Grace Bumbry. We remembered more vividly that Joe is part of a second love triangle when Anna Gerberich, dressed chastely in yellow, glided in and tried to bend Joe homewards, a moment of wistful innocence amid the glamor, the conflicts, and the tempestuous passions.
More than 30 dancers were needed to people this colorful, resounding piece - recruited from NCDT's two professional companies, its school, plus Mark Diamond as the mean textile mill owner. Nearly all of them were furiously burning calories when Janes' Carmen reached peak intensity in the torrid "Danse bohème." Even allowing for the difference in costumes, which seemed to melt away as the tempo reached full throttle, I could imagine the brain trust from Opera Carolina - or the Metropolitan Opera - watching this ensemble and exclaiming, "Wow, this is the kind of electricity we need on our stage!"
At Kennedy Center, three new takes on ballet offer two revelations
By Sarah Kaufman, Saturday
You’ll never guess what I saw at the Kennedy Center on Friday night: a new ballet that actually took ballet as its subject and didn’t blow it to pieces.
Here were tutus and tiaras and the whole nine yards — make that 900 yards, more likely, of satin and tulle. But the pleasure of “Rhapsodic Dances,” created by Sasha Janes for North Carolina Dance Theatre, went beyond its vibrant costumes and luxurious candle-glow lighting. This work didn’t lampoon ballet or yank it out of shape. With a sure, firm hand and knowing wit, Janes infused classical technique with brisk energy to evoke ballroom glamour and romances both smoldering and overheated.
Dancing — not just flung-open poses and lifts, as in so much contemporary ballet, but logical and unexpected streams of movement — simply poured out of the cast of five couples. It hurtled along the silvery, thundering gush of Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, ” a wild musical ride to a cosmic circus and back that was its own treat. Arkadiy Figlin was the remarkable piano soloist, alongside the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, under the baton of Grant Cooper.
Janes is a choreographer to watch. The last time he appeared in the Kennedy Center’s “Ballet Across America” series, he was dancing in it, part of the 2010 cast of Artistic Director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s bluegrass romp “Shindig.” With “Rhapsodic Dances,” he trumpeted his current role as associate artistic director of the North Carolina troupe with a flourish.
Ballet Across America III
North Carolina Dance Theatre: Rhapsodic Dances
Washington, Kennedy Center Opera House
Until recently, the Australia-born Sasha Janes was a dancer with North Carolina Dance Theatre. (In fact, he performed with the company during Ballet Across America II in a merry bluegrass romp, Shindig, choreographed by the NCDT’s artistic director, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux.) In 2012 Janes, who decided to taper off his dancing career and concentrate on making dances, was named associate artistic director of the North Carolina troupe.
In his exhilarating and witty Rhapsodic Dances, Janes puts a playful spin on the academic vocabulary, suggesting that the classical ballet doesn’t have to be all formal and serious. On the stage, decorated with a dozen glittering chandeliers, the five couples (each pair is indentified by the color of their costumes: Crimson, Cobalt, Violet, Teal and Copper) create a world of glamour and ardor to the exuberance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” Janes uses the classical ballet idiom with fluency and eloquence, adding a humorous touch to the steps and patterns of this 25-minute tour de force. I was immediately charmed by the piece. The solos, duets and group numbers were full of sparkling energy and humor, all brilliantly attuned to Rachmaninoff’s invigorating score, reflecting the music’s vigorous harmonic and tonal variations. The wonderful NCDT cast was joyfully surfing the waves of the music, conquering Janes’ intricate steps with vigor and admirable skill. Arkadiy Figlin, who boasts numerous piano competition awards plus credit as “Piano Player” in Darren Aronofsky’s blockbuster “Black Swan,” was the impressive piano soloist with the Opera House orchestra led by Grant Cooper.
North Carolina Dance Theatre opens summer dance season with ‘rich, satisfying program’ by The Chautauquan Daily
Zachary Lewis | Guest Critic
Not all ballet dancers can act, but the good ones do so really well. Case in point: North Carolina Dance Theatre’s Thursday night performance.
