Mats Ek’s Juliet and Romeo at The Kennedy Center

The audience in the Opera House at the Kennedy Center last night was buzzing for the North American Premiere ofJuliet and Romeo by the choreographer Mats Ek, performed by the Swedish National Ballet. The large European ballet companies are better-funded and simply better than many U.S. companies and while Ek is lesser-known (even among those who love Bejart and Kylian) he’s a brilliant dance-maker.

Ek is the son of choreographer Birgit Cullberg and married to the dancer Ana Laguna (performing in these shows.) At 71 years old his sensibility remains distinctly modern.

Jerome Marchand as Mercutio in Mats Ek's Juliet and Romeo (Photo: Gert Weigelt)

Jerome Marchand as Mercutio in Mats Ek’s Juliet and Romeo (Photo: Gert Weigelt)

If you were thinking a ballet titled Juliet and Romeo would focus on the female lead, in this case you’d be wrong. Mercutio is the heart of this production, and Jerome Marchand is fully fabulous in the role. His character’s development and interactions create the core around which this reinterpretation revolves. There are plenty of dances for the main couple –individually and together – and those are lovely but among the least complex. One knows what is going to happen in that relationship, and it does. Mercutio is exciting, in one scene having an entertainingly brotherly dance with Benvolio, in another dancing topless in heeled boots and a black tutu. Continue reading “Mats Ek’s Juliet and Romeo at The Kennedy Center”

Paul Taylor: Elegant, Genteel, Pretty and Fun to Watch

When Jerry Garcia died I remember thinking, “I wish I’d seen the Grateful Dead live.” Everyone talks about how amazing they were in concert and even though I was never a Dead Head I wish I had experienced it firsthand.

Under the direction of their 85 year-old namesake The Paul Taylor Company is something of a modern dance equivalent to The Dead. It’s impossible to briefly summarize Taylor’s artistic accomplishment and influence; In 1985 he received the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, and he’s been the subject of multiple biographic films worth watching.

Taylor’s dances are engaging, enjoyable, and in certain ways, fulfilling. His dancers execute with physical modern dance virtuosity within a bound human range. They usually perform in bare feet, work with curvature of the spine typical to modern dance, and use some momentum in the phrasing. You don’t expect – nor will you see – a circus act at a Taylor show but that keeps open the space for a strong empathy with the performers.

The Paul Taylor Dance Company performing "Mercuric Tidings"

The Paul Taylor Dance Company performing “Mercuric Tidings”

This week at The Kennedy Center the company is performing six better-known works created by Taylor between 1975 and 2008. One critic recently panned the new Taylor choreography “Sulliviniana” (2016) writing, “the whole thing feels like ballet – elegant, genteel, pretty – without generating any fun”. Taylor’s older works cannot be criticized in the same way; they are elegant, genteel, pretty, and they do generate a lot of fun. Continue reading “Paul Taylor: Elegant, Genteel, Pretty and Fun to Watch”

Community Shocked by Loss of Dance Institute of Washington Founder Fabian Barnes

Under mysterious circumstances, Washington, D.C. has lost one of its most dynamic leaders, Fabian Barnes, founder of the Dance Institute of Washington (DIW). More than an arts leader, Mr. Barnes used dance to positively impact a generation of Washington children.

Fabian Barnes in 2008 when he was named one of the Washingtonians of the Year by Washingtonian Magazine (Photo: Matthew Worden)

Fabian Barnes in 2008 when he was named one of the Washingtonians of the Year by Washingtonian Magazine (Photo: Matthew Worden)

Awards for Barnes included Oprah’s “Points of Light” in 2000, CNN’s “American Heroes” in 2001, and Washingtonian Magazine’s “Washingtonians of the Year” in 2008. Barnes built DIW from a modest summer program to a full time dance academy with its own building in Columbia Heights serving students of all ages, abilities, and ambitions. In 2003 DIW received DC’s Mayor’s Arts Award for Excellence in Arts Education and in 2011 the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, awarded by the President’s Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

Arthur Espinoza, executive director of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, wrote, “I was deeply saddened when I received the news of Fabian Barnes’ death. Fabian was admired and respected by the arts community in the Washington, DC area and this is truly a great loss. My sincere sympathy and condolences to the Barnes family and that of the Dance Institute of Washington.” Continue reading “Community Shocked by Loss of Dance Institute of Washington Founder Fabian Barnes”