REVIEW: Featuring virtual world premiere in studio, Boston Ballet presents luminous and vibrant ‘Celebrating Jorma Elo’

Since last August’s inventive Carmen, Boston Ballet has not brought new work to BB@Your Home until now.

Celebrating Jorma Elo not only introduces highly-anticipated new dance back in studio including a Jorma Elo World premiere, but launches a luminous montage of Elo’s innovative and exciting work over a fifteen-year history as Boston Ballet’s Resident Choreographer.  Introduced by Artistic Director Mikko Nissenen and Jorma Elo, Boston Ballet took to the studio to record Jorma Elo’s Plan to B, excerpts from Bach Cello Suites, and the world premiere of Story of Memory before presenting a vibrant montage of Jorma Elo’s brilliant past work. 

The Boston Ballet’s BB@Your Home’s Celebrating Jorma Elo continues streaming through Sunday, March 7.  Click here for more information.

Resident Boston Ballet Chorographer Jorma Elo on right with Boston Ballet dancers Photo courtesy of Brooke Trisolini/Boston Ballet

In masks and filmed under one studio light designed by Jon Gonda, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s fiddle-laden score lays the groundwork for this joyful and intense dance in Elo’s Plan to B filmed in February 2021.  Concise, surefooted, and sharp moves dominate this urgent and sweeping performance that feature Lia Cirio, Ji Young Chae, John Lam, Patric Palkens, Tyson Clark and an impressive solo by Tigran Mkrtchyan.

It is an upbeat, contemporary performance with pulsing movement as dancers slice the air and form seemingly impossible forms and shapes.  In purple coordinated leotard, Cirio and Palkens perform a duet with building intensity as Palkens carries and spins Cirio romantically before she hastens forward.

Lia Cirio and Patric Palkens Photo courtesy of Patric Palkens

A more intimate performance blooms with excerpts from Bach Cello Suites also taking place in studio February 2021 featuring music from Johann Sebastian Bach performed by cellist Ron Lowry.  Lia Cirio and Paolo Arrais dance romantically in shadow as an opaque backdrop softly burgeons into light.  This beautiful dance is further enhanced by the nature in which the two perform.  Arrais spins and handles her delicately in each movement before they embrace. 

Dialogue is rarely introduced into dance and it was fascinating to witness the world premiere of Elo’s Story of Memory and the sheer beauty of this piece’s compelling cinematography filmed in February 2021.  Dressed in alternately black and white, Viktorina Kapitanova and Tigran Mkrtchyan depict two people who struggle to understand one another.  It has moments of discovery, passion, fury, and mystery wrapped in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Nancy Euverink’s captivating scores.  Kapitanova and Mkrtchayan depict two struggling, determined people in an increasingly intense dance longing for understanding before coming to a stunning realization.

Tigran Mkrtchyan in ‘Story of Memory’ Photo courtesy of Brooke Trisolini

Surely it was quite a challenge to choose the highlights of Jorma Elo’s 15-year tenure of rich and revolutionary dance into one luminous montage.  It was about as monumental as it was writing about it having experienced only excerpts of some pieces in its one and a half hour timeframe.

A photo montage prefaces these particular highlights from Sacre du Printemps featuring James Whiteside and Kathleen Breen Combes to the most recent production of Carmen with Lia Cirio and Victorina Kapitanova taken by renowned photographers Rosalie O’Connor, Gene Schiavone,  and Liza Voll.

Too many standout moments to count in this wide spectrum of work including various approaches to the same work at different times in the ballet’s history.  Each impressive interpretation brings a new dynamic to the performance.

An excerpt of Elo’s 2004 Plan to B kicks off this collection of works at the Wang Theatre featuring Sarah Lamb, Larissa Ponomarenko, Joel Pronty, Jared Redick, Raul Salamanca, and Sabi Varga drawing comparisons from its most recent interpretation.  Though both are impressive, but the newest version seems a bit more intense with sharper, more concise choreography.

Whitney Jensen, Bo Busby, and Jeffrey Cirio in Jorma Elo’s Plan to B, photo by Gene Schaivone; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Featuring solo pianist Bruce Livingston, excerpts from Jorma Elo’s C to C (Close to Chuck) Reborn filmed in February 2014 takes the audience into a dark, mysterious, and transcendent world.  C to C showcases the dancers’ athleticism and the human form as they move about in shadow to pulsing rhythms featuring Kathleen Breen Combes, Lia Cirio, Jeffery Cirio, Whitney Jenson, John Lam and Sabi Varga. 

Many of Jorma Elo’s chorography and works have a unique spirit, liveliness, and a seemingly freestyle nature.  In this Avant Garde piece, Kathleen Breen Combes, Lia Cirio, and Whitney Jenson’s swing like pendulums.  Certain moves seem to play with time as the dancers move swiftly in fast forward, rewind, repetition, slow motion, and then wild intonations to the music’s runaway urgency.  Similar unconventional moves are performed in Elo Experience.

Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais in Jorma Elo’s ‘Bach Cello Suites’, photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Elo Experience filmed in March 2011 opens with an audible laugh and dialogue.  It also has elements of avant garde work as a large group of dancers gather all in black.  Elo’s innovative choreography showcases freestyle, unconventional moves in an upbeat, lively setting featuring a compelling solo by Jeffrey Cirio.

Excerpts from Elo’s Brake the Eye from March 2012 is part of Elo Experience.  It is a playful and vibrant piece as dancers swing in angular movements while others remain still.  Dressed in purple and crème and performing to the divine works of Mozart, it is a bustling and upbeat performance featuring Larissa Ponomarenko, Jeffrey Cirio, Robert Krenz, John Lam, Sabi Varga, James Whiteside, Lia Cirio, Kathleen Breen Combes, Whitney Jensen, and Dalay Parrondo.

