A Conversation with Ivy Baldwin at The Wooden Floor

“Young dancers are like leaves- blow on them, and they move.” –Sir Frederic Ashton

And indeed they do. Seemingly twirled by brazen breezes and tumbled by gusts like ghostly guffaws, the dancers of The Wooden Floor (www.thewoodenfloor.org) create flurries of gestural movement as they flow across the Santa Ana studio space, rehearsing visiting choreographer Ivy Baldwin’s “Time-Lapse Alphabet” for Sunrise, next week’s 30th anniversary concert at Irvine Barclay Theatre (www.thebarclay.org ).
One of a trio of brand new works being presented- the other two are returning choreographer Mark Haim’s “The Land of Nodding” and Artistic Director Melanie Ríos-Glaser’s “Billowing Bubbles”- TWF newbie Baldwin describes her piece, which is set to an original composition by Justin Jones, as “sculptural, yet influenced by many, many, disparate elements.”
Photo Credit: Kevin P. Casey“My movement vocabulary changes a lot,” she explains, as we sit down for a chat before the rehearsal begins. “For instance, much of what’s generated for this piece is from improvisation with the kids here, yet you can still see through it a line of themes that are interesting to me, such as weather systems and time- lapse videos, renaissance architecture and elaborate hand and arm sequences. Then I’ll bring it all together to create something new.”
Baldwin, a New York-based performer, teacher and choreographer whose eponymous company Ivy Baldwin Dance (www.ivybaldwindance.org ) has toured both nationally and internationally, says she was excited when Ríos-Glaser called her about coming to Orange County to work with The Wooden Floor for the very first time.
“I spoke with a couple of friends and colleagues who both said ‘if she offers you the job, take it!’” she remembers. “It sounded intriguing, working with the kids, and it has turned out to be one of the most amazing, inspiring, creative processes I’ve ever had for work.”
“The mission of The Wooden Floor (which is empowering underprivileged youth through dance) has turned out these kids who are super-dedicated, talented, and super-committed,” Baldwin continues. “We have 4- hour rehearsals, and that’s a long time to focus and to dance, especially right after school. It’s impressive! They have great imaginations, and I think their openness (to new ways of moving) is a testament to the people they have worked with. They’re used to doing experimental, abstract modern dance. It doesn’t really faze them too much.”Photo Credit: Kevin P. Casey
“You do have to stay on your game,” she says candidly, reflecting on the challenges inherent in creating a new piece with more than sixty 12-17 year olds. “People of that age are so energetic, it’s exhausting the amount of energy it takes to make it all work! When I am with my company, there’s a lot of up and down time, and maybe only six people in the room total. That makes a difference.”
It may be her first time working with younger dancers, but Baldwin is clearly up to the task. (check out their early rehearsals of “Time-Lapse Alphabet” at: http://vimeo.com/55956554 and http://vimeo.com/61734508 ) And she remains committed to using a similar creative process to the one she uses with professional dancers and her own company.
“I’m starting with a blank slate, making a piece that is both for and with them, and that’s really important to me. It’s been a combination of asking them to do movement from me and also having them create some set material in a collaborative, improvisational way. All the ingredients, all the little pieces are creating the context, and we’re finding meaning in what we’ve made.”
“It’s just been really exciting to be in a very different process than I’m usually in back in New York,” she concludes. “It’s important to do different versions of things you love in your life. Being here has reinvigorated my love of dance. It’s important to have this.”

The Wooden Floor presents “Sunrise” May 30th through June 1st at Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Dr., Irvine. Performances are 8:00 p.m. nightly, plus a 2:30 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Tickets are $20 for General seating and $50 for Benefit seating, which includes a $30 tax-deductible contribution. There is a half-price discount for children under 13 and for students. For more information call (949) 854-4646 or go to http://www.thewoodenfloor.org .

