Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Unexpected Combos

Misty Copeland in Ash. Photo: Stephanie Berger
Now 16 years old, Fall for Dance’s audience has lost some of the mania that was a given years ago, with viewers shrieking and whooping for, improbably, ballet dancers doing fouettés. But after the first act of 2019’s opening night, which included a solo for Misty Copeland choreographed by Kyle Abraham, the latter was returning to his house seat, and got a standing ovation from the intermissing crowd. After a shy wave and a smile, he was followed by his lighting designer—who also got an ovation, if less fervent. Such is the crowd at New York City Center’s FFD—taking ownership of the art form onstage and in the enthusiastic house.

In her solo, Ash, Copeland flitted and spun in short, cursive phrases punctuated by poses that articulated her muscular, curving limbs. The stage was bare except for a big lighting rig which held a spotlight trained on her. She wore Bartelme + Jung’s costume of a gold panné leotard under vertical widths of chiffon that poofed out as she moved, evoking a jellyfish pulsing through the water. Her aspect felt private, internal, and not directed at pleasing the audience, though that’s exactly what she did.

Caleb Teicher has been working independently for many years now, while performing with Michelle Dorrance’s troupe. He’s one of several tappers who have been fortunate to work with the Dorrance during the explosion of her popularity, but whose own careers may also have been overshadowed somewhat by the same token. Teicher is now being seen in similar broad-reaching venues as Dorrance’s company, and presented Bzzzz at FFD. Beatboxer Chris Celiz provided the soundtrack (by him and Teicher) as he wandered around the stage, exchanging nods and jokes with passing dancers. Between the tapping and his vocalizations, the range of sounds was truly impressive. Teicher’s style is polished and audience friendly, with an appealingly presentational aspect. The Thom Brown-length fitted pants or tights contributed a dash of chic to this tight, entertaining suite.

Musa Motha and Thabang Mojapelo of Vuyani Dance Theater in Rise. Photo: Stephanie Berger
Vuyani Dance Theatre of South Africa performed Rise, choreographed by Gregory Maqoma in a unique blend of contemporary African dance, made even more modern-feeling by Thabo Pule’s graphic lighting and rehearsal-style costumes. Some of the motifs felt conventional—a series of energetic pull-out solos intimating the awesome power of the individual—while the singular skill of Musa Motha, a dancer with one leg who performs with a crutch, astounded. So much of what New York knows about African dance hews to traditional forms, but Vuyani shows what’s happening now—blending some traditional notes with a fresh take.

The other program I saw was similarly diverse, with modern icon Beachbirds by Cunningham leading off. The current standard bearer of the style is CNDC D’Angers of France, led by Robert Swinston, which fortunately has made regular sojourns to New York to display the style as it should be done. Beachbirds was no exception. It is perhaps one of Merce’s most representational dances, or at least its title, as the movement is comparable to other works without such a leading moniker. Like birds, the dancers hold still on one leg, pulse or flick their “wings,” and ignore, pair up, or nudge other dancers in ways that imply unspoken avian communication. Marsha Skinner’s sea coast-worthy lighting and graphic white and black unitard designs set the perfect stage for this gem.

Also evoking a warmly nostalgic tone was Geoffrey Holder’s Come Sunday, danced by Ailey alum Alicia Graf Mack. Originally set on his wife, Carmen de Lavallade, to songs sung by Odetta, the medley summoned faith, work, gratitude, and defiance with bold, simple moves and the understated eloquence of Mack’s never-ending limbs; she becomes the movements, instilling in them a purity. 

Caleb Teicher and company in Bzzzz. Photo: Stephanie Berger
Madboots Dance, based in New York, performed For Us, a duet by Jonathan Campbell and Austin Diaz performed by David Maurice and Austin Tyson. Athletic, full-out, expressionistic phrases—runs, arm whirls, jumps—ended up with the pair falling into one another in exhaustion. This became a slow dance as they unwound black gauze wrapping their hands, as fighters might wear, and eventually led to a kiss.

Fall for Dance’s annual commissions are always eagerly anticipated, even if they sometimes fall short. Such is the case with Unveiling, by Sonya Tayeh, which featured Robbie Fairchild (late of NYCB and Broadway) and ABT’s Stella Abrera and Gabe Stone Shayer. Moses Sumney created the sound while onstage—beatboxing and layering samples to impressive variety. Fairchild began the piece clutching Sumney’s chest while standing behind him. Tayeh’s expressionistic movement features elastic torso ripples, articulated arms, sweeping penchés, and hunched shoulders. 