Humming is integrated into excerpts of Elo’s Sharp(er) Side of Dark filmed in February 2012, showcasing different dancers performing in what seems like heaven.  Accompanied by a string trio composed of violinist Michael Rosenbloom, Jean Haig on viola, and cellist Ronald Lowry, Lia Cirio and Sabi Varga, lights hover above them as they playfully glide and frolic in bodysuits to lively, urgent, and joyful music by Bach before seeing excerpts of the same dance performed by duos Kathleen Breen Combes and James Whiteside, Corina Gill and Paulo Arrai, and Whitney Jenson and Jeffrey Cirio. 

Lia Cirio and Paul Craig in Jorma Elo’s Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius, photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The Boston Ballet revisits excerpts of a past performance of Bach Cello Suites from March 2018 featuring cellist Sergey Antonov and dancers Maria Baranova, Junxiong Zhao, Lia Cirio, Paolo Arrais, Kathleen Breen Combes, Derek Dunn, Misa Kuranga, John Lam, Addie Tapp, and Lasha Khaozashvili.  Dressed in black leotard, this lively performance shows a wide range of moods including pain, love, and passion.  A particular highlight showed the dancers briefly interacting with the onstage cellist, leaning in as the cellist plays.

Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo’s Creatures of Egmont, photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The final two performances are on a larger scale exploring the sheer dynamic nature of Elo’s work from the traditional to the contemporary culminating into a jubilant finale.  The sheer athleticism in excerpts of Elo’s Creatures of Egmont as dancers form angular, symmetrical shapes under a twilight sky and then Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius filmed in November 2017 a joyous and uplifting grand scale finale that reflects Jorma Elo’s continuing luminous, inventive, and astonishing work with the Boston Ballet.

BB@Your Home continues with The Art of the Classical Ballet from March 25 through April 4 which includes excerpts from Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty.  Click here for more information and a look at Boston Ballet’s full season.

REVIEW: Boston Ballet’s immersive and uplifting ‘BB@yourhome: Look Back Focus Forward’ offers rare performances and more

The Boston Ballet launched their first virtual production of the year with an optimistic look at 2021 featuring a selection of rarely performed past performances, an exclusive look back at the Boston Ballet on tour, and where they go from here with a sneak peek into a new project scheduled for April 2021.

Boston Ballet’s virtual program, BB@yourhome: Look Back Focus Forward continues through Sunday, January 31.  Click here for more information and how to access this lighthearted and immersive program.

Derek Dunn in Leonid Yakobson’s Vestris Photo by Rachel Neville Photography; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Opening the program is Derek Dunn, who has a history of wonderful performances including The Nutcracker, Helen Pickett’s Petal and Genius at Play.   After an insightful introduction from Boston Ballet’s Artistic Director Mikko Nissenen and Executive Director Max Hodges, He took on a monumental solo dance demonstrating humor, tension, and a wide range of emotions as Auguste in Leonid Yakobson’s rarely performed Vestris.  In a powered wig and meticulously-detailed Founders garment by Robert Perdziola, Dunn is madcap and witty to a rousing applause, taking on a dance that Mikhail Baryshnikov immortalized.  A particular highlight was a moment of subtle humor as Dunn leans forward and hesitates like a novice dancer, just learning his steps. 

Leonid Yakobson’s Pas de Quatre takes on a lighthearted and fanciful tone as Ji Young Chae, Ekaterine Chubinidze, Maria Baranova, and Nina Matiashvili unite as one in a circular dance adorned in flower crowns and flowing, pristine and romantic tutus.  This is another rarely performed piece that demonstrates a sisterhood between this quartet.  To a poignant score featuring selections from Norma and picturesque staging by Vera Solovyeva and Nikolay Levitsky, the dancers each showcase their own unique talents and much of it is lively, elegant, and charming. 

Corina Gill and Issac Akiba in Leonid Yakobson’s Rodin; photo by Rachel Neville Photography; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Love takes many shapes in Leonid Yakobson’s Rodin in three parts.  It explores each stage of love from first glimpse to passion and it is captivating to see each part come to life.  Sun Woo Lee and Abigail Merlis have playful chemistry as they lean into each other and Abigail smiles as he attempts a kiss.  To Debussy’s classic score, Clair de Lune, Maria Alvarez and Alec Roberts depict the sweet joy and rapture of love as they move in unison in shyness and jubilance. Another highlight was Emily Entingh as she leans back into Michael Ryan and he lifts her up in admiration.

Look Back Focus Forward also reveals exclusive touring footage and Boston Ballet Artistic Director Mikko Nissenen and principal dancer Lia Cirio share in depth the Boston Ballet’s most exciting and extraordinary experiences on tour and the significance in touring once again.  One of their favorite experiences was premiering Jiri Kylian’s controversial Bella Figura at Lincoln Center in New York City for the Boston Ballet’s 50th anniversary.  Bella Figura is best witnessed to fully take in its daring, haunting, and mysterious subtlety.

Rie Ichikawa in Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura; photo by Gene Schiavone; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The Boston Ballet also offers a sneak peek into an entirely new and innovative virtual production helmed by renowned international choreographer Ken Ossola that will soon premiere in April 15-25 2021.

BB@yourhome’s Look Back Focus Forward continues streaming through Sunday, January 31.  Click here for more information and tickets.  The Boston Ballet celebrates the work of Jorma Elo in February.  Click here to see the BB@yourhome’s entire virtual schedule.

