6/10/22 O&A NYC DANCE REVIEW: Calvin Royal III in Giselle

By Walter Rutledge

American Ballet Theatre (ABT) begins its summer New York season June 13 at the Metropolitan Opera House. Before we discuss the upcoming season, it would be remiss of me not to discuss one important event during the prior fall season. A season marked by many ABT firsts, making it truly a season of diversity.

On October 23, 2021, dance history was quietly made at the Saturday matinee of American Ballet Theater. Calvin Royal lll became the company’s first African American principal dancer to perform the lead role of Albrecht in Giselle. The production exuded with the extravagance befitting American Ballet Theatre, the grandeur of the David H Koch Theater, and Mr. Royal’s augural New York City performance. He was complemented by sumptuous sets, live music, focused staging and a stellar cast.

Cassandra Trenary in the title role of Giselle danced with a spirited conviction. We all were sitting in the front seats of her roller-coaster ride from exuberance to madness, death, and finally her transformation into a fearless and virtuous spirit. Patrick Frenette‘s Hilarion embodied the jealous spurled “let’s just be friends” suitor. And Susan Jones portrayed Berthe, Giselle’s mother, with both compassion and matriarchal protectiveness.

Giselle is my favorite romantic ballet. Although the story is set in the Rhineland in the 1500’s the ballet is a perfect example of 19th century French romanticism. Like many of its literary contemporaries such as Manon Lescaut, Madame Bovary, and les Demoiselles Camelias the heroine’s death absolved her of past transgressions. It also gave these heroines a virtue not obtained in their lifetimes- almost a deification.

In Giselle, a simple, lovestruck, peasant girl is courted by a nobleman pretending to be a peasant. The charming Count Albrecht of Sileca seduces the young girl. And when the ruse was exposed, the deception is more than frail Giselle can withstand and she dies.

Giselle is a true romantic story ballet. Here the mastery of “steps” is just the prerequisite to be considered for the role. This ballet is a theatrical production, a storytelling ballet that requires artists. Artists who can transcend the roles and make us believe we too are in an enchanted hinterland.

Someone of Albrecht’s entitled noble status believes he had the right to deceive these simple villagers to gain their trust. He  seduces and deflowers a young maiden for sport and moves on. The precision of his plan suggests this is not his first peasant mascarade, nor his first peasant maiden seduction.

When Royal entered from the autumnal forest, he exuded an innate and natural elan.’ His swagger, confidence, and charming yet overt flirtations betrayed his guise as a humble village newcomer to the omniscient balletomanes. Regardless, we all were enthralled, seduced, and eventually betrayed.

This is a quality I first observed years earlier. Royal, then a member of ABT ll, performed the role of Prince Siegfried in the Black Swan Pas de Deux at the Joyce Theater on a split bill with Ailey ll. Even then, Royal danced in pure light, a quality you can’t teach, a quality that delineates a great dancer from an important and gifted artiste’.

What really struck me not what he did, but what he didn’t have to do. In this pas de deux the male danseur, is supportive and therefore invisible. The danseur should become just the setting around a perfect jewel. That evening Royal was a platinum setting.

Flash. forward to November 2021. It was evident Royal’s radiant pure light has become a mature focus beam of pure artistry. Choreographer Marius Petipa designed an ingenious second act plot twist. The perfect example of role and class reversal; and female empowerment through deification.

A remorseful Albrecht visits Giselle’s grave. Deep in the forest, cloaked in the amenity of darkness. The Count encounters the Willis; undead women, who died untouched, and now seeks revenge on men. Giselle saves the now powerless Albrecht from their bloodlust and redeems her soul. In hindsight, I wonder if the Willis plight was their purgatory and Giselle’s forgiveness of Albrecht her penance.

Royal is convincingly transformed from patrician to prisoner. The powerless mortal pleas for mercy are denied by the Willis’ Queen, Marta (Stephanie Petersen); but it is Giselle who fearlessly intercedes. Her former earthly love for him and her stoic selflessness reprieves Albrecht. Royal masterfully completes Petipa’s plot twist as the curtain falls. In these final moments Royal expresses the sadness and angst of losing Giselle. Through his remorse we sadly realize that the player (Albrecht) has played himself. Bravo!

Although act two was also visually stunning I was not pleased with moments of the second act lighting. The upstage lighting at times seemed dark and muddy. And shades of deep blue do not always compliment darker skin tones. Thankfully the light defused spotlights with the soft edges avoided most of the problem. I’m sure this light plot was designed long before a Calvin Royal III was in contention for the role, fortunately this is a minor adjustment.

The other point of visual ambiguity was the lighting for the dawn scene. The light seemed to rise from the east, west, north, and south making it visually and geographically confusing. It was especially disappointing when the side lighting (north and south) spilled onto the Willis costumes.

