Culture 2 Go

Ballet wins ‘Battle'
Battle of the Sexes
Performed March 19-21 at
Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre

Performed for one weekend only, Orlando Ballet's production of Battle of the Sexes has taken its final bow, but there was too much to like in the March 19 debut not to share. Make no mistake, artistic director Robert Hill went for maximum impact: dramatic lighting, clever costumes, a barrage of sound, buff bodies and a maze of genre-busting styles.

Opening with two pieces choreographed by Hill himself, the limber young company jumped from Orff's searing, pulsating Carmina Burana to a taut, witty take on the rumble between the Jets and the Sharks in Bernstein's West Side Story. Then it was on to a seductive tango in "Vos y Yo," with guest artist Israel Rodriguez and Katia Garza moving as one to Piazzolla's music through their own choreography.

And that was the beginning of the night's eternal story of romantic love. Ranging from brief, often poignant solos such as Rodriguez's sensuous, sizzling "That's Life," to ensemble extravaganzas like the frenetic finale, "Give It Up," Battle of the Sexes offers an affecting panoply of emotions — tender infatuation, steamy seduction, jealousy, contempt, lust — and always, in myriad ways, vivid passion, a hot thread that weaves the ambitious performance into a satisfying, if dizzying statement.

Older, wiser but still ready to get back into the ring, Rodriguez elastically then defied gravity as he rolled with the punches in "That's Life." Just as evocative was the pain of rejection in "Cucurucucu Paloma," expressed exquisitely by the lithe, theatrical Garza and Daniel Benavides. In the literally reflective "I Who Have Nothing," Anita Boer and Anamarie McGinn represented two halves of the soul, mirroring each other's movements until the piece's stunning resolution.

The dances defined Battle of the Sexes, which carried adaptations of rock, jazz, Fosse and gymnastics to keep the beat constant, if as erratic as the performance's overarching theme. In "Carmen Pas de Deux," Patric Palkens and Chiaki Yasukawa embodied the pain and excitement of attraction and rejection, while in the sinuous "Warm Leatherette," the company's sleek black-clad figures were interchangeably androgynous. The fiery clash between lovers reached its pitch in "Walk on By," amped up the voltage in "War" and exploded — complete with the stop-action effects of lighting designer Helena Kuukka's snapping strobes — in the finale.

Not surprisingly, Hill's unrelentingly propulsive blend of sound, sight and motion had the audience on its feet by that finale, cheering and clapping. In Battle of the Sexes, Hill fearlessly mixed genres and styles, eras and passions into a fiery, ferocious spectacle. If far from orthodox, it was a thrill ride that proved that too much is never enough. I wonder what Hill will do with Le Corsaire (April 23-25), the final production in his inaugural season with Orlando Ballet?

— Laura Stewart

Edible science
Future Food
10 p.m. Tuesday, April 6
Planet Green

When I saw Planet Green had created a series called Future Food, the name sounded intriguing enough to give the show a look, even though I was so unfamiliar with the channel I wasn't even sure it was in my lineup.

It was, and tuning in turned out to be an excellent decision. Future Food is a reality show that takes us behind the scenes at the "world-famous" Chicago restaurant Moto. That's where chefs Homaro Cantu and Ben Roche plus their extraordinary line cooks work and play with what they call "molecular gastronomy." To put it more plainly, the amped-up experts use ingredients or enhancements such as liquid nitrogen and methylcellulose to come up with dishes like frozen watermelon sashimi or inside-out crêpe suzettes.

As Cantu tells one of Moto's patrons, "If this is not the most bizarre dining experience you've ever had, I'm not doing my job."

Their goal is to create an "interactive" experience, and the approach is both fun and bizarre. In the kitchen, the culinary athletes take on challenges like inventing a concoction in the afternoon to be served to customers that night. The reasons they do it range from entertainment to environmental concerns to "just because I can."

In the opening episode, for example, the quality of fish isn't up to snuff and there is worry about the rising mercury levels in fresh fish as well as the practice of overfishing. The solution: Prepare delicacies that taste like seafood but contain no fish. Not all experiments turn into masterpieces, of course, and it takes discipline, knowledge and risk-taking to get things right over several attempts.

In the second show, the team starts out with several pans of leftover French toast; rather than throw it away, they are hell-bent on recycling it into a crêpe batter. Before show's end, delicious-looking crêpe baguettes are being served, a combination of ice cream and breakfast cereal. It's fun to watch the displays of sheer inventiveness as well as the breakneck pace at which the maniacs progress. (The first two episodes re-air on the Discovery Channel starting at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 3). Each episode is a brisk half-hour, so there's not much time for talk, just action. The April 6 episode calls for edible packaging, and there's a strong web presence for cooks at home.

— Marc C. Allan

21-done salute
Theatre Downtown's 21st
Through Sunday, April 3 at
Theatre Downtown
2113 N. Orange Ave.

Theatre Downtown, that scruffy drama factory at the corner of Orange Avenue and Princeton Street in uptown Orlando, has turned 21 and its celebratory bash is a swell, swinging soiree. Don't kid yourselves: In an industry where most local theater companies don't make it past the single digits, 21 is a very big deal.

So, for the birthday party, Frank Hilgenberg, Theatre Downtown's genial producer, director and impresario, along with co-directors Kevin Bee, Tim DeBaun, Fran Hilgenberg and Steve MacKinnon, chose to stage scenes and flashbacks from 21 past productions in the archive holding more than 280 comedies, dramas and musicals. In some cases, original cast members replay their roles. There's also a screening of a documentary video containing interviews of longtime associates.

To be sure, not all the scenes are first-rate reproductions, but the vast majority are, splendidly showing off the theater's deep and versatile talent pool, as well as revealing the breadth of Hilgenberg's theatrical tastes and proclivities. Whether choosing to mount the works of mainstream playwrights like Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Neil Simon or those of more contemporary authors like David Mamet, Richard Greenberg and Charles Busch, Hilgenberg has never shied away from the challenge of creating high-quality theater on less than abundant budgets.

Standouts from the performance list include a scene from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Jamie-Lyn Hawkins as Maggie, and Jim Cassidy reprising his masterful portrayal of Big Daddy; James Zelley's monologue from Death of a Salesman; Dean Walkuski and Hawkins' riveting and emotionally charged scene from Rabbit Hole; and Tommy Keesling's paean to baseball from Take Me Out.

But the evening really gets going whenever the ensemble breaks into song and dance like they do in numbers from Little Shop of Horrors, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Sordid Lives or Grease. It would be difficult to find better voices than those of Shannon Bilo, Dominique Minor or Victoria Burns in any other theater in town.

So, congratulations to Theatre Downtown on achieving this auspicious milestone. One only hopes that the following decades bring the same daring vision, youthful exuberance and heartfelt devotion to the art of theater and its community of thankful fans.

— Al Krulick

[email protected]


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