A feast of strong acting through dance and a generally weighty program, the concert — the first Dance Salon of the 2012 Season — was a brilliant reminder of how special the results can be when an artist not only has a firm grasp on his or her physical duties, but also portrays a credible, interesting character.
The ideal of ballet acting was reached during the second half of the four-part Amphitheater program, in a short but intense scene called “Queen,” by Sasha Janes, associate artistic director of the Charlotte-based company led by Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux.
Here, dancers Anna Gerberich and Frederick Leo Walker II personified a queen and soldier engaged in a fierce dispute, all with the physicality and showmanship of masters. So compelling were their performances, one almost couldn’t look away.
Gerberich, dressed in a jewel-encrusted robe and crown, played a powerful monarch displeased with an unwilling subject. At first, she entertained — even welcomed — his notions, but always with an air of superiority. Eventually, though, after briefly losing control of her throne, she changed her mind, and brutally dispatched him.
The choreography was explosively athletic. Several times, Walker whipped Gerberich around like a pole, briskly, his partner rigid in his arms. Elsewhere, Gerberich exhibited exceptional flexibility and the forceful manner of someone who always gets and does what she wants.
Long live this “Queen.”
NC Dance Theatre Makes All Its Dangerous Risks Pay Off
Nothing that Sasha Janes has choreographed before was remotely as challenging, difficult, or ambitious as his new adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ epistolary novel, Dangerous Liaisons. Temperamentally, he showed his aptitude for the task with his very first piece in 2006, the sensuous Lascia la Spina, Cogli la Rosa. But Dangerous Liaisons, Janes’s first foray into extended narrative, is nearly ten times as long. Clocking in at 55 minutes, Janes’s latest piece certainly courted disaster as the former North Carolina Dance Theatre principal dancer attempted to distill an intricate plot – without dialogue – that develops no fewer than seven major characters. By comparison, the famed movie confrontation between Glenn Close and John Malkovich, with a star-studded supporting cast, seemed sleek and tight when it was edited down to two hours. Pairing the eleven scenes of Liaisons with Dwight Rhoden’s Artifice, first seen in Charlotte at the start of the 2007-08 Season, NCDT closed out its second full season at the Knight Theatre with arguably its edgiest, most technically demanding program ever.
Since nobody is listed as a stage director for Dangerous Liaisons, it must be assumed that Janes was the person who decided to incorporate cellist/composer Ben Sollee into the visual spectacle as he played his original score. Perched on a platform that hovered over the stage, Sollee began singing over his own accompaniment during the prologue, encouraging the speculation that his song lyrics might help us navigate through the dense narrative. But Sollee didn’t sing again. He occasionally descended and elevated on his platform at various points of the piece as he played his cello. Percussion came from another surprising source during the big ensemble scene, “Fencing,” as Janes contrived to insert a magnificent sword dance into the heart of his scenario. The obligatory en gardefrom multiple couples was just the beginning of a precisely-timed series of clinking foils. Men and women faced off in combat, making beautiful, sensuous music with each thrust and parry, not a bad summation of the overall flavor of the plot.
Rebecca Carmazzi, the mother of Janes’s three children, portrayed the Marquise de Merteuil in her valedictory performance for NCDT. She was the venomous adversary of her former lover, the Vicomte de Valmont, Ingram’s second turn in a lead role for the evening. Instead of doing the Marquise’s bidding and seducing Cécile, the fiancée of her newest lover, Comte de Gercourt, Valmont wagers that he can seduce the famously chaste Madame de Tourvel – earning a night in bed with the Marquise if he wins his wager. The plot twists tighter when Merteuil must recruit young fencing instructor Chevalier Danceny to seduce Cécile while Valmont, seeing a new protégé of the Marquise involved, decides to seduce Cécile after all.