REVIEW: Christmas Revels 50th virtual anniversary delivers mirth, merriment, and reflection

For what marks its 50th year, Christmas Revels has been entertaining audiences by delving into vast cultures and recreating historical moments and holiday traditions with drama, dance, humor, and song.  Christmas Revels made its debut in 1971 and though it is limited to the screen this year, this engaging production brought a mix of new material while glimpsing some of their best performances in their long history. 

Father Christmas makes an appearance in The Christmas Revels annual “Mummers Play” Photo courtesy of Revels

Having never seen Christmas Revels before, it was a lot to take in and quite a feat to encapsulate the best moments in such a broad time frame.  Catching glimpses of some of their special guests, returning favorites, and new faces was an innovative way to recap a half century of productions, but it also had me longing to see more, especially as I glimpsed some of their best, most enduring performances.

Christmas Revels is still available to stream on-demand through Thursday, December 31.  Click here for more information and how to support future Revels productions.  The 50th Anniversary of Christmas Revels is also available as a 2-CD set.  Click here for more information.

Statues: Paula Plum as James Otis and Richard Snee as Josiah Quincy Photo courtesy of Revels

Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre is as majestic and welcoming as ever even as it fills for a virtual audience.  The dark, wooden stage is softly-lit with two stately, marble Greek statues sitting on each end as a grand, dimly-lit bronze chandelier floats overhead.  Hosted by acting dynamos Paula Plum and Richard Snee as James Otis and Josiah Quincy who were immortalized as those legendary statues on the Harvard University stage and the only souls who have seen every Revels performance and then some, Christmas Revels blends humor, stirring moments, and a wistful trip down memory lane to witness some of Revels’ earliest performances as it gradually became what it is today.  

From humorous moments to joyful carols such as 1984’s Yorkshire Here We Come A Wassailing, Go Tell it On the Mountain with Janice Allen and Joy to the World featuring choruses from Christmas past and virtual Christmas present, and a serene Dona Nobis Pacem featuring renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Christmas Revels does not predictably explore its past in sequence, but in clever moments such as merging a past and more recent performance of a song  by various performers, setting a different tone to its enduring meaning.

Yo-Yo Ma with Audience: Cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs the peace round “Dona Nobis Pacem” with members of the Revels Virtual Audience Photo courtesy of Revels

One of the best and most exciting examples of this was in 1997’s and 2015’s Lord of the Dance featuring David Coffin, Neena Gulati, and Patrick Swanson as they explored eastern and western Hindu traditions.  Audience members were on their feet as enthusiastic performers led audience members to spill out into the Sanders Theatre’s lobby singing along.  1993’s Kukko dance featuring the Karelian Folk Ensemble stood out as one of the more exotic cultures while 1997’s Niska Banja featuring the Revels Women, New England Romanian Ensemble, and Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble revealed beautiful and distinctive garb.  2007’s Shopsko, choreographed by Petre Petrov with Mladost Folk Ensemble, The Village Band, and Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble offered memorable upbeat and bustling Bulgarian dance. 

Johnny Nichols, Jr. and Carolyn Saxon perform the spiritual “Hold On” in a segment linked to Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”, exploring the ongoing journey towards justice and equality Photo courtesy of Revels

 Janice Allen and the Silver Leaf Gospel Singers took the stage in 2000 for a stunning, acapella version of Amazing Grace while 1986’s impressive Appalachian Clogging with Ira Bernstein and the Big Gap String Band and Jean Ritchie delivered a captivating Kentucky folk carol, Christ Was Born in Bethlehem.  Another indelible moment rested in a powerful medley of 2000’s Underground Railroad featuring Sheila Kay Adams and Janice Allen, Jordan Ashwood, and Cyrus Brooks, Silver Leaf Gospel Singers, Roaring Gap Chorus, Rocky River Children, Carolyn Saxon, and Johnny Nichols, Jr.

Christmas Revels’ ever changing repertoire is too numerous to mention every highlight, but there are plenty of surprises.

The detailed, rustic sets and the meaningful, meticulous costumes ranged from festive to humorous to haunting.  It was marvelous to witness the virtual technology that was such a big part of this production.  The virtual choir delivered moving, crisp carols and seeing the creators including founder John Langstaff and Revels Directors Patrick Swanson and George Emlen united in present time without actually being onstage provided some comfort that technology can still make some things possible. 

Christmas Revels is still available to stream on-demand through Thursday, December 31.  Click here for more information and how to support future Revels productions.  Click here for more information on The 50th Anniversary of Christmas Revels available as a 2-CD set. 

Tony Williams Dance Center’s ‘Urban Nutcracker’ an immersive heartfelt letter to Boston in 2020

2020 has made an indelible impact on our society affecting family life, schools, businesses, the arts, and the very nature in which we live.  When Urban Nutcracker returned for its 19th season in 2019 and took the stage at Boch Center’s Shubert Theatre, it delivered dazzling style, live, multi-genre music, and the thrill of a classic tale with a unique perspective.  It was one of the many inventive performances taking the stage at Shubert Theatre or at any venue in Boston during the holiday season.

Seeing it now evokes an air of wistfulness.  Being a lover of city life in Boston for decades, seeing it now makes me long for Boston’s exciting streets, sit in the Boston Common, walk through Faneuil Hall in its crowded, bustling glory, and watch people marvel at the lights and holiday spirit of the city.  Make Way for Ducklings, the Duck Boats, the Boston Harbor, live music at the Hatch Shell, and the crowds filing into Fenway Park are a memory this year.  Especially at this glorious time of year, the warmth of the holidays in phenomenal Boston fills this city-lover’s mind with nostalgia and an enduring fondness for its boundless energy and heart.  How it is missed.

