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Best of 2006: Dance (Wednesday, December 27, 2006)
10 dance events that deserve the hype
Star-Ledger Staff

Advertising and publicity drive the entertainment business like a steam-roller, shaping opinions by flattening them into conformity.

For all the marketing fireworks and gossip that precede a premiere, however, the real test comes in the darkness of the theater, where each spectator in the quiet of his soul must judge the encounter by what it makes him think and feel.

Not all this year's hot tickets flamed and sparked as promised. Some were clearly overblown, like the Broadway dance-icals "Hot Feet" and "The Times They Are A-Changin,'" and wannabe sensations like Angel Rojas and Carlos Rodríguez, the bad boys of the Nuevo Ballet Español.

Other much ballyhooed productions were fine enough, but not extraordinary, like Mark Morris' "Sylvia" and his new "Mozart Dances." "PUSH," a heralded collaboration between the great ballerina Sylvie Guillem and choreographer Russell Maliphant, turned out to be lame. This was also the year when Boston Ballet's resident choreographer, Jorma Elo, swept the ballet world off its feet, only to leave people wondering why.

Arts promoters are quick to bestow laurels even before a premiere has taken place. Yet sometimes years must elapse before the true value of an artist's work becomes apparent. This was the case with the Silver Belles, the protagonists of Heather Lynn MacDonald's wonderful documentary "Been Rich All My Life." These elderly chorus girls of the Apollo Theater, once admired for their pretty legs, have at last been recognized for their artistry and fortitude.

Here are the Top 10 dance events for 2006:

The moving "Been Rich All My Life" makes its debut at the annual Dance on Camera Festival in New York. It enjoys an extended run at the Quad Cinema there, tours nationally and comes out on DVD. (Jan. 4)

"The Kings of Dance" showcases Johan Kobborg, Angel Corella, Ethan Stiefel and Nikolai Tsiskaridze, four of ballet's most appealing stars. This lovefest at New York City Center also thrills with Flemming Flindt's psychotic dance-drama "The Lesson," while Tsiskaridze's one-man "Carmen" is a theatrical tour-de-force. (Feb. 23)

The exceptional beauty of Christopher Wheeldon's "Evenfall" smiles through the tears of a melancholy Bartók score, receiving its premiere as part of New York City Ballet's Diamond Project. Spectacularly inventive and brilliantly plotted, this blend of classical and modern styles is a masterpiece, injecting new life into the classical school. (May 10)

American Ballet Theatre's spring season came packed with sensations. David Hallberg and Veronika Part gave an inspired rendition of "Apollo" on May 27, showing us Terpsichore's fresh beauty through Apollo's adoring eyes. Marcelo Gomes combined technical prowess with a nuanced and profound characterization of Albrecht in "Giselle" on June 13, while Diana Vishneva danced with a supernatural lightness and refinement, achieving a rare moment of transcendence in Giselle's second-act variation, on June 17.

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company presents "Another Evening: I Bow Down" at Rutgers' Mason Gross School of the Arts in New Brunswick. The choreographer literally casts out demons in this uplifting piece about faith, community and our response to catastrophe. (Sept. 19)

Liz Lerman Dance Exchange presents "Small Dances About Big Ideas: Choreographer's Commentary Version" at Dance New Amsterdam in Manhattan. The choreographer quietly engages us in a difficult subject. Recalling the late Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term "genocide," Lerman gently affirms that we can all be "up-standers," not "by-standers." (Oct. 6)

The Bayanihan Philippine National Dance Company begins a string of local appearances at the Stockton Performing Arts Center in Pomona. More than just a colorful potpourri, the program honors multiple legacies with a fascinating mix of European, Asian and indigenous influences. (Oct. 26)

The New Jersey Tap Ensemble of Bloomfield offers a dazzling display of rhythm tap, combining old-time hoofing with the beauty of song in "The Duke Ellington Legacy and the Harlem Renaissance," an elaborate production at Kean University in Union. (Nov. 6)

The magnetic dancer Roxane d'Orléans Juste has attained a peak of artistry in which finely tuned physical responses combine with intimate, dramatic awareness. She was unforgettable in "Dances for Isadora" and "Day on Earth," which the Limón Dance Company presented as part of its 60th anniversary season at the Joyce Theater. (Nov. 14)

Weighted and sinuous, moving her body with the slow but forceful elasticity of a python, and at other times exploding in a barrage of light and brilliant footwork, Eva Yerbabuena is a master of traditional flamenco. Her musicality in "Eva: A Cal y Canto" at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark was highlighted in an extraordinary rhythmic dialogue with the cajón player. (Nov. 26)



  International dance visits Eisenhower (Thursday, November 16, 2006)
By Laura McCann
For The Collegian

Winter vacation may seem pretty far away, but State College residents are about to have a tropical paradise come to them.

Tonight, spectators in the Eisenhower Auditorium will take a trip to the Philippine Islands when the Bayanihan National Dance Company comes to perform.

