Skip to main content

Divine Sarah!

By Flora Lynn Isaacson

Ensemble Photo by Robin Jackson

New Works at Ross Valley Players presents a delightful and entertaining new musical, The Divine Sarah by June Richards and Elaine Lang on stage now through April 7 at the Barn Theatre in Ross.

Lovely live music by Jon Gallo (Keyboard/Music Direction) and Diana Lee (Cello), fine direction by Jay Manley and the cast’s outstanding acting, singing and dancing bring Sarah Bernhardt’s incredible story to life. Co-producers Michael Cohen and Gina Pandiani hope this play will “honor Bernhardt’s artistic brilliance and inspire audiences with her passion, determination and resilience.”

Forty years ago Richards and Lang wrote and staged a reading of the play that included fourteen songs and ensemble music, but a full production never happened. Then a few years ago, Richards and Lang updated the script keeping the original music and songs in place. Next Manley agreed to direct the piece for Ross Valley’s New Works. He calls the show “a true labor of love,” and describes French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) as “a pioneering woman…magnetic…able to cast a spell on the great playwrights of her day,” (Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde and Edmund Rostand to name a few). He hopes the production brings “excitement, respect and awe for this magnificent star.”

Merrill Grant is brilliant playing Sarah, first as a young woman, then through the years as she develops into an accomplished actress and international celebrity. Grant’s singing is amazing and so is the voice of Lucas Michael Chandler who stands out in the role of Jean Mounet Sully, a fellow actor who became Bernhardt’s good friend and lover.

The other cast members show extraordinary talent and range playing multiple roles including Alexandra Fry (young Sarah /Regine), Keith Jefferds (Oscar Wilde/Czar Alexander III) and Robin Schild (Victor Hugo/Mark Twain). The rest of the company (Amy Dietz, Anna Joham, Julia Ludwig. Brad Parks and Ron Talbot) shines—their singing, dancing and acting adds much to the production.

Kudos to Ronald E. Krempetz (Scenic Design), Michael Walraven (Technical Director), Michael Berg (Costume Design), Michele Samuels (Lighting Design) and Lucas Chandler (Choreography) for the imaginative set, lovely costumes, creative lighting and wonderful dancing. Special recognition goes to John Diestler for giving the audience a look at the real Sarah Bernhardt with “Block” digital images of her placed all around the stage.

The New Works program presents new, original works by Bay Area playwrights and consists of a full production and staged readings on two nights each season. Along with The Divine Sarah, the four readings this season are AI Threesome by Joe Wolff, Dead People by Bridgette Data Portman (March 17), Cowboy and Widow by Lynn Lohr and Lance Belville with music by Dolan Ellis, Wayne Hamilton and Eric Peltoniemi and Swing Set by Keith Jefferds (March 24).

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players is The Book Club Play by Karen Zacarias, directed by Mary Ann Rodgers, May 10-June 9.




“Drinking Alone” by Norm Foster at Avon Playhouse, Rochester Hills MI

By Greg & Suzanne Angeo

Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (member, American Theatre Critics Association; Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle), and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)

Photos courtesy of Avon Players

Luigi Murri, Hosanna Phillips, Patty Hagel, Marie Burchi-Skipinski, Lee Davis



“Drinking Alone”: Laughter With a Shot of Angst


If you’re only familiar with American playwrights, you’re in for a pleasant surprise when you see “Drinking Alone”, a glowing comedy about a dysfunctional family, presented by Avon Players.

Norm Foster is Canada’s most popular comic playwright, and for good reason. He has been at it for over 40 years, with 80-plus plays professionally produced all over the world. You might call him Canada’s Neil Simon. His earliest successes were in the 1980s, with his off-Broadway hit “The Melville Boys,” and “The Long Weekend”.

“Drinking Alone” premiered in June 1998 at Festival Antigonish in Nova Scotia. It’s got lots of laughs, witty dialogue and quirky characters we can all relate to.

The play opens in the living room of the Todd family home. With its avocado-green walls and dark paneling, it apparently hasn’t been redecorated since the 1970s. Friendless Joe lives there alone – except for his painfully dated décor – bored and depressed. He’s got nothing going on in his life except managing a dry-cleaning business, and evenings spent watching TV and drinking beer.  A family reunion looms ahead. Joe wants to impress his successful, flashy sister and his estranged father. So of course he hires Renee, an escort, to pose as his fiancée. What could possibly go wrong?

