Author: leh2165

Founded in 2007 by five professional ballet dancers enrolled at Columbia University, CBC (The Columbia Ballet Collaborative) is comprised of students from all of the University’s undergraduate colleges and affiliates.

On April 15th, the Columbia Ballet Collaborative held their Spring Performances celebrating the CBC’s 10th anniversary season.

A performance set in seven acts, the program showcased ballerinxs (ballerinas and danseurs) of every level, including several professional alumni of years passed. In a packed Miller Theatre, these students past and present brought to life the stunning choreography of seven different nationally-recognized choreographers, including George Balanchine, Caitlin Dieck Locke, Richard Isaac, Barry Kerollis, Emery LeCrone, Craig Salstein, and Claudia Schreier.

While choreographers have the responsibility to shape the movements of the dancers, ballerinxs invest their time, sweat, and emotion into making those pieces translate from the page to the stage.

In the first performance of the night “Five Songs for the Piano” (2010), five ballerinas combined classical movements with loose hair, gestural port de bras, and a constant opening and regression of limbs that mirrored their intense expressions as strands of hair swept back and forth with each motion, obscuring them from view. The piece was not the most technically demanding of the night, but the coordination and skill invested by the dancers, as well as the technical lighting that cast each effort into relief, did more than justice to LeCrone’s construction across five intensely expressive musical pieces.

Choreographer Emery LeCrone: “This piece is about exploring the deep root of our identity and trying to tap into that uniqueness on stage.”

"Five Songs for Piano" choreographed by Emery LeCrone; original score by Mendelssohn. Photo: Eduardo Patino — featuring Elizabeth Ratze, Sophia Salingaros, Sophia Loo and Allegra Herman.

“Five Songs for Piano” choreographed by Emery LeCrone; original score by Mendelssohn.
Photo: Eduardo Patino — featuring Elizabeth Ratze, Sophia Salingaros, Sophia Loo and Allegra Herman.

Altogether, “Five Songs for Piano” told a story of coming into one’s own identity, a moment of growth and personal exploration that could also be witnessed on the stage as the ballerinas each brought to life a song with the support of her sisters en attitude.

The second piece “Les Neuf Danseuses” featured a cast entirely composed of CBC Alumni. A beautiful demonstration of coordination– and an impressive set to manage on a small stage– lit up the Miller Theatre as the audience witnessed the CBC’s trademark choreographic meld of modern styles with classical techniques and control.

The key to the audience’s heart, however, came with the third act, when they were introduced to the show-stealing sophomore Nicholas Rio in Claudia Shreier’s choreographic masterpiece “Harmonic.” The ballerinas and the danseur moved through the choreography naturally, as though they were familiar enough with the piece to perform with their eyes closed. Their lifts were smooth and showed no strain, their facial expressions were matched perfectly to the mood of the music and choreography.

A short intermission was followed by several more moving pieces, including master choreographer Barry Kerollis’ “Diagnosis,” once more starring Nicholas Rio and introducing into the spotlight other stars of the night, including ballerina Clara Monk, whose control and flexibility left the audience breathless. The difficulty level of these pieces (including some stunning excerpts from George Balanchine’s masterpiece “Serenade” and the flowing interpretive work of Richard Isaac’s “Troublemaker”) was on par with that expected from a fully professional dance collaborative, and the emotion in their expressions was genuine, affecting the whole audience as they became more than observers in the dancers’ struggle– as can be previewed in the video sample of “Diagnosis” below (gracefully provided through Kerollis and the Columbia Ballet Collaborative):

The night closed with Craig Salstein’s “Blooming Bouquet,” a clever piece that imitates the playful interactions between practicing dancers with rapid sequences of grand jetés and contagious laughter as the delightful young ballerinxs chase each other across the floor, seemingly weightless.

"Blooming Bouquet" choreographed by Craig Salstein. Photo: Eduardo Patino — featuring Alex Susi and an unidentified ballerina at Miller Theatre at Columbia University.

“Blooming Bouquet” choreographed by Craig Salstein. Photo: Eduardo Patino — featuring Alex Susi and an unidentified ballerina at Miller Theatre at Columbia University.