In a plank position, Fairchild pushed himself backward in a sort of rite of penance. He lifted Abrera, skimming her toes on the stage as he spun her. Her leg extensions and crooked arms evoked a sculptural Martha Graham style. Shayer entered in that reverse plank move, and he and Fairchild linked up and cartwheeled together. By this time, the wrought movement—emotional, but why?—began to feel forced, and wasn’t helped with the lack of the use of stage depth, and the stark white lighting by Davison Scandrett. But seeing these beloved fixtures of the NY ballet world up close, experimenting in new material, is reward in itself.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Ballet in August is now a thing

Joseph Gordon and David Hallberg in Song of a Wayfarer. Photo: Maria Baranova
Ballet has a major cultural presence in New York, with two resident world-class companies (New York City Ballet and ABT), and visiting companies passing through with regularity. In recent years, the Joyce Theater—one of the city’s foremost venues for ballet, albeit on a smaller scale—has presented an evolving summer ballet series featuring a mix of emerging and/or female choreographers, chamber groups, and this year, programs curated by members of London’s Royal Ballet.

Program C, curated by Jean-Marc Puissant, led off with a premiere by ABT dancer Gemma Bond—Then and Again (music by Alfredo Piatti). Bond’s cast largely comprised fellow ABT dancers. Through duets, trios, and groupings, Bond sketched out a sort of triangle between Stephanie Williams, Thomas Forster, and Cassandra Trenary, with Williams getting left out of the mix eventually. The style is classical, organically pleasing, with 90º elbows, arched lifts. Forster sweeps Trenary low, in circles, so her toes brushed the floor. Although essentially abstract, the movement evoked curiosity, anomie, and passion.
It’s a bit odd that I’ve seen more of burgeoning choreographer Bond’s work in New York over the last decade than that by Maurice Béjart (1927—2007), the Frenchman who created in the last half of the 20th century (and whose company was once called Ballet of the 20th Century). His Song of a Wayfarer, to Mahler lieder, was staged by Maina Gielgud on David Hallberg (ABT) and Joseph Gordon, a recently promoted principal at NYCB. It is a rare male ballet duet, another plotless work in which psychological states are conveyed through gesture and intent. 
Calvin Richardson and Sarah Lamb in
Elite Syncopations. Photo: Maria Baranova

Since returning from major injury and rehab after he became world-renowned in 2011 for joining the Bolshoi while dancing with ABT, Hallberg has not only written a book about it all and become Nike sponsored, he has dabbled outside of ABT in different styles and collaborations. His Apollonian physique and line remain ideal, but it is rewarding to see him plumb his soul a bit more as well. Gordon, slightly shorter and more powerfully built, charges his movements with extra juice. Both men showed skill with the ballet technique, and the numerous lifted leg poses seemed destined to showcase Hallberg’s miraculous arches. But the question is, why do we not see more Béjart here?

Elite Syncopations, by Kenneth MacMillan, capped off a disarmingly diverse program. Set to rag tunes, the six outstanding dancers wore Ian Spurling’s gorgeous costumes—unitards with vivid decorations and patterns that mimic party garb. Trenary performed a solo, the perfect vehicle in which to show off her plush, muscular precision and kinetic wit. The Royal’s Sarah Lamb and Calvin Richardson joined in an elegant, flirtatious duet, and Marcelino Sambé wowed with standing split jumps and athletic chains of leaps.

With the eclipse of the Lincoln Center Festival, and a dearth of dance in August in general, the Joyce’s ballet series fills a void. Its ambitious four-slate series also included work by Ashton, McGregor, Arthur Pita, Laila Diallo, and more. Clearly, from the sold-out house the night I attended, audiences are responding.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Notes on ABT's company, plus Sleeping Beauty

Aran Bell in Swan Lake. Photo: Gene Schiavone.
ABT’s two-month Met season has ended, coinciding with the traditional announcement of promotions. Here are some notes on the dancers and month two; a review of the first month of the season was published in the July/August Brooklyn Rail.

