Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Stars of American Ballet at the Lensic

Good luck keeping up with Daniel Ulbricht, creator of the Stars of American Ballet, the company which appeared in two different programs this past weekend at Santa Fe in the Lensic Theatre. Let's start with the fact that Daniel's been a principal dancer at New York City Ballet since 2007, which might be enough aspirations for some dancers. But Daniel decided to form a touring company, with the intention of bringing ballet to many American locations, far and wide. By connecting with the Santa Fe Concert Association who funded the endeavor, Daniel was able to bring these works to our local audiences.

In true outreach fashion, his Saturday wasn't spent in a hot tub, recovering from the Friday night performance. Instead, he taught master class for intermediate and advanced dance students at the National Dance Institute that day, which the students attended for free due to SFCA's sponsorship. Then, it was back to the theatre, where Daniel gave a pre-performance discussion for the audience. With minutes to spare before curtain, he dashed backstage to perform in the two act program, and afterwards? When the curtain closed, Daniel stayed late to come out into the house, talk with fans and take photos... he's that gracious.

While talking to the audience before the show, Daniel spoke first about how the Stars of American Ballet came to be -- we can thank his mother as it turns out, thank you Mama Ulbricht -- and fielded questions as varied as, "How does the altitude affect you as a dancer?" (quite a bit, as we locals might guess) to "How do you cast your ballets?" The process of casting from several New York companies for the tour involved a lot of juggling schedules with his fellow dancers, as well as discussing which parts dancers were familiar with already, requiring less rehearsal time. Even the sailor's cap, a significant part of the men's Fancy Free costumes which comprised Act Two, was included in the talk as Daniel shared how the way each dancer wears his hat allows him to tell something about his character.

Photo provided by Santa Fe Concert Association
Different programs appeared for their Friday and Saturday evening performances, and Saturday's first act contained five different pieces, all short visions of what "ballet" can be. In his talk, Daniel discussed crafting a program that satisfies different audience members' expectations of "going to the ballet." In the first act, if you needed toe shoes and avante garde pointe technique, you got plenty of that in Liturgy. Choreographed for City Ballet by Christopher Wheeldon and performed by Rebecca Krohn (soloist, NYCB) and Jared Angle (principal, NYCB) you can practically see the Balanchine DNA in the shapes and weight bearing pas de deux that immediately brought Four Temperaments to my mind. As the dancers finish the dance in silence, the effect is indeed haunting.

If you needed a strong storyline, Lauren Lovette (corps, NYCB) and Robert Fairchild (principal, NYCB) in the Carousel pas de deux satisfied, with the conflict of the relationship coming through strongly. Daniel's own solo in Sunshine was one of my favorite surprises on the program, a delicious piece that was over just as I was craving much more. And for those needing a tutu moment to know they had been to the ballet, there was of course Giselle's romantic tutu in the pas de deux danced by Stella Abrera (soloist, American Ballet Theatre) and Sascha Radetsky (soloist, ABT). Rock Steady, a pas de cinq, finished off the first act on an upbeat note, with Tiler Peck (principal, NYCB) carrying a huge choreographic load and dancing nearly nonstop as the three males entered and left throughout the piece.

Ulbricht, taking photos with fans afterwards
Fancy Free, presented in its entirety, comprised Act Two and relies not only on the dancers' ability to move, but to bring their characters to life through the story that is told. Relying on the age-old humor of the peculiarities of humans trying to impress each other, the sailors' trio (Robert Fairchild, Daniel Ulbricht, and Sascha Radetsky) interact with the female passers-by (Stella Abrera, Tiler Peck and Rebecca Krohn) and it's hard not to smile -- my cheeks hurt at times -- at what Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein have left for us to enjoy.

It's difficult not to fall into superlatives when trying to capture the dancers' artistry in every piece presented. For a balletomane such as myself, to compare soloists & principals from our country's greatest ballet companies is like comparing brownies... they are all so good you can only gush over how much you loved it, and how you wanted more. Lucky for me, when all was said and done Daniel was kind enough to take one more photo... it was the cherry on top of a delicious evening of dance.

