The Nightingale

By Dana Abbott

IN HER PROGRAM NOTES, Janette Harkness, director of the Monterey County Dance Theatre, recounts that in July 2017 Steve Ettinger, a music professor at Hartnell College, said he would like to compose a ballet score working with Harkness to develop and choreograph the Hans Christian Andersen tale.

A considerable undertaking for all involved, including a large group of local sponsors and contributors, came to fruition with three performances at the Stanton Theater in King City, attended by large audiences. The student company of the Monterey County Dance Theatre was the talent pool from which many performers were taken with local character actors drawn for some of the mature acting parts. The average age of the student company was nine and a half years.

This reviewer saw the April 14 performance. The sheer spectacle of the ballet was impressive with considerable professional polish even in numbers where most performers were children. Lighting was refined; costumes were colorfully effective.

The early “Dance of the Slaves” (student dancers) established high expectations delivering finely laid out choreography and precision of execution aplenty. Another stand out was the “Dance of 1,000 Hands,” which pleased the audience highly.

The Stanton Theater on the King City High School campus is a 1930s art deco concrete structure. It lent a solid foundation to the proceedings.

The story involves a Nightingale who becomes a favorite of the aged Emperor. Various intrigues develop including caging the Nightingale and the construction of a mechanical replacement by the dismayed, jealous court Music Master. The mechanical replica collapses and the Emperor is stricken. But though the Nightingale has escaped, she returns and the Emperor is restored and the ballet closes with a brief celebration dance.

As the title character, Ashley Madrid (pictured) is 12 years old and a 6th grader at Chalone Peaks Middle School in King City. As Harkness explains, “Ashley began dancing with Monterey County Dance Theatre at age three and a half years. She is an exceptionally gifted young dancer.” Her future prospects look very bright. “Last summer Ashley was accepted to train at American Ballet Theatre Summer Intensive in Alabama for three weeks. This year she won acceptance to the Bolshoi Ballet United States training school for six weeks in Connecticut.” (Monterey County Dance Theatre uses a Vaganova/Russian based curriculum.) 

The staging of the ballet was excellent. A chamber Monterey County Pops orchestra under Carl Christensen handled Ettinger’s fine score with skill. Highlights were the flute passages for the Nightingale’s numerous dances, all ably executed by Ashley. There was an interesting string bass and bassoon duet accompanying the “Music Master’s Dance” where the composer strove for a pedantic atmosphere, yet also comic, the bassoon suggesting the buffoon. The “Dance of the Demons” presented the full potential of the orchestra.

At a small group meeting I was able to hear composer Ettinger discuss some of the challenges of working with students and their ability to sustain the concentrated effort required. I hope Ettinger will find an opportunity to create a concert suite from the ballet score. If one noticed a lack of a big closing number, it mattered little. The afternoon was a surprising joy, thanks to South County dancers and their director, a capable King City composer and the entire production team.

SpectorDance Choreographers Showcase

By Scott MacClelland

THE ADVENTURESOME Choreographers Showcase presentations at SpectorDance in Marina always fascinate yet often perplex me. But I can’t stay away. The dance concerts, put on three times each year, challenge dancers, aficionados and choreographers—in short those who flock to see what’s new from choreographic artists in this country and abroad. 

Many of them also dance their own work. Kuan-Hsuan Lee, born in Taiwan, performed her Artificial Nana on the Sunday matinee. What a strange and disturbing piece, sui generis, like nothing I’ve ever seen. As advised beforehand, she is fascinated by “the vulnerability, awkwardness, discomfort and rawness in humans.” This piece was in three parts. In the first, she stood on a raised pedestal with a tall superstructure that pinned her in arm- and leg-clasps. Her costume included a baggy skirt. She barely moved, but mugged a fake smile, while Nina Hagen screeched out a soundscape called Naturträne. Then her assistant came from the wings to collect her skirt which dumped out of its bags what appeared to be a load of artificial flowers. She continued to hand over her costume until she was down to a flesh-colored leotard. The prop was removed, the floor swept, and a cube-shaped box appeared. Zelda’s Theme by Pérez Prado accompanied her improvisation dance. For the third part, she donned a short see-through skirt and established a relationship with the box, to the music of a Shostakovich waltz, even though she did not accept the invitation to engage with its ¾ time. All of this took 11 minutes.

Beginning two hours of recent and new dance works was SpectorDance founder Fran Spector’s For My Mother, a world premiere created this summer, with family photos and other images projected on the back wall. Spector explained that her mother was going through end-of-life passages. Music by Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck echoed the emotion of the occasion. The dance design was in A-B-A form, the A sections taken by Tessa Dastrup, with Cindy Chen—who “grew up” at SpectorDance—in a joyous duet of mostly symmetrical or mirror imagery. The choreography engaged every part of the dancers’ bodies in a fluid, graceful display. Since Spector is known for her “issues” oriented work (East West, Ocean Trilogy) it was a welcome opportunity to witness a glimpse into her personal life through dance.

The subject of ‘leaving’ continued to appear in this program. Gabriel Mata (pictured above) turned his Escape Artist into a one-man tour de force of improvisational movement and breathtaking impact. He shuffled into view like an old man, but soon enough he put on a display of exceptional athleticism, long arms and legs becoming as flexible and graceful as a jellyfish, often at high speed. About half way through his virtuoso performance, he doffed his long pants as if to further liberate his movement. He also created his own soundtrack which included a female voice complaining that she just didn’t understand this modern dance, to the amusement of the audience.

Arick Arzadon and two colleagues, in street clothes and hip-hop style, danced Over (better known) to a short musical track by The Jinxes, with Arzadon singing along, on the subject of lovers breaking up.

Lori Seymour danced her own A Long Goodbye, dedicated “to the friends and families and caregivers of dementia patients.” Props served for memory triggers as Seymour made vivid the contradiction of love and pain in dealing the decline of her mother. From serious to humorous, she enacted the “fear, frustration and exhaustion” she had described before the Showcase began. Seymour had partnered with Margaret Wingrove for the choreography. She opened and closed the piece playing on solo dulcimer while a voiceover reflected on the process at hand.

The third movement from Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony with choreography by Charles Torres was danced by four teenaged students from the SpectorDance school.

Meghan Horowitz choreographed Four Seasons for six dancers—members of KTCHN SYNC Collective—to music from Vivaldi’s eponymous concertos, in this case ‘recomposed’ by Max Richter. The final of the four, the freezing slow movement from “Winter,” was a solo.

Other works on the program were Akinyola Adabale’s Glimpse: THE for two dancers, Leah Moriarty’s solo Take the Sound of the Room Breathing and Words I Cannot Say by David Maurice and Cesar R Degollado, danced by five members of ConDanza Repertoire Company.