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Ballet BC Leaps Into OC

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but for me, this particular shot sparked an avalanche of neural synapses that continues to thrill with each viewing. The short and sweet of it: I’m (almost) speechless. So let me make this brief:Ballet BC dancer Dario Dinuzzi; Photo by Michael Slobodian

The pulsating image is one of several from Irvine Barclay Theatre’s promo postcard for Ballet BC, and each one, seemingly poised for- and even in- flight, exudes the essence of a vibrant and virtuosic company. Based in Vancouver, Canada, Ballet BC (www.balletbc.com ) is making its first U.S. tour this year with its only Southern California appearance here in Orange County at The Barclay (www.thebarclay.org ) tomorrow night, when it closes out the theatre’s 2012-2013 Contemporary Dance Series.

Founded in 1986, the company has evolved to become a “hotbed” for the creation of new contemporary ballets for the 21st century, and even a quick peek at a few of their YouTube videos (www.youtube.com )bears that statement out. Even in their introductory montage, the dancers always seem to be reaching, whether with attenuated arms or arched backs, flexed feet or bared psyches, and they are powerfully present. It seems clear that this dynamic company challenges itself on many levels, pushing boundaries with an ever intense expressiveness.

For their SoCal debut, Saturday’s program presents an internationally eclectic trio of works, from French choreographer- and Nederlands Dance Theatre company member- Medhi Walerski’s “poetic” and “dreamlike” Petite Céremonie,  to A.U.R.A.- Anarchist Unit Related to Art by Italy’s Jacopo Godani with a score by German electro-acoustic duo 48nord, as well as the World Premiere of Ballet BC Artistic Director Emily Molnar’s Aniel, a full ensemble work inspired by American saxophonist John Zorn’s Book of Angels.     

True confession time: I stuck the postcard on my refrigerator and every time I go into my kitchen now I attempt- with quite varied, sometimes comic, but still heart-opening, results- this move that flies at me like an arrow and lifts my spirits. I can’t help but wonder…what will Saturday night bring and where might it lead me?


Ballet BC is at Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Dr., Irvine, CA on Saturday May 11th at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $32-$43. Tickets for patrons under 30 are ½ price. To purchase or for more information call The Barclay Box Office at (949) 854-4646 or go to www.thebarclay.org .

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Eifman Ballet: Rodin Reignited

Photo Credit: Gene Schiavone

19th century French sculptor August Rodin’s creations have pierced my soul.
Exuding a luminous, visceral beauty that lifts spirits and yet imbued also with a raw, writhing life force that bespeaks humanity’s truths, the first time I beheld one, I fell in love.
That deep affinity has led me to the gates of the Musée Rodin in Paris, where a sign “C’est Fèrmé” gave me but a glimpse of the grounds; to viewings of “Camille Claudel,” the 1988 biographical film of the talented sculptress’ tragic relationship with her mentor, Rodin; to an exhibit of “The Hands of Rodin: A Tribute to B. Gerald Cantor” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where, writer that I am, I sought in vain for a replica to bring home with me; and, finally, to the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, (www.rodinmuseum.org  ) an exquisite, intimate jewel studded with masterpieces about which afternoon’s sojourn I wrote: “the ultimate sensuous experience, much more erotic than any film I’ve seen.”
Photo Credit: Gene SchiavoneWell, I expect no less from Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg’s Rodin, (www.eifmanballet.ru ) which makes its West Coast premiere at Segerstrom Center for the Arts this weekend (www.scfta.org ). Artistic Director Boris Eifman has long been known for creating passionate masterworks, often dark and edgy, based on dramatic characters and their tumultuous lives, such as Onegin, Anna Karenina, and Russian Hamlet. With his most recent ballet, Rodin, he explores the close relationship between madness and genius as played out between Claudel and Rodin, apprentice and master, lover and beloved.
Communicating via email from Russia, he shared with me some of his insights into the inner workings of Rodin, how he really feels about all that darkness and why the intensity of those emotions interests him.

