Results tagged “dance” from ARTicles

This weekend, I may stop by the Paramount Center's Bright Family Screening Room in Boston to see a free screening of "The Sound of Music." By my calculation, I've seen the film 20 times, as a child and again as the parent of a child. It showed up in my life around the same time as other movie musicals such as "Peter Pan" and "Cinderella" that were made in the 1960s and were on TV each year when I was a kid. That was before DVDs and Netflix (and VHS), so the annual showing was a fairly exciting family event. It was also before replay buttons on remote controls, and I feel sure I watched TV with far more focus and clarity than I do these days when I'm likely to also be tweeting or texting at the same time.


In other words, my little mind was taking in far more information with fewer distractions, and I memorized those musicals in the same way I learned to say prayers at Mass: It was all rote, but the practice with musicals was far more challenging given that they came on once a year and Mass was once (or more) a week.


ELKINS.jpgIn any case, it was a testament to just how deeply "The Sound of Music" was embedded in my long-term memory when I recently attended Doug Elkins & Friends' production of "Fraulein Maria" running through Oct. 3 at the Paramount Center in Boston.


Elkins is an award-winning choreographer whose creds come from the break dancing world. For "Fraulein Maria," he combines modern dance and ballet with his street moves and the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein's soundtrack featuring a full-throated Julie Andrews. Which means that when Elkins started popping and botting and ticking as the Mother Abbess in "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," he augmented the song from an operatic pep talk about dreams to a display of just how much tutting a righteous B-Boy can achieve within about a four-foot halo of spotlight. He wore a black and white hoodie - a kind of wimple for the hood couture - and embedded the symbols of the tune (his hands do an itsy-bitsy spider-like move when the refrain is sung) and of contemporary hand jive such as basketball shots and, for lack of a better term, the pinkie-and-thumb-connecting-to-the-mouth-and-ear "call me" action. His moves and the choreography throughout the show were utterly new to me and yet they made perfect satirical sense given my familiarity with the movie.


von trapps.jpgElkins is a virtuoso. And he has surrounded himself with a troupe of virtuosic dancers who suggest what it must have been like in, say, Shakespeare's time or in the early years of traveling circuses when you had to be a polymath of artistic ability to be part of the company. Many of the Elkins dancers have had conservatory training. But they are also gymnasts, martial artists, trapezists, break dancers, actors and comedians. Their previous tenures are as varied as the Flying Karamazov Brothers, Bill T. Jones, the Metropolitan Opera and "trained Chris Brown." So there was 20-year-old Gui Greene defying gravity with his airborne power moves performing an "I Am Thumbnail image for Parker.jpgSixteen (Going on Seventeen)" pas de deux with David Parker, who was swan-like as a corporeal, middle-aged, cross-dressing Liesl. And there's Deborah Lohse who strutted on her tiptoes to connote the high heels her stridently bitchy Baroness might wear but suggesting in elegant slapstick the way Carol Burnett might have played the role had she been cast in the movie instead of Eleanor Parker. I wasn't exactly surprised even as I still gasped during the sentimental duet "Something Good" when Jeffrey Kazin, as Von Trapp, did a full-out run at Meghan Merrill, as Maria, and leapt into her arms for a traditional, though role-reversed, ballet catch.


It strikes me that Elkins takes his street aesthetic to the level of "cultural remix," which his company represents: a diverse group of dancers in terms of race, age and gender roles (plus five Emerson College students who join the troupe for one number). But he also engages in a form of remix in his use of varied dance genres that equally celebrate ensemble and individual talent. From this complicated pastiche emerges an appreciation of the American musical as a form so pliable it breaks down the high-low art rules - ballet meets graffiti dance - and becomes a trope about the elasticity not only of the human body but of a work of art. In other words, "Hamlet" is still becoming "Hamlet." "The Great Gatsby" is still becoming "The Great Gatsby." And thanks to Elkins, "The Sound of Music" is still becoming "The Sound of Music."


And I, for one, can't wait to see the movie for the 21st time.


Photos: Doug Elkins as Mother Abbess by Yi-Chun Wu; troupe photo and Robert Parker as Liesl by Christopher Duggan.


September 24, 2010 3:15 PM |
ComeFlyAway1.jpgOnce more there is a conversation in the ArtsBeat blog between critics of different disciplines, in this case Charles Isherwood and Alastair Macaulay, on the subject of the Broadway dance musical "Come Fly Away," choreographed by Twyla Tharp to music of Frank Sinatra. I have been lapping it up.

Isherwood has called "Come Fly Away" a "major new work" of theater, and Macaulay has decried its dance as "intimacy perverted into exhibitionism." I am interested in the discussion that is developing over the nature of Tharp's work, for what it is and what it isn't, breakthrough or compromise, as judged from the perspective of these critics who write about related but different genres. Here's the link to the conversation, best read from the bottom up.