Smiles remained, but tears bloomed as the dance came to an end and the audience regretfully bid goodbye to the show and the graduating seniors who performed one last time as active Columbia students. The audience could only hope that they would return as alumni for future CBC performances; this hope came through loudly in a cacophony of cheers and a raucous standing ovation that lingered in the air even after the ballerinxs exited.

Illustration by Laura Elizabeth Hand

 

Prior to the Columbia University Orchestra performance at Alice Tully Hall, my most recent event at Lincoln Center was Yo-Yo Ma’s breathtaking cello performance of Symphonie Fantastique. Yo-Yo Ma climbed to the highest note of his cello while we climbed to the edges of our seats. Here, instead of the back corner box, I am in the front, my gaze catching on an audience that has exchanged black gowns and reserved enthusiasm for H&M and outright fervor.

The spring concert will lead with Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde (1868), and then eventually trail into Columbia’s own rendition of Symphonie Fantastique with a different cellist starring. Alec Hon’s performance of Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D Major (1783) is set to follow Tristan and Isolde first, however, ushering the packed— sold-out— hall into intermission and then the closing march of Berlioz’s Episode from the Life of an Artist: Symphonie Fantastique (1830).

Heels and blue jeans, overexcited parents and a girl in a blue down jacket (leaning in to gesture frantically at a distracted violinist) are the signs marking the rapid growth of our audience as they press into the general admission seating. The vibrations and eerie peels of the stringed instruments begin as they warm up for the highly-anticipated spring concert. Soon enough, the wind instruments’ lend trills to the rising atmosphere.

In the final moments before Tristan and Isolde begins, there is a brief interlude of frantic applause followed by absolute silence.

Then the sound and the silence that punctuates its phrases begins and the audience is spellbound. Even Yo-Yo Ma did not command this degree of respect from his audience. The musicians and the conductor are clearly responding, as the synchronized sweep of elbows gains in pace and coordination. If music is not their first love, as is the case for Chris James, violinist first-year studying psychology (whose proud uncle sits next to me with his torso half twisted over the edge of the balcony box for a better view), it may yet prove to be their finest.

The musicians move with the music, and the audience is moved. Perhaps a finger slips with perspiration here or there, but the overall effect of the students’ passion is unmistakable and impossible to ignore. In a perfect cycle, a moment of silence, then thunderous applause also carries the piece to a close.

After a few minutes of the muffled brush of gowns, squeak of instruments, and squeal of shuffled chairs, all of the sounds of musicians rearranging themselves for a piece, the strings once more coral the audience into submission for Alec Hon as he takes his cello and takes center stage.

During the Cello Concerto, he pants against his cello as the music rises, sweat visible on his forehead, effort and nerves carrying a different tone into the bars. As each run ends, his right shoulder drops and the bow falls back, leaving the responsibility of the piece to his fellow musicians, who perform the piece with frantic energy. When his part comes again, Hon plays without reference or prompt, and the only moving bodies in the room belong to Alec and the third bass player, who attempts to surreptitiously duck away for a second’s relief from the heat of the lights and his stifling formal wear.

When they come together again, the piece comes to a close, ending with a bow and a fond pat on Hon’s cheek by the pleased conductor. The audience rises to a standing ovation.

Intermission is accompanied by the inevitable gush of exiting audience members bottlenecking in the halls and loudly declaring their opinions on the pieces performed thus far. The discourse seems overwhelmingly favorable.

As the audience members make their more subdued return to their seats, there is renewed enthusiasm for Symphonie Fantastique, which I share but pair with some trepidation. Having recently viewed the undisputed master of the cello take on this piece, how will I review an admittedly incredibly talented student orchestra?

I needn’t have worried. While the piece is nearly unrecognizable from the psychedelic interpretation of Berlioz Yo-Yo Ma and the New York Philharmonic offered, it clearly demonstrates budding mastery of a different style. This is perhaps most evident in the softer percussion and the presentation of the Fourth and Fifth movements. Instead of pushing forward with the shrill nerves of the dream as I first heard it played, the Columbia University Orchestra offers rolling swells of music that invoke a deeper introspection than the NYPhil’s lucid dreams.

Indeed, after the concert ends and the applause grows louder than ever before, I find myself thinking it would be hard to find a member of either audience who did not fall in love with Berlioz and the musicians who brought him to the stage.

The night closes with a lingering audience and many proud tears, the Spring Concert happily demonstrating itself a roaring success.