Filmed in 2019 at the Boston’s Shubert Theatre and featuring the City Ballet of Boston, Tony Williams Dance Center’s Urban Nutcracker continues streaming for free for its 20th anniversary through Christmas Eve.  Click here to see the show and more information on Tony Williams Dance Center.

Nutcracker Prince portrayed by Tony Tucker battles Haissen Booth as the Rat King Photo credit to Peter Paradise Michaels/Urban Nutcracker

The dynamic orchestra is the first to set the show’s immersive tone as they greet the setting audience traveling through the aisles playing their horn-infused, big band sound on instruments stringed in colorful lights.   As the band settles inside a replica of the Hatch Shell above the stage amid Janie Howland’s amazing scenic design, identifiable landmarks such as the CITGO sign, Massachusetts State House, and Downtown Boston’s Custom House Clock Tower are set strategically on Boston’s city skyline.  The orchestra plays above the performers, delivering a robust sound in a plethora of music styles that match the cornucopia of festive costumes by Dustin Todd Rennels and Rebecca Cross as cultures from around the world unite onstage. 

Gianni Di Marco as Drosselmeyer and Juliet Brown as Ruby and the cast Photo credit to Peter Paradise Michaels/Urban Nutcracker

When Tchaikovsky, Duke Ellington, and David Berger combine for the eclectic score musically directed by Bill Whitney, it is a journey of unfettered entertainment.  Urban Nutcracker has a modern, relaxed, family-friendly vibe which is depicted in the show’s bright and jubilant colors, an urban-chic apartment with a distinctive tree, and the dance styles intonate a party that could happen anywhere in the city today especially as kids gather for a picture using a selfie stick.

Urban Nutcracker depicts all the classic scenes from Tchikovsky’s production with an inviting twist featuring a diverse, multi-talented cast.  In a magnificent coat and top hat, Gianni Di Marco is captivating as wise, charismatic and exuberant Drosselmeyer.  He not only wows adults and children alike with tricks and presents, but his sweet interactions with Ruby, portrayed by enchanting Juliet Brown and Stella Kotter, provide some of Urban Nutcracker’s most memorable moments.

Khalid Hill dazzles in multiple roles, but his tap dancing shines most on the city streets as dancers synchronize beats on trash cans.  Ronnie Thomas is excellent as a funky soldier doll bouncing and coasting around the stage.

The Snow Queen and King, portrayed by Ruth Whitney and Joe Gonzalez, is the picture of elegance surrounded by luminous snowflake dancers and a glittering view of the Boston Common.  Gonzalez also delivers a visually-rich and daring performance in a duet with Ruth Whitney as Arabian dancers.

Betsy  Boxberger Khalil stuns as the Sugar Plum Fairy not only in a beautiful, upbeat solo but in a later performance with Joe Gonzalez and Gianni Di Marco during a jazz-infused Nutcracker Suite.  The lifts themselves are spectacular.

Several fun performances included athletic hula hoop dancers featuring Kendra Frank, a high-energy performance featuring skilled, tap-dancing workmen, Urban Nutcracker’s amusing answer to Bo Peep, but Urban Nutcracker’s answer to Make Way for Duckling featuring Michael Oliver Slayton as a tap dancing cop and an adorable troupe of ducklings led by Simone Wolfhorst, is a favorite, an unforgettable and endearing performance.

Urban Nutcracker offers something for everyone without being boxed into any particular music taste while also delivering a timeless message of the season.   It also pays unparallel tribute to Boston and if you are feeling nostalgic for the city, make sure to see this show.

Tony Williams Dance Center’s Urban Nutcracker continues streaming for free through Christmas Eve 2020.  Click here for more information, how to access the show, and how to support this organization.

REVIEW: A compelling, trailblazing journey through Boston Ballet’s rEVOLUTION

Having been thrilled with Boston Ballet’s Full on Forsythe at around this time last year (see the review here), it was with great excitement to witness Boston Ballet’s rEVOLTION, a dynamic performance featuring three innovative works that transformed ballet forever.

From catchy R&B to electronica to soul, Full on Forsythe was a showstopper, dispelling any preconceived notions about ballet.  Truly ‘dance on the edge,’ Boston Ballet’s rEVOLUTION explores three works in ballet’s history where visionary and brilliant choreographers paved the way toward a new and unforgettable form of ballet, breaking a few rules along the way.  Each versatile piece in rEVOLUTION builds in intensity while progressively becoming more contemporary and well deserving of the audience’s thunderous applause at its conclusion.

Boston Ballet continues rEVOLUTION through Sunday, March 8 at Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show runs two hours including two intermissions. Click here for more information and tickets.

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With music by revered Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, choreography by George Balanchine, and colorful staging by Paul Boos, Agon seems traditional featuring a live orchestra conducted by Mischa Santora.  However, right down to the simple costuming including streamlined white shirt and black tights and accompanied by Agon’s triumphant, horn-infused rhythm, it becomes a piece unlike anything traditional ballet has seen before. More artistically-focused than plot driven, agile dancers shift into impressive and sometimes jaw dropping shapes while spinning joyfully.  Each piece features athletic and daring moves, but the Pas de Deux between Lia Cirio and Paula Arrais is a particular highlight as they curve and move together en point and as one.  It ends like it begins and stands as its own work of art.

