Dance

Go Inside Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival

By Kris Wilton   |   Friday, June 29, 2012
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June 29, 2012

Emma McGovern and Lewis West of Circa; photo by Christopher Duggan.

BECKET, MA - Kicking off their opening week performance at the 80th Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts, the members of Brisbane-based circus and movement company Circa seemed to have lost control over their limbs.

Bursting onstage to insistent, frenzied electronica, the first landed splat on her belly. From the floor, she and others popped spontaneously into backbends. Hands flew skyward despite the strained resistance of their owners. Then flips, handstands, more splats.

Introducing Circa, festival creative director Ella Baff had struck an apologetic tone. It’s not exactly dance, she said. But it does require precision choreography, and push the boundaries of physical ability. I’ll say! Also, the theme of lost control nods to The Red Shoes, the legendary dance film in which an ambitious ballerina makes a Faustian bargain that renders her a magnificent dancer — who can never stop dancing.

Of course the members of Circa – four bare-chested men and three leotarded women – have utmost control over their limbs, willing them into feats that defy gravity, physics (or at least common sense), thrilling and terrifying the audience. Freyja Edney, a powerhouse, balanced male dancers on her shoulders, arms, and head. Scott Grove carried two dancers stacked on his shoulders. The effervescent Valérie Doucet spent half the performance in some form of handstand.

At times it was also gorgeous – Emma McGovern’s graceful aerial routine, Edney’s mind-blowing mastery of multiple circus rings, and especially the challenging balancing poses, like contact improv on steroids.

Throughout the performance, I kept wondering why it wasn’t exactly dance. I’m honestly not sure. Would it need more artistic expression? More inventive choreography? I’ve certainly seen dance performances that were no stronger in either category.

Freyja Edney of Circa; photo by Christopher Duggan.

I wish I could stay all summer and think about this some more. For dance freaks like me, there is simply no better place to be in the summertime than Jacob’s Pillow, and there’s no better way to learn about dance than to see a lot of it. Each weekend brings a renowned company to each intimate main stage, and it’s almost impossible to have a bad experience. Before and after the show, visitors can hear lectures, see free “Indoor/Out” performances, have a bite to eat, and tell a choreographer how much they like her work as she ambles along the path (as I did with Karole Armitage two summers ago).

Sure to stun this summer are Morphoses, coming up this weekend, Bill T. Jones (July 25–29), and the Joffrey Ballet (August 22–26). Companies I haven’t seen and wish I could include Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM (June 27 – July 1) and Jonah Bokaer & David Hallberg (August 1–5). But really, it’s impossible to go wrong. Go see anything.


Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival
Through August 26
Becket, MA 01223
(413) 243 - 0745


Dance For World Community: It's What Moves Us

By Kris Wilton   |   Monday, June 11, 2012
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Setting out for Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre’s “Dance for World Community Festival” in Harvard Square last Saturday, I admittedly had no idea what to expect. But I wanted to learn more about the dozens of local troupes performing, and to see just how – or even if – dance could build community.

Occupying Harvard Street, it looked like your average street fair. Except that in addition to greasy food and kids in strollers and tables devoted to various causes, there were ample leotards and tutus and elaborate traditional costumes from other cultures. It didn’t feel at all strange to bump into a very well-built young man wearing little more than a giant headdress and a few well-placed bits of shiny, tasseled adornment, say, or a middle-aged woman tucked away in a corner, quietly doing a half-split on the pavement.

With performances running all afternoon at the four stages positioned around Mateo’s home base, there was a vast range of styles, cultures, and levels of experience, from corps of earnest young ballerinas to ethnocentric groups to the enthusiastic Hip-Hop Mamas to amateur swing dancers who look like they spend their daytime hours behind a computer or a microscope.




Sometimes scrappy, sometimes studious, the offerings were a wonderful reminder that “the arts” aren’t just something to experience in stately museums and theaters, but rather are happening all around us all the time, in sweaty dance studios and classrooms and church basements. And that dance in particular is all about community – people joining together in movement, whatever that means to them, whether release, celebration, expression, reinforcement of cultural identity or simple social vehicle.

“Dance is the perfect way to bring people together,” said Jose Mateo, taking in the scene on Harvard Street. “Music is wonderful, and we bring music with us, but not everyone can sing or play an instrument.” A grounding idea for the festival, now in its fourth year, is that by validating “every movement as real dance, literally no one would feel unwelcome.”



Like the larger initiative of which it’s a part, the event is intended not only to unite the local dance community but also the companies’ audiences, exposing them to new companies and cultures. “There’s an amazing amount of cross-pollination happening,” he said.

On the street in front of us, some suave young men had been whisking passersby into salsa steps, and just then, a little group of young ladies in traditional ornamentation – maybe Indian? – glided by.

