Thursday, October 02, 2008

October 2008

Woods around the Pillow

Summer has been exceptionally busy this year, with arangetram assignments, photographing a few professional companies, and taking time to enjoy the country. The highlight was the time I spent at Jacob's Pillow and the North.

Pillow Icon - Top of Ted Shawn Theater Complex

I was at the Pillow for the first time, during the final week of the season. The temperature was in the sixties when I reached there, and the campus/space had the feel of a Texas Spring (my favorite time of the year). That was the icing on the cake. The staff were extremely friendly and accommodating, and the space had a wonderful energy about it. The place has an old feel - both in the ambiance and the pacing of life. Yet the place ran like a well oiled machine (at least what I experienced).

Lighting Designer sets gobos for the closing moment of Leatherwing Bat

Most of my time was spent with Trey McIntyre Project. They were kicking off their company premier at the Pillow, with a mixed rep. It was full time work documenting their rehearsals/class, tech rehearsal, dress rehearsal, and live from the wings.

TMP in rehearsal

It has been a while since I experienced Mr. McIntyre's work. He has a very unique prospective and style. I am not sure how his work has evolved in the past few years. His use of lines is creative, and they come unexpectedly in a flash. The two world premiers - Leatherwing Bat and Surrender had strong emotional foundations. Surrender was a short, highly energetic, pas de deux, based on a high school love story. The music was a mix of pop and classical, and transitioned swiftly through a myriad of emotions. Leatherwing Bat was a deeper piece, set to lovely timeless music by Peter, Paul and Mary. The theme is growth and maturity - with the spectrum of emotions from childhood, teen years, and adulthood. This was my favorite piece of the three.

TMP's Reassuring Effects

The Reassuring Effects (of Form and Poetry) is an older piece, celebrating pure dance, with some beautiful and unique lines.

Inside/Out with Keigwin+Co

Keigwin+Company (from NYC) has enjoyed a great deal of success this year - form performing at the Joyce, Fall for dance, ADF, Vail International Festival, and of course the Pillow. They seem to take a more fun approach - although they do have a serious side.
Inside/Out with Keigwin+Co

The company performed both in the Inside/Out series (the free outdoor shows) as well as the smaller space of the Dorris Duke Theater. In Inside/Out, the company presented excerpts from larger works, including Elements (that toured and was presented at the Pillow), and a couple of small PDDs. This was my first experience of the company, and technically I found the choreography and dancing to be good. It was an interesting but not a memorable performance (except for one PDD).

Inside/Out with Keigwin+Co

It became evident during the Dress Rehearsal of Elements, that the works rely a great deal on the costume and lighting. The same sections took on a whole different experience. Elements had four major sections - each focusing on one element.

Keigwin+Co in rehearsal and Dress of Elements

All of them had humor and sarcasm running through them. There were some serious moments - dealing with vanity and a couple of other topics. However, overall it was just fun (by not taking anything too seriously) without any message being stuffed down our throats.

Of the remaining two companies in the Inside/Out series, both LEVYDance ( San Fran based) and GERALDCASELDANCE (NYC based), I found LevyDance to be the more interesting.

Inside/Out with LEVYDance

While some of the themes (a quivering dancer/moments being pacified/transformed by another dancer), was a little repetitive, the music used was unusual and the vocabulary technically challenging and complex (in many sections). It is difficult to come to a conclusion after seeing a company once, and LEVYDance caught my interest enough to be curious about their remaining repertory and evolution.

Inside/Out with GERALDCaselDance

From the Pillow I had a very enjoyable drive to Concord and Portsmouth , New Hampshire to visit a friend. Next was a drive to NYC and a few days there with another friend, before returning to Austin. I was quite proud that I could be separated from my camera during these social trips, but I just could not resist capturing a lovely sunset in NYC one evening!

Images from NYC and some of the ambiance at the Pillow can be viewed in the places gallery. The images from the performances at the Pillow will show up over several months starting in November, in the Dance galleries.

Friday, July 11, 2008

July 2008

I realize that the blog has not received attention for more than a year. It is time to resume the writings, since I have some breathing time this summer.