Dancer notes

There’s no surprise that Aran Bell moves from the corps to soloist; it wouldn’t have even been a surprise if he was made a principal, with all the heavy lifting he’s done in the last month. (Literally. As in Devon Teuscher, Hee Seo, and Isabella Boylston, not that they’re heavy, but…) Now 20, and 6’3”, he has matured very quickly in the last few years—so fast that his headshot on ABT’s website makes him look 10 years younger than he does today. He was tapped for Princes Siegfried (Swan Lake, with Devon Teuscher) and Désiré (Sleeping Beauty, with Hee Seo, and then subbing for a sick James Whiteside with Isabella Boylston). Bell now fits the physical profile of a prince, with remarkable poise and steady partnering that might not be expected for someone so young. His leaps are stunning, his line polished and attenuated. He will only mature as an artist, gain confidence, and receive more and more high-profile roles. Watching him rise through the ranks is like watching a film in fast forward.

Joo Won Ahn was also promoted to soloist. This season, I caught him in the Neapolitan dance (Swan Lake), and as the Italian Prince in Sleeping Beauty. He ranks among the most technically ideal men, with flawless positions, high ballon, a knack for spinning, and assuring partnering skills—definite prince material. I wish I’d seen him perform Ali in Corsaire and the Bluebird in Beauty; I look forward to doing so in the future.

This season, it seemed as if Catherine Hurlin, a soloist, had been cloned—I think she was in every program I saw, providentially. There may be no better symbol of the way ABT is headed than Hurlin. A homegrown star (as is Bell, whom she is dating apparently) who has trained internally and risen through the ranks after starting to perform as a youngster, she can deftly handle any type of role, and she suffuses even small roles with wit, detail, and charm. In Beauty, she danced Violente, among the most rhythmic and charismatic of the myriad fairies, adding flair in the hand flicks that read as “don’t bother me.” She also infused the sometimes too-cute White Cat with some real sass, and shone in Tharp's challenging In the Upper Room. It’s truly exciting to watch her tackle each role, and deservedly receive more prominent roles.
Cassandra Trenary and Tyler Maloney in Harlequinade. Photo: Doug Gifford.
Cassandra Trenary, soloist, led the cast of Harlequinade I saw, dancing with Tyler Maloney. She, and Skylar Brandt, are emblematic of the solid female ranks within ABT, now being cast in the lead roles after working relentlessly in secondary parts for years. It is sometimes difficult from a viewer’s perspective to get a handle on a dancer’s individual traits and style as they perform smaller roles, but Trenary’s fearlessness and plasticity emerged when she performed this past year at the Joyce in The Tenant, a dance-theater work co-starring James Whiteside.

At ABT, the era of foreign guest star principal seems to have passed with the retirement of Roberto Bolle. For now, David Hallberg assumes the mantle of “blink or you’ll miss him” principal, performing in Manon and one Swan Lake. I regret having been away for guest star Brooklyn Mack’s performances in Corsaire, but I was happy to hear that ABT engaged him after he went unsigned by Washington Ballet. A decade ago, mainly due to injuries, it was unthinkable that Misty Copeland, Stella Abrera, Isabella Boylston, and Hee Seo would become, if you will, matinee idols at ABT, but so they have. And while their emergence, in part, has come to pass due to the end of the foreign guest star wave, which bore such female stars as Vishneva, Osipova, and Cojocaru, it’s a satisfying return to developing talent from within. (Gillian Murphy, normally a beloved, well-oiled machine, is on maternity leave.) Devon Teuscher’s elegance and serene flair in Swan are always rewarding to see.

The mens’ principal ranks are a bit more tenuous, with names such as Thomas Forster, Joseph Gorak, and Alex Hammoudi filling the lead roles in the wake of the departure of Gomes, Bolle, and the elusiveness of Hallberg, with Herman Cornejo appearing only occasionally, and Daniil Simkin taking on what leads he can (his relatively lithe build can limit his partnering options). James Whiteside proved to be the workhorse, dancing lead roles in seven programs, with Cory Stearns nearly as ubiquitous, and now Bell is an option. I anticipate seeing Calvin Royal III taking on lead roles soon, in addition to his welcome, dashing renditions in flashy parts such as Von Rothbart in Swan Lake, and Cinderella’s Prince in Beauty.

The Sleeping Beauty
It has been three years since Ratmansky’s production was performed, so I might be forgiven for feeling like I was watching it anew at times. The whole approach in 2016 felt like an antique artifact, but in a good way—lower retirés, extensions, and arm angles, fewer revolutions in pirouettes, less pointe work. But this season, it felt like back to normal, with higher legs and arms, more turns, and more energy conveyed in general. Maybe it was the cast I saw. 