Luigi Murri, Marie Burchi-Skipinski

Luigi Murri (“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”) plays Joe in a very dry and laid-back kind of way. The contrast between his soft-spoken dweeb and Marie Burchi-Skipinski (“Lend Me a Tenor”) as the gregarious first-time call girl is fun to watch (and hear). Joe’s snarky sister Carrie, a local newscaster and glamour-puss celebrity, arrives and the tension and hard feelings build. Hosanna Phillips (Night of January 16th) expresses equal amounts of vanity, scorn and emotional pain that she tries to drown with liquor. When Ivan Todd, the type-A family patriarch, finally shows up, all hell breaks loose. Lee Davis as Ivan is vulgar, hostile and loud. But he has one redeeming quality – he tells jokes. Not always funny ones, but he tries. He also has some great lines. Example: Joe says, “I’m a good catch.” Ivan responds “Halibut is a good catch. You’re no halibut.”

Ivan has brought Phyllis, his new-ish wife, that he left Joe and Carrie’s alcoholic mother for 15 years ago. She is not exactly welcome, needless to say. Patty Hagel, another Avon Players veteran, infuses the role with kindness and affection, and soon begins to thaw the frosty atmosphere.

But the pivotal character, the one who ultimately brings everyone together, is warm-hearted Renee. Even though she suffers from chronic foot-in-mouth disease and doesn’t know how to dress, she is irresistable. Especially to Joe.

Direction by Joy Oetjens is subtle. At first there doesn’t seem to be any character or story development, just a series of funny lines and mugging throughout the first act. But the crux of the story sneaks up on you, and soon you see through the characters’ posing and defensiveness. A real crisis is at hand.

Costumes by Lana Hastings are decade-neutral but may be from the 1990s (Clue: no one has a cell phone, but there’s one reference to “the internet”). Sets by Jeff Stillman and Jonathan Farrell will make you yearn for reruns of “That 70’s Show”.

“Drinking Alone” offers lessons for those who have dealt with alcoholism and serious illness in their lives: forgiveness, patience and unwavering support are what matters most. And sometimes it takes a loving “outsider” to really see into the heart of a family, even one with a messy past, and to help it heal.


Now through March 23, 2024

Tickets $25.00

Avon Playhouse

1185 Washington Rd

Rochester Hills, MI 48306

(248) 608-9077

Avon Players Theatre is a registered 501 ©3 non-profit organization. Founded in 1947, it is celebrating its 77th anniversary.


“A Little More Alive” at Meadow Brook Theatre, Rochester Hills MI

By Greg & Suzanne Angeo


Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (Member, American Theatre Critics Association)

and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)

Photos courtesy of Sean Carter Photography

(seated) Noah Barnes, Amber Hurst Martin (standing) Liam Fennecken, Ron Williams


Secrets Revealed in “A Little More Alive”

Meadow Brook Theatre’s latest offering marks the Michigan premiere of “A Little More Alive”, a 2014 musical dramedy about a family secret revealed at a mother’s funeral that could change forever the lives of two brothers and their father.

American actor/writer Nick Blaemire created “A Little More Alive” while he was still in his 20s, after the one-two punch of appearing in John Waters’ “Cry Baby” and his own one-night wonder, the rock musical “Glory Days”, in 2008. Blaemire went on to star in the 2016 revival of Jonathan Larson’s “Tick Tick…Boom” off Broadway (Larson had achieved fame in 1994 with his revolutionary musical “Rent”, transforming musical theatre, before his untimely death in 1996). “A Little More Alive” had its premiere in April 2014 at the Kansas City Repertory Company. Larson’s influence is everywhere throughout the show, from its non-rhyming lyrics to its contemporary free-form musical style to its creative storytelling that includes home movies projected onto an upstage wall.

Liam Fennecken, Noah Barnes

Maggie, a wife and mother, has died too young, and her grieving husband, Gene, and their two twenty-something sons, Nate and Jeremy, gather with friends at the family home for her funeral. There’s tension in the air between the estranged brothers – rudderless Nate and workaholic Jeremy (nicknamed “Germ”). The opening number, “Pot at a Funeral”, pretty much sums up Nate’s attitude towards life. Jeremy can’t wait to get away, back to work and his girlfriend. But letters written by Maggie turn up and reveal something that rewrites every memory the boys have of their mother, all preserved in the home movies they watch after the funeral. This revelation ultimately brings everyone closer, and brings forgiveness and insight back into their lives.