This year marked the 30th Anniversary of the arrival of Columbia College’s first class of women. It was celebrated in an event called CCW30, which brought together graduates and undergraduates from all years and walks of life; there were even outsiders, including a young woman from NYU, who registered to join the celebration.

As a woman in Columbia College, I find this hard to contemplate (not referencing that NYU students would want to cross the line to join Columbia, of course; that’s endearing, not surprising). I arrived in a time when 47% of the incoming class to CC and SEAS identified as female (according to the incoming class statistics provided by Columbia University). I arrived in a time when we were represented.

The women who surrounded me during CCW30 came into a Columbia College that was structured and indoctrinated under the ideology of women being different, not belonging, and thirty years ago Columbia College took its first steps to completely reimagine what it means to be a Columbia College student— paving the way for myself and others.

What I hear most often on campus about the transition is “SEAS did it first.” Indeed, SEAS had its first woman undergraduate in 1943.

The truth is, that Yale is going on 48 years of allowing women in as undergrads, and Princeton’s first class containing women graduated in 1973.

We were a bit late on the uptake.

Should I be ashamed that Columbia College took as long as it did, as some statements seem to imply?

Listening to the CCW30 stories from other Ivy League women who graduated in the early days of the co-ed movement, I hear about slut-shaming in the streets, Deans suggesting instead of dorms, schools build brothels for the incoming women; I hear about the pain and abuse suffered by women in the incoming classes of colleges and universities that I have long respected.

When I ask the first class of CC women what the worst struggle they faced was, I hear about a dozen variations of “getting the boys to shower.” It sounds like living with teenage brothers, and it makes me laugh.

A part of me is incredibly pleased that these women can say that.

And yes, they still had to fight. Sports teams, amenities, all of the things we share now didn’t come easily to them, but I’m glad that jumping in a bit later in the game seems to have meant our women didn’t face the same degree of malice others faced in the rights movement.

It’s a bitter-sweet realization, especially for a campus that identifies so strongly with activism.

And it doesn’t change how proud we should be of these women, who showed us that a couple hundred years of tradition is still a breakable wall.

Raucous singing took over Low Library’s entrance hall at one point during CCW30 as 30 years of CC women began to belt Columbia’s anthems as one (though not all in one key).

The thing is, these women are not just remarkable for taking their place as the first class of women in CC history. These women are remarkable because they have created a lasting community. They still reach out with open arms to support the Columbia College sisters that came after them.

Within a day after the event, I was receiving emails about grabbing coffee and getting feedback (“How can we continue to support the women of Columbia College?”), and suddenly it was like I stepped into the alley behind the Leaky Cauldron and pressed the right brick.

This is the point where the lesson of the day comes into play:

Honestly, until CCW30 opened my eyes, the place I felt most comfortable as myself, as a woman, was sitting with my friends in Diana, adopting Barnard culture. I didn’t actively seek out “fuckboy” free CC or try to build a place for the women around me; why would I need to? There was one next door.

The 30th anniversary of women in Columbia College has changed that for me. I recognize that I can’t continue to step away from the spot these women opened up for me in Columbia’s halls. I can love the safety of having a haven of strong, independent women down the street (SO: Jennifer Kaplan), but I can also work to maintain the same thing here in CC. More than maintaining that space, I can work to improve it.

The first class of women in Columbia College didn’t stop their efforts just because the doors opened or because there was a precedence that allowed them basic human rights. Deans not slut-shaming them from podiums didn’t mean they would stop before making themselves Deans as well— they kept reaching: they appealed to have time on the sports fields, getting up for 5 a.m. practices when Baker was always already booked, they set up an alumni network that remains active in our lives with events like CCW30, and they brought us to the point where we could fight for things like free tampons and pads (though to be quite honest, I’m still crossing my fingers for Always Infinity to appear [with the wings]).

Right now they’re out in the world fighting for women as well. Lilly Burns (CC’09) of Jax Media produces “Broad City,” revolutionizing the portrayal of women in the media. When was the last time you heard someone on a male-dominated network break the period-talk taboo to do anything but suggest that women are incapable of handling emotions during “their time of the month,” after all? Instead, Lilly Burn’s work is fresh and honest, breaking those unspoken barriers.

 

She is not the only one.