“Look at that,” Mateo said. “Isn’t that beautiful?”


Photo credit:  Justin Baker
(Note: the last photo is Kris Wilton interviewing Jose Mateo in the background)


Boston Ballet's "Sublime" Spring

By Alicia Anstead   |   Friday, February 17, 2012
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In mythology, a sylph is a divinity similar to a nymph but less earthbound. Therefore sylphs, as a group, are perfect subjects for ballet, the dance form whose ultimate goal is airborne-ness. “Les Sylphides” is an abstract and sylvan homage to the aerie creatures by Russian choreographer Michel Fokine, who set his 1909 ballet reverie to the arch-romantic music of Frédéric Chopin. With its winged corps performing acts of masterful marginalia while the prima ballerinas and “the poet” take their individual flights of fancy, “Slyphides” is not only a rite of passage for dancers, it’s a crowd pleaser for balletomanes and Chopin-lovers alike.

It is also the opening piece for “Simply Sublime,” the program of three ballets that is kicking off Boston Ballet’s spring season. The program, which runs through Feb. 19 at the Boston Opera House, also includes contemporary choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s angular “Polyphonia” performed to the music of György Ligeti, and George Balanchine’s “Symphony in Three Movements” with music by Stravinsky. None of the three dances has a conventional story– but, combined, they point to, and answer, the formal questions any dance must tackle. How do I get from point A to point B using the most poise, core strength and discipline I can muster? The more modern pieces respond to, and complicate, those questions in most engaging ways.

Ballet is likely to keep pondering those questions a long time, and opening night of the performance was a testament to another unchanging truth: Boston loves ballet. The Opera House was packed. The applause was loud. The scene was raucous – in that special dance kind of way. In all likelihood, the rest of the season – including the steamin’ “Play with Fire” (March 1-11), Rudolf Nureyev’s “Don Quixote” (April 26-May 6) and the Broadway baby “Fancy Free” (May 10-20) – will rock the house again.


Photo:  Kathleen Breen Combes and James Whiteside in George Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo by Gene Schiavone.


Boston Ballet
Box Office
19 Clarendon Street
Boston, MA  02116
(617) 695-6954




Denise DiIanni biographical sketch

By Denise DiIanni   |   Wednesday, September 14, 2011
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Denise DiIanni, Senior Executive in Charge, Research and Development, National Productions
Denise DiIanni is a long time WGBH Executive Producer responsible for more than 150 hours of local, regional and nationally syndicated programming each year. In 2011, DiIanni took on a new position as Senior Executive in Charge, Research and Development, National Productions, spearheading new production models for broadcast and broadband. Earlier in her career, DiIanni was an award-winning producer, writer and director for the NOVA Science Unit with more than two- dozen credits to her name. In addition to her expertise in documentary, studio and public affairs programming, DiIanni also spearheaded public media’s first user-generated content feature—the WGBH Lab and was the founding director of WGBH’s Filmmakers in Residence program, which ran from 2003-2010.

Trading Reality For Theater, For A While

By Alicia Anstead   |   Friday, July 29, 2011
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My favorite time in a theater is just when the lights go down. It’s usually only a few seconds before the curtain goes up or the music begins, but that tiny moment is when the audience is filled with anticipation and takes the transformative step from reality to imagination. Many directors — Diane Paulus, for instance — are blurring that starting line so theatergoers will make fewer distinctions between art and life. Bravo to all that!

But I have to confess I’m nostalgic about those distinctions. Frankly, sometimes I need a moment to breathe between life and art. That’s what the popular musical The Drowsy Chaperone is about: the moment we surrender reality. The show starts in the dark with a man in a chair sitting alone and talking about his disappointment with theater. He prays to god before every show that it will be entertaining, short and not break the fourth wall. Amen.

I saw Drowsy Chaperone on Broadway in 2006 and then again recently at Boston’s SpeakEasy Stage Company, and both times I found myself cheering for this pathetic man who complains about the intrusions of reality in moments of art: A cell phone ringing, for instance. Or the power going off. His agoraphobic anxieties about modern life and his failure at marriage and intimacy are allayed by only one thing. Well, maybe two: A glass of brandy and listening to an old LP of a 1928 musical with superficial characters, a formulaic score and a ridiculous plot. And yet the show transports him from the misery of his shabby apartment and unfulfilled life to the glamour and glory of stars who have white teeth and tap dance. The cast magically materializes in his living room and sings its way through silly problems and zany stunts.

