By Kate O’Carroll
Last month, the Wallis presented the world premiere of Jackie Unveiled, a one-woman show starring Saffron Burrows about Jackie Kennedy. Written by Tom Dugan and directed by Jenny Sullivan, Jackie reminisces on her life through a box of photos and grapples with suicide on the night of Robert Kennedy’s assassination. She only wants safety for herself and her children, and feels that Robert’s death will strip her of that safety since Robert protected them following JFK’s death.
The first act follows Jackie through this night in crisis, and the second act is decades later, after her second marriage has long ended and she has learned to live without the safety of a companion. Instead of suicide, Jackie is fixated on the phone awaiting a call from her doctor about the results of a cancer test, which the audience knows is ultimately her cause of death. Act 2 Jackie is older, wiser, and has more perspective. While Act 1 Jackie looks back on her life with fear, Act 2 Jackie looks back on her life with peace. Jackie spoke to the audience knowing that we were watching in the future, discussing the “comfort of hindsight.” Burrows directly addressing the audience gave the show an intimate, familial atmosphere, heightened by the small theater space. The show began with politics but ended personal: she entered in a blackout to Robert Kennedy’s campaign song, and she exited to open the door for her grandkids.
One-woman shows often struggle with being sustainably entertaining for a few hours, but Burrows’ complex acting and Dugan’s gripping storytelling kept me engaged throughout the performance. Burrows held an impressive agency over the stage as the sole performer. While many have tackled Jackie as a character, writing and directing about such a well-known person is not an easy job: Dugan and Sullivan had to balance politics and personal, balance the famous stories with unique details and anecdotes that distinguish this Jackie with the countless other Jackies in art over time. They succeeded, and the audience was able to get to know Jackie as a fresh character rather than a one-dimensional historical figure. Dugan used well-known stories such as JFK’s political history. However, what set this Jackie apart was the honesty with which he wrote and Burrows acted.
Burrows’ Jackie was honest about her relationships, motherhood, and alcoholism. She maintained that reserved presentation so integral to Jackie’s character while speaking openly about her life, which was a powerful reminder that she lived her life trying to be perfect in the public eye. Even as she is in crisis mode, she is still stuck inside her facade of perfect presentation. Francois-Pierre Couture’s detailed set of Jackie’s apartment - childrens’ toys, crystal bowls, and a Robert Kennedy campaign hat on the floor - provided a rich background to the layers of Jackie. Jackie Unveiled presented a distinct and honest version of Jackie Kennedy, yet posed the question: Will we ever truly know Jackie?
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk
By Kate O' Carroll
Marc Chagall was turned from artist to subject at the Wallis in February, in the US premiere of The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk. The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, written by Daniel Jamieson and directed by Emma Rice, follows the life of artist Marc Chagall and his wife Bella falling in love and living in early 20th century Russia as Jews. Flying Lovers takes place under the backdrop of antisemitism, the Russian Revolution, and the World Wars.
The titular Vitebsk is the Chagalls’ hometown in Russia. The secondary romance in the show really is Marc and Vitebsk. He begins the show by lovingly describing his town, and throughout the play, as the couple move around to escape the World War I draft and to help Marc’s career, he expresses sorrow about the downfall of the city, which was under Nazi occupation during World War II. While the setting changes, their passion for home continues through the show.
While many would focus solely on the life of Marc, writer Jamieson gives equal respect to Marc and Bella. Marc, played by Marc Antolin, easily steps into the role of icon and plays the character honestly. Daisy Maywood, who plays Bella, captures the complexity of loving an artist and fearing for her family’s safety. The pair have cohesive chemistry that makes the story powerful. In a show where art is central, the set design dazzles. The stage setup by Sophia Clist is well utilized and striking yet simple. The set design also allowed for impressive choreography to take place with ease.
Art seeps through the political and historical themes in various forms: a small band acts as the ensemble, the show has a several moments of song, and of course, the dancing. A Jewish wedding scene could not happen without a dance break, and the audience was overjoyed and highly entertained by the hora, during which Marc and Bella entered wearing chair costumes - a genius touch by Sophia Clist. The infectious energy of the wedding scene was largely due to the music, the Jewish wedding tunes. The music throughout the production varied widely in culture. There were Jewish, Russian, and French themes throughout that gave the show a diverse sound.
Flying Lovers carries a childlike wonder throughout, a perfect joyous spectacle for every age group with mature historical themes that will interest adults. The production has a winning balance of dark and light themes. The gravity of the political climate is ever present even during the lighter scenes, and the love and passion is evident even in the grim scenes. Flying Lovers introduces the world to Bella Chagall, a widely unknown character behind the widely known paintings.The show is also a story about beauty in the face of terror, a theme that will always be relevant. The audience is exposed to how exactly Chagall’s life and art was influenced by the dark global events going on around him, a reminder that politics and world events make an impact on every person’s life.
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk (Feb 23 - Mar 11, 2018)
By Panna Gattyan
As the writer and the director of The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk gazed at one of Marc Chagall’s paintings, it began shifting, colors dancing and characters singing, until it broke through the canvas and came alive on the stage. This Kneehigh (a UK company) performance reveals Marc Chagall’s and his wife Bella’s life and love in the whirlwind that is 20th century Europe. Before the play began, the stage was already fully revealed. It simply held a slanted, square wooden floor which represented a room, although three of the four walls were missing. Objects were strewn about in seemingly random order. Silently, subtly, a man took his place by the piano beside the makeshift room and began to play. Then another man, without notice, took up his instrument. These were the two musicians. Both in all black, two actors, Marc and Bella, strolled on stage, imperceptibly. Their faces were covered in white makeup, Marc’s more so than Bella’s. While this bothered me, my mom who I watched this with thought it was a nice touch to make the play seem more like a story of artists.