"It's a visit to another country and flavor without leaving State College," Laura Sullivan, marketing and communications director for Center for the Performing Arts (CPA), said.

According to the company's Website, www.bayanihannationaldanceco.ph, the Bayanihan National Dance Company was founded in 1957 by Helena Benitez, one of the most notable women in the Philippines. She has created a dance company that has aroused pride among Filipinos in their cultural heritage, thus having a significant impact on her country. The dance company is the oldest one in the Philippines and is known for their elegant and sound movements as they interpret various folk dances from all over the Philippines as well as other countries, according to the Web site.

"State College is able to see an international culture without traveling -- that's the perk," Sullivan said.

Bayanihan is a Filipino term taken from the word bayan, referring to a nation, town or community. The whole term bayanihan refers to a spirit of communal unity or effort to achieve a particular objective, which, in essence, is the dance company's goal -- working together for the common good of their country and culture.

Diane Daubert, Tour Coordinator and Company Manager, said the spirit of togetherness and love of dance helps the group work together to achieve the objectives of the company, which has 45 members.

"The group is a combination of students and young professionals who love to dance and believe in the mission of preserving Philippine culture and bringing awareness of their cultural history to the world," Daubert said.

The folk traditions of the Philippines are rich and feature countless types of dances. A typical Bayanihan program includes dozens of dances divided into five sections, including works with origins in the mountain, countryside,
Spanish and Muslim traditions and showcases costumes of embroidery, seashells, satin, straw, feathers and frilled lace, she said.

The performance is part of CPA's family events series titled "Forever Young." These events are family-friendly and for all ages. According to Sullivan, there is usually a good turnout with the family events.

"We usually sell fairly well with the family programs. We expect a nice crowd for the Bayanihan performance," Sullivan said.

Like a typical program, tonight's performance features five sections. Each is a distinctive, different dance, ranging from telling the story of man's awareness of nature's colors and sounds to graceful, kaleidoscopic dances, fiestas and clashing gongs.

"It is enjoyable to everyone. It brings joy to Filipino-Americans, excitement to young children who are mesmerized and understanding to those who knew little of the Filipino culture before witnessing the performance. It is a lot of singing, dancing and colors that give you the different facets of the Filipino culture," Daubert said.

An hour before the show, there will be an informal moderated discussion featuring directors of Bayanihan's executive, artistic and costume, deputy music and dance departments. At this discussion, the directors will be able to elaborate on the company's specifics, including touring, dances and costumes.

"This is a nice little program that allows the audience to learn more about the program and the artists before they see the program," Sullivan said.

The Bayanihan company was the first Filipino group to perform on Broadway and the first non-American dance company to appear at New York City's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

According to Sullivan, the show is sure to demonstrate international dance at its finest, being an innovator in transforming indigenous dance and music into a theatrical presentation chock-full of original and visual action.

"This large company is sure to put on a fun, colorful, athletic and traditional folk dance program full of Philippine culture that is entertaining for everyone," Sullivan said.

Daubert said there are so many reasons to see performance from other countries.

She believes it's important for everyone, especially college students, to experience other things from around the world.

"Knowing other cultures broadens your horizons and your understanding. You learn that there are other people around the world who think just like you. We want people to understand that we have the same dream for the future, of peace, love and unity, that every-one, American, Spanish, German, Filipino, Australian, or so on, does," Daubert said.



  Folkloric fun from the Philippines (Saturday, October 28, 2006)
Star-Ledger Staff


For centuries the Philippines have been visited by sea-faring merchants, who came to profit from the islands' riches, and by conquerors, who stayed to rule. Lucky audiences don't need to make the journey, however, since Bayanihan, the Philippine National Dance Company, brings its country's wealth with it on tour.

The troupe began a string of local appearances on Thursday at the Stockton Performing Arts Center in Pomona and continues with upcoming performances in Princeton and Newark. Bayanihan's program offers a colorful panoply of dance, music and acrobatics, drawing on the traditions of indigenous peoples, Spanish settlers and traders from Southeast Asia, to produce a wondrously varied spectacle. Although Bayanihan can be compared to folk dance troupes from Russia and Mexico, this company has a fascinating repertoire and a gracefully seductive manner all its own.

The evening begins simply, portraying the origins of music as naked savages learn the secrets of rhythm. It doesn't take long for this art to develop into a collective pursuit, and soon women are shaking bunches of dried sheaves like pompoms and dancing on bamboo mats that serve as musical instruments when struck with wands. A clog dance and a Spanish-flavored number where men play crotales and stamp their feet to a jota rhythm extend the percussive theme.

Energetic musicians in the orchestra pit create a rich musical texture with gongs, metallophones, guitars and various kinds of string and wind instruments. Soprano Mary Anne Luis appears onstage to perform sentimental ditties from the Spanish colonial songbook, while her warbling coloratura becomes the comic focus of a bustling marketplace scene.

