‘Arena’ Deganit Shemy & Comxpany
One has to admit that Deganit Shemy’s choreography in “Arena” is fascinating. The type of movement, combined with choice of music (if you could describe it as such), produced in the piece creates a sense of awe — expressionism at its best.
The piece is set on a stark stage. Five women dressed in workout clothes enact a fighting tournament with sharp movements that create the illusion of almost watching it in slow motion. The women intertwine to a musical arrangement that consists of different noises: the sound of the bell initiating the tournament, crowd cheering, paparazzi camera flashes and the static sound of a TV, among other things. The one constant is the constant sound of a metronome keeping time.
The unusual patterns were intriguing and interesting to watch, however the piece seemed to fall apart toward the end, when the women started to writhe around on the floor, jerking with convulsions and shaking of limbs interspersed with laughing and the use of gas masks.
Contemporary-and-modern dance pieces are created for audiences to form their own conclusions and interpretations. However, the only conclusion drawn from this point of view was that the piece was too strange and weird to enjoy.
‘The Snow Falls in Winter’ Other Shore
Created by Annie-B Parson and co-directed by Paul Lazar, “The Snow Falls in Winter” is a dance-theater piece based on Eugene lonesco’s “The Lesson.”
This concept of combining dance and theater could have been better executed. The dancing wasn’t up to par and the choreography wasn’t much more than basic dance steps. A dancer twirling around a microphone cord is just not that enthralling.
Perhaps the fact that this piece was performed in the same program as Aszure & Artists’ “Busk” (see below) made it that much more anticlimactic or it could be the finale consisted of the maid oddly talking about how to write thank-you notes. We think Sarasota knows how to do that well enough, thank you.
‘Flamenco y Poeisa’ Compania Maria Pagés
Flamenco is a passionate dance and María Pagés exudes that passion with every move that she makes.
You can see that fire burning within her soul and it radiated throughout everyone in her company — the male dancers, singers and guitarists. Their fiery enthusiasm spread to the audience, which constantly erupted into cheers, thunderous applause and the occasional “ay-ay-ay-ay” Spanish call.
The tall Pagés has arms and legs that reach for miles and they somehow speak the words her musicians are singing with undulating arm and hand movements combined with the staccato rhythm of her feet and legs.
Both Pagés and her four male counterparts stunned audiences with the lightning speed of their feet combined with clapping, snapping, jumping and turning. One favorite scene included Pagés encouraging two of the male dancers to match the rhythm of her castanets, which they perfectly executed, with the combination of beating canes on the floor combined with their feet and hands … although no one can compete with the dexterity and speed of Pagés with her castanets.
‘Flamenco y Poesia’s’ finale consisted of Pagés dancing with a shawl, whipping it around in circles around her body while her feet created fantastic rhythms, all the while surrounded by the male dancers that kept the beat going with their feet in between multiple pirouettes.
This performance was definitely a must-see and an exhilarating experience. Muy bíen.
‘Busk’ Aszure & Artists
Now, this is dance.
Aszure Barton has created an entirely new style of dance with her choreography in “Busk,” a world premiere at the festival. It’s not classical ballet, it’s not modern dance, it’s not gymnastics — it’s something entirely new. And, it’s just wonderful.
Barton uses simple costumes and no scenery — a stage bare, even without wings — so that nothing masks the choreography and the movement of the incredibly talented dancers. Her work is shown in the truest form.
The nine dancers, comprised of five men and four women, all had exceptional technique. The men were fluid and beautiful; the women powerhouses — all muscle, which made for an interesting combination.
Barton’s choreography seemed to utilize every inch of the dancers’ bodies, making them move in ways so that nothing was wasted. With each step, some kind of force would ripple through their bodies — from the tips of their fingers all the way down to their toes and back up again — while swishing and swirling though attitude turns and jumps.