For future Santa Fe Concert Association events, you can visit their website at

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Sophia Retreat at Pomegranate Studios

What does it mean to be an "artist"? Where does inspiration come from? Can you heal by expressing your art? The Sophia Retreat, an upcoming event hosted by Pomegranate Studios this fall, is meant to assist women in finding their own answers, as well as their own artistic expressions, in both poetry and dance forms.

Named Sophia, recalling ancient feminine wisdom, the retreat is envisioned by creator Myra Krien, owner of Pomegranate Dance Studios, as a call to awaken each individual, and using art as a means to seek that wisdom from within. "Bellydance has as a power to heal," Myra avows, and the retreat is an opportunity to delve deeply into that sophic process, using poetry and dance to question our predetermined ideas of who we are, and ideally, realigning ourselves with our true purpose.

The studio's highly successful SEEDs adolescent program for Self Esteem, Empowerment and Education through Dance -- which now has over a dozen programs internationally, including Canada and Mexico -- is based in belly dance instruction, but includes an emphasis on tackling body issues, self esteem, media literacy, nutrition, financial literacy and one's responsibility to give back to the community. When grown women requested a retreat for themselves similar to the teens', the Sophia Retreat answered that need, but places emphasis on the spoken word, and dance.

Presenters Myra and Jennifer Ferraro, a talented drummer, belly dancer, and poet, have collaborated together for over 14 years, although this is their first mutual retreat. Having used live music, Jennifer's poetry and Myra's choreography in years past, they hope this time to use those same creative beginnings to inspire others.

Journaling, writing exercises, and movement exercises help each attendant to create their own body of work during the retreat, including speaking and dancing the work, for those who are interested in having a performance experience. If you want to re-energize your inner artist, kick start some goal setting, and create a new vision for yourself, plan now! Spaces are limited to insure each individual gets plenty of one on one attention.

The retreat is scheduled October 3-6 in Santa Fe, NM, and more information can be found at or by calling (505) 986-6164.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hedda Gabler at the Aux Dog Theatre

The plight of the entitled Hedda Gabler, a role considered by some to be so complex it's been called a female version of Hamlet, is a difficult space to occupy onstage. She is neither particularly heart warming, nor endearing, and yet the pressures of her world must become related in some modern way. The version currently playing at the Aux Dog Theatre is an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's original work, done by Brian Friel, and echoes the original just enough while allowing the characters to remain current.

Set in 1962, in WASP-y Massachusetts, Hedda's struggle as a misunderstood housewife echoes the social restrictions of that pre-hippie era, as well as silently pointing to current issues facing women today, reminding the audience of what has and has not changed. The lead role, played by Sheridan Kay Johnson, is a tightrope of bitchiness, cruelty and disdain, tinged with boredom and frustration. Standing in doorways, she often finds herself unable to cross that threshold into the next great thing she imagines for herself, and for her husband, the coolly cerebral academic, George Tesman, played by Brennan Foster. George,"the anchor,"  is no match to Hedda's manipulations, but must give the impression of authority and competence if he is to advance in his professorship, and meet the demands that Hedda, and that society at large, places upon him.

Ambivalent to her expected motherhood, others' ebullience on the issue only needles Hedda as she watches the personal triangles around her, and those of her own making as well, stewing. When Hedda confronts Thea Elvsted, who continually seems to inspire men to their own great destinies, she finds the root of her own demon... although fearful of scandal, Hedda's need to act upon her darker impulses keeps bubbling up. Evening Star Barron finds Thea's quirky charms to play up and only sharpens Hedda's claws with her own innocence. As Hedda's choices begin to dwindle once her grasps for power become compromised, her ultimate choice becomes clear to her, building the show to a highly climactic ending.

