In Theaters Now: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

The audience came out of the theater. Some were pale, some had reddened eyes, some were crying openly, some hugged and held hands, some just stood looking dazed.

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Fred and Daniel Tiger

Currently, the Mr. Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor is sitting at a solid 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. There you will find oodles of actual film reviews discussing the technical merits and competencies of the documentary, as well as emotional assessments of its efficacy. I don’t feel the need to belabor the point. See it. Or don’t! 

The documentary opened months ago in April at the Florida Film Festival, and I didn’t go. All the showings were sold out, but had I tried I could have gotten tickets.

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Orlando Ballet Presents: Contemporary Wonders

Once again, Late to the Theater was very graciously invited to the Orlando Ballet. For a write up of Romeo and Juliet, go here. For a write up of Beauty and the Beast, go here.

For the final performance of Orlando Ballet’s 2017-2018 season, Artistic Director Robert Hill decided to do something more experimental than the season’s previous offerings: three different styles of performance. Although they ranged from modern/experimental to classical, all were united by the common theme of love.

Some guest artists also lent their considerable talents to the show: New York based choreographer Jessica Lang, and local chanteuse Sisaundra Lewis.

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Orlando Ballet: Arcadian Broad’s Beauty and the Beast

Note: Normally, Late to the Theater’s resident Ballet Expert Achariya reviews performances. As she is on a well-earned family vacation, Jen attended the Saturday night performance of Arcadian Broad’s Beauty and the Beast and is writing up this review. 

Saturday night, I ventured downtown to the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in order to attend Arcadian Broad’s Beauty and the Beast. 

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The Dinner Scene – Courtesy of Michael Cairns and Orlando Ballet

Overall, the performance was an absolute delight and comes highly recommended. The choreography was playful and even cheeky while still doing honor to the balletic tradition, the costumes and sets were creative but still functional, and the story exciting and innovative while still recognizable to the audience as a well-known and loved fairy tale. I found myself wishing I’d known beforehand what an uplifting and charming evening I was in for so that I could spread the word to friends, family and coworkers looking for a more sophisticated kind of family night.

(Although Orlando Ballet originally presented this ballet in 2016, I am entirely unfamiliar with that performance and can only speak to the quality of this production and their previous piece, Romeo and Juliet. I will also assume the reader is already familiar with the Disney versions of Beauty and the Beast, from which the ballet is inspired.)

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The Best of Both Worlds – Ballet and Black History Month

Today, Achariya and I are going to see Romeo and Juliet performed by the Orlando Ballet. We interviewed Artistic Director Robert Hill and principle dancer Chiaki Yasukawa a few weeks ago and you can read the whole interview here. 

It goes without saying we are BEYOND excited!

To honor both the ballet and Black History month, please check out this trailer for Misty Copeland’s documentary, A Ballerina’s Tale, available on Netflix.

And if you’re already familiar with Misty, here is a video showcasing some more up and coming ballerinas of color.

A Visit With the Orlando Ballet

Last Friday, Jen and Achariya visited the Orlando Ballet’s rehearsal space to observe the company practicing for their upcoming performance of Romeo and Juliet. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak with Artistic Director Robert Hill and principal dancer Chiaki Yasukawa.  Achariya has a background in ballet, having danced ballet and modern. For her, it felt like a homecoming. For Jen, it was exploring an entirely new country. (Neither Jen nor Achariya received compensation for this blog post, but we are grateful to Orlando Ballet for giving two curious writers their time.)

Romeo and Juliet is playing at Dr. Phillips to live music from the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra on February 9 (8 PM), 10 (8 PM), and 11 (2 PM).

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Orlando Ballet production of Romeo and Juliet (2014) – Photo by Michael Cairns

When we sat down with Chiaki Yasukawa, 17-year veteran of the Orlando Ballet, and Artistic Director Robert Hill, we weren’t quite sure how the conversation would go. Would we stick to ballet, or even this specific ballet? Would we go deep into Ms. Yasukawa’s history, or Mr. Hill’s previous experience? The answer was — yes. Our chat was wide-reaching, spanning this production of Romeo and Juliet, Orlando culture, ballets that Mr. Hill and Ms. Yasukawa have done, ballets that they wanted to do, and how dance can help us process this moment in US history.

The rehearsal that we were there to observe was Romeo and Juliet, Robert Hill’s original choreography to Prokofiev’s music, first performed by the Orlando Ballet four years ago. It is also, we learned, one of Yasukawa’s favorite roles — and the one that she is pleased will be her last as a principal dancer with the company. She loves the role because of the texture it gives her as a dancer — emotions vary between joy and grief, and in one notable pas de deux, Yasukawa has to master a range of emotions as she dances out ambivalence.

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