The Spanish dances are proud and glamorous, in which the women manipulate shawls and kick the trains of their long dresses as they turn. In the dances of Asian influence, the performers bend forward, extending a scarf that wraps around the neck. As in the classical dances of Southeast Asia, the women's palms and fingers curl backward on flexed wrists and the body adopts a serpentine stance. In a compelling solo, dancer Nikki Meneses keeps her gestures in harmonious opposition and her shoulders pulled back proudly.

While the beauty of this solo is tightly concentrated, many of Bayanihan's numbers are flamboyant. Bayanihan offers richly costumed processionals; a tribal war dance in which a frenzied leader incites his followers to join him in the madness of combat; poetic reveries in which candles glimmer in the darkness; and dazzling exhibitions of skill.

A specialty of the Philippines is a dance performed by skipping in and out of the space that opens suddenly between two bamboo poles before they come crashing together. Although the poles follow a predictable rhythm, like a jump rope, this dance seems far more dangerous. Miraculously, no one's ankles are shattered.

Other numbers are pure fun, and the smiles on the faces of the gossipy crowd that assembles in "People Under the Sun," the village fete that closes the program, are sure to be contagious.


Robert Johnson writes about dance for The Star-Ledger. He may be reached at rjohnson@starledger.com.


  Dance company inventively frenetic

You don't have to be a die-hard dance fan to fall in love with The Bayanihan Philippine National Dance Company.

The group's Tuesday evening performance at Artemus Ham Hall -- part of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Performing Arts Center's New York Stage & Beyond series -- was an exciting and varied theatrical experience. It felt part Broadway musical, part concert and part raw folklore.

Bayanihan refers to the Filipino tradition of working together for the common good. The program gave us six segments that celebrated the interaction of people with each other and the land.

If that sounds a tad high-toned, well, rest assured the show was a crowd-pleaser. It takes a hard heart to not respond on some level to vivid colors, inventively frenetic staging and choreography -- by Ferdinand D. Jose -- that somehow combines elegance with broad humor and genuine feeling. It took us on a journey through the early history of man, four centuries of Spanish-European dance influence, and a modern village enjoying a fiesta.

While interpretative movement was, of course, the show's main method of storytelling, the young, 25-member cast -- accompanied by seven onstage musicians -- proved equally adept at singing and dramatic attitude.

A musical production number featuring a slew of multicultured merchants hawking their wares had all the grandeur and sweep of traditional European opera.

A vignette involving two men vying for the attention of a beautiful woman had modern-drama power.

And the exuberant athleticism of choral numbers celebrating the human spirit suggested the gut-busting optimism of an American musical in the "Oklahoma!" mode.

Director Suzie Moya Benitez paid wise, careful attention to the technical aspects of the show. The stage was always dazzling to look at. The production made it easy to understand why this was the first Filipino group to ever perform on Broadway, and the first non-American dance company to perform at Lincoln Center.

The only major downer was that none of the cast members was mentioned in the program notes. We got the names of 11 behind-the-scenes folk, but not one of the talents who were up onstage busting their butts. I wanted to know who these artists are. They deserve the respect of acknowledgment.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125. 

Hi Zen!
I truly did not like the article. It was not a solid commentary for me.  I think the writer missed so much on the nuance of the dances presented.  One who does not understand Philippine folk dancing is not equipped to make critical comments.  I sincerely believe that a good critic must see all angles.  The writer made a comparison with Silayan and Kayamanan Ng Lahi.  Personally, I did not see any close or near comparison with Bayanihan.  Dancers born and raised here will never ever reach the true definition of Philippine folk dancing.

I feel a lot closer with Bayanihan.  Though there's emphasis in precision and colors,  I still find the troupe to be at its best;  great ambassadors of a nation ailing economically,  spiritually and asking to have a place in the heart of Americans.  Based from what I saw at Pepperdine University,  the dancers connected with the students and young people in general.  There was no pretense.  They were themselves and they did dances beautifully.  I thank you, Zen, for giving my school the opportunity to see the troupe.  It was you who got us connected with Pepperdine University.  And, because of you- the  children have a different perspective of what Philippines is all about.  What they see on T.V. did not justify what they saw onstage.  It was, indeed, a great opportunity and experience for the students to witness the beautiful soul of a nation through the lyrical and not so lyrical movements.

Thanks, Zen.


Josefina Solomonsonm
Hi Ms. Benitez,

Roy Arcinas our Laboratory Information System Coordinator mentioned to me that he met you at the church in Parsippany, New Jersey.  I had told him that I was going to see the Bayanihan at NJPAC on the 28th of
October with my American girlfriend.  She asked me about the different dances especially the tribal and although I am a Fil-Am I was at a loss for their origins.  Some of them I was not familiar at all.  All I can say
to her was that you guys do research on Philippine culture and these were the fruits of your endeavor.   She was awed at the splendid performance and totally enjoyed the whole evening presentation.  Congratulations on a job well done.


Stephen S. Mercado, MPA, MT(ASCP)
Administrative Director of Laboratory
Bergen Regional Medical Center, L.P.
230 East Ridgewood Avenue
Paramus, NJ 07652
Tel. (201) 967-4062
Fax (201) 967-4092



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