I asked Bob Martin, who co-wrote the musical and originated the role, if the show is a surreal moment or a figment of the chair man's imagination. In other words, is the play really happening in the man’s apartment or just in his mind? Martin was reluctant to answer. But he did tell me that every night after he performed Man in Chair, someone was waiting for him at the stage door to say: I am that guy. I am Man in Chair.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that as we read we must “become Greeks, Romans, Turks, priest and king, martyr and executioner.” We must “fasten these images to some reality in our secret experience, or we shall see nothing, learn nothing, keep nothing.”

In some way, all of us who give ourselves over to art are that man in the chair. Drowsy Chaperone is one of the smartest, funniest and saddest musicals ever written. It is also about the triumph of imagination. We may not get what we want out of life — or theater — but a great work of art can literally lift us out of a chair and make us feel we deserve the love we failed at, or walked away from, and that we, too, are stars.

A Valuable Tradition, Ballet Endures

By Alicia Anstead   |   Friday, July 29, 2011
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Back in October, New Republic dance critic Jennifer Homans suggested that ballet was dead. She couldn’t have known that she would set off a fire storm of response. First of all, it’s the ballet people who interpreted what she said to mean ballet is dead. In fact, Homans said she suspected it was dying or at least falling into a deep slumber like Sleeping Beauty.

As if the ghost of ballet’s godfather Louis 14th himself had been stirred to action, ballet was suddenly everywhere. The New York Times launched a national blog about the dance form and the ballet movie The Black Swan plieted into theaters. A month earlier, the New York City Ballet launched a sexy ad campaign on subway billboards in the country’s hub for all things dance.

I can’t argue with Homans about the place of tradition in a remix world. But her announcement seemed particularly ill-timed. It coincided with the busiest season for most ballet companies in the western world – a period I like to call that Crazy Nutcracker Season.

In part because I wanted to check out Homans’ thesis locally and also out of nostalgia, I made a pilgrimage this month back to the see The Nutcracker. I say “back” not because I grew up going to the ballet. But in the last 20 years, I’ve seen more than 30 productions of The Nutcracker – sometimes as a reviewer, sometimes as the parent of a snowflake. I rarely write reviews these days, and my little snowflake is now a biologist in graduate school – so I haven’t been to The Nutcracker for a long time.

But not much has changed. And I don’t necessarily mean the dancing. I mean the community spirit. On opening night of the Walnut Hill School’s Nutcracker in Natick, the hall was packed with eager family members, teachers, students and little sisters wearing flouncy dresses all rooting for success more than perfection. No one cared when Drosselmeyer abracadabra-ed the holiday tree off the stage – and it whammed into a wall instead of into the wings.

Once, at a production in Maine, fake cannons spurted out a bit too much smoke and set off the theater’s alarms. In minutes, the audience, the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Mouse King and Mother Ginger were all standing in the parking lot waiting for the system to be reset. Then the show went on, and no one cared about that extra bit of drama.

Even in a professional setting, such as Boston Ballet Company’s Nutcracker, the mystical spirit of the dance form fills the grand hall. The little boy in front of me last week was seeing the show for the first time. He jostled excitedly between his parents, asking why Fritz was in trouble and did the mice get hurt? When Clara’s dreamscape turned scary, he buried his head in his mother’s shoulder. “It’s just a terrible dream,” she assured the boy. But it was very real to him.

For me, The Nutcracker has lost some of its glitter – not in the productions or the music but the story. This time, I saw a creepy older guy bullying a little girl – whose gilded family probably gets tax breaks this year. And I noticed the elements of war and violence more than ever before.

And yet, it would be a terrible dream, indeed, if ballet were to die. At its best, The Nutcracker and perhaps the unique magic of ballet are symbols of community life at its most generous and most elegant.

About the Authors
Kris Wilton Kris Wilton
Kris is a freelance arts journalist who has contributed reported pieces and reviews to outlets including the Huffington Post, Slate.com, Artinfo.com, Modern Painters, Art+Auction, Art New England, New England Home, Entertainment Weekly, the Village Voice, Bostonist.com, ARTnews, Philadelphia Weekly, Emerging Photographer, Photo District News, and RL Magazine.
Alicia Anstead Alicia Anstead

Denise DiIanni Denise DiIanni
Denise DiIanni, Senior Executive in Charge, Research and Development, National Productions

Denise DiIanni is a long time WGBH Executive Producer responsible for more than 150 hours of local, regional and nationally syndicated programming each year. In 2011, DiIanni took on a new position as Senior Executive in Charge, Research and Development, National Productions, spearheading new production models for broadcast and broadband. Earlier in her career, DiIanni was an award-winning producer, writer and director for the NOVA Science Unit with more than two- dozen credits to her name. In addition to her expertise in documentary, studio and public affairs programming, DiIanni also spearheaded public media’s first user-generated content feature—the WGBH Lab and was the founding director of WGBH’s Filmmakers in Residence program, which ran from 2003-2010.

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