Now the question that lingers after all Janes’s impressive spectacle is how much of the plot the audience gets if they haven’t read the 11-scene synopsis – or like me, seen the Hollywood version and multiple productions of the Christopher Hampton stage play that the film was based on. The choreography certainly worked for me, perhaps because I could fill in the blanks as we went along. Characters were distinctively drawn, costumed, and acted. Carmazzi was an elegantly strutting malignity as Merteuil, and Ingram was a charismatically confident seducer as Valmont. Supressing her earlier sass, Gerberich was the perfect embodiment of the virginally naïve Cécile, while Dee did a complete turnaround to become the virtuous contemplative Tourvel. Notable for his military costume, Naseeb Culpepper gave a convincing account of the upright hypocrite Gercourt, and Pete Walker was the perfect soulmate for Cécile, earnest, open, and athletic.
Costumes by Jennifer Symes had a Parisian kinkiness that chimed with the period, and John P. Woodey’s video design, splayed across three banks of monitors, crowned the technical wonders. Janes, Sollee, and the NCDT ensemble make no mistakes in conveying the deep-down sensuality of the story, however, assuring that it will remain a staple in NCDT’s repertoire. The sizzle peaked behind a sheer screen when Valmont, in graphic silhouette, took on two courtesans in a sexual orgy, revealed as Melissa Anduiza and Sarah Hayes Watson when the threesome emerged from behind the screen. Watching Carmazzi as Merteuil, seething with jealousy as she witnessed Ingram cavorting with these two lovelies, only doubled the guilty pleasure.
Janes owns first dance performance of 2011
Anthony Bannon | Guest Reviewer
Maybe you think you understood it and could even situate it within the dance vocabulary of traditional poses, moves, couplings. Perhaps that charge of Sarah Hayes Watson onto the Amphitheater stage seemed like a violation by some primal creature. Maybe you felt comfortable with that association.
I’ll bet, though, that you recognized that Sasha Janes’ stand-up great little dance called “Last Lost Chance” had knocked you off your feet and succeeded in moving you to a place of wonder, even awe, at how someone might imagine — and then fulfill — such amazing ideas for the body in space. Miss that point, and it might well have been your last lost chance. Chances like the one Janes presented don’t come by very often. This was the real thing, and a good bit of the audience knew it, and took to their feet to give it mighty applause.
Again this year, the North Carolina Dance Theatre returned for residence with Chautauqua Dance, and in its tradition for the first week presented a salon with some of the treasures the company has in its stores.
Sasha Janes is the beloved rehearsal director and sometimes guest choreographer. He owned the evening Thursday.
I hope no one has any programmatic meaning for the piece: some psychodramatic explanation about the inner me and the outer you, or babble about quintessential truths and the basic needs.
Like Absolute Music or Non-Objective Art, “Lost Chance” is about the exquisite practice of the mind and the surprising capacity of the body. It proposes a practice of mind and body that you’d think appropriate for another dimension, another universe, another kind of human.
Yes, Hayes Watson and Anna Gerberich with Jordan Leeper and Pete Walker with Melissa Anduiza created the work, and you’ll run into them on Bestor Plaza or University Beach. They are the company leaders, and no doubt regular folks, but you’ve got to wonder after seeing them dance: “Just who are these creatures? How is this possible — what they do on stage?”
They are that astonishing, committing every fiber to Janes’ equally extraordinary vision.
At one point a voice in Ólafur Arnalds’ score for “Lost Chance” — an odd, electronically manipulated voice — declares the “screaming silence of the mind” and the voice of wind through leaves. Arnalds, an Icelandic composer, moves easily from the classic concert to pop music stage with a variety of instruments and devices and enjoys breaking rules by proposing in his language of sound the absolutely unheard-of wonders that Janes shares in movement.
And then Anna Gerberich makes a twitch, a sudden shudder, that occurs in a millisecond and by surprise and positions a leg over there were it shouldn’t be and summons an awareness of the greedy art of “Lost Chance.” It is a dance about making art — and I think the anxiety of creating something truly new, not knowing just how it will turn out — that is the ultimate subject of great abstraction.
Anduiza centers the work, making brief appearances and piquant gestures to the couples who have left the stage, completing their turn. She runs in long and beautiful strides around the perimeter of the stage, as if to define it, hold it together, sustain its energy.
“Lost Chance” builds from sensuous couplings to sentiment more extreme, Arnald’s music reaching for amplitude and breaking apart, to fall finally into the organ that begins the work