Ballet takes a bit more of an eclectic, modern tone in Glass Pieces with choreography by Jerome Robbins and music by Philip Glass.  From Jennifer Tipton’s dramatic lighting to the expressive and colorfully rich costumes by Ben Benson, Glass Pieces is still the gem it was when it premiered during Boston Ballet’s Genius in Play in 2018.  Taking place in what looks like a subway station, Glass Pieces has a palpable rhythm and urgency as dancers are unleashed into a celebration of dance in the city.  In ordinary life, there is joy.

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Lia Cirio and John Lam perform a tender and stirring duet while dancers move in shadow during Glass’s romantic song, Facades.  However, it is easy to see Robbins’s influence during Glass’s catchy, drum-infused Funeral as male and female dancers urgently form two groups before encircling each other and coming together.  Robbins also choreographed the musical classic, West Side Story.  From a plain landscape into a spectrum of color, Glass Pieces transforms into a splendid piece of artistry as dancers perform in a variety of styles in silhouette, reflective, and in unison.

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As silver headphones dangle from the ceiling aloft a black backdrop as starting with a jolt, it’s clear that In the Middle Somewhat Elevated would take ballet to another level.  Featuring music by Dutch composer Thom Willems in collaboration with  Lesley Stuck, thrilling lighting by Jennifer Tipton, and choreographed by William Forsythe, In the Middle Somewhat Elevated is a cutting edge masterwork clearly ahead of its time.   The industrial, tribal feel of Thom Willems music as dancers shift in shadows create a haunting intensity.  Featuring vigorous, jaw dropping footwork bending in what seems like impossible angles, this fast paced performance keeps you riveted from start to finish.  Lia Cirio, Patrick Yocum, Chyrstyn Fentroy, Maria Alvarez, Ashley Ellis, Lawrence Rines, Irlan Silva, Mallory Mehaffey, and Abigail Merlis seem part of a seamless machine as dancers spin and swing, hitting every last eccentric beat.

Boston Ballet Warm Up

Boston Ballet’s The Warm Up Photo by Jeanne Denizard

The Boston Ballet continues to offer an opportunity to learn more about ballet through The Warm Up, an interactive display located in the lobby.

The Boston Ballet continues rEVOLUTION at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, March 8.  Click here for more information and tickets.  For future events and more, follow Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company re-imagines a classic in riveting ‘Swan Lake in Blue’

Exploring love from obsession to at first sight, Greater Boston Stage Company couldn’t have chosen a more perfect time to introduce Swan Lake, one of ballet’s most popular productions of all time, with a bold and re-imagined twist the day after Valentine’s Day.

With insightful choreography and direction by Ilyse Robbins, Greater Boston Stage Company continues Jazz Ballet Swan Lake in Blue through Sunday, March 1 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue tap dancing

Jackson Jirard (center) and the cast of Swan Lake in Blue Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Tap dancing, ballet, and classic dance just skims the surface of the sheer energy that encapsulates Swan Lake in Blue, a brilliant production that transforms Tchaikovsky’s classic fairy tale into a lively, non-stop dance spectacle with big band flair.  Swan Lake in Blue has elements of that beloved classic in swan feathers, but set in thrilling 1940’s New York City.

Costume designer Kevin Hutchins and Scenic and Prop designer Teri Oakes work together to capture the mood of 1940s New York City in bowler hats, vintage suits, and colorful casual wear right down to the cast’s 40s style Oxfords.

Steve Bass not only seamlessly composed and musically directs Swan Lake in Blue, but also performs onstage with a full big band stately dressed in black and grey vintage sophistication.  The rollicking live orchestra instantly sets the mood of this vibrant, non-stop musical journey.  Swan Lake in Blue features an array of gloriously energetic, athletic dancers that keep the pace joyous and thriving while integrating popular dance moves of its time like the Charleston and Swing.  Each dancer gets an opportunity to shine and Jackson Jirard as Ben Kelly leads this agile group of exceptional talent.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue dancers

Jackson Jirard (center) with male dance auditions. Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Jirard is magnificent as he leaps and spins audaciously in tap shoes. Andy McLeavey as Seigfried and Jirard look like naturals dancing together, especially when Mr. Seigfried is first introduced. From Mambo to the Samba to the alluring Dance of the Swans, it is a wordless piece that invites dance to take over.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue Sara Coombs as Odette

Sara Coombs as Odette Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Swan Lake in Blue preserves the classic tale but gives it a Broadway spin involving a mobster, idyllic “swans” and a love struck Broadway producer set in a dance studio.  Odette, portrayed with elegance, fragility, and anguish by Sara Coombs, is a seemingly tethered soul longing for peace.  Coombs flourishes in the complex dual role which balances sass and sincerity as well as compassion and malicious glee through her carefully crafted sharp and sweeping dance moves.

Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey as charming Seigfried share some beautiful moments.  David Visini captures a dark sophistication as Von Rothbart.  Visini’s unsettling, sharp, and menacing dance create a mysterious and powerful charisma every time he makes an appearance.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Tchaikovky’s immortalized Dance of the Swans takes on a new, alluring spin as Briana Fallon and Gillian Gordon join Coombs decked out in feathery, white fringed dresses.  It’s a daring, yet fitting departure of Tchikovsky’s original dance and like the imaginative Swan Lake in Blue,  includes a few winks to the original.

Greater Boston Stage Company continues Jazz Ballet Swan Lake in Blue through Sunday, March 1 at Greater Boston Stage Company at 395 Main Street in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here for more on Greater Boston Stage Company’s 20th season.

 

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston presented John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift for Nat King Cole tribute and more on Valentine’s Day

Since Jazz and love doesn’t follow a set of rules, they came together for Valentine’s Day.