“Actually, as an artist I’m attracted by violent passions, the brightest emotional and mental states the human nature may show,” he writes. “This may be either love or hate, commotions cleansing mind and soul or the darkness of insanity. World deprived of feelings is awful and hellish. Indeed, it is emotional stress that enables us to realize the complexity of the inner world of a human being. If it is eliminated out of the objective reality, one is certain to turn into a walking dead, a machine…”
For Eifman, one critical facet of this creative process has been relating to the “dramatic fates of both creators” and how their sacrifice of ordinary pleasures and happiness resulted in their immense artistic achievements.
“Giving my entire life to onerous creative work, I have an appreciation of those artists choosing such a self-giving way. While approaching the great authors’ personalities and revealing some or other details, one cannot but wonder at the interrelation and interconnection of everything in art, be it passion or hate, elevated or base, eternal or passing.”
He continues: “That was not an ordinary story of love growing into pathologic hate. Here, everyone can find an artist’s jealousy, throes of art, which are emotional states that help us gain an insight into the art of Rodin and his Muse. Actually, I’m sure that it is immersion in mental and sensual life of the great authors that is the key to proper interpretation of their artistic world. Art is built not only upon sublimated things, but on the earthly everyday life.”
Photo Credit: Gene Schiavone“Both Rodin and Camille are kindred to me as artists…,” he shares. “ Like any choreographer, they were working with the human body. Yet, while their work is a tranquil instant filled with beauty and harmony, I aspire to turn this moment into dance.”
Prepare to be mesmerized!

For more on my email interview with Mr. Eifman, check out my article this Friday in the Newport Beach Independent or go to www.nbindy.com .

Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg presents Rodin May 3rd through 5th at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Performances are Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $29. There will be a Free Preview Talk one hour prior to each performance. On Friday, May 3rd the Preview Talk will be sign-language interpreted. For tickets or more information call The Box Office at (714) 556-2787 or go to www.scfta.org .


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“Mao’s Last Dancer” Wows!

“Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.” This resonant opening line from a poem by aviation adventurer Amelia Earhart, speaks, for me, to the heart of “Mao’s Last Dancer,” a compelling new movie by Samuel Goldwyn Films and ATO Pictures which opened in limited engagement in late August. It’s my pick for an out-of-the-box Labor Day weekend outing, going beyond the confines of an art/dance film to encompass larger themes of love and loss, relatable on many different levels. Besides which the excerpts from “Swan Lake” and “The Rite of Spring” are not to be missed!

Based on the best-selling autobiography of dancer Li Cunxin, who was taken from his family in rural China when just a child and sent to study ballet at the Beijing Dance Academy during the oppressive regime of Mao Tse-Tung, the film pairs breathtakingly beautiful dancing with a heartbreaking tale of bravery and sacrifice, where the dreams of youth and the desires for an authentic life collide. Underscoring the daunting challenges of ballet training and the fortitude needed to compete in the professional realm is the equally disturbing political ambiance of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. (watch the trailer at http://www.maoslastdancer-movie.com/ )

 Newcomer Chi Cao, a principal with the Birmingham Royal Ballet, charms as the teen/adult Li, and his virtuoso technique is a pleasure to watch. Directed by Academy Award® nominee Bruce Beresford (“Tender Mercies,” “Driving Miss Daisy”), with a screenplay by Jan Sardi (“The Notebook,” “Shine”) and ballet sequences by acclaimed Australian choreographer Graeme Murphy, “Mao’s Last Dancer”- a 2009 São Paulo International Film Festival Audience Award Winner- also stars Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan, Joan Chen, and Amanda Schull- the subject of my next “Conversation With…” post, so stay tuned!

For a refreshing twist, this true-life Cinderella story has a male lead, and Li’s personal journey- from boy to man, China to America, struggling student to principal dancer with the Houston Ballet- is as poignant as it is powerful. It’s really classic Hollywood, and in that respect could almost seem clichéd were it not for the fact that it actually happened, and is portrayed in the film with such depth of feeling and conviction. As a youth practicing splits jumps over and over, or strapping weights around his ankles and jumping up, stair by stair, to build his stamina, we see Li’s determination develop. While still studying at the Beijing Dance Academy, he is told by his mentor Teacher Chan to do whatever he can to build up his strength, and when Chan explains: “that way your body will become lighter, that way you will be able to fly,” there’s the very real sense that he’s talking about more than just dancing skills.