Isabella Boylston (Aurora), in her entrance, felt completely contemporary as she flew in arrow leaps, interpreting the music in shaped phrases rather than doing them step by step. She infuses so much joy in her dancing, making it feel vivacious. Bell stepped in for an ailing James Whiteside, and was forgiven for omitting his solo in the third act pas de deux as he danced numerous times that week. Sleeping Beauty, with its rich choreography and myriad layers of choice character roles and childrens’ sections, seemed a perfect way for ABT to end its season.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Taylor + OSL + Bach

Michael Trusnovec in all at once. Photo: Paula Lobo

Most of us don’t want to think about mortality, but let’s face it—we’re all human. Paul Taylor Dance Company is no doubt keenly aware of this now. It is moving forward under the plan structured while Taylor (who died last year) was alive—to showcase older classics by his peers, and to cultivate younger modern choreographers while keeping his substantial repertory vibrant, creating a kind of continuing dialogue and context for the importance of Taylor’s work. This larger project is called Paul Taylor American Modern Dance.

There’s another twist this year—the rescheduling of the main PTAMD season to Oct/Nov at the Koch, and the addition of three, all-Bach spring programs with Orchestra of St. Luke’s in the 2019 OSL Bach Festival, performed at the uptown Manhattan School of Music. (OSL performs music concerts at other venues.) Add to the mix the long-dreaded retirement of the peerless Michael Trusnovec after the OSL season, plus the exit of Parisa Khobdeh, Michelle Fleet, Sean Mahoney, Laura Halzack, and Jamie Rae Walker after the fall PTAMD season, and it’s a tectonic shift in a company that reveres tradition and longevity. Until the PTAMD project began in 2015, the troupe relied on strict programming formulas for its long season—up to 20 dances by Taylor, with three to a program; the dancers listed by tenure.

The Neidorff-Karpati Hall at the MSM may compare in size to some of the regional theaters in which the company performs, but it’s a far cry from the Koch, or even its predecessor, City Center, where actually Taylor’s work seems to fit best, stage-wise. But kudos to new Artistic Director Michael Novak and his team for adapting even the most trafficky and jam-packed dance, Promethean Fire, onto the diminutive MSM stage. It’s a testament to the company’s professionalism to maintain the emotional profundity, if not all the mystery, of Promethean at such close proximity. This protean work closed the first of three slates, which opened with Junction (1961), an exercise in sculptural stasis, wit, and visual punch, with Lego color-blocked leotards by Alex Katz. Unfortunately, and inexplicably, the accompanying solo cello (excerpts of Bach’s solo cello suite), played by Myron Lutzke, sounded out of tune and muffled. It didn’t feel representative of the quality one expects from a featured soloist in a professional orchestra in New York, and which was otherwise delivered.

Pam Tanowitz’s premiere commission, all at once, was sandwiched in between. If Taylor’s plotless, abstract works compare to Bach’s musical forms that accompany the dances in this festival—fugue, toccata, chorale, concerto—then Tanowitz’s feel more along the lines of experimental poetry, with fragments of phrases floating freely, bumping up against other fragments, and echoing later on. Tanowitz, who has received a proliferation of commissions by numerous companies of late, tuned into Taylor’s vocabulary, quoting it respectfully and sparingly. Oh, the palm-forward arms from Musical Offering, performed deftly by Trusnovec, who dances the original on another OSL program! And the thrusting straight arms from Esplanade! Plus other movement evocations that pop up on occasion. It brings to mind what many artists have done in Martha Graham Company commissions—acknowledge the debt, and carry it forward. Costumers Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, frequent collaborators with Tanowitz, designed the unisex sheer jumpsuits over pastel hued leotards.

Rewilding. Photo: Whitney Browne
The other PTDC premiere in the OSL festival, Rewilding by Margie Gillis, ponders the valuable notion that we need to reconnect with nature. The 16 dancers stand still, spread across the stage, until one begins to move, with all joining in, building in dynamic and range, like statues come to life. Gillis, known for her solo performances, has a fluid movement style, which after being sustained for awhile feels slightly forced. Santo Loquasto’s costumes, different for each dancer, resembled togas and genie pants, with elastic bandeaux tops (even for men) in burnished warm tones. Walker is given a long solo which displays her lucid lines and grounded humanity. Trusnovec initiates the first movement, and dances a substantial solo section. He wears one of the more flattering costumes in a shade of butter (actually, his costume in all at once is also butter yellow!), and with his retirement foremost in mind, I could only think of him as the sun around which all other dancers revolved, fading into the mist. (I doubt the thrust of PTAMD was to point up the choreographic skill of Taylor himself, but the new commissions can function that way.)

