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I was lucky enough to spend last weekend in NYC for the Dance Critics Association annual conference (Check out my live tweets from the conference @DanceCriticsDCA #DCA2012). I saw lots of dance during my stay; below is a brief description of the shows I attended and some thoughts about each one.

Amanda Selwyn Dance Theatre: Detour – Friday, June 22, 2012

Selwyn’s evening-length work, Detour, was built to “challenge the ways in which the mind acts to narrow scope – creating unnecessary pain and false judgment,” Selwyn’s website explains. I’m not about to try to break down whatever that means.

What I can say, is that though Selwyn’s resulting work expressed a constant flux of energy and ideas, I got no sense that the dancers knew why they were performing any given movement. The difference between a good performance and a bad performance isn’t always in the movement execution (although some of that was a bit shoddy in this show as well), it is largely in the dancers’ abilities to understand choreographic intent. Some of Selwyn’s dancers looked terrified throughout the work, which, intentional or not, was more telling than the movement itself.

Photo credit: Debi Field

American Ballet Theatre: The Dream, Firebird – Saturday, June 23, 2012

The American Ballet Theatre presented two works – Frederick Ashton’s “The Dream,” and Alexei Ratmansky’s “Firebird” – at its Saturday evening performance.

Xiomara Reyes as Titania and Cory Stearnsas Oberon in ABT’s “The Dream” / Photo credit: Gene Schiavone

As “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is my favorite Shakespearean play of all time, “The Dream,” a ballet version of the work, was at an advantage with me before a single dancer stepped onstage. That being said, I am happy to say that Frederick Ashton’s choreographic interpretation of the story met and exceeded my already lofty standards for this work.

Frederick’s choreography was without extraneous movement; every gesture – big and small – furthered the story and deepened the accuracy with which dancers portrayed their characters. Two standout dancers in this performance were Herman Cornejo as Puck (two words – Holy Cow!) and Alexei Agoudine as Bottom; these two men were magically inhuman – Cornejo in his physical virtuosity  and Agoudine in his ability to behave like a horse – and made Shakespeare’s world more real onstage.

Natalia Osipova as the title role in ABT’s “Firebird” / Photo credit: Gene Schiavone

The ABT’s rendition of “Firebird,” choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, has been criticized for its cartoonish costumes and scenery, and for its inconsistent pacing in plot development. Set in what I can only describe as a post-apocalyptic Dr. Seuss world, David Hallberg’s Kascheri is sort of a Grinch/Thing 1/Thing 2 mashup; his maidens brainwashed Whos. Natalia Osipova commanded the stage as the Firebird, but Marcelo Gomes’ Ivan got lost in his absurd surroundings.

Ratmansky’s “Firebird” choreography is not that of a traditional ballet; as firebirds and maidens, dancers performed floorwork, quirky gestural vocabulary and some physical comedy too. What was this, modern dance? Yuk yuk. In all seriousness, though, I was constantly entertained and engaged throughout this piece, and the dancing was impeccable. At the end of the night, aren’t those the things that really matter?

Read a more in-depth review (with more photos) here.

Chicago The Musical – Sunday, June 24, 2012

My thoughts about Chicago are brief and are as follows:

1. Having seen the movie version first, I was a bit taken aback by the minimalist staging in the Broadway show. This isn’t an error on the production’s part, just a factor that inhibited my ability to fully appreciate the show.

2. Amra Faye-Wright, the actress who played Velma Kelly lacked solid dance technique; Tracy Shayne as Roxie Hart had excellent technique, which made Faye-Wright’s shortcomings even more obvious.

3. The Cell Block Tango is pretty much the best song ever.

Seen any of these shows? Let me know what you thought!