In the end, “Mao’s Last Dancer” speaks to the binary loves of self and art, and Li faces his life’s challenges with fortitude, exhibiting an appealing earnestness as well as the innate dignity of a premier danseur, both on and off the stage. All of which gives rise to the hope that no matter how tired or mired your wings may be, it is possible to break free and soar on the force of your passion.


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A Conversation with Ann Marie DeAngelo…

The air is warm inside the studio, and summer sunshine filters through high windows and softens its grey marley floor as the dancers mark the choreography for Ann Marie DeAngelo’s yet-to-be-titled new work for NCI Discovery 2010.  It is week two of the annual three-week project, and I’m here at my alma mater, U.C. Irvine, where the rehearsals for NCI are being held. It’s sweet to be sitting in one of the new (since my day) dance studios at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts and continuing my journey!

I’ve been following Artistic Director Molly Lynch’s National Choreographers Initiative, (www.nchoreographers.org,  and check out this link for great behind the scenes footage and further interviews with the choreographers www.youtube.com/ncidance ) since its inception six years ago. It’s an exciting, innovative, and much needed program that pairs four eminent and/or emerging choreographers with sixteen dancers, allowing them the space- both literally, as in studio time, and figuratively, as in artistic freedom- to create four fresh pieces over the course of the three weeks. Each of the resulting dances is then presented at a works-in-progress showing which includes a Q&A session with the choreographers- DeAngelo, Helen Heineman, Viktor Kabaniaev, and Peter Quanz- moderated by Lynch. NCI Discovery 2010 will take place on Saturday, July 31st at 8 p.m. at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. (www.thebarclay.org )

 This is the second time at NCI for DeAngelo, a former principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet who has been described as a “multiple-career artist.” In addition to choreographing works for the Joffrey Ballet, (for which she served as Associate Director) the National Ballet of Cuba, Ballet Pacifica, BalletNY and ABT Studio Company, she’s also just finished a musical for the Shangai Expo 2010 and is currently at work on a theatrical project about dancers’ career transitions called “In the Mix.”

I’ve always enjoyed her choreography, and today’s material is no exception. There’s an air of freedom and an innate polish to the movement, so that even in its rough state there is a sense that it will be something, indeed already is. DeAngelo works with the dancers energetically, and this section I’m watching has a pedestrian, city street feel to the shape of the choreography, as the dancers move to pulsating beats of music, their hands and heads flicking from side to side. The work is still in the fine tuning phase, where she’s deciding which bits and pieces go with which sequence and which phrase of the music. When we sit down to talk afterwards it’s clear that the time constraints and uncertainty of creation leave her undaunted. The process, not the product itself, is what she’s thriving on.

 D. on D.: “Are you doing anything differently this time at NCI?”

 A.M.D.: “What naturally happens with a choreographer in this situation is that you feel compelled to make a ‘piece.’ I decided instead to use it as a workshop. There’s just no way that the field (of dance) itself can grow in an organic way if there’s no time to make mistakes. The greats, like Martha Graham, had so much more time for the process than choreographers do today. So the primary thing I am doing is using this time to gain insight, and I’ll be talking about my own process of discovery and integration during the work itself. What I’m doing here is a bit of what I call “edu-tainment.”

 D. on D.: “How will that work?”

 A.M.D.: “I’m trying to figure out a way to present it as a piece of theatre, where I’m talking about the process as they’re watching the process. It’s a piece about doing a piece, and to what extent I can create cohesiveness I’m not sure yet. There are three parts: in the first, I’ll be talking about what I do to discover potential in a dancer, and I’ve formed a ‘dance band’; the second is more of a true ‘piece’ set to Homai, an indigenous Mongolian music form similar to Tibetan chanting; and in part three I’m developing material set to a new song that Marvin Hamlisch is writing for me, to be presented at a benefit in New York on November 8th.”