This has been a fascinating year. My appreciation for dance and theatre reached a new level. One interesting experience was that of Madame Butterfly. I photographed three productions of this opera in a year. Both the Austin Lyric Opera and Fort worth Opera Festival presented the work this season. Stanton Welch has also adapted this work into a full length Ballet for the Australian Ballet. The Houston Ballet presented the work and toured it in 2007-2008.

While I enjoy Opera, it is the least favorite theatrical genre of mine. Professional performances can by stunning visually, with elaborate costumes, moving music, but the pacing and acting leave me dissatisfied in most cases. So operas can be hit or miss with me.

Madam Butterfly is somewhat in the middle. I like the convincing tragic story line and believable characters. The music in certain sections (especially the choral sections) is haunting and catchy. In other sections it seems a little too long. The pacing in this opera is strange. In all versions (opera and dance), the wedding night scene seemed a little too long to me. The transition to Act II seems very sudden. The gap between Act II and III - is it sufficient to call it three acts?
Images from the Operas can be viewed at - and the Ballet version (with a studio rehearsal) is at

Fort Worth Opera, Butterfly's arrival

In both opera productions, I had difficulty losing myself in the character of Madam Butterfly. It is not the age or the physical dimensions of the lead females that is the problem. A good actor can draw me into their character, immaterial of how they look. The mannerisms and facial expressions of the leads seem to be more that of a mature person, and not giddy lovesick teenagers (yes even a retrained Japanese one). Between the two sets, I liked the design used by the Lyric Opera much better, even though it was past its prime. The manner in which movement was used, gave a much better sense of space. The multilevel set contributed a great deal. In contrast, the FW Festival's set was very claustrophobic and did not provide the freedom needed to convey the different moods.

Austin Lyric Opera,Butterfly's arrival

Lyric Opera's lighting was a little blah, but The FWOF fared better. Costume design was good in both cases. But overall, neither singer-actresses made a deep impression on me. As for the music/interpretations it was difficult to focus of the subtleties since I was focused on photographing the performance. The three versions seem to have different interpretations at the end, involving Sorrow Child. The fW version had the child blindfolded in the front while Butterfly committed the self mutilation. It seemed a little overdone for my taste. In the Ballet, the child is offstage during the suicide. But it has made me curious as to what the original version was and how it mutated.

Mr. Welch's version was my favorite - not just because it was dance, but also because of the adaptation and production values. I got to photograph it once, and made a point to see it (without my camera) when it was presented at the Miller Outdoor Theater in Houston.

The set was the simplest of the three productions. A lovely backdrop of the mountains/hills, a simple Japanese home front, and the dominating alter (with the American Flag, Cross, and Samurai sword) after the wedding. The costumes were the least authentic - since this was a dance, but Peter Farmer's pastel color palette and choice of materials had a nice polish. Since the music was instrumental, the actions on stage had to communicate the whole story.
Amy Fote of the Houston Ballet, Opening moment

Mr. Welch has a knack for openings (in his full length ballets), and Butterfly does not disappoint. The opening is stunning, with Butterfly bathed in a golden sepia glow, wings flapping silently behind her, drawing us into her story. Equally lovely is Butterfly's first entrance with her entourage. A nice surprise is the shadow transition (humming section) between Act II and III.

A lot of the group choreography was a little too layered for me, and difficult to appreciate, with so much going one. Where there were few characters on stage, I could focus and appreciate the choreography/expressions more. The wedding PDD was exceptional. The mime and story-telling was very organic, and not stylized, which I prefer. I felt sad for people who did not have the prime orchestra seats. The facial expressions contribute a great deal, and it is pity to miss it. Amy Fote is one of my favorite HB principles I like for expressions, and she drew me in with her acting.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

February 2007

Events -
Animals -
Music Performances -
Theatre Performances -
Dance Performances -

Ballet Austin trains its dancers in the Balanchine tradition, and therefore it seemed fitting that this piece kicked off its 50th season, in the program titled Classic Beauty. I realized the appeal of Balanchine, when I saw his works for the first time a few years ago. I am amazed at his mastery in creating fresh vocabulary and poses. I do not get to experience his works often, even though Texas hosts a company (Metropolitan Classical Ballet) with an ex-Balanchinian at its helm. I was looking forward to Serenade for a long time. It exceeded my expectations, and reflects the genius of Balanchine. Serenade is a timeless example of creating sophistication out of simplicity. Serenade is a prime example of how space can be well used, no matter the dimensions (within limits). Serenade shows how one can evoke moods without a story.