Love lit up Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Valentine’s Day as Celebrity Series of Boston presented ‘For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole’ on Friday, February 14 at 8 p.m.  Whether longing for love, falling in love, or losing in love, Veronica Swift and the John Pizzarelli Trio brought a jazz-infused twist to classic love songs and American Standards from Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Cole Porter, and especially Nat King Cole for one night only.

Veronica Swift and John Pizzarelli are currently on tour.  Click here for Swift’s upcoming shows and here for John’s future tour dates.  Click here for more on Celebrity Series of Boston and their upcoming events.

Festive purple curtains embellished Sanders Theatre’s beautiful, softly-lit stage.  Dressed in an effervescent pink jumpsuit that changed shades in different lighting, jazz vocalist Veronica Swift kicked off the evening with a drum-infused rendition of Cole Porter’s breezy classic, Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love).  Each musician had an opportunity to show off their stellar talent which included pianist Julius Rodriguez, bassist Phillip Norris, and drummer Aaron Kimmel.

Swift offered a casual, low key presence as she shared childhood stories of growing up touring with her jazz singer mother, Stephanie Nakasian and her father, bebop pianist Hod O’Brien.  Swift’s versatile set had its share of joyous and stirring moments which included a poignant version of Ella Fitzgerald’s Everytime We Say Goodbye dedicated to her father as her voice swelled in quiet emotion.  She skimmed the scales in an electrifying version of Billie Holiday’s Come Rain or Come Shine and an anguished Prisoner of Love.

Veronica Swift and pianist Julius Rodriguez Photo credit: Robert Torres

At just 25 years old, she is a spirited and contemplative performer.  Jazz aficionados would appreciate her natural ability for scatting showcased in a fast paced, ebullient rendition of Billie Holiday’s I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me.  Though I am not a big jazz fan, it is easy to appreciate the liberties jazz takes to transform these classics into a refreshing, eclectic new sound.

With a great deal of humor, a relaxed atmosphere, and in a sharp gray suit, avid storyteller John Pizzarelli delved into the history of Nat King’s Cole music while sharing some of his own history along the way.  He revitalized a few of Nat King Cole’s hits and shared a few anecdotes in tribute to Nat King Cole’s centennial.  American Jazz singer-songwriter and musician Nat King Cole was one of the most successful artists on Capital Records’ roster and his music has inspired generations.

Pizzarelli is currently on tour for John Pizzarelli Trio’s most recent album For Centennial Reasons:  100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole.  The title seems a subtle play on Nat King Cole’s I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons) which Pizzarelli performs tenderly later in the show.  Aside from Pizzarelli who can no less shred on guitar, Pizzarelli was joined by spectacular musicians Isaiah Thompson on piano and Mike Karn on bass.  The John Pizzarelli Trio’s collective sound had the rhythm of a moving train.  Each piece came alive as the instruments seem to “chat” with each other especially during Hit That Jive, Jack and a lively rendition of Honeysuckle Rose.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

Bassist Mike Karn, John Pizzarelli, and pianist Isaiah Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

The trio explored Lorraine as Pizzarelli shared a legendary story about how the song turned Nat King Cole from a pianist into a singer, though it is a rumored tale.  Nat King Cole was part of the Nat King Cole Trio and it was nice to see Pizzarelli reflecting that with his own John Pizzarelli Trio, each member getting their own chance to shine.

Pizzarelli’s delivered an uplifting set which included a few love songs.  His guitar hummed during a cheerful rendition of Nat King Cole’s Make Believe as lightning fast pianist Isaiah Thompson commanded the keys.  Pizzarelli showed off his side winding guitar style in his own song titled Nat King Cool and his scatting skills during Nat King Cole’s Frim Fram Sauce.  The evening’s lighthearted vibe continued with the humorous Save the Bones for Henry Jones, the vibrant I Would Do Anything for You, and one of Nat King Cole’s most popular singles, Straight Up and Fly Right.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

John Pizzarelli, bassist Mike Karn, and pianist Isaish Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

Swift returned to the stage for a few Gershwin classics that included a wistful Someone to Watch Over Me.  She and Pizzarelli delivered a wonderful rendition of They Can’t Take That Away from Me, I Got Rhythm, and their lauded encore Route 66.

As a big Nat King Cole fan, I would have liked to have heard Nat King Cole’s Stardust and his mega-hit Unforgettable, but it simply didn’t fit into an evening consisting of mostly the brighter side of love and its boundless possibilities.

Celebrity Series of Boston is just getting 2020 started with a number of performing arts musicians that includes Bobby McFerrin, Milos, the Jason Palmer Quartet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and the return of Alvin Ailey.  Click here for the full list of upcoming events.

 

REVIEW: Mikko Nissinen’s ‘The Nutcracker’ remains a visually-stunning journey for all ages

With enchanting special effects and performances that would endear any holiday pessimist, Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker once again returns with an entire world seeped in the fondest of daydreams for adults and children alike. With the enhancement of internationally-renowned Finnish lighting designer Mikki Kunttu and Tchaikovsky’s classic score conducted by Misha Santora, The Nutcracker is as picturesque as ever, emphasizing its mark as an annual holiday institution.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker cast Photo by Liza Voll

The 150 dancers making up ‘The Nutcracker’s’ spectacular cast. Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

The castle on a cloud is only the prelude to an enchanting journey as Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker returns to the Citizens Bank Opera House with new surprises.  An elegant party, a valiant battle, and a variety of spectacular toys springing to life is just part of Clara’s exquisite journey when she is gifted an intriguing Nutcracker for Christmas.

The Boston Ballet takes the stage for Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker continuing through Sunday, December 29.  The Boston Ballet features discount youth pricing. Click here for more information and for tickets.