D. on D.: “Is that more challenging for you?”

A.M.D.: “Based on today, I have to do some editing. Theatre is harder- there’s dialogue, and staging…it’s just more difficult. We talk poetry in dance, while theater tends to be more literal in its expression. Now I have to figure out how to present it. Hopefully it will succeed, but if it doesn’t, at any event I will learn what I need to do to make it work.”

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A Conversation with Jared Matthews, Part II

Welcome to Part II of my conversation with American Ballet Theatre soloist Jared Matthews, who appears as a guest dancer tomorrow night on Fox TV’s  So You Think You Can Dance. (Thurs. 7/22, please check your local television listing for times) Matthews will partner fellow ABT dancer Yuriko Kajiya in a condensed version of the dramatic Grand Pas de Deux from Act III of “Don Quixote.” I wouldn’t miss this treat! Both dancers impressed when I saw them perform last Thursday during the opening night of ABT’s “Sleeping Beauty” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Matthews with his strength, precision, and effortless partnering as one of the Fairy Knights and Kujiya with her delicate yet arrow-sharp pointework as Princess Florine in the Bluebird Pas de Deux.

During our phone chat last week, Matthews shared his thoughts about guesting on So You Think You Can Dance as well as the state of ballet in the dance world today. After a short break to take a call from ABT’s conductor- who was editing music for the shortened pas de deux and sending the cd to Matthews that evening- we resumed talking.

D. on D.: “How did you come to be on So You Think You Can Dance?”

J.M.: “Nigel (Lythgoe, Executive Producer and one of the show’s judges) is a big supporter and fan of classical ballet. He was in Bermuda last year for a benefit, saw Yuriko in a show there and really enjoyed it. He spoke with her afterwards and then called Kevin (McKenzie, ABT’s Artistic Director) directly, and that was it. Although we’ve basically had to cut the pas de deux in half to fit the minutes allowed, I think it’s great that we’ll be dancing Don Q on his TV show.”

D. on D.: “Why is that important?”

J.M.: “The fact that I’ll be in white tights and Yuriko in pointe shoes and a tutu will be reaching a whole new generation that has never been exposed to ballet. I think ballet needs that crossover value to work, because the arts are struggling right now in terms of accessibility. But because of shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars, people are becoming interested in dance again, and classical ballet can ride off that.”

D. on D.: “You sound hopeful.”

J.M.: “Well, I think dance had a big recession. It’s heyday was in the 70’s and 80’s, when Misha (Baryshnikov)and Gelsey (Kirkland) were dancing. I was talking to one of the ABT conductors recently and he remembered one day in the late 70’s when Balanchine, Tudor, MacMillan and Robbins- four of the greatest choreographers- were all rehearsing dancers in these studios. It was a very different time.”

D. on D.: “So, where does it go from here?”

J.M.: “For me, classical ballet is the most important thing. It’s what I love to perform, and it’s important to keep pushing it and putting it out there. I think about a show like Swan Lake and see that people are still moved by it. It’s not dated at all. And in Europe, you can see the support is still there…I was visiting a friend in Great Britain over the holidays and on Boxing Day (celebrated there the day after Christmas) the BBC had the Royal Ballet on all day long, and not just “The Nutcracker.” The more this country can do things like that, the better.”

D. on D.: “Well, this has been great! Thank you again, Jared.”

Diamond on Dance, signing off for now. Until next time….


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A Conversation With…Jared Matthews

Hello everyone! I’m back after an unexpected work-related hiatus to share with you the first in what I hope will become a series of Q&A “Conversations With…” different dancers, choreographers and Artistic Directors, which I will post here in addition to behind-the-scenes peeks at and reviews of dance performances around Southern California. I’ll also be posting a separate calendar for each month with upcoming events, so watch for that premiering in August. Please feel free to contact me with information on any dance events you hear about as well!

