Sunday, February 13, 2011


                                                                                           Photo by Nancy Condit
                                         Posing after the pre-performance talk are the choreographer
                                         Jessica Lang of "Voila," the artistic director of OKC Ballet
                                         and choreographer Robert Mills of "Pushing Pennies," and
                                         restager Maia Wilkins for The Gerald Arpino Trust Fund for
                                         "Light Rain."                                                                                                                      

By Nancy Condit

A completely new ballet company appeared in the Masters and Moderns program presented by Oklahoma City Ballet Saturday night at the Civic Center.  It was crisp, it was new. and it was terrific.  It built further on the lovely steps the company has taken since its reorganization, and presented a company of well trained dancers that has found its place with “Voila!” by Jessica Lang, “Light Rain” by Gerald Arpino, co-founder of the Joffrey Ballet, and “Pushing Pennies” by artistic director Robert Mills.  Lang and Mills presented world premiere works.
This does not mean that these should replace the ballets that already have a home in the company’s repertoire – including the story ballets of Oklahoma City Ballet’s Jacob Sparso’s like Phantom of the Opera introduced this season, artistic director Mills’ annually anticipated The Nutcracker, and classical ballets like Giselle.  It does mean that the nearly full house Saturday evening also enjoyed this aspect of ballet, with three standing ovations.  It is lovely to see more of the range of ballet from the 19th century to contemporary ballets to some edgier works in Oklahoma City, which is what Mills set out to do in presenting works that show the progress of ballet from the 1960’s to now.  Money and time being what they are, frequent trips to New York City, etc. are not realistic for most audience members.  Bringing some of those works here, including the works of active choreographers, is a very appreciated part of art, dance and life.

The world premiere of artistic director Robert Mills' “Pushing Pennies” was the outstanding dance of the evening.  In the contemporary point ballet, a fluid metallic copper clad woman wearing a tutu in a disc shape, danced by Grace Medaugh, started the piece to the music of Philip Glass’  Prologue,  Song no. 2 & Movement IV from the Glass Violin Concerto #2 and the dance ended with the choreography driving the dancers to Glass’ equally compelling music “Mishoma” from his String Quartet #3.  It was an extremely effective end to a very good dance by Mills.
Medaugh, who danced on point in curves, was followed by Tye Love, whose moves were more angular.  The third piece was a fluid pas de deux, clearly based on the familiar classical form, danced by Stephanie Foraker-Pitts and David Barocio.  Heads swiveled, and arms curved from the shoulders to fingertips. When she leapt into a lift behind his back, the move was so beautiful that this reviewer wanted to cry.  In the final section the dancers moved intricately in small groups in chess-like moves on the stage marked like a checkerboard.
“Pushing Pennies” is based on work Mills presented in last season’s Thr3e by Thr3e.  As Mills explained in his talk before the show, and wrote in the program, “The dancers entrances, exits and where they dance on stage were selected by drawing a number from 1-20.  Each number represented a quadrant onstage or a wing leading to the offstage.  Their movements phrases were then manipulated depending on where the number they drew told them to go.”  The costumes were designed by Mills and Oklahoma City based Michael Jones, with lighting by Dale Hall.

The world premiere created for the Oklahoma City Ballet by Jessica Lang for her piece “Voila!” was a charming, lighthearted contemporary ballet of folk dances.   Yann Tiersen’s music sounded very Neapolitan. The dramatic beginning of dancers in ballet shoes silhouetted against a light background quickly opened to groups dancing and evolving into circle dances.  At one point two women swung the man in the middle off his feet – a nice touch of the new without being edgy.  In Ronnie Underwood’s lift of Miki Kawamura with her arms around his neck, Kawamura faced out – another very effective touch of contemporary ballet well within the familiar dance form.  In the dance’s fourth section, the dancers’ curved arms and hands fell to hip level during turns, giving the dancers turns a very effective swirling look.  Audrey Johnston, with Stephanie Foraker-Pitts and Jerry Pines did some curtain play, with just their legs showing – perhaps a tribute to the late Merce Cunningham. The stage design and lighting were done by Lang and Dale Hall, and the costumes by Lang and Michael Jones.  Lang is a New York based freelance choreographer who has created more than 73 works on companies, including Joffrey Ballet.