MBT veteran Ron Williams delivers a powerful performance in song and movement as Gene, a father in denial. Newcomer Noah Barnes possesses an outstanding voice and real authority in the role of hard-driving Jeremy. Liam Fennecken as the depressed and aimless Nate infuses his character with likeability and empathy. Rounding out the excellent cast is Amber Hurst Martin as hospice worker Lizzie, Melanie Frasca as Molly and last but not least, Katie Johnson as the vivacious Maggie (as seen in the home movies).

Melanie Frasca, Liam Fennecken, Noah Barnes

Director Travis Walter puts all of his creative talents to work in keeping the 95 minutes (no intermission) moving along. There are nice touches in staging, with moveable set pieces forming different rooms, a basement and even another house.

Even with all this amazing talent assembled and brought to the fore, it struggles to overcome the inherent weakness in the material. The plot seems thin and undeveloped, and the music is repetitive, with many songs sounding almost the same. This show could possibly be more effective as a shorter one-act, with the running time and musical numbers cut in half.

It’s a pleasant enough show, well-executed and worth seeing for the marvelous cast, director and stagecraft.


When: Now through March 10, 2024

Tickets $37 to $46

Where: Meadow Brook Theatre at Wilson Hall

Oakland University

378 Meadow Brook Rd

Rochester Hills, MI 48309

(248) 377-3300

Special Note: As COVID-19 is a constantly changing situation, MBT will be monitoring and adhering to the guidance given by the CDC, the State of Michigan, the Actor’s Equity Association, and Oakland University. Check the Meadow Brook Theatre website for the latest information on efforts to keep everyone safe.

This production is made possible through the generous support of the Michigan Arts and Cultural Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fred and Barbara Erb Family Foundation, the Shubert Foundation and the Meadow Brook Theatre Guild.

Meadow Brook Theatre is a professional theatre located on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. MBT is a nonprofit cultural institution serving southeast Michigan for more than 56 years.

Bees and Honey–Well Done!

By Flora Lynn Isaacson

Marin Theatre Company presents the West Coast Premiere of Bees and Honey, a new play by Guadalis Del Carmen on stage now through March 10.

In an interview with the Theatre Times Del Carmen explains the play is “about love…we’re taught that love is this perfect and beautiful thing that can magically fix everything, but everyone leaves out the part about love being hard work. To see two people of color (specifically Afro-Latinx) on stage having a real and raw relationship is rare.”  Karina Gutierrez’ excellent direction and the extraordinary talent of Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Manuel) and Katherine George (Johaira) bring Del Carmen’s powerful love story to life.

As the play begins, Juan Luis Guerra’s bachata song, “Como Abeja al Panal” plays in the background while Manuel and Johaira talk about the thrill of dancing to bachata music (popular in their shared Dominican culture). They reminisce about how they met before they got married and their first dance together. The lights dim and the music gets louder as they begin dancing in complete sync with one another. Their movements are rhythmic, sensual, intense and demonstrate the strong connection and passion they feel for each other.

But the spell is broken as the lights go up and the next scene takes us inside the couple’ small apartment.  As the story develops, their individual differences, work challenges, family conflicts, gender roles and sexuality all come into play illustrating how even the most loving relationships can be difficult.

The play requires both actors to express a broad range of emotions. Lendeborg Jr.’s acting is especially impressive when portraying his character’s vulnerabilities. George exeplifies her character’s ambivalence, frustration and sorrow.  Their performances are authentic, heartfelt and deeply moving.

Carlos Antonio Aceves (Scenic Design), Jeunee Simon (Intimacy Coordinator), Mark Ellis (Dance Consultant) and Kate Boyd (Lighting Design) all deserve special recognition for their contribution to this incredible show. In fact, all of the creative team and show staff makes it a memorable experience–not to be missed!

Coming up next at Marin Theatre Company is Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song, directed by Richard Mosqueda, May 9-June 2.

Don’t Miss Spamalot at NTC

By Flora Lynn Isaacson

Photo:  Top Row:  Nicole Thordsen (Sir Robin), Izaak Heath (Sir Lancelot), John Griffin (Sir Bedevere) & Michael Coury Murdock (Sir Galahad). Bottom Row:  Michael Hunter (Patsy) & Bruce Vieira (King Arthur). Photo by Jere Torkesen & HariettePearl Fuggit

Novato Theater Company’s current production Spamalot is an amusing and fun-filled musical on stage now through March 3. Based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the play won Eric Idle a Tony Award for Best Musical in 2005. This show is entertaining from start to finish thanks to excellent choreography and musical staging by Marilyn Izdebski who also produced the show.