It is strange how stillness of 18 women with arms can draw one into the piece. Each section has a unique mood - and leaves people guessing of there is a story, even though GB states that one should not seek meaning in this piece. It manages to keep an ethereal mood over all. Houston Ballet has announced its 2007-2008 season, and Serenade is in one of its mixed rep performances. I am looking forward to enjoying the piece once more. The third act of Sleeping Beauty (the second half of the program) is always fun, although I am not sure why Red Riding Hood and the Wolf were invited to the Wedding. I was especially impressed with Ashley Lynn's performance. This season, the retirement of Margot Brown has brought Ashley to the front of the stage in principal roles, and her classical work shines. Images will remain online for a few months.

‘S (a tale of possession) by Hope Stone Dance, was a surreal experience. The opening scene, draws one to the wall of shoe boxes in the background, in contrast to the pair of shoes on a pedestal. The vocabulary and choreography was definitely leaning towards the contemporary. At times I seem to understand the symbolism being communicated, and at other times I was lost. Being lost does not imply that there was no message, just that I did not have the background to appreciate the message. The most memorable sections were the beginning, and the sequence with the bird cages. The choreography was interesting and thought provoking a majority of the time. This was the first time I experienced the work of the company, and am looking forward to the next one. The unique images from the performances can be viewed for a few months.

TexARTS's Big River was a joy. Not only because Mark Twain's Huck Finn (that the musical is based on) is a great story with rich characters, but also because of the production value and performers. The music (country style) is haunting, especially the spirituals, and the emendations were wonderful. This is TexARTS's second production, and they engage quality amateurs, upcoming talent, and veterans. The set, lighting design, costumes worked well with the strong performances of the characters. It kept the musical interesting throughout, and inspired some good photos.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

January 2007

Happy New Year.

I am not a dancer, nor do I get to experience Bharatnatyam performances often. So these are my personal impressions and no more.
I prefer solo Bharatnatyam performances to group choreography, in general. I was looking forward to Ms. Vaidyanathan's kutcheri in Austin, during her USA tour in the Fall of 2006. This was the first time I experienced her work, and thoroughly enjoyed the show. Her sense of timing and rhythm was sharp. The choreography vocabulary was rooted in the classical realm, and mixed well, in an unusual/aesthetic manner. The jatis were engaging and the lack of symmetry was presented in an appealing manner. I am glad that allaripus are making a come back, and becoming more sophisticated. I remember her nritya more than her natya at this time. Her stamina was amazing. There was no intermission or costume change. She performed for around two hours straight without a major break. Ms. Vaidyanathan was supported by some wonderful musicians. The flutist was a very nice touch, instead of the more commonly hear violinist. Her mridangam player, singer, and nattuvannar worked in wonderful unison with her, to produce a wonderful show. I look forward to her next performance. The lighting was less than ideal, but her form and emotion came through in the few images I liked.

First Night is a festival, celebrating the arrival of the New Year, and Austin is the only city that organizes this event in Texas. Austin's First Night 2007was enjoyed by its residents, for the second year in a row. It was smaller (from the prospective of events and space) than last year, but as satisfying. I managed to experience most of the events I wanted to see. Images and captions can be viewed in the Events gallery.

I have been very tardy posting images from the Plano Baloon Festival and the Houston Air Show taken in the Fall of 2005. I manged to find some time to upload the photos in the last few weeks, in the Events gallery. The San Antonio Zoo is always an inspiration. During a break between assignments in the city, I tried a new lens out and got some wonderful images of a few birds. Images can be viewed in the Animals gallery.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

December 2006

Tapestry Dance Company's "The Souls of Our Feet", was to date my favorite Tapestry show. It bumped Safe and Sound. I was concerned whether I could appreciate two hours of nothing but tap, but I soon lost track of time once the show started.

