Tag Archives: Mikhail Fokine

Nichol Mason Lazenby

April 22, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Nichol Mason Lazenby left the L.A. Contemporary Dance Company to relocate to Omaha less than two years ago, she knew nothing of her new home and had decidedly low expectations regarding the breadth and depth of any opportunities that might await.

“I had no familiarity with the Midwest, let alone Omaha, and I panicked a bit at the thought of moving here,” says the southern California dancer/choreographer who had been a professor at the University of Arizona and now teaches at the Omaha Academy of Ballet. So Mason Lazenby decided to send out some feeler emails to the usual suspects in the dance community here. Less than 30 minutes later in some cases, she recalls, replies came pouring in from the likes of Creighton University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Omaha may have been a big fat question mark for her, but no question mark is needed when assessing the immediate impact she has made on the local scene.


This winter found her in performances with both the Omaha Dance Project (at Marian High School’s new Mary Joy and Tal Anderson Performing Arts Center) and the tbd Dance Collective in “Making Space II: An Evening of Curated Choreography” (at KANEKO).

In April she had a hand in choreographing “Vive Paris” at Creighton University and “Evenings of Dance” at UNL. In May she’ll choreograph Heathers The Musical at the Blue Barn Theatre. And she is now preparing for a yet-to-be-named performance of her work in Motion41’s Encore space as a result of her winning last year’s OMAHAgraphy competition.

“I’ve been fortunate to be embraced by the dance community this way,” Mason Lazenby says, “especially the women of tbd.”

She was a guest artist last year when tbd took the Encore stage for its own OMAHAgraphy gig. Lazenby’s “Strange Mercy,” a solo work that she both choreographed and danced, was the showstopper of the evening and drew the loudest and most sustained applause.

“Lazenby’s movements,” this reviewer wrote at the time, “had me conjuring images of Anna Pavlova dancing Mikhail Fokine’s ‘The Dying Swan.’ Except that Pavlova was dancing all the wrong steps. And that she was thoroughly, over-the-top insane. And on acid.”

The art form has always had an intractable power over me. My most spine-tingling encounters with the genre, as was the case with Mason Lazenby and “Strange Mercy” and just as it is with any theater or performance art or opera or visual art that pushes boundaries and pushes buttons, runs along the lines of “I’m not exactly sure how to process what I just saw…but I love it.”

“That’s what’s amazing about modern dance, Mason Lazenby says. It is innate…primal. It can be just as percussive and frantic as it is sinewy, graceful, and luxuriously indulgent.” The key, she adds, is that modern dance is thoroughly experiential. It can be no other way.

“Every audience member will react in their own way,” she says. “It’s a form of communication…a movement-based form of communication. Every dancer communicates in a way that translates their world. And every audience member will experience those movements as framed by their world.”

Visit nicholmason.com to see her work.


Anna Pavlova on Acid

May 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

An Omaha Magazine web exclusive.

Perhaps we should blame it on poet e.e. cummings. You know, that ongoing trend where lowercase letters are used in proper names that would otherwise be capitalized.

I was reminded of this oddity the other night at Saturday’s performance of collected things by tbd. dance collective. It’s not so much an editor’s nightmare to resist the temptation to represent the group as Tbd. Dance Collective as it’s just particularly painful to do so because there is absolutely nothing at all “lowercase” about the edgy and intoxicating work of this troupe of dance anarchists.

In an octet of short pieces at Motion41 Dance (that’s right…no space before the “41,” but that’s a different pet peeve) the jarring blended with the ethereal as the raw power of modern dance unfolded. Virtually all of the company’s core members have danced with The Moving Co., the storied University of Nebraska-Omaha collective founded in 1935. And it is somehow appropriate that several have also trained in classical ballet. After all, modern dance is often described as a rebellious uprising against the conventions and formalities of en pointe stylings.

As a group, the cadre of artists are best taken as a single-cell organism. Just as one piece was presented as a roiling eruption of limbs-everywhere frenetics, the next could be an idyllic vision of serenity in a neoclassical, “Isadoarble” motif with subtle echoes of the earliest, now-century-old choreography of the genre.

But it was the solos that will linger longest in this reviewer’s memory.

Founding member Kat Fackler, the Bettie Page look-alike (right down to the razor-sharp bangs) featured in the current issue of The Encounter, was hypnotic in the extended solo that punctuated “Off Guard,” a Nichol Mason Lazenby-choreographed work originally commissioned by the Omaha Academy of Ballet for the 2015 Omaha Dance Project.

But it was Lazenby herself that delivered the showstopper of the evening in yet another of her own works, “Strange Mercy,” the only fully solo piece. The guest artist, one who performed with the L.A. Dance Co. and later taught as a professor at the University of Arizona before returning to Omaha, received the loudest and most sustained applause.

Modern dance gets into this writer’s head in a way that other forms of the art cannot. For some strange reason, Lazenby’s movements had me conjuring images of Anna Pavlova dancing Mikhail Fokine’s “The Dying Swan.” Except that Pavlova was dancing all the wrong steps. And that she was thoroughly, over-the-top insane. And on acid.

Forget the use of lowercase for such a performance. That one deserves nothing less than permanently glueing down the CAPS LOCK BUTTON ON MY KEYBOARD.


A Life in Dance

April 30, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Her ethereal rendition of Mikhail Fokine’s “The Dying Swan” is a to-die-for delight. His gracefully rugged athleticism—not to mention a mop-top of untamed curls—makes him among the most recognizable figures in Omaha dance.

Bret Samson and Sasha York fell in love with the ballet at an early age, but it was as company dancers with Ballet Nebraska that they fell in love with each other.

Omaha Magazine caught up with the couple during a reception following the company’s performance of Duets, where Samson’s gossamer swan met its poetic demise.

“It’s kind of weird,” says Samson, “because work is work and home is home. We don’t often dance together in productions, so we can really get lost in rehearsals and forget that we’re even in the same room. Then we get home and it’s like, ‘Oh, hi! How was your day’?”

“I’m just glad,” the Russian-born York demurs, “that I’m paid to lift pretty women for a living.”

Samson’s accompanying eye roll suggests that a sharp elbow to the ribs may have been in order had she not been surrounded by so many wine-sipping, canapé-noshing witnesses. Is it possible that York had just uttered one of his “Greatest Hits” lines, perhaps now for the hundredth time?

“Make that the millionth time,” Samson replies with a coquettish grin.

On tap (make that en pointe) for Ballet Nebraska, the state’s only professional ballet troupe, is Momentum, the award-winning mixed-repertory series that showcases a vibrant mix of shorter works in a broad array of styles and themes, both contemporary and classic.

The program includes Poseidon, an elegant, original ballet in the neoclassical style by company ballet master Matthew Carter. It is based on the Joslyn Art Museum exhibit Poseidon and the Sea: Myth, Cult and Daily Life. Also featured will be Party Animals!, where ‘60s beats meet African rhythms in a whimsical, high-energy work by company founder Erika Overturff.

Ballet Nebraska’s Momentum will be performed May 2 in the Joslyn Art Museum Witherspoon Hall and May 4 in The Arts Center of Iowa Western Community College. Visit BalletNebraska.org for additional information.