The creativity of the director (Larry Williams) and production team along with the large cast’s fine acting, singing and dancing bring this hilarious parody of King Arthur’s legend to life. A wonderful live band features Daniel Savio (Keyboard, Conductor), Christopher Hewitt (Keyboard), Zack Miller (Bass) and Dean Cook (Drums). Savio’s musical direction brings out the best of John DuPrez’ and Eric Idle’s original music.

As Act One begins, the “Historian” (Bethe Jensen) appears on a castle balcony and provides an overview of life in England around the year 900. Incredible sound and energy comes off the stage as the music begins and the large ensemble performs the first song and dance number “Fisch Schlapping.”  Next Bruce Vieira gives a powerful performance of “King Arthur’s Song”.  He is a commanding yet comical King Arthur leading the quest for the Holy Grail.

Another highlight in Act One is a delightful rendition of the song “I’m Not Dead Yet” featuring Kevin Allen (Not Dead Fred), Nicole Thordsen (Sir Robin) and Izaak Heath (Sir Lancelot). The next scenes showcase the extraordinary talent of Dani Innocenti Beem as the Lady of the Lake. She sings “The Song that Goes Like This” beautifully with Michael Coury Murdock (Sir Galahad).

Other stand out performances include John Griffin as Sir Bedevere, Jere Torkelsen as God, Sir Not Appearing & Brother Maynard and Paul Hogarth as The French Taunter & Minstrel.  The four main dancers (Abigail Burton, Shino Yamagami Cline, Olivia Ekoue Totou and Hannah Passanisi) add much to the show especially as “Laker Girls” (complete with pom-poms) and “Showgirls” as the setting moves to a Vegas-like Court of Camelot. Kudos to Tracy Bell Redig for her bold costume design.

In Act Two, King Arthur and his side-kick Patsy (Michael Hunter) get lost in the forest. They are soon joined by the full company for the play’s signature song “Always Look on the Bright Side.” Other stand out songs include Beem singing “Whatever Happened to My Part,” and Allen performing “Where Are You/Here Are You” as Prince Herbert.

Right before the finale, Arthur, Patsy and the Knights sing “The Grail’s Been Found” then the full company ends the show with a wedding scene reprising the song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Soon the whole audience is singing along and smiling.

Coming up next at Novato Theater Company is Noises Off by Michael Frayn, directed by Carl Jordan, June 20-July 14.



RVP’s Our Town–Superb!

By Flora Lynn Isaacson

Jaeden Sanchez and Steve Price in Our Town

Photo by Robin Jackson

Ross Valley Players’ current production of Our Town is superb.  The show runs now through February 25 at the Barn Theater in Ross.  Director Chloe Brozan and the talented cast bring Thornton Wilder’s classic American story to life.

Following the play’s premiere in 1938, Wilder wrote “the audience was deeply absorbed…there was much laughter and applause.” The next run flopped in Boston but the Broadway show was a hit winning Wilder a Pulitzer Prize. At the time Eleanor Roosevelt said the play “moved and depressed her.”  Her description ironically reflects the play’s main theme–that life is both “awful…and wonderful,” yet each moment should be treasured because “it goes so fast.”

As the show begins, it is clear this is a “play within a play.” The set is sparse, the stage mostly empty until the “stage manager” (played exquisitely by Lisa Morse) welcomes the audience and describes the small town and people of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Morse is especially good at introducing characters and explaining events as she enters and exits the stage speaking directly to the audience.

The story focuses on two families and the changes in their lives during the years 1901-1913, especially the love that develops between George Gibbs (Jaeden Sanchez) and Emily Webb (Tina Traboulsi). Sanchez beautifully captures both his character’s youthful hope and later grief. Traboulsi is extraordinary and her range outstanding as her character matures and changes over time.