Royal’s fifteen-year journey from scholarship student to ABT principal danseur has been a dancer’s dream come true. In the company’s eighty-three-year history Royal is only the second principal of African descent and the first one in over twenty-three years. In the summer New York City season (June 13th thru July 19th) Royal will perform the roles of Espada in Don Quixote, Chaereas in the New York premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Of Love and Rage and in Alonzo King’s quintet Single Eye (also a world premiere) One of his most anticipated performances will be Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake. A role he was scheduled to perform in the 2020 summer season opposite Misty Copeland (Odette/Odell), but that historic performance (two African Americans dancing both lead roles) was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Royal has truly broken one of ballets’ glass ceilings. During his two-year tenure as principal, Royal has become a role model; inspiring young classically trained male dancers of color to follow their dreams. We the public see his success as only the beginning, and expect the wheels of progress to move faster, giving more aspiring dancers of color a chance to live their dreams. 

 

3/21/22 O&A NYC DANCE: Francesca Harper Sets New Direction For Ailey II

By Walter Rutledge

The Ailey II season begins March 23 and run thru April 3 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater 405 west 55th Street at the corner of Ninth Avenue This is not only the company’s return to the theater since the pandemic, but also the debut season for the company’s new Artistic Director Francesca Harper. During the two-week season the company will offer 10 performances and present works by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) Artistic Director Robert Battle, internationally renowned choreographer William Forsythe, AAADT principal dancer Yannick Lebrun, Andrea Miller, and Harper. Continue reading

12/29/21 O&A NYC WITH WaleStylez DANCE PARTY: Storyboard P- Chalk Walk

By Adewale Adekanbi Jr.


Bessie Award winning performer and choreographer Storyboard P performs Chalk Walk; his interpretation of a cocaine binge. Continue reading

12/24/21 O&A NYC SHALL WE DANCE FRIDAY: Ailey’s 2021 Opening Night Gala

As special holiday gift from the Ailey company to you, watch the Opening Night Gala now through Dec 28. The performance honors you, our audience, our inspiration. Happy Holidays! Featuring: Robert Battle’s ‘Ella’(performed to live music by Jazzmeia Horne) and the finale of Love Stories,’ plus Bird’ Lives!, an excerpt from Alvin Ailey’s For Bird’ – With Love featuring Company member Clifton Brown with students from The Ailey School, and Mr. Ailey’s beloved Revelations. Continue reading

12/13/21 O&A NYC DANCE REVIEW: Ailey Presents Two Premieres Offering Hope

By Walter Rutledge

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater began their 2021 fall New York City season December 1 at New York City Center. The annual holiday season usually runs five weeks ending with a festive New Year’s Eve finale. This highly anticipated return to live indoor performance (the first since 2019) will offer the public an abridged three-week season that runs through December 19, 2021.

The Company is presenting a total of eighteen works over eighteen days. The ambitious fall offering includes seven works by founder Alvin Ailey, five from Robert Battle, four new productions and two premieres by Battle and the company’s first resident choreographer Jamar Roberts. The recently retired company member, (Roberts last performance was during this season on December 9th) created a cathartic and holistic environment in the age of COVID designed to foster healing. 

Robert’s Holding Space, a twelve-member ensemble work, filled the space with what can be best described as “organized choreo-chaos”. The dancers performed the same movement, but in different time signatures and at different angles. Slowly the dancers begin moving in individual patterns forming duets, trios, and small groups. The multiple patterns, happening simultaneously, heighten the tension and pushed the audience to visually dart from one group and configuration to another.

Eventually the dancers formed three lines (stage right, stage left and center) these linear progressions provided a modicum of order while allowing the dancers to maintain their movement individuality. One distinct image Roberts used effectively had dancers balanced on a forced arch with the pelvis dramatically thrusted forward, giving the turns and extensions an off kilter look and a desolate feeling. Tim Hecker’s harrowing score and the atmospheric lighting by Brandon Stirling Baker created an austere and sober otherworld.

A large square frame supported by four dancers (one at each corner) appears upstage left making the proceeding section the most thought provoking. Filled with arresting imagery the dancers one at a time entered the space inside the cube/isolation chamber; mirroring the isolation many people faced at the height of the pandemic.

The series of solos evolved into character studies portraying angst, aloneness and frustration. These emotions permeated the tight and expressive movement embellished by open mouths, outstretched arms and reaching hands. Personal and introspective these psychodramas recalled Ana Sokolow’s Rooms, where inner city people living in proximity were still isolated and alone. Throughout, the raw and abandon movement was tempered by the dancer’s incredible control.

The lights changed from a cool darkness to warm amber in the last section, while the dancers reprised the movement from the opening section. This time the choreography was performed in unison. The chaos was replaced by a meditative synchrony symbolizing the beginning of the end of despair.

Holding Space is an ambitious undertaking. The strong introspective elements produced a cerebral, “thinking man’s” ballet. Roberts’ efforts were admirable, but needed more contrast. The combination of dark lighting, musical monotony, nuanced movement and protracted length caused the work to meander. 