The play began with a song about making believe that Marc and Bella are with each other. The music and the singing was beautiful, very strong and effective. With only two characters in the entire performance, Marc and Bella, and two musicians who occasionally helped with props, the story felt like an intimate view into this couple’s minds, which never strayed far from each other. Caught up in their fantasy world within an impoverished and warring nation, the two soon found themselves pushed from their loving home, Vitebsk. The melding of Yiddish, Russian, and French songs portrayed the Chagalls’ exile and feelings of being lost during the wars. I almost watched the play again with my father the next day but unfortunately they weren’t performing on Sunday. I’ve ceaselessly recommended it to friends since.
Frederick Roman Minser
David Mynne’s one man show of Charles Dickens Great Expectations is something of wonder. The amount of object and character work is astounding. Being able to accomplish so much with so little is what made this show truly great. Using different household objects such as a mirror or a handkerchief to represent different characters he's portraying, not to mention his diversity of accents made his performance a spectacle to watch. Having only a table with a box, David had to use unique techniques to tell the story. The friendliness of the story and the overall lesson learned at the end is one that everyone will delight in seeing. The comedy kept the audience filled with joy even during the more traumatic moments. This show is one that both children and adults can enjoy together with an astounding actor to marvel over.
February 13, 2018
World renowned pianist, Ory Shihor, did not originally play piano. He studied violin, but was instead at 5-years-old magnetically drawn to the piano because of its machine like composure and its ability to produce beautiful music at the touch of his fingers.
His mother listened to classical music, so hearing renowned artists, such as Schubert, continuously influenced him at home.
When Ory was 15-years-old he moved to The United States from Israel to pursue piano more seriously. By this time, he had already played at esteemed concert halls. He trained daily and attended Juilliard College in NYC, or “the Chanel of music schools,” as he joked.
“When I was growing up, people weren’t thinking about [what we were going to do when we grew up],” Ory said. “I just did it.” Ory did not recognize what career he was working toward until he was a young adult, around 19 or 20 because he was simply doing what he was working hard at which was what he loved.
Even now, Ory does not always feel like he has achieved fame and success. He is aware that he must be conscious about separating personal identity from identity as a performer. “They’re separate,” Ory said. “It’s about being content and happy, not just to sell more,” he said.
“In art it’s about the journey,” he said. “There’s risks that have to be taken.” Ory praises the process of learning from mistakes and failures, and attributes much of his inspiration to failures.
“A failure can be not playing my best,” he said. “But, you have to walk away and say, I’ve done my best. I’m human.” There are so many different variables that factor into any performance, according to Ory. “Too much coffee, not enough sleep, too much sleep, nerves or too much talking before a performance can distract a performer,” Ory said. He believes that these imperfections make artists more interesting.
Ory tries to practice 1-2 hours each day, but when he has upcoming performances, he practices 4-5 hours. Ory’s goal when performing is to “reach people, and tell stories.” Classical music has emotions, powerful feelings and unspoken stories, according to Ory.
When Ory collaborated with Hershey Felder to layer spoken word relating to Schubert’s alongside Schubert’s music, Ory found the experience to be a unique opportunity to share Schubert’s complicated and tragic life.
“So much for Schubert’s last emotions were expressed in his music,” Ory said.
Ory’s advice to young people pursing a career in the arts is to “have a great mentor in your field of choice, keep in touch with those mentors, and be genuinely kind to everyone.” Ory claims the art community to be a small and connected one. Ory plans to continue teaching students, playing concerts, and creating educational programs and ways to share classical music.
Teaching is “gratifying to see students develop in their technique, interest level and increasing passion,” Ory said. “It is very inspiring.”
The Heart of Robin Hood
By Anna Polin
The Heart of Robin Hood was a great musical showing the original story with a twist. This show illustrates a new version of Robin Hood, a braver and stronger version with stunts that will make your jaw drop and songs that will make your heart melt. The Heart of Robin Hood is the perfect combination of action, comedy, and romance. The costumes intrigued me with their ruffle details along with how different each costume was and how well it matched the personality of the character. The music was both action packed and lovely with a phenomenal ensemble.
I would also like to point out how well the actors expressed their characters. Their acting skills rose above my expectation. However, due to the theme of the story I would suggest children over the age of eight see this musical due to mild violence and intense action. All in all, the show was a great success and will definitely leave you wishing to see it again.
Sandoval Jazz Weekend
By Fred Minser
Seeing a single jazz performance is always a wonderful experience, but seeing three very unique groups is incredible. These three different jazz groups incorporated music from their own cultures to make a very versatile performance. Being taught under Arturo Sandoval and being a part of The Arturo Sandoval Institute has brought these musicians to perform together at The Wallis. Max Haymor phenomenally played the piano to kick off the show with his talented band. The next amazing singer and trumpet player, Linda Briceno was multi-talented. Miss Briceno switched seamlessly from singing to playing the trumpet, and her band had many show stopping moments. Finishing the show was the astounding Cuban harp player Edmar Castaneda and his band. His fusion style of harp playing almost seemed like a dance. You could tell how passionate they were based on how they all felt the music and poetically complemented each other with their instrument. Even During short breaks while the crew was setting up for the next performance there was fantastic music and commentary by the infamous Arturo Sandoval himself, which was a real treat. These short breaks were met with learning about the art and the performers on stage. The diversity in instrument choices and music from around the globe made this a night you'll never forget.
Lula Washington Dance Theater
By Kate O'Carroll
During MLK weekend, Lula Washington Dance Theatre brought their energy to the
Wallis, discussing social and political issues through dance. LWDT, a native LA company,
presents messages often about race in America using the artistic medium of dance. The first
piece, The Little Rock Nine & The Movement , told the Civil Rights Era story about nine black
students that integrated a school in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. Washington respected each
student’s individuality, and their distinctive choreography reflected that individuality. The lighting
by Micheal David Ricks changed through the personalities of the teenagers. The dancers
perfectly captured the youthful spirit and fear in their body language. The Movement honored
Civil Rights leaders Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr,” the dance
within the larger Movement piece, featured stark march choreography. On the projection screen,
a slideshow featured graphic and violent photos of lynching and the KKK. Unfortunately, the
Confederate flags and the white hoods in the photos implied a shocking timeliness.