The rest of the cast (composed of both younger and older actors) is equally brilliant, especially Michael-Paul Thomsett (Dr. Gibbs), Lauri Smith (Mrs. Gibbs), Steve Price (Mr. Webb), Jennifer McGeorge (Mrs. Webb) and Ann Fairlie (Mrs. Soames). Price is convincing as a loving father and a man not prepared for the many changes taking place around him. Fairlie’s role may be small but her stage presence is off the charts. Kudos also to the rest of the incredible cast including Dalton Ortiz (Joe/Wally), Justin Hernandez (Howie/Sam), Alexandra Fry (Rebecca/Si), Tom Reilly (Professor/Constable/Mr. Morgan) and Peter Warden (Simon).

Thanks also to Michael Berg (excellent period costumes), Ronald Krempetz and Michael Walraven (set), Billie Cox (sound/original music) and Frank Sarubbi (lighting). Their creativity adds much to the overall mood and enjoyment of this production.

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players is The Divine Sarah, a musical by June Richards and Elaine Lang, directed by Jay Manley, March 15-March 31.




“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, Avon Players, Rochester Hills MI

By Greg & Suzanne Angeo


Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (member, American Theatre Critics Association; Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle), and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)

Photos by Bryan Clifford


Christopher on High



Captivating and Inspiring Whodunnit


What better way to enjoy Avon Playhouse’s snazzy new seating than to come see their newest presentation, the Tony award-winning play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”? This uniquely brilliant show offers a glimpse of the world through the eyes of a courageous 15-year-old math genius named Christopher, who just happens to be on the autism spectrum. He finds himself in the middle of a (canine) murder mystery that leads down a rabbit hole of secrets held by those around him, including his family.

“The Curious Incident…”, by noted British-Irish playwright Simon Stephens, premiered in August 2012 at the Royal National Theatre in London, winning seven Olivier Awards. It went on to Broadway in October 2014 and ran for two years, winning multiple awards, including the Tony award for best play.

Christopher lives with his father in the southwestern English town of Swindon. It’s obvious the youngster has issues: He is an excellent student but can’t look people in the eye, cannot relate to others on an emotional level. When someone touches him, he reacts violently, sometimes striking out, sometimes collapsing on the floor in a fetal position. Despite these challenges, he is interested in the world and the universe beyond, determined to learn all he can. Then, suddenly his life is changed forever when he discovers his neighbor’s beloved dog has been killed, impaled by a very large garden fork. He is suspected of killing the dog but embarks on his own investigation to find out who did it, and clear his name.

Christopher + Dog

The story is presented in such an original and disarming way that you will be drawn in immediately, starting with the opening sequence featuring a backdrop of streaming projected images from the James Webb telescope, courtesy of projectionist Bryan Clifford. These images change dramatically during the course of the show and help tell the story, almost like another character. Christopher’s teacher Siobhan, played by Caitlin O’Brien with lyrical concern, serves as de facto narrator by reading from Christopher’s own writings about the mysterious happenings. You can see that Christopher (a remarkable Robert Carrigan) refuses to allow his so-called disability to limit his progress or stifle his bold curiosity. His father Ed (Luigi Murri in a strong performance) is trying to protect his son from the world, and from the truth. Joy Oetjens, as the wayward mother Judy, effectively shows the anguish and conflict in her own hidden life that leads Christopher on a dangerous journey in search of answers.

Six precisely positioned actors, identified only as Voice 1, Voice 2, etc, bear witness to Christopher’s strained interactions with his parents, teacher and neighbors. These Voice actors serve as inanimate objects (a microwave oven, a door, train station signs), and are also characters within the story, creating vignettes and pantomime in between various roles. Several black cubes, each about two feet square, serve as key set pieces that are moved around by the Voice actors into various configurations, depending on the scene.

Siobhan + Christopher

Lighting by JD Deierlein is stark and crisp, like the mind of the young protagonist. Lia DiFonzo’s precise, steady direction keeps the energy focused and keeps us fascinated from beginning to end. Under her guidance, the cast (as ensemble, and as individual actors) works with harmony and purpose.

Besides being a wonderful and entertaining mystery, this is a truly inspiring show for those who know anyone on “the spectrum”. Even in a world where people and objects are interchangeable, experiences are compartmentalized and comfort comes from mathematical calculations, there is great joy in achievement and discovery.


