Rachel Straus - Dance Writer

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Juilliard Dance

Published: April 29, 2011
Category: review

The Dance Against Cancer Wins

By Rachel Straus

NEW YORK — Dance Against Cancer, the April 25 benefit performance at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center (MMAC), began with a movie. On screen, New York City Ballet principal Maria Kowroski said the last performance her mother saw her dance before she died of cancer was Balanchine’s “Mozartiana.” Later, when Kowroski performed an excerpt of the work (one of Balanchine’s last) to Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 4, Op. 61, she imbued it with a soft, glowing sadness. In her circling arms, ballet’s codified arm positions possessed graver significance. Some art invites such associations.

Though there were few offerings that lent as much poignancy, on the whole the evening of 15 excerpted solos and duets proved to be model of good taste and high quality dancing. The young producers, New York City Ballet principal Daniel Ulbricht and MMAC children’s dance instructor Erin Fogarty, are to be commended, particularly since this was their first foray into gala fundraising. At the curtain, they announced that they were $5,000 away from their $30,000 goal. Their motivation to raise funds for cancer research seemed as straightforwardly philanthropic as their approach to Kris Kim, Northeastern American Cancer Society CEO. Last year they met with Kim and asked if they could put on a show to benefit her organization.

Her answer proved worthwhile. Ulbricht’s New York City Ballet affiliation laid a solid foundation, with six of the evening’s 17 performers drawn from his home company. But the riches didn’t stop there. Also participating were Matthew Rushing, a veteran member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and Attila Joey Csiki of the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, who danced Lubovitch’s “Little Rhapsodies” (2007) to Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13. Csiki reflected the music through Lubovitch’s signature hand gestures—beginning at the body’s center and moving outward in long, spiraling lines—to describe emotional release from fear, strife, and sorrow. His lush, dramatic athleticism was beautifully complemented by the distinct emotional hue of Kathy Tagg’s pianism and Joseph Benesh’s atmospheric, dappled lighting. And because of Csiki’s effortless physicality and inward focus (he never looked at the audience), “Rhapsodies” resembled a personal meditation.

Then there was Rushing’s astonishing performance of Earl Mosley’s “That’s Alright,” a world premiere. With Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” (1961) as his musical backdrop, Rushing sauntered on stage, took off his suit jacket, and got down to business, bringing Mosley’s patois of ballet, jazz, soft shoe and mime to rhythmically raucous life, layering it with a healthy dose of ‘attitude,’ in the best sense.

In its 19th year of professional dancing, Rushing’s body talks to the audience like a Shakespearean bard. His economy, humor and command of Mosley’s dance language sent this reviewer’s arm hairs standing on end. Rushing told a story about a businessman, who after shedding his corporate costume, reveals a multiplicity of selves: The flirt (through pelvic whirls), the wonk (whose fingers wag and eyebrows furrow) and the elitist (who effects pirouettes with floppy wrists). The entire solo took place in a postage-size spotlight. When a dancer, choreographer and musical composition coalesce so exquisitely and conform so compactly, the glamour of the full opera house stage is unnecessary.

Performing Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” were City Ballet principal Wendy Whelan and soloist Craig Hall. It is a masterwork they do together often, but their interpretation remains undimmed by repetition. Up close Whelan’s musculature is both beautiful and chilling. Because of ballet’s extreme physical demands, the 43-year-old’s body resembles molten lava. To Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” (1978), Hall winged Whelan’s birdlike body through the air and around his shoulders as though she was beyond the bounds of gravity.

Earlier solo performances by the “So You Think You Can Dance” competitors Alex Wong and Tara Jean Popowich, were, frankly, stolid. Wong’s “747” (choreographed by Rachael Poirier) looked more like a gymnastic floor competition than a dance, although the audience liked it a great deal. As for Popowich, her solo came straight out of the hot-to-trot jazz dance routine can. Fortunately, both pieces were short, and they did add to the variety of the program, which also included inspired performances by Sterling Hyltin in Balanchine’s “Who Cares,” Janie Taylor in Benjamin Millepied’s “On the Other Side” and offerings by cabaret dance king choreographer Larry Keigwin.

Copyright © 2011, Musical America

Musical America



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