I am including a link below to the Alumni Association’s list of speakers from the CCW30 event in the hope that they help you think about who you want to be, understand what CCW30 was, and understand why this 30th Anniversary is so important.

https://www.college.columbia.edu/alumni/events/ccw30/speakers

Take this summer to think about who you want to be in the coming year, and what doors you want to be remembered for opening.

 

womens movement history

Photo courtesy of BBB.

Rousing applause closed the night at Bandstand, the latest of Broadway’s American musicals. Bandstand boasts an all-original storyline and an all-American plot, addressing the inaction of American government and society in addressing the needs of our veterans in a post-World War II, swing-era context. A tantalizing portrayal of the not-so-glorious aftermath of World War II, Bandstand catalogues the story of Donny Novitski (Corey Cott), a swing pianist from Cleveland with a desire to make it big in the city that never sleeps, and Julia Trojan (Laura Osnes), a recently widowed choir singer who decides to pursue the dream of being a jazz vocalist in order to cope with the unfortunate demise of her husband in the war.

The musical tells the story of a group of veterans gathered by Donny (in a wonderful scene in which each character has a chance to declare “I know a guy”) who form a band to compete in a national radio contest in New York City while struggling to fit into their old lives and deal with the lingering effects of the war. The prize could guarantee celebrity status to its winners, but dealing with complicated interpersonal relationships and the challenges of finding jobs in post-war America, provides obstacles to the band that confront not only the dismal treatment of veterans, but also the essential flaws haunting any pursuit of the American Dream.

Throughout the musical’s opening, Donny is tormented by his role in Julia’s late husband’s death, and is not alone in his burden. Every character bares the marks of the war on their minds, in their music, and in their hearts. Physical ailments are paired with post-traumatic stress and beautifully choreographed scenes wherein the actors physically struggle under the weight of men in military uniform— dragging their ghosts with them. Even Julia, as she joins the band of veterans, struggles with her own loss in the aftereffects of the war.

In addition to survivor’s guilt, Donny has to overcome his pride and fear. His failure to save Julia’s husband presents a very cutting scene on stage in part because Donny is the epitome of the trope of the overconfident male with complete faith in his ability to achieve the American Dream. In fact, in a beautifully belted solo, Danny even quite forcefully inserts himself among the era’s greats, denigrating Sinatra’s skills in comparison to his own.

Altogether, Bandstand hits on a sensitive and relevant topic in today’s society in a way reminiscent of White Christmas’ classic “What Can you Do with a General,” an early commentary on the aftereffects of war; however, with Bandstand modern theater brings us a portrayal more unapologetically gritty and honest…

And, as the musical clearly elucidates, contentious.

It is often hard to like Donny as he gives in to his pride and aggression, losing himself at times to his own mind, but as Julia comes around to see him in a different light, audience members cannot ignore his charm— nor the damage unfairly done to him by the lack of support and representation for returning veterans, veterans living in a society that does not want to acknowledge the scars inflicted on their brothers, fathers, and sons.

Occasionally the complexity of projecting multiple perspectives onto the stage (i.e. the first scene, which is both set at home with Julia and simultaneously abroad in the trenches) and pairing them with interpretive demonstrations of the characters’ mentalities manifests in Bandstand as strange staging and slightly confusing choreography. But, considering the massive scope of the undertaking, Bandstand does an impressive job of playing out its various plotlines.

The only real criticism that came to me in the mutterings of the audience and my own hesitations while watching Bandstand was the distinctly awkward inadmission of the concurrent issue of racial segregation during the 1940s and early 1950s. After all, Brown v. Board of Education didn’t even occur until 1954. As a result, it was a little disconcerting to see the token black character come to life in their use of Kevyn Morrow, the only POC cast member, as blanket ensemble in ambiguous roles with minimal speaking, the musical’s realism marred by its refusal to acknowledge its historical context in this regard. At one point, he is a preacher (for an all-white church), and, at another, he works as a radio executive (for an otherwise all-white station). To leave this unacknowledged is to pretend the harsh reality of the segregated social climate did not exist.

That being said, the musical dealt and dealt well with the issues it did confront, and it is understandable (though unfortunate and perhaps uncomfortable) that, in the stress of dealing with such a hugely important and controversial subject as the mistreatment of veterans, certain aspects of the play became “unreal” and certain unpalatable realities went unacknowledged.

Still, we can learn from Bandstand, in its message and its omitted lines, a great deal about the change that our society calls for, that America needs. So I would still call Bandstand a great American musical, and, with its hard-hitting message on veterans’ needs and its equally stunning choreography, certainly worth watching.

Christy Altomare and company of Anastasia. Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus.

 

When the long-anticipated Broadway adaptation of the cartoon classic Anastasia (1997) debuted under the bright lights of the Broadhurst Theatre, the audience was tightly packed and diverse: thick Eastern European accents were offset by the squeals of American women in their teens and early 20s, eagerly anticipating their favorite story brought to life. Indeed, all of the audience members were likely intimately familiar with some form of the story behind Anastasia— whether the “true” history of the ill-fated Tsarevna Anastasia Nikolaevna, allegedly murdered by the Cheka (Bolshevik secret police) in 1918, or the whimsical tale of 20th Century Fox’s “Anastasia Romanov(a),” with its talking bat and mad villain Rasputin hunting the Romanov family to near-extinction, with its train crashes and hexes and wild run to the streets of Paris— but few could predict what would happen when the lights grew dim and these two stories intersected in a new translation of the classic tale.

With the introduction of Anastasia to the stage, Rasputin gave way to the Russian Revolution of 1917 (specifically the February Revolution and the fall of Winter Palace) and the rising Russian Communist movement; the new adaptation brought new “villains” to the story. But as Anastasia grew closer to real life, so did its conflict. Instead of employing the black and white morality shown in the movie, the Broadway play Anastasia thoroughly developed its villains and their drives. This idea of gray-moral conflict was embodied by the well-rounded character development of the main antagonist Gleb (Ramin Karimloo), who faced a moral dilemma threatening his identity even as Anastasia came to recognize her own.

Despite these major changes to the plot, the majority of the characters and music that made Anastasia the movie a success remained in the play. In fact, not only were iconic songs like “Learn to Do It,” “Journey to the Past,” and “Once Upon a December” beautifully rearticulated, but also the original songs like “My Petersburg” performed by Dmitry (Derek Klena) and “Stay, I Pray You,” which featured nearly the entire cast, were instrumental in exposing the raw nerve endings of a country torn apart by revolution and giving new depth to the characters.

“Stay, I Pray You” was a particularly timely addition for today’s audiences, given its thematic focus on the struggles of leaving a war-torn country to seek refuge away from one’s home. Dmitry and Anya (Anastasia) may have been full of hope, but they, along with the refugees they accompanied, still called:

Stay, I pray you.

Let me have a moment,

Let me say goodbye;

Harsh and sweet

And bitter to leave it all,

I’ll bless my homeland

Till I die.

The eyes of the cast at this point twinkled with tears in the bright stage lights. The audience was not immune from the sudden onset of emotions.

Anastasia is inherently self-aware: a nostalgic story centered around nostalgia; a story about respecting the past while growing to make new decisions respecting its past and growing into new decisions. And for the audience members not satisfied by this balance of whimsy and historical realism, a near-topless Derek Klena and a bejeweled Tsarina, stunning graphics that expanded the small stage into a platform crossing international boundaries and spectacular Russian choreography filling the stage in thrusting limbs and fluttering skirts— these seemed to have been enough of a distraction from defamiliarizing plot elements.

In the course of the night, very few technical or performative issues arose. The opening of the first scene, featuring a young Anastasia and her Grandmother the Grand Duchess as the Grand Duchess says goodbye before departing to Paris, was a bit choppy, seeming to be a near-direct quotation of the movie lacking the vivid character of the rest of the play, and Ramin Karimloo (Gleb) sounded slightly nervous at the play’s start; that is, Karimloo’s first two vocal performances were a bit more breathless than breathtaking. However, these minor issues were quickly eclipsed by the interactions between the young Anastasia and her family, the collapse of the Grand Duchess at the news of their deaths (a tear-jerking performance), and Karimloo’s heart-stopping second reprise of “A Simple Thing,” in which his voice persisted where many other actors would have failed.

Altogether, Anastasia overshot all expectations of success and managed a seemingly impossible feat with its reconciliation of history with fantasy. Its near-perfect opening performances can only improve as the actors and actresses continue to bring the streets of Leningrad (ne Saint Petersburg) to our very own West 44th Street, between 7th and 8th Aves.