For the record, I saw "Come Fly Away" in one of its last previews. I found it exhilarating, and I would have been happy to tell you why over a bottle of wine after the show. But because I was a 

March 30, 2010 10:52 AM |

Sometimes you don't know what's wrong with something until you see what's right.

I feel so depleted trying to defend dance, when really the nature of the beast is that it is dance, which means it has to be felt in order to be done. Even if you subscribe to Balanchine's credo, "Don't feel just do," I would still maintain that the people dancing must have an interior life that illuminates the movement if only for the satisfaction of themselves. Merce Cunningham's dancers report the same -- that as disconnected as movement might seem from narrative or explicit purpose, in fact, there is connection, intellectual and physical, aesthetic and organic. A connection that each dancer creates. That's what sustains the choreography's beauty: the individual.

"A Chorus Line" is precisely about this connection: individual life and its important relationship to the group, the chorus line, the choreographer's idea of "One." 

Last night Broadway's touring production of "A Chorus Line" came to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. Nikki Snelson (Cassie) -- what she does on that stage had me thinking, because she is so good. Why is she good? She pushes and interprets just a little beyond what is given to her to do, BUT it's her own world she is in. She not once - not once, I tell you -- made me look at the outside of her body and say, "Oh, what technique. I bet she put in hours on that bod, that line, that mirror reflection." I don't want to be trite here. This is serious business, because dance is, in so many respects, going down the tubes. But, honestly, I did not expect to find such authentic personality through movement at "A Chorus Line."

 Of course, that is what this show is about. Therefore, kudos to director Bob Avian on this production and to the casting agents whom practically every single cast member thanks profusely: Jay Binder and Nicole Vallins. This is a musical about casting and they were letter perfect.

poster.jpgMichael Bennett got it about dancers and musical theater dancers, in particular. The story of Paul -- even if it is not told by the original cast member in this production -- is timeless and painful. He's the boy whose only recourse is to perform as a woman and whose father says, "Just take care of my son," when he leaves for a touring show and that's the first time that Paul has ever heard his father call him "son" -- oh, the pain and the pain and the pain again. Was there a dry eye in the house? Think not. Kevin Santos, who played Paul, was as credible as the original has to have been in my imagination.

Speaking of originals...In the audience last night was the original Maggie (Kay Cole). She lives and works in L.A. and last winter taught my NEA Insititute in Theater and Musical Theatre fellows and blew their collective minds by having them dance and having them recognize what is individual about each of their bodies and selves as expressed in dance (try doing that in a class. It's a tall order and she did it without any prompting. Call it Michael Bennett training in the flesh). But Kay was in the audience last night and seeing "A Chorus Line" with her in the row behind me added something. An extra set of eyes and heart. Her replacement Maggie ( Hollie Howard) was to my mind sensational. She sustained the final notes of "At the Ballet." She had a gorgeous voice and she was willing to be innocent and surprising and non-egotistical. Hard to do in a show like this. 

 But I would argue that "A Chrous Line" puts the ego where the ego is supposed to be. It is about service to the art.

When asked at the end by Zach (Michael Gruber, who also was in the original company and whose line as a dancer sets the bar, by which I mean the line if you traced "a line" around his body at all given times), "What would you do if you couldn't do dance?," the answers and temperature of the them is so exactly like journalists are feeling right now. The dancers respond with how Broadway is dying and how they'll dance until they can't dance no more. Ultimately they wind up singing ""What I did for Love" and I thought to myself, this is just like us. This is arts journalism.

Newspapers are dying. Broadway is dying. Did you honestly get into this business of writing dance criticism or any form of arts journalism for the money?? Did you? Why are you doing it? What are you willing to sacrifice? Could we put up a show about us "A Hedline" and have it be any different than "A Chorus Line"?  All vying and training and for a part in the newsroom. "A Byline"?

Now I ask, has Broadway died? How does information and training  get passed down? Will standards honestly lower as the Internet intercepts us? Should we give up writing? Can we?

I think we are drawn to write about the arts because we love them. Times are different. Not necessarily bad. But they are changing and they are different. When I see Nikki Snelson move with all the fortitude of Patricia McBride and the character of Violette Verdy and the amplitude of Mikhail Baryshnikov, using her energy points, I know dance is not dead. And just as I know that, I also know journalism, arts journalism, is not dead either.

May 23, 2008 4:00 PM |

Just watched Penn Jillette low ball it on "Dancing with the Stars" with Kym. He tried illusion on the judges and it almost worked, sort of. I know that's redundant, but Jillette may be one of the few "from the other side" in the business (no matter how famous he is, his origins --authentic, off-B'way, 99 -seat theater or less -- stick) who would venture into this commercial TV show and retain his hip.

I'm a huge fan of the TV dance shows, especially "So You Think You Can Dance" in part because they teach critical skills through subterfuge. And, in other part, because they seriously promote choreographers. Those judges can be tough and very often they are right. Save for Debbie Allen, who is so loaded with pomposity and 'tude she registers as nothing but false and massively egotistical. She can't judge without plugging her LA studio. There is something to be learned from that about what NOT TO DO. About the separation between advertising and editorial.