The Tanowitz was preceded by Brandenburgs, a well-made, solid study in formalism notable for its cast of three women and five men, and the unique recombinants therein. Again, Trusnovec performed the central romantic male role, who moves alone and with the women, and less so with the other men, who move faster and more forcefully. Surely other men will step into these leads which will be vacated by Trusnovec, but it’s hard to imagine. This bill ended with Cascade, a less-seen Taylor dance from 1999, with highly embellished chestnut, maroon, and gold costumes by Loquasto. Its tempo varies, but there are indulgent, super slow sections that evoke a peaceful state of mind—in particular, a romantic duet for Trusnovec and Heather McGinley in which they seem to hover over the floor, basking in each other’s auras. They have been less frequent partners, so it was truly gratifying to see this heart-melting duet.

The third program featured Musical Offering (1986), a bounty of metronomic rocking and precise flat-facing poses and formations. The dance is even more musically illustrative than many of Taylor’s works, whose dynamics and pacing often mirror that of the music. Esplanade (1975) completed this rare program comprising just two dances. Eran Bugge performed the featured female role, running and skipping gleefully around the other dancers. The dance has attained such iconic status, at least for me, that when I hear the Bach concertos, I can readily picture the steps—they are inseparable. Other than the solo cello suites, OSL sounded crisp and lively, as they have for numerous seasons as the orchestra accompanying PTAMD's long runs.

Regarding the sea change of company members, there’s no ideal time to have a mass exodus, but now makes sense. Of course the dancers retiring are getting older, and no doubt are coping with a laundry list of ailments, but they no longer have the opportunity of working in the studio as Taylor choreographs on them—an irreplaceable and cherished experience. Certain dancers will take on more prominent roles; I can picture McGinley assuming many of Halzack's, and Bugge, Khobdeh's. We’re already seeing talented new and recently added faces, such as Madelyn Ho, Lee Duveneck, Devon Louis, and John Harnage. We will embrace their gifts and watch as they grow, along with the repertory—just without any new Taylor rep, nor six dancers as familiar as old, extremely talented friends.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Reich Richter Pärt Mercado Little Spain

Reich Richter Pärt. Shown: paintings by Gerhard Richter, with singers mingling with the audience. Photo: Susan Yung 

With Reich Richter Pärt, the Shed offered a performative experience that differed from the abundant fare in New York. Practically speaking, this event could take place in one of the hundreds of large art galleries that dot the city, but it is the match-making at a certain level (in this case, by co-curators Alex Poots and Hans Ulrich Obrist) that differentiates the Shed event. The three collaborators—composers Arvo Pärt and Steve Reich, and visual artist Gerhard Richter—make work that, to put it in mercenary terms, commands a high price, or is in great demand. It was a visual and aural immersion in work by these titans of contemporary culture, in a gleaming, sterile venue in a fancy-shmancy new neighborhood.

The 50-minute performance began in one of the two galleries housing Richter’s banner-shaped paintings made with a squeegee, and several renditions of such paintings woven into tapestries. (The use of an ancient textile process summons grand traditions in Europe’s once-powerful north—by the French, Flemish, and British—and burnishes the white male power structure of the project.) The audience, on foot, milled about, until the mingling, street-garbed singers began to vocalize (the alternating Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Brooklyn Youth Chorus). The viewers instinctually oriented toward the center, where most of the singers were, but they then wandered among us as they sang, dissipating the focus as they performed 
Pärt’s pleasing, madrigal-like harmonics, written in 2014.

After this relatively short segment—15 minutes?—the audience was herded into the next gallery, in which Richter’s horizontal stripe paintings covered the long walls above slatted wooden benches. We were told to find seats, either one of the folding camping stools being handed out or a bench seat; some sat on the concrete floor with pillows. The International Contemporary Ensemble (alternating with the Ensemble Signal) was situated by the far wall, and began to play Reich’s new commissioned score—a fairly gentle, ebbing composition for this composer whose driving, percussive scores have evoked trains and rolling thunder.