Christopher + Canis Major

Rated R for language and mature concepts


Now through February 3, 2024

Tickets $25.00

Avon Playhouse

1185 Washington Rd

Rochester Hills, MI 48306

(248) 608-9077


Chiromani at Ballet de l’Opera Paris

By Jo Tomalin

The Opera National de Paris in France offers an international program for Jeune Public -Young Audiences – featuring performances of professional dance, music, operas, ballet and musicals. Open to all, the program is geared towards young people and their families, teenagers and young adults who are offered a plethora of choices from these art forms throughout the season, and some companies offer workshops and talks from the artists. What a wonderful opportunity to discover world class performances and to develop a taste for the arts!

January 12 -15, 2024, this program presents Chiromani at the Amphithéâtre Olivier Messiaen, Opera Bastille, Paris. Chiromani, choreographed by Salim Mzé Hamadi Moissi and performed by Moissi and six dancers is named after the traditional fabric worn by women from the Comores, an Archipelago located between the African coast and Madagascar.

The dance traditions of this region range from 16th-century African Bantu and Muslim cultures to 19th century French colonization to the present day. Moissi has created a hybrid of the physical expressions of life in Comores by blending tradition with modernity – including hip hop!

Moissi and his cast – several with dance awards from the Comoros – are dynamic, athletic and graceful at the same time. The program states that there are traditional dances in the Comores for men and others for women but in this performance the women will be honored and dances will combine and feature both male and female dancers.

The abstract visual storytelling of the choreography, together with the inspired moody lighting design by Patrick Clitus result in a vibrant and visceral performance set to a melange of recorded music and sounds. The music ranges in styles and speeds with fast electric urban rhythms to slow processionals that curve around the stage in the ensembles, duets and solos. A highlight is a solo to pensive piano music, which is particularly moving. Beautiful imagery is created by the sincerity and creative physicality in the space – and later on in the costume change from street clothes to solid color gowns replete with several multicolored sections in each one.

The cast: Mohamed Abode, Saila Ali Ahmed, Takia Ali Ahmed Abdallah, Origine Mohamed, Salim Mzé Hamadi Moissi, Kamal Mzembaba, Nael Omar.

At the performance I attended on 12th January, the amphitheatre was almost full and the performance was very well received by the audience. The energy and emotive performances of the dancers is outstanding and the choreography is from the inner soul with pure movement that is original and compelling. This company creates and shares a wonderful sense of community with us in the one hour performance – Highly Recommended!

More Information:


Bejart Ballet Lausanne at Ballet de l’Opera Paris

By Jo Tomalin

The Paris Opera presents guest company Béjart Ballet Lausanne at the Palais Garnier January 4 to 7, 2024. Béjart Ballet Lausanne is a world class company that continues to present works by Maurice Béjart.

This program features recorded music throughout, and comprises four pieces choreographed by Béjart and begins with Tous les hommes presque toujours s’imaginent, a work choreographed by Gil Roman, the company’s artistic director. Set to melodic and sombre music with energised sections by John Zorn, the large company of dancers play angels and tribe members. Costumes of earth tones with fascinating textured long skirts with sashes unify the ballet with the intriguing set of a low circular wall suggesting an amphitheatre. A larger wall center stage creatively becomes a video screen that adds another dimension to the relationships and visual storytelling.

The choreography blends small and larger groups moving across the stage, sometimes with Egyptian motifs. A trio of playful angels is delightful, lovely partnering in another section is elegant and another highlight is a duo that is so moving, fluid and emotive. There is also a contemporary wit in a section of delicious sinewy movement.

The following four pieces are choreographed by Béjart. Bhakti III is fourteen minutes long, is set to traditional indian music and features crisp solos and duos led by Shakti danced by Mari Ohashi and Shiva danced by Alessandro Cavallowith wonderful extensions. The mise en scene is supported by six dancers representing men in prayer on the floor thenstanding, chanting with yogic motifs and finger bell chimes.

The next piece, Duo is 9 minutes of pure joy, set to music by Munir Bashir that begins with flute sounds and perfectly complements the lithe long lines and fluid dance quality of Valerija Frank and Julien Favreau. The choreography includes the pair mirroring each other at times, acrobatic inspired movement – and a beautiful feeling of yearning as the music becomes melodic and haunting.

Dibouk is a glorious seven minute piece – and a main highlight of the program. Set to traditional jewish music, Kathleen Thielhelm and Dorian Browne change directions rapidly and have a visceral push-pull relationship that works so well to drive the visual storytelling. Lighting is creatively used in this piece almost as another character when we begin with a huge shadow on the wall that is ominous, then the lighting becomes warmer. The flow of this piece is wonderful – short and sweet!