Directed by Jessica Osbourne, the production marks her directorial debut at the Aux Dog, and the cast as a whole functions at times like cogs in the wheel, each another piece of the puzzle that is Hedda. As George's foil, the bohemian Eilert Loevberg, played quite convincingly by Ron Weisberg, is everything that George is not... reckless, passionate, self-destructive. Perhaps the only match to Hedda's wit comes from Judge Brack, played by Daniel Caimi, and is one of the few characters to face Hedda's barbs with a sense of indulgence rather than fear.

Playing with firearms, as well as with reality and perceptions, the show is at times funny and at others bitterly cruel, ascerbic and yet still palatable. For tickets and information online, visit or call 505-254-7716. This theatre is intimate and although tickets are available at the door, advance reservations are always recommended. The show is playing until September 1 so get to it. Hashtag for the show? #Jumbo

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Great Corn Dance at Kewa/Santo Domingo Pueblo

This is a truly, uniquely New Mexican expression of art and spirituality and because photos are forbidden, I will describe instead the day I spent witnessing this event. To "review" it would be profane, instead I would share my first time experiencing it, and encourage everyone to visit next year if you can.

The Great Corn Dance is performed annually by the people of the Santo Domingo Pueblo, once called Kewa, located about 40 miles north of Albuquerque. Regardless of the day of week, it occurs on August 4th each year, the Feast Day when the statue of St. Dominic is brought from the church to a place of honor in the pueblo's plaza to dance for, and this year our July rains made the morning drive lovely and surprisingly green. I was with a group of women who are attending the Wise Woman Retreat, a dance workshop hosted by Amaya, although I have only been around peripherally to offer henna art to the retreat ladies, and to accompany them to the Corn Dance. Amaya arranged for us to leave at 8 am, arriving early and getting us to the reservation in plenty of time to see the first of the dances.

What a culture clash the moment of arrival is... there are carnival rides, and state fair-esque booths & food vendors on one side, and the old pueblo church and open plaza on the other. It is a juxtaposition that only takes moments to reconcile. We made our way in to get a good seat (on the ground, or if no room, then standing) and the sun was already strong enough to coax trickles of sweat down my back. The dancers? They were amazing to watch. I expected to see 40-60. Instead there were hundreds, men and women from toddlers to elders, teenagers and parents.

What strikes you first is the sound, the drums and the chanting & singing of the men, almost entirely dressed in white and congregated in one area, far from the crowds and in the midst of the dancers. The bells of the male dancers chime in percussive unison as they move, waving pine tree boughs in each hand and dressed in ceremonial regalia. Men also carry gourd rattles that are used with the drums but only occasionally, and always with a swooping gesture as they rattle. I am told, by another wise woman, that to call their wear "costumes" is to insult. But the performer in me noticed how the men wore white loincloths, bare chested but painted in brown paints, and the women wore black dresses, with great deals of turquoise jewelry, their hair left down and flowing. Some danced barefoot and some wore moccasins. Some women also had wooden cutouts they wore on their heads, painted turquoise colored, and most of the men had feathers attached to their heads.

The male dancers wore leather armbands also painted turquoise, stuffed top and bottom with more pine boughs, and running this way and that, in and amongst the dancers were the "mud clowns" as Amaya told me they were called, also known as koshari, kureans, and koyemshi. Using clay, these men were painted white with black dots over their mostly naked bodies, and they are considered sacred figures who interact unlike any other in the ceremonial dances. They are sacred clowns, and carry a special authority. With a loincloth and corn husks gathered atop their heads, the mud clowns would assist the dancers as they moved. Because the dancers never stop, it is up to the mud clowns to adjust a belt that has come loose, or to retrieve anything that falls off the dancers as they move. They would often just lift the hair of the men and women, as if to adjust it for them more comfortably. Fascinating!

The choreographer in me noticed the patterns of the dance, a step-hop for the men and modified by most of the women into a daintier step-touch, in unison to the pounding drums. Arms alternated, waving the pine boughs they held, they often kept their focus down. The chains of bells around the men's shoulders and chests shook with every bounce, and never ever do the dancers make eye contact with the crowd. You don't smile at them (at least I tried not to) and you never applaud, nor speak encouragement after the dance is complete.