The five-minute pause after The Movement was useful, since the gravity of the subject
matter would have weighed down the following piece, the short and sweet Snowy Day. Snowy
Day told the tale of a young boy and his friends playing around, presenting with profound
simplicity, joyful black kids living in a Charlie Brown-like storybook plot. The fun dance was a
perfect antidote to the heaviness of The Movement. The next piece, Reign, was an audience
favorite. The song reflected club music, and both the costumes - red dresses - and the
choreography allowed the dancers to show off to the audience and let loose. The freedom of
Reign empowered the dancers and acted as a celebration of black beauty.
The Message, an alternative and contemporary dance featuring real-life characters such
as a soldier, pushed the envelope by ending with dramatic statements professed to the
audience: statements explicitly mentioning Russian collusion, Trump, Dreamers, and Hillary
Clinton. The Message communicated a modern message to an audience, and was a valid
reflection of the first piece, which tackled historical issues. The piece was shocking initially but
artistically justified. The final piece, Open Your Eyes, acted more as a fantasy set to disco music
than reality-based dances such as The Message or The Little Rock Nine. Open Your Eyes
boasted impressive lighting and the most dazzling costumes of the show by Terri James, most
memorably the eye catching half-human half-bird rainbow capes. The costumes and the
graceful choreography contributed to the otherworldly atmosphere of Open Your Eyes, a perfect
cap to the usually grounded show.
Overall, the Dance Theater troupe provoked thought about history. The numerous
breaks in the program sometimes decreased the momentum of the show, but meaningful pieces
quickly brought the flow back. The show reminded us of the bravery of people in the
not-so-distant past fighting for civil rights, and applauded how far they’ve come while also
staying aware of today’s realities. Lula Washington Dance Theater was a celebration of
blackness in past, present, and future.
Lula Washington Dance Theatre
By Frederick Roman Minser
The great thing about this performance was how different it was from what you might expect from a dance show. The monologues spoken overhead while the performer dances the emotion behind the words and the powerful visuals while the dancers paid tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr were a unique choice.
The dramatic pieces mixed in with the more comedic made a very versatile experience for the audience. The third dance, Snowy Day, felt almost like an episode of Charlie Brown with the dancers having fun on a snowy day.
Though these drastically different performances made it a more fulfilling experience some things were a bit extreme. Small children in the audience were quite alarmed to see dead people hanging from trees in the slides projected on stage. These images being historically relevant and a part of the civil rights movement might make families avoid the show. Apart from these shocking images, the performances were moving, fun, and unexpected all in one.
A Refreshing Take on an Old Tale
The Heart of Robin Hood
By Liza Freiberg
Winter, a season for passing plates and passing down traditions. This December, The Wallis Center for the Performing Arts is offering up a new twist on an age-old story. David Farr’s The Heart of Robin Hood is more than a story about a gallant outlaw, a sneaky fox, or men in tights; it’s a myriad of anachronistically accepted characters in medieval England -- a black title character, an effeminate attendant, a cross-dressing daughter of a duke, and a prince whose misogyny is reflective of evil.
In addition to Farr’s unique character renditions, directors Gísli Örn Garðarsson and Selma Björnsdóttir had stage designer Börkur Jónsson create an impressive forest set: what at first glance appears to be simply a background wall of greenery, but is also a colossal slide and ladder for dramatic and creative entrances and exits; a hole in the stage, used as a bottomless pit; and a miniature pond, spewing splashes of water at all the right cues. Upon entering the theater, nearly each audience member found his or her seat, only to reach into a pocket or bag to snap a quick shot of Jónsson’s masterpiece.
The performers were not just actors; they trained and built their bodies to defy gravity, running up and down the background wall, or even side to side. Robin Hood and his band of brigands all strutted toned arms and ripped abdominals, making the intense fighting scenes seem like a stroll through the park. But there’s no doubt Moe Alafrangy, both henchman and stuntman, stole the show with his flying flips and tricks. His presence on stage commanded great attention in action-packed scenes, yet it did not create chaos, rather eliciting an ethereal energy. All in all, the fight scenes, if not completely realistic, were masterfully choreographed and brought many watchers to the edge of their seat.
The show had an unusual amount of self-awareness to it. The rustic band and lead singer that introduced and explained scenes were often swept into the plot’s antics, and receding into the background just as quickly. At certain pivotal points, characters entered the scene from the audience’s domain. However, the fourth wall had not broken totally broken until Sarah Hunt, playing Maid Marion’s gold-digging sister Alice, asked members of the audience the size of their estates in an attempt to find a suitable sugar duke. To the delight of the audience, she equated residents of the Valley with peasantry. Right before the conclusion of the show and the show’s defining romance between Robin Hood and Marion, Alice settles on a bad boy, running off with one of Hoods hoodlums.
The comedy, the shenanigans, the excitement, the soul searching and the romance; all of it pales in comparison to the final scene, a satisfying flying wedding between Hood and Marion. By the end of the show, it would be a challenge to find someone in the audience who’s heart was not won over by this adaptation on the tale of the bandit with a heart of gold.
Sarah Chang and Julio Elizalde
By Kate O'Carroll
Violinist Sarah Chang and pianist Julio Elizalde united to present a late-Romantic era
concert earlier this month. The concert travelled chronologically back in time, beginning with a
Bartok piece from 1915, then presenting two pieces from the 1880s: Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in D
minor and Franck’s Sonata in A major. Before the concert, a piano centered an otherwise bare
stage. Even as Chang and Elizalde took to the stage, not even a spotlight shone on the players.
The simplicity of the environment created a heightened audial experience.
Chang and Elizalde were not even facing each other, the timing of the two instruments syncs
seamlessly together from the first note of Bela Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances. Bartok’s piece
was a perfect opener, since the folk dance music was upbeat. Brahms created more
instrumental tension between the instruments than the Folk Dances. The violin and the piano
were at odds for the majority, as if fighting to command attention, with only a few fleeting
moments of harmony. Sonata No. 3 features constant tension, not to mention epic crescendos.
