TULSA BALLET'S MOMENTOUS MANHATTAN DEBUT

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Photo by Andrea Mohin from NY Times review.

Wow — exciting night Monday night when Tulsa Ballet, a small but well-regarded company founded by members of the legendary Ballet Russes and currently run by Naples-born Marcello Angelini, opened its Joyce season. The company, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, hasn’t performed in New York for 25 years and it was their first time in Manhattan. The governor and first lady of OK were there, along with the mayor of Tulsa, and other government officials. A Japanese TV station also covered the event (the troupe is very multi-national; many dancers are from Asian countries), and Oberon, our friend Susan, and I were interviewed by them outside during the first intermission. ABT dancer Arron Scott was interviewed outside as well, after the show. I desperately wanted to walk over there and listen in on what he was saying, but didn’t have the nerve…

Anyway, there were three dances on the program: Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations, Nacho Duato’s Por Vos Muero, and a newish dance from 2008 by Young Soon Hue called This is Your Life.

The dance that most captivated me was the first, MacMillan’s, which I guess isn’t surprising since he’s my favorite full-length story ballet choreographer. I hadn’t seen this shorter piece though. In terms of the movement, it’s typical MacMillan with the bravura leaps and turns and inventive partnering dominated by sweeping, crazy-hard-looking lifts. But I didn’t completely understand the character of the dance. It’s set to Scott Joplin and other American ragtime music but it’s performed by what appear to be commedia dell’arte characters, dressed in almost clownish costumes. See photo above.

See also this video, of an excerpt performed by the Royal Ballet, Darcey Bussell introducing it and then performing in one of the main duets. There wasn’t a band in the Tulsa version though — the music was recorded.

You get a sense from the video what the whole was like. The choreography is comical, complex and brilliant. And the Tulsa dancers did very well with it — particularly the acting. Definitely a very lively troupe. I got the sense that this would look very different performed by a company like ABT or the Royal on the large Met stage, but I thought the Tulsa dancers did a very good job with a very (despite the humor) difficult-looking ballet.

Next on was Duato’s Por Vos Muero (photos below by Christopher Jean-Richard).

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I also really liked this piece. The movement was modern (no pointe shoes): grounded, sharp-lined and expansive. The music consisted of popular Catalonian tunes from the 15th and 16th centuries, with a poem read (in Spanish; Duato is Spanish and his company is based in Madrid) by Spanish music star Miguel Bose (at least he was a star,  in a heart-throbbish sort of way when I took Spanish in high school and college :) )  The dance began on a contemporary note, with dancers dressed in simple nude leotards, then took on a historical flavor, the dancers now in dark costumes evocative of the era of the music. The themes (I think) were love and death; it was overall spiritual and mainly dark, with a few lighter moments interspersed throughout, like the one above, when two men playfully slide a woman between them, and she ends up near the edge of the stage and smiles out to the audience, resting her elbows casually on the floor, her chin in her hands. The two men lift their legs, bent at the knee, as if framing her like a picture.

The third piece, This is Your Life, is named after the American TV show (which I never saw). I have to agree generally with Gia Kourlas on this one. The characters first address the audience, telling you their stories of woe, but they’re mostly caricatures, like the flamboyant gay hairdresser dressed in a woman’s wig, and the businessman who wants to break free of his parents’ expectations and become an actor. The dancing parts are set mostly to Astor Piazzolla’s rich Tango music and much of them are Tango-based, portions of them on pointe. Normally I’d be into a ballroom / ballet mix, but the movement here, the combinations, were nothing I hadn’t seen before, and, honestly, I had a hard time getting over the stereotyped characters. This is a dance that may well get a different reception elsewhere though.

Tulsa Ballet performs at the Joyce through August 15th. Go here for more info. And go here and here for other, very different perspectives on the program.

13 Comments

  1. Wow, those are some really great costumes! That clown (?) in the front has legs that do on for days.

  2. the photos of Por Vos Muero are not by Ralph Cole, but by Tulsa Ballet's performance photographer Christopher Jean-Richard — plenty more at his site: http://www.cjeanrichard.com.

    Not sure where the mis-credit came from. New person in the marketing office, no doubt.

  3. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Oh wow, that's really interesting, Mr. Wolcott, and definitely a far cry from this! I wondered about the original show after seeing this dance. The choreographer is Korean and now based in Germany and I think she was trying to make something contemporary and multicultural for an American audience (the businessman is Chinese, the hair guy Brazilian, etc.). I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, but it was just too cliched and overwrought.

  4. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Hi — I just spoke with the publicist and he told me these particular photos are by Cole, although there are other photos by Jean-Richard as well. And I see from the link you provided that Jean-Richard has taken some really beautiful pictures of the company, so thank you for that!

  5. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    The costumes were really fantastic. They confused me because it looked like the piece took place in a jazz club but then these were not typical jazz-club patrons! Still, the costumes were fabulous — they were designed by Ian Spurling but reminded me of the Christian Lacroix tights David Hallberg is wearing here: http://thewinger.com/2008/guggenheim/

  6. The publicist is wrong!

    Not sure where he got his info, but they aren't Cole's, they are indeed Jean-Richard's. Do you have contact info for the publicist? (I'm assuming you mean the Joyce's, not TB's?)

  7. Charles McDonald

    The publicist is incorrect, as stated by the old member of the marketing office, above.

    Correct photo credit for both photos: Christopher Jean-Richard
    http://www.cjeanrichard.com/

  8. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    I've asked the publicist I spoke to to get a hold of the photographers and whoever else he needs to in order to sort this out. Of course I am more than happy to change the photo credit on my own blog, but there are others as well (like Oberon's Grove blog and Backstage magazine) that have the Ralph Cole credit as well.

  9. I certainly hope they're working on it – for all postings. This is a sad error. Christopher Jean-Richard is a wonderful person – as well as photographer. He and his wife are also former Tulsa Ballet company members.

  10. Thanks for the kind words Charles!

    (Although I have to clarify something: I've done a few character roles for TB in the past, but was never a fulltime company member. I *did* dance for Alberta Ballet and Heinz Poll's Ohio Ballet, among others. A long time ago!)

    I can be reached by email through my website…

    and thanks for setting this straight!

    (Yes, they're my pics, and I'm not sure who in the TB office would think otherwise!)

    Christopher.

  11. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Okay, the publicist just spoke with Tulsa Ballet and confirmed that the credit is supposed to go to Christopher Jean-Richard (apparently they had been give the wrong information). So I changed it above in the post. I'm sorry about that!

  12. Anne Coburn Whitmore

    Ooh, thanks for this post!

    – and Tonya, that's so cool you were interviewed! 😉

  13. Anne Coburn Whitmore

    Ooh, thanks for this post!

    – and Tonya, that's so cool you were interviewed! 😉

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