Gerald Arpino’s “Light Rain,” on point, began with a very striking pyramid of 14 dancers reaching up to the yellow dappled light that bathed them. This was Thomas Skelton’s original lighting, and the costume design of skin colored leotards was by A. Christina Giannini.  It was restaged by Maia Wilkins, from the Joffrey Ballet, and who also danced with them for 18 years. Arpino, co-founder of the Joffrey, created this dance, premiered in 1981, for the Joffrey Ballet’s silver anniversary. It went from the opening pyramid to splitting Darli Iakoleva more than suspended between two male dancers.  The men were much more formal, but David Barocio, towards the dance’s end, undulated and swiveled fabulously.  Mills, in the pre-performance talk, referred to the dance as “sexy.”  It was.  At the end, the dancers seemed to ride the waves of light on  Martha Graham’s pelvic contractions.  In the program, Arpino is quoted, “It is my gift to the artists of the Eighties.  I am inspired by their modes and rituals, their passions.”  Iakoleva was elegant, precise and excellent.  Again, Underwood showed his strength as a partner.  The company was great.  
George Balanchine’s “Valse-Fantaisie,” was choreographed in 1967. It was restaged by Jessica Gattinella from The George Balanchine Trust. The neo-classical ballet was danced well by lead Miki Kawamura, but the dance, based on the lighter court dances of the 18th century, was not the best this reviewer has seen this company do in uniformity and the precision of such a dance.  Underwood partnered  well.  This is a dance to look forward to again as the company becomes more comfortable with it.
c. Nancy Condit

                                                                                    Photo by Nancy Condit
                                  Ice and snow on Lake Hefner at sunset.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Carl V. Moore Trio will be presented in the upcoming Soul Food Dinner Theater on Saturday,
February 26th at the Petroleum Club, 34th floor, 100 N. Broadway in downtown Oklahoma City.  An all you can eat soul food buffet begins at and the show starts at

The Trio consists of bassist, Mike McKinney, an Oklahoma native who has toured and recorded with greats like the Jacksons, Ray Charles and Ronnie Laws.  McKinney was scheduled to play with Michael Jackson during his world tour before his untimely death.  He is the son of the well-known late June McKinney and her husband Temple McKinney.  New York drummer Quentin Hicks, an acclaimed producer of such hits as “Let the Music Play,” will thrill audiences as he adds his drumming skills to the trio.  Pianist and composer Carl V. Moore’s credits include recording with Reverend James Cleveland on the Grammy nominated, “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired,” and performing backup vocals for Janet Jackson, Paul Jackson Sr., Chuck Berry and the band Rufus. “The Carl V. Moore Trio is set to release its first single on GJN Records this year and will tour their electrifying performances in cities across the country!” wrote Anita Arnold, executive director of BLAC, Inc. in her press release.

Tickets are on sale now for $55 and may be purchased at Capitol Square Station, Charlie’s Jazz, Rhythm & Blues Store, Hopkins Haircare, KM66, and Learning Tree Toys and Books, or may be purchased through BLAC, Inc. using VISA, MasterCard, check or cash.  For more information, call BLAC, Inc. at

This concert is funded in part by the Ad Astra Foundation and the Oklahoma Arts Council.
 From the press release


Oklahoma City Ballet’s Masters and Moderns will feature four different ballets by four different choreographers at , Saturday, February 12, and Sunday, February 13 at the Civic Center Music Hall.  A choreographer’s lecture on Saturday night starts at with artistic director and choreographer Robert Mills, choreographer Jessica Lang, and Maia Wilkins from the Arpino Trust.  A “Kids Kamp,” where children can try on costumes and learn basic dance movements prior to the matinee, is at Sunday.

Oklahoma City Ballet will present two master works from two of the 20th century’s most influential choreographers, and two new world premiere’s from two talented artists who are making names for themselves in 21st century dance.   This is an  opportunity for Oklahoma audiences to experience ballet and its current evolution.
George Balanchine’s classic ballet Valse Fantaisie was first created in 1967 on the New York City Ballet and is a whirl of perpetual motion.  This is the first time the Oklahoma City Ballet has performed a piece by Balanchine since 1993.  Audiences will be treated to a beautiful but technically demanding ballet, with fast, light music composed by Mikhail Glinka.
Created in 1981 on the Joffrey Ballet, Gerald Arpino’s Light Rain is a slick and energetic ensemble work capturing a youthful and exuberant spirit in contemporary movement.  Mills chose it for the company because it highlights youth and energy, which meshes so perfectly with the talent of the current company of dancers.  The music is composed by Doug Adamz and Russ Gauthier. The Oklahoma City Ballet will be the first company to dance Light Rain outside of the Joffrey Ballet.
Jessica Lang is one of ballets’ most sought after choreographers, having created work for the American Ballet Theater and Pennsylvania Ballet among many others.  Lang will create a world premiere on the dancers of Oklahoma City Ballet for this program.
 Lang will be one the 21st centuries’ most influential dance artists.”
 “Lang has established a reputation for concocting ingenious choreographic interactions between dancing bodies.” Kansas City Star. 
The evening's most breathtaking work” – Chicago Sun Times

A new work from Artistic Director Robert Mills using the music of Philip Glass finishes out this exciting evening of classic and modern repertory.