The final piece after an intermission was Cesar Franck’s Sonata in A major, clearly the
main event of the night. This Franck sonata was famously composed as a wedding gift to the
violinist Eugene Ysaye, who then played it with a guest at the wedding ceremony. The piece
was meant to evoke a tumultuous relationship. Elizalde and Change were a perfect match, and
Elizalde in particular was able to impress the audience more than the previous pieces. The
dynamics of the instruments mimicked each other well, turbulence rising until the final
movement, Allegro poco mosso, which is a joyful celebration of love and marriage.
Sarah Chang shone throughout the concert. In particular, Chang’s skilled vibrato
produced gloriously melancholy long notes. Chang also effortlessly fluctuated between forte and
piano, arco and pizzicato. Unbeknownst to me before the show, she was a musical prodigy in
her youth, being accepted to Julliard at five and recording an album at ten. The violin is second
nature to her, which is evident even today as she exercises total agency over the instrument at
all times. Chang’s passion for her craft also proved itself. She physically embodied the fierce
sonatas, pacing the stage and breaking three bow hairs in the process. While violent in her
passion, she also immediately cracked a smile after the last note of the final sonata.
Julio Elizalde controlled the flow of the entire concert since oftentimes, the piano was
playing the first notes of the piece. Elizalde acted as the solid musical pillar so that Chang could
take risks. Elizalde commanded attention on the piano even when playing softly. He did not
rush, but instead took his time with every rich note. The pair even played an encore: the lively
tango piece, Por una cabeza. The concert ended in raucous applause. Chang and Elizalde’s
performance impressed and excited me, a teenager widely unfamiliar with classical music, and
surely would impress and excite anyone.
The Heart of Robin Hood
By Mei Higashi
Forget everything that you have ever known about Robin Hood - this elaborate
production is a comedic tale that goes rogue from the stereotypical story. Created by
writer David Farr and directors Gisli Örn Gardarsson and Selma Björnsdottir, all is not
well in the sweet countryside of Nottingham.
The cruel tyrant Prince John is terrorizing the town, poor peasants are paying dreadful
taxes through the nose, and Robin Hood and his unmerry men are stealing from the
rich - but they haven’t figured out the other missing piece. To the rescue comes brave
and bold Marion, who sets out to show the gang that there is more to being an outlaw
than just purloining gold and jewels.
After being violently rejected by Robin Hood, a determined Marion decides to create
her own fearless duo of swashbucklers with her trusty servant, Pierre. The two,
disguised as Martin of Sherwood and Big Peter, come in direct competition with Robin
and his band of men. The dramatic, “good versus evil” plot hangs from a thread,
concluding in a joint effort to rescue the pair of children that are running from the cold
grasp of Prince John.
Impressive props support the magnificent performance, such as a steep forty-five-foot
hill, a bottomless pit, hidden waterholes, and a pond. Additionally, an enchanting band
featuring Icelandic singer, rapper, and actress, Salka Sól Eyfeld, takes the musical
direction by storm - to a whole new level.
The Heart of Robin Hood is a romantic, comedic and dramatic play that will have you
head-over-heels with the fast-paced theatricals.
The Heart of Robin Hood
Before the show has even started the audience is immersed into an extravagant forest with sounds of birds and running water capturing your ears. The on stage orchestra was wonderful as they set the tone of each scene and made comical instrumental cues for each characters. The twist that Robin Hood steals for himself and not the poor was definitely a new take on the character. Families will be delighted by the wonderful singing that accompanies fun fight scenes. The entrances for the characters are over the top in every scene as the stage slopes upward allowing for the actors to slide into the action. This made for some very comical moments as well as some cool acrobatics. The stunt choreography was spectacular; the crazy things they pulled off reminded me of a circus as they swung themselves around on ropes. Families of all ages will enjoy this new telling of a famous classic.
L.A. Dance Project
By Liza Freiberg
An assortment of ages, backgrounds, and personalities all working as one – this is L.A. Dance Project. On November 3rd, 2017, ten brilliant dancers took the stage of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, performing Benjamin Millepied’s and Noé Soulier’s choreography. Their work is not solely a form of entertainment, but a method of self-expression through art, as is especially conveyed through the title of Benjamin Millepied’s In Silence We Speak – one of the two pieces performed for the first time on the West Coast.
Millepied’s title is not a misnomer – the silent, still moments struck the audience mightier than the sporadic frantic episodes, demanding more attention to comprehend a deeper meaning from what seems to be a simple position. In these moments of stillness, the dancers exhibit a degree of total control over their bodies: a much harder task than moving without coordination. Bulging muscles and popping veins softened by a pleasant face, coupled with years of technique training – that’s the mark of an exceptional dancer; L.A Dance Project has ten of them.
Performing for one hour and fifty minutes, there’s no dispute that the show put the dancers to the ultimate physical test. The shortest dance reached an astounding fifteen minutes, what probably seemed impossible to some of the company members back in their two-minute-solo competition days. But what sets apart L.A. Dance Project from other dance companies is not the stamina; it is the unison with which the company performs. The dancers can be on random parts of the stage, moving at differing heights, presenting alternative movements of one theme, yet still breathing as if they comprised one entity.
Attention to such minute details and their perfect execution amazes an audience, all the more when it lasts for the entirety of a dance as long as twenty eight minutes, the case of Soulier’s Second Quartet. How is it that an audience is not bored by a dance almost as long as a Seinfeld episode? Again, the audience marvels at the meticulousness of the choreography, not necessarily attentive to the meaning of the movement. Both the dancers and the audience members struggle to keep up with the detail, entertaining a challenge for Soulier’s masterpiece.
L.A. Dance Project
L.A. Dance Project was a vibrant performance which showcased the dance company’s artistic, unique movement.
The first piece, Closer, was performed by two dancers who relied on each other throughout the dance. There was a strong connection between the partners as they used each other’s bodies by leaning, hugging, or embracing each other. They made beautiful artistic shapes and lines with their bodies. The dancers had grace and strength, making the movements appear light and airy; the complex lifts seemed so effortless for them to execute. Even at times when the dancers were not physically connected, they danced separately but were still in sync with their choreography. Paired with the amazing technique, there was simplistic lighting and costuming which elevated the performance.