Reich Richter Pärt.
Shown: a film by Gerhard Richter & Corinna Belz. Photo: Susan Yung

On the opposite wall, a film by Richter and filmmaker Corinna Belz began. At the start, it resembled the gallery’s stripe paintings, but the pixels began to quaver slightly, and then at a higher frequency. Then the color field split vertically at center, with new imagery unscrolling from this seam symmetrically. The lines thickened, pulsed, and pulled to create ink blot type shapes that began to resemble animals, people, or furniture. (My mind scrambled to make familiar sense of the abstract.) It retrogressed, ending as it began in serene color stripes. The sum effect of the ½ hour film, plus the music, was mesmerizing, albeit almost too easily digestible given the challenging art that these creators are capable of producing.

The performance schedule, with tickets at $25—relatively reasonable for a live orchestra and choral work—broke with the standard once-an-evening-plus-a-matinee routine. Four performances each day were scheduled over two months, giving visitors a broad choice of times. The Shed just finished a run of Bjork’s Cornucopia in the McCourt, the arena-sized space under the sliding shell. On the opposite end of the cultural spectrum, the Shed will present a slate of less-known, presumably local artists in Open Call. The performers each have a handful of time slots to share their work, primarily in the more traditional Griffin Theater, where Ben Whishaw and Renee Fleming performed Norma Jeane Baker of Troy recently. Tickets are free for Open Call; reservations are recommended.

After RRP, I wandered through Mercado Little Spain, José Andrés’ new food emporium in the Hudson Yards mall, comprising an impressive breadth of fast-food kiosks, wine bars, and restaurants. While somewhat sprawling, the atmosphere is friendly, lively, and conducive to walking and noshing. The focus is on authentic Spanish dishes such as bravas (potatoes), churros (fried dough), paella, jamon & queso (ham & cheese), with primarily food service stations, and a minimal grocery shop in the center. The prices seem reasonable, and it somehow fills a niche in a food-obsessed city with a billion places to eat. The Mercado is one of many eateries throughout Hudson Yards, the pop-up, luxe neighborhood (with not only the Shed as its architectural folly, but the Vessel, the shiny, copper shawarma/basket Escher Stairmaster) that seemingly landed atop the train yard and threw open its doors overnight.

That I felt compelled to "review" a food experience within a write-up of a show is indicative of the nature of Hudson Yards. While it isn't terribly inconvenient to reach, mentally, it feels miles distant from most of the city because for so many years, it has been the wild west. Hudson Yards has been built as an all-in-one destination where you get culture, Spanish food, expensive handbags, and million dollar condos. In that sense, it's simply a mirror held up to the city. Time will tell if we like what we see.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Martha Graham's 2019 Legatees

Charlotte Landreau, Lorenzo Pagano, Lloyd Knight, Anne O'Donnell in Untitled (Souvenir). Photo: Brian Pollock
Choosing Pam Tanowitz to choreograph a commission for Martha Graham Dance Company highlights Graham’s ever-growing legacy as it zigzags through generations. Tanowitz’s style is most often compared to that of Merce Cunningham’s—formal, angular, classically-based, rigorous. Before founding his own company, Cunningham danced with Martha Graham. And while their choreography differs in innumerable ways, he retained her senses of plasticity, theatricality, and purity of line. These elements can be found In Tanowitz’s new work, Untitled (Souvenir), seen at the Joyce Theater on April 11.

And like Cunningham, Tanowitz’s work is more cerebral, and less emotional and expressionistic, than Graham’s. Tanowitz really pushes form, articulating the limbs tautly, and inventing witty traveling steps that are simple, yet new, such as hopping on one foot with the other leg at 90º, foot flexed. Port de bras defy convention, and like Merce, the torso often creates odd angles with the pelvis and legs. It is not what you’d deem organic movement, but highly thought-out and experimental, given the same old human body. For all of Tanowitz’s formality—underscored by Ryan Lobo/Ramon Martin’s elegant, black & white columnar jumpsuits and pieces—the work is couched in humor. Those at rest observe the others dancing, as if in rehearsal. They gather and form a handsome tableau in the finale.

