Northrop features eclectic dance styles

by V. Paul

Although his father had been exiled to Siberia before he was born, Boris Eifman overcame tundra and toe-shoes to become one of Russia’s leading ballet talents and choreographers.
At about the same time, Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil’s revolutionary renovation of Brazilian music resulted in his exile to London in 1969, only for him to return to become one of Latin America’s leading social activists and bossa-nova rock and rollers.
Both Eifman’s gesture-filled pases de deux and Gil’s United States samba-funk-pop debut will storm Northrop Memorial Auditorium’s stage for its 1999-2000 dance and jazz season. In addition, University performing arts enthusiasts will be treated to six other jazz performers and seven more dance companies.
“The criteria I am using for the whole year is to try to find a mix of different styles,” said Dale Schatzlein, Northrop director. “I’m always picking up knowledge of who’s out there and what they’re doing. It’s a continual process of monitoring what’s out there.”

Crossing the pond
Europe’s artists will grace the stage for the first half of Northrop’s dance season, opening with Belgium’s contemporary choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and her dance company Rosas.
France’s Lyon Opera Ballet and the Stuttgart Ballet from Germany will follow, bringing their respective strengths to Twin Cities audiences: balletic theatricality from Lyon choreographer Matt Ek and Stuttgart choreographer Reid Anderson’s contemporary form.
Lyon crosses the Atlantic in November to bring Europe’s efforts in contemporary ballet, premiering the classical opera ballet, “Carmen,” at Northrop — its first showing in the United States. Ek, who updated the piece in a more current approach, is considered to be one of Europe’s top five ballet choreographers, said Linda Brandt, a Northrop spokeswoman.
“They’ve sort of always offered an introductory course into what’s happening in Europe,” said Ellen Jacobs, who represents the company.
Ek’s rendition of the tragic Spanish tale uses flashback as a novel twist, opening with Don Jose’s execution (danced by 12-year company veteran Pierre Advocatoff) for the murder of Carmen (danced by Maite Cebrian). It flows back through flamboyant, Spanish tinged costumes and choreography that uses “the body in a more expressive way,” Jacobs said.
“It’s not classical ballet,” she said. “It’s not going to be like ‘Carmen’ if the American Ballet Theater was going to do it. It’s very dramatic, it’s very expressive.”
Tooting their horns
That same dramatic and expressive performance can be expected in November from Buena Vista Social Club’s two jazz artists, vocalists Ibrahim Ferrer and pianist Ruben Gonzalez. The two bring their pre-revolutionary Cuban jazz to Minneapolis, playing the music of their youth in Havanna when performing for Nikita Khrushchev was a highlight of their earlier careers.
“The emotions Ibrahim is feeling, you can see them expressed on his face,” said Carla Sacks, representative for World Circuit/Nonesuch. “Ruben literally jumps off his seat when he plays the piano. That’s not easy for an 81-year-old.”
Before reviving their music careers one and a half years ago, Ferrer was shining shoes for more than 30 years and Gonzalez had not laid a finger on a piano for about as long.
Recently featured in the September issue of Rolling Stone, Buena Vista gained popularity amid a resurgence of other Latin American performing artists. Although the Latin pop trend and Buena Vista’s fortunes are running concurrently, Buena Vista claims a more mature following.
“I imagine there’s some people in this country who have bought both the Ricky Martin record and the Buena Vista record,” Sacks said. “But they’re two totally different things. They’re feeding off each other in a way that they’re opening doors for all kinds of Latin music.”
Rounding out the rest of the jazz season are other Latin American and European acts. Netherlands’ Willem Breuker Kollektief is an improvisational jazz ensemble, assembling 11 musicians with already established followings of their own. The Kollektief opens the jazz season in October.
Irakere, an Afro-Cuban jazz ensemble, typically performs a pure jazz and jazz-rock blend for its audiences. The brash brass, thumping bass and syncopated vocals combine Cuban compositions as well as American jazz classics.
America-based jazz bands comprise the second half of the jazz season with the Cecil Taylor Quartet, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

Demi-plies made in the USA
Similarly, the second half of the dance season is made up of American dance companies. Front and center is Miami City Ballet’s productioof George Balanchine’s “Jewels”.
Three separate ballets called “Emeralds,” “Rubies” and “Diamonds” make up the complex movements and technical dance phrases of “Jewels.” The ballets were only performed by the New York City Ballet company until four years ago. MCB, only the second company to perform the ballet, fills this season using “Jewels” as its first full-length work in its 14-year history.
“I thought this would be a wonderful thing to grow on because it combines French romanticism, American neo-classicism and Russian imperial grandeur,” said Edward Villella, MCB’s artistic director. “For a young company, I think it’s important that you understand all of these things and that you don’t dance these things the same way.”
The choreography flows through simulated medieval antiquity, focusing on two couples whose members dance a series of solos, trios and duets. “Rubies,” a piece originally danced by Villella at its 1967 premiere, focuses its jazzy, bright-red imagery on a couple whose choreography is anything but subtle.
“Edward Villella has an intimate connection to the ballet,” said Victoria Vigorito, a MCB representative. “We are a Balanchine-based company in that probably a solid third of our repertoire is Balanchine choreography.”
The final piece in Balanchine’s trilogy, as its name implies, highlights the diamond-like qualities of the ballerina, whose movements fill the audience’s vision while her partner and 32 other dancers simply act as her backdrop.
Modern dance closes out Northrop’s mixed plate of music and motion. The 28th season is rounded out by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, as well as the all-male balletic troupe Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo, which pokes fun at dancing on tiptoes. Each brings its own aspect of modern dance to Northrop: Cunningham’s contemporary choreography, Ailey’s movement-theater and Les Trocks’ frolics.
“People like to come here to Minneapolis because the audience here is pretty knowledgeable for dance and so they tend to get appreciated more here for what they do,” Schatzlein said.