The second piece, Second Quartet, was a more contemporary and stylistic movement. There was free form choreography which matched the unique musical beats, drums, and chimes. The dancers represented the different accents of drums and symbols through the quirky shapes they made with their bodies. Although there was four dancers altogether, the dancers would alternate on and off stage with different pairings. For instance, in one of the duets, the connections made with both of their bodies were creative and different, as they glided off one another for support. When all four dancers were on stage at once, they performed with no music which drew attention to their movement and allowed the dancers to make the music themselves.
In Silence We Speak, two female dancers created a beautiful partnership. The ladies seemed attached to each other emotionally and physically, as they held and supported each other. The dancers also had a soft look in their eyes and meaningful expressions of care. Their movement could be felt as they fully extended through their fingers and arms. In the piece, there was a more urbanized feel to the music with hard hitting beats. When they danced without music, the art of the movement through shapes and lines were fully recognizable. Overall, the performance was angelic, which was created by the dancer’s relationship as well as the soft lighting and musical choices.
The final piece, Orpheus Highway, was visually captivating because of the projection in the background that displayed videos of the dancers dancing. Most of the choreography in the background video mirrored the dancer’s choreography on the stage. The video in the background was not just dancing, but it also told a story; it was like a movie. This aspect made the overall performance more intense. This piece involved the whole dance company, as they performed in groups, duos, or trios. Most of the piece was contemporary movement, and as a group, they executed the choreography cleanly. Although the video projection the background was very captivating, and added to the intensity of the performance, it may be difficult to follow both the video and the live performance simultaneously.
Overall, The L.A. Dance Project performance was captivating and dynamic, as all four pieces were unique, through display of different emotions and styles.
The Wars Within Us
LA Dance Project
By Panna Gattyan
The LA Dance Project performed four dances on November 2-4 as the Wallis Annenberg Center’s first company-in-residence. The artistic Director, Benjamin Millepied (who choreographed the movie Black Swan), choreographed most pieces except one called Second Quartet, which is choreographed by Noé Soulier.
The first dance, Closer, intertwines two people in nightclothes. The man and the woman continuously touch as they move. Soft lights and movements, a live piano score accompanies the dancers. The man lifts the woman with ease, moving in sync, completing each other. Their shadows dance in the background while the music swells intensely then mellows out again. Towards the end the lovers increasingly dance on the floor, like puzzle pieces missing then finding each other again.
Following this classical piece of piano and lovers is Second Quartet, which lacks both the traditional music and movements. In Soulier’s words, “The movements presented [in this piece] are not immediately recognizable. Rather, they are motivated by concrete goals—such as avoiding, striking, throwing, pushing, and resisting…[The] body parts used during the movements are ill-suited for their goals.” This statement perfectly encompasses the jerky, inhuman movements of the dancers. Some movements include trying to push invisible things using the throat, abdomen, or thighs. By not representing the targeted object, the audience pictures their own “physical memory.” The music accompanying the awkward movements is an even more awkward soundtrack of whirring, cracking, wave and clacking sounds. The dancers wear everyday clothes, leaving the stage randomly and often lying or flopping on the ground. Although sometimes in sync, there’s no intimacy between the dancers. At least, not until later in the piece when a man and a woman continue their pushing movements, but touching. They dance as if they can’t move without using the other person’s body. Sometimes there’s no sound at all, and all we hear is the movement of the bodies.
The third dance, In Silence We Speak, begins with two girls in pale onesies and a light tapping sound. The music sometimes morphs into a medieval choral with lyrics including “you will love me” and “you will turn to dust.” This piece has a lot of cool moves.
The last dance, Orpheus Highway, was the most powerful. Dancers performed on stage while a video on screen showed a similar dance but outside. The dance interprets the Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus.. His wife, Eurydice, dies on their wedding day, and Orpheus travels to the underworld to retrieve her, enchanting Hades, the god of the underworld, with his music.This piece includes some tap dancing, mostly used by the ‘devil’s horde’ dancers in an attempt to intimidate Orpheus and his wife. The desert represents the underworld in the video. Hades allows Eurydice to return with Orpheus on the condition that neither of them look back as they leave. Orpheus walks in front, with Eurydice behind him. When Orpheus makes it to the threshold of the underworld, he looks back at his wife in joy. At that moment, Eurydice gets sucked back and Orpheus loses her forever.
By Canyon Clark
I recently saw a performance of Dorrance Dance (at the Annenberg Center for The Performing Arts) This was a phenomenal show that I recommend seeing . After the performance I was lucky enough to ask Michelle Dorrance a few questions.
What is the inspiration for your choreography?
Dorrance responded that she wanted to “show the audience, particularly non tap dancers what I see hear and experience as percussion with the body” Dorrance focuses on creating sounds of rhythm in order for viewers to “hear” the rhythm. She paralleled this to rhythms and beats of today’s music with percussive beats. Dorrance’s goal was to “juxtapose tap sounds with no sounds” that would give viewers a different perspective on tap, while simultaneously and unintentionally telling a story about her outlook on life. For her third piece, called Myelination Michelle said she was interested in the brain and the fatty tissue that contributes to learning things. Through Myelination she expresses that “Anything you practice to become good at that becomes part of your natural instinct, whether you’re playing something or writing something …” She also explained that this could work in a negative way such as being quick to anger or having a bad attitude will also affect your natural instinct.
How did you get into tap dancing?
“I grew up as a daughter of a dance school owner” Dorrance’s mom created a dance academy where she spent most of her time. This is where she found her love for tap and music. Her mom ended up being her mentor and teacher.
Do you enjoy choreography or improvisation more?
She responded that her “heart lives with improvisation, but I love the challenge of executing choreography and I love the feeling of dancing with my crew” this is because of her love of music and the process of composing.
When you dance do you portray more of your personal feelings or about society?