From the press release

Friday, February 4, 2011


By Nancy Condit

The University of Oklahoma’s School of Dance’s annual Young Choreographers’ Showcase was a pleasurable, polished evening of ballet and modern dance by one graduate and eight undergraduate students.  The performance was held last Saturday evening, under the supervision of faculty members Steve Brule and Holly Schmidt and OU School of Dance Director Mary Margaret Holt, in Holmberg Hall in the Reynolds Performing Arts Center.

Master of Fine Arts candidate Kerri Lambert’s “Translucent Crescendo” was one of the more memorable, polished and fluid dances.  The on point contemporary ballet began with a shaking hand and partial arm extending from the black curtains at stage left,  In trunks so light he appeared unclad, one dancer stood still as darkly hooded and floor length caped dancers ran and walked from one side of the stage to the other and around him.  They gradually shed their robes, until the last caped dancer was uncaped, and, finally, had her head unshrouded.  All wore pale grey leotards for the women, and trunks for the men, which accented their elegant poise.  At the ballet’s end, the house lights snapped on as the dancers appeared suddenly, and still, throughout the house – on the stage, in the audience, even in the balcony. The only question this reviewer has is whether there is another way to light the dancers at the end since the overall lights were so brilliant – perhaps by individual spots?  Costume design was by Lambert, and lighting design was by Curtis Marxen.

Quoting from the press release, the work is based on a poem “written by Rainer Maria Rilke…  Lambert says, ‘The end of the poem shocks you with the statement: “You must change your life.”… It is the aesthetic of surprise that is so intriguing.’  The work is based on the surrealistic attraction to dreams.” The music for “Translucent Crescendo” was from Russian Seasons by Leonid Desnatnikov.  The ballet was presented in partial fulfillment of her requirements for MFA in Dance.

Terra Easter’s contemporary ballet Raw Lace started with a sinuous tango, and went into an on pointe tango in which the man lifted the woman over his head.  She rolled down his back and ended standing on the floor.  This may be becoming a more familiar move, but it’s still very impressive.

Brianna Anderson’s modern dance Salanguadou, based on the song of the same name by an unknown composer, was danced in the long full skirted dresses made famous by Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey, with three figures clad in white African like dresses and head wraps. Even thought there was the deeper meaning of the dancers seeking guidance from ancestors, this was a piece in which the viewers could simply “be” – a piece in which the dance was enjoyed for the dance.

In Mark Brett Young, II’s Coupons dancers performed to the folk song that talks about what they were going to buy with coupons – like wives.  The funny, enjoyable barefoot dance in coveralls for the men and day dresses for the hill women, energetically celebrated the variety of American country dance, including moves from square dancing.

Mario Romero’s You May Never See Them Again and Anna Claire Brunelli’s Animorphs are both well-done angular modern dance pieces.  In Romero’s piece, set to music by The Books, the dancers rise from their backs like reversed crabs and scuttle across the stage to a bird call and mechanical noises.  In the engrossing dance, they stand upright as one dances alone, white legs highlighted, clad in long sleeved leotards.  In Animorphs a woman is curled through a man’s legs as he walks.  They join the other two dancers, in a centipede-like form, and peel off, forming other creatures in this piece that looks at evolution.

Christopher Frazier’s Emancipation, while exploring slavery and it’s effects in the 1800’s, 1940’s, and now, says the piece is about freedom – “The ultimate goal is learning how to let go of technique and really experience the intimate and personal feeling that is dance.”

Molly Faith Jackson’s You, choreographed to George Gershwin’s Embraceable You, was a very pleasant modern dance that incorporated ballet moves into a traditional favorite.   It was effectively performed, with the dancers clad in a short black slip rehearsal dress for her, and a v-neck grey t-shirt and black leotard pants for him.  This was Jackson’s debut piece.

Adryan Moorefield’s Involution opened with a single dancer working slowly as the other five dancers ran back and forth – very effective.  The single dancer’s costume was brilliant aqua trunks, with an aqua belt like that worn by weight lifters.  Most of the dance’s work was done standing, with an emphasis on turns.  The piece was very enjoyable with a great variety of moves.

The lighting was supportive for all of the dances.  This reviewer didn’t find herself wondering where the dancers were, or why parts of their bodies couldn’t be seen.