The Boston Ballet The Nutcracker

Stage view Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Robert Perdziola’s meticulously-detailed set and costume design not only create an inviting atmosphere whether inside a fire lit, multi-dimensional living room with a towering, emerald-lit Christmas tree or surrounding an outdoor fire pit where locals can keep warm, but also creates a pristine wintry wonderland where you can almost feel the chill.  The ornate period costumes are gorgeous as women are adorned in velvet, silk, and ribbons and the men are dressed to the nines. Sweet, sophisticated, yet playful Clara, portrayed impressively by Emma Blake, is lovely in her pale blue coat, bonnet hat, and fur hand warmers.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker Party Scene by Liza Voll

Party scene. Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

Christmas Eve is a magical time, especially for children.  Paulo Arrais unveils some of that magic as charismatic and confident showman, Drosselmeier.  Mustachioed Arrais is a grand presence as he delivers visions sprung from the imagination, showing children anything is possible.

Boston Ballet Nutcracker Ricardo Santos and Ji Young Chae by Rosalie O Connor

Harlequin Doll and Ballerina Doll. Photo credit to Rosalie O’Connor/Boston Ballet

Among the most memorable moments is a Soo-bin Lee’s convincing portrayal as a Ballerina Doll, her rigid movements out of the box a fascinating sight.  Tyson Clark’s Harlequin Doll and Sun Woo Lee’s life size, exotic bear are exuberant, playful, and among the most highly- anticipated scenes in this production.

The appearance of the Nutcracker Prince, depicted by a chivalrous and gallant Derek Dunn, is extraordinary surrounded by bright, multicolored, shimmering ornaments in a magnificent tree.  His appearance highlights one of the most spectacular and exciting special effects of the production that will not be revealed here.  His encounter with Alec Roberts’s bold and at times humorous Mouse King is thrilling and partially what makes The Nutcracker a children’s classic.

Boston Ballet 'The Nutcracker' Mouse King and Wooden Soldiers by Liza Voll

Alec Roberts as the Mouse King and a valiant battle Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

Seo Hye Han and Tigran Mkrtchyan are visions as The Snow Queen and King on a sparkling silver sleigh as surrounding dancers joyfully flock and frolic in a glorious scene.  Seo Hye Han and Tigran Mikrtchyan have a sweet chemistry as they join together in a captivating dance.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker Snow fairies by Liza Voll

An enchanted winter wonderland. Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

Under glimmering chandeliers is a group of remarkable, electric performances which is less story progression and more showcase driven presented by the iconic and sparkling Sugar Plum Fairy, portrayed with finesse by Chisako Oga.  Two pairs of Spanish dancers portrayed by Ekaterine Chubinidze, Haley Schwan, Daniel Cooper, and Benji Pearson, sway and twirl in a dazzling spectacle.  Chyrstyn Fentroy and Paul Craig receive a rousing applause as a pair of exotic and athletic Arabian dancers while Desean Taber, Daniel Durrett, and Fuze Sun show off their flexibility and athletic prowess as a trio of leaping Russian dancers.

Among the most humorous scenes is an adorable appearance by Bo Peep accompanied by a mischievous black sheep and Graham Johns as towering and surprising Mother Ginger.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker By Liza Voll

Clara, portrayed by Mia Steedle, Nutcracker Prince portrayed by Tigran Mkrtchyan, and reindeer by students of Boston Ballet School Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet  

Whether seeing Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker for the first time or returning to enjoy it all over again, The Boston Ballet is as elegant and magical as you remember with enough refreshing additions to endure as a splendid holiday treat for the entire family.

The Boston Ballet takes the stage for Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker continuing through Sunday, December 29 at the Citizen Bank Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  These performances feature group rates and discount youth pricing.  Click here for tickets and for more information on Boston Ballet’s 2020 season.

 

 

REVIEW: Boston Ballet’s idyllic ‘Cinderella’ more than a glittering gown and glass slippers

Be like Cinderella.

During Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella, The Prince, portrayed masterfully by Patrick Yocum, gentlemanly gestures for Cinderella to go first as they make their entrance and she in turn motions for him to go first.  It is a subtle gesture, but holds great significance.  It is just one moment in many that this Cinderella exudes pure selflessness, more so than other adaptations. We can all learn from Cinderella.  She’ll make a lasting impression and is a shining example of what every child should strive to become.

Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella, performed by the Boston Ballet, continues through Saturday, June 8 at the Citizens Bank Boston Opera House.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for a closer look at the production.

The Boston Ballet’s Cinderella is an ethereal, lighthearted tale, told with a richness that far exceeds a glittering gown and glass slippers.  David Walker’s multi-layered, translucent scenic design and elaborate costumes create moving portraits from deep into an enchanted forest to a sophisticated royal ball.

It is a classic fairy tale about a young girl living with her father and two ugly Stepsisters.  When a mysterious woman shows up on their doorstep, it may change Cinderella’s life forever.  This adaptation has the earmarks of the popular fairy tale including the pumpkin, the royal ball, fairy godmother, and the handsome prince.

Jeffrey Cirio and Misa Kuranaga in Ashton's Cinderella ©Gene Schiavone

Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella also contains a few slight alternations from other popular adaptations and it is all the better for it starting with Vikorina Kapitonova’s marvelous portrayal as Cinderella.  Even in a soot-covered, flowing costume, Kapitonova’s glowing face shines through as she jaunts around the house, with only a broom as her companion.  She soaks in her surroundings, her exuberance shown through the simplest of things.  She puts joy in every step, rarely showing any despair in her strength, warmth, and innocent smile.  Cinderella may be neglected, but she’s also happy and imaginative, despite her circumstances.