The live music, Jason Amato's lighting, superb energy of the dancers, and the format kept me glued to the show. It took me a while (two pieces) to figure out what was going on. The performances began with short video clips of the tap classics (by Nicholas Brothers, Charles "Honi" Coles, Cholly Atkins, etc.) from the movies and TV shows...and would transition into the live space both musically and dancing. The short pieces, variety, changing costumes and lighting, and high energy and precision of the dancers, kept my interest throughout. Two tap legends (Sarah Petronio and Dianne Walker), graced the stage for solos and a group piece. The dancers seem very much into the pieces even during the rehearsal, which connected me to the activity much more.

The Helms Auditorium is one of my favorite venue in Austin. Its design allows a great deal of flexibility in framing images. The performance and the space, inspired me to think outside the box, and document dance and movement in unusual ways. These are some of the best images I have taken of the company.

Tapestry Dance Company will be touring this show the USA in the Fall 2007. Try and catch it if it is at a place close to you.

I have experienced two opuses of Blue Lapis Light, featuring the works of Sally Jacques. Sally's forte lies in site specific works, and Requiem is dedicated to the demise of the Intel Building shell - to be reborn as a Federal building. Since I had seen the performance twice before, and photographed it from the audience prospective, this time I opted to document the performance from the dancer's prospective. I became more sensitive to the complexity of the piece and the dedication/talent/stamina of the dancers by observing the activity and coordination behind the scenes.

Lighting design was courtesy of Mother Nature and Jason Amato. The backdrop of the Austin downtown, both, during the twilight rehearsal, and the dress rehearsal in the night resulted in an unusual prospective of the volatile Austin Downtown. I merged some images from the last performance and this run, into a larger gallery.

Texas Ballet Theater's 2006 Majestic Gala was a wonderful experience. I had not photographed at the Majestic (Dallas) for more than a year or two, and I enjoy galas a great deal, due to the variety. Ben Stevenson's Bartok was the first half, utilizing the whole company. It was an engaging piece. This was the first long contemporary piece I have seen of Mr. Stevenson, and it kept me interested throughout. It borrowed a great deal form pure classical vocabulary, while retaining a modern edge to it. I am getting the opportunity to see a lot more of Mr. Stevenson's work, and have a general handle on his classical story ballets styles. So far on the non-classical side, I find his creativity to be very broad. Most pieces I have seen so far have been quite different.

In the second half, several short pieces featuring the talents of company members, and choreographers were presented. Carolyn Judson & Thomas Kilps stared in Ben Stevenson's Harlequinade, a very sweet, high energy, romantic piece. I remember some of the vocabulary from the Jester's role in Cinderella. Kilps played the roleof the Jester. He has beautiful timing, form, and expressions. He always gives me great photos. Lonnie Weeks is not yet officially an adult (at least that is what I am told). But his dancing shows a great deal of maturity. He was absolutely stunning in Endangered Species, as a rag doll who is alive, and realizes that all around are not so. The costume, choreography, and dancing made a wonderful amalgam. Lonnie's expression under the white mask, reached out and touched the viewers. I first saw Lonnie, in his final Academy show, this summer, and was very taken by his performance. And to be made a full company member in his teens speaks volumes about his talent and potential. The Britten PDD, did not do it for me. There were moments of "ahhs", but I was unable to appreciate a lot of it. I do not know if the shifts in mood, or stronger impressions of the previous piece were the cause. Company member Peter Zweifel presented Julie Gumbinner & Lucas Priolo in Sweet n Tangy. It reminded me a lot of the European styles I see at Dance Salad. I mostly enjoyed it. The sudden change in mood between the first part of the piece and next was a bit awkward. But it was interesting once the transition passed. The Matvienkos took my breath away. It is not often that I want to stop and just watch, instead of photographing. I had seen the Don Q PDD three times in the last few months, which is a lot for me.This was by far the one I liked best. Anastasia Matvienko has amazing proportions and lines. Her sense of timing and the way she flows between to poses is stunning. Denis's technical skills and his beautiful partnering made him equally hypnotic. I do not know if this version comes closes to what the original choreographer has envisioned, but it was superbly executed. Denis opened my eyes a little more and helped me begin to appreciate the role (and characteristics) of a good male partner in classical ballet PDDs. Tim O. Keef's One, which ended the show, was a Jazzy show bring our focus to Chita Rivera. Her photo dominated the background and the all female cast, paying tribute by superbly synchronized movements, made the piece a memorable one. I had seen it at the Academy performance for the first time, but enjoyed it more this time, due to the venue and lighting. Photos from the show will be online for a few months.