Michelle said, she believes that “many times those both intersect. I think you guys are in this generation growing up with a really outrageous political time… It enrages me personally what’s happening in this country in every direction.” Dorrance confessed that the problems in society keep her up at night. She then goes on to explain the history of tap dance and its origins from slavery. Tap dance is a “subversive language at its core, and that it’s an art form that is not respected the way it should be. Tap is so sophisticated and music at the same time and people just write it off as entertainment.” She also talked about how she includes politics when she taps. The background of her including politics is because tap dancers have died without money because of racism and sexism.
Feathers of Fire
By Kate O’Carroll
When you hear “shadow puppets,” you probably think of grade school birthday party. In Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic, however, shadow puppets are presented in a whole new light - no pun intended. Feathers of Fire, created and directed by Hamid Rahmanian, tells the story of star-crossed lovers in ancient Persia through the use of shadow puppet headpieces that the actors wear while performing behind a screen and some handheld puppets used for transition sequences and wide-frame scenes. The unconventional medium of shadow puppetry resembles the art and design of ancient Persia, honoring the inspiration for the play.
Feathers of Fire, produced by ShadowLight Productions, is based on the Persian epic Shahnameh, written around 1000 C.E. by Ferdowski. Shahnameh, which translates to Book of Kings, incorporates mythology within history to chronicle the story of Persia. The hefty book - about 100,000 lines long - contains countless stories, and Feathers of Fire is an in depth retelling of a small portion of the epic.
Feathers of Fire details the life of Zaul, who is abandoned at birth by his widowed father, a knight. Zaul is raised by a majestic bird, Simorgh, but re-enters civilization in his adolescence. The conflict centers on Zaul’s relationship with Rudabeh, a princess of Kabul. Political and familial tensions hinder Zaul and Rudabeh from being together. Rudabeh and Zaul’s star-crossed love is a familiar motif, but avoids cliche. Their romance feels fresh though predictable.
The target audience for Feathers of Fire ranges from 5 to 85, and everyone is able to enjoy different aspects of the show. Children will delight in the colorful visuals, and can easily comprehend the plot through the narrative style. Some of the moments are even familiar to children, such as when Rudabeh, atop a balcony, like Rapunzel lets down her hair for Zaul. Adults in the audience will appreciate the humor in the scene, as Rudabeh’s ditzy maidens swoon over the handsome Zaul.
When I saw Feathers of Fire, the entire audience was mesmerized by the ornate designs of the shadow puppets, handcrafted by Neda Kazemifar and Spica Wobbe. I myself felt as awestruck as the six-year-old next to me when Simorgh the bird appeared, multicolored wings pumping protectively over Zaul. Her gorgeous, intricate feathers resembled stained glass and took my breath away every time she flew onto the screen. The original, Persian-inspired score by Loga Ramin Torkian and Azam Ali also contributed to the trance that I felt throughout the show. Rahmanian’s passion for the story overflows through his directing, and his passion for Persia is evident through the visual homage to the time period. Although the original Book of Kings is over one thousand years old, Rahmanian’s innovative choices create an atmosphere that feels contemporary and reminds you of the magic of live theater.
Romance in Shadows
Before the cinematic shadow play began, the creator, Hamid Rahmanian, walked on stage to remind us that the performance was live. Apparently, many people believed, having left the theatre, that they had seen a movie of the play. At first I thought that was quite foolish to think, but soon I understood where the confusion may have arisen.
Feathers of Fire narrates one of the love stories in the Persian epic Shahnameh. In the creator’s words:
Shahnameh has four love stories, four tragedies, and endless battles. My goal was to create something that is in the universe of Shahnameh. This is the longest poem written by a single poet. His name is Ferdosi. In 1010 he basically collected and put together the old epic tradition of Iran into sixty thousand heroic verses. The reason we Iranians to this day speak in Persian is because of this book. The regions of Egypt, Syria..etc lost the language to Arabic. We kept the language alive because we had this book.
In Feathers of Fire, a noble son—Zaul—raised in hiding by a bird goddess (because he was born with white hair) returns to the land of men, swiftly falling in love with the first woman he sees. This woman happens to be the daughter of Zaul’s family’s enemy, and thus their marriage appears doomed. However, through love, support, and courage, the couple marry with a happily-ever-after. Although some of the writing seemed stilted, there was also some extremely rich figurative language.
Using a complex web of shadow puppetry and shadow acting, as well as sound effects and screen graphics, I can see where people might have thought this was a recording. Nevertheless, the play clearly took a lot of effort, with thousands of puppets and only a dozen helping hands. After the play, Rahmanian brought the audience backstage via a camera which projected onto a large screen. The creator showed us how the play worked and how the puppets and costumes looked (since all we saw were their shadows). The puppets and costume heads are beautifully crafted, with colored panels and multiple layers.
Plays performed behind screens are less understood and accepted by mainstream society than conventional plays, and unfortunately such risqué projects lack sufficient funding. Rahmanian explained frankly, “Idea is plenty but money is scarce. We have ideas but this project is very expensive to put together. We always suffer from the funding.”
Rahmanian has devoted a huge part of his life to bringing Shahnameh to wider and more modern audiences:
In 2013 I created a new illustrated edition of Shahnameh. 600 pages of illustration with a new translation, very accessible, very eloquent translation. So based on this illustration I made many offsprings. For instance we created a pop-up book, another puppet show, this one, a comic book, and an audiobook which is full 13 hours of sound effects and design with the dramatization of the entire text. So this is my last ten years.
By Frederick Minser
From the masterful choreography to the live jazz band Dorrance Dance show is a treat. The rhythm of the music combined with the percussion incorporated by the dancers is enough to make anyone want to get up and dance. The show begins by different stories being told with the dancer’s expressions or specific movements they make. There are either couples hanging out at a party or using their bodies to become the Jazz instruments. The way the company uses lighting is phenomenal, using it to show only the dancers feet or nothing at all as you listen to the dancers in the dark. What makes these performers even more incredible is the fact that when they are doing solo pieces they are mostly improvised. This gives them free range to explore whatever they want and makes the show every time it’s performed. “Tap dance is a musical”, said Michelle Dorrance and that is definitely true in this spectacular show for everyone to enjoy.