Absent is the anguish and vindictiveness Cinderella endured from the glaring presence of a Stepmother in other retellings, but instead a harried father tending to the constant needs of two trying Stepsisters.  What makes this Cinderella so remarkable is she is not bullied by her Stepsisters, but that much more selfless, doing everything for the ease of others, always putting others first with a smile.  She tends to her Stepsisters needs out of love, a self-absorbed pair of braying bookends, portrayed with awkward, conceited flair by Roddy Doble and John Lam.  In full bonnets and mismatched, heavily adorned attire, the Stepsisters comically parade in their gaudy and audacious glory, unaware of how foolish they seem.

Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella’s choreography is an elegant display.  The Fairy Godmother makes a grand, magical entrance and is soon accompanied by the colorful Fairies of the Four Seasons.  They each have their moment to shine, their beautiful solos reflecting their distinct personalities on lush green and then under silvery trees.

Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio in Ashton's Cinderella ©Gene Schiavone

 

In white and blue, Patrick Yocum, who was also impressive in Boston Ballet’s Full on Forsythe, makes a wonderful Prince, leading Kapitonova to a delicate pas de deux. Their sweet chemistry is apparent as Cinderella makes her own grand entrance.  Another captivating dance occurs at the ball as the clock strikes midnight, the dancers intricately posing in that pivotal moment knowing the best is soon to come.

Boston Ballet 'The Warm Up'

One of the interactive stations at Boston Ballet’s ‘The Warm Up’ Photo by Jeanne Denizard

Mikko Nissinen’s Boston Ballet continues to offer a number of interactive stations including Fairy tale Fun and a photo-friendly display to learn more about the show and ballet through The Warm Up located in the lower lobby.

Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella, performed by the Boston Ballet, continues through Saturday, June 8 at the Citizen’s Bank Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Save 50% for youth under 17 after purchasing one full price ticket.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for future events and more, follow Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.

 

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ worth every penny

December 4, 1956 was a pivotal night for rock and roll music as four distinct, legendary performers united for a one-night-only recording experience unlike anything rock and roll would see again.  The egos, the tension, and the harmony.  Oh, the harmony.

Greater Boston Stage Company’s tribute concert musical Million Dollar Quartet is guaranteed to keep your feet tapping, whether you are aware of it or not.  Directed by Ilyse Robbins with Music Direction by James Scheider who also portrays a hilarious Jerry Lee Lewis, Million Dollar Quartet continues through Sunday, May 19 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Accompanied by Trey Lundquist behind the Fluke and Drums and Matthew Pitts as Brother Jay and Bass, Million Dollar Quartet does an exhilarating job of capturing the sound and magic of that musical night long ago featuring Luke Linsteadt as Elvis Presley, Nile Scott Hawver as Carl Perkins, Austin Wayne Price as Johnny Cash, and James Scheider as Jerry Lee Lewis.  With a powerful, authentic sound by John Stone, inventive set design by Patrick Lynch, stylized concert lighting by Jeff Adelberg and Lawrence Ware, and each performer singing and playing their own instruments like the legends themselves, Million Dollar Quartet delivers greatness times four.

GBSC Million Dollar Quartet band

From L to R: James Scheider as Jerry Lee Lewis, Trey Lundquist as Fluke/Drums, Matthew Pitts as Brother Jay/Bass, Nile Scott Hawver as Carl Perkins, Melissa Geerlof as Dyanne, Luke Lundquist as Elvis Presley and Austin Wayne Price as Johnny Cash Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

 

On the surface, Million Dollar Quartet seems like the ultimate jam session featuring classic songs such as Blue Suede Shoes, Folsom Prison Blues, Great Balls of Fire, and Ghost Riders, but that is only part of the story.   The show is also about loyalty, a bit of David and Goliath, and knowing real talent from the man behind the music, Sam Phillips, portrayed with forthright affability by Robert Saoud.  Saoud is wonderful as Phillips, a modest, compelling, and insightful narrator.  A genius among record producers, Phillips had a vision and music was all that mattered.

Luke Linsteadt portrays a young, thriving Elvis complete with his familiar, rubbery legs as he keeps the crowd moving with Hound Dog.  Attempting to keep his ego in check is Nile Scott Hawver as Carl Perkins, who was last seen at Speakeasy Stage’s captivating musical, Once.  Though Perkins is the more reserved in the bunch, the story behind Blue Suede Shoes was one of Hawver’s best moments.

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Perfecting Johnny Cash’s guitar style is Austin Wayne Price, taking on the man in black with a soulful quality, his drawn, serious eyes and deep vocals deliver a unique rendition of Walk the Line.  Jeff Scheider relishes the reckless and obnoxious nature of up and coming, bigger-than-his-britches Jerry Lee Lewis.  Scheider is a real scene stealer, delivering some of the funniest one liners in the show while madly sweeping those piano keys.

Though Elvis brought a dancer to the recording studio as his date on that night in 1956, Melissa Geerlof slips into the role of Dyanne, a promising songstress.  She shows she is much more than Elvis’s eye candy singing Fever with an alluring, bluesy growl.

GBSC - Million Dollar Quartet full band

The cast of Million Dollar Quartet Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Though Million Dollar Quartet features plenty of rock and roll moments, the band’s quieter scenes are just as appealing.  When Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis unite for an acapella version of the spirituals, Down by the Riverside and Peace in the Valley, their clean, silvery harmony is pure perfection.

Greater Boston Stage Company’s Million Dollar Quartet continues through Sunday, May 19 at Greater Boston Stage Company, 395 Main Street in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for more information on Greater Boston Stage Company’s recently announced 20th season.