Bruce Wood Dance Company is one of my favorite modern dance companies. I have only seen three performances of theirs in two years, and the last one was almost a year ago. So I was looking forward to their 2006-2007 season opener. I also wanted to test out new techniques at this performance, as I rarely get to photograph modern dance at the Bass. The company usually presents one new piece, and two older ones. Their signature vocabulary is the manner in which the arms of the dancers are used. Circular arms seems to be a favorite. The manner in which formations are used are very unique.

The September 2006 performance was my favorite so far. The show opened with a new piece, Lay your Burdens Down. Several translucent bowls containing dripping water from high above, had a Zen quality to the design of the space. Tony Tucci's lighting and the white flowing costumes worked beautifully to set and hold the mood of the choreography. Water - and its symbolism seemed to be explored, especially in its aspects of birth and rebirth. It was an evocative and a serious piece. I had not seen this side of Mr. Wood before, and it was a memorable experience. The next piece celebrated movement, and had the signature moves/poses of Mr. Wood. Colorful costumes, swift synchronized movements, and moments of activity culminating in a still pose, kept me drawn to the piece throughout. It was a difficult piece to photographer, and required a great deal of patience (and concentration) to capture just the right moments. Liturgy was the last piece, with the dancers in black costumes resembling the robes of the catholic clergy. It too had a serious and deep feel to it, but seemed to have a lighter edge than the Lay Your Burdens Down. Formations with arms and fast groups movements, ended with a beautiful image of the ascension of the soul. Photographing this one was a challenge due to the costume colors blending with the background, wide formations, and high lighting contrast.

I was shocked to hear that the company closed its doors and cancelled the rest of the season, due to financial difficulties. It was a privilege to have captured their "last" performance. I hope the company finds support and resumes its unique vision.

COMING SOON: Requiem (Revisited) & Tapestry's Souls of our Feet....

Monday, November 06, 2006

November 2006

It is not often that I get to see a variety of styles, by difference companies, on a proscenium, in a single evening. This was the first year I got to see the Weekend of Texas Contemporary dance, produced by Dance Source Houston. Last year's performance at the Miller was cancelled due to the hurricane. Well, alls I can say is that this was contemporary indeed. Most of the companies were new to me. I am familiar with Kathy Dunn Hamrick's work, since we are both based in Austin. However, I was surprised (in a nice way) by the element of the stage manager participating in the show, as well as the Angel. Lets just say Becky Vall's Static was more Dynamic, but it did not leave an impression of something different on me. The dancers were good, but the choreography seemed predictable to me. My impressions were the same with Equipoise by Victoria Loftin. I would like to see more of these two choreographer's works to understand their style better. I have wanted to see Suchu Dance for a long time, but never had the opportunity. I was looking forward to the piece. There is something different about their style, but I need to see more performances to understand their approach. Incorporating video into their performances is normal in their performances, as I understand, and it did have an interesting impact. Cadence by HMB was as engrossing as ever. This was the second time I saw the piece, and I can see it several times before I tire of it. I think I enjoyed it at the Wortham performance, more, due to the lighting of Kris Phelps, on grey marley. Dancepatheatre's Legs was intriguing - more on the way group formations were used. Trouble with Turnout, choreographed by Suzanne Oliver was a hoot, satirizing modern dance. The audio narrative blended well with the execution of the piece by Leah Bauer. Very imaginative and memorable. Stanton Welch's Fingerprints reminded me strongly of his vocabulary/sequencing from Maninyas and Divergence. HB II's dancers were very strong - and exuded the energy required of the piece. Also with all the Pointe work, as well a more structured approach, came as a pleasant change. It resulted in some dynamic photos.