 And now, on to Part I of my conversation with American Ballet Theatre soloist Jared Matthews. Among other roles, Matthews will be dancing the demanding Bluebird Pas de Deux (scheduled for Saturday’s matinee) when the company performs its full-length production of “Sleeping Beauty” this week at Los Angeles’ Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as part of the Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance At The Music Center series. (www.musiccenter.org) With choreography after Marius Petipa, additional choreography and staging by Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie, Gelsey Kirkland, and Michael Chernov, and set to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s exquisite score, ABT’s “Sleeping Beauty” opens tonight, 7/15, and runs through Sunday, 7/18. You’ll also be able to catch Matthews next week on Fox TV’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” where he and fellow ABT soloist Yuriko Kajiya will be paired for a shortened version of the Grand Pas de Deux from Act III of “Don Quixote.” (scheduled to air Thurs. 7/22)  

I was fortunate to catch up with Matthews by phone during a break in the final New York rehearsal before the company left yesterday to fly out to L.A. One of America’s oldest, most prestigious, and- in my opinion- most absolutely fabulous ballet companies, American Ballet Theatre is also one of the most consistently excellent, from its high quality productions to its virtuosic dancing. During our conversation, the Houston-born Matthews, a classically trained dancer whose love for and dedication to the art came through clearly, spoke candidly about the challenges he faces as a dancer- he joined ABT in 2003 as a member of the corps de ballet and was promoted to soloist three years ago- and what keeps him coming back for more.

D. On D.: “Tell us about the role you’ll be performing in “Sleeping Beauty.”

J.M.: “I’ll be dancing Bluebird in the Bluebird Pas de Deux, and that is one of the hardest, most technically challenging pas de deux that I’ve ever done. Just the set-up alone, for instance, because you’re already 3 hours behind (New York time) when the show starts at, say, 7:30 p.m., and then I don’t come on until the very end of the ballet, with an entrance at about 9:30, which would be after midnight for me. So you’re waiting around all that time to perform. And then, usually the male role has sections of both jumping and turns, but with Bluebird it’s all jumping. All the guys find it hard to do stamina-wise. After you finish those variations the girl’s section is very short, then I come back on for the coda. It’s very challenging physically, but it’s also an accomplishment to get through it.” 

D. On D.: “Audiences often don’t realize how difficult the choreography actually is.”

J.M.: “That’s true, but I definitely don’t want the audience to see the effort, either. I want them to be carried away by the music, and the ethereal quality of the Bluebird. You’re a bird, you’re flying. I don’t want to show the work involved.”

D. On D.: “How did you choose classical ballet and what do you love about it?”

J.M.: “I started in tap dancing. I was influenced early on by Gene Kelly movies, and there’s just something about it…I still love to take in shows when I can. I made the crossover to ballet as a way to strengthen for tap. Then I saw Baryshnikov perform and that was incredible! I saw what a male ballet dancer could do and be and that set my path. I don’t really know why I like ballet best except maybe for its structure, refinement, and simplicity. With ballet, you’re either doing it well or not, there’s no room for error. I like that process. There’s a visual goal that I can and want to achieve. You can always improve on it and do more.”

D. On D.: “So the challenge is what impels you, to help keep it fresh?”

J.M.: “It’s not about keeping it fresh, it’s more about not doing it exactly the same way each time. Even with something like Bluebird: when I did two shows at the Met, I changed a few things in the second performance, like entering upstage left instead of right, and maybe varying the pose at the end. It’s a matter of choice; both are correct. The challenge is to work within the framework of the choreography. That makes it like a new variation to me. The goal is to get out there and push the envelope.”

D. On D.: “Thank you, Jared!”

Well, that’s all for today. I’m heading up to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion tonight for the opening of “Sleeping Beauty.” I’m looking forward to it, and to sharing my thoughts with you. Stayed tuned for Part II…


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