Deo. Photo: Brian Pollock
The other premiere on the program (there were three different slates) was Deo, by Maxine Doyle and Bobbi Jene Smith. In stark contrast to Untitled (Souvenir), the dance for eight women employed a highly expressive vocabulary. Leslie Andrea Williams, standing alone, flinched with increasing movement until she contracted deeply. The dancers lay on their backs but for their legs and heads, which floated off the ground listlessly. The women clumped together, with little space between one another, tottering across stage like a floating raft. One arrayed her limbs apart from her body, and resembled a spider. Low, wide squats and contractions lent a primal feel that summoned the power of Graham’s vocabulary. The beige/mocha-toned dresses (by Karen Young) evoked slightly more modest versions of those worn by Pina Bausch’s women in her Rite of Spring, and gave the similar impression of flesh. Deo created a hermetic world which made me feel as if I watched a private ritual that held deep meaning for its participants.

Laura Andrea Williams in Chronicle. Photo: Melissa Sherwood
The Graham works performed were Errand into the Maze and Chronicle. A willowy Xin Ying and brute-like Ben Schultz performed Errand, a concise and epic telling of the Minotaur tale; Isamu Noguchi’s spare but strategic set pieces are always thrilling to re-see. And Chronicle remains one of Graham’s high points, its urgency and rebel- summoning drumbeat as fervent as when it was created—as Graham refused an invitation by Hitler to perform in the 1936 Olympics. Williams danced the opening "Spectre" solo, a masterpiece portrait of an individual’s physical and spiritual strength danced breathtakingly well, plus a demonstration of Graham’s brilliance with costuming as drama. (The double disc podium she stands on seemed to be cleverly repurposed in Tanowitz’s work, albeit standing on its edge.) The stage-crossing “défilé” exercises have retained their speed and drive, and are a reminder of the light of perseverance hope in dark times—a useful notion at the moment.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Hubbard Street's Crystal Pite Program

Grace Engine. Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Choreographer Crystal Pite harnesses the potency of the stage and all its components to create an atmospheric microcosm within each dance. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performed three of them at the Joyce recently, giving New York audiences a concentrated, if bleak, dose of an accomplished choreographer whose work is primarily seen here in mixed repertory programs. The company, under the artistic direction of Glenn Edgerton, also brought a program of work by Ohad Naharin.

In the first of two Pite duets, A Picture of You Falling, the lighting design by Alan Brodie is the de facto set design—the lamps, fixed on poles, are on rolling stands that form a semicircle upstage. Dancers move through and around them. Jacqueline Burnett and Elliot Hammans performed to a mellifluous voiceover by Kate Strong, Owen Belton contributed supplemental music. To the line, “This is the sound of you collapsing,” Hammans sinks, articulating each limb onto the floor; descriptive hand gestures are done with a theatrical flourish. The overall effect integrates the movement with the text/sound and lighting, creating the sense that one element could not be removed without subtracting substantially from the whole.

Grace Engine. Photo: Todd Rosenberg
The second work, The Other You, was also a duet, which alone is a quietly radical gesture in the world of modern dance. This is especially for an out-of-town company in New York, where there’s a tendency to pull out the stops with large ensemble works that vary in tone. It was performed by Michael Gross and Andrew Murdock, who appeared interchangeable at a distance, with the same buzzcuts and suits. One mimed pulling up his knees with invisible marionette strings. A found soundtrack by Belton of rain, traffic, dogs barking, and Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, accompanied the work, which also used the same lighting fixture semicircle. The second man joined; they mirrored one another in sync, seemingly two sides of a coin.

Grace Engine, which completed the program, premiered in 2011 on Cedar Lake, the New York-based company with which Pite most often worked, and whose ex-artistic director, Alexandra Damiani, restaged it. (Despite garnering lots of early negative juju for its Walmart empire-derived funding, Cedar Lake did fill a big niche in commissioning contemporary work performed by skilled dancers; many of those dances live on today in other companies’ repertory.) 
Again, all elements of the piece cohered to create a taut, gritty, urban atmosphere for 15 dancers in suits (by Nancy Bae) who rush on and off, flowing around a soloist. Pite does not utilize a conventional dance lexicon, instead connecting graphic, articulated poses with flowing movement, channeling energy into organic-feeling phrases. While it’s related to the more commercial “contemporary” style seen in popular tv dance competitions, it doesn’t exist only to serve freakish feats of technical prowess. The chiaroscuro lighting (by Jim French) and the urban soundscape (Belton again) contributed to the overall feel of a busy city sidewalk at night. It ended a cohesive program notable for its dynamic and atmospheric continuity, as well as Hubbard Street company's all-around excellence.