Finally, the company performs 7 Danses Grecques, set to music by Mikis Theodorakis, with ensemble dances and two series of outstanding Pas de Deux featuring Kwinten Guilliams, Konosuke Takeoka; Oana Cojocaru, Masayoshi Onuki, Floriane Bigeon, Denovane Victoire. Dramatic moments include when the entire company moves together towards the audience! Big jumps and leaps, a rich blue backdrop, lovely ensemble work and smaller groups dance with precision and grace. Jaunty moments in the choreography are fun and add to the high level of technique and quality of dance in this company.

This is a superlative company performing a wide variety of dance pieces. Highly Recommended!

More Information:

Jiri Kylian Evening: Ballet de l’Opera Paris

By Jo Tomalin

The Ballet de l’Opera, Paris, presents a new production with work by renowned choreographer Jiří Kylián at the Palais Garnier, 8-31 December, 2023. The production, Jiri Kylián Evening, comprises three sections of four pieces performed by this company at the Opera national de Paris. 

Kylián, from Prague, started his career in the Czech capital as a dancer and later became an acclaimed award-winning choreographer after moving to Europe. Kylián’s works have been performed worldwide and are known for their musicality, imagery and dry wit.

In the first piece, Gods and Dogs, with Kylián’s choreography, set design, costume design with Joke Visser, and music design, the choreography ranges from angular to lyrical motifs, beautifully danced. Deep echos and sounds of the music by Dirk P. Haubrich and Ludwig van Beethoven fill the large, storied Palais Garnier auditorium. There’s an edgy air of what’s going to happen, and suddenly a strange monster appears up high. The choreography is often low gravity muscular movement in ever changing combinations, including trios and solos with surprises in the movement from changes of direction and jumps. There is a dramatic moment when a curtain comes down centre stage, which seems to be metallic and shimmery – due to the beautiful lighting by Kees Tjebbes, which is a highlight of this intriguing piece. The wide curtain is very effective as it changes levels and sways, giving a lot of visual movement behind the dancers. Costumes are modern with long wide pants for the male dancers and short sleeve tops and shorts for the female dancers. 

The second piece, Stepping Stones, choreographed by Kylián is very dramatic looking with black costumes, black backdrop, and a huge black triangle above the stage, which moves up and down and tilts. The other side of the triangle is an intricate wooden structure beautifully lit and adds to the atmosphere, with set and lighting design by Michael Simon. Costume design by Joke Visser is interesting, the male dancers in black shorts with narrow additions of red and green and female dancers’ black leotards include stylish front sections and straps with narrow, purple and teal stripes. Kylián’s choreography shows a traditional balletic foundation with modern extensions interspersed with quirky moments that complement the music choices of John Cage and Anton Webern very well. Several themes are expressed in this piece including mythology and ritual. A small group of dancers balance trays on their feet and move adeptly in unison in one part of the imaginative mise en scène across the stage, replete with a group of three large foreboding gold cats upstage. A section with a trio of three women is utterly glorious! The entire piece is on the music, quirky, and fascinating.   

The third and final part of the evening comprises two notable contrasting pieces, Petite Mort and Secus Tänze, both choreographed by Kylián. Petite Mort is set to beautiful music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when the starting image is of six male dancers holding large swords, and then dancing with them! This piece is moving and visceral in both dance quality and choreography, with highlight sections of six athletic duets and an outstanding section with five female dancers. Romantic but not sentimental with costumes by Joke Visser and set and light design by Kylián, yet another exceptional duet later in the piece dazzles with sublime muscularity and extensions. Wow!

Secus Tänze is a wild and delicious visual storytelling of a time gone by filled with wit, joy and vibrant choreography set to glorious music by Mozart, with set and costume design by Kylián and lighting design by Joop Caboort. The bizarre and charming sections are supported by the large hair and powdered make up design with pink cheeks together with white calf length dresses and ethereal expressive costumes. Choreography includes unusual lifts, twirls, skirt flourishes and fast movement. What really shows through in this piece is the quality of this large company of Etoiles, Premieres Danseuses, Premieres Danseurs and the Corps de Ballet of the Opera national de Paris. They relate to each other so well with facial reactions and their physicality in this piece that it adds another dimension to the performance. Don’t miss this program or the glorious end moments of the evening! Highly Recommended!!!

More Information: