Harris dances unspeak-able anger and pain.
newest full-length work, Facing Mekka, presented last
week at Jacob’s Pillow, Harris brings together multiple elements
of hiphop culture: B-boy and house dancers, capoeiristas,
and a world-music ensemble that includes congas, tabla, cello,
and DJ scratches and beats—all part of an unending journey
that traces the African diaspora, yet seeks a present connection
with the music and movement of many cultures.
of song and dance unreels before a screen on which scenes
of sadness and horror are dimly projected: marching soldiers,
a burning house, an African woman with one tear like a giant
raindrop rolling down her cheek. The starting and ending image,
a bitter logo, is a photo of the White House, upside down.
These images don’t distract from the dancing, but deepen the
emotions the action arouses.
now 39, began dancing as a youth on the streets of his native
Philadelphia. He has become a champion of hiphop culture,
founding Rennie Harris Puremovement in 1992 to preserve and
disseminate the culture through teaching, workshops and performance.
convinced that “street” dancing can be reshaped as a powerful
theatrical experience without losing its spontaneity or its
years ago, Harris’s dancers and rappers—all men—performed
at the Egg in Albany. Their work was a fierce mourning for
young men shot down on the streets of Philadelphia. Harris
went on to make Rome and Jewels, a hiphop restatement
of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, that focused on
the gang war between the Caps and the Monster Q’s. Still,
no women took the stage. Instead, the beloved Jewels was treated
as an ideal in Rome’s mind.
Mekka includes a group of five women dancers in red. They
served as soul coolers, calming the waters after passages
of valiant action by solo male dancers. Almost invariably,
the women danced as a unit, their African-based moves clearly
choreographed. In one lovely section, their undulating torsos
are matched by what sounds like water music, while flowing
water is projected on the screen behind them.
to the women’s patterned ensemble sections, the men strike
out one by one, each performing improvised feats: barrel turns
in the air, cartwheels, spins on their heads or on one shoulder.
One man moved through on his back, using his hands to slide
across the stage.
Austin, the house dancer, was a long, lean viper in red, keeping
low to the ground, dancing on his belly or his back, while
the women held the center stage with jump-turns.
of capoeiristas met, grasped hands in formal battle, and touched
each other’s shoulders to part.
turns were not limited to the dancers. Singer-cellist Grisha
Coleman sang of deep sorrow, her voice diverted through the
synthesizer of DJ Evil Tracy (Tracy Thomas). Philip Hamilton,
who often composes music for modern-dance troupes, performed
a tour de force of mouth music, hissing and hawking into the
microphone. This was fervent preaching with throat-locked
sounds, not words—a prophetic warning of disaster.
player Lenny Seidman soothed the air with a delicate, polyrhythmic
solo on a set of five or six tuned drums, using his fingers,
elbows and the side of his hand to vary the textures, and
singing the beats in East Indian fashion.
of Facing Mekka, a string of self-contained passages
that mostly moved horizontally across the stage, might be
a distant cousin of a nightclub variety show. What makes it
theater is its serious subject and the intensity of the performers’
himself appears, acting as a thread that binds together the
disparate actions. We see him as an old man in white robes,
moving slowly behind the dancers or standing solemnly to observe
final solo, called Lorenzo’s Oil, Harris is a grieving
monster. Bent-backed, and now in black, he creeps and stumbles
through a dancing group, his head hanging, his long dreadlocks
covering his face.
before projections of a burning house, Harris’ body shrieks.
His robotic spasms (popping, but stretched into Japanese Butoh-like
freezes) speak of unspeakable pain. He kneels, then gets to
his feet, bedeviled, shuddering, sobbing, looking right at
a traditional song, “Sun, Come and Wash Away the Rain.” We
see the upside-down White House next to an image of an African
youth wearing a breathing mask. Harris paces and sobs. There
is no redemption, yet.
a big company to do Swan Lake. The New York City Ballet—with
88 dancers, a 79-piece orchestra, and ambition to spare—is
one of the few companies in the world that could mount this
monumental story dance.
Lake dominated week two of NYCB’s current run at SPAC.
The biggest and best-known of Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous ballet
scores, it drew the largest audiences so far this season:
about 2500 people last Wednesday (July 16) and nearly as many
on Thursday. Peter Martins restaged the 19th-century Russian
classic, compressing its four acts into two, yet managing
to retain original choreographic elements from Marius Petipa
(the lake scenes) and Lev Ivanov (the palace revels), as well
as passages from George Balanchine’s distillation of the encounter
between the prince and Odette.
staging premiered at the Royal Danish Ballet in 1996 and then
at Lincoln Center and SPAC in 1999. We haven’t seen it since
are here, including the devilish set of fouettes (whipping
steps) by Odile and the adorable dance of the four baby swans,
done well on Wednesday and perfectly on Thursday.
the story gains in intensity. Maria Kowroski, stepping in
for the slightly injured Wendy Whelan, ruled the stage Wednesday
in the double role of Odette/Odile. As the white swan, under
a sorcerer’s spell that can be lifted only when a prince swears
true love, Kowroski was proud, with big, bold extensions.