By Anna Polin
Dorrance Dance was a spectacular sight to see from the dancers’ fast movement and complicated tricks this show will leave you speechless. The first act was my favorite. It resembled an 80's theme with fast beat jazz music. The type of music used influenced the choreography. If the music was slow the dancers danced slowly and calmly. What really moved me was the grace, accuracy, and most importantly the beat and rhythm the dancers created. The tipidy tapidy sound the tap dancers made produced its own song. It was a beautiful, catchy, wordless, song.
The Bastards of the Dance World
By Panna Gattyan
We’re in the dark when the music begins. For a moment only sound exists, and we float in an abyss of melody, metal clinking and whirring to the beat. The lights come on. We are enlightened. The brightness illuminate three pairs of legs. The middle pair wears tap shoes. The two beside her move barefoot.
Michelle Dorrance, with tap shoes, beats the floor into song. Side-step slick slack swish. Their movements imitate and echo each other. All three make music but only one makes sound. We can see their bodies, their faces now. The contrast of silent tap and sound tap create a pleasing complexity. Although the performance fuses the three together, eventually only Michelle Dorrance remains. The piece turns emotional, hands extending for things out of reach. Dorrance’s tapping inhabits her body, and in a wild way I see her feet detaching, continuing to tap without an upper-body, the rhythm rising, intensifying until the last nerve-endings lose their energy, fading into the darkness.
Michelle Dorrance’s dance company performed at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts from October 12 to 14. Dorrance welds non-tap elements, such as facial expressions, crouching, some ballet, and even animalistic gestures, with tap in an intensely intertwined performance of beat, motion, and story. In the following edited conversation, Michelle Dorrance explores the choreographies and inspirations of the three dances her company performed, as well as the origins of tap and her own discovery of the artform.
Can you tell me about the inspiration to the choreography of “Jungle Blues”?
For “Jungle Blues,” the inspiration was entirely the music. I was a teenager when I first heard that song. I was on a plane, tuned to United Airlines radio, and I was listening to a jazz station. Those horns sounded like characters to me, and so most of those solos and duets I choreographed meticulously. I was very interested in picking out some specific dancers to represent the horns. So that was really just an interpretation of the music and the time period.
What about for “Three to One”?
The second piece was the oldest of three. In “Three to one” I was really interested in showing the audience - particularly non-tap dancers - what I see and hear and experience as percussion with the body. We're tap dancers but we’re also musicians. We’re equally responsible for being both. Our movement is music. In tap dance the form follows the function. What we are focused on is also creating very specific sound and rhythm. I also found myself falling in love with dancers that didn’t make sounds but I saw their movement as percussive. I could hear their movement. I wanted to juxtapose tap sounds with no sounds, and have those two different bodies doing different rhythms, one that you could hear, and the other that you could not. And then of course it turns into this really alienated sad solo. The emotional journey wasn’t the original intention. That was part of the artistic process. That piece became more a reflection of my life at the time.
The third piece, “Myelination,” has to do with brain function. That fatty tissue is what helps you learn things. The more you do a certain movement, whether skill-based or just walking, the more this builds slowly around that particular nerve impulse. Literally, the electric nature of the thing moves more quickly through the fiber. I was interested in it because I read this book called The Talent Code that my dad recommended to me. It talked about how you become better at things through deep practice and the building of myelin.
And so part of the process in building this with the dancers was making them do things in the piece that they couldn’t quite do yet. So getting better while learning how to do the piece, which I think is a great process. Some kind of abstract emotional narratives developed inside of it because anything you practice to become good at becomes part of your natural instinct. If you have negative reactions to things, or quick to anger, are destructive in any way, those pathways, everytime you build them, are becoming stronger as well. So there’s clearly a dark element inside of the piece. There’s a sort of battle with that. There are some people in the piece that are characters of human beings, and there are some dancers in the piece that are more like energies, or disorders, or bad feelings.
What are some of the most impactful improvisations in the dance?
Usually anytime you see someone dancing as a soloist in my work, they’re improvising. And the first piece is an exception because I choreographed most of it. I always give people some freedom inside of things, unless I am really dissatisfied with their choice with what I’ve given them. Anytime you saw a soloist in the last piece, which is the longest one, any of those solos are improvised.
A lot of duets, unless it’s clear that it’s choreographed, where we’re doing the same thing, those are also improvised. And so those things change drastically from night to night. That’s always really interesting to explore. Each dancer has a turn to shine in every performance. And some people have a great show one night and other people don’t. But it’s really interesting to see that come fruition on stage, and to have that freedom I think is what makes it successful.
How long does it take to choreograph each piece?
I would love more time to develop work. As tap dancers we’re not as supported financially as other artforms. Ballet companies have a building, and they have class every morning and they have a salary and have a lot of institutional support. We have to make it happen ourselves. We’ve learned to create quickly out of necessity. I would love a space. We’re the bastards of the dance world. Tap dancers are not treated very well by institutions, not because institutions don’t like tap dance. A lot of times it’s just because it’s misunderstood, and there’s a lack of education about the form.
How did you get into tap dancing?
I was a daughter of a dance school owner. She was a professional ballet dancer, my mom. She started this school I grew up dancing in the year I was born. So I lived there essentially when I wasn’t at home. I studied ballet, jazz, and tap dance, but tap dance was so immediately something that sat with me. And I have pretty flat feet. I don’t actually have a ballet body. I’m really inflexible. But tap dance resonated with me, I think in part because it was so musical. It’s a musical language first.
Can you tell me about where tap dance comes from?
The origins of tap dance come from slavery. There was a period of slave uprising in the South. And they were organized largely from communication through drums, which was rooted in West African culture and alive on the plantation. So the drum was taken away from the plantation slave in order to stop uprisings from happening. From then they used their feet and bodies to communicate. And that’s the beginning of tap dancing in America. It started as a subversive form of communication. It is this form of necessity in so many directions. It is this art form that is not respected the way it should be. It is so sophisticated; it is dance and music at the same time, and people just write it off as entertainment. It is incredibly difficult and nuanced in this way. This history lives inside of the form, and lives inside of us as artists. I think the most important thing is to be honest on stage.