Feeling woozy from standing nearly 20+ minutes in the direct sun -- imagine how the dancers felt and it was hardly even 10 am -- I slipped away from the plaza at the first dance's completion to find a bite to eat at the vendors. This might as well be a food blog, because I ate roasted corn on the cob, found a pack of beef jerky sliced so thin it could melt on your tongue, and drank the biggest cup of horchata I could find. Amaya got the coconut flavored drink and said hers was divine. There were many jewelry booths, but I wasn't there for jewelry.

I returned to discover the next clan had come out and was already well into their opening dance, who knew? In fact, members of the squash and the turquoise clans alternate all day, taking breaks in between so each clan can rest. The hundreds of dancers I had just witnessed was only half the number of overall performers! The scale was so much bigger than I had expected. The heat was growing intense, with very little shade, and indeed the dancers were covered in rivulets of sweat already themselves. The stage manager in me worried about what would happen if someone (dancer or even tourist) fainted from heat exhaustion. Sure enough, there are multiple emergency heath units set up in the periphery of the event grounds all day. The sun was climbing high by this point, and we were only staying for half the day.

Walking around, I see one tourist lady tell another tourist lady who is talking on her cell phone, "You better put that away! They'll take it away from you!" It's true. This "no pictures, no videos, no cell phones, and no sketch books" rule is seriously in force. This is a religious performance, first and foremost, and I was discreet while taking notes all day, keeping my notebook and pen in my purse. Old Skewl Journalist.

Later we walked by the kiva, Amaya tells me it is a sacred space where only the boys and men are allowed. Men sit on top of it, around it, and give proprietary looks to all who pass by. I am so nervous to possibly offend, I skirt the thing entirely. She directs me to the plaza, where a shrine has been placed at one end, under which is presumably the statue of St. Dominic. Not only do I go nowhere even remotely near the shrine area, I am mortified I might be sitting in the wrong gutter for the upcoming dances, but Amaya assures me we're fine. She's been here more years than she can count she tells me. I'm thankful for my horchata, clutched in my hands, and the sliver of shade we squeeze into, while sitting on the dirt. I'm mortified all over again that maybe my shorts are too short? I'm told by another woman, "Your butt isn't showing or anything! You're fine!" I probably worry too much.

The next dance begins as the clan fills the plaza, and the squash clan has ever so slightly different regalia, but is for the most part similar to their turquoise counterparts, minus the arm bands and such. A corn banner is raised and paraded about in the dancers' midst all day, and as I sit on the ground, literally feet away from the dancers now, I can feel the drums and the pounding steps shake the earth. It makes me teary, and for a while I let myself be overwhelmed.

Before leaving, Amaya says we should visit the church, which I wholeheartedly agree to. Fascinating, having seen the lavish European churches, gilded and adorned with priceless artwork done by Renaissance masters... just sitting in the small adobe structure here gives me a sense of peace that the cathedrals of my past never provided. The stations of the cross are depicted in paintings hung around the chapel walls. There is an alter area that is roped off and we sit in the wooden pews to rest. The longer I sit, the more I see. Statutes of Mary, pictures of the Madonna and child, saints with their outstretched arms adorn the tops of the wooden altar. Painted on the wall there is a simple sun, moon and corn drawing. Like the carnival and corn dance, the pueblo and the priest find a way to coexist in this space, and give shape and meaning to what outsiders like me find contrary.

When we leave at noon, there is a 3 MILE line of cars waiting to get in. Although many dances will occur the rest of the day, our group had splintered off to find treasures from vendors, bites to eat, and memories to share once we had come together again.

To see the Great Corn Dance on the feast day of St. Dominic next August 4th, head north on I-25 to exit 259. Learn from Amaya and go early! You don't wanna sit in that traffic backup, it made the balloon fiesta traffic jams look like a typical day at the mall. Remember to leave your cell phone in your purse, and enjoy the day that is being shared for all to celebrate.