The piece began with a black-and-white image of barren trees that faded into the background, when one of the men, who mimicked a mime, fluttered his white-gloved hands. Slowly, the entire group of dancers joined on stage and would dance Barton’s unique choreography in unison and, then, break off and dance different sequences in rotation. Simple movements, such as turning of heads and opening and closing of mouths, created such a dynamic effect it was mesmerizing.
There is no doubt that Barton’s works will continue to mesmerize around the globe. She is a rare and true talent. We’re anxiously awaiting to see what else she has in store for the dance world.
Ringling International Arts
Festival Opening Night
The Ringling International Arts Festival opened Wednesday evening to great fanfare, fireworks and a star-studded audience. But arts and politics don’t make good bedfellows, and the opening concert was rife with all sorts of obvious political deals that took the fanfare and international promise out of the music.
Why an international festival would choose to open its major musical performance with a college orchestra is a mystery only the programmers could answer. The gala audience paid good money to attend a concert that turned out to be little more than an average performance by some sweet, striving, young musicians. It wasn’t their fault. They did their best. And Robert Spano, the internationally renowned conductor, did a bang-up job leading them through two of Beethoven’s most popular works: the G Major Piano Concerto and the Symphony No. 5.
But was it a proper choice for the opening of a festival that was billed as “international?” I’m afraid the answer is a resounding “no.”
After a rather ignominious opening night, we didn’t know what to expect from the Ringling International Arts Festival, especially because our second-day events were as disparate as a flamenco performance and someone billed as “Meow Meow.”
But the fortunes of the festival had changed and it was an exciting day.
Meow Meow is a petite, rocket-of-a-woman who sang, danced, cavorted, screamed, cooed and contorted her lithe body into everything from a swastika (!) to a snake.
Imagine Salvador Dalí’s paintings as songs and you have an idea of what Meow Meow offers. She is the human personification of surrealism, a post-post-modern cabaret crazy who insults her audience while she makes love to them.
Imagine a female Gestapo general taking the stage at a World War II Berlin cabaret, inviting her audience to join her as she whips them into shape and you have a fairly good image of Meow Meow. Tough, sublime, hilarious and waspish, she’s no pussy cat. But she does, somehow, claw her way into your heart.
Chamber Music Program A
The Ringling International Arts Festival, in one grand swoop of chamber music, earned its place in the international festival archives and into my soul, as well.
Pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, violinist Jennifer Frautschi, cellist Edward Aaron and horn player Eric Ruske offered a program at the Historic Asolo Theater that was so riveting and passionate, it left me — a musician and critic — wrung out with pleasure, with tears streaming down my face. And I do not exaggerate.
The program opened with a beautiful reading of Debussy’s Violin Sonata played by Frautschi and McDermott. We know Frautschi from her work with La Musica here in Sarasota, but this Avery Fisher Career Grant recipient seemed to grow in this concert and was positively radiant in her collaboration with McDermott, also a Fisher awardee, as well as an artist/member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
There was a world premiere in the program: Mason Bates’ “Mainframe Tropics,” which was introduced in a light-hearted, amusing, but insightful, way by McDermott (who showed us her “bag of goodies”: an eraser, a rubber plug and a machine screw, which she proceeded to stuff between specific strings of the piano) and Ruske, whose charm was almost as appealing as his playing.
The work, just 10 minutes long, showed bits of Stravinsky (think “L’Histoire”) in the outer movements and lots of Poulenc in the middle. It was filled with interesting rhythms and innovative sounds that made real music: emotional, funny and fascinating.
But it was the Mendelssohn D Minor Piano Trio that surmounted all the musical miracles of the evening.
From the moment Eddie Aaron began those gorgeous, rich cello notes that open this romantically charged piece, I was a helpless wreck, entering a world of music-making I knew would stay with me for the rest of my life. This was not good playing, it was great. It was breathless, loving, heart-rending, tear-jerking and exhausting; fresh, alive and ebullient. It was everything a chamber performance should be and something so rare as to be cherished.