Anuradha Naimpally, the artistic director of Tanjore Performing Arts, teaches Bharatnatyam in Austin, She also collaborates with local dancers. I have had the opportunity to see several of her students perform, as well as short performances by her. IN honor of her teacher visiting Austin, she gave a full length Bharatnatyam solo performance. Her slim arms, and arresting face complemented the characteristic lines of Bharatnatyam and the emotional (abhinaya) aspects of the performance. Most of the pieces were original works of her teacher, Venugopal Pillai. I was impressed by her precision, form, and stamina. The choreography was different and interesting, breaking away from the tradition symmetrical repetitions. I wish the lighting had been better. It would have given far better photos.

The second annual Tapestry of World Dance, was based on the theme of the African Diaspora. The Brazilian Arts Foundation, Kuumba House Dance Theatre, Second Generation Dance Company, UrgeWorks, and WonLandé West African Dance & Drum Company were presented in a single evening. The SGDC and Urgeworks were my favorite companies. SGDC's style seems to have been strongly influenced by Alvin Ailey's style. I found the vocabulary and flow appealing. Urgeworks, kept me engrossed throughout their piece. Their energy style, creative choreography, and coordination were enthralling. It is not often I get to see or capture this style of dance, and it was a treat.

Coming up, Texas Ballet Theater's Majestic Gala, Bruce Wood Dance Company, Requiem's second take, and few other shows.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

October 2006

Music Performances -
Theatre Performances -
Dance Performances -

Katrina:The Girl Who Wanted Her Name Back, as the name implies, is about the upheaval caused by the hurricane. The story is more layered than the name implies, with several threads exploring redemption, race, family ties, death, etc. The space is a box, with the audience on four sides, making its use a challenge. I liked the manner in which the theater was used, from the floor, to the aisles, to the doorways on the highest level. Equally imaginative was the way the orchestra is used for pieces of the dialogue. Lighting is difficult in the space, but Monique Norman did an admirable job. It worked especially well with the textures of the floor. The images are a testament. The script is well paced and engaging, and it was an enjoyable production. One factor I became very aware was the vocal quality of the actors. Since the faces of the actors were not well lit a lot of the time, I became more sensitive to the use of their voices, and the quality of their work.

Ballet Austin II's Not Afraid of the Dark is a wholesome family production that is shown frequently around Texas. This was the second time I saw the show in three years, and the light sequences are as enchanting as ever. Photographing this show is challenging, since it involves long exposure at times. But it resulted in some engaging/unusual images. The best section is the light show - and the sock puppets, showing off Tony Tucci and Stephen Mills imagination. If you get an opportunity to see the show in person, I highly recommend it. Meanwhile the images will be available for viewing until December.

C.V. Chandrashekhar, commemorated the beginning of a new performing arts institution, Natyaveda, in the DFW area. I had seen him only once when he toured close to a decade ago, with the Battery Dance Company's Purush Tour. In his lower seventies, Sir gave a commanding full blown performance without an intermission. I rarely get to see males performing bharatnatyam solos. So this was a double treat to see a doyen of the Kalakshetra in wonderful form. The main item was the Natakuranji varanam, Chalamela. I was impressed by his stamina and form. His abhinaya is more subtle than most dancers. It was a worthwhile trip to see a master who still has the magic. He gave some remarkable images, which can be viewed in the dance gallery until December.

Austin Dance Umbrella presents unique performances, usually in the modern/contemporary style, several times annually. 10 Minutes Max is the second show I photographed for them this year - and it was an interesting mix of modern styles. Groups from Austin and Houston were given...yes you guessed it... 10 showcase their works. Some opted to break up the time into two pieces, while most opted to go with a single piece. The repertory was an interesting one - from Sarah Harris's visceral piece, to Jessica Lindberg's recreation of Loie Fuller's Fire Dance.

Houston Ballet's Dracula was the first work of Mr. Stevenson, that I had difficulty photographing and appreciating. The sets, costumes, lighting were wonderful - as expected from Houston Ballet's productions, but the choreography did not touch me. The pacing dragged a little for my taste. This is not to say that the performance did not have its moments. The production quality was amazing, flying was nicely done, the vocabulary of Dracula's minion fit the character very well, and some of the PPDs were engaging. Perhaps I had too high an expectation - having heard so much about the production.

Coming up - Tapestry World of Dance, Weekend of Texas Contemporary Dance, Texas Ballet Theater Gala, second take on Blue Lapis Light's Requiem, and several other productions.