But I digress...Penn Jillette and "Dancing with the Stars"...last week The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner held a reunion. Her-Ex theater critic Jack Viertel "discovered" Penn & Teller. I know he did. I remember him returning to the office -- ahhh the days when we critics wrote in the office around communal pillars on computers the size of carry-on luggage, reading our ledes aloud, smoking cigarettes and editing each other's copy in ink on cog-marked, green and white striped printout paper.

(For the most incisive nostalgic report on the Her-Ex old days, see John Schwada's Reunion blog for Fox News Channel 11. He captures the Herald perfectly -- and why so many true blue die hard reporters and critics came out of there. And why this was journalism in all its romantic glory.)

But on one of those days, Jack Viertel returned beside himself over Penn & Teller. The rest is history, and Jack got it. Critics meant something then. They still can and do. It just takes guts. By which I mean listening to your gut.

Choreographers on TV and film have always been a big deal inside the circle of Those Who Care, but something is happening right now that is different and monumental and we ought to pay attention. "So You Think You Can Dance" will start up soon (the search for the next Top 20 began on March 1 in NYC).

The only thing missing from most of its contenders is ballet. Perhaps the only reason ballet should exist right now is because it provides (still) the best training a human dance body can get. The choreographers on the show don't come from ballet, but they value it. They value good movement, period. (Mia Michaels often scrapes emotions raw, a good thing, to my mind, and exceptional on television.)

As a result, it's impossible as a dance-lover not to value them, the choreographers. They give the contestants new works, often in styles that are alien, each week. To see those kids perform -- I mean, think if, on "American Idol," the singers didn't get to choose their songs but had to sing something completely original each week -- is to see budding artists on the line. The choreographers reign.

In acknowledgment of the ascendancy of the on-camera choreographers...If you are one, you may want to submit your work for a Choreography Media Honor. Go to for a submission form. The 2nd annual CMHs will be held on June 13 at the Directors Guild of America (DGA in Hollywood). A potentially fabulous opportunity to see a lot of film and/or TV work by choreographic talent known and unknown. For tickets, contact Teresa Taylor at

March 17, 2008 9:15 PM |

Without getting too heady about it, look at Hillary and Barack's heads and apply a little dance criticism and some Marshall McLuhan and Martha Graham.The latter said, "movement never lies." I take that as gospel. McLuhan talked about how the eye can edit, pick and choose what it wants to see. But the ear must take in the whole sound of the symphony. It cannot be selective about trumpets over oboes, if both are playing at the same time.

Why is Barack making such in-roads with people even when what he is saying may be "empty rhetoric"? It is the tilt of his head, the timing of the tilt, the breakout of a smile, the way his head receives the information and listens. He is mouth and eyes. She is forehead and jaw. He is sensual and spiritual -- and, to apply further Francois Delsarte's ideas about faces and heads -- she is intellectual and physical. He seems more honest, more transparent, less calculated. Her head dodges and, then, goes on the offensive chin first to (re)butt. He only lifts his chin to her when she stretches the truth about him. 

Next debate, turn off the sound and watch their ballet. But then, to honor McLuhan, turn yourself around and just listen. It is he who stalls ever so slightly on "ums" and "ers," while she is more dependably smooth. 

Playing with the difference between eye and ear as if your life depended on it is an arts journalist's gig. Barack's making global inroads because our eyes overrule our ears and that, for the moment, shapes the way many perceive the world. Seeing is believing. It favors a particular point of view...and Barack Obama. Don't you think?

February 27, 2008 10:54 AM |


Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.


    ARTicles ARTicles is a project of 
    the National Arts Journalism Program, an association of some 500 journalists in the United States. Our group blog is a place for arts and cultural journalists to share ideas and information, to celebrate what we do, and to make the case for its continuing value.

    ARTicles Bloggers Meet our bloggers: Sasha Anawalt, MJ Andersen, Alicia Anstead, Laura Bleiberg, Larry Blumenfeld, Jeanne Carstensen, Robert Christgau, Laura Collins-Hughes, Thomas Conner, Lily Tung Crystal, Richard Goldstein, Patti Hartigan, Glenn Kenny, Wendy Lesser, Ruth Lopez, Nancy Malitz, Douglas McLennan, Tom Moon, Abe Peck, Peter Plagens, John Rockwell, Werner Trieschmann, Lesley Valdes and Douglas Wolk. more

    NAJP NAJP is America's largest organization dedicated to the advancement of arts and cultural journalism. The NAJP has produced research, publications and discussions and works to bring together journalists, artists, news executives, cultural organization administrators, funders and others concerned with arts and culture in America today. more

    Join NAJP Join America's largest organization of arts journalists. Here's how more

see all archives



Recent Comments