In the midst of the current emphasis on movement, and the continued impact on modern dance of its “masterpiece” of Mark Morris’ “The Pittsburgh Ballet,” a one-hour, choreographed installation in an ornate, serpentine, mid-19th-century performance hall reminds us of another era of eye-popping dancing.
At the Florida Baptist Theological Seminary-built Stanley Whitney Dance Theatre — now called Stanley Whitney Dance in honor of its first artistic director — audiences will witness five minutes of choreography created in 1914 by Igor Stravinsky — and premiered there.
The somber Russian composer’s quintessential classical ballet — “The Rite of Spring” — shows one man, the Oresteia, turning away from death with virtuosic choreography while inconsequential music plays behind him.
“The Oresteia” was commissioned by the “Temple of the Dancers” of the City National Congregational Church in Manhattan, which had recently opened, and has been seen on a handful of stages in the U.S. The “Temple of the Dancers” was later made famous when it was performed in its entirety in Central Park in 1913 by the American Ballet Theatre.
“The Oresteia” was choreographed by Stravinsky in his only movie score. “It’s a rollercoaster ride,” says Jean Jandro, the Fabulous Four-member who directed and choreographed “Iborhe,” the next piece, this weekend’s performance.
Following Jandro’s floor-stomping “crawls” are “Iborhe,” an elongated act of despair that shows Stravinsky’s genius to make movement in those combinations.
In its current architectural setting, the dance theater contains a pair of dark wooden gates. Jandro enlarged the gates from two latticework columns to three and was determined not to duplicate the wood-paneled design found in the original. She created an odd bed of foliage from 20 tons of dry ice.
The celebrated classical Russian musician and composer Sergei Prokofiev is played through a complicated translation by veteran actor Richard Soisson, who has starred in the musicals “Les Miserables” and “A Chorus Line.” The original Russian title of the ballet remains legible through Prokofiev’s score.
Mmm, far-off land.
Jean Jandro directs dancers (from left: Julie LaRue, Lucas Crowe, Jessica Lawson, Taylor Bacon and Daniel Adams) from the Philip Glass Dance Company in a five-minute excerpt from the Igor Stravinsky ballet “The Oresteia.” Directed by Jandro and choreographed by Jean Jandro. Directed by Jandro and choreographed by Jean Jandro.
How does Stanley Whitney, the original intended name for this magnificent dance theater in 1956, come up with contemporary names for his programs? (“Do Yourself a Favor,” “Picasso at Large” and “Live Well, Live Hope” from 1985 are among his series.)
Every summer on the University of Miami campus, “WOLFGANG & THE SHOCK OF THE BLACK GELATO” will take place. In 1987, at an AIDS benefit on stage, Stanley Whitney gave the cheekiest speech of his lifetime: “If a rich man cannot afford to save himself, he is not a rich man. I pay taxes. I run a profitable business. If people die of AIDS, we must begin to pay for this injustice. People die of AIDS. Fine. There is a business risk in treating AIDS.”
Two Florida Baptist Theological Seminary alumni, whose names appear on some of the theater’s walls — Jackie Chase and Richard Shacey — are also executives with the Tate Modern Art Gallery in London.