Donald McKayle’s Premiere at UC Irvine, CA.

22 Feb

When Dennis Nahat attended Juilliard School of Music prior to  joining The Joffrey Ballet as it was being reformed the fall of 1965, he had Donald McKayle as one of his teachers. A bond was formed which has lasted these many years. Recently Nahat helped McKayle with administrative papers relating to the McKayle works, some of which were staged at Ballet San Jose when Nahat was the company’s artistic director.

This fall McKayle, at the age of 84 and following a severe illness, choreographed a new work for the dancers at U.C., Irvine where he has been teaching. PERO REPLANTADO (Uprooted) was premiered in mid-February2015. Nahat wrote the following comments about the work.

“From the moment the curtain is lifted onto an empty stage, the dancers enter in such an arresting manner that one dare not breathe until the final moment when the dancers freeze at the foot lights, almost in our lap. The work is an affirmation of humanity in America and is the breath of life in Americans. The finale is especially startling; in a medley written by Woody Guthrie, Pastures of Plenty / This Land is Your Land, which is not the original but a newly composed version that is wonderful, and Land, with lyrics by Lila Downs. The last tableau with the full ensemble running forward, looking directly at the audience, jumping into secondé position ecarté in a deep plié with their arms lifted above their heads in unison, on the last note and word of the song “We will work to keep it (America) FREE”, is a dare to anyone who would try to take that freedom away. Make no mistake here, McKayle tells us in direct, clear and asserted choreography that Americans have worked hard for freedom.

“The entire large ensemble of 18 dancers is terrific, especially well-danced is the solo girl with two casts called La Niña, the girl, danced on Wednesday by Emma Walsh and Thursday’s official opening night by Caitlin Hicks. An arresting solo and a difficult one, you will not see danced this way by many. Both dancers give different interpretations, a McKayle treat; artists can fly in many directions in his works. But it was Ms. Hicks who simply took the show by storm with her intensely beautiful dark features and her ability to isolate movement and direct the viewer to her intended purpose. So well constructed is this solo that by the time both interpreters ran off the stage with hands on their backs in a slight back bend, the audience almost ran off with them, bursting into spontaneous applause.

“The 5-part ballet has a large ensemble. Costumes by Kathryn Wilson were simple, colorful and American/Mexican in flavor, all dancers in different costumes,still remarkably similar. The lighting by Brady Jan King had moments but needed a little more to emphasize the atmosphere and occasional pathos. It is a deeper work than surface light. A little more time and work and possibly more contemporary lighting instruments to sharpen focus might be helpful. Still, we could see what we came to see, the work. For that we are thankful. If the ballet weren’t so strong McKayle would have needed help… There was no help needed, just seeing the dance was a marvel… Another lighting designer could supply a dimension of magic to the international heights this masterpiece is.

“The music sung on records by Lila Downs, excerpts from her album “Border”. A beautifully sung array of songs that are rarely heard and sung in a Spanish dialect. Many of her songs are sung in indigenous languages such as Mixtec, Zapotec, Mayan, Nahuatl and P’urhepecha (Tarascan). In Mr. McKayle’s UPROOTED, Ms. Downs sings in Spanish and English. The second movement for a trio of men, El Feo, the ugly one, the song is sung in Mayan, Spanish and English. They even sound Portuguese at times. Here Ms. Downs is simply sensational and as a singer/songwriter no matter what anyone says… she can only be referred to as extraordinary.

“Donald McKayle hits home and to the heart of the matter, a grand master of innovation. In each work he has created, he is honest in content and the structure is always pure. A lesson for all choreographers…content, structure, original, musical and finally choreography… His voice in movement is again unique in this piece. Its humanity is unmistakable, remarkable. No other choreographer I have seen has created so vast a body of works, each an individual work unto its own. McKayle is a National Treasure and is recognized as such,”originality” his middle name. The more you see the work, the more you want to see it again and again. Like all great artists, McKayle is always surprising, deeply rooted truth, and forever memorable.”

One Response to “Donald McKayle’s Premiere at UC Irvine, CA.”

  1. Ana Marie Forsythe February 24, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

    Dennis, a fabulous and beautifully written commentary on what appears to be another extraordinary work by Donnie. I hope that those of us on the East Coast will be able to see it as well, sometime soon.. I thank Elaine for sending it to me.
    With best regards and love to Donnie,
    Ana Marie Forsythe

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