One thing the company founder and its present artistic director have in common is an affinity for jazz music. Both artists understood/understand the fusion of function, form and style synonymous with jazz music and dance. From the beginning Ailey’s portrayal of the African American experience was acclaimed for the works universal consciousness.

Blues Suite (1958), his first work for the then newly established Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, is a fusion of modern dance, ballet, jazz, black vernacular dance and non-verbal storytelling. From the down-home feel of Backwaters Blues to the symphonic power of Ellington, the poetry of Parker and the lyric longing of Jarrett; Ailey created dances that captured the majesty of this great American art form.

An American art form born and reared by former slaves and their descendants in the speakeasies and brothels of New Orleans Storyville District. Sadly, Storyville is another community where the people were displaced, and the community eased. (How wonderful would a revival Donald McKayle’s District Storyville be?)

To commemorate his 10th anniversary as company artistic director Battle created For Four set to a jazz rendering by New Orleans native and jazz phenom Winton Marsalis. With classic Battle wit the quartet’s title is derived from the composition’s 4 x 4-time signature, but there is nothing “four square” about this work. Battle created a stylish and fun celebration marking our enthusiastic return to normality.

Fusing a multiplicity of style with strong dance theater elements this abstract narrative is a perfect vehicle to showcase his stellar cast. Renaldo Maurice opened and closed the work with a Master of Ceremonies whirling dervish aplomb; while Samantha Figgins executed a series of undulating fouetté inspired turns that oozed with liquid perfection. Jacqueline Green moved with such a total commitment that even her hair danced! And Solomon Dumas “do no wrong persona” wooed the audience the moment he walked on stage. In fact, the entire cast ricocheted through the energetic score with whimsical syncopated verve.

There are six more opportunities to experience the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater live at New York City Center. For ticket information visit ailey.org.

Ailey Performance Schedule

December 14, 7:30pm- Ailey and Ellington: The River, Pas de Duke, Reflections In D,                                                               Revelations

December 15, 7:30pm- 50 Years of Cry: Blues Suite, Cry, Revelations

December 16, 7:30pm- Lazarus

December 17, 8pm- Battle 10th Anniversary: Mass, Ella, In/Side, For Four, Untold, Love Stories                                                                                   (finale)

December 18, 8pm- Shelter, BUSK, Revelations

December 19, 3pm- Season Finale: Season Highlights, Revelations

 In Photo: 1) Robert Battle and Company 2) Jamar Roberts and Robert Battle 3) Company (Holding Space) 4) Yannick Lebron and Company (Holding Space) 5) Alvin Ailey and Company (Blues Suite) 6) Marilyn Banks (District Storyville) 7)  Renaldo Maurice, Samantha Figgins, Belén Indhira Pereyra and Solomon Dumas 8) Samantha Figgins

Photographer: 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8 Christopher Duggan 5 & 6) Jack Mitchell

5/30/21 O&A NYC DANCE: Greenwood- By Donald Byrd Performed By The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Donald Byrd’s fifth Ailey commission draws on the Company’s theatrical roots and legacy of addressing social injustice. The work’s title references a 1921 tragedy that happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s segregated Greenwood District. At the time, it was one of the country’s most affluent African American communities, known as “Black Wall Street.” Continue reading

7/3/20 O&A NYC SHALL WE DANCE FRIDAY: Lazarus by Rennie Harris (AAADT)

Ailey All Access presents Rennie Harris’ Lazarus. It’s the Company’s first ever evening length work shown in two acts. Through hip-hop dance, Harris reflects on Alvin Ailey’s life and addresses the racial inequities America faced when the Ailey company was founded 1958 and still faces today. Watch it now through Thurs, July 9 at 7pm EDT. Continue reading

8/21/21 O&A NYC DIVO ALERT TRIBUTE: Faison, Godreau and Williams- Road of the Pheobe Snow

Divo Alert! George Faison, Miguel Godreau and Dudley Williams dance in an excerpt from Talley Beatty’s The Road Of The Pheobe Snow with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Continue reading

6/26/20 O&A NYC SHALL WE DANCE FRIDAY: A Hymn for Alvin Ailey- A Documentary Film

The documentary film A Hymn for Alvin Ailey goes behind the scenes of Judith Jamison’s Hymn and gives you a look at Alvin Ailey’s life from the perspective of those who knew him best. Continue reading

5/9/20 O&A NYC SATURDAY MORNING CONCERT: Judith Jamison in Alvin Ailey’s Cry

In January of 1972, Judith Jamison‘s legendary performance of Alvin Ailey‘s Cry was filmed for The New York Public Library’s archives, but it has not been shown online before now. Now courtesy of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater archives you can watch this exclusive recording May 7 at 7pm through May 14 at 7pm. Continue reading