By Chloe Clark
Dorrance Dance was a unique and skillfully choreographed performance that was both artistically and technically captivating.
The first piece, Jungle Blues, was lively and it showcased dancers as they performed in smaller groups as solos or in duets. Although they danced separately, the dancers complemented each other as a whole. The dancers in the background represented a steady, simple movement as the main dancers performed downstage. The dancing was very stylized and their bodies truly embodied the music. For example, if the music was sporadic, so was their movements, but if the music was more calm, their movements would become controlled. Dorrance explained how her inspiration was “entirely the music... because the horns sounded like characters”; the dancers were a visual representation of the horns. The dancers had amazing technique as well as stage presence; I was able to feel their emotions of genuine happiness.
The second piece, Three to One, was simplistic yet very creative. In contrast to the colorful costumes worn in the first piece, the three dancers in the second piece wore all black. This simple dark color enabled the intricate movements to be the center of attention. When describing Three to One, Dorrance explained that she choreographed the piece to “juxtapose tap sounds with no sounds and to have two different bodies doing different rhythms--one that you could hear, and the other that you could not.” There was an obvious contrast in movement and sound as Dorrance was centered and the only dancer in tap shoes; the other two dancers alongside her were barefoot. The two surrounding dancers did not make sound with actual tap shoes, but the movement was able to be seen as percussive. As a whole, the dance exuded raw emotion through alienated movements.
The third piece, Myelination, was different than the other two pieces in that the majority of the performance was improvised by the dancers. There was a lot of movement on stage with different groups on different parts of the stage which highlighted the different layers of the music. Some dancers represented the bass with simple, whole beats, while other dancers represented the vocals/lyrics with faster beats. At the beginning of the piece, a dancer was taping without accompanying music which emphasized how the music was produced entirely from the sound of his taps. This piece was not entirely tap; a few dancers were in street shoes and were dancing a contemporary or hip hop style. The performance was unique because it expressed more than what was seen on a surface level. The word “myelination” involves the wrapping of myelin, a fatty tissue, which helps one gradually learn concepts. Through deep practice, comes the development of myelin. Dorrance explains that her interest of myelination inspired her to choreograph the piece and “a part of the process was making dancers do things that they couldn't quite do yet--getting better through practice while learning how to do the piece.” This creation formed an abstract narrative within the piece, for there was components of destruction or darkness that rooted from learning new aspects, essentially creating a battle between dancers or within themselves. Dorrance clarifies that “some dancers are characters or human beings while others are more like energies, disorders, or bad feelings.” The internal struggle was expressed by the dancers as they dealt with obstacles, whether it was internally or externally.
Dorrance Dance beautifully highlighted the art of tap dance through unique concepts displayed by the dancers from their raw emotions to skilled technique.
Thebes was a captivating play performed by many talented young actors. The performers expressed raw emotion, emphasizing conflict, pain, sorrow, and more. The play recreated the story of Oedipus, so without any prior knowledge to the Greek myth, it may be difficult to follow and know which character is who during throughout the play. The overall stage set was simple, there were five trees in the background and the only props used were two large bowls filled with water and sand. These two elements can represent different themes of the play; water symbolized the renewal and purification the characters may seek, and the sand represented the passing of time and destruction of fate. The characters wore all white and, at times, chanted their dialogue in unison. This highlighted power and purity, especially at the end of the play when the characters lined up and spoke as one singularity. The characters came out into the audience which added more interaction and tension, for the audience felt as though they were in the midst of the play as well. The play touches on the fall of fate and how strength lies in people in order to overcome injustice. The characters attempted to maintain power and Antigone was the literal representation of any hope that remained; it was that hope which inspired the rest of the citizens to stand up against the government ruler, Creon.
by Emma Erenmark
The play Battlefield, based on The Mahabharata, an ancient Indian epic, and the play written by Jean-Claude Carriere, is a 70-minute journey into a society just torn apart by war in ancient India, and how difficult it is to lose people you love in battle.
The play is simple in some respects. The show is quiet, there are only four actors, the actors walk barefoot, and there is little set. What is more complex is the dialogue. The four actors discuss many deeply philosophical issues that we still struggle with today, thousands of years after The Mahabharata was written. They discuss the point of war, and how the former King Dritarashtra can live on after many of his sons were killed and he is forced to step down from power.
Throughout the play, the actors take on different roles as they tell different stories. They mention traditional Hindu beliefs, such as reincarnation. There is one scene where the actors proceed to tell a story about a worm who wanted to cross a busy street without getting killed. Another actor asks the worm why it wants to stay alive, and the worm says he can change his own destiny by struggling to stay alive against all odds. In the end, the worm ends up getting run over. This shows how important destiny is to the writers of The Mahabharata; that no matter how hard one tries, one can never change destiny.
Overall, the play was hard to follow if one is not familiar with ancient teachings of Hinduism. Yet the actors teach so much in the span of 70 minutes. The actors had so much emotion and meaning to their dialogue. Even the lone drummer watching from center stage has emotion and partakes in the plot.
This show is quiet, philosophical, monkish, interesting, and has bigger themes that take a while to sink in. While it may not be the best show for children, the play is incredibly entertaining and definitely a learning experience for the audience. Often people in America have little knowledge of important religious texts from other countries, so it was very interesting to learn stories told by ancient people around the world.
By Emma M. Taylor
“The Encounter,” is a work of theatre unlike any I’ve ever experienced. Performed by Simon McBurney, this one-man show is more than a drama, but a masterpiece of technical theater. The story tells of a National Geographic photojournalist’s journey into the Amazon basin in his hunt for the Moabi people, but works on three different time planes. His excursion takes him to extremes in the Amazon jungle, pushing him to his physical psychological limit all for the sake of adventure. But behind the story is a genius technical crew who make it possible for you to go along for the ride with him. Each member in the audience is provided a set of headphones to wear for the duration of the performance. Not only is it an ingenious way for everyone to hear the show i