She was magnificent even in her fearfulness, and poignant
in her sorrow when Prince Siegfried betrayed her.
black swan Odile, Kowroski was cold and dangerous, a seductive
deceiver. Where Odette’s bourees were delicate, Odile’s were
strong, and led unerringly to her powerful execution of the
famous fouettes that stirred a deep current across the stage.
Neal, replacing Damian Woetzel on Wednesday, was a complex
Siegfried. He conveyed a range of emotions through pure dance
and gesture, never emoting and always clear. He is one of
NYCB’s most polished and intelligent dancers and an ideal
partner who deserves to be better recognized.
romantic duet with Odette, Neal devours the stage with side
leg-beats and jump turns. He lifts her high, as if proclaiming
her the love of his life.
at his birthday celebration in the palace ballroom, the prince
is duped by the sorcerer Von Rotbart (a menacing Albert Evans
in a fiery orange cloak) who passes off his seductive daughter
Odile as Odette. Smitten with the black swan, the prince swears
his love to her. Instantly, to thunderous music, he sees a
vision of Odette and realizes his disastrous mistake.
to the lake. Together, he and Odette face down Von Rotbart,
who falls, vanquished. But, it is too late to break the spell.
Odette will remain a swan forever. The prince sinks to the
night, Jennie Somogyi triumphed as Odette/Odile, winning cries
of “brava” for her passionate performance. In the second-act
divertissements, Yvonne Boree and Albert Evans gave the Russian
dance an orgasmic intensity that out-seethed the sensuous
Hungarian czardas danced in black boots by Rachel Rutherford
and Jason Fowler.
was a nimble, comedic jester on Wednesday. Thursday’s Daniel
Ulbricht was not as funny, but jumped much higher. In what
served as a controlled experiment, Benjamin Millepied and
Sebastien Marcovici, both exciting dancers, traded roles as
the prince’s friend Benno and leader of the sparkling second-act
quartet. Slim-hipped Millepied, built like an inverted triangle,
made a perfect leader of the quartet, while Marcovici, chunkier,
with thicker thighs, looked best as Benno.
Swan Lake wasn’t thrilling the crowds, the SPAC audience
enjoyed Balanchine’s bubbly Donizetti Variations, (1960)
a harmonious frolic led by Miranda Weese and Damian Woetzel,
and the master choreographer’s Symphony in Three Movements,
(1972) an athletic visualization of Stravinsky’s music with
an elastic central duet by Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto. Both
dances were refreshing antidotes to the lushness of the blockbuster
narrative dance—Donizetti for its effervescence and
Symphony for its mix of Olympian prowess and Broadway
Gala on Saturday (July 19) featured the only appearance this
season by Kyra Nichols, who led Balanchine’s forceful Walpurgisnacht
(1980) with Neal as her dynamic partner. Nichols, the doyenne
of the company, danced with her usual aplomb, making every
saw two Saratoga premieres: Liturgy, Christopher Wheeldon’s
fluid, faux-Egyptian duet for Whelan and Soto, set to spare
music of Arvo Part; and Martins’ Thou Swell, a tasteless
but lavishly costumed ballroom contest for four couples in
an Art Deco club, where the women are flung about to a dozen
songs by Rodgers and Hart.
NYCB’s resident choreographer, creates shapes that look like
hieroglyphs as seen through the eyes of a Victorian-era British
explorer. He keeps the dance contained, almost polite, working
in an orderly way through a set of evermore complex moves
for arms, hands, and heads, and finally, for enwrapped bodies.
At one point, Whelan stretches out across Soto’s knees like
a length of rolled dough on a table, then bends at the waist
to fold exactly in half. Finally, they stand where they began,
rooted at center stage, Soto close behind Whelan. They tilt
their heads, bend their elbows in to make a V, and, with flexed
wrists, cup their chins with their hands. It’s exotic, but
dance, Thou Swell was a great fashion show. The expensive-looking
women’s ballgowns by Julius Lumsden and shoes by Manolo Blahnik
mirrored the party clothes of the Gala audience.
oh, the choreography. Peter Martins put four couples through
some awkward, even agonizing lifts and gropes, making the
best dancers look tacky. You would think, with the smooth
and sparkling models of showbiz and ballroom-style ballets
in NYCB’s repertory (Balanchine’s Who Cares? to Gershwin;
Jerome Robbins’ I’m Old Fashioned, a gloss on Fred
Astaire), that Martins might have learned how it’s done. Not
were redeeming passages, notably Kowroski’s long-legged duets
with Charles Askegard, James Fayette’s caring partnership
with a choreographically maligned Jenifer Ringer, and a romantic
duet by Soto and Darci Kistler to “Falling in Love with Love.”
onstage jazz combo and two excellent but over-miked singers
provided the music, but couldn’t save the dance. Maybe the
company could retire it and have a benefit auction of the